Top Tens: Albums

A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted a question asking if readers could more easily list their top ten films, books, albums, TV shows, or restaurants. Since I miss LiveJournal and love making list, I thought I'd share mine. All of these lists are subject to change at any moment, and they're personal favorites as opposed to what I think are the "greatest" works in the media.

I started with films. Let's do albums today since I'm in the mood for it. In no particular order:

Jerry Jeff Walker & The Lost Gonzo Band - "Viva Terlingua"

Growing up, country music was something like 90% of the music played in our home. Most of it was not especially good, sounding like easy listening with steel guitars. I had no idea that country music could, for want of a better word, "rock." Then my dad brought this gem home and everything changed. The Lost Gonzos are very much at the forefront of the sound, and the songs are fantastic. If you only own one country record, it should probably be Willie Nelson's "Stardust," but this one's right up there.

Nine Inch Nails - "Pretty Hate Machine"

This one changed everything for me. In my industrial dance years, I had more albums on Wax Trax than any other label. I loved dancing to and working out to the music, but it wasn't always great for just listening or singing along or what have you. This was the first industrial album I can remember having great songs as opposed to just a great sound. 

Pop Will Eat Itself - "This Is The Day...This Is The Hour...This Is This!"

This prescient marvel came out six months before "Pretty Hate Machine," and it may have been even more important in the Big Scheme of Thingies. It's a cut-and-paste sampling masterpiece that was well ahead of it's time. The Poppies name-checked essentially everything I was in to at the time, so they were sort of the Ernest Cline of their era. The songs hold up remarkably well, and the design of the album cover is one of the best I've ever seen.

They Might Be Giants - "Flood"

I'm not completely sure that "Flood" is TMBG's best album (the criminally underrated "Factory Showroom" or "Mink Car," anyone?), but it's the best known and, if push came to shove, it's probably the best loved as well. Never before had such goofiness been melded with songs this catchy. They're also the best live act I've ever seen, and I've seen everyone on this list except for PWEI and Public Enemy (and I had tickets to see both of them but didn't see them for reasons that still make me mad.)

Ambulance, LTD - "LP"

This is as close to a perfect album as any I've ever heard. Every song on it is wonderful. It's relatively straight forward guitar pop, but it's absolutely the best straight forward guitar pop album I've ever heard. This is my favorite album of the 2000's and it's shameful that so few people have heard it.

The New Pornographers - "Electric Version"

Remember when music was serious and grim and dark and artists? The New Pornographers do, and they want to change all of that. I'd read great things about the NewPo's, but I'd never heard their music until this album showed up on the jukebox at my favorite dive. It wasn't anything like I'd expected; it was unapologetically fun and bright and just...wow. The first four songs would make for the best EP ever made, too.

Bad Religion - "Suffer"

I'd been brought up to believe that punk was just a bunch of weirdos who couldn't play their instruments sneering behind their guitars. Then, one of my coworkers suggested I give the band Christian Death a listen. Even then I didn't hear very well, so I picked up this instead. It was angry, sure, but it was catchy and smart too. Suddenly, punk didn't look so dumb, but I sure felt dumb for ignoring it for so long.

Public Enemy - "Fear Of A Black Planet"

As with punk, I didn't take rap seriously for a long, long time. The lyrics didn't really speak to me and the backing tracks didn't get my attention. At this time, I was really in to NIN and a coworker said he thought I'd like "Fear Of A Black Planet." I went over to his place to give it a listen and I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Nothing I'd ever heard prepared me for "Welcome To The Terrordome." The production was amazing, and Chuck D's lyrics and delivery were unlike anything I'd heard in any genre and, frankly, it scared me a little. Which was, I suppose, the whole point.

Devo - "Duty Now For The Future"

I made the mistake that many people did of writing off Devo as a joke band who wore funny outfits and wrote silly songs. Devo were, and are, a very serious band with a very serious worldview. Oh sure, they're silly, but they're not shallow. This is one very, very weird album. There's almost no attempt to make it listenable and at the same time, it somehow gets stuck in your head. Devo revamped their sound and sold a ton of their next two records, but for me, this one is the most compelling vision of what de-evolution is all about.

Genesis - "Three Sides Live"

A live album? Well, ok, that's kind of a cheat, but this one was a pivotal record for me. The performances often outshine the studio version of the songs ("Abacab," "Afterglow," and "Behind The Lines," I'm looking at you), but for me, it's all about the instrumental medley between "In The Cage" and "Afterglow." The interplay between Tony Banks' keyboards and Phil Collins' and Chester Thompson's drums still gives me chills. This record, more than any other, made me fall in love with the sound of synthesizers. 

 

Pictured: One of those synthesizers.

Pictured: One of those synthesizers.

Apologies to:

The Arcade Fire - "Funeral", Ted Leo + Pharmacists - "Shake The Sheets", My Bloody Valentine - "Loveless", R.E.M. - "Reckoning", Radiohead - "O.K. Computer", Shriekback - "Oil and Gold", and the dB's - "Like This."