The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 500-599
For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this list is all about - other than just plain fun - click here.
Albums #800-899 continue here.
Albums #700-799 continue here.
Albums #600-699 continue here.
599. Angie Pepper & the Passengers – It’s Just That I Miss You
The greatest voice ever to come out of Australia, Angie Pepper was the frontwoman in the late 70s janglerock band the Passengers, an edgy, wickedly tuneful band who would have been famous beyond their home turf had the master tapes for their one album not gone AWOL. For years, the only Passengers album was a 1986 release of tinny but still gorgeous rehearsal recordings; this 2000 reissue collects the original late 70s masters along with Pepper’s first 1978 Aussie hit, Frozen World (written by her husband, Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek) plus additional material originally released on Tek’s 1988 Orphan Tracks collection. Pepper can say more in a wary bent note than most can in a whole album, best exemplified in the righteous rage of Last Chance, when she finally, finally cuts loose at the end. There’s also the sultry, Doorsy Miss You Too Much; the garage rock stomp No Way Out; the early new wave Love Execution, and the haunting pop anthems Face with No Name and My Sad Day among the thirteen tracks here. Pepper (and her talented daughter Hana) continue to record and occasionally play live along with Tek. Here’s a random torrent via Striped Sunlight.
598. The Jayhawks – Sound of Lies
Wounded angst has never sounded this romantic – or tuneful. From 1997, it’s the Minneapolis band’s most rock-oriented record, their only real classic. It’s frontman Gary Louris’ record all the way through, rich with jangly guitars, judicious piano and crystalline, three-part harmonies, more Beatles or Big Star than Nashville. The Man Who Loved Life is a majestically bittersweet homage to living intensely. They match that towering, angst-ridden ambience with Sixteen Down, Think About It, Haywire and the gorgeously sad foreshadowing of Trouble. Big Star manages to blend unbridled hope and cynicism, with a big, tongue-in-cheek guitar break. The most stunning track here is Dying on the Vine, a crushingly intense theme for anyone who’s ever been rejected, Marc Pearlman’s insistent, staccato bassline anticipating Louris’ pessimistic lyric: “I’m dying in the shadows.” The quieter tracks include the irresistibly bouncy It’s Up to You, the vicious Poor Little Fish (a dis for a spoiled bitch), drummer Tim O’Reagan’s bucolic Bottomless Cup and the pensive title track. Here’s a random torrent.
597. The Highwaymen’s first album
From 1985, this is the ultimate outlaw country summit: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Sly, often surreal, it’s a party, the guys trading verses (although not everybody sings on every song) through a mix of smartly chosen covers and originals. The funniest one is Cash’s Committed to Parkview, part nuthouse, part rehab; likewise, Welfare Line, a Reagan-era souvenir, perfectly captures the angst of the times. There’s also the defiantly gloomy Desperados Waiting for a Train; Cindy Walker’s elegaic Jim, I Wore a Tie Today; the Jimmy Webb-penned title track; a plaintive version of Woody Guthrie’s Deportees; a singalong of Big River; and Steve Goodman’s not-so-optimistic The 20th Century Is Almost Over. The only dud here is Bob Seger’s Against the Wind, which the band has absolutely no clue how to play. If you like this, the other two Highwaymen albums from the 90s are also worth a spin. Caveat: purists may have a hard time with the synthesizers and chorus-box guitar here – it’s a period piece for sure. Here’s a random torrent.
596. The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor
From 1968, this is one of the great stoner albums of all time, not bad considering that the band it’s credited to reputedly didn’t play on several of the tracks (history is fuzzy on this – a Canadian garage band, the Collectors, were reputedly brought in by composer David Axelrod to complete it when the Prunes basically broke up mid-session). It’s an attempt to make psychedelic rock out of imitation pre-baroque themes, and it’s successful beyond belief: with layers and layers of stinging reverb guitar, eerie organ and trebly, melodic bass, it’s a wild ride. The track everybody knows is Kyrie Eleison, which is on the Easy Rider soundtrack. All the song titles are in Latin, in the manner of a Catholic mass – Agnus Dei; Benedictus; Credo, Sanctus and Gloria – with occasional deadpan, monklike chanting amidst the chaos. Fuzz tones, feedback, all manner of cheap production tricks and some deliriously inspired (some would say sloppy) playing are everywhere. Here’s a random torrent.
595. Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind
Erica Smith is the finest singer to come out of New York during the decade of the zeros, capable of extraordinary nuance as well as extraordinary power (check out her Memphis soul wail on the red-hot shuffle Feel You Go). This 2008 album showcases the diversity of her songwriting: the irresistible 60s style psychedelic pop of Firefly; the lush janglerock of Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn; the bucolic Pink Floyd-esque art-rock of In Late July; the chilling Nashville gothic of Nashville, Tennessee and The World Is Full of Pretty Girls as well as sultry bossa nova and hypnotic Velvets pop tunes. There are also two ferocious covers: Judy Henske’s Snowblind, done as early 70s style metal, and Blow This Nightclub’s Where and When, amped up like early new wave. Guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell (both of Love Camp 7) add rich layers of jangle and clang along with a devious jazz edge. Campbell’s unexpected death in 2010 brought an end to the 99 Cent Dreams; Smith continues to perform and record as a solo artist and with her husband, powerpopmeister John Sharples and his band. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Smith’s site.
594. Richard Thompson – Mirror Blue
In case you’re wondering, these albums are in totally random order – if we were actually trying to rank them (an impossible task), this would be somewhere in the top hundred for certain. The British songwriter/guitar god is best known for his volcanic live shows (our predecessor e-zine picked his concert album Semi-Detached Mock Tudor as the best one of 2002). This 1994 release is his hardest-rocking studio record. The anguish factor reaches fever pitch on the swaying, opening Britfolk anthem I Can’t Wake Up to Save My Life, echoed in the haunting shuffles Easy There Steady Now and Slipstream as well as the sad, closing breakup ballad Taking My Business Elsewhere. The obligatory guitar epic is The Way That It Shows, a real barn-burner; the best song here is the ferocious, bitter Mascara Tears, maybe the loudest song Thompson ever recorded. There’s also plenty of typical Thompson wit: the Jethro Tull-ish MGB-GT and the sardonic Fast Food along with the hypnotic, brooding Mingus Eyes and King of Bohemia and the big hit Beeswing, a thinly veiled, nostalgic ballad that has not aged well. Although the album has been criticized for having too many weird percussion tracks (fault of Suzanne Vega’s ex-husband, who was producer du jour that year), happily most of that is pretty much buried in the mix. Here’s a random torrent.
593. Gil Evans – The Individualism of Gil Evans
Best known for his arrangements for Miles Davis, pianist Gil Evans was also an extraordinary big band jazz composer. Almost fifty years later, this 1964 album is still so beyond cutting edge – there are other writers today doing this kind of thing, but nobody in the mainstream. Evans’ compositions are fearless, intense, often completely noir, sometimes lavish, sometimes skeletal and creepy. Here he’s backed by a killer band including Eric Dolphy, Thad Jones, and Elvin Jones on drums. It starts with the shattering, evil, mysterious, syncopated sway of Time of the Barracudas; Kurt Weill’s Barbara Song follows in a similar vein. Las Vegas Tango is a chilly, noir number where the Sketches of Spain influence really cuts through, while El Toreador could have been an outtake from that album. Flute Song/Hotel Me builds from whispery and murderous to a blithe, swinging piano blues. The rest of the album includes the ominous Proclamation, the bustling Nothing Like You, the bossa-tinged Concorde and closes with Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, thirteen minutes of twisted blues. Pretty much everything Evans ever touched, from the 30s onward, is worth a listen: composer Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project is due to come out with a new album of rare and unrecorded Evans works later this year. Most every track here is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Singers & Saints 2.
592. The Dils – Class War
An early Americana-flavored punk band and obvious inspiration for Social Distortion, San Francisco trio the Dils confronted issues of class and race in America head-on when so many of the era’s wannabes just jumped on the punk bandwagon to be cool. This compilation collects many if not all of their best-known late 70s/early 80s singles and b-sides. The best-known track is the trebly, super-catchy I Hate the Rich. You’re Not Blank makes fun of Cali hippie complacency: “the summer of love is ten years gone.” The best song here is the gorgeously jangly Sound of the Rain, steeped in alienation; the defiantly socialist Red Rockers Rule is a Social Distortion prototype for sure (and the inspiration for another band name); Mr. Big raises a middle finger at the powers that be. There’s also the sarcastic Tell Me What I Want to Hear, It’s Not Worth It, Gimme a Break, and the furious hardcore Class War, a casually vicious anti-racist broadside. The only dud here is an awkward Buddy Holly cover. The two brothers who fronted the band would move on to form one of the first alt-country bands, Rank & File. Here’s a random torrent via Ustedville.
591. Black Box Recorder – Passionoia
Possibly the most witheringly cynical album ever recorded. Bandleader Luke Haines (also of the Auteurs – see #744 on this list) has said innocuously that this 1999 release was his adventure in exploring keyboard textures, but it sounds suspiciously like a parody of 90s British dance-pop, albeit with better tunes and artsy flourishes. Frontwoman Sarah Nixey delivers Haines’ corrosive lyrics in an ice-goddess whisper over the glossy sheen. The School Song does double duty as Eurovision satire (a moment that will return again with a vengeance on When Britain Refused to Sing) and knowing chronicle of the kind of torture schoolkids have to endure. GSOH QED is an early satire of internet dating; British Racing Green quietly and cruelly alludes to Britain’s fall from first world power to third world irrelevance. Although much of this is a period piece, the songs stand the test of time – The New Diana mocks the Princess Diana cult, but it’s a brutally insightful look at the cult of celebrity, as is Andrew Ridgeley, the funniest song here, a reference to the guy in Wham who wasn’t George Michael. Being Number One, These Are the Things and Girls Guide for the Modern Diva are savage sendups of yuppie narcissism. The album ends on a surprisingly poignant, haunting note with I Ran All the Way Home, a gorgeously apprehensive omnichord-driven art-pop song straight out of the ELO catalog, told from the point of view of an abused little girl. All the songs are streamable at myspace, but wait fifteen seconds before you put your earphones on, AND refresh the page after each listen or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. Won’t it be a good day when myspace finally dies? Otherwise, here’s a random torrent.
590. Jean Shepard – Best By Request
Along with Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard was one of the few women who achieved genuine stardom in Nashville in the 1950s. This 1970 compilation of mostly 1950s hits often plays up the bad-girl persona she cultivated, with considerable relish – it may seem tame now, but it wasn’t then. Backed tersely and inspiredly by some of the era’s top honkytonk players, she can be coy one moment, vengeful the next, as I Learned It All from You, I’d Rather Die Young and Why Did You Wait. Uncharacteristically, her biggest hit was the considerably less downbeat A Satisfied Mind, since covered by a million country artists. Under Suspicion and Don’t Fall In Love with a Married Man are typically characteristic themes for her, and she nails them. She’s still around and well-loved for her sardonic sense of humor on frequent CMT appearances. Here’s a random torrent via El Rancho 1.
589. Jolie Holland – Springtime Can Kill You
From 2006, this is the Texas Americana roots songwriter/chanteuse’s masterpiece so far. “My sullen songs have taken me far down this darkened road,” she drawls in the characteristically brooding Stubborn Beast, an insight that pretty much capsulizes her career. Setting wryly gloomy, often death-obsessed imagery to rustic, terse arrangements with resonator guitar, piano and sometimes strings, she evokes a way, way after-hours speakeasy of the mind. Crush in the Ghetto reminds that the boondocks are also ghettos; the jazzy title track’s offhandedness only raises the menace factor. There’s also the defiant waltz You’re Not Satisfied; C.R. Avery’s surreal, tormented Crazy Dreams; the austere Mehitibell’s Blues; the creepy piano waltz Don’t Tell’ Em; Moonshiner, a sultry, seductive blues; the whispery, nuanced Ghostly Girl; and the pensive nocturne Mexican Blue among the twelve tracks. Lately Holland has joined forces with similarly talented oldtimey siren Mamie Minch in the harmony trio Midnight Hours. Here’s a random torrent.
588. Art Tatum – The Chronological Classics 1932-34
If Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite pianist did a lot of composing, the historical record doesn’t reflect it: his favorite pastime was shredding his way through the hits of the day. Which he did with equal amounts precision and power: don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart. Most of his recordings are solo, no wonder since there were few players out there who could keep up with him. The genius of all this is that Tatum wasn’t all cold and mathematical: this digitized singles collection is a Depression-era party album. The number that raises the bar for every historically aware hotshot keyboardist is Tiger Rag; the purist favorites here are St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But Tatum also ratchets up the adrenaline with ballads like Strange As It Seems, I’ll Never Be the Same, a surprisingly visceral Tea for Two, Emaline and I Would Do Anything for You among the 25 brief, barely three-minute tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Paging Mr. Volstead.
587. Larry Young – Unity
Hammond B3 organist Young pushed the envelope with this hot, wickedly tuneful, inspired and cerebral 1965 session with trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Elvin Jones pushing the juggernaut with characteristic intensity. It’s a lot more than just funky Jimmy Smith-style shuffles – melodic jazz doesn’t get any more interesting than this. The artful horn overlays on Zoltan, the shapeshifting version of Monk’s Dream, Shaw’s brisk Moontrane blaze along before the suspenseful If and Softly As in the Morning Sunrise, then the album picks up again, the whole band pushing each other, on the aptly titled Beyond All Limits. Young doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great organists of all time – this is our shout-out. Here’s a random torrent via Jazzgrita.
586. Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party
One of the iconic psychedelic remnants from the late 60s, this late 90s anthology assembles a bunch of obscure soundtrack cuts from some truly terrible German B movies. But the music is as inspired, and as trippy, as the dialogue and everything else about those flicks was awful. The two composers approach psychedelic rock with a mix of classical rigor and joy about being freed from that rigor: the brightly staggering faux jazz of Droge CX9; the fuzztone menace of The Lions & the Cucumber; the psychedelic piano theme There’s No Satisfaction; the lavish, funky Dedicated to Love; the noir bedroom theme The Message; Shindai Lovers, which inspired a million 90s downtempo themes; and the absolutely macabre, trippy Necronomania among the sixteen off-the-wall instrumentals here. Electric harpsichords, reverb guitars, fake Indian and soul music grooves: pre-internet syncretism taken to a deliriously entertaining extreme. Here’s a random torrent via Devo MK.
585. Loretta Lynn – Greatest Hits
As we’ve put together this list, one aspect that’s frustrated us is how hard it’s been to find country albums that are solid all the way through: there’s always a dud, an obligatory halfhearted country gospel tune, a favor to a friend of the producer that always takes the album down a notch or two. As a result, we’ve had to go to the well for greatest-hits collections like this one, a 1968 compilation that’s a solidly good representation of the fearless country siren and songwriter (who wrote her own stuff, and insisted on playing it instead of songs that had been selected for her, paving the way for dozens of other self-directed women artists) during her peak years as a honkytonk singer. It’s got her first big hit, Don’t Come Home A ‘Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind); the rustic Blue Kentucky Girl (redone famously by Emmylou Harris); the accusatory Before I’m Over You, and You Ain’t Woman Enough. The real stunners here are Dear Uncle Sam, a plaintive Vietnam-era antiwar number imploring the Johnson administration to end the war, and Success, the much more subtle, equally sad number, now a country classic, powerfully underscoring the fact that money doesn’t equal happiness. Here’s a random torrent.
584. Junior Kimbrough – Sad Days Lonely Nights
Kimbrough was sort of the Mississippi hill country equivalent of Roscoe Ambel: a bar owner who happened to be a hell of a guitarist (or a hell of a guitarist who just happened to own a bar). Mostly, it’s just Kimbrough with either a rhythm section, or just a drummer. But unlike T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, Kimbrough didn’t go for interminable, overtone-packed chordal vamps: his slowly crescendoing, gorgeously expansive, broodingly meandering blues songs go on for ten minutes at a clip, a clinic in subtlety and minimalism. This stuff is mournful, gently intense, soulful in the purest sense of the word. The title track from this 1993 album, generally considered his best, is the iconic one, setting the tone for a judicious, bent-note style he’d reprise again and again in Lonesome in My Home, Lord Have Mercy on Me, My Mind Is Rambling and Leaving in the Morning. Old Black Mattie is the closest thing to the raw, hypnotic dance music of Burnside and Ford here; I’m in Love is unexpectedly upbeat, but Pull Your Clothes Off is about the most cynically depressing attempt at seduction anybody ever made. And the version of Crawling King Snake here is seriously creepy, in fact barely recognizable compared to John Lee Hooker, or for that matter, the Doors. Here’s a random torrent via Rukusjuice.
583. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar
The preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, Marty Willson-Piper is also a powerful and eclectic lyrical rock songwriter, much like Steve Kilbey, his bandmate in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church. This 2009 masterpiece is every bit as good as any of his albums with that band. Willson-Piper proves as adept at period-perfect mid-60s Bakersfield country (the wistful A Game for Losers and the stern The Love You Never Had) as he is at towering, intense, swirlingly orchestrated anthems like No One There. The album’s centerpiece, The Sniper, is one of the latter, a bitter contemplation of whether murder is ever justifiable (in this case, there’s a tyrant in the crosshairs). There’s also the early 70s style Britfolk of Lullaby for the Lonely; the casually and savagely hilarious eco-anthem More Is Less; the even more brutally funny Feed Your Mind; the blistering, sardonic rocker High Down Below;and the vividly elegaic Song for Victor Jara. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is still available from Second Motion.
582. Kayhan Kalhor, Shujaat Husain Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri – Ghazal: Lost Songs of the Silk Road
This landmark 1997 cross-genre collaboration put “silk road music” on the global map. The medieval mercantile trail from Asia, through the Middle East, to Europe, brought a lot more than spices, fabric and luxury goods: it was arguably the world’s most important bridge for musical cross-pollination. Here, Iranian Kayhan Kalhor, one of the most important and compelling composers of this era, plays the kamancheh, the rustic, plaintive spike fiddle. Khan is a renowned sitar player, Chaudhuri a percussionist. Revisiting the centuries-old trail, they blend classical Indian and Middle Eastern sounds into a hypnotic, often haunting mix. The big epic here is the almost twenty-minute Saga of the Rising Sun, which is the most overtly Indian of the compositions; the concluding Safar (Journey) is the most Iranian. In between, the almost half-hour of Come with Me and You Are My Moon are a showcase for these great musicians branching out into unfamiliar territory and achieving mesmerizingly intense results. We were only able to find torrents for the whole album in two parts, here and here.
581. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs
The 1974 highlight of Bowie’s completely over-the-top glam period, this eclectic, surreal, Orwellian concept album of sorts has always been underrated. It’s as notable for its strangeness (even for this guy) as it is for the fact that he played all the guitars and saxes here. The creepy, atmospheric vignette Future Legend segues into the scorching, iconic slide guitar-driven title track, followed by the fractured soul of Sweet Thing, the disquietingly disjointed Candidate and eventually the big riff-rock hit Rebel Rebel. 1984 takes Philly soul to the next level; We are the Dead, Big Brother and Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family work the creepy psychedelic side of the street. Lots of jarring segues, but a ton of good songs and a lot to think about too. Here’s a random torrent.
580. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa
Minamo is Japanese for “surface of the water;” Kuroi Kawa means “black river.” This largely improvisational double-cd duo album by Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and American violinist Carla Kihlstedt is aptly titled: it’s menacing, often impenetrable and sometimes downright macabre. There are amusing moments – a cat at play, two sisters struggling to open a window – but most of it is just plain white-knuckle intense. Kihlstedt moves from a whisper to a scream and back again against Fujii’s murderous cascades, ghostly music-box interludes and raw assaultiveness. It ends with long, color-coded suite: the rain-drenched Blue Slope; the head-on attack of Purple Summer; the surprisingly carefree Red Wind, hallucinatory Green Mirage and lethal, relentless snowstorm that winds up well over an hour’s worth of music. It came out on Tzadik in 2009 and still hasn’t made it to the usual sites but is well worth tracking down if raw adrenaline is your thing.
579. Kitty Wells – 20 Greatest Hits
The biggest female country star of the 1950s, Kitty Wells’ gently resolute, crystalline voice made her the perfect vehicle for songs about indomitable women gently and resolutely surmounting a never-ending series of obstacles. From her 1952 breakthrough It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, 1955′s Making Believe, 1957′s She’s No Angel and into the early 60s, she had her choice of Nashville’s top songwriters and honkytonk bands. This isn’t definitive, but it’s a good representation of Wells at her peak, with the defiant ballads This White Circle and I Gave My Wedding Dress Away, the wounded Lonely Side of Town, the outraged Will Your Lawyer Talk to God and the sardonic Meanwhile Down at Joe’s and Paying for That Back Street Affair. Here’s a random torrent via El Rancho 1.
578. Hector Lavoe – 15 Exitos
This is a decent if incomplete representation of the career of El Cantante, regarded by many as the greatest classic salsa singer of the golden age back in the 70s. His life, recounted in the 2003 biopic of the same name, was as uncertain as the angst and passion he channeled in his songs was direct. He died young, in 1993. This compilation, which covers pretty much his entire career, has his signature songs, El Cantante and Mi Gente; the tongue-in-cheek El Rey de la Puntualidad; the rough-and-ready Hacha y Machete, from 1970; the scorching Mentira, from 1976; the much slicker Noche de Farra, from 1980, and Cancer, from 1985. While the brass wails behind him, he’s never at ease: it seems that Fama was the last thing he wanted. Here’s a random torrent via Principiante Salsero.
577. The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators
45 years later, the 1966 debut of this legendary, creepy Texas acid garage band – with an amplified jug that sounded a little like a tabla – is still the standard for pretty much every other psychedelic garage group. Setting Roky Erikson’s reverb-drenched, deadpan nasal snarl and nonstop barrage of surreal imagery against tinny, clanging riff-rock that frequently ventures into R&B and funk, it’s a trip, in every sense of the word. The iconic song here is You’re Gonna Miss Me, famously covered by Radio Birdman and a million others; the b-side, Tried to Hide, isn’t bad either. Roller Coaster introduces a macabre riff that would resurface in the Cramps; Through the Rhythm invents a new genre, apocalyptic soul music. There’s also Monkey Island, whose theme the J. Geils Band would echo ten years later, and the more ornate Kingdom of Heaven, You Don’t Know How Young You Are and Splash 1 (Now I’m Coming Home) along with the proto-punk Don’t Fall Down and Fire Engine. Here’s a random torrent.
576. The Larch – Larix Americana
The Brooklyn psychedelic Britpop band’s best and most recent album, from 2010, blends Richard Lloyd-style guitar sizzle, frontman Ian Roure’s clever Elvis Costelloish wordplay and wickedly catchy guitar-and-keys hooks. Sub-Orbital Getaway is paisley underground disguised as new wave, with a characteristically paradoxical double entendre for a theme: it’s a trip, but where to? With Love from Region One is a bittersweet tribute to all good things American; Tracking Tina, a caustic look at cluelessly hypervigilant yuppie parents. The offhandedly charming Strawberry Coast has an ominous undercurrent: behind the chalet, the holiday’s complete. “Smile cause you’re on cctv as you’re walking home.” In the Name Of…, a slam at religious zealots, has a Moods for Moderns vibe; Inside Hugh chronicles a dayjob from hell. Queues Likely is equally caustic, imagining no respite from a wait “from bumper to brakelight.” Space Vacation updates the faux reggae of the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire; The Long Tail closes it, an aptly sardonic sendup of corporate groupthink. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet but it’s still available from cdbaby.
575. Telephone – Dure Limite
In their late 70s/early 80s heyday, Telephone were commonly known as the French Rolling Stones, but they were closer to the Boomtown Rats, especially by 1982 when they put out this eclectic mix of gritty riff-rock, snarling punkish broadsides and a small handful of artsy ballads. The former are well represented by the title track (“Hard Limit”), Serrez (Squeeze) and the funky, sarcastic Ça (C’est Vraiment Toi), which translates loosely as “Yeah, That’s You, All Right.” Bassist Corinne Marienneau takes over lead vocals on the sexy faux-jazz stripper groove of Le Chat, while frontman Jean-Louis Aubert brings a plaintive, brooding lyrical edge to Jour Contre Jour (Day After Day), Juste Un Autre Genre (Just Another Guy) and the slowly unwinding, Lou Reed-influenced Le Temps. The best tracks here are the scorching Ex-Robin des Bois (Ex-Robin Hood), a metaphorically-charged slam at a sellout traitor; the iconic Cendrillon (Cinderella), who goes from prom queen to dead junkie on the wings of Louis Bertignac’s gorgeously elegaic guitar; and the concluding, towering, angst-driven epic Ce Soir Est Ce Soir (Tonight’s the Night). In lieu of a torrent for this particular album, here’s one for all five of the band’s studio efforts: the first two are hit-and-miss, but everything else afterward is worth a spin, even if you don’t speak French.
574. The Microscopic Septet – Take the Z Train
Drawing as deeply from punk esthetics as from Monk and Ellington, the Microscopic Septet’s playful, often satirical, always swinging charts have tickled jazz fans since their inception in 1981: in a sense, they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of jazz. This is their debut from two years later. Imagine the Lounge Lizards if they’d showed off their chops and you get some idea of what this sounds like (pianist Joel Forrester, one of the group’s two main writers, would later come up with the theme for NPR’s Fresh Air). Soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston is responsible for the spy narrative Mr. Bradley, Mr. Martin, the breathless, bustling Pack the Ermines, Mary, and the latin swing of I Didn’t Do It. Johnston’s compositions here include Chinese Twilight Zone (the album was recorded in New York’s Chinatown utilizing a piano that had once reputedly belonged to Eubie Blake), as well as the tongue-in-cheek title track, the coy Wishful Thinking and the psychedelic closing cut, A Strange Thought Entered My Head, the band’s four-sax frontline blazing through one devious, tricky chart after another. Here’s a random torrent; repackaged as a twofer on the absolutely dynamite 2006 double-disc Seven Men in Neckties, it’s still available from Cuneiform.
573. Emily Remler - Transitions
Emily Remler was such a proficient jazz guitarist that early in her career, she made good on a promise to learn a new Wes Montgomery song all the way through, every day. This 1983 album was where she took her talent to the next level, further establishing the warmly exploratory, insatiably curious voice that would come to define her work. At her best, she wrote songs that you can absolutely get lost in. Here drummer Rakalam Bob Moses gives her a swinging launching pad, and she gets trumpeter John D’Earth and bassist Eddie Gomez to take their game up a notch. It’s notable for her own tunes Nunca Mais, with its bittersweet latinisms along with the thoughtful title track and the psychedelic Ode to Mali. The covers are good too: the obscure Ellington tune Searchin’, a swinging version of Sam Jones’ Del Sasser and an intriguing arrangement of Keith Jarrett’s Coral. Remler undoubtedly would have gone on to even greater things had she not died of a drug overdose at 32. Here’s a random torrent via Virtuosos Guitarristas.
572. Don Drummond – 100 Years After
Classic ska instrumentals from the legendary Skatalites trombonist, 1965. Not only did the Skatalites record an enormous amount of material as a band, they also did numerous solo albums, most of them billed to individual group members Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso – a model that both George Clinton and the Wu-tang Clan would follow with similar success. Drummond was arguably the most talented of all of them, but also the most erratic. This whole thing has the feel of a late-night session fueled by ceiling fans and lots of collie weed. A handful of the dozen danceable cuts here have made it to youtube: the evocative Last Call; the energetic Heaven and Earth; a signature song of sorts, Roll On Sweet Don; a lively ska version of Vienna Woods; and a surprisingly subtle version of the Dick Tracy theme popularized by the Ventures. Drummond would shortly thereafter murder his girlfriend; he died behind bars in 1969. Here’s a random torrent via You and Me on a Jamboree.
571. Penelope Houston – Pale Green Girl
Best known as the leader of late 70s punk rockers the Avengers – who were sort of the American Sex Pistols – Penelope Houston subsequently forged out a brilliant career as a much quieter, mostly acoustic tunesmith. She’s literally never made a bad album. Among the many cult classics in her catalog, this 2004 release gets the nod, if only for its consistency all the way through. Aside from the Avengers, it’s her hardest-rocking effort to date, with a late 60s psychedelic pop vibe fueled by gorgeous twelve-string guitar. As you would expect, it’s eclectic, ranging from the hopeful, jangly Take My Hand, to the sad, ghostly Aviatrix, the disarmingly poppy, metaphorically-charged Flight 609, and the quietly savage outsider anthem that serves as the title track. Bottom Line veers from dark reggae to jangly Byrdsiness; Privilege & Gold, Walnut, and Snow are bitterly vivid, lyrical Britfolk-inflected laments; the album ends with Soul Redeemer, the searing account of a rape survivor, and a lushly beautiful cover of John Cale’s Buffalo Ballet. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers, surprisingly, but the whole thing is streaming at myspace (don’t forget to reload the page after each song or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad) and it’s still available from Houston’s site.
570. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – Trio
Three of the finest voices of the past decades joined forces in 1987 for this spirited, inspired mix of traditional Americana classics and a few originals. This is Dolly’s project, a landmark in her career because it represented her first break from the pop schlock she’d been covering for the previous ten years or so; likewise, it reinvigorated Harris’ career and underscored Ronstadt’s then-newfound cred as a purist equally adept at rancheras, country and jazz. They do the old Dolly/Porter Wagoner tune Making Plans as well as her own Wildflowers, take their time with The Pain of Loving You, These Memories of You and a plaintive Telling Me Lies, go more rustic with Jimmie Rodgers’ Hobo’s Meditation, the traditional English folk song My Dear Companion and the early Nashville gothic tune Rosewood Casket. Despite dating from the synth era, the musicianship is remarkably inspired as well; the only dud here is a forgettable Phil Spector bubblegum hit. Here’s a random torrent.
569.Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues
A virtuoso guitarist equally adept at delta blues, vintage Appalachian folk, early jazz and rock, Lenny Molotov is also an acerbic, brutally perceptive songwriter and lyricist. This is his latest album, from 2010, an eclectic mix of all of those styles: if the Dead Kennedys had tried their hand at oldtimey music, it might have sounded something like this. Here he’s backed by a rustic, inspired string band including bass, drums, fiddle and blues harp. The early Dylanesque Wilderness Bound chronicles a symbolically-charged journey its narrator never wanted to make; Book of Splendor and the eerily hypnotic Ill Moon hark back to the delta, while Glorious evokes Woody Guthrie. The classic here is Freedom Tower, dating from the early days of the Bush regime, a witheringly sarcastic sendup of fascist architectural iconography (he says it much more simply and poetically than that). David Reddin’s Blues follows a similar tangent, a sardonic modern-day outlaw ballad, its killer on the run caught in an Orwellian snare. There’s also the swinging Faded Label Blues, a wryly bitter Jelly Roll Morton homage; the quietly defiant Devil’s Empire, and the bucolic waltz New Every Morning, which leaves no doubt where Molotov stands: “There’s just two kinds of music under the law/The real live blues, and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” This one’s real hard to find, but still available at shows – or check the blues bin at your local used record store, if you have one.
568. Sally Norvell – Choking Victim
Recorded in an old church in Northhampton, Massachusetts, this 2002 noir classic pairs off cult heroine Norvell’s icy/sultry vocals with Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s plaintive, haunting, reverb-drenched piano. The pitch-black intensity never lets up, through the Marlene Dietrich-ish gothic waltz Blake in the Cake; the seductive Brecht/Weill-tinged One Gentle Thing; Big Louise, a sad ballad for an aging party animal; the blackly sardonic AIDS-era memoir November; the self-explanatory Goodbye Song; the gleefully opiated wee-hours madness of Murder, as well as a hypnotic setting of a Paul Bowles poem, Tom Waits’ Please Call Me, Baby done as noir cabaret, and the Appalachian gothic ballad Forgotten and Abandoned done as straight-up, creepy neoclassical. Surprisingly, it ends on a very funny note (alluded to by the album cover), complete with a deadpan, amusing cameo from Norvell’s old bandmate Kid Congo Powers, with whom she recorded more rock-oriented versions of some of these songs. This one’s very hard to find. The sharelockers have nothing; once in awhile copies will turn up in the used bins – check your local used record store, if one still exists.
567. Squeeze – East Side Story
Ironically, this 1982 album is best known for the band’s worst song (and biggest hit – go figure), Tempted, the only cut that keyboardist Paul Carrack, who was in the group for only this album, ever gave them. But the rest of the songs are so good that they make you forget it’s there. More effectively than any of the well-loved British new wave band’s other albums, it contrasts Chris Difford’s quintessentially English, vaudevillian-tinged, lyrically dense tableaux with Glenn Tilbrook’s more diverse, Beatlesque tunesmithing and blazing lead guitar. Many of these songs take a sardonic but genuinely warmhearted look at romance from a woman’s point of view, without being sappy, notably Woman’s World, the poignant Someone Else’s Heart, the scurrying Is That Love and playful Mumbo Jumbo. The rest of the album is more eclectic than anything the band would do before or afterward, with the bitter country ballad Labelled with Love; the shapeshifting psychedelia of There’s No Tomorrow and F-Hole; Heaven, with its eerie, lickety-split banjo outro, the bouncy, cheery Piccadilly, Someone Else’s Bell and In Quintessence among the fourteen tracks on the original vinyl release. Here’s a random torrent via Ustedville.
566. Rasputina – A Radical Recital
Since the 90s, cellist/songwriter Melora Creager has created an eerily surreal, twistedly lyrical, frequently hilarious, visionary body of work that ranks with any other songwriter or composer’s output during that time. Literally everything she’s ever made is worth owning. This particular edition of Rasputina, from 2005, features three cellos and drums (the drum guy sings a silly English folk song, When I Was a Young Girl, for comic relief from the relentless, dark intensity) plus Creager on vocals doing essentially a greatest hits-live set. It’s a strong if incomplete representation, with the searing chromatics of Saline the Salt Lake Queen; the ferociously sarcastic Howard Hughes; the ethereally sad Sign of the Zodiac and Watch TV; a blistering cover of the old swing tune If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love; the amusing Mama Was an Opium Smoker; the entertainingly vicious anti-Rudy Guiliani broadside The Mayor; the pensive suicide anthem A Quitter, plus tongue-in-cheek chamber rock versions of Led Zep’s Rock & Roll and Barracuda by Heart. The cd is still available at the band’s site; here’s a random torrent.
565. Sade – Lovers Live
At the risk of alienating our entire base with the poppiest album on this list so far, here’s a counterinituitive pick, to the extreme. Why? Sade was the default boudoir chanteuse for an entire generation. As with Al Green fifteen years before, thousands (maybe millions) of babies born in the late 80s and 90s owe their existence to Helen Folasade Adu’s wistful, slightly smoky, come-hither vocals. This surprisingly energetic 1999 live album cements her reputation not only as an avatar of seduction, but also as a first-class singer who transcends the torch-song limitations of most of her material. As expected, this set is heavy with bedroom anthems from early in her career: Cherish the Day, Kiss of Life, The Sweetest Taboo, No Ordinary Love, By Your Side and of course Smooth Operator, which is actually pretty ragged here. There’s also Jezebel, a sad ballad for a heartbreaker; the quietly poignant Slave Song, and a swaying, blues-infused version of Is It a Crime among the thirteen tracks here. The band don’t quite make it to the level of jazz, but as trip-hop, nobody ever did it better than they did. Break out the incense, wine and candles, and this random torrent.
564. Canibus – Mic Club: The Curriculum
A rare example of a lyricist who more than lived up to the extreme hype surrounding his 1998 debut, Canibus represents the pinnacle of East Coast hardcore hip-hop wordsmithing: he’s never made a bad album. This 2002 underground classic is where he really took his game to the next level: erudite, serious as hell but also funny as hell with the mot juste when he wants to skewer someone. He’s so articulate here that he doesn’t even feel the need to use any curse words until track six. The rhymes come fast and furious with Poet Laureate; Masters Thesis; the scathing Behind Enemy Rhymes; Allied Meta-Forces, with a typically potent Kool G Rap cameo; Cenoir Studies 02; C Section; Literal Arts (featuring heavy-hitting Philly artist Jedi Mind Tricks) and Curriculum 101. As much as hip-hop has always been more about the lyrics than the backing tracks, the samples here are especially imaginative (when’s the last time you heard somebody sample Pink Floyd’s Summer ’68?). Here’s a random torrent.
563. Firewater – The Ponzi Scheme
A pre-millennial concept album about the deadly consequences of capitalist excess: the personal as political taken to a stunningly prophetic extreme. Fiery art-punks Firewater get extra props for spawning both Balkan Beat Box and Botanica, groups they heavily influenced. This 1998 release is intense and brilliantly lyrical all the way through, along with a couple of evilly cartoonish Balkan brass instrumental romps. The gypsy barroom rock of Green Light comments on the perils of chasing the almighty dollar, “going down like a pederast in a boys school;” Dropping Like Flies sounds like the Damned on a literate gypsy rampage. Caroline cruelly chronicles a girl who “starved herself of everything that money couldn’t buy,” while the noir piano boogie Whistling in the Dark reminds that you can only live on borrowed time for so long. There’s also Isle of Dogs, a snarling, spot-on hypocrite’s tale fueled by Oren Kaplan’s reverb guitar; the twisted tango Another Perfect Catastrophe; the savagely mocking So Long Superman, essentially a punk rock remake of Tainted Love; I Still Love You Judas, proof positive that there really is no honor among thieves; Knock Em Down, a savagely sarcastic noir cabaret tune, and the potent concluding song, Drunkard’s Lament, a searing look at the psychology of spectacles like reality tv a few years before it existed: “Misery loves company, that’s why everybody loves me.” Firewater frontman Tod A. has kept the band alive over the years with a shifting cast of characters, slowly moving further away from rock toward the East, with excellent results. The whole album is streaming at Spotify (as of July 2011) ; here’s a random torrent via Cosmo Zebra.
562. The Modern Lovers’ first album
We’re trying hard not to duplicate the two best-known “best albums” lists on the web, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. Recorded in 1972 (back when Jonathan Richman still had an edge, before he turned into a parody of himself), not released until 1976, enormously influential and still a great party album after all these years, it’s a mix of scurrying second-generation Velvets vamps and poppier janglerock. The iconic one here is Roadrunner (memorably butchered by the Sex Pistols). Richman may have held hippies in contempt (the hilarious bonus track I’m Straight), but he goes in that direction on Astral Plane. Otherwise, he’s cranky and defiantly retro on Old World and Modern World, hauntingly poignant on She Cracked and Hospital, LOL funny on their cover of John Cale’s Pablo Picasso (who really was an asshole), and only gets sappy on Someone I Care About. The early zeros reissue comes with a bunch of bonus tracks which include the Boston classic Government Center but otherwise aren’t up to the level of the John Cale-produced originals. Extra props to the band for contributing members to both the Talking Heads and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters. Here’s a random torrent.
561. The Hangdogs – Wallace ’48
These New York hellraisers got their start as sharply literate if drunken alt-country types in the late 90s. By 2003, when this final album came out, they’d gone in more of an Americana rock direction: imagine Jello Biafra fronting Social Distortion, and you’ll get some idea of what the Hangdogs were all about at the end. This is a slice of life from the early Bush era, a scathingly hilarious account of everyday people battling sadistic bosses, broke and too wasted on reality tv to realize how much closer to slaves they became every day. The title track is a bluegrass homage to perennial Socialist Party candidate George Wallace, followed by Waiting For the Stars To Fall, the towering, elegaic ballad that Oasis never wrote. Lots of funny country songs here: Memo from the Head Office, making sure that we max out our credit cards on the all shit we don’t need; Drink Yourself to Death, a spot-on satire of “new Nashville” music; the self-explanatory Alcohol of Fame, and Serious Guy, who’s somebody you hope you never work for. And just as many genuinely serious songs: the workingman’s lament Early to Bed; the plaintive She’s Leaving You; lead guitarist Texas Tex’s hallucinatory, somber Porch Swing; and the bitter band-on-the-road anthem Goodnight, Texas. Frontman Matthew Grimm would go on to equally good things as the leader of socially aware Iowa rockers the Red Smear later in the decade. Utterly impossible to find as a torrent; the usual pay sites have mp3s, and the whole thing is streaming at Spotify (as/of July 2011).
560. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Join Hands
Over the course of their long career, Siouxsie & the Banshees have pushed the envelope with punk rock, goth, psychedelia and gamelan-inspired experimental sounds. This 1979 album, their second, is where Siouxsie Sioux crystallized her inimitable microtonal vocal style, along with her outraged-witness persona. Side one of this album follows a loosely thematic World War I theme, beginning with the acidic, atonal Poppy Day (sort of a punk version of the famous antiwar poem In Flanders Field). Guitarist John McKay hits his chords like he’s swinging a machete, through the scorching Regal Zone and Placebo Effect, while bassist Steven Severin’s minimalist chords fuel the fires in the savagely menacing Icon (which kicks off with the distant rumble of cannon fire). Premature Burial is as morbidly memorable as the band ever got; Playground Twist a vivid look at the cruelty children inflict on each other; Mother, a horror-movie music-box theme. The album ends with the eleven-minute, dadaist sacrilege of The Lord’s Prayer, originally done by Sid Vicious’ first band the Flowers of Romance. It’s most likely the only instance ever where anyone called Muhammad Ali a ”fucking dick” on vinyl. Here’s a random torrent.
559. Jethro Tull – A
Some of you may be wondering what kind of drugs we’ve been doing, considering that there are not only one but two Jethro Tull albums here (Aqualung is also on the list – see our “obvious picks” page). And while there is a track on this album called the Pine Marten’s Jig, it’s the only hobbity tune here. All the jigging and whistling – and the band’s atrocious metal albums from the late 80s – obscure the fact that when this band was at the top of their game, they made several albums’ worth of terrifically lyrical, absolutely unique, metal and Britfolk-flavored art-rock. This is a 1980 concept album about nuclear armageddon (back then, everybody thought that the world would end in a shower of bombs instead of a meltdown in Japan). Thematically, everything that can go wrong here does. Crossfire was inspired by a hostage situation at the Iranian Embassy in London, while the catchy, spiraling Fylingdale Flyer looks at the logical extreme created when a false alarm signals a nuclear attack. The swaying Working John, Working Joe is a call for solidarity; the real gem, Black Sunday is a tricky, eerie countdown to the end. The metalish Protect and Survive has lyrics taken from a Soviet army manual, followed eventually by the creepy, surreal Batteries Not Included, the nonconformist anthem Uniforms, and the requiem And Further On. In lieu of the album – absolutely impossible to find online because of the title, and because ours is on vinyl – we give you this contemporaneous 1980 live set, with many of these tracks, via theultimatebootlegexperience.
558. The Moody Blues – Long Distance Voyager
Did the Moody Blues invent art-rock…or at least chamber pop? Maybe. Fans of the tuneful, philosophically inclined psychedelic pop band are probably mystified why we chose this 1981 reunion album of sorts over well-loved 60s releases like In Search of the Lost Chord or On the Threshold of a Dream. Answer: all of those albums have some great tunes, but also a bunch of real clunkers as well. This, on the other hand is solid virtually all the way through, and the songwriting is arguably the band’s strongest. The production manages to be ornate and genuinely majestic despite the heavy synthesizers. The big, brisk top 40 hit was The Voice, followed closely by the artsy, ELOish, disco-tinged Gemini Dream (a great song to cover if you played it loud and fast like a lot of bands of the era did). The irresistible Talking out of Turn is a seven-minute pop song that actually works. Guitarist Justin Hayward’s lush kiss-off anthem Meanwhile is genuinely poignant, as is bassist John Lodge’s sweeping, understatedly anguished art-pop ballad Nervous. There’s also the morbid 22,000 Days, the twisted cabaret of Painted Smile and the even more twisted Veteran Cosmic Rocker, a surprisingly snarling satire of aging hippie rockers by a band who knew a little something about being one. Here’s a random torrent.
557. The Jam – Setting Sons
Maybe someday in 2013 when this list is finally finished, we’ll move this 1979 punk rock classic a little higher…or maybe into the alltime top 10, where it probably deserves to be. This might be the best rock bass record ever made, Bruce Foxton growling and punching his way through one fiery, melodic riff after another. The best of all of them might be the one in Private Hell, frontman/guitarist Paul Weller’s searing, sarcastic account of a day in the life of a yuppie shopper. There’s also the ripping, mod-punk Girl on the Phone; the rueful, metaphorically-charged Thick As Thieves; the scorching, anti-imperialist Little Boy Soldiers and The Eton Rifles; the alienation anthems Burning Sky and Wasteland; the populist Saturday’s Kids; the best version of Smithers-Jones, done with a string quartet here; and a punked-out cover of the old Motown hit Heat Wave. Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler still tour, with a new guitarist; Weller sadly and unexpectedly lost his touch as a songwriter when the band broke up in 1984 and never got it back. Here’s a random torrent via Mod 64.
556. Arsenio Rodriguez y Su Conjunto – Sabroso y Caliente
Rustic yet cutting-edge for its time, this is an update on classic Cuban son. Bandleader Rodriguez, blinded in a childhood accident, played the Cuban acoustic guitar known as the tres. Highly sought after in his later years as a sideman, he was a major influence on the great salsa bands of the 70s. This flavorful, hot 1957 session carves out a niche halfway between the blazing big band sounds of Tito Puente or Perez Prado, and the Cuban country music that Rodriguez grew up with. Some may find the vocals a little over the top, but the band is cooking. The dozen tracks here include the soaring, upbeat Carraguao Alante; the lush, minor key Hay Fuego En el 23; Buenavista en Guaguancó, an old song from Rodriguez’s small-combo period in the 40s; the slinky Blanca Paloma; the sly mambo Mami Me Gusto, the hypnotically insistent La Fonda de Bienvenido, and Adorenla Como a Marti, which evades the censors by allusively referencing the notorious 1912 massacres of Afro-Cubans on the island. Here’s a random torrent via Global Groovers.
555. Bartok – String Quartets Nos. 1-6 – The Alban Berg Quartett
Angry, sardonic, brooding, bitter but also surprisingly peaceful in places, Bela Bartok’s six string quartets are among the most gripping pieces of chamber music ever written. Demanding? Yes. Offputting? Not really, unless your ears can’t handle anything more sophisticated than Lady Gag. They’re extremely difficult to play, utilizing the entire sonic spectrum and complicated technique (Bartok, a pianist, performed many small-group or duo concerts with string players and was obviously paying close attention to the challenges his work afforded his bandmates). He drew heavily on the most jarring tonalities of the Hungarian gypsy music he came to love so much, but as abrasive as some of these are (the first is one of the most wrathful compositions you’ll ever hear), they can also be very memorably tuneful. This 2004 box set is notable for being one of the last made by the group’s excellent violist Thomas Kakuska shortly before his death…and it’s also mysteriously hard to find on the web. In lieu of this one we suggest another excellent collection from a couple of years later by the Emerson String Quartet via Holy Fucking Shit 40000.
554. The Who – The Who Sings My Generation
OK, OK, this is “classic rock,” the one thing we’re trying to stay away from here. But what a rhythm section – and a tragedy that both John Entwistle and Keith Moon both left us so young. This album came out in 1965, when the band’s sound was new and fresh, before Pete Townshend turned into a Jimmy Page wannabe and Daltrey…well, the music here is good enough to make you forget he’s on it. With his completely unpredictable rumbling thunder attack, Moon absolutely owns La-La-La-Lies and Much Too Much. A Legal Matter mines the same amped-up R&B style as the Pretty Things and the early Kinks; the Good’s Gone foreshadows the Move. There’s also the country dancehall stomp of It’s Not True, the blue eyed soul ballad I Don’t Mind and Out in the Street, with its cool tremoloing intro. Oh yeah, there’s also an oldies radio standard, a future movie theme and a primitive, fuzztoned quasi-surf instrumental. The band only miss when they misguidedly try their hand at James Brown. Here’s a random torrent.
553. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology
A caustic, wickedly tuneful concept album about the struggle for a musician to reach an audience in the last dying days of the major label era, 2009. Treat of the Week scathingly chronicles a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame; the deadpan 60s Britpop bounce of Discount Store masks its sting as an anthem for the current depression. The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: the funniest song here, Apologia is a faux power ballad ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to fight the system. The classic here is City Of… a cruelly spot-on analysis of music fandom (and its Balkanized subcultures) in a Toronto of the mind; Street Team, a spot-on, Orwellian look at how marketers attempt to create those Balkanized audiences; My Alleged Career, an alienated distillation of how Bryk’s music was probably received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a pretty ballad, a musical joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad: “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry,” Bryk insists. Mystifyingly, this one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s streaming at Spotify (as of July 2011) and it’s still available at Bryk’s site, where you can also hear the whole thing.
552. Wadi Al-Safi: Ajmal Aghani – The Very Best of Wadi Al-Safi
The career of crooner/oudist Wadi Al-Safi, “the Voice of Lebanon,” has spanned eight decades. Essentially, he’s a soul singer, with a warm baritone characterized more by nuance than bite. Like so many levantine artists dating back to the 1940s, he was also a star of screwball comedies; much of his repertoire has iconic status that extends beyond his home turf. This is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a decent overview. Lots of hits here: the lushly orchestrated La La Aini La; the sweeping Tallou Hbabna; the plaintive, hypnotic, accordion-driven Remche Ouyounek; the suspenseful, slow Ma Atwalak Ya Layl; the slinky snakecharmer dance Albi Yehwak; Betrehlak Mechwar, with its cool qanun/bass intro; and Ya Rabe’ena, which works equally well as military march or wedding dance. The whole album is streaming at Spotify; here’s a random torrent via Folk Music SMB.
551. Greta Gertler & Peccadillo – Nervous Breakthroughs
Recorded mostly in the late 90s but not available outside Australia until 2004, this is a lush, sweeping classic of chamber pop and art-rock. With her sometimes stratospheric high soprano voice, sizzling keyboard chops and playful, unpredictable songwriting, Gertler comes across as something of a down-to-earth Kate Bush (hard to imagine, but try anyway). With a rock band and string section behind her, she veers from the Supertramp-style pop of Happy Again and the vividly anxious Highest Story to more austere, windswept pieces like Away and the quirky I’m Not a Lizard, and even a blazing Russian folk dance, The Hot Bulgar. The bitterly triumphant, intensely crescendoing Moving Backwards is the real killer cut here, although all the tracks are strong. With its killer chorus, Julian should have been the big radio hit; there’s also a boisterous Aussie football song, and the bouncy, Split Enz-ish Charlie #3. Mysteriously absent from the blogosphere and the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby. Gertler has since taken her game up yet another notch as leader of the symphonic rock crew the Universal Thump, whose current album in progress is every bit as good as this one. You may even see it on this list someday.
550. Machito – Kenya
A landmark of latin big band jazz. Hard to believe, but this stuff was actually mainstream in 1957 when the album came out (one of Machito’s most popular albums was marketed as being recorded at the Catskills resort where he held an annual summer residency for years). On one hand, this doesn’t have the raw bite of the legendary bandleader’s stuff from the 30s and 40s, but the songs and the charts are killer. All of these are originals save for percussionist Chano Pozo’s noir classic Tin Tin Deo. Lots of flavors here: the brisk, blazing guaguanco of Wild Jungle; the slinky, suspenseful Congo Mulence; the lush, majestic title track; the stop-and-start intenstiy of Oyeme; Holiday, with its surgically precise Cannonball Adderley solo; Cannonology, a sideways Charlie Parker tribute; the sinister-tinged Frenzy; proto-ska Conversation; bustling Minot Rama; hypnotically soulful Tururato, and Blues A La Machito, which is more Machito than blues. Here’s a random torrent via Hasta Luego Baby.
549. Genesis – Nursery Cryme
While the veteran British art-rockers’ legacy suffers under the weight of a lot of lousy material from the Phil Collins years and then the 80s, up through the mid-70s they were a sensationally good, theatrical, guitar-and-keyboard-driven symphonic rock machine. This 1971 album may be the best of the bunch, although everything else they did while Peter Gabriel was in the band is worth hearing. Trippy, surreal and often macabre, it’s got many of the band’s best-loved epics: The Musical Box, a metaphorically-charged suite; The Return of the Giant Hogweed, which reminds that in the end, nature always wins; the bizarre, mythological Fountain of Salmacis; the wistful folk-rock vignette For Absent Friends, and Harold the Barrel, one of the weirdest, creepiest three-minute songs ever written. Gabriel imbues it all with a defiant, literate individualism, much as Roger Waters did in Pink Floyd. Here’s a random torrent.
548. Bessie Smith – Complete Recorded Works 1922-23
The real primo Bessie Smith albums are not available digitally: they’re double-vinyl reissues from the 60s and 70s, a series with faux-antique trellis edging the album covers in various colors, still frequently found in used record stores. If you see one, pick it up, because pretty much everything the Queen of the Blues ever did is worth owning. We suggest this double-cd reissue because it has a mix of her most iconic songs, i.e. Down Hearted Blues, Bleeding Hearted Blues and ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do, some of her famously suggestive stuff like Nobody In Town Can Bake A Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine and also a whole bunch of her creepiest sides. It doesn’t have Sing Sing Blues, but it does have Sam Jones’ Blues, the chillingly surreal Graveyard Dream Blues, Cemetery Blues, Frosty Morning Blues, Haunted House Blues and the absolutely awesome Hateful Blues. There’s cleverly funny stuff like Eavesdropper’s Blues and topical songs like the escaped-slave allegory Ticket Agent, Ease Your Window Down and for the country crowd, Boweavil Blues. Most of the songs are just piano and vocals, some with the guy who was arguably the greatest blues pianist ever, James P. Johnson. No Louis Armstrong duets here – while it’s quaint to imagine him smoking her up, her strongest songs were always her darkest ones. If you don’t already know her, this will hook you for life. Here’s a random torrent via Dirty Music.
547. The Wirebirds – Past and Gone
By the time this 2003 album came out, the great New York Britfolk band was finished: they did one final show that year, and that was the end. With three first-rate songwriters – frontwoman Amanda Thorpe, guitarists Will Dial and Peter Stuart – they alternated between lush, Richard Thompson-inflected anthems and more stark, bucolic material. This album is pretty much their entire catalog. The album opens with a blast of twelve-string guitar a la the Church with the big, sweeping Can You, winds through a bunch of warily apprehensive ballads before they hit their high point with Dial’s towering, apocalyptic This Green Hell (our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003). Stuart’s catchy, lusciously jangly, rueful One Way Ticket would have been the big radio hit in a smarter universe, a vibe he takes to the next level with Time Stands Still. Fourteen tracks in all, including a biting cover of the English folksong Three Ravens, all with soaring three-part harmonies and layer upon layer of jangling, roaring, crashing guitar. Thorpe would go on to reach equally intense heights as a solo artist, and then with the Bedsit Poets. Strangely absent from the sharelockers, the whole thing is streaming at Spotify, and it’s still available from cdbaby.
546. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Complete Recorded Works 1942-44
A gospel guitar goddess who frequently collaborated with the jazz and blues stars who revered her, from the 1940s into the 60s. Not all her songs were completely sanctified, either: I Want a Tall Skinnny Papa, or Trouble in Mind, for example. She played acoustic, she played electric, didn’t waste notes, kept her solos terse and intense. This is as good an overview of her career as any, although if you like this stuff you’ll want to investigate the rest of her extensive catalog. This double-disc set has Big Bill Broonzy’s This Train, gospel hits like What He Done for Me, I Want Jesus to Walk Around My Bedside and inspired, rocking versions of spirituals and folk songs like All Over This World and Down by the Riverside. There’s also the plaintive Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares and the inspiring Strange Things Happening Every Day among the 27 tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Flabbergasted Vibes.
545. Cocktail Angst - Our Big Top Parade
Like Richard Cheese, New York band Cocktail Angst made fun of lounge music, but much more subtly. Frontwoman Toby Williams, keyboardist Jon Dryden, vibraphonist Tom Beckham, bassist Tim Luntzel and drummer John Mettam gave their songs period-perfect torchy 1950s latin jazz arrangements, then gently and expertly mocked them. This 2001 release is the better (or at least longer) of their two often pricelessly funny albums, much of it foreshadowing the considerably darker direction Beckham would take as a solo artist. It’s got the title track’s seedy circus milieu; the absolutely silly, over-the-top, Pineapples, a spoof of 50s “exotica;” Samba de Angst, a cynical look through the eyes of a gold-digging stripper; and Mindless, which reminds that the New York City subway was just as bad fifteen years ago as it is now. Last Tango in Vegas is actually a creepy blues lamenting the Disneyfication of the city: “Be wary of the great American dream/The Elk’s Club bids you all a good night.” With its big Henry Mancini-esque crescendos, Kama Sutra is even creepier. There’s also Bates Motel, a twisted noir vacation scenario and the blithe yet bitter Case of Cheap Goodnight along with a John Denver cover which is as hideously awful as the original, probably for a reason. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from cdbaby.
544. Pulp – Separations
The best British band of the 90s made a bunch of great albums. This one, from 1992, is their most theatrical. There’s a distinct A-side and a B-side, the first an update on noir 60s American pop, the second a cruelly deadpan parody of the era’s computerized disco music. Love Is Blind and Don’t You Want Me Anymore are Jarvis Cocker at his most glammy and sarcastic; She’s Dead, the title track and the absolutely creepy Down by the River aren’t particularly subtle, but they’re troubling nonetheless (Cocker has always dealt with death and tragedy by exposing others’ callousness and obliviousness to it, and these are prime examples). Side 2 is just plain funny, even if the joke starts to get old by the time they reach the end, with eight mindlessly throbbing minutes of This House Is Condemned. Leading up to it are the moronically repetitive Countdown, the catchy synth-pop of My Legendary Girlfriend and Death II, which revisits the morbid vibe of side one. Here’s a random torrent.
543. Ruben Blades y Seis Del Solar – Escenas
One of the most socially aware artists of the classic salsa era, Ruben Blades gets extra props for introducing Hector Lavoe to Willie Colon while working in the Fania Records mailroom and writing songs on the side. The rest is history. While he bridges several eras, Blades’ songwriting has never wavered. The production on this 1984 release isn’t as ballsy as it would have been ten years previously, but the songs are consistently excellent, even Silencios, which is badly miscast as a pop ballad. Otherwise, there’s the starkly scurrying widow’s lament Cuentas Del Alma; the scathing Tierra Dura, which addresses famine in Ethiopia; the blackly humorous La Cancion Del Final Del Mundo; Sorpresas, which continues the story of the struggling blue-collar Pedro Navaja, star of Blades’ signature song; Caina, a gritty look at the not-so-glamorous side of the cocaine trade (“Why would you want to do coke/It makes you edgy and obnoxious”) and an update on the Los Van Van hit Muevete. Here’s a random torrent.
542. The Long Ryders – Native Sons
This 1984 album is one of the best early alt-country records. Frontman Sid Griffin – who would go on to write an acclaimed Gram Parsons biopic – shifted from Stonesy stomp, to twang, to the occasional venture into the psychedelic paisley underground sound that the other northern California bands of the era were so well known for. The real gem here is the ferocious Cali gothic Wreck of the 809, driven by its eerily soaring bassline. The rocking stuff includes the surreal Final Wild Son and Run Dusty Run (a Steve Wynn reference); the country is represented by the bittersweet Ivory Tower, I Had a Dream, Fair Game, the wry bluegrass-tinged Never Got to Meet the Mom and a boisterous cover of Mel Tillis’ Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge. The band would stay together through the 80s; everything they put out is worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent via Gas Music.
541. Elvis Costello – Costello & Nieve Live
Recorded on tour in five different cities, one per cd, this limited-edition box set went out of print shortly after its 1996 release – but thanks to the folks at For the Dishwasher, you can still download it. Just Costello playing acoustic guitar, and genius noir pianist Steve Nieve turning in a lot of characteristically transcendent performances. Highlights of the 27 tracks here: the best-ever version of what might be Costello’s most paradoxically brilliant song, Man Out of Time; an especially creepy Long Honeymoon; a skeletal, low-key Temptation; the surreal, seven-minute Brecht/Weill-influenced My Dark Life; a plaintively plainspoken cover of the Grateful Dead’s Ship of Fools; a biting, jaunty You’ll Never Be a Man; a real showstopping version of the suicide anthem All the Rage; and a lot of stuff from All This Useless Beauty, including takes of The Other End of the Telescope, Little Atoms, Poor Fractured Atlas and I Want to Vanish, all of which are even better than the studio versions. To those who say there are too many Elvis Costello albums on this list: he’s probably made at least a dozen classic albums, and plenty more than that are also worth hearing, so why shouldn’t we include half of them?
540. The Kinks – Something Else by the Kinks
This was a tough call. Everybody loves Village Green; Arthur is also a great album. But how about this 1967 release? What an eclectic, smart, catchy bunch of songs. The ones everybody knows and loves are Waterloo Sunset and David Watts (thanks to the Jam for making that one a punk classic). But the rest of the album is just as strong: the sarcastic Situation Vacant; the austere chamber pop tunes Death of a Clown, Two Sisters and No Return; the antiwar Tin Soldier Man, no less true today than it was then; the sly stoner anthem Harry Rag; Lazy Old Sun and Afternoon Tea, which foreshadow what was to come on Village Green; and the soul-infused ballad Love Me Til the Sun Shines, which would be a hit for the Lyres almost twenty years later. Here’s a random torrent via Oldish Psych Prog.
539. Either/Orchestra – The Calculus of Pleasure
Before Ethiopiques, before Either/Orchestra became Mulatu Astatke’s North American backing unit, they were a very clever, original, often noirish big band. When they weren’t doing cinematic, genre-defying instrumentals that bridge the gap between rock and jazz, that is. Literally everything saxophonist/composer Russ Gershon’s long-running Boston outfit has released is worth hearing; this 1992 album gets the nod because it’s probably their darkest and most cohesive. The real stunner here is a sad, elegaic ballad aptly titled Grey. There’s also the bracing, uneasy swing of Whisper Not; Bennie Moten’s Weird Nightmare, with its tongue-in-cheek Mingus echoes; the cinematic, suspenseful Consenting Adults; Ecaroh, which alternates between creepy bossa nova and swinging contentment; Unnatural Pastime, which begins as an animated jump blues but gets dark fast; and the epics Miles Away and The Hard Blues. Most of this is streaming at myspace (and surprisingly, this playlist isn’t interrupted by ads); here’s a random torrent via Six By Six.
538. Bobby Vacant and the Weary – Tear Back the Night
We picked this as one of the best albums of 2009. It’s as much a masterpiece of simple, potently imagistic wordsmithing as it is musically, multi-instrumentalist George Reisch a.k.a. The Weary giving these haunted, alienated songs the gravitas they deserve with some stunningly eclectic arrangements. Stand in Time gets an elegaic, vintage Moody Blues arrangement, while the surprisingly witty Waveflowers paints a portrait of slipping away in the night against a vividly nocturnal mid-period Pink Floyd style backdrop. Bobby Vacant opens the album by cautioning everybody to stay away; by the end, he’s willing to open the door a crack. In between, he chronicles acid casualties, sold-out ex-idealists and the down-and-out on the Arthur Lee-esque Clark Street and the snide country-rock romp Dylan’s Dead. The death obsession goes front and center on the dirge Some Walk; the most powerful tracks here are the title track, a creepy post-party scenario, and Never Looking Back, a bitter, morbid escape anthem set to a triumphant janglerock tune that will resonate with anyone who ever felt surrounded and threatened by people who just don’t get it. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers, it’s still available from the excellent Chicago label Luxotone, where you can hear the whole thing. Bobby Vacant continues as a solo artist while running another excellent upstart label, Switzerland’s Weak Records.
537. Mama Cass Elliot – Dream a Little Dream
What a voice. What soul, and longing, and sensuality. Some of the tunes on the 60s cult heroine’s torchy 1968 debut release, like Burn Your Hatred and Rubber Band, are a little dated, but those vocals are timeless. And it’s too bad she isn’t with us anymore (the story about choking on a sandwich is cruelly untrue – it was bad dope that did her in). As you would expect from the hippie milieu she inhabited at that point, a lot of usual suspects stepped up to help out. Steven Stills’ guitar spices up the surprisingly plaintive Talking To Your Toothbrush; the Band’s Richard Manuel contributes Blues for Breakfast; John Sebastian throws in the pensive chamber-pop Room Nobody Lives In; and Leonard Cohen – who knows something about sexy allure – gives her You Know Who I Am (and she reciprocates mightily). There’s also the heavily reworked title track, a Bessie Smith hit forty years previously; California Earthquake, a psychedelic pop period piece that still resonates; the big ballads What Was I Thinking Of and Long Time Loving You; the blue-eyed soul of Sweet Believer, and the jokey but actually very spot-on Jane the Insane Dog Lady. Here’s a random torrent via Jensen Brazil.
536. Ward White – Pulling Out
One of the world’s most literate rock songwriters, Ward White’s sardonic, sometimes scathing lyrics use devices usually found only in latin poetry or great novels – but he makes it seem effortless, maybe because he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s also a great tunesmith, and a first-class lead guitarist. Choosing from among his half-dozen albums is a crapshoot, since they’re all excellent. This one, from 2008, has a purist janglerock vibe, with keyboardist Joe McGinty turning in his finest, most deviously textural work since his days with the Psychedelic Furs. It opens with the bitter Beautiful Reward; Getting Along Is Easy cruelly chronicles a high-profile breakup; Let It All Go hilariously explores family dysfunction in Connecticut WASP-land. Miserable contrasts the catchiest tune here with the album’s most morose, doomed lyric. And The Ballad of Rawles Balls (White was once their bass player) immortalizes the legendary, satirical New York cover band from hell. There’s also bleak, jaundiced chamber-pop and a Big Star homage of sorts. Too obscure to make it to the share sites, it’s still streaming at White’s own site, where copies are also available. And his latest, 2011 release, Done with the Talking Cure, is just about as good as this one.
535. Exotica – Original Soundtrack
Canadian composer Mychael Danna has gotten a lot of Hollywood work; the best of his extensive career is this obscure 1994 score for an Atom Egoyan film that pretty much sank without a trace. Marketed as a suspense flick about a Montreal stripper and her stalker, it’s reputedly awful. But the music is a treat. It’s the kind of thing you might have discovered around that time on an adventurous late-night show on a good NPR affiliate. It’s notable for including several haunting, astringent Armenian melodies, including the folk songs Dilko Tamay Huay and Mujay Yaad (the latter completely redone as proto-bhangra). Some of these themes Danna expands on for his own compositions, most chillingly a series titled Field 1 through Field 4, a simple motif that in the end has grown to become downright macabre. There’s also the (possibly deliberately) silly disco title theme; the appropriately titled Something Hidden, Snake Dance, and the final track, The Ride Home, lush and more than a little exhausted, a bit of a respite from all the intensity. Here’s a random torrent via Judy Step.
534. New York City: Global Beat of the Boroughs
This 2001 Smithsonian Folkways release may be a long series of ludicrously bad segues, but multicultural party playlists don’t get much better than this. It’s predominantly latin and Balkan music played by obscure but frequently brilliant expatriate New York-based groups, although other immigrant cultures are represented. While the tracks by Irish group Cherish the Ladies and klezmer stars Andy Statman and the Klezmatics are all excellent, it’s surprising that the compilers couldn’t come up with the same kind of obscure treasures they unearthed from Puerto Rican plena groups Vienta de Agua and Los Pleneros de 21; or Albanian Besim Muriqi’s scorching dance tunes; or stately theatrical pieces by the prosaically titled traditional groups Music From China and the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Association. There are also rousing Greek and Bulgarian romps from Grigoris Maninakis and Yuri Yunakov, respectively; a soulful suite of Lebanese songs by crooner Naji Youssef; and even a spirited if roughhewn version of the Italian theme for the Williamsburg “Walking of the Giglio,” a big wooden tower paraded through the streets by a large troupe of hardworking men every August, among the 31 fascinating tracks here. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from the folks at the Smithsonian.
533. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll
Ex-Hangdogs frontman Grimm’s second album with this fiery, Social Distortion-esque Iowa highway rock band is what the Dead Kennedys might have sounded like had they survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf music for Americana. This 2009 release mixes snidely, sometimes viciously humorous cuts like Hang Up and Drive (a hilarious chronicle of idiots calling and texting behind the wheel), Cinderella (the self-centered girl who wants it all) and My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me (a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot chick, and who just can’t seem to complete his collection) with more savage, politically fueled songs. The centerpiece is the cold-blooded, murderous 1/20/09, celebrating the end of the Bush regime and looking forward the day when the “cloistered and dull trust-fund kid” might have to face up to his crimes in The Hague. There’s also the amusing Wrath of God, a sendup of doomsday Christians; White, an irresistibly funny, spot-on parody of white hip-hop; the triumphant and quite possibly prophetic singalong One Big Union, and the LMFAO Ayn Rand Sucks, which bitchslaps the memory of the “Nazi skank.” Also strangely AWOL from the usual sources for free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby. The band’s first album, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, is just about as entertaining too.
532. Linda Draper – Bridge & Tunnel
Quietly and methodically, New York tunesmith Linda Draper has established herself as an elite lyrical songwriter. This 2009 release is the best and slightly most rock-oriented of her six consistently excellent, melodic albums. In a cool, nuanced voice, backed by her own nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a terse rhythm section, she stakes out characteristically sardonic, richly literate territory from a defiant outsider’s point of view. With its chilly organ background, the title track (Manhattanite slang for “suburban moron”) packs a quiet bite; the nonconformist anthems Sharks and Royalty and Broken Eggshell reflect a similar gentle confidence. Pushing up the Days is a snarky, pun-infused kiss-off, while Time Will Tell reverts to the psychedelic stream-of-consciousness vibe of her earlier work. The charmingly rustic Last One Standing hints that there could be a third choice other than leading or following; there’s also a casual, fun cover of the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper. Here’s a random torrent via The Terminal; cd’s are still available at Draper’s site, with a highly anticipated new one due out sometime around the end of 2011.
531. Monty Alexander – Yard Movement
What the Jamaican pianist did on this 1995 live release was pretty radical at the time, but when you think about it, all he did was basically bring reggae full circle. Consider: reggae comes from rocksteady, rocksteady from ska, ska from calypso and calypso from jazz. Alexander has been a lyrical, exuberant player for decades, and immersed in reggae even if he didn’t start out playing it, so it was a natural progression for him. His equally ecstatic band here includes reggae guitar icon Ernest Ranglin (a jazzcat himself – see #903 on this list). They kick it off by winding their way up slowly and deliberately into a twelve-plus minute version of Bob Marley’s Exodus, hitting the same hypnotic groove as the original but with cascading, incisive leads by the piano instead of the guitar. The rest of the album is all Alexander originals: the more stern Regulator; the blissful ballads Crying, Love Notes and Moonlight City, his popular tribute to his favorite Jamdown spot, Strawberry Hill, and the hot closing jam, Sneaky Steppers. Pretty much everything Alexander has ever done is worth a spin, including his latest, Harlem-Kingston Express live record. This one is streaming in its entirety at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Ras Cope.
530. Devi – Get Free
The 2009 debut release by this Hoboken, New Jersey psychedelic powerpop trio is a feast of good guitar and solid tunesmithing. But Debra, the band’s frontwoman, doesn’t let her virtuoso chops clutter the songs: instead, she goes for intricate layers and textures, with the occasional long, exhilarating, blues-infused solo. The genuine classic here is Welcome to the Boneyard, a haunted 9/11 memoir told from the point of a ghost in the rubble, drenched in watery riffs played through a Leslie organ speaker. When It Comes Down and the title track are the big concert favorites, all rises and falls and scorching solos. There’s also the wickedly catchy, gritty Howl at the Moon; Another Day (which could be the Runaways if they’d had better chops); Demon in the Sack, which pokes fun at gender stereotypes and sexual politics; Love That Lasts, which finally crosses the bridge over into exuberant metal; and a richly textured cover of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done. The album is streaming in its entirety at bandcamp and available as a free download at the band’s site.
529. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens
We go to the well, or to be precise, to a church in the wilds of Pennsylvania for this one, a hypnotic, often downright macabre 2009 set of originals and improvisations by this dynamic baritone sax/piano duo. Shah’s glimmering chromatics evoke Erik Satie as much as they do Keith Jarrett, livened and eclectically flavored by Evans’ panoramic lines – he uses the entirety of his range including all kinds of harmonics. Yet as bracing and strange as this is, most of it you can hum. It’s a couple of mini-suites, a playful, bluesy Jan Roth cover, and many lengthy passages alternating terse, blues-based purism with murky, often menacing suspense from both instruments. Too obscure to make it to the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Moppa Elliott’s fantastic Hot Cup Records label.
528. Memphis Minnie – I Ain’t No Bad Gal
The prototypical blues guitar goddess, Memphis Minnie’s career spanned from the delta into the Chicago era in the early 1950s. She could outplay most of the guys around her and never really got the credit she deserves. Like many blues artists of the time, she recorded for quick money, very frequently – she wrote hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. This 1998 reissue doesn’t have her signature tune When the Levee Breaks (famously covered by Led Zep), but it’s as good a representation as any. Most of the sides here date from the late 30s or early 40s. Some, like Can’t Afford to Lose My Man and You Need a Friend echo popular artists like Bessie Smith; others (Looking the World Over and Down by the Riverside) offer an update on old folk themes; but the best are her most defiant, rebellious ones like the title track, Remember Me Blues, You Got to Get Out of Here and I Am Sailing. It’s surprisingly absent from the usual sources for free music, but in lieu of this one you can check out the first volume in the “complete recorded works” collection via On Muddy Sava Riverbank.
527. Curtis Eller – Wirewalkers and Assassins
2009 was a particularly good year for music – if you’ve been following this space, you’ll see we’ve been mining it quite a bit lately. This is Curtis Eller’s latest and best album – he plays banjo and happens to be one of the finest lyrical songwriters of our time. His specialty is fiery, minor-key, bluesy songs full of historical references and punk energy. This one has his very best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails; the New York-centric Sugar for the Horses; the grim party anthem Sweatshop Fire; the chillingly summery, hallucinatory Hartford Circus Fire; the sardonic Firing Squad; the gentle, blackly humorous country sway of the Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife, and the wrenchingly haunting, whispery Save Me Joe Louis, its title taken from what were reputedly the last words of the first man (who was probably wrongfully convicted) to be executed in the gas chamber. It hasn’t made it to the filesharing sites yet but it’s still available from Eller’s bandcamp, where you can hear the whole thing.
526. The JPT Scare Band – Past Is Prologue
Legendary in the midwest, the Kansas City power trio of drummer Jeff Littrell, bassist Paul Grigsby and guitarist Terry Swope recorded most of this between 1973 and 1975. While none of these tracks were officially released until 2001, the band was a cult favorite of the “cassette underground” for years. The opening track here, Burn In Hell, a forest of tense, flanged minor chords, was actually recorded that year and shows that the band was keeping up with the times. But it’s the old stuff that’s the most riveting: Sleeping Sickness, practically fourteen minutes of virtuoso Texas blues with metal flourishes, ten years before Stevie Ray Vaughan mastered the art; the wildly Hendrix-inspired proto-noiserock of I’ve Been Waiting and Time to Cry (which clocks in at a modest 12:59); Jerry’s Blues, which sounds a lot more like Jimi than the Dead; and the riff-rocking psychedelia of Titan’s Sirens. Recently reunited, the band played their first show in thirty years earlier this summer and are reputedly as scary as ever. Most of the tracks are streaming at myspace (without ads, happily); here’s a random torrent via Cavites Pride. The album, along with the equally good, bizarrely titled Acid Blues Is the White Man’s Burden, is also still available from Ripple Music.
525. Melomane – Glaciers
This eclectic 2007 release captures the lushly lyrical New York art-rockers at the top of their game. It opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy Crowded House-ish art-pop tune, frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely chatting up a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. Unfriendly Skies is Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio for the millennial generation, followed by the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The real classic here is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, stately funeral march in advance for the Bush regime. There’s also the defiantly populist, catchy Little Man’s Castles; the quirky, psychedelic mini-suite This Is Skyhorse; the clever satirical, Gruppo Sportivo-esque Pistolla di Colla (Italian for “glue gun”) and the pensive Thin Ice. The whole thing is streaming at myspace, of all places; strangely missing from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Melomane’s site. In the years since this came out, De Gaillande has gone on to equally gripping projects including the Snow (see #890 on this list) and his Bad Reputation project, which plays witty English translations of classic Georges Brassens songs.
524. Black Fortress of Opium’s first album
Led by a charismatic multi-instrumentalist who goes by Ajda the Turkish Queen, the Boston noir rockers’ 2008 debut alternates between assaultive, noir anthems and more hypnotic but equally dark stuff. Martin Bisi’s raw yet rich production blends layer upon layer of reverb guitar in with Ajda’s mandolin, banjo, wind instruments and “field recordings,” creating an irresistible sonic tar pit. The gothic-titled House of Edward Devotion sets the stage for what’s to come with its eerie overtones, the melody only baring its fangs in the quietest moments, followed by the savage Black Rope Burns. The most stunning moment here is the seven-minute Ari (dedicated to the son Nico had with Alain Delon) with its ferocious sheets of distorted slide guitar and an earth-shattering plummet into the abyss at the end. There’s also the wistful Crack + Pool and its reprise; the Nina Nastasia-esque Twelve Gross; the jarringly percussive Your Past; the sad, sarcastic lament Model Café; the sultry, bluesy soul ballad From a Woman to a Man and the trance-inducing, ominous, nine-minute Dulcet TV. Most of this is streaming at the band’s myspace; AWOL from the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby.
523. Woody Guthrie – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings
This isn’t all of them, but it was in 1940 when Alan Lomax recorded Woody solo, and as you would expect from Lomax, there’s an awful lot of traditional stuff – Rye Whiskey, Foggy Mountain Top and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – along with the originals. While Guthrie was just as much an archivist as activist and performer, it’s his own songs that everybody wants, and this has most of the early classics. The 3-cd box set intersperses dust bowl ballads – Talking Dust Bowl Blues and Dust Bowl Refugee, to name just two - with less contemporaneous populist anthems like I Don’t Want Your Greenback Dollar, Hard Times and Pretty Boy Floyd along with modern day folk classics like So Long and a handful of instrumentals (Guthrie never would have been so popular if he hadn’t been such a great tunesmith, and a surprisingly good picker). The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via 0 Earth.
522. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night: Original Soundtrack
This 1967 psychedelic soul classic is more of a collection of songs, some of them without words, than it is atmospheric mood pieces. Twenty tracks in all, many of them clocking in at barely two minutes apiece: detective Tibbs’ confrontation with the cops; a tense jail scene; and edgy, noirishly funky chase scenes galore. Ray Charles sings the title theme and Mama Caleba’s Blues. There’s also jaw-droppingly silly, satirical C&W from Glen Campbell and Boomer & Travis and Gil Bernal’s It Sure Is Groovy, which sounds like one of the Vampyros Lesbos tracks. Reissued in the 80s as a twofer with Jones’ soundtrack to the long-forgotten 1970 followup flick They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, here’s a random torrent via Banana Spliff.
521. The Violent Femmes’ first album
When Chrissie Hynde discovered these snotty acoustic punks in Milwaukee in 1983, little did anybody know that they’d be able to base an entire thirty-year career on this one album. The catchy intros to Blister in the Sun and Add It Up may blare over sports stadium PA systems these days, which is especially amusing since the lyrics that always get faded out quickly are so filthy. Brilliant acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie plays the leads behind Gordon Gano’s petulant, smirky whine as they move from post-Velvets angst (Please Do Not Go, Prove My Love and Good Feeling) to belligerence (Kiss Off) to bluesy pop (Gone Daddy Gone) to more menacing stuff like Promise, The Kill and Confessions that could be the real deal, or just a spoof. Still a great party record after all these years. Here’s a random torrent.
520. Noir Desir – Dies Irae
Often compared to Joy Division, these French rockers were actually closer to the Gun Club, with a twangy, noir, often Middle Eastern-tinged guitar sound and frontman Bertrand Cantat’s bitter, doomed lyricism. This blistering 1994 double-disc live set is the band at their most raw and assaultive, and contains most of their best songs, including the hypnotically galloping Mexican immigration epic Tostaky and the savage anti-globalization anthem Ici Paris. It opens with a signature song of sorts, La Rage, and closes with the bitter, cynical En Route Pour la Joie (Looking for Some Fun). In between, the 22 tracks include Les Écorchés (The Burnouts); the punked-out folk song Johnny Colère; the hallucinatory La Chaleur (Heat); the furtive À L’arrière des Taxis (In the Backs of Cabs); and dirges like Marlène and Sober Song (about the hangover from hell). Cantat is vastly more articulate in French than English, although he means well, as in The Holy Economic War. The band broke up in 2003 when Cantat murdered his mistress in a coke-fueled rage; a comeback after his release from prison generated considerable controversy. Here’s a random torrent.
519. The Angelic Upstarts – Live
A high point of the classic punk era. Over the course of a long career and innumerable lineup changes, this captures the original 1981 edition of the band playing most of their best early songs. It’s a long album, 15 songs: the alienation anthems Never Had Nothing and Leave Me Alone; the kids-against-the-world broadsides Teenage Warning, Kids on the Street, 2,000,000 Voices and their signature song, I’m an Upstart; and the antiwar Last Night Another Soldier. Aware of what was going on in the outside world, they sided with the people of Poland in Solidarity; with the Afghans against the Soviets in the ironic-to-the-extreme Guns for the Afghan Rebels (which had absolutely nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden or the CIA); sided with the outlaws and the kids against the cops with Machine Gun Kelly, Police Oppression, Who Killed Liddle Towers (a West Indian immigrant who died suspiciously in police custody) and a version of the Clash’s White Riot that beats the original. Here’s a random torrent via Mirotvorce.
518. King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown
Not bad for a bunch of cover versions that were all initially released as b-sides. Along with Lee “Scratch” Perry, the late King Tubby is considered to be one of the inventors and early giants of dub reggae, and this is his high-water mark. As you would expect with a hit album from Jamaica, 1976, versions exist which are credited to King Tubby himself (who engineered it), others to the other groove genius behind this, producer/melodica player Augustus Pablo. Either way, it’s a woozy, intoxicating ride, guitar, horn flourishes and all those echoey drum bits fading up and then out of the picture. Many of these songs rework hits by Jacob Miller, including the title track, Stop Them Jah, and Each One Dub, while Frozen Dub reinvents an old Heptones hit. There’s also Keep on Dubbing; Young Generation Dub; 555 Dub Street; Brace’s Tower Dub (part one and part two); Corner Crew Dub; Skanking Dub and Satta Dub. The late 80s reissue comes with four bonus tracks, included here in this random torrent via It’s Coming Out of Your Speaker.
517. Iron Maiden – Live After Death
“Scream for me Long Beach!” Bruce Dickinson howls again and again. By the time the standard bearers of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM for short) made this double vinyl monstrosity, they were a well-oiled machine in the midst of a 1985 tour that would take them around the world more than once in over a year. It’s basically their greatest hits live done by the classic lineup with the two-guitar attack of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, with the unsurpassed, nimble rhythm section of bass god Steve Harris and Nicko McBain on drums. Every facet of the band is represented: the pounding, punkish Aces High, Die with Your Boots On, Running Free and 22 Acacia Ave.; the artsy, classically-flavored epics Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Powerslave and Phantom of the Opera (no relation to the musical); and catchy, anthemic classics including Run to the Hills, 2 Minutes to Midnight and of course The Number of the Beast. Tuneful, melodic and intelligent, this band transcends any metal stereotype. Don’t confuse these guys with another great British band called Iron Maiden, a proto-metal group from the late 60s/early 70s. Here’s a random torrent via Sergio Maiden.
516. Bahamadia – Kollage
One of the tracks on this late golden-age hip-hop album is simply called Innovation, which pretty much sums up what Bahamadia is all about. She was respected in her native Philadelphia before Guru and Primo from Gang Starr discovered her and produced most of the tracks on this 1996 debut. It’s easy to see why they liked her. She’s a purist who – other than on Tru Honey Buns, where she gets off on playing a clueless guy for his money – puts lyrics and ideas out front rather than posturing for fame or namechecking luxury brands. Think a mature Roxanne Shante without the Brooklyn accent. Some of the best of the 15 tracks here: Spontaneity, a rapidfire freestyle with Razhel; the calmly erudite Wordplay; the Nas-influenced Rugged Ruff; the plaintive I Confess, ecstatic Uknowhowwedo, kick-ass Total Wreck and the single that should have been huge, 3 the Hard Way. The only dud here is a maudlin, sentimental piece that samples 70s elevator-pop band Ambrosia. Here’s a random torrent via Blazewon.
515. Mike Ness – Cheating at Solitaire
The reaction to this one was mixed when it came out in 1999, but it’s aged well, especially since this foreshadows so much of what the Social Distortion frontman would do with his main project in the years ahead. A lot of the covers here hint at the more somber, straight-up country direction he’d take, particularly the carpe-diem anthems Charmed Life, If You Leave Before Me, Rest of Our Lives, the troublemaker’s lament that serves as the title track, and also the unexpectly upbeat kiss-off number Ballad of a Lonely Man. Bruce Springsteen guests on Misery Loves Company, and the covers are absolutely killer as well – have you ever heard a more intense version of Long Black Veil…or an actually good version of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice? Hank Williams’ You Win Again isn’t bad either. This random torrent has everything except the bonus track that appeared on the vinyl version.
514. Motorhead – No Sleep Til Hammersmith
How does Motorhead manage to sound so titanic with only one guitarist? Lemmy’s wall-of-sound bass chords. He plays bass like a guitarist, which enables whoever’s on guitar – in this case, Fast Eddie Clarke, in his last stint in the classic original lineup – to take off and go way, way out into the bluesmetal ionosphere as much as he wants. This raw, cheaply produced but intensely adrenalinized 1981 live set – which went to #1 on the British charts – includes the longer anthems like Capricorn and Bomber that the band was beginning to introduce alongside their more punk numbers like their signature song, Stay Clean (what a joke that title is), The Hammer, Overkill and of course Ace of Spades. The best track is actually a mammoth version of We Are the Road Crew, the irresistibly catchy tribute to the guys who lug all the gear and never get any credit; the band also tackle a cover of Born to Lose and actually avoid embarrassing themselves. Why’d we choose this one? Only because everybody else seems to choose Ace of Spades. Here’s a random torrent.
513. Nina Simone in Concert
How do you choose one Nina Simone album over another? You don’t. You could point, blindfolded, and still hit a bullseye most of the time with the iconic, fearless, badass soul siren. We picked this one because it’s from when she was young and embittered but not worn down by that bitterness: she still had an awful lot of fight left in her. This one’s got her fronting a solid jazz quartet – with her playing piano of course – doing a few tracks from her popular debut album like I Loves You Porgy and a towering, theatrical version of Kurt Weill’s Pirate Jenny along with a coy take of Willard Robison’s Don’t Smoke in Bed, her own sultry Go Limp and Plain Gold Ring. But the real stunners here are the civil rights anthems Old Jim Crow and the totally punk rock Mississippi Goddamn – you can hear the mostly-white audience laughing nervously, especially after she introduces it as a showtune for a musical “that hasn’t been written yet.” In 1964, it hadn’t. Here’s a random torrent.
512. George Jones – The Best of George Jones: Hardcore Honkytonk Vol. 1
Let’s stick with iconic voices for two days in a row, ok? If you’ve followed this countdown for any length of time, you’ve noticed that most of the country albums here are greatest-hits collections, and that’s not just us being lazy: it’s because so many of the great C&W artists date from the pre-album era, and also because a lot of country albums have a lot of filler. Not this one! It doesn’t have She Thinks I Still Care (the Definitive Collection 1955-62 does, and that album’s also impossible to find as a download), but it’s a good representation of the great honkytonk singer’s career, before he turned into No-Show Jones. Some primo drinking songs: Just One More (“Put the bottle on the table/Let it stay there til I’m not able…”); Relief Is Just a Swallow Away, and The Last Town I Painted. A bunch of anguished ballads: You’re Still on My Mind; Out of Control; Color of the Blues; Mr. Fool; and more upbeat stuff like Why Baby Why and Window Up Above among the 20 choice cuts from the late 50s and early 60s. Here’s a random torrent via Down Underground.
511. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
At the risk of losing our entire subscriber base, here’s something that might be kind of obvious to some of you and completely offensive to everybody else. In order to “get” Led Zep, you have to remember that they were a bunch of hippies, consequently, they didn’t take themselves all that seriously (especially the goofball singer). Ironically, this is the one place where they reached for epic grandeur and actually nailed it, particularly on the magnificently arranged, utterly chilling Ten Years Gone and the eleven-minute bluesmetal epic In My Time of Dying. The rest of this sprawling 1974 double album is eclectic to the extreme: woozy stoner metal like Custard Pie, Sick Again (a prototype for AC/DC) and the tongue-in-cheek prog-rock Houses of the Holy; In the Light, with its almost nine-minute, twisted Indian vibe that the Beatles reached for but never quite achieved; Trampled Under Foot, which sounds like Stevie Wonder gone metal; the delicate instrumental Bron-Yr-Aur; the gentle, bucolic Down by the Seaside; the completely sick funk-metal of The Wanton Song; The Rover, a midtempo riff-rocker; Night Flight, a 1971 shot at a pop hit with swirling organ; an amusing Beggars Banquet-era Stones ripoff, a jam with the Stones’ keyboardist, and, oh yeah, that song from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Here’s a random torrent.
510. Esma Redzepova – Queen of the Gypsies
This 2007 album from the legendary Macedonian chanteuse includes both a disc of songs from her native land as well as the Roma songs she was brought up on, which earned her fame throughout Europe. The Macedonian stuff here tends to be more plaintive, Zosto Si Me Majko (Oh Mother Why Was I Born) being a prime example. Backed by a rustic, often haunting acoustic band, Rezdepova makes her way through anthems like Zapej Makedonijo (Macedonia Sings), Svadba Makedonska (Macedonian Wedding) and the wistful Grade Moj (My Town). The gypsy material is a lot more upbeat, often absolutely exhilarating, a showcase for both her wild vocal ornamentation and also her minutely honed nuance, especially on dance numbers like Esma Cocek and Romano Horo, and the towering, dramatic Hajri Ma Te Dike. Pretty much everything she’s recorded is worth hearing; these 24 tracks are a good overview of her career. Here’s a random torrent.
509. The Knitters – Poor Little Critter on the Road
This is basically the X record between More Fun in the New World (#936 on this list’s “such an obvious choice that we didn’t bother to explain” page) and Ain’t Love Grand. From 1985, it’s not the first alt-country album, but it is one of the best. Foreshadowing the popular Pete’s Candy Store sound that came out of in Brooklyn in the late 90s/early zeros, it’s a bunch of punk rockers playing old country and folk music, with both passion and chops. Before country was cool, Exene and John Doe really understood the kinship between hillbilly music and punk, exemplified by the blithely grisly title track, sad songs like Silver Wings and Poor Old Heartsick Me, the defiant Baby Out of Jail and rattling versions of Rock Island Line and Walkin’ Cane. There are also mellower yet still edgy versions of a few X tunes including The New World and The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball, which the band has amusingly updated over the years. X has done a couple of tours as the Knitters in recent years: if you get the chance to see them, don’t pass it up. Here’s a random torrent.
508. Amalia Rodrigues – Com Que Voz
The best-known and most influential singer in the world of fado – the sad ballads considered to be the national music of Portugal – was 49 when she made this album in 1969. It’s a collection of iconic Portuguese poems set to music by her longtime musical director Alain Oulman, who gets credit for expanding her sound to include styles from all over Europe. The sonics are lushly orchestrated but not cheesy, and Rodrigues’ steely, resolute, plaintive voice is in top form, through the bitter expatriate anthem Trova Do Vento Que Passa (Tradewinds); a remake of her 1961 hit Maria Lisboa; ballads like As Mãos Que Trago (I Give You My Hand); the stately title track, swaying Gaivota and Formiga Bossa Nova; the haunting Cuidei Que Tinhas Morrido (I Saw That You Died) and Naufragio (Shipwreck); nostalgic Havemos de Ir a Viana (Back to Vienna), Madrugada de Alfama (Alfama Morning) and Meu Amor, Meu Amor. Everything else Rodrigues did before this point is also worth seeking out, if your taste runs to quiet, emotionally vivid songs, Portuguese not required. Most of this album is streaming at myspace; here’s a random torrent.
507. Willie Nelson – One Hell of a Ride
On one level, this mammoth four-cd retrospective box set is kind of overkill: everything by Willie that you’ve ever heard on the radio – you know, On the Road Again, and Whiskey River, ad infinitum – plus a solid mix of stuff from throughout his career. It’s got pro songwriter Willie, outlaw stoner Willie, jazz crooner Willie, and also ridiculous eclecticist Willie, which is most of cd four, when the overkill factor kicks in. Ironically, the choicest material here is the stuff he wrote for other people: Crazy for Patsy Cline; Night Life for B.B. King; Hello Walls for Faron Young; and Funny How Time Slips Away, to name a few. And delightful oddities like Texas in My Soul and Mr. Record Man, along with modern-day standards like Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Yesterday’s Wine and Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, to name just a few of the one hundred tracks here, many of which you know by heart. Here’s a random torrent via Nathan’s Hideaway.
506. Tandy – To a Friend/Did You Think I Was Gone
This is cheating a little, since this twofer combines Steve Earle’s favorite rock band’s two most recent albums, from 2005 and 2006. But it’s double the goodness. Frontman/guitarist Mike Ferrio’s jangly, lyrically driven songs linger in your mind, pensive and often haunting. Some of them, like The Fever Breaks, Evensong and I Am the Werewolf, mine a creepy southwestern gothic vein; others, like Home and Girls Like Us look back toward Springsteen when he was still blue-collar. There’s also the brooding Epitaph, On the Hill and Bait along with more upbeat stuff like the first album’s title track, which reverts to the Wilco-inflected pop that Ferrio was writing around the turn of the century. The band was until very recently extremely popular in Europe, but suffered a tragic setback with the unexpected death of their brilliant, eclectic lead player Drew Glackin. Since then, the band has performed sporadically but extremely well with a number of guest guitarists. Both albums are streaming in their entirety at cheesy myspace, here and here; surprisingly, the blogosphere hasn’t caught up with them yet, but the double cd is still available from the band.
505. The Very Best Of Marlene Dietrich
42 tracks from the prototypical world-weary chanteuse, goth girl and lesbian icon, 1930 through the late 50s. As you would expect, there are a million Dietrich anthologies out there, and pretty much anything she did in German before 1940 is worth a listen. We chose this one because A) it’s downloadable and B) it’s a good mix of both the teutonic and the American stuff. It wouldn’t be here if it didn’t have Lili Marlene and My Blue Heaven; it’s also got Ich bin die fesche Lola, and its American translation; Nimm dich in acht vor blonden Frauen (and Blonde Women); Das Lied is aus; the amusing German version of Miss Otis Regrets, Mein Mann ist verhindert; along with risque American dancehall stuff like The Boys in the Back Room, Makin’ Whoopee and You’re the Cream in My Coffee. If you think this is all camp, give a listen: it’s actually pretty creepy. Nico couldn’t have existed without her. Here’s a random torrent.
504. Crowded House – Together Alone
Their best album, an alternately lush, jangly, and sensual Beatlesque psychedelic pop gem from 1993. The opening track, Kare Kare offers swirling atmospherics, followed by the catchy pop tune In My Command, and the album’s best track, the absolutely gorgeous, crescendoing Nails in My Feet. Neil Finn, as good a guitarist as he is a tunesmith, gets dark and edgy on the biting mood piece Fingers of Love; Pineapple Head and Private Universe are gently romantic, while Black and White Boy and Locked Out are scorching, guitar-fueled riff-pop. A janglerock masterpiece, Distant Sun has one of the alltime great choruses; there’s also the jagged Skin Feeling along with the slightly trippy Catherine Wheels and the title track. The suicide of excellent drummer Paul Hester made the prospect of a reunion unlikely, but Finn’s put the group back together with a new one, and they’re reputedly as entertaining and tuneful as ever. Here’s a random torrent via Neurotico y Romantico.
503. The Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock
This is XTC in 1985 doing a loving parody of pretty much every 60s psychedelic band and every 60s psychedelic rock production trope, having a great time making fun of stoners in the process. Blippy loops, echoes, thumps and swirls pan back and forth across the speakers as they parody the Electric Prunes on the title track, early Pink Floyd on Bike Ride to the Moon, the Yardbirds on My Love Explodes, the Beatles and Stones on What in the World, the Stones again with the fuzztone-fueled Your Gold Dress (whose leapfrogging brontosaurus drums are LMFAO funny) and finally the Move on the surprisingly sweeping, majestic The Mole from the Ministry. The keyboard settings are as trebly and cheesy as you would expect; perhaps surprisingly, Colin Moulding would never play more interesting, soaringly melodic basslines than he does here. There’s also a full-length album, Psonic Psunspot, which includes these songs along with several vastly less interesting Beach Boys ripoffs. Here’s a random torrent.
502. The Only Ones – Even Serpents Shine
Although this British band got their start during the punk era, they’re not particularly punk at all. Sometimes jangly, sometimes growling, their two-guitar attack reminds a lot more of a more terse, powerpop-oriented version of Television than any punk band. This 1979 album, their second, doesn’t have their big hit Another Girl Another Planet: it’s a lot more serious. The real stunner here is the opening anthem, From Here to Eternity, as assaultively menacing as it is seductive, frontman Peter Perrett’s suave croon giving nothing away. There’s also the sarcastic No Solution; the glamrock-inspired Out There in the Night; the seedily picturesque Programme; brisk pub-rockers like Oh No and Curtains for You as well as more slowly unwinding, guitar-fueled tracks like Flaming Torch, You’ve Got to Pay, In Betweens and the wryly titled Instrumental. Here’s a random torrent via Straighten Out.
501. JB Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim – Live ’63
Recorded in lo-fi mono by blues enthusiast Norman Oden at the obscure Chicago nightspot Nina’s Lounge and reissued 37 years later, this is a prime example of the blues as blue-collar neighborhood drinking music, not cultural tourism for politically correct yuppies. As The Hound has insightfully observed, Lenoir’s subtly chordal guitar style was a big influence on Ali Farka Toure, helping to jumpstart the desert blues movement. This doesn’t have Lenoir’s “protest songs” like Eisenhower Blues or Vietnam Blues, but this mostly solo set on his home turf is a treat. Pianist Sunnyland Slim – the guy who introduced Muddy Waters to Big Bill Broonzy and springboarded Waters’ career – plays with his usual casual, incisively smart style as Lenoir makes his way through the understatedly biting Harlem Can’t Be Heaven, hits like It’s You Baby and Brown Skin Woman along with a bunch of jams with titles obviously not supplied by the musicians, i.e. J.B.’s Harp-Rack Blues.The whole thing is streaming at spotify if you have it, deezer also (if you haven’t used your allotted monthly hour or whatever it is now); here’s a random torrent via The Blues-That Jazz.
500. Twin Turbine – Jolly Green Giant
The second album from these New York underground rock legends blends the surreal guitar assault of Guided by Voices with more straightforwardly melodic British Invasion and punk sounds. It’s got creepy, intense stuff like Fade For Sunday – frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck sounding like Roger Waters doing his best Darth Vader imitation – along with the scathing Made for TV Murder, a Jon-Benet Ramsey narrative. Downsizer, the single, is even more timely in these depression days, with its bitter lyrics and catchy Stiff Little Fingers-inflected tune. The best of all of these is Susquehanna, a gorgeous, vengefully hallucinatory anthem setting layers of guitars over a swaying country backbeat. There’s also the squalling Love Rock & Roll, the Stoogoid Stop This Thing and Womankind, and Both Kinds, which sets an old 60s garage rock riff to 90s GBV crunch. A cult classic from 2005, it’s AWOL from the usual sources for free music – even Spotify doesn’t have it – but it’s still available from the band.
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