Saturday, May 9, 2009

"Ira's Hot 100, part two" or "Who wrote the Facebook of love?"

Here’s the second installment of my four part series on my 100 most important albums of all time. Ranking in terms of importance rather than favoritism means I’ve had to leave off a number of bands I really love. So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to The Rolling Stones, Outkast, Luna, Wilco, Sonic Youth, Archers of Loaf and anyone else who may feel slighted at being excluded. It isn’t that I like MC Hammer any more than I do you. Trust me, it really, really isn’t.

74. Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version

Sure, I could probably write up a complex thesis about the spiritual progression from Buddy Bolden to Cab Calloway to Howlin’ Wolf to Chuck Berry to Bootsy Collins to Morris Day to ODB, but I’ll leave it at this: I believe the late Russell Jones was a legitimate genius.

73. Butt Trumpet – Primitive Enema

Musically, it’s barely listenable. Lyrically, it often borders on moronic. But this big, noisy, utterly filthy album totally kicked my sheltered white ass back in the day. A nasty chunk of anti-grunge Seattle punk featuring tough chicks singing about guns and anal sex? What’s not to love?

72. Andi Hoffman & B-Goes – 937 Dante Street

On a whim, I Googled a few of my former addresses and was amazed to find that my New Orleans abode was the subject of an album. Turns out it’s just the title track, but still – listening to song about somebody else living in your house is a mighty trippy experience. It helps that the song is utterly lovely and the album is uniformly excellent. I once sent Mr. Hoffman a MySpace message about our intersecting paths. He was quite friendly in response.

71. The Pixies – Surfer Rosa

Roaring into the Dairy Queen parking lot in my eight-cylinder Chevy Caprice on a sunny afternoon in late April, Pioneer tape deck cranking “Your bone’s got a little ma-chiiine” as I shoot a friendly middle finger to all my skater buddies loitering by the benches. Good times, man.

70. Spearhead – Home

When Home dropped, wasn’t quite like any hip-hop I’d heard before. It was “conscious” without being preachy, the rhymes were solid, and the whole thing was just flat-out fun. Michael Franti seemed like a rapper you could just hang with. Incidentally, the same NPR interview that introduced me to Michael Franti also inspired me to see my first indie film in the theater, Wayne Wang’s Smoke. Also, Franti was one of the most enjoyable subjects I’ve ever interviewed, so I guess the album earns a few extra importance points.

69. Negativland – Escape From Noise

My high school friend Dylan tried his damnedest to get me into industrial music and noise rock, but most of his favorite bands did absolutely nothing for me. Negativland was the exception, and this aggressively weird conglomeration of sound bites, musical clips and electronic doodads has endured for me. I still can’t hear the word “eleven” without mentally responding, “It’s not even funny.”

68. of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

Kevin Barnes is such a pretentious, bitchy little prick that I can’t help but adore him. Being a genius producer and a psychotically great songwriter doesn’t hurt either.

67. Nina Simone – Wild is the Wind

Another staple of my coffee shop days. When Nina died, I made a little R.I.P. poster for her and put it by the cash register. A customer asked me if she was someone who’d worked there.

66. Joni Mitchell – Ladies of the Canyon

When I was a child, I had a fever while listening to this album. In my altered state of mind, “He Played Real Good for Free” became the most profound statement of artistic freedom ever penned, and “Woodstock” was a dystopian vision on par with the Book of Revelations. When I came down from the fever, it was still a pretty damn great album.

65. Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister

This was the official soundtrack to rainy afternoons during my first year in New Orleans. I aspire to Stuart Murdoch’s aptitude for crafting stories that are simultaneously mannered and sort of sleazy.

64. Tom T. Hall – 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection

If there’s a greater country songwriter than Tom T. Hall, I don’t know about it. Songs like “A Week in a Country Jail,” “The Year Clayton Delaney Died” and “Ballad of 40 Dollars” capture a kind of upbeat melancholy that I can’t put into words. He’s written songs that I rank among the saddest I’ve ever heard, even though there’s little about them that’s expressly sad.

63. David Bowie – Outside

Without question the most underrated entry in the David Bowie canon. An ugly, genre-hopping narrative about a fictional “art murder,” this was the soundtrack to my freshman depression throughout my first year of college.

62. Crooked Fingers – Reservoir Songs

Eric Bachmann is one of my favorite musicians and songwriters, so it’s a little odd that it’s his covers album that impacted me the most. On this amazing EP, Bachmann accomplishes a pretty remarkable task – taking iconic tracks by Kris Kristofferson, Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen, Prince and Queen and reshaping them in his own image. It doesn’t hurt that I first saw Crooked Fingers live on their Reservoir Songs tour, and that their set ranks as probably the best live performance I’ve ever seen.

61. Eels – Blinking Lights (and Other Revelations)

There’s just not a lot that can be said about life and death that isn’t said somewhere in the course of this album. E allegedly worked on it for more than a decade, and it shows. It’s an amazing labor of love, loss and resignation.

60. Ed’s Redeeming Qualities – Big Grapefruit Clean-Up Job

CMJ compared ERQ to TMBG and mentioned that they wrote the original “Drivin’ On 9,” which was all I needed to hear. I somehow found a copy at the Onalaska, WI Best Buy and was hooked immediately. The lyrics ranged from clever to hilarious, the sound was homemade and welcoming, and the literalist cover art amused me to no end.

59. Devin the Dude – Just Tryin’ Ta Live

Just as I was starting to grow bored with all the Rhymesayers soundalikes on the indie rap scene, several friends clued me into Devin. He was, indeed, just what I needed to re-ignite my interest in hip-hop: a goofy yet sometimes profound MC who was as dirty as Too $hort, as funny as Eminem and as good a storyteller as Slick Rick.

58. MC Hammer – Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em

I wish I could claim that my initiation into hip-hop was someone cooler, but I ain’t gonna lie to you – it was Hammer all the way. Hey, the hooks were catchy and the lyrics were clean enough to mollify my parents. My pal Nathan gave me a pretty sweet MC Hammer poster for my 13th birthday. I wonder if I still have that somewhere?

57. Arrested Development – Zingalamaduni

I don’t get the universal derision heaped on this album. In my mind, it’s a darker, moodier improvement on the group’s sometimes frivolous Three Years, etc. Songs about racist landlords and African unity may not have had a lot of obvious relevance to a backwoods white kid in 1995, but Zingalamaduni made me feel like maybe they should.

56. John Coltrane – My Favorite Things

This is my favorite era of jazz, just before things got all experimental. I don’t claim to be a jazz expert or a connoisseur, but everything about this album – and most of Coltrane’s body of work – feels perfect to me. I also love using the title track as an example whenever someone badmouths groups like The Bad Plus for doing “novelty” covers of pop songs.

55. The Kinks – Something Else By The Kinks

I’d been a card-carrying Kinks fan for a long time when I picked this one up at Know Name Records in Minneapolis, but Something Else made me hear one of my favorite bands in a whole new way. “Waterloo Sunset” has to rank as one of the finest lyrical achievements of the rock era.

54. Warren G – Regulate… G Funk Era

Even though I was pretty much just a geek off the street, and far from handy with the steel, this near flawless slice of Cali hip-hop grabbed me hard back in the day. This was probably only the second album I ever got into while it was still getting regular Top 40 airplay. (The first was Eric Clapton’s Unplugged, but I don’t wanna talk about that.)

53. Prince – Around the World in a Day

It’s not his greatest work, but it’s my sentimental favorite, the only album that makes Prince seem at all like a real human being whom I’d want to hang out with. “Paisley Park” especially is just a little handful of loveliness.

52. Joe Byrd & the Field Hippies – The American Metaphysical Circus

When I was younger, I remember my Mom citing this album as an example of the kind of weirdness my dad got into after he came back from Vietnam. A few years ago, he tracked down a vinyl copy and passed the torch to me. My mom was right – this is some weird stuff, a conglomeration of hippie influences, doomsday cultism and psychedelic nightmares. I love everything about it. Instead of palling around with those weenie Beach Boys, Charles Manson should have been mooching couch space from the Field Hippies.

51. Lou Reed – Magic & Loss

Whenever someone close to me dies, I listen to Lou’s magnificent, album-length meditation on life and death. It makes me feel a little better.

50. Neil Young – Time Fades Away

Neil himself doesn’t seem to look too kindly on this album, as it’s never had a proper CD release in the U.S. Sure, it’s essentially a cobbled-together collection of live ‘70s tracks that never made the studio cut. For some reason, that worked for me. “Don’t Be Denied” is one of the best songs he ever recorded, a bittersweet ballad with just enough angst to be affecting.

More to come tomorrow!

-Ira Brooker

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