Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Toussaint’s Black Gold Evokes the Classics of Roots Reggae

Toussaint’s new album Black Gold is meticulously produced, stylistically diverse roots reggae that recalls what Burning Spear or Israel Vibration were doing in the late 80s and early 90s, although it’s more eclectic. The production may necessarily lean toward a digital feel, but the songs and playing are strictly roots. It’s amazing how much time and care went into this cd: there’s a real horn section, bass and drums, lead guitar and organ, no cheesy synthesizers or lame electronic drums. Toussaint brings gravitas and charisma to his songs, alternating between fervent, laid-back and thoughtful while his band provides an aptly hypnotic, lush groove. The conflict between the spiritual and the material, a classic roots dilemma, arises frequently: “Why you want tv flash in your eyes?” Toussaint challenges on the album’s opening cut, Nobody Knows. That question takes centerstage on the swaying, determined Roots in a Modern Time, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Burning Spear songbook. The same could be said for the darkly slinky Rise and Fall. Many of these tracks echo the more hit-oriented side of Bob Marley, but as inspiration rather than a ripoff, like the catchy, pulsing This Song, another positive, spiritually-charged number, and the bouncy Look Up. A couple of others remind of classic 70s-era Steel Pulse: the evocative reminiscence Rise and Fall, and the sufferah’s anthem Marching, right down to its martial drumbeat.

A couple of the tracks veer off on a pleasant detour into vintage 60s-style soul music; another blends dark art-rock with gospel piano, not something ordinarily found on a roots reggae album, but it’s welcome just the same. The album winds up with the optimistic Changing, looking forward to the future now that the Bush regime is out of office, and the absolutely gorgeous Rain Again. Toussaint obviously takes his cue here from Marley’s Redemption Song, but in place of the acoustic guitar he substitutes Youssoupha Sidibe’s kora, his inspired rivulets on the African harp adding an extra shimmery texture. For anyone who misses the days when you could tune in to Earl “Rootsman” Chin and see this kind of stuff on Rockers TV, Toussaint will bring back some fond memories with his unique, tuneful and smartly conscious styles. It’s out now on I Grade Records.

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October 14, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 10/14/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #838:

The Friends of Dean Martinez – The Shadow of Your Smile

Dilemma of the day: what’s these guys’ best album? Or is everything equal in the shadows off the desert highway where their cinematic, spaghetti western-flavored instrumentals all seem to take place? Literally everything the Friends of Dean Martinez have recorded is worth owning. We picked this one, their 1995 Sub Pop debut, because it has a typical first-album excitement, because of the diversity of the songs and because it’s as good as any example of their richly evocative, often exhilarating catalog. Joey Burns of Calexico gets credit or co-credit for writing six of these and his bandmate John Convertino gets another, which gives them instant southwestern gothic cred; pedal steel genius Bill Elm, their lead instrumentalist, would take a more prominent role in the songwriting as their career went on. The opening track, All the Pretty Horses signals that immediately; I Wish You Love is done with a Bob Wills western swing flair. The drummer’s contribution is the amusingly off-kilter House of Pies, followed by the noir highway theme Chunder, foreshadowing Big Lazy but with steel guitar. These songs all evoke a specific milieu, notably the distant suburban unease of Armory Park/Dwell and the blithe bossa nova instrumental Swamp Cooler which goes deep into the shadows of the favela before you can tell what hit you. The best song here is Burns’ gorgeously noir El Tiradito, Roy Orbison gone to Buenos Aires. There’s also another tango-flavored one, a countrypolitan ballad, a straight-up vibraphone jazz tune, the orchestrated title track and Convertino’s Per Siempre, done as a careening Balkan dirge. Here’s a random torrent.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 10/11/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Norden Bombsight – Snakes

Still can’t get enough of their careening art-rock intensity. This might be the best track on their most recent album Pinto, which you’ll see when we do our 50 Best Albums of the year list.

2. Los Neuronautas – Congregacion

Hypnotic tuneful minimalist post Joy Div rock from this Queens band.

3. The Whispering Tree – Go Call the Captain

Title track from their excellent new Nashville gothic album.

4. The Thrift Store Cowboys – Scary Weeds

Southwestern gothic 6/8 ballad, totally Walkabouts – Amanda Shires’ vocals channel Carla Torgerson.

5. Kelli Rudick – Blood & Honey

Stately 6/8 twelve-string guitar instrumental – art-rock dirge meets the baroque

6. Jonny Rumble – Crapola

Catchy snarling anticonformist rock smash.

7. Francis Cabrel – Encore et Encore

We had a list of 2000 or so songs that didn’t end up making the cut for the alltime best 666 songs list that we just finished this past summer. This is one of them, from back in the 80s: “Tu t’arranges pour eviter le miroir.”

8. Jessica Pavone – Cast of Characters

Alternately explosive and ambient violin/guitar rock instrumental – characteristically fun and intense.

9. Elizabeth & the Catapult – I Can Always Dream

Dark intelligent NYC indie pop, live on Daytrotter.

10. Jordan Reyne – The Brave

Rustic New Zealand gothic. Pretty cool Blair Witch video too.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 800-899

For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this is all about, click here. If a link to a torrent here is dead, or our commentary leads you to believe that there are no torrents available, if you want the album you should look around anyway. Of course, vinyl copies, if you can find them, are always sonically superior.

For albums #700-799, click here.

For albums #600-699, click here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

Albums #400-499 continue here.

899. Bettye Swann – self-titled anthology

Bettye Swann is one of the great voices in soul music, blending the upbeat warmth of a mature Diana Ross with a raw, wounded undercurrent. This 2004 anthology released in the UK by EMI doesn’t have her signature song, the 1967 #1 R&B hit Make Me Yours, but it does have her best one, the understatedly wrenching My Heart Is Closed for the Season. Her first producer, Arthur Wright, who recorded her for California indie label Money Records had a terrific ear for detail: the arrangements on her early songs are among the era’s most sophisticated and startlingly beautiful, with Memphis-style horn charts and strings that punch in counterintiuitively. Several of the tracks here were originally released on her 1968 Capitol album The Soul View Now, including a sparse, tender version of Little Things Mean a Lot, and the orchestrated, gospel-tinged Don’t Touch Me. There are plenty of other gems among the 22 tracks here, including the telling Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me, the ridiculously catchy No Faith No Love, an absolutely brilliant reworking of the standard Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, the gorgeously apprehensive Don’t Let It Happen to Us and the intense, crescendoing These Arms Are Mine. It fades toward the end, with a trio of ridiculously ill-advised rock covers, but the rest is some of the most fetchingly captivating music ever recorded. If you see her 1967 debut Make Me Yours on vinyl for cheap, grab it – it’s worth a fortune. There are lots of torrents for this stuff out there including this random one.

898. Jacob Miller – Reggae Greats

Jacob Miller was the frontman and main songwriter of Inner Circle, the roots reggae group unfortunately best known today for their mid-80s hit Bad Boys, which was appropriated as the theme for the Fox TV show Police Brutality Against Black and Latino People, a.k.a Cops. This collection from the early 80s has all of his big 70s Jamaican hits, many of them backed by studio stars like Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar and Chinna Smith. Miller mixed ganja-smoking anthems like Tired Fe Lick Weed in a Bush, Tenement Yard and The Healing of the Nation with sly, sensual pop like I’ve Got the Handle and the somewhat bizarre orthodox rasta anthem 80,000 Careless Ethiopians. As with the rest of his brethren from that era, there’s a lot of his stuff out there: some is choice (like his posthumous live 1979 album with Inner Circle); some is lo-fi and dodgy. Miller was killed in a car accident in 1980. Here’s a random torrent of the album.

897. Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs

You heard it here first: someday this will be a cult classic. The sprawling Brooklyn band – consisting of as many as fifteen members, including horns, keyboards and backing vocalists – have been through several different incarnations from indie rock to classic country. On this brief 2008 masterpiece they mine a richly noir 60s psychedelic pop style along with many others, sometimes subtly and allusively, sometimes completely in your face, as with the opening track Subway Horns, a blistering World Inferno style gypsy punk stomp. The titular Bride of Frankenstein here has “the whole damn town standing in line;” Prom Story is a subtly satirical update on Leader of the Pack-style teen ghoul-pop with artful gospel tinges. Frontman Pascal Balthrop’s dramatic, stagy voice dashes the hopes of the doomed immigrants in the shipwreck anthem Ocean’s Arms; the women in the band deliver all the lovely deadpan creepiness they can muster on the suspenseful Red Hook Pool and the horn-driven My Way the Highway. This is one of those albums that’s too obscure to find at the usual torrent sites: the band have it as both a download and a cd at their site.

896. Krzysztof Komeda – Nighttime, Daytime Requiem

Polish jazz pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda is best known for the soundtrack to the film Rosemary’s Baby. A favorite of Roman Polanski, he’d previously made a mark for his score for Knife in the Water. This album is a 1998 reissue of a 1967 sesssion for Polish radio featuring Komeda on piano along with Tomasz Stanko (whose own albums of Komeda works are worth seeking out) on trumpet, Zbigniew Namyslowski on alto sax, Roman Dylag on bass and Rune Carlsson on drums. Originally issued as part of a four-album box set in 1974 by Komeda’s widow Zofia, original copies sell for thousands of dollars on the collector’s market. Komeda used late 50s Miles Davis as a stepping-off point, adding his own brooding, sepulchral shades and the result is some of the most haunting jazz ever written (with its frequent classical overtones, many consider this third stream). This album includes the complete, 27-minute Daytime, Nighttime Requiem (a Coltrane eulogy) along with the somewhat more lighthearted Don Quixote, the austere, menacing atmospherics of The Witch and the lyrical Ballad for Bernt (from Knife in the Water). Also noteworthy, in fact sonically superior, is the 2009 Requiem album by the Komeda Project of pianist Andrzej Winnicki and powerhouse saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna which includes both the Requiem as well as possibly Komeda’s most macabre composition, Dirge for Europe. Komeda’s most famous album, Astigmatic and his more terse, upbeat, vamp-oriented Crazy Girl are also very much worth seeking out. Komeda died in 1969 under very mysterious circumstances from what could euphemistically be called blunt trauma to the head. Critically injured, he somehow managed to board a plane (or was put on a plane) from the US back to Poland, where he succumbed just a few weeks later, reportedly without medical attention. Here’s a torrent of a whole bunch of stuff of his.

895. Lush – Split

Their sound defined the end of an era. Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson wrote dark, richly melodic rock songs with layers of watery, chorus-box guitar and ethereal vocals. This is their third album, from 1994, and it’s their best, a blend of every style they did so well: Kiss Chase, with its tricky time signature and murky, chilly Siouxsie guitar; the punk stomp of Blackout; the buzzy goth pop of Hypocrite and The Invisible Man; the Cure-inflected, bassy sway of Lovelife; the somber Joy Division tones of Desire Lines, Undertow and Never-Never; the straight-up dreampop of Lit Up and Starlust and the understatedly elegaic When I Die. The press tagged them as sort of the Go-Go’s of dreampop, and went nuts over their first album, which actually isn’t all that great: after a couple of songs, they all sound the same. But Spooky, their second album, from 1992, is very worth getting to know, as is their final one, Lovelife, from 1996, which although it went more in a punk-pop direction also varied their sonic palette considerably, allowing both more aggressive guitar and an unexpected sense of humor to creep in. The band broke up shortly thereafter in the wake of drummer Chris Acland’s suicide. Here’s a torrent for all of them.

894. John Cale – Sabotage

A moment in time captured unforgettably: nothing Cale ever did before or after(White Light White Heat included) resembles it. By 1979, when this careening live set was recorded at CBGB, Cale had fallen in with New York’s punk crowd, and the songs reflect it. It’s by far the wildest thing Cale ever recorded, a crazed, drug-fueled night, Mark Aaron’s screaming, unhinged noiserock guitar and George Scott’s loud, distorted, melodic bass flailing against Cale’s off-kilter keys. It’s got the menacing punk/metal anthems Mercenaries/Ready for War (an English counterpart to Warren Zevon), Evidence and Dr. Mudd, a loud, sloppy cover of the blues standard Walkin’ the Dog and in the midst of all the madness, Floor Kiss frontwoman Deerfrance taking a turn in front of the band and stealing the show with her comfortingly calm, tender high soprano on the folk-pop smash Only Time Will Tell. John Cale’s 1970s albums are a mixed bag: the tersely melodic Romantic beauty of Paris 1919; the quirky avant instrumentals of The Academy in Peril and the forgettable stoner folkie songwriting of Vintage Violence. A considerably later Cale live album, 1997′s Fragments of a Rainy Season has him playing a whole bunch of classics including The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Paris 1919, Dying on the Vine and Buffalo Ballet solo on piano along with perhaps the definitive version of his crazed cover of Heartbreak Hotel. Here’s a torrent.

893. Saint-Saens – Symphony #3: Daniel Barenboim/Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Orchestra de Paris

The reason why there aren’t more classical albums on this list is that so many of them from before the cd era will jarringly and mystifyingly juxtapose a classic work with a shorter piece that’s completely unrelated, often vastly inferior, i.e. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun back-to-back with Kachaturian’s Sabre Dance. This 1976 recording with Gaston Litaize at the organ is a delightful and frequently exhilarating exception. This is the first full-scale orchestral piece to incorporate the organ and it is a doozy: piano for four hands is also featured prominently in places beneath the swells of the strings. Like many of the great French Romantic composers, Camille Saint-Saens’ day job was as a church organist: a clever, witty musician and improviser, his textures give this rousing, optimistic piece an even more epic grandeur. Note that it’s the Orchestra de Paris playing the shorter pieces here: Samson & Delilah, le Deluge and an inspired version of the iconic, absolutely chilling Danse Macabre. The 1957 recording by the great composer Marcel Dupre on organ along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is also extraordinary. Vinyl fans should keep in mind that both of these albums are easier to find than you would think: used classical lps are typically very inexpensive (we found the Barenboim version for three bucks, new).

892. Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power

A characteristically intense yet nuanced concert recording by the great blues guitarist, clearly amped to be playing in front of a captive audience at the Fillmore West in 1968, probably making twice as much as he did playing the chitlin circuit where he honed his chops. Like a lot of lefthanded guitarists (Hendrix, Otis Rush, Randi Russo), Albert King had an instantly recognizable, signature style, in his case a finely honed, bent-note attack where he could say more with a note’s subtle inflection than most players could say in an entire album. This album captures both sides of King, his subtlety and ferocity, in a mix of extended excursions – Elmore James’ Blues at Sunrise and a sprawling, ten-minute version of King’s own Blues Power – as well as a spirited blast through the instrumental Night Stomp and a bit later, B.B. King’s Please Love Me. Booker T. & the MGs drummer Al Jackson Jr. is his magnificently understated, groovemeister self and the rest of the band hangs back and lets King do his thing without getting in the way. Ask any fan of electric blues if they have this and the answer is that most of them do. As good as King is on this date, he’d get even better as the years wore on: pretty much any bootleg from the 80s has at least a few transcendent moments. Here’s a random torrent.

891. Nico – Chelsea Girl

Bet you thought you’d see the Marble Index here instead, huh? Nope. That one’s the definitive teutonic druggie dirge album, something you should definitely check out if you haven’t already, if that’s your thing. This one’s maybe the ultimate prototypical chamber pop album, ahead of the Pretty Things’ Emotions. Which is ironic to the extreme because Nico hated the string arrangements that were overdubbed onto this afterward. You could even call this the best Jackson Browne album ever: did he ever do another album with three good songs on it? Probably not. Nico could never sing worth a damn, we all know that – but what an atmosphere she and everybody else created here despite themselves. Browne’s The Fairest of the Seasons sets the stage for the understated high drama of the rest of the album. Despite all the flat notes, she gives a genuine angst to another Browne ballad These Days, and the brooding, languid strings help; and she takes Somewhere There’s a Feather from folkie naivete to Marlene Dietrich world-weariness. The best song here is the poignant, organ-infused ballad Little Sister (an obvious Velvets outtake). The stark Weimar blues echoes in John Cale’s Winter Song still resonate today in a million noir cabaret bands from the Dresden Dolls to World Inferno. There’s also the iconic title track, a version of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine that in its own fractured way rivals Sandy Denny’s version with Fairport Convention, and the gently epic, 9/4 Velvets outtake Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams. Here’s a random torrent.

890. The Snow – I Die Every Night

 The Snow’s nuanced, stylistically diverse art-rock masterpiece, their second album, came out in January of 2010. Guitarist Pierre de Gaillande contributes the soul-infused title track, reassurance for a would-be suicide, along with the understatedly apocalyptic anthem The Silent Parade – about the snowstorm to end all snowstorms – and the amusingly metaphorical, tongue-in-cheek Reptile. Keyboardist/torch singer Hilary Downes’ equally artsy, richly melodic and lyrical songs here include the stately opening cut, Albatross; the ominously symbolic, unexpectedly syncopated Undertow and the understatedly bitter, minor-key chamber-rock ballad Shadows and Ghosts. Strong contender for best album of 2010 – watch this space.

889. 17 PygmiesCelestina

In their practically thirty-year existence, 17 Pygmies have played quirky new wave, postpunk, ambient soundscapes and artsy, Fairport Convention style folk-rock. This is their masterpiece, an eleven-part symphonic rock suite about love and betrayal in space based on a short story written by bandleader/guitarist Jackson Del Rey. A theme and variations, its rich, icy layers of guitars and synthesized orchestration fade in and out of the mix, alternately hypnotic and jarring, with echoes of Pink Floyd, the Church, the Cocteau Twins, and echoing in the distance, Del Rey’s pioneering noise-instrumental band Savage Republic. Its centerpiece is a menacing, droning twelve-minute feedback instrumental punctuated by bassist Meg Maryatt’s gorgeously melodic, ruthless riffage. A major rediscovery waiting to happen: released on Trakwerx in 2008, it’s still available.

888. Black 47 – Iraq

Our pick for best album of 2008, this album rivals anything the Clash ever did. Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan is also a novelist and playwright, with a terrific ear for dialogue. The album succeeds as well as it does as an antiwar statement because it simply recounts the daily stress of combat as seen through the eyes of the American soldiers there. Some are profiteers, but a lot of them ended up over there because the promise of a payday was better than anything they could get here. Now they can’t wait to leave, they’re scared as hell, and not a little disillusioned. Kirwan doesn’t preach: he lets their anxiety and dread speak for itself. Over catchy, anthemic, Celtic- or blues-tinged rock, Kirwan offers an eyewitness view of the war that the corporate media types “embedded” with the soldiers were never allowed to depict: the guy from Brooklyn who finds himself shocked by the natural beauty of the Iraqi desert; the embittered, cynical GI who can’t wait to get home to watch his beloved San Diego Padres; a heartwrenching account of Cindy Sheehan’s transformation from war supporter to iconic antiwar activist following the death of her son; and finally, the savage Battle of Fallujah, whose narrator leaves no doubt that “If there’s a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again.” What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace ’48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 was to 2008: an important historical work that also happened to have some good tunes.

887. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

The best album by one of the best-loved cult artists in Americana music. For awhile back in the 90s, Allison could do no wrong: her wry, tersely and often wickedly lyrical alt-country albums The Maudlin Years and Sad Girl are both genuine classics, but this 2009 gem outdoes them since it’s a lot more stylistically diverse. And Allison’s finely nuanced voice is at the peak of its quirkily charming power here. There’s a duet with Elvis Costello on her dad Mose Allison’s wry, brooding jazz classic Monsters of the Id, with the Sage himself on piano; the clever litany of bizarre street names in the title track; the metaphorically loaded, wistful When the Needle Skips (a tribute to vintage vinyl, among other things); the genuinely haunting Dream World, with its down-and-out milieu; and the bitterly evocative Mardi Gras Moon, its jilted narrator high on pills and booze, losing the feeling in her hands on a night which is unseasonably cold in every possible way.

886. The JD Allen Trio – I Am I Am

A landmark album in modern jazz. A theme and variations with a few playful, sometimes wildly furious diversions, this tenor sax trio session was sort of the zeros counterpart to late 1950s Sonny Rollins – but better. Released at the end of 2008, Allen deftly skirts the edges of eerie, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged modal intensity, turning over the darkest shades to bassist Gregg August, who welcomes them like a vampire welcomes the night. Rudy Royston, the greatest of this era’s jazz drummers and heir to Elvin Jones’ throne, is a ferociously hard hitter, building the shape of these strikingly melodic, barely four-minute segments every bit as much as Allen does. They quote the Godfather theme and Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond and even hint at a surf music vamp when they’re not working the terse, brooding central motif from fiery riffage to understated elegiac drama. Allen’s previous and subsequent studio work is every bit as memorable and melodic but not as intense, but his live performances – especially with this rhythm section – are among the most exhilarating of any band in recent years.

885. Jah Wobble – Without Judgement

Hypnotic, atmospheric, occasionally Middle Eastern-tinged grooves from 1989 by the original PiL bassist, taking him further from rock toward the eclectic pan-global sound he’d dive into much more deeply in the following decades. It’s the most dub-inflected album he’s ever made, with vast washes of string synthesizer, funk guitar, all kinds of percussion and the occasional horn weaving up and then out of the mix, his characteristically terse, emphatic bass sometimes fat and propulsive, otherwise playing hide-and-seek with every other texture here – and there are a whole slew of them. There are also a couple of straight-up funk vamps, some proto-trip-hop and more than a hint of reggae in places. Most of the tracks are instrumentals: the highlight of the album is Wobble’s poem A13, a savage critique of suburban conformity and dullness read in a deadpan monotone over bleak washes of sound panning into and across the mix. It ends with the most bizarre, and barely recognizable, version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken ever recorded. Here’s a random torrent.

884. Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul

Pretty much the ultimate psychedelic soul record. Other soul singers in the 60s – Lou Rawls for one – were giving their songs long spoken-word intros. And stretching out a hit single onstage with a long vamp has been a popular device ever since soul music began. This was the first studio album to do that. Hayes had been a Stax Records producer (and Booker T. Jones’ double on organ in the duplicate version of Booker T. & the MGs, who toured when Booker T., or even the whole band, were busy elsewhere) since the early 60s; this was his second album, from 1969. There are four tracks here. A sprawling fuzztone guitar version of Burt Bacharach’s Walk On By – a smash for Dionne Warwick – clocks in at twelve minutes. The extended wah funk groove Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic goes on for almost ten and has been sampled by a million rappers. Side two has the gospel piano-driven One Woman and a practically twenty-minute version of Jimmy Webb’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Millions remember Hayes as the voice of Chef on South Park, or for the Shaft soundtrack, but was his finest moment – and a bedroom album that predates Barry White by a few years. Here’s a random torrent.

883. Polvo – Today’s Active Lifestyles

One of the most ugly/beautiful albums ever made. This 1993 full-length gets the nod over the rest of the Chapel Hill band’s output simply because there are more songs on it. Polvo literally never made a bad album: everything they did is worth owning. If you like noise, of course. The pitchfork/stereogum crowd (actually, it was CMJ back then) never got them, mischaracterizing them as math-rock when what they were really doing is taking peak-era Sonic Youth-style paint-peeling guitar noise to its logical extreme. For epic extremes, this one is bookended by the woozy, tone-bending Thermal Treasure and Gemini Cusp. There’s also the warped slide guitar of Lazy Comet; the swinging, chorus box-driven anarchy of Sure Shot; the Live Skull-ish fragment Tilebreaker; the fractured soul song Time Isn’t on My Side and the hypnotic, seven-minute Stinger, which nicks a memorable Sonic Youth riff. The band regrouped in 2009 and toured for a new cd, In Prism, which showed them mining a newly melodic but still deliciously assaultive sensibility. Long may they scream and thrash. Here’s a random torrent.

882. Henryk Gorecki – Symphony #3: London Sinfonietta/David Zinman, Dawn Upshaw, Soprano

Also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, this triptych is one of the most effective and brilliantly understated examples of minimalism. Its still, spacious lento movements explore grief and bereavement: as an antiwar statement, they make a quietly explosive impact. Its first movement strips down a medieval Polish canon to the bare essentials; its second movement, the most famous, illustrates an inscription scrawled on a Gestapo cell by a young Polish girl snared in the Holocaust (literal translation: “Mother, don’t worry; God help me”). The third develops a Polish folksong theme as a memorial for those killed in the Silesian uprising against the Nazis. While many people have claimed to have been brought to tears by this music, it’s not the least bit maudlin: its slowly shifting ambience is more pensive and weary than anything else. Dawn Upshaw sings its fragmentary lyrics with what sounds, to Anglophone ears at least, like a creditable Polish accent, chamber orchestra and piano maintaining a striking amount of suspense. It premiered in 1977 in Poland but only came to popularity about twenty years later after pieces of it from this album were used in the soundtrack to the film Basquiat. It would eventually go platinum, a rare and now almost unthinkable achievement for a classical recording.

881. New Model Army – Raw Melody Men

The missing link between the Clash and Midnight Oil, British rockers New Model Army have built a thirty-year career on the fiery, uncompromising, anthemic, politically aware songwriting of frontman Justin Sullivan: they’ve literally never made a bad record. This 1992 double live album captures the band at the peak of their majestic art-rock fury (they’ve been through many different phases: currently, they’re just as likely to whip out a gentle acoustic folk-rock number as a straight-up punk stomp). The swirls of electric violin and occasional keyboards here add an eerie ambience above the din of the guitar. Sullivan doesn’t confine his razor-sharp critiques to globalization or the evils of monopoly capitalism: there are few more astute critics of the left, especially coming from a progressive point of view. This one has most of the band’s early 90s concert favorites: the anguished escape anthem Get Me Out; the eco-disaster atmospherics of White Coats; the spot-on examinations of leftwing cliquishness Purity and Better Than Them; and the towering, Middle Eastern inflected majesty of Lurhstaap, a warning in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall that “You can buy a crown/It doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” Over the years, a NMA “family” has sprung up, sort of a more conscious Deadhead crew whose common passions happen to be intransigence and defiance of rightwing authority rather than drugs.

880. The Louvin Bros. – Tragic Songs of Life

Best known for their 1960 album Satan Is Real (and its campy fire-and-brimstone cover image), Charlie and Ira Louvin were a popular country gospel group until Ira’s death in a 1965 car accident (ostensibly running from the law – he was wanted on a drunk driving warrant). They’re also the group responsible for one of the earliest nuclear apocalypse anthems, The Great Atomic Power. This album gets the nod over the rest of their catalog because it’s more accessible, minus all the proselytizing that a lot of people find off-putting. A lot of these songs were already country/bluegrass standards when the album was issued in 1956 – and they’re not all as gloomy as the title might indicate. The Louvins play to the crowd with the home-state anthems Alabama and Kentucky (the latter a delicious mandolin-and-guitar picking party), get maudlin with a seven-year-old who misses his sweetheart on A Tiny Broken Heart, and go back in time with the traditional Mary of the Wild Moor, Let Her Go, God Bless Her and the gold-digger cautionary tale What Is Home Without Love. But their versions of In the Pines, My Brother’s Will, Take the News to Mother and the murder ballad Knoxville Girl (a big hit for the Blue Sky Boys in 1937) are as grim and evocative as any rural music ever recorded. The album was reissued in 2007 as a twofer along with Satan Is Real, easily downloaded. Here’s a random torrent.

879. 2 Live Crew – Live in Concert

The first-ever live hip-hop album, it’s an urban supremacist’s wet dream, an all-white audience of Arizona college kids rapping along with every filthy lyric, frequently drowning out the group onstage: “Face down, ass up, that’s the way we like to fuck.” This may seem pretty tame by teens standards but at the time the album came out in 1990, it was radical. As with the Dead Kennedys, the right wing had tried to put the group out of business with an expensive obscenity trial after witnessing the explosive popularity of the 1989 album As Nasty As They Want to Be. But the rappers won the case, and this is their response, a bigot’s worst nightmare. Neither Luke, the group’s leader, nor his sidekicks Brother Marquis or Fresh Kid Ice, could ever rap worth a damn, but their puerile sex jokes, and ability to get the totally crunk crowd to respond to them, are often hilarious despite themselves. This has all the band’s hits from the period: Me So Horny; Face Down Ass Up; We Want Some Pussy; If You Believe in Having Sex; The Fuck Shop; Brother Marquis’ completely inept Throw the D, and the Springsteen ripoff/parody Banned in the USA. There are a lot of torrents out there and many that appear to be for this album are in fact other concerts (which are often very funny themselves): this one appears to be the real deal.

878. Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky

This moment was bound to arrive: an album on vinyl that doesn’t appear to have made it to digital, at least in its entirety. The 1961 double lp we have in the archive here appears to be out of print in all formats. Recorded with an orchestra assembled by the Columbia Classical label, it includes all the essentials: the Rites of Spring, Petrouchka and the Firebird. It’s amazing how dynamically diverse, in fact old-fashioned this sounds: fans may actually prefer more boisterous versions, especially of the Rites of Spring. But it’s a real eye-opener, a look at how much more subtly Stravinsky delivers his material compared to most of the other recordings out there. For a taste of this you might want to check out this torrent of the Columbia eight-cd reissue of the recordings he made with the CBC Symphony Orchestra in the late 60s, including all three of his symphonies along with a lot of ballet and choral music – but a lot of this is pretty sleepy, an obvious lack of connection between orchestra and conductor. This one you may have to track down in your favorite vinyl emporium (good news: used classical vinyl is often ridiculously cheap – we scored this for four bucks). For those who haven’ t yet discovered him, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was one of the most original and interesting composers of the 20th century (some say the greatest). Not only is his music entertaining and gripping, but its influence continues to be felt to this day. Much of 20th century classical music would not exist without him: the same can be said for a lot of rock music, particularly noise-rock bands like Sonic Youth. His signature style blends eerie, astringent atonalities with somber, minor-key Russian melodies and a frequently carnivalesque, phantasmagorical sound: it’s great fun. If you find a torrent for our vinyl album let us know!

877. Jimmy Reed – At Carnegie Hall

This 1961 album is neither live nor was it recorded at Carnegie Hall, but it is the great bluesman at the peak of his sly, seductive, sleepy power. It’s a bedroom album right up there with anything Al Green or Sade ever recorded, a dusky, nocturnal tour de force. Reed was a big hit with the ladies but also with the guys for his wry sense of humor and his confident subtlety: he doesn’t beg, he beckons. This one gets the nod over the others in his catalog because it’s a double album with more tracks. It’s got all the big hits: Bright Lights, Big City; Baby What You Want Me to Do; Big Boss Man; Going to New York; Take Out Some Insurance, and Ain’t That Loving You Baby. And who’s that laid-back, terrifically interesting, counterintuitive drummer? Believe it or not, that’s Albert King. Extra props to Reed for helping launch that guy’s career. Here’s a random torrent.

876. Onyx – All We Got Iz Us

Best remembered for their 1992 smash hit Throw Ya Gunz, New York rap quartet Onyx were one of the best of the groups from the last few years of hip-hop’s golden age. This 1995 album, their second, is a characteristically intense display of agile wordplay and in-your-face attitude spiced equally with gleeful humor and grim social-realist narratives. In an era of smart lyricists, Sticky Fingaz, Fredro Starr and Suave were three of the smartest. This one has the big apocalypse anthem Last Dayz; the title track, a bitter, fatalistic tribute to hoodlum solidarity; the irresistibly catchy, amusing smalltime crooks’ tale Purse Snatchaz, and one of the most astute revenge songs ever written, 2 Wrongs. Happily, Onyx weren’t dumped by their record label after a wildly successful debut like so many of their contemporaries and would remain on the front line of first-class rap for the better part of the decade; literally everything they did is worth owning, including Sticky Fingaz’ expansive 2001 solo debut, Blacktrash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones. Here’s a random torrent.

875. The Cure – Seventeen Seconds

The popular favorite, and deservedly so, is the quirkily charming Boys Don’t Cry; the goth crowd tends to gravitate toward Pornography, another splendid if completely different album. This is the missing link between the two. The cold gloom of its atmospherics foreshadowed the goth direction they’d take for the next few years, but there’s also a catchy pop sensibility, although it’s happily never cloying like the group’s 1986 debacle Head on the Door or subsequent efforts to hit the top 40. This is their second album, from 1980, bassist Simon Gallup locking with drummer Lol Tolhurst for a tightly wound, propulsive beat (calling it a groove would be an overstatement) beneath Robert Smith’s icy jangle and affectless vocals. The title refers to how long the brain can maintain consciousness after the heart stops beating. A pensive, cinematic instrumental miniature sets the tone for each of the album sides; side one has the big hit Play for Today and a bit later on, the moody, furtive In Your House. Side two has the brooding, somewhat epic A Forest and At Night as well as M, arguably their best song, seemingly a reference to the serial killer role played so unforgettably by Peter Lorre in the Fritz Lang film. Here’s a random torrent.

874. Dorothy Donegan – Live at the 1990 Floating Jazz Festival

Early in her career, pianist Dorothy Donegan was dismissed by critics because she was pretty, she wore what were considered racy outfits for the time and she played everything – and drove her band members nuts onstage, segueing from jazz to R&B to classical, often within the span of a single song. She particularly enjoyed playing Rachmaninoff and excelled at it. Twelve years after her death, she’s gained recognition as one of the most extraordinary jazz pianists ever. By the time she recorded this album, she was as likely to be playing on a boat as at a club and this is one of those gigs. Yet it reveals her to be as blissfully intense and occasionally chaotic as she was at her peak in the 1950s and 60s, matching sizzling chops to frequent repartee with the audience (who seem at times to have no idea what just hit them). And the irony is that she does it with more than just her usual Blackbird Boogie and variations on a million themes. It’s a pretty generic set list for someone so adventurous, at least until you hear it. Most of these songs are standards, but she makes nonstandards out of them, blasting out of Someday My Prince Will Come into Tiger Rag, a bit later leaping from Misty to a rousing version of Ellington’s Caravan. There are also boisterous saloon jazz versions of The Lady Is a Tramp, After Hours and Round Midnight. A lot of her studio albums from the 50s are out of print and worth keeping an eye out for if you’re the kind of person to troll used record stores and the Salvation Army for abandoned treasures. Chiaroscuro still has this one in their catalog; if you’re looking for a torrent, good luck with this.

873. The Klezmatics – Possessed

The most celebrated if not exactly the first of the klezmer revival bands, the Klezmatics brought a gentle but firm punk rock sensibility to ancient Jewish songs that frequently got them in hot water in more conservative circles but won them a wide following outside the klezmer shtetl. This 1997 album is their darkest, a mix of gypsy-inflected dances, jazzy improvisation and a long suite which served as the score to the popular Tony Kushner drama, The Dybbuk, based on the famous ghost story of the same name. There’s a mournful forebearance to most of this, although the group raise the ante when least expected, particularly on a rousing, klezmer-jamband ode to marijuana: every day is Shabbos when you’re stoned. The individual Klezmatics: reed player Matt Darriau, drummer David Licht, star trumpeter Frank London, bassist Paul Morrisett, frontman/accordionist Lorin Sklamberg and fiery violinist Alicia Svigals all went on to do great things as solo artists and sidemen/women after the band broke up; they reunited in 2010. This album was reissued in 2005 as a twofer with their far more upbeat debut Jews with Horns. Here’s a random torrent.

872. The Patti Smith Group – Radio Ethiopia

This is the great Patti Smith album that everybody sleeps on. From 1975, it’s her hardest-rocking, most musically interesting, least lyrical, and least accessible one. But a close listen really pays off. As usual, there’s plenty of defiant, tuneful powerpop: Ask the Angels; Pumping My Heart; Distant Fingers, and the reggae-tinged Ain’t It Strange, a co-write with Smith’s then-boyfriend Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult. There’s also the absolutely gorgeous, plaintive, seven-minute Richard Sohl piano ballad Pissing in a River. But the best part is the epic twelve minutes that closes the album, wherein lead guitarist Lenny Kaye – one of the world’s most reliably melodic players – flipped the script and pretty much singlehandedly invented noise-rock. A murky cauldron of swirling, overtone-laden textures, it’s one of the high points of 70s music, and it shifted the paradigm a little further outside. It’s hard to imagine Public Image Ltd., the Dream Syndicate, or for that matter Sonic Youth, without it. Here’s a random torrent.

871. Tammy Faye Starlite – Used Country Female

A spot-on, politically-charged collection of parodies by one of the most subversive performers to ever hit the stage. An actress and dramatist who got her start in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre, T. Debra Lang’s best-loved alter ego is Tammy Faye Starlite, a washed-up, drug-addled country singer who, in a desperate attempt to get back into the limelight, becomes a born-again. Her improv lampoons rightwingers, bigots, Christian extremists and pretty much everything you see on Fox News more entertainingly than you could possibly imagine. There are two Tammy Faye Starlite albums – the first, On My Knees, is straight-up country and contains Did I Shave My Vagina For This, the funniest feminist anthem ever written. This one, her second, is a boisterous, twangy alt-country record expertly produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and is a lot more diverse. The humor is all based in innuendo, and much of it is hysterical: the faux gospel of I’ve Got Jesus Looking Out for Me; the Doorsy highway anthem Highway 69; Ride the Cotton Pony, which is about menstruation; The Jim Rob Song, about a good Christian man who likes other Christian men (and boys too); and a sex-crazed cover of the bluegrass standard Hear Jerusalem Moan. Tammy Faye Starlite also fronts three irresistibly funny cover bands: the Mike Hunt Band, who do the Stones; the Stay-at-Homes, who do the Runaways; and most recently, the Pretty Babies, a Blondie spoof.

870. Lou Reed – The Blue Mask

This is his big comeback, from 1982, after a couple of real duds in the late 70s. Here he teams up with the late Robert Quine for an unhinged, double-barreled assault on the fretboard, a stripped-down, blistering return to something of a Velvets feel. Part of this is the most intense janglerock ever made; the rest is like a more tuneful, musically proficient White Light/White Heat. Or a more proficient Voidoids with better lyrics (remember, Quine was their guitarist). What’s coolest is that both guitarists run straight through their amps without any effects: it’s amazing how good you can get a Strat and a Fender Twin to sound just by adding a little (or a lot) of distortion. The high points are the viscerally intense Waves of Fear and the blistering noiserock of the title cut. There’s also the death-obsessed My House, a Delmore Schwartz tribute; the evocative, DT-inspired Underneath the Bottle; the ominous plaintiveness of The Gun; the understated requiem The Day John Kennedy Died and the surprisingly funny, tongue-in-cheek Average Guy. After all this, we can forgive him for the mawkish, maudlin love song at the end. Also worth hearing is the Live in Italy double album from 1983 with this same crew, who turn in phenomenally good, revitalized versions of Kill Your Sons, Satellite of Love and Walk on the Wild Side among others. Here’s a random torrent.

869. Can – Monster Movie

The cult favorite is the German band’s 1971 Tago Mago album, with its hypnotic grooves and assaultive avant freakouts. This is Can’s rock record, a memorably twisted piece of post-Beatles psychedelia from 1969. As with the rest of the band’s output, drummer Jaki Liebezeit absolutely owns this. With his inimitable, hypnotic rattle and pulse, it’s already obvious where he’s going to take this band’s music for most of the next decade. Side one begins with Father Cannot Yell, its weird lyrics, melodic bass, proto-Robert Fripp guitar and motorik rhythm evoking a bizarre cross between the Velvets and Terry Riley (who was a big influence, along with Karlheinz Stockhausen, who served as teacher to both bassist Holger Czukay and organist Irmin Schmidt). Mary, Mary So Contrary is a fractured folk-rock dirge, followed by Outside My Door, an Astronomy Domine ripoff but a good one. The second side is a twenty-minute stoner jam (streaming in three parts, here, here and here), sort of a teutonic In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida edited down from what was reputedly a marathon six-hour studio session. With minimal reverb guitar, trebly bass, creepy Farfisa and Liebezeit’s epic funeral drums, they establish their signature trancey sound after it gets going, particularly when they bring it down to just the bass and the drums and leave it there for what seems forever (you can practically smell the pot smoke drifting in from the other room). Joy Division’s Dead Souls owes its drum riff to this one. Here’s a random torrent.

868. Blowfly – Blowfly’s Party

Whether or not Blowfly really earned his nickname as a teenager when castigated by his grandmother for singing “C’mon baby, suck my dick,” instead of “do the twist,” Clarence Reid still has a franchise on x-rated R&B. He was making what used to be called “party records,” no doubt inspired by Red Foxx and Rudy Ray Moore, as early as the 1970s, when he wasn’t working as a hired-gun songwriter for acts as diverse as Betty Wright and KC and the Sunshine Band. But he saved his best stuff for himself. Maybe because he was so funny (or maybe because musicians thought that a connection to his filthy alter ego might translate into a hit single, or a session gig), he attracted topnotch players in droves. This album, from 1980, was an underground sensation and actually made the Billboard charts despite getting no airplay (apparently Blowfly didn’t think of making a “clean” version). Everything here is good for a laugh: Blowfly’s Rap (a Kurtis Blow ripoff) and Show Me a Man Who Don’t Like to Fuck, for example. Can I Come In Your Mouth is actually all about equal opportunity: Blowfly makes it clear to the girl that he’s willing to reciprocate. And some of the tracks are downright hilarious, particularly Who Did I Eat Last Night. All of this you can dance to. In the mid-zeros, Blowfly teamed up with a bunch of punk musicians and issued two albums of sexually explicit punk covers on Alternative Tentacles. Now in his seventies, he still tours. Be extra careful looking for a download – because some consider this adult entertainment (it’s actually the most juvenile album on this list), links that appear to be for torrents may lead to attack sites or malware: good luck and sweep your machine afterward.

867. The Chrome Cranks – Live in Exile

The Chrome Cranks were New York’s best band for most of the 1990s before imploding late in the decade. Combining the assaultive, combative riff-driven charisma of the Stooges with the paint-peeling, feedback-riddled, blues-warped guitar of frontman Peter Aaron and lead player William G. Weber and propelled by the potent rhythm section of former Honeymoon Killer Jerry Teel on bass and ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, their studio albums blew away the rest of the Lower East Side glampunk crowd but never quite captured the raw unhinged menace of their live shows. But this does. Recorded at the end of 1996 in Holland at the end of a European tour, the band are at the peak of their power. Much as most of their songs are about facing down the end with a sneer, a smirk, a snort or something, this one really has the air of desperation: they knew this wouldn’t last, but they wanted to capture it for those who came after. They open the show with their gleefully ugly signature cover, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and after that, the song titles pretty much say it all. Lost Time Blues; Wrong Number; Dead Man’s Suit; We’re Going Down. Their practically nine-minute version of Pusherman surpasses even the Live Skull version for out-of-focus, fatalistic fury; the last of the encores is the self-explanatory Burn Baby Burn. Reinvigorated and apparently free of the demons that plagued them the first time around, the Cranks reunited in 2008 with a mighty series of shows in New York and Europe, with the promise of a new album sometime in the future.

866. Sham 69 – That’s Life

The second and best album by these first-wave British punks, from 1978. Their 1977 debut Tell Us the Truth was raw to the extreme, half of it recorded live and clocking in at barely a half hour. This one is a concept album, a day in the life of a dead-end blue-collar London kid. Thirty years later, it’s as powerful and vivid as it was when it came out. Stuck in a stupid office job, the kid still lives at home with his dysfuctional family, none of whom get along and always seem to blame him for everything that goes wrong. The early songs set the scene, frontman Jimmy Pursey playing the wry, fatalistic but ultimately indomitable role to the hilt. Of course, the kid eventually gets fired, as chronicled in the catchy, Kinks-inflected title track. The songs really pick up when everybody goes off to the dog track (in Win or Lose, fueled by lead guitarist Dave Parsons’ insanely delicious, judiciously screaming chordal work), and then the pub: Hurry Up Harry is a cockney punk classic. As the night goes on, the kid gets drunker, strikes out with the cynical girls who hang out at his local in the hilarious Reggae Pickup Pt. 1 and 2 and finally comes face to face with a Sunday Morning Nightmare in one of the greatest and most evocative punk songs ever written. Even the period references still resonate: he’s horrified that his brother looks like John Travolta and his sister like Olivia Newton-John. And the slower songs, like the organ-fueled Everybody’s Wrong, have a genuine plaintiveness. The band didn’t last much longer; after a disappointing follow-up album, Hersham Boys (whose only standout track was the classic If the Kids Are United), the band broke up, Pursey disenchanted with the Nazi punk crowd who had strangely glommed onto the group and made their live shows literally dangerous. Parsons would go on to play briefly with Steve Jones in the short-lived punk supergroup the Sham Pistols; bassist Dave Tregunna joined the Wanderers with Stiv Bators and then continued on with him in the Lords of the New Church. Pursey has soldiered on with a completely different, vastly more pop version of the band for decades but little to show for it. There is however a Sham 69 album in the Live and Loud series and although the sound is a bit dodgy, the performances are first-rate.

865. Agent Orange – Living in Darkness

Agent Orange have made a thirty-year career based on this one album, almost by accident. The LA surf-punks’ 1980 debut ep Bitchin’ Summer was well received in the scene, so the following year Posh Boy Records brought them into the studio to do a full-length album…and the guitar amp broke. Short on time and equipment, frontman Mike Palm ran his guitar through a bass amp turned up to the point of distortion, and a new sound was born. Through a wall of eerie fuzztone sustain, the band play fast and desperate. One by one, they rip through one Dick Dale-tinged punk smash after another: Bloodstains; Too Young to Die; A Cry for Help in a World Gone Mad; the brutally cynical No Such Thing; a woozily murderous cover of Misirlou; the absolutely exhausting, somewhat epic title track (reputedly drummer Scott Miller was at the point of collapse by the time they finally got a take they were satisfied with); and the band’s signature song, the ridiculously catchy Everything Turns Grey. If you see this on vinyl, grab it: it’s worth something. Otherwise, the version to get is the 1991 Rhino reissue which also includes the band’s searing, iconic covers of both Pipeline and Mr. Moto. The band still tours. Here’s a random torrent.

864. The Electric Light Orchestra – No Answer

The 1972 ELO debut album – and the rest of the band’s early output – differentiates itself from most of the other orchestrated rock albums out there with its rustic feel. Jeff Lynne would overdub the string section over and over again to simulate the lushness of an orchestra, a sound that he was never quite able to replicate, which actually works better here than he probably ever thought at the time. The scrapy cellos add a sinister edge to the iconic, vaguelly Orwellian British hit 10538 Overture, the hallucinatory Queen of the Hours, the chamber-metal instrumental Battle of Marston Moor and the angst-ridden Look at Me Now, which picks up where Eleanor Rigby left off and takes it to the next level. There’s also the thorny Roy Wood acoustic guitar instrumental First Movement, Lynne’s piano boogie Manhattan Rumble, the charmingly oldtimey Nellie Takes Her Bow and Mr. Radio and the wrenchingly gorgeous lament Whisper in the Night, arguably the best song Wood ever wrote. He would exit after this album to do retro 50s Americana with Wizzard, leaving Lynne at the helm free to pursue his visionary blend of rock and classical music. Here’s a random torrent.

863. Peter Tosh – Live at the One Love Peace Concert

This is the famous 1978 concert where Bob Marley, in an effort to quell sectarian violence in Jamaica, forced Presidential candidates Michael Manley and his right-wing opponent Edward Seaga to shake hands onstage. Marley’s set that night was filmed, most of it included in the documentary Heartland Reggae. Tosh’s wasn’t, but the audio was recorded and issued thirteen years after his 1987 murder on the small Jad label. With the legendary rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Tosh and his band deliver a long, psychedelic, absolutely incendiary set punctuated by long, foul-mouthed, stream-of-consciousness rants. “We don’t want peace, we want justice,” Tosh declared right at the start, blowing smoke from his giant spliff in the direction of the candidates. He kicks off the show with the Rasta benediction Igziabeher and then launches into one scathing number after another, starting with 400 Years, which memorializes the Middle Passage while reminding that de facto slavery is still very much alive in the third world. He opens Burial with a withering critique of globalization, follows that with Equal Rights and then a long, rambling demand for marijuana legalization that eventually leads into a ten-minute version of Legalize It and then his signature song (which Tosh actually co-wrote with Marley in the days when he was the Wailers’ bassist), Get Up, Stand Up. Tosh would be beaten within an inch of his life by thugs after the show as retaliation. No freedom of speech in Jamaica in those days. Pretty much everything Tosh ever recorded is worth owning; he may not have had his bandmate’s gift for pop melody, but his vision of liberation continues to inspire new generations around the world. Here’s a random torrent.

862. The Lyres – Those Lyres

Along with their New York counterparts the Fleshtones, Boston rockers the Lyres were the best of the second-wave garage bands of the 80s and 90s. Their live shows could never match the Fleshtones for manic intensity, but several of their studio albums are worth owning, particularly the first two, On Fyre, from 1983, and its 1986 follow-up Lyres Lyres. This one, released in 1995, combines two surprisingly consistent, first-rate live sets, the first from an undated show probably sometime in the early 90s in Boston and the second in Oslo in 1993. It doesn’t have the repeater-box guitar effect that made their sound so instantly identifiable in their early 80s prime, but frontman/organist/obsessive record collector Jeff “Mono Mann” Connolly is at the top of his game and so is this version of the band. As much as the Lyres were a consummate party band, they could also be surprisingly dark, and this has most of their best songs: two versions of the poignant Baby It’s Me; the snarling, chromatically charged Stay Away; the equally fiery Jezebel and How Do You Know; their iconic cover of the Alarm Clocks’ No Reason to Complain; a careening version of their biggest hit, Help You Ann, and a straight-up 4/4 take of their second-biggest one, She Pays the Rent. Connolly was as erratic a bandleader as a frontman; he went through almost as many band members as James Brown, the one longtime standby being bassist Rick Coraccio, who’s on this album. By the early zeros, the band was basically done; Connolly toured a couple of years ago with a regrouped version of his mid-70s band, the Stooges-inspired DMZ. Maybe because of the title, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything; the cd is still in print from Norton.

861. Amy Rigby – 18 Again

Everything Amy Rigby ever recorded is worth owning. She was ten years ahead of her time as a member of obscure alt-country pioneers the Last Roundup and then with the irresistible, irrepressible all-female country harmony trio the Shams before breaking out on her own with the landmark Diary of a Mod Housewife in 1996. So why did we pick this one, a greatest-hits album from 2003? Because the songs were so well-chosen. It’s got most if not all of the best stuff from her first three albums through the year 2000, along with some savagely good bonus tracks which have become big crowd-pleasers, notably the blackly funny murder-conspiracy ballad Keep It To Yourself. With her wounded, nuanced voice always on the edge of either crushing heartbreak or ruthless wrath, her love of puns and double entendres, purist pop sensibility and populist politics, she recounts the last delicious months before family and responsibility took over on the wistful, Beatlesque Summer of My Wasted Youth; delivers a withering sendup of marriage and its equivalents on Cynically Yours; peels the facade off her drunken cheating man with 20 Questions; catalogs the spirit-crushing struggles of a single mom on Raising the Bar, and those of the pink-collar crowd on The Good Girls; casts a scathing glance at guys who would insinuate that this diva is over the hill on Invisible; and offers one of the funniest yet most chilling looks at alienation in the lands far outside the comfort of city limits with Rode Hard. There is a happy ending here: in 2008 she married another first-class musical storyteller, Wreckless Eric, with whom she’s also made two first-class albums.

860. Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – Volume II

The 1985 debut by le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, or the Bulgarian Voices as they’re more popularly known, was one of the landmark albums in the history of recorded music and spearheaded a global phenomenon. Every choir and every woman who’s ever sung this repertoire, especially those in the west, owes something to this long-running ensemble. First established in the early 1950s, their self-released 1975 album didn’t see a worldwide release until ten years later. But this one, their first recorded for the 4AD label in 1988, is even better (we aim to be counterintuitive here). With its eerie ninth and eleventh intervals, strange, guttural trills and sepulchral ambience, these large-scale choral arrangements of traditional Bulgarian folksongs are nothing less than otherworldly, especially to western ears. The women perform them a-cappella with the exception of one which has an accordion on it. The high point is the insistently catchy Dragana I Slavei, memorably covered in a new arrangement for four voices by groundbreaking Brooklyn quartet Black Sea Hotel in 2008. You can hear the whole thing here: it’s still in print from Nonesuch. If you’re looking for a torrent, here’s a random one.

859. The Damned – Mindless Directionless Energy

The All Music Guide said horrible things about this one: goes to show, who can you trust? We chose this over the rest of their catalog since it has so many inspired versions of some of their best and best-known songs. Recorded live at the Lyceum in London in 1981 and widely bootlegged, to the point where the band finally released it six years later, this captures them hanging onto their punk sound even in the wake of their first dive into goth music, the Black Album. As befits a bootleg from that era, the sonics manage to be both boomy and trebly – midrange is mostly nonexistent – but the spontaneous intensity of the performances is irresistible. Frontman Dave Vanian sounds like he’s been drinking about his baby and the band are just loose enough to be dangerous, stampeding through the riff-rocking punk of I Fall and New Rose, a blistering hardcore version of Love Song, the wickedly catchy guitar-and-organ punk-pop of Smash It Up and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, a feedback-infested blast through a medley of the MC5′s Looking At You and the Stooges’ 1970 and a murderously careening version of their most haunting if lyrically mystifying song, Plan 9 Channel 7. The only miss is a completely useless cover of the Sweet’s annoying Ballroom Blitz. Most of the Damned’s albums – from the almost equally trebly, garage-style stomp of their 1977 debut Damned Damned Damned through the goth-infused Strawberries, from 1982 – are worth investigating. Here’s a random torrent.

858. Paula Carino – Aquacade

Seven years after her solo debut came out, the former frontwoman of popular indie rockers Regular Einstein remains a titan among New York rock songwriters. With her cool, nuanced voice like a spun silk umbrella on a windswept beach, her catchy, distantly Pretenders-inflected janglerock melodies and fiercely witty, literate lyrics, Carino ranks with Richard Thompson, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello as one of the world’s great lyrical tunesmiths. She never met a pun or a double entendre she could resist, has a thing for odd time signatures and wields a stun-gun bullshit detector. This was one of the great albums of 2003 and it remains a classic. Pensive, watery miniatures like the title track lurk side by side with the mordantly metric cautionary tale Discovering Fire, the offhandedly savage Stockholm Syndrome and Guru Glut and the wistful, richly evocative sound-movie Summer’s Over. The symbolism goes deep and icy on the deceptively upbeat Tip of the Iceberg; Venus Records immortalizes a legendary New York used record store and remains the most charming love song to a prized vinyl album ever (that one’s loaded with symbolism too). The high point of the cd  is Paleoclimatology, a resolutely clanging masterpiece that will resonate with anyone longing to escape a past buried beneath ”ancient snow that wrecked tyrannosaurus.” Carino’s 2010 album Open on Sunday is far darker yet still imbued with a similar wit: look for it high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year. This one long since sold out its run of physical copies, although it’s still available online at emusic and all the other mp3 spots.

857. Chopin – 24 Preludes – Walter Klien, Piano

There are a million Chopin preludes collections out there; we chose this one out of familiarity (admittedly, not a very good reason), the quality of the pieces (one classic after another) and the fact that Klien’s 1960 recording is truly excellent. For anyone who might be new to his music, pianist and composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was the godfather of gypsy rock, a paradigm shifter and the guy most responsible for jumpstarting the Romantic era (following the Classical era, of Haydn and Mozart) in western instrumental music. Much of his work is wrenchingly intense, dark, brooding and unselfconsciously anguished, as are many of these, notably the dirgelike C Minor Prelude and the otherwordly E Minor one, both of which have been in a million movies and which you will instantly recognize if you don’t already know them. More effectively than any other composer, he blended the austere, bitter minor key chromatics of eastern Europe with the simpler majors and minors of the west. Without Chopin, it’s hard to imagine Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff or for that matter Gogol Bordello. As popular as this particular album was, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything promising, probably because search engines mistake Klien’s name for “klein.” So here’s one for a well-known, solidly good Maurizio Pollini collection.

856. Betty Carter – The Betty Carter Album

This album was so far ahead of its time it’s not funny. Then again, Betty Carter herself was way ahead of her time: she could say more in a single minute inflection than a lot of singers could in a career. The former Lillie Mae Jones did an Iggy Pop, adopting a nickname she once hated (jazz players in her native Detroit in the 1940s called the irrepressible teenager “Betty Bebop” because her singing was so more imaginative and complex than the simple scatting her bandmates wanted her to do). She was also one of the first jazz stars to go independent: having abandoned the tour circuit to raise a family, her label dropped her. This one was her big comeback, the 1972 debut release by her own Bet-Car label. And it’s characteristically surprising, considering how much quieter this is compared to how joyously intense she could get onstage. Yet while Carter could wail with anyone, it’s her subtlety that ultimately set her apart from her contemporaries, and that nuance really cuts through here, in a mix of standards like You’re a Sweetheart and Sunday, Monday or Always, along with originals like the suspenseful, intense What Is It, Sounds (Movin’ On) and a very brief take of Tight (a live showstopper). The band behind her – Danny Mixon or Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Louis Hayes on drums – follow her lead, keeping it smart and simple – not an easy job, considering what a legendary hardass she was to work with. Rhythm and meter take a back seat to emotion: Carter’s voice leads and everyone follows. And yet it’s not self-indulgent: she dives into these lyrics, especially her own, whether they’re celebratory, plaintive or wary, particularly on the cautionary tale Children Learn What They Live. Carter peaked late in her career: pretty much anything she did after 1980 is worth hearing. Good luck finding a torrent (the title doesn’t exactly make it easy to search for): you may have to grab a bunch of other stuff in order to get this one.

855. Florence Dore – Perfect City

These days she’s a Kent State professor, a Faulkner scholar and author of The Novel and the Obscene: Sexual Subjects in American Modernism (Stanford University Press, 2005) which makes the somewhat iconoclastic argument that early 20th century American writers’ embrace of forbidden subjects lagged behind the loosening of prudish obscenity laws. She was also the cool professor on the NYU campus in 2001 when she was playing clubs and released this, her only solo album (which she didn’t tell even her students about until late in the semester). Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and backed by a terrific, jangly Americana rock band featuring Chris Erikson on electric guitar, Scott Yoder on bass and the Smithereens’ Dennis Diken on drums, she runs through a tuneful, tersely literate mix of upbeat janglerockers and quieter, more country-tinged fare lit up by her honey-and-vinegar Nashville twang. There’s the unaffectedly gripping country ballad Early World (the most captivating song ever written about job-hunting in higher education); the raw, riff-rocking title track and the even rawer, early Who-style Framed; the absurdly catchy Americana pop of Everything I Dreamed; the sad, elegaic Wintertown (a sort of prayer for closure for the Kent State massacre); the brooding No Nashville and its vividly evocative dysfunctional family hell; and Christmas, arguably the finest, saddest and most satisfying December kiss-off song ever written. The original album has been out of print for years, although there are still used copies floating around, and amazon still has it as a download.

854. Vivaldi – The Four Seasons – Trevor Pinnock/The English Concert

The best recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s iconic suite that we’ve actually heard is an unfortunately unlabeled cassette copy recorded off a vinyl album. But this one, from 1976, is pretty close. Pinnock conducts from the harpsichord with goodnatured inspiration, and the group play period instruments, so it’s a little quieter than a lot of the other recordings out there. The good omens of Spring lead auspiciously into a very visceral, heartfelt Summer; the wariness of Fall is understated, as is the angst of Winter, to the point that fans of darker music may prefer other, more boisterous recordings. But this is awfully close to what Venetian audiences got to witness circa 1725. Even if classical music is not your style, you have to admit that this is catchy and evocative stuff. And it’s a century ahead of its time. What else can we say: many of you probably own this already. If not, there are a gazillion recordings kicking around the internet, follow your instincts and see what you find. Here’s a random torrent.

853. Israel Vibration – Vibes Alive

There are few more heartwarming music success stories than Israel Vibration. The vocal trio of Wiss (Lascelle Bulgin), Skelly (Cecil Spence) and Apple (Albert Craig), all crippled by polio in early childhood, met in their early teens in a Jamaican orphanage. They discovered Rastafari, left for the bush and the rest is history, as documented in the film Israel Vibration: Reggae in the Holy Land. Over the course of their 35-year career, they’ve released over a dozen albums and all of them are worth owning, if you like classic reggae. Their harmonies may be wobbly, but their songwriting, even by roots reggae standards, is firmly entrenched in the here and now, whether attacking the inequalities of the system, standing up for the sufferahs or simply celebrating a good time. They’ve also released two first-rate live albums, this one from their 1992 US tour being the first, including a good, inspired mix of their many styles: the confrontational Vultures and Racial Discrimination; a defiantly careening version of the ganja-smoking anthem Red Eyes; a raw, guitar-fueled take of the prisoner’s lament On the Rock; and a lusciously jangly, redemptive, practically rock version of Pay Day, which might be their best song. Behind them, bassist Flabba Holt leads the Roots Radics band through one joyous vamp after another as the audience enthusiastically eggs them on to stop the song and start it all over again. Craig left the band in the early zeros; Bulgin and Spence carry on under the same name and continue to tour worldwide. Here’s a random torrent.

852. The Jack Grace Band – Drinking Songs for Lovers

This brand-new 2010 album has the Martini Cowboy reverting to the classic 1960s C&W party vibe of his 2005 cd I Like It Wrong, but with a better band, better songs and an unbeatable concept: this is party music for smart people. With a swing jazz rhythm section of Grace’s wife Daria on bass, Russ Meissner on drums and either longtime Johnny Cash pianist Earl Poole Ball or New Orleans bluesman Bill Malchow on keys, Grace himself takes over the lead guitar here, with literally delirious results. It’s a tribute to all states of drunkenness and those who indulge in it: the crazy neighborhood guy you run into at the bodega on a beer run right before four AM, the guys at OTB, the serious dude who watches his roommate drink himself into a dangerous state, and the drunken parent (on the album’s absolutely brilliant centerpiece, If You’re Gonna Raise a Drunk). The titles pretty much say it all: Morning Margaritas; Drink a Little Hooch; Drinkin’ and Gamblin’; I Drank Too Much Again; and a surprising, vividly cautionary cameo from Daria, Drank Yourself Into a Corner. Jack’s George Jones-inflected baritone offers just the hint of a tequila-infused wink as the band sway and careen behind him. For nondrinkers who find the appeal of this album utterly impossible to fathom, consider that reality – woops, we mean sobriety – might just be a little less fun.

851. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

This album is about love under an occupation. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow the enemy. Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the New York art-rockers’ second cd was one of the great albums of 2009. Frontman Paul Megna offers Leonard Cohen-inflected menace through the eyes of a metaphorical, suicidal messenger on the skeletally crescendoing Love Yr Way; savages suburban smugness with the garage rock of Fevered Cyclones and the backhanded, sarcastic The War Is Over, and evokes the great Australian art-rockers the Church on the desperate, titanic anthem Finger Trigger: “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” A vivid portrayal of a time and place that nobody who lived through it wants to remember. What is it that happens to those who can’t remember the past? So far this one hasn’t made it to the share sites; it’s still available from the band, whose follow-up is due out in a few months and reputedly maintains the power of this one.

850. Hot Tuna’s First Album

As Jefferson Airplane inched closer toward a Jefferson Starship sound, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were obviously restless: Hot Tuna began simply as a side project where the band’s guitar/bass brain trust could explore the delta blues that Kaukonen loved so much. This is one of those accidental albums, an audience recording of a 1969 show at a San Francisco folk club that the band decided to release despite all the crowd noise – because it’s so casually brilliant. Kaukonen was a great rock player but here he shows that he was already a formidable blues guy, and Casady’s thick, intertwining melodic leads make a perfect match. Along with some occasional, innocuous harmonica, the duo wind their way through a mix of upbeat, adrenalizing stuff like Hesitation Blues, I Know You Rider and Rev. Gary Davis’ Death Don’t Have No Mercy along with a gorgeously laid-back version of Leroy Carr’s How Long Blues. But the highlight is the five-and-a-half-minute original instrumental Mann’s Fate, as much a showcase for Casady as Kaukonen, which over the years has become iconic in acoustic guitar circles. The rest of Hot Tuna’s albums from the 70s are mostly electric and while they have their moments, they never reach the ecstatic heights of this one. In the 80s and 90s, however, Kaukonen would rightfully gain recognition as one of the greatest blues players to pick up a guitar: pretty much everything he’s done since then is worth hearing. Here’s a random torrent.

849. Aimee Mann – Lost in Space

We’re trying to limit this list to one album per artist, so this was a really tough call. Aimee Mann is one of the few who’s literally never made a bad one. We picked this because it’s so consistently intense and tuneful, although you could say that about just about everything else she’s done other than the Christmas albums. The fans’ choice is the Magnolia soundtrack, a dynamite album; the critics’ pick tends to be her solo debut, Whatever, from 1993 (a solidly good effort, but one she’d quickly surpass – goes to show how much they know, huh?). Many other songwriters would have made this 2002 concept album about addiction and rehab mawkish and self-absorbed: not this woman. Mann sings the bitter anguish of the richly George Harrisonesque Humpty Dumpty, the savage cynicism of This Is How It Goes and Guys Like Me (Mann still venting at clueless corporate record label types after all these years) and the rich levels of Invisible Ink with a vivid, wounded nuance over seamless, carefully crafted, tersely played midtempo rock changes. It winds up just as intensely as it began with the venom of The Moth and the bitter, downcast It’s Not, reminding that after all this, all the perfect drugs and superheroes still won’t be enough to pull its narrator up from zero. Clinical depression has seldom been more evocatively or memorably portrayed. Here’s a random torrent.

848. The Adverts – Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts

As some of you know by now, the original game plan with this list was to put up a single page of all the obvious choices, especially those we share with the other popular “best albums” lists out there. We were hoping to put up about three hundred and then spend a little less than two years counting down the rest. As it turned out, in our haste to get the whole thing up and running, our “obvious suspects page” lists just a tad under a hundred albums. This is one we should have included on it: iconic in punk circles but largely unknown otherwise, it’s a feast of snarling reverb guitar, catchy melody and aggressively dark, often phantasmagorical songwriting. The big 1978 UK hit was Gary Gilmore’s Eyes, the twisted tale of a transplant recipient getting the eyes of the first American killer to die by firing squad in years. There’s also the caustic, 1:45 Bored Teenagers; the defiantly sarcastic One Chord Wonders; the brooding and bitter cripple’s tale On Wheels; the desperately scurrying Bombsite Boy and On the Roof, and the snidely anti-imperialist Great British Mistake. Guitarist Howard Pickup would die of an aneurysm the following year; the band’s follow-up album Cast of Thousands was a great British mistake. There are also a couple of Adverts albums in the Live at the Roxy series, one excellent, the other not so good. After the band broke up, frontman TV Smith continued on and became one of the world’s great literate acoustic punk performers. Here’s a random torrent.

847. The Electric Eels – The Eyeball of Hell

These guys invented no wave. In Cleveland. In 1972. Contemporaries of Rocket from the Tombs as well as the Raspberries (sounds absurd, but it’s true), in their brief three-year career they played three shows and released one album, reputedly because nobody in the band got along. Which makes sense once you hear it. This 1998 compilation contains pretty much everything from that along with almost another album’s worth of outtakes and rehearsal material. Frontman Dave E channels some seriously strung-out vibes over John Morton’s fingers-down-the-blackboard guitar, through a completely unhinged, screeching, feedback-enhanced, sometimes early 70s metal-flaked attack on songs with titles like Agitated, Cyclotron, You’re Full of Shit, Sewercide, and a hilarious spoof of free jazz, Jazz Is. They were also responsible for one of the alltime great punk covers (as a description, punk might be a little tame), a version of Dead Man’s Curve that beats Jan and Dean at the drag race of death. Not exactly easy listening, but as ugly, confrontational, uncompromising and in its own twisted way, disarmingly honest music, it has few equals. Here’s a random torrent.

846. Steve Earle – The Revolution Starts…Now

Believe it or not, this ferocious, guitar-driven Americana rock record won a Grammy – for “best contemporary folk album,” of all things – in 2004. It’s as memorable and apt a response to the Bush regime’s reign of terror as anyone recorded during those years. Many of the songs are as funny as they are savage, from the rig rocking anthem Home to Houston – told from the point of view of a mercenary who went to Iraq for the money but quickly found he couldn’t hack it – to the hilariously sarcastic faux-calypso of Condi, Condi (a backhanded slap at ice queen Condoleeza Rice), to the freedom-of-speech anthem F the CC (as in, “Fuck the FCC, fuck the CIA, we’re living in the goddamn USA”). It’s also got the insightful, acoustic Rich Man’s War, the mysterious Gringo’s Tale (where a CIA black ops guy comes clean…sort of), the rousing title track, the Orbison-inspired I Thought You Should Know and the Byrdsy rocker The Seeker. Pretty much everything Earle ever did, from 1986′s Guitar Town through his most recent album of Townes Van Zandt covers, is worth owning, even including his crack period in the late 80s and early 90s. His short story collection, Doghouse Roses, is also excellent and just as vivid as his song lyrics. Not something you could say about many other songwriters. Here’s a random torrent.

845. Kool G Rap and DJ Polo – Wanted: Dead or Alive

One of the most successful lyricists to come up out of Marley Marl’s legendary Juice Crew posse, Kool G Rap’s machine-gun rhymes vividly chronicled a city gone wild, crack dealers (and pretty much everybody else) pitted against the cops, the drama played out before a backdrop of crushing poverty and the fatalism that goes with it. Kool G Rap didn’t exactly romanticize it, either, whether in the rapidfire cinematography of this 1990 album’s opening track, Streets of New York, the gangster swagger of the title cut or Money in the Bank, the bluntly confrontational Erase Racism (with cameos from Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie) or the hilarious but cruelly cynical Talk Like Sex and Rikers Island. His slurred, blunted delivery was a big influence on both Nas and Biggie Smalls; his third and final album with DJ Polo, Live and Let Die, from 1992, is also worth owning, as is his 1996 solo debut, 4,5,6. Over the years, he’s managed to maintain commercial success without straying from his generally harsh, unsentimental vision of urban life. You can take a gangster off the street, but you can’t take the street off the gangster. Here’s a random torrent.

844. The Shakers – Living in the Shadow of a Spirit

In 1988, an all-star crew of Nashville alt-country types – singer Rebecca Stout, guitarist Oscar Rice, mandolinist Robert Logue, drummer Ken Coomer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Garing – put out this concept album about the Bell Witch under the band name The Shakers. The Bell Witch is a legendary poltergeist incident, one of the few that apparently caused an actual death. Between 1818 and 1821, the Bell family of Red River, Tennessee was plagued by a mysterious being who reputedly spoke to them, sang hymns, quoted sermons, pushed people around, and depending on who you ask, supposedly stopped General Andrew Jackson’s wagon train dead in its tracks. The family patriarch, John Bell, developed palsy, no doubt affected in some way by the strange activity in his home and perished in 1821. This album, inspired by the events, doesn’t attempt to chronicle or reconcile them: rather, it seeks peace with whatever entity caused them. The four rustic, subtly haunting, sometimes gospel-influenced tracks – Living in the Shadow of a Spirit, Queen of the Haunted Dell, The Healing Hymn and Hymn to Kate – are all up on youtube, although torrents don’t seem to be available. Original vinyl copies of the ep (we have one in the archive) are prized on the collector market, but as recently as the mid-zeros, cassette copies were still available from the band.

843. Gang Starr – Daily Operation

By teens standards, this 1992 golden-age hip-hop classic is almost quaint. Gang Starr frontman Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, a.k.a. Keith Elam) described himself as an anti-gun, anti-violence weedhead. He only directed his hostilities at wannabe MCs, pop acts and racists, but when he went after them, he was ruthless. And he did it with a calm, seemingly effortless precision: on this album, he doesn’t even swear much. As hilarious as many of his rhymes are, it’s stunning just how seriously he approached his art. This is a mix of straight-up I’m-in-charge joints like Take It Personal and The Illest Brother, along with the confidently matter-of-fact No Shame in My Game and Ex-Girl to the Next Girl and the album’s best cut, the coldly withering Conspiracy. The funniest track here is Take Two and Pass, where Guru’s generosity with his blunt turns out to be a little disingenuous – if you listen closely, it turns out that DJ Premier also has one, and each guy plans on smoking a whole one. Primo’s production is characteristically terse and minimalist: he keep the beats and his signature backward-masked samples simple, vocals front and center. Just the way they ought to be. Here’s a random torrent.

842. Auntie Christ – Life Could Be a Dream

X’s Exene Cervenka and DJ Bonebrake teamed up with Rancid bassist Tim Armstrong for a handful of fast, furious, characteristically lyrical punk gems on this brief one-off 1997 classic. This was Exene’s debut recording as a guitarist and she absolutely kicks ass, with the kind of raw roar you’d expect from this woman. It’s got the hallucinatory, hellacious highway anthem Bad Trip, the Gen X dis Nothing Generation (“Stupid fucking kids wake up, you’re sheep”); the grim The Virus (“The virus is you”), the prophetic, riff-driven Future Is a War, the defiant-to-the-end I Don’t and ends with the Stonesy, surprisingly upbeat With a Bullet. The brief nine-song cd repeats all over again for maximum effect. You can hear the whole thing streaming on myspace or try this random download.

841. The Rutles – Archaeology

The soundtrack to the 1978 Rutles movie is one of the funniest parodies ever made. At the time the film came out, rumors of Beatles reunions were swirling, and – if you can believe it – outside of the Fab Four’s fan base, the individual Beatles were pretty much seen as has-beens. Neil Innes, Ollie Halsall, Rikki Fataar and John Halsey (with Eric Idle contributing skits and lyrics) combined their comic and remarkably Beatlesque musicianship for the ultimate Beatles spoof. The film chronicles the exploits of a popular band who mystifyingly had nothing to say and influenced nobody, with cameos from Beatles colleagues including a particularly hilarious one by Paul Simon discussing the long chord at the end of A Day in the Life. But this album, released in 1997 in the wake of the Beatles anthologies (therefore, “Archaeology”) is even better. And the satire is equally ruthless. Cleverly ripping off George and John’s somber major/minor changes, Ringo’s mystifying drum style and Paul’s busy bass, they riff on Beatlisms both famous and obscure. We’ve Arrived (And to Prove It We’re Here) has fun with a Back in the USSR shuffle and airplane noises. Questionnaire is a deadpan, dead-serious Imagine ripoff; Lonely-Phobia and the insanely nonsensical Unfinished Words make fun of 60s chamber pop more than any specific songs. The Knicker Elastic King is a bouncy, lol funny take on Penny Lane; Hey Mister and Joe Public make fun of the Beatles’ hit-and-miss attempts at a harder guitar sound on the White Album and Abbey Road; the funniest songs here are the over-the-top psychedelia of Shangri-La and the uninhibitedly vicious Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Music. Beatles fans either love this (because it’s so spot-on) or hate it (because it’s so unsparing). Because most of the jokes are so specific, it helps if you know the source material. Here’s a random torrent.

840. The Roulette Sisters – Nerve Medicine

Arguably the finest band to spring from the Blu Lounge scene in Williamsburg, the Roulette Sisters first combined the fearless talents and soaring oldtime harmonies of resonator guitarist Mamie Minch, electric lead player Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) and washboard player Megan Burleyson. Their lone album to date, from 2005, is a slinky retro feast of delta blues, hokum and sultry country swing. Innuendo has always been their drawing card, and this has plenty of it, whether Bessie Smith’s Sugar in My Bowl, the hilariously Freudian Keep on Churnin’ (“Keep on churnin’ til the butter flows/Wipe off the paddle and churn some more”) and I’m Waiting, sung with characteristically rustic, austere charm by Burleyson. There’s also the defiant, revenge-fueled Black Eye Blues and Black Dog Blues, the irresistibly charming Coney Island Washboard, a similarly antique take of Bei Mi Bist du Schoen and Reichardt’s wistful, bucolic No Particular Thing. The band broke up in 2007 but fortuituosly reunited in 2010 along with viola player/composer Karen Waltuch, who’d joined them about a year before they first disbanded.

839. The Roots of Chicha 2

This is the first album to make its debut here on this list. Pretty impressive, considering what a major event its predecessor was. In 2007, the first Roots of Chicha anthology not only introduced the world to what, for better or worse, could be called Peruvian surf music: it also spearheaded a revival of chicha music in the land where it was born. Not bad for an album on a small label (Barbes Records) run out of a Brooklyn bar. And where the Roots of Chicha was a good anthology, this follow-up is a great one. More than its predecessor, this is a rock record: the Roots of Chicha focused on the woozy psychedelic cumbias coming out of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 60s and early 70s, many of them with more of a latin sound than the songs here. This focuses more closely on the rock side of the phenomenon, a mix of songs from 1969 through 1981. Some of them vamp out on a chord, hypnotically, all the way through to the chorus. Most of them have a vintage, 1960s timbre, the guitars playing through trebly amps with lot of reverb backed by tinny Farfisa organ and tons of clattering percussion. Many of these have a swaying cumbia beat, but a lot of them don’t. Likewise, a lot of the songs use the pentatonic scales common to Asian music – some wouldn’t be out of place in the Dengue Fever songbook.

The best song here is an absolutely gorgeous version of Siboney, by Los Walkers. It’s sort of the chicha equivalent of the Ventures’ cover of Caravan, a reverb-drenched rock version of a familiar, distantly ominous melody made even more so. Another knockout is Los Ribereños’ Silbando, a vividly brooding minor-key shuffle that foreshadows Brooklyn chicha revisionists Chicha Libre. The best of the chicha bands of the 70s, Los Destellos (see #903 on this list) are represented by a simple, one-chord fuzztone stinger and the Asian-tinged, warped bucolic jam La Pastorcita. Likewise, Los Wremblers contribute two, one more of a celebration than the title would make you think, the other the original version of La Danza de los Petroleros that became a big hit for Los Mirlos. 80s stars Chacalon y la Nueva Crema contribute a catchy workingman’s lament; Manzanita y Su Conjunto have three songs here that showcase their artful ability to switch from Cuban son montuno, to hypnotic acid rock, to catchy cumbia-pop. There’s also a one-chord wonder (well, almost) by Compay Quinto; Grupo Celeste’s scurrying, bass-driven Como un Ave; Ranil y Su Conjunto’s savage, Asian-flavored Mala Mujer; Colegiala, by Los Ilusionistas, an iconic number that was used – albeit in bastardized, almost unrecognizable form – in a well-known television commercial in the 80s; and Los Shapis’ El Aguajal, another famous one. Very little of this has been available before now outside of Peru; much of it was out of print for years in its native land. All of this you can dance to, and like surf music, it’s easy to get completely addicted to it: youtube is a goldmine of chicha. The extensive liner notes to this album are a great place to start. It’s out now on Barbes Records.

838. The Friends of Dean Martinez – The Shadow of Your Smile

Dilemma of the day: what’s these guys’ best album? Or is everything equal in the shadows off the desert highway where their cinematic, spaghetti western-flavored instrumentals all seem to take place? Literally everything the Friends of Dean Martinez have recorded is worth owning. We picked this one, their 1995 Sub Pop debut, because it has a typical first-album excitement, because of the diversity of the songs and because it’s as good as any example of their richly evocative, often exhilarating catalog. Joey Burns of Calexico gets credit or co-credit for writing six of these and his bandmate John Convertino gets another, which gives them instant southwestern gothic cred; pedal steel genius Bill Elm, their lead instrumentalist, would take a more prominent role in the songwriting as their career went on. The opening track, All the Pretty Horses signals that immediately; I Wish You Love is done with a Bob Wills western swing flair. The drummer’s contribution is the amusingly off-kilter House of Pies, followed by the noir highway theme Chunder, foreshadowing Big Lazy but with steel guitar. These songs all evoke a specific milieu, notably the distant suburban unease of Armory Park/Dwell and the blithe bossa nova instrumental Swamp Cooler which goes deep into the shadows of the favela before you can tell what hit you. The best song here is Burns’ gorgeously noir El Tiradito, Roy Orbison gone to Buenos Aires. There’s also another tango-flavored one, a countrypolitan ballad, a straight-up vibraphone jazz tune, the orchestrated title track and Convertino’s Per Siempre, done as a careening Balkan dirge. Here’s a random torrent.

837. Everything But the Girl – Baby the Stars Shine Bright Tonight

Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt were stars in the UK ten years before the bastardized disco remix of Missing topped the US pop charts in 1994. Their torchy, jazzy 1983 debut was a big hit across the pond: this is their third album, from 1986, a lush, lavishly orchestrated collection of retro ballads, a perfect vehicle for Thorn’s anxious, wounded alto voice. She’s all longing and anticipation on the big 6/8 opening cut Come On Home, the irrepressibly swinging Don’t Leave Me Behind and the ethereal A Country Mile. Don’t Let the Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart is a pretty successful stab at countrypolitan, as is Come Hell or High Water. Careless and Sugar Finney revert to a soaring, majestic jazz-pop vibe. The knockout punch here is Little Hitler, an understatedly towering 6/8 anthem written by Thorn: “Little Hitlers grow up to be big Hitlers,” she warns over the swell of the strings: “Every woman loves a fascist.” Part of that observation is sarcastic but part is not. If you like this one, their first two albums along with the mostly acoustic Amplified Heart and the charming acoustic ep (look for the red heart on a blue background) are also highly recommended; on the other hand, their explorations of trip-hop and proto-Portishead electronic pop are tepid and boring. Here’s a random torrent.

836. Wire – Chairs Missing

The fan favorite is Pink Flag: no disrespect to that. It’s as fun, and still practically as unique now as it was when these defiantly artsy British punks released it in 1977, despite Elastica and all those Williamsburg bands who stood behind Justine Frischmann in the plagiarism queue. This is Wire’s second album, from 1978, emphasis on the art rather than the punk, but the songs are arguably stronger this time out. As with Pink Flag, there are plenty of anthemic, staccato, chromatically charged, reverb-drenched Syd Barrett-ish vignettes like Practice Makes Perfect and the gleefully insistent anthem I Am the Fly (as in “I am the fly in the ointment”). The best song here is the surprisingly poppy, insanely catchy, genuinely beautiful Outdoor Miner, which a million lame indie bands claim as inspiration they’ll never be able to live up to. Side one also has the distantly off-kilter I Feel Mysterious Today; the Twilight Zone punk of French Film Blurred; the weirdly catchy Men 2nd; the macabre-tinged Marooned; the hypnotic Sand in My Joints and Being Sucked In Again. Side two’s highlights include the unselfconsciously funny From the Nursery, the woozily ominous Used To and the more-or-less straight-up punk Too Late. Colin Newman’s deadpan monotone vocals are not an affectation but a disguise: a lot of the band’s lyrics have a tightlipped, verrrry British absurdist humor. The 1994 reissue has four bonus tracks, which are worth hunting down if you’re a rabid fan. Wire’s frequently interrupted career arguably peaked in the 70s (their 1979 album 154 is also worth hearing), although their recent material is also choice, if a little closer to dreampop than punk. Here’s a random torrent.

835. The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson

Famously covered by the Stones, Van Morrison and the Yardbirds (whose live album with him is a complete trainwreck), Sonny Boy Williamson’s sly, often leering vocals and somewhat unhinged playing have made him an icon among blues fans. The great blues harpist, songwriter and showman was, like every bluesman of his era, a singles artist. For that reason, we picked this 1993 compilation from among the dozens of out there, many of them bootlegs, since it has the most tracks. 45 in all, recorded with a Hall of Fame list of Chess stars: drummer Fred Below, bassist/producer Willie Dixon, guitarist Muddy Waters, pianist Lafayette Leake and too many others to name. To blues scholars, this guy, Alec “Rice” Miller was Sonny Boy Williamson #2, to differentiate him from the first, John Lee Williamson, who was younger and whom #2 outlived by over a dozen years. From his days hustling on the chitlin and party circuit and then emceeing the King Biscuit Flour Hour,Williamson #2 developed a rakish persona to go along with a voracious appetite for alcohol and a knack for an aphoristic turn of phrase that fueled a succession of hit singles in the 50s. The best-known one, if not his best one, is One Way Out, butchered by the Allman Brothers to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Others you may recognize here are Fattening Frogs for Snakes, Your Funeral and My Trial, Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide, Nine Below Zero, Don’t Start Me to Talking and Keep It To Yourself. Some of the other tracks here are ephemeral but virtually all of them are choice. Pretty much anything did during the 50s is worth hearing, if you’re into this stuff: by the 60s, he was pretty much running on (alcohol) fumes. Here’s a random torrent.

834. Willie Colon – La Gran Fuga

That two trombones, a piano, bass and three percussionists could create a sound this big is stunning. This one, from 1970, was literally Colon’s big break, and forty years later, it’s taken on iconic status. As bandleader and trombonist, he gets top billing even though his equally gifted collaborator, Héctor Lavoé took all the vocals (and if you search for these songs you’ll find them much more easily if you’re looking for El Canario). It’s also a major moment in salsa history because it’s such a melting pot (that could be said about latin music in general, but especially New York salsa). Surprisingly, the big hit off the album is a catchy reworking of a Guyanese nursery rhyme, Ghana’E. The mini-suite Panameña is a bomba track, a joyous shout-out to Puerto Rican culture – remember, salsa began in Cuba, so the implication here is that the time has come for el barrio. There’s also the swaying dance hit Barrunto; the hypnotically slinky, beautifully brooding No Cambiaré; the gentle, lovingly mocking Abuelita (poking fun at an old lady’s crazy vernacular); and the not-so-gentle faux Mexican dance Cancion por Me Suegra. Both Colon and Lavoé would go on to bigger and more popular projects, but this captures that beautiful moment where Afro-Cuban-based music was just starting to morph into the big, orchestral Fania sound that would become just as iconic five or six years later. Here’s a random torrent.

833. Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes

Possibly the longest-running of the classic punk bands from the 70s, Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers are still touring, but in over thirty years on the road, frontman Jake Burns hasn’t lost a step. This 1980 album is the classic lineup including Henry Cluney on guitar and Ali McMordie (one of the most brilliant, unsung players from the era) on bass. We picked this because while it’s not as blisteringly assaultive as their 1979 debut Inflammable Material, or as diverse as 1981′s Go For It, it’s probably their most consistent one. Smalltown anomie and the desperate need to escape it pervades this album. The songs snarl with contempt for authority and conformity: Gotta Getaway and At the Edge resonate as potently now as when the album came out. Wait and See is one of their funniest songs, a snide slap back at everyone who’d dismissed them in their early days, “You’re not good enough to be a jazz band.” The album’s high point is the antiwar anthem Tin Soldiers, still a concert favorite. There’s also the defiant title track, the caustic Fly the Flag and an energized cover of the Specials’ Doesn’t Make All Right. The 2003 cd reissue also included a couple of cuts originally released on mid-90s greatest-hits compilations, including the amusing anti-censorship You Can’t Say Crap on the Radio along with the topical Troubles-era Straw Dogs and Bloody Sunday. Everything the band released through the decade of the 80s is worth owning, along with their handful of live albums: they’re still ferociously good in concert. Here’s a random torrent.

832. Little Milton – Grits Ain’t Groceries

Milton Campbell’s 1969 second album, a mix of live and studio tracks, perfectly capsulizes the point where the blues had evolved to include elements of 60s soul and funk. Little Milton’s growling, charismatic presence here owes more to singers like B.B. King, but the songs sprawl out with long vamps and intros like Lou Rawls and his contemporaries were doing in the mid-60s. Little Milton was always better known as a frontman than a guitarist, but here he reminds how underrated he was, with a bite and a precision similar to Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, or what Buddy Guy was doing early in his career. They open it slowly with Let Me Down Easy and follow that with the blustery, iconic title track: “If I don’t love you, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man.” Subsequent controversies over who Mona Lisa really was only enhance the drama. There’s also a fervently stretched-out cover of B.B.’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, the sultry blues ballad That’s What Love Will Make You Do and the haunting, epic Blind Man and Walking the Streets and Crying that ends the album. Although he never quite hit this hard again, pretty much everything Little Milton ever recorded is worth owning, even the crooner albums from his Malaco Records period later in his career. After a life on the road, vital to the end, Little Milton died suddenly of a stroke in 2005. Here’s a random torrent.

831. The Wallflowers’ first album

While this list is devoted to brilliant obscurities, we also aim to include albums that are underrated, and this is a classic case. Jakob Dylan has always been a magnet for haters, not only because he writes so much like his famous dad, but because of the perception that his dad got him the record deal along with everything that came before and after. But his dad didn’t call up and ask us to put this album on this list: it earned this spot on its own merits. Fact of the matter is that the kid is a chip off the old block, in the best possible way: and not only is he a way better singer, he’s actually a very soulful one. And a sharp, sardonic lyricist, and a first-rate tunesmith…just like his dad. This one dates from 1992, when Jakob refused to answer interview questions about the old man, and seemed especially determined to avoid the inevitable comparisons: the weight of the family legacy seems to have spurred him to take his game to the highest level. The radio hit (the one thing that money bought here, in this case major label payola) was Shy of the Moon, which was sleepy on the album but really rocked out live. There’s also the seductively catchy, sly Sugarfoot; the vintage Springsteen-ish Sidewalk Annie; the individualist anthem Be Your Own Girl; the lyrical folk-rocker Asleep at the Wheel; the brooding, intense Another One in the Dark; the snide, scathingly epic Hollywood (a repudiation of any past that might come back to haunt him, it seems) and the absolutely vicious, towering Somebody Else’s Money. Behind him, the band play smart, edgy, blues and Americana-flavored rock, anchored by Ramee Jaffee’s fluid Hammond organ and Tobi Miller’s incisive lead guitar. Although the Wallflowers would do other good songs (the classic Sixth Avenue Heartache) and good albums (the vastly underrated Breach and Red Letter Days), they’d never string as many good ones together as they did here. Here’s a random torrent.

830. Joe Jackson – Beat Crazy

Jackson’s worn many different hats: popster disguised as a punk, jazz guy, avant-garde composer, dentist-office pop songwriter. He only wore this hat once. It’s red, gold and green and has room for the dreadlocks Jackson never grew. This 1980 psychedelic gem isn’t straight-up reggae but it has a lot of rootsy grooves courtesy of bass monster Graham Maby, who turns in what might be the highlight of a brilliant career on the eleven tracks here. As schlocky as some of Jackson’s top 40 songs have been, once in awhile he validates all those Elvis Costello comparisons, never more than on this album. The big college radio hit was One to One, a better straight-up pop song than anything on Night and Day. The title track and Biology are fast, catchy reggae-pop; In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare) is sticky, green and dub-infused, with a shout-out to Roxy Music. Mad at You follows a similar pattern but at doublespeed; Crime Don’t Pay is buzzy new wave with a characteristically cynical lyric. The snarling ska of Pretty Boys and the nonconformist anthem Fit round it out. Jackson never hit this kind of a high note before or afterward, although his 1999 Night and Day II incorporates pretty much everything he excelled at except for cheesy elevator music, and the subsequent Joe Jackson Live reverts to the stripped-down energy of his late 70s style but with a better choice of songs. Here’s a random torrent.

829. Randi Russo – Live at CB’s 313 Gallery

We’ve included this limited-edition ep on this list because A) it’s transcendentally good and B) although it’s officially out of print, copies are frequently found in New York used record stores. It was the lefthanded guitar goddess/rock siren’s first multiple-track release, a boomy, off-the-cuff soundboard recording from September, 2000 at the late, lamented CB’s Gallery next door to CBGB. Any sonic deficiency here is more than made up for by the stunning spontaneity and ferocity of the playing and the quality of the songs. Russo’s growling Gibson SG guitar sets the tone on a careening version of the chromatically charged, overtone-laden, Siouxsie-esque Adored, followed by an even more otherworldly version of the haunting, flamenco-tinged epic So It Must Be True. Lead guitarist Spencer Chakedis – who would go on to play in the popular, aptly titled jam band Doofus – throws off one shower of sparks after another behind Russo’s velvet vocals and defiantly individualist lyrics. The version of One Track Mind here – the only one that’s been released to date – has an irrepressible Velvets stomp, followed by the catchy, 6/8 ballad Push-Pull, a concert favorite. They end with a sepulchral version of the suspenseful, minimalist Tenafly, the ultimate New Jersey deathtrap song. Russo has gone on to release four excellent, subsequent albums, with the highly anticipated, ferociously guitar-driven Fragile Animal due out any month now. Not to spoil the plot, but you might just see her again on this list a little closer to #1.

828. Jimmy Castor – The Everything Man: Best of the Jimmy Castor Bunch

Jimmy Castor was cursed with a great sense of humor. Cursed, because he’s a serious musician – a classically trained pianist and saxophonist – pegged as a writer of novelty songs. He may be known as the funniest man in funk, but in a career that spans part of seven decades, from doo-wop (he replaced Frankie Lymon in the Teenagers) to go-go to latin soul (he was one of its pioneers) to his most famous period leading the Jimmy Castor Bunch in the 70s, he’s also one of the most successfully eclectic songwriters ever. A lot of his catalog is out of print. This early 90s compilation, for better or worse, focuses on the hits, most of which are as hilarious as they are boundary-smashing, incorporating elements of psychedelia, heavy metal and latin sounds into funk: Sly Stone and George Clinton had nothing on this guy. This covers the decade of the 70s into the early 80s, starting with Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You – the dozens, updated for the pre-disco era; the slinky, Joe Cuba-inspired Southern Fried Frijoles, and It’s Just Begun, sampled by thousands of hip-hop acts in the following decades. That’s just the beginning. There’s also the follow-up Say Leroy (The Creature from the Black Lagoon Is Your Father); Castor’s best-known funk hit, Troglodyte, and its even funnier sequel the Bertha Butt Boogie (a massive top 40 hit in 1975); along with the self-explanatory King Kong, The Return of Leroy (where finally the joke starts to wear thin), the popular and well-sampled dancefloor vamps Potential and Maximum Stimulation and a couple of throwaways among the album’s 17 tracks. Here’s a random torrent.

827. Black Uhuru – Sinsemilla

For a brief period after Bob Marley’s untimely death, Black Uhuru was the biggest reggae band in the world. Touring with the Police (who they routinely blew off the stage, night after night on the Spirits in the Material World tour) didn’t hurt. It’s safe to say that everything they did with the original lineup (Mykal Rose, Puma Jones and Duckie Simpson on vocals, plus the incomparable rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass) is worth owning, if you’re into this stuff. We picked this 1980 album over their debut and the pretty sensational Live 1981 album because the tracks here are more diverse and arguably stronger than the tunes on on the first album, and because the live one has an anti-choice song on it. It’s nice to see how well it’s aged, with the band’s biggest hit, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, along with the reliably smile-inducing title track, the anthemic Push Push, Fire, and Endurance, the genuinely anguished Happiness, and the bitter, confrontational Vampire. They also celebrate their roots (and, ultimately, everybody’s roots) with World Is Africa: at the time this came out, being socially aware was a necessity if you wanted to get anywhere in reggae music. The harmonies soar and the band pulse along without any help from computers or drum machines. Here’s a random torrent.

826. The Anti-Nowhere League – Live in Yugoslavia

In 1982, these comedically assaultive British punks added a second guitarist to fill out their live sound and then went on a brief tour of Yugoslavia where they’d be pretty much under the radar, working up new material and arrangements – such as there are arrangements in punk rock. Audiences there loved them, and this thunderously entertaining album is the result. It’s got most of the best tracks off their debut We Are…the League, from the previous year, including the hellraising anthem Let’s Break the Law; the woozily insistent title track; the hilariously filthy Reck-A-Nowhere and So What; the society-done-me-wrong number For You; the kiss-off anthem Woman; and a deliciously over-the-top version of I Hate People (“I hate people…they hate me!!!”). There’s also some some equally ferocious stuff, like the defiant ode to living on the dole, Let the Country Feed You and the stomping Going Down, which hints at the Motorhead-style biker rock they’d digress into later in the decade. Over the years new versions of the League have assembled behind leather-clad frontman Animal and toured; practically thirty years since he first was banned from the BBC, he’s as amusing as ever. Here’s a random torrent.

825. Gregory Isaacs – Reggae Greats Live

The Cool Ruler was always ready for leaving out of Babylon, and then left forever. Gregory Isaacs died on October 25, 2010, at 59, leaving a legacy of literally hundreds of albums and many broken hearts. In the last few years, if you wanted to meet Jamaican women of a certain age, you could find them swaying to Night Nurse at a Gregory Isaacs show. This live album from 1983, probably recorded about a year earlier, doesn’t have that one but it does have a bunch of hits from the late 70s/early 80s when he was one of the biggest stars in Jamaica. As with the rest of his catalog, it’s a mix of sly come-ons (Isaacs was sort of the Jamaican Jimmy Reed) and righteous Rasta anthems. His biggest hit before Night Nurse was Number One (as in, “If you wanna be my number one…) and he opens with that, backed by a terrific oldschool roots band with lead guitar, electric piano and percussion. Stylistically, the songs run the gamut from oldschool rocksteady like Tune In (check out the vintage video from Rockers TV), Substitute or Mr. Brown to straight-up pop (Ooh What a Feeling). Other big Jamaican hits in the set include Soon Forward, Sunday Morning (not the Lou Reed song), Top Ten and Front Door. The politically-charged immigrant’s tale The Border closes the album on an epic note, a throwback to his early days as Rasta rebel. As reggae went more digital, so did Isaacs’ recordings, with predictable results, although pretty much anything he did before, say, this album, is usually worth a listen. And there’s a lot of it. Here’s a random torrent.

824. The UK Subs – Crash Course

Believe it or not, the prototypical oi punks’ first live album made the top ten on the British charts in 1980. This is the original, classic lineup with Charlie Harper backed by Nicky Garratt on guitar, Paul Slack on bass and Pete Davis on drums. Unlike so many of the hardcore bands that followed in their wake, the Subs’ irrepressible sense of humor and genuine defiance are in full effect here: Harper always let it be known that he and the rest of the crew were just glad to be able to make a living without having to work for some slimeball boss. The original vinyl album has 20 tracks; the cd includes the bonus ep with four additional live songs recorded considerably earlier. Unfortunately, you can’t download the big 20-inch UK SUBS stencil that came with the record, an absolutely brilliant piece of marketing that literally can still be seen 30 years later in places where long ago, punks used to get together. All their early hits are here: the hardcore classic I Live in a Car; the Subhumans-style reggae-rock Warhead; a trebly New York State Police (without the loud lead bass on the studio version); a comfortably unhinged Emotional Blackmail; the punk-pop of Tomorrow’s Girls and Teenage (Harper was 36 when he sang “I don’t wanna be teenage”). After awhile, a lot of this starts to sound the same, but there literally isn’t a bad song among the total of 24 tracks here. Harper has assembled several different outfits to back him over the years, Garratt and later bassist Alvin Gibbs rejoining at times; after a detour into a more metal-oriented direction in the mid-80s, they’d make a return to their punk roots in later years to cash in on the nostalgia circuit. Now in his late sixties, Harper remains as unstoppable as ever and still tours. Here’s a random torrent.

823. The Best of Spike Jones

The genius of Spike Jones is that his topical jokes from seventy years ago are as funny today as they were then. It helps if you know the source material, but it’s not necessary: after all these years, four-year-olds of all ages still laugh at all the bells and whistles and bumps and crashes in the drummer/bandleader’s crazed vaudevillian catalog. According to amazon, there are 55 Spike Jones albums currently in print; this one has only twelve tracks, but it’s the most solid singles collection we could find (in the early 40s, when the guy was at his peak, everybody was a singles artist). The classic of classics here is Der Fuehrer’s Face, a quintessentially and hilariously American response to Hitler’s WWII propaganda machine. But Jones lampooned the pop music of the era with only slightly less venom, with the horror-movie version of My Old Flame; the drunken, over-the-top Chloe; the Peter Lorre-inspired Laura and The Glow Worm (which surprisingly we couldn’t find streaming anywhere); and the very literal You Always Hurt the One You Love. None but the Lonely Heart is no less amusing a parody of soap operas than it was seven decades ago, and Hawaiian War Chant gives the then-current Hawaiian music craze a thorough stomping. Since classical music was broadcast nationwide on a daily basis during Jones’ heyday, he also lampooned that as well – this collection only has the surprisingly subtle (for him) Dance of the Hours and the arguably funniest moment in an album full of many, the gargling solo on the William Tell Overture, followed by the immortal horse race where the last-place Beetlebomb finally emerges triumphant. Absent here, and probably for the best, are less politically correct numbers like Chinese Mule Train and The Sheik of Araby, which have aged badly. But the album does have Jones’ biggest hit Cocktails for Two, innocuous pop song transformed into one of the great drinking anthems. Here’s a random torrent.

822. Carol Lipnik – Cloud Girl

Coney Island born and bred, noir chanteuse Carol Lipnik walks a tightrope between sinister and sultry. The cover image of this 2006 cd, a shot of the rails of the Cyclone rollercoaster with its “REMAIN SEATED” sign, is apt. Celebrated for her bone-chilling four-octave range, she’s also a multi-instrumentalist songwriter and a regular collaborator with jazz piano great Dred Scott.This is her most phantasmagorical album. It’s got a couple of creepy waltzes – one about cannibalism, another about madness; the playfully lurid Freak House Blues; the macabre pop of Falling/Floating By, and the lushly moody, menacing Crushed. Other songs work dreamy atmospherics for a more distant menace: the lushly beautiful Traveling and the haunting, hypnotic, Radiohead-inflected title track. Lipnik’s been working lately with cabaret/avant garde star singer John Kelly , which gives them about eight octaves worth of vocals put together. Her first two albums before this one, the carnivalesque My Life As a Singing Mermaid and the intense Hope Street are more stylistically all over the map – Lipnik is also terrifically adept at soul, blues and gypsy music – and also worth getting to know.

821. Almut Rossler Plays Messiaen

This album is prized on the collector market. If Dusseldorf organist Almut Rossler recorded frequently, the internet record doesn’t reflect it. But when she did – wow! Classical church organ music is extraordinarily hard to record: the blast of the bass from the pedals contrasts with the delicacy of the high reed stops to the point where it’s almost absurd to attempt to capture the entire sonic spectrum. And French composer Olivier Messiaen’s haunting, otherworldly works take up every inch of what a good pipe organ will give you. This 1973 recording includes a rivetingly powerful recording of his otherworldly, ghostly suite La Navitite du Seigneur (The Birth of the Lord), which rather than triumphantly signaling the birth of a deity, is completely macabre, to the point where it seems that Messiaen (a devout Catholic) was working for the other team. The album also includes the more matter-of-factly ominous Dyptique, the chilly, atmospheric Le Banquet Celeste and last but not least, a casually chilling version of L’Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (The Dawn of the Eternal Church), a work which many people consider to be the most life-changing piece of music ever written. We wouldn’t go quite that far, but its icy, burning ambience makes it impossible to turn away from. It’s iconic in the organ world; it has been known to terrify people whose taste in music is more timid. This recording is also absolutely impossible to find online. In lieu of this extraordinary album, here’s a torrent to the complete organ works of Messiaen by another gifted organist, Olivier Latry of Notre Dame in Paris, whose recordings of Messiaen are both thrilling and chilling.

820. Percy Mayfield – His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides

One of bluesman Percy Mayfield’s albums from the late 1950s is called My Heart Is Always Singing Sad Songs, and it perfectly captures his esthetic. Ironically, it’s not those songs that he’s best remembered for: his first big hit was Please Send Me Someone to Love. A few years later later he wrote Hit the Road Jack, iconically covered by Ray Charles. In 1969, Elvis covered Stranger in My Own Hometown; twenty years later, Mose Allison did a killer version of that one. But Mayfield, an old soul if there ever was one, was the best interpreter of his own material. A star of the West Coast blues circuit in the early 50s, he narrowly survived a 1954 car accident that left him disfigured for life, with a sizeable crater in his forehead (the inspiration for Stranger in My Own Home Town). This is a 2003 reissue of 1962-74 recordings. Mayfield always sounded older than he was: among the 28 tracks here are the shuffling R&B of Never No More; the lushly orchestrated piano blues Memory Pain; the even lusher, far more modern-sounding River’s Invitation; the slow, brooding My Jug and I; the funky, psychedelic Nothing Stays the Same Forever and the Louis Jordan-esque Life Is Suicide. The titles pretty much speak for themselves: it’s some of the most wrenching stuff ever recorded. Mayfield’s stuff from the 50s is equally good: other albums worth checking out are his Specialty Singles compilation as well as the Poet Of the Blues, Memory Pain and Two Years of Torture anthologies. Here’s a random torrent.

819. The Bongos – Numbers with Wings

Along with the Feelies, the Bongos put Hoboken, New Jersey (across the river from Manhattan for all you outsiders) on the map in the early 1980s. Their quirky, sometimes jangly, sometimes powerpoppy Drums Along the Hudson remains a cult favorite almost thirty years after it came out. We picked this one not only to be counterintuitive, but also because this 1983 ep is a whole lot better, in fact, it’s got some of the best janglerock ever recorded. The classic here is the swooping, hypnotic, uncharacteristically dark and plaintive title track; Sweet Blue Cage mines a distantly glimmery, psychedelic Rain Parade feel. Barbarella, with its Adam Ant-style percussive dance groove, is the smash hit that should have been. They follow in a similar vein with Skydiving and wrap it up with another deliciously jangly should-have-been hit, Tiger Nights, a party theme waiting to happen. Some fans and critics objected to this album as overproduced and slick, but the band never wrote better songs before or after. Frontman/guitarist Richard Barone has continued as a solo act; guitarist/bassist James Mastro would go on to a career as a brilliant and highly sought-after lead player with Ian Hunter, the Jayhawks, Amy Speace and many others. Here’s a random torrent.

818. 2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now

2Pac’s 1992 debut album was not a commercial success, in fact, it would be another couple of years before he’d release another one. This one’s aged awfully well. He wasn’t yet the effortless lyrical stylist he’d become by the time Strictly 4 My Niggaz hit in 1994, but he also wasn’t slinging ganja-fueled nonsense like he did on the Makavalli albums and all the outtakes that were released posthumously. The bare-bones production puts his wrathful rhymes here front and center. Tupac Shakur may have presented a goofball personality offstage, but in front of the mic, or on a movie set, he was dead serious, fearless, unrepentant and mad as hell. The jokes are grim, the humor is black, and the disses are murderous. The titles are pretty much dead giveaways: socially provocative stuff like Young Black Male, Trapped, and Soulja’s Story; the high point of the album, I Don’t Give a Fuck, the original of the bitterly prophetic Brenda’s Got a Baby and gangsta stuff like The Lunatic. Like two of his lyricist colleagues from back in the day, Ice Cube and Ice-T, his rapping started to take a back seat to his film career; too bad we’ll never know what else this multi-talented guy could have done. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

817. Love Camp 7 – Sometimes Always Never

New York psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7′s early work bears little resemblance to this richly melodic, lyrical 2007 masterpiece. Their jagged, astringent, rigorously cerebral early stuff drew more from Beefheart and Zappa. By the time they released this one, they’d defined their own sound, jangly and serpentine, with dizzyingly polyrhythmic vocal harmonies carrying frontman/guitarist Dann Baker’s wryly clever, historically infused, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. They’d also added a second guitarist, Steve Antonakos, whose fiery eclecticism became the perfect match for Baker’s counterintuitive, incisive fretwork. This has to be the only album that namechecks NBA star Eldon Brand, California conservationist David Gaines and know-it-all jazz dj Phil Schaap. The two tracks here that seem to have made it to the web scot-free are the lusciously retro psych-pop gem Munoz, and the punkish, politically fueled Naming Names. There’s also a lushly arranged triptych about waterworks corruption in 1930s California; guitar-fueled shout-outs to Barbara Lee (the only member of Congress who voted against giving the Bush regime the authority to declare war) and grassroots hero Jon Strange; a wild tribute to 60s garage rock legends the Seeds; and a couple of bouncy, Kinks-ish psychedelic pop numbers. Drummer Dave Campbell’s vocals pop up where least expected while he propels the unit with deadpan, jazzy aplomb. Campbell’s untimely death this year signaled the end for this unique and clever crew, although they have at least two more albums in the can, one a hilarious Beatles tribute/parody.

816. The Slits – Cut

Here’s a cult favorite. We’re trying to avoid duplicating the most obvious choices which have been featured on other popular best albums lists on the web, but this characteristically weird, irreproducible moment from the peak of punk, 1979 deserves a place here: every so often, good things actually become popular and this is one of them. Quirky and often irresistible, the lone album by the original all-female Slits (drummer Palmolive quit before the band could record: the drums here are played with surprising dubwise groove by Budgie from Siouxsie & the Banshees) has been imitated a million times but never duplicated. It’s hard to imagine Bjork without this. What’s coolest about the album is how dubwise it is, smartly and tersely produced by noted reggae bassist/bandleader Dennis Bovell. Frontwoman Ari Up was seventeen when she recorded this – her hybrid German/Jamaican accent is a long WTF moment – and leads the band with an unselfconscious defiance through the sarcastic, minimalist reggae-pop of Spend Spend Spend, So Tough (a sendup of macho poseurs); the gleeful Shoplifting; the cynical anticonformist anthem Typical Girls; and the scurrying, ominously minor-key garage-punk Love und Romance. Their darker, louder, more punk side comes across with the overtly Siouxsie-esque Newtown and Adventures Close to Home. They’d reunite with a new drummer in 2007 and tour until Ari Up tragically died at 48 just a few weeks ago. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

815. Weird Al Yankovic – Weird Al in 3-D

Some of you will think we’re insane for including a Weird Al album on this list. But Weird Al is awesome! Even if he isn’t as absolutely essential as he must have been 25 years ago, when there was actually an audience over 12 years old who were familiar with the top 40 hits he parodied so ruthlessly. That’s why we chose this 1984 album, his second: Weird Al doesn’t really make sense unless you know the source material, and a lot of these songs are still in heavy rotation on a lot of stations, all these years after they came out. This one has the crazy accordionist’s biggest 80s hit, Eat It (a spot-on spoof of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, right down to guest guitarist Rich Derringer’s shredding solo that absolutely blows away the Eddie Van Halen original). A lot of these songs are new wave parodies: The Brady Bunch makes fun of Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance; Mr. Popeil does the same with the B-52s, and King of Suede goofs on the Police. The funniest one here is the Eye of the Tiger satire The Rye or the Kaiser, a sad tale of an ex-boxer deli owner who’s only got enough left in him to punch out a sausage or two. There’s also the reggae sendup Buy Me a Condo (insinuating that holier-than-thou Rasta reggae artists are all just sellouts at heart), and the reliably amusing Polkas on 45, a joke version of the hit medley Stars on 45. Weird Al is such a funny guy that he could take a completely boring album like Bad by Michael Jackson and make it interesting. The trouble with what he does is that as the audience for top 40 has eroded, so has his fan base: he could spoof Lady Gaga all he wants, but who over age ten knows any of her songs? Maybe it’s time for Weird Al to do a Broken Social Scene record. Here’s a random torrent.

814. Live Yardbirds – Featuring Jimmy Page

Recorded live in New York in the spring of 1968 on the band’s final tour with Chris Dreja on bass and Jimmy Page on guitar (with some help from Keith Relf), first released in 1971, this one’s been reissued several times but always quickly taken out of print since Page has apparently never liked how he played on it. Which is mystifying because this is the best thing he ever recorded. Wild, inspired, and sloppy (isn’t he always?), he bends notes crazily, fires off fast-foward staggering blues runs and burns through a stunningly fluid six-minute open-tuned blues instrumental that’s half bluegrass. The big blues jam happens at the end of side one; the hits are represented by completely unhinged, paint-peeling versions of You’re a Better Man Than I, Heart Full of Soul, Shapes of Things and the best-ever version of Over Under Sideways Down (sorry, Jeff Beck). Johnny Burnette’s Train Kept a-Rolling is closer to Led Zeppelin than anything the Clapton-era Yardbirds ever did; they also rocket through a lickety-split, open-tuned version of the old standard Drinking Muddy Water. But the killer track here is I’m Confused, an early version of Dazed and Confused which benefits as much from Relf’s gruff, casually unaffected vocal as it does Page’s murky, molten metal Middle Eastern riffage. There doesn’t seem to be an official version of this currently in print; vinyl copies of the 70s albums are prized on the collector market. Here’s a random torrent.

813. Eric Ambel – Roscoe’s Gang

The original lead guitarist in Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel made a name for himself as a ferociously talented soloist in 80s Americana cult band the Del Lords (who have recently reunited after a 20-year hiatus). After that, he’d go on to serve for several years as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist when he wasn’t producing great albums by an endless succession of twangy rock acts over the past 20 years or so. This one could be found playing over the PA in every cool bar and club in New York in the summer of 1989; Ambel has since remastered and tweaked it. Here he’s backed by Springfield, Missouri highway rockers the Morells along with REM collaborator Peter Holsapple and Golden Palomino Syd Straw, along with several New York street musicians including sax player “Mr. Thing.” They rocket through a mix of tight, imaginative covers and originals, all of which are streaming at Ambel’s site. An insanely catchy, considerably altered version of Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction to Your Mind was the New York party anthem of 1989; Ambel’s Del Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s classic powerpop song Forever Came Today is as poignant now as it was 20 years ago. 30 Days in the Workhouse gets a stinging treatment that enhances the lyrics: “If I’d been a black man, they’d have given me thirty years.” There’s also the classic kiss-off anthem You Must Have Me Confused (With Someone Who Cares); Holsapple’s Everly Bros. soundalike Next to the Last Waltz; the macho Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend; and a well-oiled, impromptu live-in-the-studio version of Neil Young’s Vampire Blues that beats the original hands down (and cuts off mysteriously midway through the outro). For newcomers to Ambel’s music, it’s available attractively as a three-fer along with the bitter, stinging Loud and Lonesome and the more recent, frequently hilarious Knucklehead album.

812. Les Porte-Mentaux – Les Misérables

Best remembered for their mid-80s hit Elsa Fraulein, these French punk rockers (their name means “The Coat Hangers”) had half a minute of major label attention with this one stunningly good 1989 release whose ornate 80s chorus-box and big room production gives an artsy sheen to the raw punk fury underneath. Frontman/guitarist Michel Paul anchored his sarcastic anger in history, notably in the revolutionary anthem Les Partisans and the scorching version of the old folk song Ah Ça Ira (sort of the French equivalent of the Clash’s English Civil War). Pas l’Temps d’Rever (No Time for Dreaming) blasts along like early Stiff Little Fingers; the fake march Soldat Soldat evokes famous French rockers Telephone with its snarling antiwar stance. The balmy, Church-esque guitar atmospherics of Le Grand Bateau (The Ark) mask its apocalyptic undercurrent, but no amount of lavish production can bury the desperate punk fury of the wickedly anthemic title track: “Sous le pont du desespoir, les miserables et moi ce soir [“under Despair Bridge, the hopeless and me tonight”]). There’s also the sarcastic Le Mome Poli (The Polite Kid), the singalong Cite Pigalle Sexe (dedicated to Paris’ now-gentrified former redlight district) and Etat de Siege (State of Siege) where Paul implores “Don’t get caught in the trap.” The tunes are so strong on this album that even if you don’t speak French, they’re enough to make you want to sing along. Michel Paul regrouped the band in the late 90s to cash in on the punk nostalgia movement before his tragic early death at age 44; a regrouped band continues to tour Europe, playing the hits. Here’s a random torrent.

811. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Push Push Push

Iconic in latin music circles, the Joe Cuba Sextet were the most popular of the bugalu bands that sprang up in Spanish Harlem in the 1960s, blending the most danceable elements of soul music with catchy horn-and-piano-driven salsa. The famous crossover hit is Bang Bang, covered by thousands of acts in the decades since it topped the charts in 1966. Another crossover smash here is the James Brown-influenced Sock It To Me. The rest of the album is a mix of latin soul and ridiculously catchy, slinky straight-up salsa (Asi Soy and Mujer Divina, for example) with a thicket of percussion (bandleader Cuba was a conguero) and resonantly catchy hooks along with some cool innovative touches like the eerie vibraphone on La Malanga Brava. Alafia was a mambo hit; the final track, Cocinando (i.e. “cooking the sauce”) is a long jam where the band push each other to take it higher and higher. Although as the decades wore on, Joe Cuba moved away from this toward a more mainstream salsa sound, pretty much everything he did is worth hearing if you’re into this sort of thing. Auspiciously, there’s been a bugalu resurgence, with new bands like Spanglish Fly and the Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout continuing the tradicion. Fania has the digital reissue; otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

810. Sacred Music in the Renaissance, Volume 1 – The Tallis Scholars: Finest Recordings 1980-1989

Conventional wisdom is that the audience for Renaissance vocal music is pretty much limited to those who sing it, and who attend churches where it is performed. One look at the crowds who come out for this sort of thing disproves that theory: the appeal of early music transcends everything, including time. This collection is only the second to make its debut at this site on this list. It’s a staggeringly comprehensive five-disc set including some of the most stunning, epic choral works of the Middle Ages as well as an entire cd devoted to the work of seminal British composer Thomas Tallis, for whom the group is named. The Tallis Scholars are hardly the only ensemble to sing these works, but their influence as performers, popularizers and archivists rescuing treasures largely unheard for decades or even centuries cannot be underestimated. Highlights include a surprisingly brisk, vividly energetic performance of John Sheppard’s towering, death-fixated Media Vita and Tallis’ serpentine suite Spem in Alium along with shorter pieces, both iconic and lesser-known, by Palestrina, Allegri, Josquin des Prez, Crecquillon, Cornysh and Victoria. Many are ornate, with harmonies that span several octaves; others are spare and haunting, as one would expect from music made in an era where life was even shorter and more brutish than it is now. Director Peter Phillips made waves and essentially changed the way choral music was recorded by combining the best sections from multiple takes, just as rock albums are made: in twenty years, he’d see his radical innovation adopted by pretty much everyone else in his field. This collection is just out in Fall 2010 and available from Harmonia Mundi.

809. Cesar Franck – Organ Works – Pierre Cochereau

Belgian composer Cesar Franck is not popular with music snobs, probably because he’s one of the alltime great tunesmiths. Considering how vivid and memorable his compositions are, it’s surprising that he’s not better known. He wrote string quartets, piano music and symphonies, but he supported himself as a Paris church organist and his works for organ are arguably his finest. He was reputedly a gentle soul: his students loved him. Recorded at Notre Dame with an unselfconscious intensity in 1958 by legendary organist and improviser Pierre Cochereau, this six-album set, long out of print, absolutely nails the plaintiveness and drama in Franck’s works. These days, the buzzword that describes Franck best is “transparent,” that is, he didn’t dissemble. He wore his heart on his sleeve and in the process created a body of work that resonates with an intensity that ranges from poignant to triumphant. This one has all the classics: the Grand Piece Symphonique, which may or may not have been the first organ symphony (it probably wasn’t: Franz Liszt arguably beat him to it); the uneasily victorious Piece Heroique, and the Chorales (versions of #1, #2 and #3 by various organists, including the extraordinary Charles Tournemire on #3, have made it to youtube). If there’s any composer from the Romantic era who deserves a revival, it’s Franck. Another estimable Notre Dame organist, Olivier Latry recorded a six-cd box set in 2002; Marcel Dupre’s rumbling, reverb-drenched 1948 mono recordings of the chorales are also worth getting if you can track them down. Here’s a random torrent.

808. Lucky Dube – Captured Live

Reggae triumphantly made its way home to Africa: some of the greatest roots artists have come out of that continent. Arguably the finest artist singing in English was Lucky Dube, who was already a mbaqanga star in his native South Africa when, inspired by Peter Tosh, he decided to switch to reggae in 1984. Dube, a talented keyboardist, built his signature sound with swooping, pitch-bending organ and synthesizer lines over a traditional roots rhythm section and horns. Released stateside in 1991, this towering, majestic live set was the band’s international breakthrough, capturing them at the peak of their trance-inducing power. It doesn’t have Dube’s biggest hit, the wrenchingly poignant Victims, but the set is still first-rate. Many of these songs clock in at close to ten minutes or more: the insistent Going Back to My Roots; the bouncy, swaying Together As One; the gospel-infused Born to Suffer and the catchy, anthemic The Hand That Giveth. Dube’s defiant anti-apartheid message comes across powerfully in Slave and Prisoner; the album ends with a sixteen-minute, dub-infused version of the anthem Truth in the World. He would live to see apartheid dismantled, go on to tour with Peter Gabriel and Midnight Oil before being murdered in a carjacking in 2007. Here’s a random torrent.

807. Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac

In a way, this is a coming-of-age album. Johnny Cash’s daughter’s 2006 album inspired by her famous father’s death is more metaphorical than it is autobiographical, a gently brooding, tightlipped, wounded narrative of grief and muted rage. Her breathy, nuanced voice has never been more compelling than it is here: it packs an understated wallop. It’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever lost a loved one in a small town, a neighborhood or a scene where people talk behind your back – family secrets come out, the veil of privacy is shattered and yet the bereaved are expected to behave well. The title track arrives as the hearse leaves and the shock hasn’t settled in yet; God Is in the Roses and The World Unseen allude to Johnny’s surprisingly deeply anchored spirituality. The wistful House on the Lake recalls a childhood vacation spot that by implication will soon be lost forever in the upcoming auction; Like a Wave and I Was Watching You also reach back in vain for lost moments. But the standouts here are the angry ones: the smoldering Like Fugitives captures the family dodging curious eyes and would-be well-wishers, while Burn Down This Town marks the single moment where Cash or her narrator standin loses her composure. After this, nothing will ever be the same, yet she sees more clearly than ever: it’s the quantum leap she never wanted or realized she’d ever take. Behind her, her husband and lead guitarist John Leventhal leads the band deftly through a series of Americana-flavored acoustic rock themes. The album winds up with The Good Intent, taking its title from the name of the ship that brought Cash’s ancestors to America, and a John Cage-like seventy-one seconds of silence for Johnny at the end. Here’s a random torrent.

806. Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star

Like an album by John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, this is a meeting between two giants of their field early in their careers. Mos Def and Talib Kweli were already stars of the hip-hop underground when they put out this rich and surprisingly subtle lyrical masterpiece in 1998. Released just at the point where major-label rap was getting the substance corporatized out of it, the rhymes here are self-aware without being mawkish, socially aware without being politically correct. It’s got the deep-space, pro-black metaphors of Astronomy (8th Light); Definition, an anti-violence shout-out to Biggie and 2Pac, and many ingenious levels of meaning on Children’s Story. Brown Skin Lady ominously samples Gil Scott-Heron’s nuclear apocalypse narrative We Almost Lost Detroit; Hater Players sends a casually fervent shout-out to their fellow underground MCs. There’s also the in-your-face K.O.S. (Determination) and the eerie, hypnotic Twice inna Lifetime. The centerpiece here is Thieves in the Night, a brilliantly insightful reminder that truth only reveals itself after the brainwashing is erased: “We live the truest lie, wonder why we fight the war of the bluest eye…while we find the beauty in the hideous.” The reverberating, electric piano-drenched samples are surprisingly psychedelic and interesting. Here’s a random torrent.

805. Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution

The most musically sophisticated of all the classic roots reggae bands of the 70s, Steel Pulse’s career began with a string of brilliant albums that lasted into the early 80s. After a struggle with one producer after another who tried to dumb down their sound and turn them into a pop band, they returned to their roots like they’d never left and never looked back. Over thirty years after they started, they’re still an extraordinary live band (the single most popular concert review we’ve published to date concerns a 2008 Steel Pulse show). Since all their early and their most recent material is so consistently strong, we picked this album, their major label debut, from 1978. Frontman David Hinds’ jazzy chords, serpentine song structures and politically charged lyrics are as intense as ever: the title track captures the struggle of West Indians in racist England at the time; Ku Klux Klan, one of their biggest hits, works powerfully on several levels. There’s also the antiwar Soldiers; the snide Bad Man; the echoey, metaphorically driven Prodigal Son; the big dub-flavored concert hit Sound Check; and the ganja-fueled Rasta anthem Macka Splaff. Everything the band recorded through 1982′s True Democracy is worth a spin, as is their elaborate 1992 live concert album, Rastafari Centennial and pretty much everything they’ve done after that. Here’s a random torrent.

804. Man or Astroman? – Intravenous Television Continuum

Don’t let their cutesy habit of introducing the songs with random snippets of dialogue from cheesy 1950s sci-fi movies turn you off. Back in the 90s, these masked men (and women – like the Ventures, there have been various editions of this band, including an all-girl version featuring Ani Cordero of Cordero on drums) put out a series of mostly first-rate instrumental rock albums, sputtering from surf to hotrod to sci-fi themes before going off on more of a dreampop/indie tangent late in the decade. This 1995 release gets the nod over the rest of their catalog because A) unlike a lot of their songs, most of the tracks here have bass in addition to guitar and B) the annoying nerdiness that occasionally surfaces on their other albums is pretty much absent. This is sort of a greatest-hits cd plus punked-out covers of surf classics. After the white noise of “Immersion Static,” they offer their big concert hits Put Your Finger In the Socket and Tomorrow Plus X as well as a 2012 version of the roaring, lo-fi Nitrous Burn Out. The best of the originals here is the eerie, jangly, Asian-tinged Tetsuwan Atomu. There are two version of their song Max Q here (including the weird and obviously titled Reverse Sync Moog Version). The covers range from obscure – an absolutely scorching version of Invasion of the Dragonmen and smartly chosen takes of Calling Hong Kong and Principles Unknown – to iconic, with punked-out versions of Out of Limits, the Munsters Theme, Deuces Wild, Cool Your Jets and a characteristically energetic, tongue-in-cheek Everyone’s Favorite Martian. If you like this, everything they did prior to 1998 is worth a listen. Here’s a random torrent – and you might also enjoy this download of a recent live show in Atlanta from earlier this year.

803. Emmylou Harris – Pieces of the Sky

If you like country music, everything Emmylou Harris did back in the 70s is worth hearing. We picked this one, her sad, beautiful 1975 debut album because the group behind her is so excellent (with lead guitar monster James Burton and drummer Ronnie Tutt from Elvis’ road band). Like her old duet pal Gram Parsons, Emmylou was retro before retro was cool: the playing, and the songs reach back to an earlier era before top 40 pop started to infiltrate Nashville. It’s got a particularly poignant version of the Louvin Bros.’ If I Could Only Win Your Love, which she used to sing with Parsons, along with Sleepless Nights (the title track to his second, posthumous album) and the lone original here, Boulder to Birmingham, a fond reminiscence of her good days on the road with him. But the real showstopper here is Too Far Gone: a lot of good singers have done it, but her hushed anguish is viscerally intense. Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors gets a similarly emotional treatment; there’s also a somewhat subdued yet very compelling version of Merle Haggard’s Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, a surprisingly effective countrified take of the Beatles’ For No One and Shel Silverstein’s winking Queen of the Silver Dollar. Another first-class Emmylou album that was a contender for this list is Red Dirt Girl, with Buddy Miller on lead guitar, a collection of excellent original songs from 2000 which fell out of contention on account of a Dave Matthews appearance on one of the songs. Here’s a random torrent.

802. Phil Kline – Unsilent Night

You’re on this album. That’s right. You’re part of it. Arguably the first interactive album ever made, avant garde composer Kline’s eerie, gamelanesque 1992 electronic “boombox symphony” began as a protest of the first Gulf War and grew into an annual event that millions have participated in over the years. If you haven’t, now’s your chance. Go to http://www.unsilentnight.com. There you can find out where and where the event is happening in your part of the world. Every year during the holiday season, there are processions of people carring boomboxes, laptops, ipod decks and amplified walkmans, all blasting Unsilent Night in semi-unison to show their support for world peace. The longer the procession, the greater the doppler effect, and the cooler it sounds. For maximum eeriness, if you have the technology, record this onto a cassette instead of burning a cd: if your boombox has a cassette player, it’s probably pretty old, and if the motor flutters, so much the better. You may only hear this album once, but you’ll always have happy memories of it. This year’s New York area Unsilent Night procession takes place on December 18, leaving at 7 PM from the arch at Washington Square Park and marching to Tompkins Square Park. Arrival by about 6:40 PM is advised. If you want a torrent, here’s a random one.

801. Maldita Vecindad – El Circo

Mexican band Maldita Vecindad (translated roughly as “Bad Neighborhood”) made their debut with a pleasantly skittish funk cd which foreshadowed absolutely nothing of this powerful, eerie, Middle Eastern-tinged 1991 album. Widely considered one of the great moments in rock en Espanol, it’s been in influence on innumerable psychedelic rock, skaragga and metal cumbia bands south of the border. Phantasmagorical and carnivalesque, it’s a trippy, sometimes snide romp through a diverse collection of styles, from the swaying hit Pachuco to the swinging, horn-driven Un Poco de Sangre, foreshadowing their late 90s future as a ska-punk band. There’s also the hypnotically Moroccan-tinged Solin, the slinky nocturne Kumbala (another big hit), the brisk punk norteno dance Pata de Perro and the artsy ballad Querida to end it on a surprisingly balmy note. Everything this band did – especially their mid-90s eps – is worth owning, and you don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate it. Here’s a random torrent.

800. Little Feat – Waiting for Columbus

OK, go ahead and hate on this. Say we’re trendoids, picking this hippie stoner monstrosity within a month of Phish having covered the entire album at a live show. In defense of this album, it’s a party in a box – and it was one of the few from that era that pretty much everybody knew and liked. Little Feat’s studio albums aren’t very good: even more than their contemporaries the Grateful Dead’s studio stuff, they have a rushed, uptight vibe. But not this sprawling 1978 double live lp. Lowell George, Paul Barrere and Bill Payne blended equal parts New Orleans R&B and funk, slowed it down to halfspeed and with the addition of the Tower of Power horn section, created a sly, lazy style of southern rock that was indelibly their own. When you think about it, you know most of these songs: Fat Man in the Bathtub; Oh Atlanta; Time Loves a Hero, and Dixie Chicken. Oh yeah, don’t forget the 41 seconds of Don’t Bogart That Joint. There’s also Willin’, the most laid-back truck-driving anthem ever recorded; the sprawling jam Tripe Face Boogie; the surprisingly harder-rocking Rocket in My Pocket and the shuffling Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. George’s pie-eyed slide guitar dives, bounces and staggers with a shit-eating grin while the rhythm section slinks and the rest of the band sound like Steely Dan on Southern Comfort. None of this is meant to be taken all that seriously. You’d think that powder drugs would be the last thing you’d want to be on while listening to this, but sadly that’s what killed George, dead in his motel room at 34. Payne would go on to play with the Rolling Stones and many others; Barrere put out an excellent solo album in 1984 and pretty much since then has led a regrouped, female-fronted version of the band who have never reached the heights they hit here. Here’s a random torrent.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, rap music, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 700-799

For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this is all about – other than just plain fun – click here.

For albums #800-899, click here.

For albums #600-699, click here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

Albums #400-499 continue here.

799. Millie Jackson – Live and Uncensored

The funniest woman in soul music, Millie Jackson got her start singing gospel, but by the mid-70s she’d gone from the sacred to the profane and stayed there, taking Bessie Smith innuendo to its logical, smutty extreme. L’il Kim and Foxy Brown have nothing on this woman. Her studio albums were popular for obvious reasons, but her live shows were beyond hilarious. This double live lp from 1979 doesn’t have the classic Lick It Before You Stick It, but it’s got most of her funniest songs, recorded in front of a well-oiled, extremely responsive crowd – as much as she plays the role of a woman who’s been dissed too many times and isn’t going to let a guy do that to her again, the guys love her. She does the innuendo thing with Logs and Thangs, Put Something Down on It and the deviously juvenile Never Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night. The big over-the-top hit – a Beethoven spoof – is the Fuck You Symphony. Much of the time, the band launches into a funk vamp for her to rap over: the best one of these is a particularly venomous, obscene diatribe directed at soap operas and those who watch them (she’s not a fan – she thinks they’re racist and they rot your mind). When she’s on top of her game, her covers, like Sweet Music Man and If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right) are viciously satirical – this may be soul music, but the vibe is pure punk rock. This one was reissued sometime in the 90s as a twofer with the equally raunchy 1982 Live and Outrageous album. Now in her sixties, Jackson has toned it down a bit, most recently as the afternoon drive dj on an Atlanta radio station. Here’s a random torrent.

798. James McMurtry Childish Things

A growling, cynically lyrical Americana rock songwriter in the twangy Steve Earle vein, James McMurtry plays midsize venues around the world to a cult audience who hang on every word. He’s never made a bad album. We picked this one, from 2005 because it’s got his signature song, We Can’t Make It Here, probably the most vivid depiction of the economic consequences of the Bush/Cheney reign of terror. McMurtry is a potent, vivid storyteller, and there are a handful of first-rate ones here: the ominous, murderous foreshadowing of Bad Enough; the swinging dysfunctional holiday-from-hell tale Memorial Day and the family road trip from/to hell, Holiday. The rumbling title track alludes to the hopelessness of depressed rural areas that McMurtry has chronicled so well throughout his career; the swaying, funky Restless looks at the hope or lack thereof for relationships there. There’s also the brooding European vignette Charlemagne’s Home Town, the sly Slew Foot – a duet with Joe Ely – and the poignant prisoner’s recollection Six Year Drought – is it told from the point of view of a POW? An ex-slave? A Holocaust survivor? If you want a torrent, here’s a random one – because we’re in a depression, and nobody knows that better than McMurtry, he’d understand if you downloaded it for nothing. Because he’s an independent artist and could use the support, there’s a link to his site in the title above.

797. Lefty Frizzell – 16 Biggest Hits

Lefty Frizzell was a legendary Texas honkytonk singer from the 50s, a guy who sounded a lot older than he was. By the 70s, now in his 40s, he sounded close to 70. One of the songs here, an early proto-rockabilly number, is titled Just Can’t Live That Fast (Any More), but in real life he didn’t seem to have any problem with that. He drank himself to death at 47 in 1975. But he left a rich legacy. This album is missing some of his best-known songs – notably Cigarettes & Coffee Blues – but it’s packed with classics. Frizzell’s 1950 version of If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time topped the country charts and beat Hank Williams – a frequent tourmate – at his own game. Other 50s hits here include the western swing-tinged Always Late (With Your Kisses), the fast shuffle She’s Gone, Gone, Gone and Frizzell’s iconic version of Long Black Veil – with its echoey, ghostly vocals and simple acoustic guitar, it’s even better than the Johnny Cash version. From the 60s, there’s the surprisingly folkie version of Saginaw Michigan, the sad drinking ballad How Far Down Can I Go, the torchy, electric piano-based That’s the Way Love Goes and I’m Not the Man I’m Supposed to Be. His later period is best represented by I Never Go Around Mirrors, later covered by both George Jones and Merle Haggard. This is one of those albums that pops up in used vinyl stores from time to time, but isn’t easy to find online. There’s a popular “500 greatest country songs” torrent with several of these on it out there; if you see one for this particular album, let us know!

796. The Church – The Blurred Crusade 

This 1982 classic is the legendary Australian art-rockers’ jangliest album, if not their most lyrically rich – on all but the gorgeously ghostly Field of Mars (named after a cemetery in Sydney), it sounds as if frontman Steve Kilbey wrote them in a rush on the way to the studio. But the melodies are sublime, a lush, rich wash of clanging, overtone-drenched Rickenbacker guitar textures. Almost with You features a beautiful flamenco-inflected acoustic guitar solo from Peter Koppes; When You Were Mine, An Interlude and You Took are big anthems and concert favorites. Just for You and To Be in Your Eyes are among the band’s Byrdsiest songs. Each of the album sides ends with a beautiful, barely two-minute miniature: Secret Corners and Don’t Look Back. Because we’ve carefully considered all the feedback we’ve received from you people out there, we’re generally trying to limit this list to one album per band. We just might make an exception for these guys. Here’s a random torrent; there’s also a brand-new cd reissue out with extensive new liner notes by guitarist Marty Willson-Piper.

795. Marcel Khalife – Taqasim

One of the world’s great oud players and composers, Marcel Khalife has been called the Lebanese Bob Dylan. As the leader of the Al-Mayadeen Ensemble in the 70s, he achieved extraordinary popularity for his politically-charged, anthemic, classically-tinged songwriting, often using lyrics by the great Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Together with his human rights efforts on the part of the Palestinians, Khalife came under fire from the anti-Palestinian wing in Israel and was eventually driven into exile in Paris. This 2008 album, a hauntingly terse instrumental triptych, pays homage to Darwish. Backed only by bass and drums, Khalife builds a tense, shadowy atmosphere, brooding and often downright tormented; mournful resignation gives way to a stately dance that eventually goes deeper into darkness, with a barely restrained desperation. Only a small portion of Khalife’s extensive catalog has been released outside of the Arab world; this is one of the best.  Likewise, torrents are hard to come by. It’s still available from Khalife’s site.

794. Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young

Here’s a band that pretty much everybody agrees on. But the two most popular “best-of” music lists up here in the cloud already grabbed One Nation Under a Groove and Maggot Brain. So what’s left? Pretty much everything P-Funk ever did. Here’s one you might not have thought about for awhile. This characteristically sprawling, eclectic, amusing, and frequently scathing 1972 double lp might be George Clinton’s most rock-oriented album, stone cold proof that these guys were just as good a rock act as a funk band. This is the core of the early group: the brilliant and underrated Tyrone Lampkin on drums, Bootsy on bass, Eddie Hazel on guitar and Bernie Worrell on swirling, gothic-tinged organ putting his New England Conservatory degree to good use. A lot of this takes Sly Stone-style funk to the next level: the fast antiwar/antiviolence shuffle You Hit the Nail on the Head; the artsy, orchestrated eco-anthem If You Don’t Like the Effects, Don’t Produce the Cause; and the vicious, bouncy antidrug anthem Loose Booty. I Call My Baby Pussycat is epic and funny; the title track is even more so, a slow stoner soul vamp with a message, an orgasmic girl vocalese intro, and a faux Isaac Hayes rap by Clinton: “Who is this bitch?” The pensive ballad Miss Lucifer’s Love predates Radiohead by 35 years; Bootsy gets down and dirty with an oldschool R&B feel on Philmore. Biological Speculation offhandedly makes the case that if we don’t pull our act together, nature just might do it for us – without us. And it’s got a pedal steel solo?!? The album closes with a politically charged gospel number, the guys in the choir trading verses with the girls. Here’s a random torrent.

793. Gogol Bordello – Gypsy Punks

It’s only fair that we’d follow one great party band (P-Funk) with another. Gogol Bordello may not have been the first gypsy punks, but they took the sound gobal. This one, from 2005, is their most punk album and the closest studio approximation of the pandemonium of their live show, the guitars roaring like the Clash on Give ‘Em Enough Rope. As usual, frontman Eugene Hutz alternates between English and Ukrainian when least expected; this time out, he adds Spanish to the mix. It’s got some of his most direct songs, especially I Would Never Wanna Be Young Again, an anthem for a million kids (and old kids) to sing along to. Not a Crime never identifies the specific act which, back in the day, used to be legal, but it doesn’t have to – it’s a classic for the paranoid post-9/11 world. Think Locally, Fuck Globally is self-explanatory, and it’s a classic. There are also plenty of surreal stories here: the bizarre East Village bathhouse scenario Avenue B; the crazed wedding narrative Dogs Were Barking, and a far more punk version of Start Wearing Purple than the one on the Everything Is Illuminated soundtrack. Toward the end of the album, the songs stretch out, with reggae and dub on Undestructable and Mishto and latin on Santa Marinella. Everything Gogol Bordello did is worth owning – they’re a band everybody who would never wanna be young again should see at least once in their lives. Here’s a random torrent.

792. R.L. Burnside – Burnside on Burnside

R.L. Burnside played a whole bunch of different styles, depending on the times. He started out as an early 70s style, Marvin Gaye-inspired soul man, went into Chicago style blues, took a fortuitously brief turn into early 80s pop before finding his groove in hypnotic Mississippi hill country blues. Fans love this style for its trance-inducing, pounding vamps that hang on a single chord for minutes at a clip: it works as well as dance music as it does for stoners and drinkers. This 2001 live set recorded at a rock club in Oregon is his last and best album, capturing him at the absolute top of his game, amped to eleven and blasting through one careening number after another. Even though there’s no bass – the only other instruments in the band were drums and longtime slide guitarist Kenny Brown – the songs come at you in waves. At one point, he indulges in a little autobiography, but the crowd wants tunes. Robert Johnson’ Walking Blues roars and gallops; Muddy Waters’ Rolling and Tumbling is a tsunami of guitar distortion and primal stomp. The best track here might be the eerie, ominously clattering hobo tune Jumper on the Line; Brown gets to take his usual long slide solo on Going Down South and makes the most of it. Burnside died of a stroke in 2005; his grandsons Cedric and Kenny continue to play blues in the same raw, rustic vein. Here’s a random torrent.

791. Kenny Garrett – Songbook

Who would have thought when he made his debut as an elevator jazz guy back in the 80s that someday he’d be capable of this kind of brilliance? As both a composer and player, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett was one of the 90s’ and zeros’ most potent forces and remains just as vital today. This one from 1997 really solidified his reputation, a retro, Coltrane-inspired triumph. With relentless energy and intelligence, Garrett locks in with Kenny Kirkland on piano, Nat Reeves on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums, through a diverse collection of cerebral workups and lyrical ballads. The opening track 2 Down & 1 Across opens it lyrically, picking up the pace with the catchy, insistent Wooden Steps and then the magnificently Middle Eastern-inflected, modal epic Sing a Song of Song, the most Coltrane-ish number here and one which became a real crowd-pleaser live. There’s also the funky Freddie Hubbard tribute Brother Hubbard; the boleroish ballad Ms. Baja; the magisterial Nat Adderley homage The House That Nat Built; the darkly syncopated blues She Waits for the New Sun; the pensive, expansive Before It’s Time to Say Goodbye and the warily exuberant Sounds of the Flying Pygmies. Pretty much everything Garrett else has done since 1990 is also worth hearing. Here’s a random torrent.

790. Dolly Parton – Little Sparrow

If you’ve followed this list as we’ve been rolling it out (or as it’s been unraveling, as somebody here put it), you’ve probably noticed an absence of classic country albums. That’s because so many great country artists were singles artists. Their albums tend to have a few good cuts surrounded by lots of filler: songs written on the fly by the producer, or included as a favor to the producer’s out-of-work friends, that kind of thing. Here’s one that’s solid all the way through. Dolly Parton had written a ton of good songs by the time she put this one out in 2001, the second in a series of extremely successful acoustic albums that saw her return to her bluegrass roots. It’s a loosely thematic Nashville gothic album of sorts with a supernatural theme, its centerpiece the whispery witch’s tale Mountain Angel, followed by the winsome, compelling Marry Me. She’s always been known for wacky covers (she’d do Led Zep the next time out); this one has an actually excellent, unrecognizable version of Shine by Collective Soul (featuring Nickel Creek), and a surprisingly effective cover of Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You. There’s also the soaring, plaintive title track and a lickety-split Seven Bridges Road; a version of I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby that’s even bouncier than the original; the ballads A Tender Lie and The Beautiful Lie (thematic, you see); the Irish traditional song Down from Dover, and the country gospel mainstay In the Sweet Bye and Bye to wrap it up. Dolly sings her heart out and the energy is contagious: the band sound like they’re about to jump out of their shoes with joy in places. Here’s a random torrent.

789. Redman & Method Man – Blackout

Back in 1999, two of the biggest weedheads in hip-hop teamed up for an all-night blunt session, brought along some relatively minimal backing tracks, wrote a bunch of lyrics and this is the result. Or at least that’s what it sounds like. One of the most kick-ass party albums ever made, Redman comes as close here to playing elder statesman as he ever has, pushing Meth to take his game to the highest level. It’s less a cutting contest than two of the last of the golden age hip-hop stars airing out their rhyme books. Most of the jokes, the skits and scenarios involve weed and/or women, their usual specialty, ranging from mildly amusing to off-the-scale hilarious. How High would become a movie theme. Da Rockwilder, Maaad Crew and especially Fire Ina Hole are classic examples of hook-based hip-hop that keeps going just as memorably after the chorus flies by; at the opposite extreme, Well Alrightcha and 1,2,1,2 have a freestyle feel. 4 Seasons features Ja Rule and Cool J while Ghostface joins them on Run 4 Cover. Too bad that when these two teamed up again for a sequel to this one late in the zeros, the chemistry wasn’t there: and with all the emphasis on big, cliched, commercial, “R&B” flavored choruses, they didn’t have nearly as much room to move. Sometimes a classic isn’t worth trying to repeat. Here’s a random torrent.

788. Holst – The Planets – Walter Susskind/St. Louis Symphony Symphony Orchestra

Full disclosure – as a child, one of us had a favorite recording of this which turned out to have been conducted by a member of the Nazi party. That was the end of that. British composer Gustav Holst’s richly cinematic suite (John Williams brazenly ripped this off – Luke Skywalker blowing up the Death Star, for example) has been recorded by a million orchestras. Leonard Bernstein & the NY Philharmonic did one (the links you see here are all his). But is there a version that stands out among all of them? You bet there is. Walter Susskind’s 1975 recording with the St. Louis Symphony is loaded with dynamics, vividly illustrating what are essentially astrological themes. Most of these will be instantly familiar to moviegoers, particularly the suspenseful Mars, the Bringer of War. Venus, the Bringer of Peace is cast as a mystical tone poem; Mercury is puckish with bubbling brass; likewise, Jupiter is boisterous and bustling. But the three segments here that are absolutely riveting are the hauntingly bell-like, funereal Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age; a big, evil, ominous Uranus, the Magician; and a chilling, viscerally otherworldly version of Neptune, the Mystic who is more like Hades here. Here’s a random torrent.

787. Bo Diddley – The Chess Box

When we began this countdown last July, one of our original rules was no box sets: among other things, they’re kind of an easy way out. Choosing the Beatles box, or the Pink Floyd box, for example, takes away the fun of being able to pick an unexpected gem out of all the goodies. But Bo Diddley’s 1950s heyday was much like today, with most everyone listening to singles instead of full-length albums. This double-cd reissue, dating from MCA’s acquisition of the Chess Records catalog in the late 80s, is as good as just about any representation of the guy with the cane and the square guitar. It’s got most of the growling Diddleybeat hits: Who Do You Love, Mona, Hey Bo Diddley and Ride On Josephine. It’s also got the novelty songs: doing the dozens with his deadpan maraca player Jerome Green on Say Man, Bring It to Jerome and Signifying Blues, along with the proto-glam junkie anthem Pills (famously covered by the New York Dolls). But Ellis McDaniel was a lot more than just a hitmaker comedian who liked to do bit parts in cult movies: he was one of the most technologically advanced musicians of his era. He built his own guitars and pioneered the use of electronic effects including chorus, flange, reverb, and delay, even foreshadowing the use of the vocoder by twenty years, “talking” through his guitar as on Mumblin’ Guitar. And since he played mostly rhythm on his big hits, they don’t offer much of a hint of what a wryly compelling lead guitarist he was. Or how diverse his songwriting was, from the practically punk R&B of stuff like Roadrunner to ballads like Before You Accuse Me, to cinematic themes like Aztec, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Lee Hazelwood or Ventures catalogs. A few of the later tracks here are marginal, but most of this stuff is choice – and in the public domain, at least in Europe. Here’s a random torrent.

786. Jimmy Martin – 20 Greatest Hits

As chronicled in the 2003 documentary film King of Bluegrass, Jimmy Martin was a tragic character – a mean drunk, a bad bandmate, a micromanager as a bandleader – and one of the greatest figures in the history of the music. He got his start as a harmony singer and guitarist in Bill Monroe’s band in the late 40s, then hit with his Sunny Mountain Boys in the 50s and continued to tour festivals until he died in 2005. His high lonesome vocals and biting, no-nonsense guitar picking continue to influence bluegrass bands from coast to coast. This reissue from the late 80s mixes standards (Blue Moon of Kentucky, Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Knoxville Girl, to name a few) with hits, many from the peak of his career. Martin was the first to do Truck Drivin’ Man and followed up the success of that one with another eighteen-wheeler standby, Widow Maker. Some of these songs play up his reputation as hard to deal with, notably his first big hit, Freeborn Man, Honey, You Don’t Know My Mind and the bitter Who’s Calling You Sweetheart Tonight. The only duds here are the ones about his hunting dogs, and if the sheer number of these that he wrote throughout his career are to be taken at face value, he went through as many hounds as bandmates. For spirited live versions of many of these songs, check out the 1973 double live album Bean Blossom: Home Again in Indiana featuring Martin along with Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys, Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe and his band. Here’s a random torrent.

785. The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana

One of the deepest, darkest roots reggae albums you’ll ever hear, the oldest singles on this 1993 reissue date back to 1969. Best known for their hit Satta Massagana – the “national anthem of reggae,” a song whose producer failed to see its potential until it topped the Jamaican charts two years after it was recorded – Bernard Collins, Donald Manning and Lyndford Manning distinguished themselves with their eerie close harmonies and fondness for murky minor key grooves. They mix up the socially conscious anthems like Declaration of Rights, Black Man’s Strain and African Race with haunting, gospel-inflected numbers like Abednigo and The Good Lord along with ominous orthodox Rasta themes such as Forward Unto Zion, I and I, Peculiar Number and the organ-fueled Reason Time. The group called it quits in the late 70s, reuniting improbably twenty years later and proving they hadn’t lost a step; their 1999 comeback album suffers from overproduction but also has plenty of good songs. Here’s a random torrent.

784. Come – Gently Down the Stream

One of the small handful of truly great indie rock bands from the 90s, Come’s two-guitar frontline of Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw were that era’s Keith Richards and Mick Taylor, combining for a ferocious, intuitive maelstrom of growling, roaring, reverb-drenched, evilly smoldering noise. This is their last album, from 1999, and it’s their best. The songs are longer, more ornate and complex, foreshadowing the art-rock direction Zedek would take in the years following the demise of the band. There’s no other group that sound remotely like them: while Zedek would borrow a little of the noiserock she’d been drenched in as frontwoman of legendary New York rockers Live Skull in the late 80s, ultimately she’s more of a Stonesy rock purist. Brokaw invents new elements with his trademark leads, expertly negotiating an underworldly labyrinth of passing tones. The album opens with the epic One Piece, continues in that vein with Recidivist before going more punk with the slightly shorter Stomp and then eventually the loudest track here, the screaming, riff-rocking Saints Around My Neck. The most magnificent track is the kiss-off anthem New Coat, another scorching dirge. After the band broke up, Brokaw would go on to even greater heights as the lead guitarist in the original incarnation of Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three as well as a noteworthy career as a solo act as well as with first-class indie songwriter Jennifer O’Connor. Here’s a random torrent.

783. Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

As the leader of dark, artsy Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House, Mark Sinnis and his ominous baritone have been a forceful presence in the New York music underground since the late 90s. Lately, he’s been devoting as much time to his solo acoustic project, most fully realized with this one, his third solo release, from early 2010. It’s an obscure treasure and it’s probably the best thing he’s ever recorded with any group. This one mixes brand new tracks with a couple of radically reworked Ninth House songs and classic covers. 15 Miles to Hell’s Gate, a not-so-thinly veiled requiem for a New York lost at least for the moment to gentrifiers and class tourists, is a stampeding rockabilly number just a little quieter than the Ninth House version. Likewise, the lyrically rich Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me (which made our Alltime Best 666 Songs list) doesn’t vary much from the original, although the Cure-inflected Quiet Change is….um, quite a change. With a new last verse, Sinnis’ version of Gloomy Sunday leaves no doubt that it’s a suicide song. Likewise, the cover of St. James Infirmary is definitely an obituary, although the Sisters of Mercy’s Nine While Nine is a lot more upbeat, a vividly brooding train station vignette. The catchy, rustically swaying Skeletons and the downright morbid, Johnny Cash-inspired In Harmony wind it up. This is one of those albums that’s too obscure to have made it to the usual share sites, although it is available at shows and at cdbaby.

782. Country Joe & the Fish – Electric Music for the Mind and Body

Country Joe McDonald and his bandmates’ mission on this crazed 1967 gem was to replicate the ambience of an acid trip. It’s by far the trippiest thing they ever did: their other albums have much more of a straight-up folkie or country-rock feel. Maybe because of that, it’s a lot looser and less earnest as well. Most of it has aged remarkably well, even the Grateful Dead-inspired Flying High and Superbird (a snide anti-LBJ broadside). Much of this, like Porpoise Mouth and the hypnotic instrumental Section 43, is unusually carnivalesque and eerie for these guys. Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine is surprisingly subtle and funny; the genuinely haunting Death Sound Blues and way-out-there Bass Strings, with its “did you just hear that” sound effects are anything but. None of us here can vouch for how this sounds under the influence of LSD but the band reputedly tried it and gave it their seal of approval. Here’s a random torrent.

781. Elliott Smith – Figure 8

Here’s somebody who never made a bad album. Elliott Smith’s albums from the 90s alternate gorgeously harmony-driven, George Harrison-esque pop with austere, sometimes charming but more frequently brooding little vignettes. This one, from 1999, is the only one of his albums that has a fully realized, lushly produced atmosphere from beginning to end, Smith playing virtually all of the instruments himself including the drums. There isn’t any obvious hit single here, but every single one of the fifteen tracks is excellent. Nobody wrote about drugs, or specifically heroin, more elliptically or poetically than this guy; here, he broadened his worldview and it paid off. Lyrically speaking, it’s the high point of his career. Junk Bond Trader was withering when it came out; these days it’s positively scathing, as is the anti-trendoid broadside Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud. There’s also the gently bucolic Someone That I Used to Know; the quaint tack piano pop of In the Lost and Found; the hypnotically crescendoing Everything Means Nothing to Me; the ragtime-tinged Pretty Mary K and LA, which quietly foreshadows the unrest and eventual doom that he’d meet up with there. Elliott Smith was murdered in 2003 in a vicious knife attack. William Bratton, the former New York City police commissioner whose most dubious achievement here was underreporting homicides in order to drive the official murder rate down, did the same thing in Los Angeles; Smith’s case was declared a suicide, even though he’d taken a knife through the chest twice. His killer remains at large. Here’s a random torrent.

780. Louis Jordan – Let the Good Times Roll: The Anthology 1938-1953

Like the Sonny Boy Williamson anthology on this list (see #835), this one gets the nod over the dozens of other Jordan releases out there simply because it has more songs: 46 in all over two cds. It’s as good a place to start withas any if you want to get to know the guy that many feel invented rock and roll. Actually, that was probably Link Wray – Louis Jordan was the king of 1940s jump blues who inspired guys like Bill Haley and later, Elvis. A charismatic, wildly energetic performer, bandleader and saxophonist, his boisterous, cartoonish and sometimes buffoonish songs have a tongue-in-cheek lyrical sophistication that sometimes gets forgotten as the party gets underway. Which he doesn’t seem to have minded at all: he sold a ton of records that way. All the hits are here: What’s the Use of Getting Sober; Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby; Caldonia (later appropriated by B.B. King and dozens of others); G.I Jive; Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens; Jack, You’re Dead; Five Guys Named Moe; Choo Choo Ch ‘Boogie; Open the Door, Richard; and of course the title track. It’s also got the funny sequel I’m Gonna Leave You on the Outskirts Of Town, the topical WWII home front number Ration Blues, a blues version of the old mento standard Junco Partner, Saturday Night Fish Fry (later redone by B.B. and then by Tony Bennett, as Playing with My Friends), and Ella Fitzgerald singing Stone Cold Dead in the Market. Here’s a random torrent.

779. The Vapors – New Clear Days

Best known for their inscrutable and uncharacteristically new wavey 1979 hit Turning Japanese, this ferocious and surprisingly eclectic British punk band put out two excellent albums, this one and 1981′s Magnets, the latter featuring one of the alltime great album covers. The two standout tracks here are the raging News at Ten, an alienated kid going off on his conformist, complacent dad, and the artsy, Asian-flavored epic Letter from Hiro, told snidely from the point of view of a kamikaze pilot who was luckier than most. Spring Collection is just as snide: “You’re just another little girl with stars in your eyes, and I don’t wanna go home with you.” Somehow shares Turning Japanese’s pop feel; Prisoners is more like the Clash; Waiting for the Weekend a rare respite from the gloom; Sixty Second Interval and Trains and have a scurrying, furtive angst. The album closes with Bunkers, a postapocalyptic reggae-punk number. Frontman/rhythm guitarist David Fenton would go on to play in a considerably harder-rocking second edition of Bow Wow Wow in the 90s; afterward, in a considerably bizarre twist of fate, he would become a lawyer with the British equivalent of the RIAA. Here’s a random torrent.

778. Tom Waits – Blood Money

This was a hard choice. The game plan here is still pretty much to pick one album per artist, and Waits is a guy pretty much everyone agrees on, someone who arguably deserves four or five on this list. This one from 2002 won out over the rest, perhaps ironically, because it’s probably the least eclectic one out of everything he’s released since the turn of the century. Here, there isn’t much skronk, Waits’ rustic croak and carnivalesque, phantasmagorical beatnik lyricism get set to gritty, brooding minor-key oldtimey jazz arrangements with some noir, cinematic instrumental miniatures like Knife Chase and Woe interspersed among them to shift the dynamics around. Everything Goes to Hell might be the ultimate expression of Waits’ philosophy – or, that could be the opening track, Misery Is the River of the World. God’s Away on Business and Another Man’s Vine (depression-era Harlem slang for “coat”) are the requisite cynical numbers; Coney Island Baby (an original, not the Lou Reed song) and a surprisingly good-natured, actually quite majestic version of A Good Man Is Hard to Find lift the darkness just a little. And Starving in the Belly of a Whale is the most surreal of them all. Here’s a random torrent.

777. The Goats – Tricks of the Shade

Long out of print, this golden-age 1993 hip hop classic is a mix of songs and politically charged skits that remain as relevant now as they were in the age of Bush I’s first gulf war. Frontman Oatie Kato and his cohorts Madd (a.k.a. “the M-A-the-double-D”, a.k.a. Maxx), and Swayzack wander through a twisted, surreal carnival featuring attractions like Columbus’ Boat Ride, Noriega’s Coke Stand, Indian activist Leonard Peltier in a cage, Rovie Wade the Sword Swallower (“Hey Rovie, that’s not a sword, that’s a coat hanger”), the Drive By Bumper Cars and at the end, the ominous Uncle Scam’s Shooting Gallery. Along the way, they skewer Reaganomics and Fox TV (the viciously satirical TV Cops), smoke a lot of herb (the big hit Got Kinda High), and then dig in against the fascists with Not Not Bad and then Burn the Flag. Their follow-up album, No Goats No Glory, had another sizeable hit, Wake and Bake, plenty of pot references, but no more politics. And that was that. But we still have this classic. Here’s a random torrent.

776. The Dirty Three – She Has No Strings Apollo

The Dirty Three haunt the fringes where jazz, rock and film music intersect. Their tense, brooding, often haunting soundscapes rise and fall as Warren Ellis’ violin mingles with Mick Turner’s guitar while drummer Jim White colors the songs with all sorts of unexpected tinges, often leaving the rhythm to the other musicians. They’ve never made a bad album. This one, from 2003, is a popular choice, and it’s as good as any. Alice Wading sets the stage, slowly unwinding and then leaping to doublespeed. The title track builds from pensive to purposeful to downright dramatic; Long Way to Go with No Punch is truly long, roaring and atmospheric. The best-known track here, No Stranger Than That nicks the piano lick from Shepherds Delight by the Clash, followed eventually by a memorable duel between Ellis and Turner with a Dave Swarbrick/Richard Thompson alchemy ; the last two tracks segue from a whisper to a scream. Here’s a random torrent.

775. Jim Campilongo – Heaven Is Creepy

Let’s stick with the dark instrumental rock for a bit, ok? Campilongo is a virtuoso guitarist, a favorite of the Guitar World crowd, equally at home with jazz, spaghetti western, surf music, western swing, skronky funk and straight-up rock. He gets a lot of work as a lead player with artists as diverse as Norah Jones, Jo Williamson, Marika Hughes and Teddy Thompson. The obvious comparison is to Bill Frisell, but Campilongo’s more terse and song-oriented, and unlike Frisell he doesn’t rely on loops, or for that matter much of any kind of electronic effects: it’s amazing what this guy can can do with just an amp. His signature trick is a subtly eerie tremolo effect that he achieves by bending the neck of his Telecaster ever so slightly. And every album he’s ever done is worth owning. Why this one? It’s probably his darkest, notably for the title track and the self-explanatory, film noir-ish, Big Lazy-esque Menace. The Prettiest Girl In New York reaches for more of a bittersweet vibe; Mr. & Mrs. Mouse is a feast of clever dynamics and tricks like mimicking the sound of backward masking; Monkey in a Movie cinematically blends surf, funk, skronk and trip-hop. His version of Cry Me a River rivals Erica Smith’s for brooding angst. Despite its popularity, this one doesn’t seem to have made it to the usual share sites, although copies are available from Campilongo’s homepage.

774. The Viper Mad Blues anthology

This compilation features old songs from the late 20s through the 40s about smoking pot, and occasionally, snorting coke. This old jazz and country shizzit is more punk than the Ramones and more gangsta than L’il Wayne ever dreamed of, and although it was banned from the radio it was wildly popular in its day. The coolest thing about the 25 tracks here is that only two of them, Cab Calloway’s 1935 hit Kicking the Gong Around (which is actually about smoking opium), and a gleefully adrenalized version of Leadbelly’s coke anthem Take a Whiff on Me, are really obvious. The others have proliferated thanks to youtube and file sharing, but when the compilation came out in 1989, it was a tremendous achievement…for those who like funny songs about drugs, at least. If ragtime guitar star Luke Jordan’s Cocaine Blues (not the version you’re thinking of) is to be believed, that stuff was a staple of hillbilly life back in 1927. Some other highlights: Larry Adler’s hilarious 1938 hit Smoking Reefers; Cleo Brown’s deadpan The Stuff Is Here and It’s Mellow; Champion Jack Dupree’s Junker’s Blues, a kick-ass piano boogie from 1944; Baron Lee & the Blue Rhythm Band’s 1935 tribute to their dealer, Reefer Man; and Fats Waller’s Reefer Song: “Hey, cat, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, here we are in Harlem, everybody’s here but the police and they’ll be here in a minute. It’s high time, so here it is…” Here’s a random torrent.

773. The Pogues – Peace & Love

Conventional wisdom is that the Pogues peaked early, that the original Irish folk-punk band was at their best when they had Elvis Costello’s second wife on bass and a fairly lucid Shane MacGowan out in front. And as ecstatically fun as their early albums are, this one from 1988 is their most diverse, and most original, maybe because it draws on the songwriting talent of just about everyone in the band while Shane was going through a…um…down period. The opening track, Gridlock, proves these great Irish musicians could tackle jazz and pull it off. The gorgeous hook-driven acoustic pop songs include White City, the bouncy Blue Heaven, the hypnotic Down All the Days and the beautifully rueful Lorelei; among the more traditionally oriented numbers, there’s the characteristically snarling Young Ned of the Hill, Cotton Fields, MacGowan’s lickety-split USA, the psychedelic Boat Train and the tongue-in-cheek Night Train to Lorca. The best tracks are accordionist Jem Finer’s haunting Tombstone and the majestic, almost cruelly evocative, solitary wee-hours ballad Misty Morning, Albert Bridge. The 2005 cd reissue includes the less-than-stellar Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah ep from the previous year, which doesn’t really add anything. Here’s a random torrent.

772. Machito y Su Orquesta – Esta Es Graciela

By the time the legendary Cuban-American bandleader and his sultry chanteuse sister released this album in 1964, he was in his fifties and she was getting close. But neither show their age. Only the arrangements are more lush and sensual, by comparison to the animated intensity of the band’s work in previous decades. Machito may or may not have invented salsa, but his orchestra was the one that everybody imitated, right through the end of the 60s and even beyond: the Fania era never would have happened without him. Likewise, Graciela Gutierrez-Perez, who died earlier this year at 94, set the standard for salsa divas. She could be brassy or coy and she could work a song’s innuendo the same way she worked a crowd. This one shows off both her sides: El Albanico, a slinky, sly duet with Machito; the crafty, sexy Mi Querido Santi Clo; the fast, bubbly mambo Estoy A Mil; the downright seductive Ay Jose; the lavishly orchestrated son montuno of El Gato Tiene Tres Patas; the sad, brooding Ya Tu No Estas; the characteristically tongue-in-cheek, risque Celos Negros, and the balmy tropicalia ballad Si No Eres Tu, and four others ranging from lavishly lush to swinging dance numbers. Frequently reissued and often bootlegged, later versions constantly turn up in used record stores that sell latin music. Otherwise, Fania has the cd; here’s a random torrent.

771. Buddy & Julie Miller’s first album

The breakout album by these husband-and-wife Americana music veterans. She writes the songs and sings them; he plays them. Buddy Miller flew pretty much under the radar until he became Emmylou Harris’ lead guitarist in the 90s, and then the cat was out of the bag. With dazzling bluegrass speed matched to an eerie, sometimes macabre chromatic edge, Buddy Miller draws a lot of Richard Thompson comparisons, which is apt. It only makes sense that the duo and their band would open their first album together, from 2001, with a viscerally wounded, alienated version of Thompson’s Keep Your Distance. There’s also an almost unrecognizable, smartly reinvigorated version of the 1971 Dylan song Wallflower, along with a hardscrabble cover of Bruce “Utah” Phillips’ Rock Salt and Nails. The originals here run from wistful – the sad oldtimey waltz Forever Has Come to an End, That’s Just How She Cries and the unselfconsciously gorgeous, rustic Holding Up the Sky – to upbeat and oldschool, as with Little Darlin’ and The River’s Gonna Run. Miller reminds how good he is at ferocious electric rock on You Make My Heart Beat Too Fast. Julie’s vocals are understatedly plaintive and fetching; if you ever get the chance to see these two live, they put on a hell of a show. Here’s a random torrent.

770. Jean Grae – Attack of the Attacking Things

One of the past decade’s greatest lyricists, Abdullah Ibrahim’s daughter is a throwback to hip-hop’s golden age. She’s as politically aware as she is self-aware, unapologetically proud of her lyrical skill yet down-to-earth – and utterly contemptuous of bling, status and fame. Literally everything she’s ever done is worth hearing. The popular choice is her bootlegs album, so to be perverse we picked this one from 2002 because it proves how ferociously good she’d already become by then. She romanticizes nothing: her party anthem is strictly for her struggling, round-the-way peeps; the portrayal of ghetto love comes with all the bumps and bruises and somehow manages to avoid being completely cynical. In her world, revolution is global and impossible as long as we cling to our neighorhood provincialism: “Missionaries create foreign schools and change the native way of thinking, so in ten years we can have a foreign Columbine in some small village in the Amazon,” she snarls quietly on Block Party. There’s also a genuinely touching tribute from a daughter to her dad; a couple of vicious, spot-on anti-record industry tirades, What Would I Do and Knock (“Crazy how I’m catching you with no major distribution”), a couple of aggressive gangsta-style tracks, a heartbroken requiem for a fallen colleague and one of the funniest skits ever to appear on a rap record. Here’s a random torrent.

769. Peter Gabriel – Up

Here’s another one from 2002. If you were a fan at the time, you probably knew that this album took a long time to finish; if you weren’t, and you knew it existed, it probably came as a surprise. It’s Gabriel’s best solo album, as dark or darker than anything he ever did at his peak with Genesis back in the early 70s when they were a stagy, absurdist classical-rock band. By the time he began work on it in the mid-90s, he was heavily involved with WOMAD, his world music festival, and this reflects his qawwali obsession without drowning in it. The first track, Darkness, alternates explosive anguish with pensive lyrical piano passages; Growing Up is dark hypnotic funk; Sky Blue is just the opposite, and very memorably so, followed by the vivid requiem No Way Out and then the equally vivid, hypnotically atmospheric I Grieve. The Barry Williams Show throws a jab at the idiocy of reality tv; the most unforgettable track here is Signal to Noise, a scream for sanity in an insane world. Other standout tracks include the ominous ballad My Head Sounds Like That, the darkly trippy More Than This and The Drop, one of his most plaintive, poignant songs, just solo piano and vocals. Here’s a random torrent.

768. Spearhead – Chocolate Supa Highway

Smartly aware, low-key stoner funk from 1997. Brilliant lyricist that he is, Michael Franti can be maddeningly erratic, but this one’s solid pretty much all the way through, as cynically insightful as his cult-classic Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy project from five years earlier. The title track isn’t just a stoner jam: “I can’t stand the pain outside my window/Why you think so many smoking indo?” It’s a feeling echoed on much of the rest of the album: Madness in tha Hood (Free Ride) and Food for tha Masses (“Geronimo Pratt done as many years as Mandela”) hit just as hard now as they did in the last century, along with the workingman/woman’s anthem Tha Payroll. The acoustic Americana trip-hop of Wayfaring Stranger (with a surprisingly effective Joan Osborne cameo) and Water Pistol Man are more surreal; Rebel Music interpolates hits by Bob Marley and Jacob Miller; Gas Gauge assesses the future after peak oil. Keep Me Lifted and Ganja Babe are more lighthearted without losing sight of the grimness through the haze of blunt smoke. The only miss here, predictably, is the love song. Most of this is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.

767. The English Beat – Wh’Appen

You will see more albums like this as we move up the list. There’s only one song here that’s a genuine classic – the gorgeous reggae-pop ballad Doors of Your Heart – but every single track is solid. For us, that’s what defines a classic album, one that’s consistently good all the way through rather than one with a couple of great songs surrounded by filler. The rest of the cuts on this British second-wave ska band’s 1981 sophomore album are a characteristically tuneful blend of ska and chorus box guitar-driven new wave. All Out to Get You is punk-style encouragement to fight the good fight: “You’re so scared of death you don’t know what life is.” Monkey Murders sets flamenco-inflected guitar to Mexican-flavored ska; the franglais French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud) has an afrobeat feel. Drowning and Cheated dive into dub reggae, while Over and Over has some deliciously watery Leslie speaker guitar. There’s also the sarcastic Dream Home in New Zealand, the cynical Walk Away (foreshadowing the more pop direction they’d take on Special Beat Service) and the big hit, Get-a-Job. After the band broke up in 1984, various reconfigurations including General Public, Special Beat, and most recently, guitarist Dave Wakeling’s barely recognizable version of the group have continued to record and tour. Here’s a random torrent.

766. Oum Kalthoum – Rak El Habib

35 years after her death, Oum Kalthoum remains more popular than Jesus and the Beatles combined. Publicly, she played up her roots as an Egyptian country mullah’s daughter; professionally, she was a member of the avant garde, a committed socialist and someone who would have been a millionaire many times over had she not given virtually of her money to charity. Oum Kalthoum (in Arabic, spelled أم كلثوم‎ – there are innumerable transliterations which bedevil English-language searches) is the iconic mother of all Arabic singers, arguably the most popular singer of all time, although in the English-speaking world she remains virtually ignored. Trying to choose among the literally thousands of her recordings is a thankless task. As a rivetingly beautiful example of one we have heard, we give you this haunting, hypnotic 1941 recording whose title track translates roughly as “Be Gentle, Sweetheart.” Arabic vocal music, like jazz, incorporates long improvisational passages, which she would work gradually so as not to blow out her voice after 45 minutes or so onstage. In additional to the title track, this lushly orchestrated album includes the optimistic El Ward Gamil (“When Roses Bloom”), the wary Gamal El Donia and two other tracks whose haunting microtonalities stretch out against the haunting, understated sweep of a Middle Eastern orchestra for over fifteen minutes at a clip. If she was alive today, she’d be on a terrorist watch list. Here’s a random torrent.

765. Songs by Tom Lehrer

“What I like to do is to take some of the songs that we know and presumably love [pause for audience snickering] and get them when they’re down, and kick them.” From the time he debuted with this 1953 independently released, lo-fi solo piano album, Tom Lehrer understood that 90% of humor is based on cruelty. The prototypical funny guy with the piano was still at Harvard when he pressed a few dozen copies for his friends and classmates who’d seen his shtick in the student lounge. If he came out with this kind of stuff today, no doubt he’d have billions of youtube hits. Hostile, sarcastic and fearless, his satire is spot-on and strikingly timeless, despite the fact that it relies exclusively on innuendo and is therefore G-rated. One by one, he skewers dumb college football songs (Fight Fiercely, Harvard); hillbilly music (I Wanna Go Back to Dixie); cowboy songs (The Wild West Is Where I Want to Be); ghoulish Irish ballads; Stephen Foster-style schmaltz (My Home Town); and Strauss waltzes (The Weiner Schnitzel Waltz). He also includes an early stoner anthem (The Old Dope Peddler), a klezmer parody (Lobachevsky) that does double duty as a satire of academia, I Hold Your Hand in Mine (which predates the Addams Family) and When You Are Old and Grey, a snide and equally ghoulish sendup of old people. While it doesn’t have the Vatican Rag, I Got It from Agnes, Pollution or Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, it’s the most consistently excellent Lehrer collection out there. If you like this stuff you’ll also probably like his 1959 live album An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. He retired from music early in the 1960s and went on to a slightly less acclaimed but ostensibly just as rewarding career as a Harvard math professor. Here’s a random torrent.

764. Culture – Two Sevens Clash

This is a concept album about the apocalypse. 7/7/77 in Jamaica was a day of dread, especially for Rastas – a lot of people thought the day of judgment was at hand, and its anthem was this album’s blithely ominous title track. The rest of it is some of the best roots reggae ever recorded, frontman Joseph Hill’s defiant back-to-Africa and sufferah’s ballads pulsing along on the beat of Sly Dunbar’s drums and Robbie Shakespeare’s fat bass, with soaring harmonies, chirpy keyboards and pinging guitars: psychedelic pop, Jamdown style. The downbeat stuff – See Dem a Come, I’m Alone in the Wilderness and Pirate Days – is every bit as memorable and catchy as the triumphant songs: Get Ready to Ride the Lion to Zion, Black Starliner Must Come, Natty Dread Taking Over, Calling Rastafari and I’m Not Ashamed. Culture would continue to tour and record (although Hill’s first-rate songs suffered more and more from cheesy production as the years went on) until his death in 2006. His son Kenyatta Hill now leads a revamped version of the band. Here’s a random torrent.

763. David J – Urban Urbane

No disrespect to Peter Murphy or Daniel Ash, but the member of Bauhaus who would go on to do the greatest things was bass player David J. Over a prolific solo career that spans more than 25 years, his diverse catalog spans the worlds of noir cabaret, catchy Britpop, lush art-rock, austere minimalism and Americana: literally everything he’s recorded is worth owning, even his silly, sarcastic cover of Madonna’s What It Feels Like for a Girl. This one, his 1992 major label debut, pretty much sank without a trace outside of his cult following: we picked it because it’s his most diverse effort. Jazz Butcher guitarist Max Eiger delivers some of his most memorable work throughout it, particularly on the bitterly ecstatic Bouquets, Wreaths and Laurels. The songwriter’s powerfully lyrical side is also represented by the snarling, sardonic Tinseltown (where “your biggest dream is made small”), the surreal Pilgrims, Martyrs and Saints and Hoagy Carmichael Never Went to New Orleans. The goth songs here are classics: the macabre Smashed Princess and Ten Little Beauty Queens, and the S&M-gone-wrong tale Candy on the Cross. There’s also the surprisingly funky opening track, Some Big City; the hypnotic, Velvets-inflected Man of Influential Taste, Space Cowboy and Serial Killer Blues. Here’s a random torrent.

762. Supertramp – Paris

Gentler and more pop-oriented than the rest of the great art-rock bands of the 70s, Supertramp’s ecstatic 1980 double live album captures the band at the peak of their power in front of an adoring crowd (they were huge in France). The album gets extra props for being as good as it is despite the inclusion of the cloying, annoying pop singles Dreamer and Bloody Well Right – the rest reaches a towering, majestic grandeur. The long songs are the best: the scathing antiglobalization indictment Crime of the Century; the crescendoing nonconformist School, which resonates as much today as it did thirty years ago; the poignantly sweeping Soapbox Opera and an epic version of the historically-charged Fool’s Overture, complete with samples and sound effects. Pianist Rick Davies is at the top of his game on incisive versions of Rudy and Asylum, both of which deal with madness; the centerpiece here is multi-instrumentalist Roger Hodgson’s classic Logical Song, with its eerie, reverberating electric piano. The good side of their pop hits is represented by a cheery romp through Take the Long Way Home, a subdued, ragtimey Breakfast in America and the understated poignancy of Hide in Your Shell. The rest of the band’s albums, with the exception of their erratic but sometimes brilliant debut, don’t rock as hard as this, but are all worth hearing if smart, artsy songwriting is your thing. The band broke up in 1984; Davies has continued to tour a loud but less-inspired version of the group, while Hodgson, now in his sixties, remains as vital and incisive a songwriter as ever. Here’s a random torrent.

761. Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops – One More in the Cabin

By the time this Brooklyn/Pennsylvania bluegrass band (formerly the Pine Barons) put out this album, their third, in 2002, they’d honed their period-perfect oldtime sound to a high lonesome wail, in the process helping to jumpstart an already nascent New York country music scene. Unlike so many other bluegrass traditionalists, Jim Krewson and Jennie Benford write their own songs, and they hit hard: these folks are throwbacks to a harsh, bucolic era, which they hardly romanticize. Poverty and unwanted pregnancy (the title track’s theme) are just as likely to make an appearance in their songs as lost love and homesickness. This isn’t polished music – although it is extremely well-played – and its spirit has a lot more in common with punk rock than it does with jam bands. Maybe for that reason, Neko Case got them to back her on a live album, and they quickly outgrew the small club scene that they’d played so ecstatically and memorably for years. The fourteen mostly upbeat tracks here are packed with inspired picking and fiddling; google it for a torrent if you’re short on cash (the band would understand). If you’re not, we highly recommend the independent band’s smartly-produced cd for party music, for waking up and getting out of the house and for long road trips.

760. Jaguares – Bajo El Azul de Tu Misterio

Jaguares is what Caifanes – the most popular Mexican rock band of the 80s and 90s – became when frontman/guitarist Saul Hernandez wanted to go in an artsier direction. It was a trajectory that Caifanes had followed steadily, shifting from trebly, Cure-inspired pop-rock anthems to a darker, slower, hallucinatory vibe. This double album from 2000 – one disc recorded live, one in the studio – captures both sides of his songwriting. The live stuff swirls, stalks and roars, all the way through the pensive, hypnotic Las Ratas No Tienen Alas (slang for “And pigs can fly”), De Noche Todos los Gatos son Pardos ((At Night All Cats Are Grey) and the harsh Amarrate a una Escoba y Vuela Lejos (Get on a Broom and Fly Away), the riff-rocking Quisiera Ser Alcohol (I’d Like to Be Alcohol) and the big singalong hits Dime Jaguar (Tell Me Jaguar) and No Dejes Que (Don’t Let…). The studio album sounds like the Church with a string section. The high point is the lushly gorgeous Fin (The End); there’s also the funky, atmospherically trip-hop tune Parapadea; the hypnotic piano-driven Deterrite (Melt), the blazing 2/4 stomper Tu Reino (Your Kingdom) and the symphonic sweep of No Me Culpes (Don’t Blame Me). Although way, way smarter than U2 and trippier than Midnight Oil, fans of those bands will probably enjoy this. Spanish not required. Here’s a random torrent.

759. Duke Ellington – The Far East Suite

Here’s a relatively obscure 1964 treasure from the world’s most bluesy classical composer…or the world’s most classical bluesman. We picked it since we figured nobody else ever would. The title is a complete misnomer: other than the Asian-tinged jam Ad Lib on Nippon, this is actually a Middle Eastern suite, one of the earliest and still most fascinating examples of Middle Eastern-influenced jazz. In the years after World War II, the US State Department paid good money to send American musicians around the world just as the Brits would send out missionaries a hundred years earlier. To call these cultural imperialist missions successful is something of an understatement. The Duke was inspired to write this one after jaunts to India, Japan and Saudi Arabia. And as intense and majestic as some of this – Isfahan, Depk and Amad, for example – there’s plenty of characteristically sly wit, especially in the sardonically titled Tourist Point of View and Mount Harrissa (which is Take the A Train with a tritone – a “devil’s chord” – thrown in to help transform the Manhattan subway theme into a mountain of falafel-stand hot sauce). This edition of the Ellington Orchestra includes longtime vets Harry Carney, Cootie Williams and Johnny Hodges. The 2004 reissue includes a series of outtakes which take up as much room as the original tracks, some of them interesting, some less so. Here’s a random torrent.

758. Laura Cantrell – Live at Schubas

Laura Cantrell is not only this era’s most captivating country singer: as the “proprietress” of WFUV’s Radio Thrift Shop, she gave a valuable lift to thousands of obscure Americana artists who might have slipped under the radar if not for her. Cantrell’s otherworldly clear, pure voice goes straight back to another era, to Kitty Wells: it’s a potently gentle instrument. This 2003 album captures her at the top of her game with a tight backing band featuring lead guitar, mandolin and pedal steel: the sound is a little boomy, but her voice still resonates. It’s sort of a greatest-hits-live set: pretty much all her best songs, along with a killer version of Elvis Costello’s Indoor Fireworks. The irresistibly fetching, swaying backbeat midtempo numbers include Don’t Break the Heart, Do You Ever Think of Me, All the Same to You and the obscure A.P. Carter gem When the Roses Bloom Again, along with George Usher’s Not the Tremblin’ Kind, the title track from her groundbreaking 2000 full-length debut. But as much as Cantrell gets props for playing her A-list contemporaries’ songs, it’s her originals that stand out the most, particularly the bucolic Mountain Fern and the offhandedly chilling Churches off the Interstate. Most of her catalog, including this, is streaming at deezer; although it strangely doesn’t seem to have made it to the file-sharing sites, Cantrell still has it available at hers.

757. The Coup – Steal This Album

Although the Coup are a west coast hip-hop outfit (frontman/lyricist Boots Riley has been a community activist in Oakland for years), they have more of an east coast flavor: in fact, Riley is as good a candidate as anyone else for the title of greatest rap wordsmith ever. Where corporate rap glorifies guns and status objects, the Coup have always stuck up for the empoverished and the disenfranchised. As superb as their other albums are – everything they’ve ever done is worth owning – this 1998 release blends the funny with the poignant and the ferocious more than anything else they’ve done. The confrontational Piss on Your Grave is brutally amusing, as is The Repo Man Sings for You. 20,000 Gun Salute, The Shipment and Busterismology are revolutionary hip-hop at its most enlightening; Cars and Shoes, Me & Jesus the Pimp in a ’79 Granada Last Night and Breathing Apparatus speak to the struggling majority of us, as does the highlight of the album, Underdogs, arguably the most poetically apt depiction of the urban poverty trap ever recorded. By contrast, Sneakin’ In is a gleeful update on Public Enemy’s Yo Bum Rush the Show. Most recently, Riley has collaborated with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello in the rap-metal project Confrontation Camp. Here’s a random torrent.

756. Split Enz – Waiata

A period piece from 1981 that’s aged extraordinarily well. Go ahead and criticize the tinny, trebly production – it’s a wonder that producer David Tickle didn’t put a watery chorus effect on the drums along with everything else. While there are aspects of this that are soooooo 80s, the inspired fun and purism of the songwriting transcends just about anything you could possibly do to it. The classic pop hit is the defiant kiss-off anthem History Never Repeats, driven by one of the alltime great rock guitar riffs. Hard Act to Follow takes the kind of pop direction Genesis should have followed but didn’t; One Step Ahead, Ships, and the ethereal Ghost Girl mine a more mysterious vein. I Don’t Wanna Dance, Clumsy and Walking Through the Ruins hark back to the artsy post-Skyhooks surrealism of the band’s early years; keyboardist Eddie Rayner also contributes an abrasive noise-rock raveup and the balmy, cinematic theme Albert of India. In the band’s native New Zealand, the album was titled Corroboree (Maori for “party”); the tracks are the same. Guitarist Neil Finn would carry on in another first-rate artsy pop band, Crowded House, joined by his brother Tim off and on over the years (notably on the excellent, one-off Finn Bros. album). Here’s a random torrent.

755. The Pretty Things – SF Sorrow

A cynic would call this a Sergeant Pepper ripoff, although it’s actually closer in spirit to the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, a dark, acid-drenched relic from 1967. By the time the band released this, they’d established themselves as a ferocious R&B band and then branched out into an Kinks-style kind of pop. This one is their most psychedelic album, a tortured, circuitous chronicle that ends up in bitter, solitary self-awareness – or the chronicle of an acid trip, complete with every psychedelic rock trope of the era. They follow the skittish SF Sorrow Is Born with the distant, delicate psychedelic pop of Bracelets of Fingers and then the one obvious Beatles ripoff here, She Says Good Morning. After that, it’s nothing but original, and it gets intense: the antiwar anthem Private Sorrow (complete with spoken-word litany of the dead); the anguished Balloon Burning; the effectively morbid Death; the ominous Baron Saturday (a real killjoy if there ever was one) croaked gleefully by lead guitarist Dick Taylor. Then the trippiest stuff kicks in: The Journey (yup), I See You, Well of Destiny and Trust, winding up on a haunted note with the manic depressive Old Man Going and the brooding acoustic vignette Loneliest Person. After this one, the band went deep into riff-driven proto-metal, broke up in the 70s, reunited with most of this crew triumphantly in the 90s, put out an excellent studio album and a live version of this with a David Gilmour cameo and have toured sporadically but ecstatically since. Some claim that they were the model for the band in This Is Spinal Tap. Here’s a random torrent.

754. Ellen Foley – Spirit of St. Louis

Often referred to as the “lost Clash album,” this 1981 obscurity features the band plus several of the sidemen who made Sandinista such a masterpiece backing Foley – already a bonafide pop star at the time in Europe (she had a #1 hit in Holland), who was dating Mick Jones at the time. You could call this the Clash’s art-rock album. It’s a mix of Strummer/Jones originals plus a handful of covers, and Foley’s own sweeping, evocatively riff-driven Phases of Travel. Her lovers-on-the-run pop duet with Jones on Torchlight is still fetching after all these years; her cover of Edith Piaf’s My Legionnaire is decent but nothing special. The two gems here are violinist Tymon Dogg’s wrenching, haunting ballad Indestructible, and the dramatic flamenco-rock anthem In the Killing Hour, a pregnant woman pleading for the life of her wrongfully convicted man as he’s led away to his execution. Otherwise, there’s the lush art-pop of The Shuttered Palace; Dogg’s eerie, surreal The Death of the Psychoanalyst of Salvador Dali and the minimalistic, reggae-tinged Theatre of Cruelty; the resolute feminist anthem Game of a Man; a big powerpop number and a couple of love songs. Foley followed this up with a forgettable new wave pop record; these days, she sings wry, clever Americana songs and can be found frequently on weekends playing New York’s Lakeside Lounge with her band. Oh yeah, she was also the girl on the Meatloaf monstrosity Paradise by the Dashboard Light. Here’s a random torrent.

753. Alpha Blondy – Jah Victory

One of the best-known African roots reggae artists, Ivoirien singer Alpha Blondy has been putting out politically-charged albums for almost 30 years: this mostly French-language double cd from 2007 is the high point of his career. Fearless and resolute, over a heavily produced, keyboard-driven mix that reaches for an epic grandeur and usually nails it, he skewers repressive dictators, genocidal regimes and hypocrites everywhere, with songs like Ne Tirez Pas Sur l’Ambulance (Don’t Shoot at the Ambulance), Mister Grand Geule (Mr. Big Mouth), Le Bal Des Combattus (The Soldiers’ Ball), Les Salauds (Bastards) and Sales Racistes (Dirty Racists). Other tracks like Sankara and Cameroun incorporate current-day African pop influences; the cautionary tale Le Planete and La Route de la Paix (The Road to Peace) offer hope against hope. Yet the best song here might be the cover of the Pink Floyd classic Wish You Were Here, Blondy returning again and again to the refrain of “We’re just two lost souls in a fishbowl, year after year, running over the same old ground, how we found the same old fear,” building to a literally visceral intensity. If he never makes another album, he goes out on a high note with this one. Here’s a random torrent.

752. Albert Collins – Live 92-93

One of the most powerful musicians ever to pick up a guitar, Texas blues legend Albert Collins died barely three months after recording the last tracks on this 1995 album. You would never know it. Running his Telecaster through an amp custom-made to get the icy, reverb-drenched “cool” sound that defined his playing, he blasted through one lightning-fast interlude after another, nonstop. And for a guy who played so many notes, no one has made so many count for so much: fast he as he was, he didn’t waste any. And while his guitar playing has a snide, sarcastic edge, his songs are fun and frequently amusing. The party anthem that earned him an audience of college kids in the late 80s is I Ain’t Drunk (I’m Just Drinking), done here with a hilarious bridge where his guitar imitates a belligerent conversation between three drunks in a tavern. There was nobody more adrenalizing at Texas shuffles than Collins (he originally wanted to be an organist, but when his car broke down on the highway, he went off to find a tow truck and someone made off with the brand new Hammond B3 in the trailer that he was pulling, he decided he’d stick with guitar). There are a bunch of them here, all of them absolutely kick-ass: Iceman; the funky Put the Shoe on the Other Foot, and T-Bone Shuffle. There’s also the sarcastic Lights Are On but Nobody’s Home, his lickety-split signature instrumental Frosty, a romp through the standard Travellin’ South and a scorching version of Black Cat Bone. Pretty much everything Collins ever did from the early 80s onwards, even his hastily produced studio albums on Alligator, is worth owning. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

751. Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation

The artsiest and most ornate metal band, at least until the new wave of British metal of the late 70s/early 80s, Blue Oyster Cult blended elegant classical flourishes and epic grandeur into their riff-rocking roar and stomp. Sarcastic, vicious and sometimes satirical, they collaborated with Patti Smith and were a considerable influence on punk, new wave and goth music, covered both by Radio Birdman and the Minutemen. This is their best studio album, from 1973. It kicks off with the split-second precise tripletracked riffage of The Red and the Black, followed by the gorgeously crescendoing O.D.’d on Life Itself. Hot Rails to Hell, Baby Ice Dog and Teen Archer are the heavy tracks here; 7 Screaming Diz-Busters is something of an epic, with a deliciously evil siren of an outro. Mistress of the Salmon Salt is catchy and matter-of-factly macabre; the best song here is the ghoulishly watery Wings Wetted Down, punctuated by a beautifully dark chorus-pedal solo by lead guitarist Buck Dharma. Everything the band released through the live On Your Feet or On Your Knees album is worth hearing; forty years after they started, they’re still touring with a slightly revamped lineup and can still put on a good show. Here’s a random torrent.

750. Blotto – Collected Works

It makes sense that we’d follow Blue Oyster Cult with these Albany, New York pranksters, frequent tourmates in the early 80s and one of the funniest bands ever to go into the studio. Like a louder Weird Al Yankovic, their parodies extended beyond radio pop. Their early MTV hit was I Wanna Be a Lifeguard, a Beach Boys spoof, and the flip side of the single was appropriately titled The B-Side: the single has the hit, but the poor b-side “ain’t got nothing.” Goodbye Mr. Bond is an epic satire of James Bond movies, and Henry Mancini; She’s Got a Big Boyfriend and Gimme the Girl are more straight-up comedy with a beat. The classic moments here are We Are the Nowtones, a brutal sendup of bar bands (someone in the crowd hollers “Play something good!”); Metalhead (a live tour de force that bludgeons every heavy metal cliche ever invented) and My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie, a spoof of death-on-the-highway pop: after the accident, the dead girl’s boyfriend wants everybody to remember that her underwear was clean. During their heyday, the band put out just a single album and a few ep’s; this independent reissue from the early zeros includes pretty much everything. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is up on cdbaby. The surviving band members reunite frequently for live dates in upstate New York and are as amusing as ever.

749. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2

Pretty much what you would expect from a lyrical genius with an awareness of the world around him. Immortal Technique gets universal props for his style, but nobody casts as wide a net and brings in so much knowledge. This is his 2003 response to 9/11 and the terror of the Bush regime. The Cause of Death is the most spot-on critique issued by any musician since that time, Freedom of Speech re-emphasizes the CIA-Bin Laden connection and Bush’s crackdown on human rights that followed, and Leaving the Past drives the point home yet again: “Humanity’s gone in a gravity bong done by a Democrat/Republican Cheech and Chong.” “Immortal Technique is poison to the Patriot Act,” he snarls on The Point of No Return, a crystal-clear portrait of a world gone forever. Peruvian Cocaine sympathetically explores the world of the terrorized peasants who make the stuff (Tech has no sympathy for the drug lords). The Message and the Money and Industrial Revolution are two of the funniest and most apt critiques of the music industry ever written; Crossing the Boundary equates cultural imperialism on the part of American multinationals with the corporate hijacking of rap. The 4th Branch is a slam at the corporate media; Harlem Streets and Internally Bleeding paint a surreal picture of the everyday horrorshow in impoverished America. Mumia Abu-Jamal also guests eloquently on a couple of tracks including Homeland and Hip-Hop: “Do you think duct tape and color codes will make you safer?” Is this the greatest rap album ever made? One of them, anyway. Here’s a random torrent.

748. The Bobby Fuller Four – Never To Be Forgotten: The Best of the Mustang Years

The two most popular “best albums” lists on the web both include something by Buddy Holly, and that’s cool – if you play rock guitar, he’s worth knowing. For us, it’s hard to shake the association with boomer nostalgia, not to mention that interminable Don McLean monstrosity that pops up during your trip to the grocery store and is still going when you leave. So in lieu of Buddy Holly we give you a vastly underrated early rocker from Texas, heavily influenced by Holly, who also died before his time. In the case of Bobby Fuller, it was a murder that was never solved, one that was particularly suspicious since the investigating cops in Los Angeles, 1966, appear to have withheld evidence. Which is tragic, because in his 24 years Fuller not only took rockabilly to the next level, he was also adept at surf music. And was a particularly good singer: he didn’t do the cliched hiccupping vocal thing like so many of his contemporaries. This massive 44-track box set approaches overkill – the last of the three cds include innumerable outtakes and even a shoe commercial – but it’s nothing if not exhaustive. The song everybody knows is I Fought the Law, immortalized (and taken to the next level) by the Clash, along with the similarly catchy Let Her Dance, Julie, A New Shade of Blue, Another Sad and Lonely Night and Love’s Made a Fool of You. The surf stuff – an irresistible version of Our Favorite Martian, and Thunder Reef, for example – hint that he could have had a whole other career in instrumental rock, or maybe even in psychedelia, if he’d lived. Here’s a random torrent.

747. The Del Lords – Get Tough: The Best of the Del Lords

We’re going to stick with two Americana rock records in a row, moving forward a couple of decades. Taking their name from the director of the Three Stooges movies, the Del Lords were led by Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner along with hotshot lead player Eric Ambel and a killer rhythm section of bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank Funaro. Critics and college radio djs in the 80s loved them, but despite a well-earned reputation for strong songwriting and killer live shows, they never broke through to a mass audience (this was at the end of the era when big record labels were signing good bands). This 2006 reissue is a strong representation of their recently resuscitated career. It’s got their best song, the luscious janglefest Burning in the Flame of Love, along with their rocking adaptation of the 20s blues song How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. Cheyenne is another rich, lush blend of jangle and clang; Judas Kiss is a gem of a powerpop tune, although this version pales next to Ambel’s own interpretation. There’s also the brisk, Dire Straits-ish Love on Fire; the Neil Young-influenced About You, foreshadowing the turn Ambel would take as a solo artist; Love Lies Dying, which blends 80s new wave with Americana; the Georgia Satellites-style riff-rock of Crawl in Bed, the comedic I Play the Drums and a ballsy version of Folsom Prison Blues. All of this is streaming at myspace (but be careful, you have to reload the page after each song unless you want to be assaulted by a loud audio ad). Here’s a random torrent; the band reunited in 2010, with a series of shows in Spain, hopefully some more stateside to follow.

746. Edith Piaf – 65 Titres Originaux

The prototypical noir cabaret singer, tiny but tough, brassy but brittle, Edith Piaf earned the right to sound world-weary by the time she’d hit her teens. Brought up in a whorehouse, she may or may not have been a child prostitute, might have hired the hitman who killed a guy who wanted to pimp her out, lived hard and died young when all the booze and drugs caught up with her. In between she became the voice of a people – and she did it her way, defying convention. As a singer, she never marketed herself as a sex object, and she wrote many of her own lyrics – the ring of authenticity in all those tales of street urchindom is no affectation. Among the thousands of Piaf collections out there, we picked this three-disc reissue from a few years ago because it has so many songs, and most of them date from her peak period in the mid-thirties through the fifties. La Vie en Rose is the one that everybody knows, and by comparison to her other stuff at least, it’s schlock. Instead, try the bitter Milord, the anguish of La Foule (The Crowd, which is shockingly not on this album), the brooding, suspenseful Padam Padam or the downright creepy L’Accordeoniste. The rest of the songs range from gypsy jazz (Les Momes de la Cloche/Kids in the Street), to lyrically rich, wistful ballads (Le Disque Use/Used Record); ragtime (Un Refrain Courait Dans la Rue/There’s a Rumor Going Around); lush orchestrated tours de force (Je M’en Fous Pas Mal/I Don’t Give a Fuck) and completely over-the-top stuff like Misericorde, which is totally goth, right down to the tolling bell and the choir of bass voices. 65 songs here: every time, the pain in her voice transcends any language barrier. Here’s a random torrent.

745. Earth Wind & Fire – I Am

This is as pop as we ever get here, although at the time this came out it wasn’t impossible for a good band to hit the top ten like this one did. The black ELO’s 1979 release captures them at their lushest and most ornate. Ironically (or, sadly, maybe not so ironically), neither of the big hits here were written by the band. Boogie Wonderland (brilliantly punked out a few years later by the Lemonheads) is a cover, and El Lay schlockmeister David Foster provided at least the groundwork for the woozy electric piano-and-synthesizer ballad After the Love Is Gone. The rest is what the band is best known for, catchy, tuneful funk with fearlessly gargantuan string and vocal arrangements. In the Stone is the one everybody knows; Can’t Let Go, You and I and Let Your Feelings Show have the same buoyant slink. With its off-center portamento synth, Star actually evokes what ELO was doing at the time; there’s also the harder-hitting vamp Rock That, a live concert standard. For those who question this album’s presence here instead of the band’s far more raw, psychedelic, Parliament-style funk from the early 70s, this may be slick, but it’s hardly stupid – and everything the band ever did prior to this point is also worth a listen. A Vegas-style version of the band, which might but probably doesn’t include any original members, continues to tour. Here’s a random torrent (when you see the album cover, click for the link).

744. The Auteurs – After Murder Park

Vintage violence from 1996. One of the most underrated rock songwriters ever, Auteurs frontman/guitarist Luke Haines wrote most of this album after an unsuccessful stagedive that might well have killed him had he not been so wasted when he took it. This murky, slashing, often murderously psychedelic album is the menacing masterpiece that John Cale should have made in the 70s but didn’t. Haines sets lurid disassociative images of death, depravity and desperation to jagged, lo-fi distorted guitar, roaring organ, stark cello and a pounding rhythm section. The high point, ironically, is the blithe, deadpan Beatlesque pop of Unsolved Child Murder, which echoes potently in the title cut that closes the album. There’s also the snarling powerpop gem Light Aircraft on Fire, the savagely ornate Child Brides, Everything You Say Will Destroy You, Dead Sea Navigators and Fear of Flying. Buddha draws on no wave, Fear of Flying on Led Zep; New Brat in Town and Married to a Lazy Lover foreshadow the even crueler heights Haines would reach as a social critic in Black Box Recorder. The band broke up shortly after the album came out, reuniting three years later for the equally brilliant if considerably more terse How I Learned to Love the Bootboys. Haines continues to play and record under his own name. Here’s a torrent via shouldabeenhuge – thanks for this.

743. The Alan Parsons Project – The Turn of a Friendly Card

From 1981, this is their most theatrical album. The poor man’s Pink Floyd had a good run with a series of loosely thematic collections of artsy, orchestrated pop anthems, from their 1976 debut Tales of Mystery and Imagination through 1984′s Ammonia Avenue. The trouble with all of them is that alongside the good songs, there’s always a real stinker or two. We offer you this bright, slickly cynical concept album about gambling, chance and existential angst as the band’s most consistent effort. And there is one real stinker here, but otherwise the tracks are solid: even the big top 40 hit, the caucasianally funky Games People Play has an absolutely scorching Ian Bairnson guitar solo. The track that still gets classic rock airplay is the sad ballad Time, a ripoff of Us and Them, which helped solidify songwriter Eric Woolfson’s reputation as a minor league Roger Waters. Nothing Left to Lose is also poignant, as is the swaying, brooding instrumental The Ace of Swords. There’s also the sarcastic casino theme Snake Eyes, the apprehensive May Be a Price to Pay and the warily cinematic five-part title suite interspersed among the tracks. Caveat: some of you may find this overproduced and considerably more pop-oriented than the other albums on this list. Here’s a random torrent.

742. Gillen & Turk – Backs to the Wall

Songwriter Fred Gillen Jr. appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “this guitar kills fascists” for his own six-string. This 2008 collaboration with first-class Americana multi-instrumentalist Matt Turk – whose performance on a variety of stringed instruments here is as soulful as it is virtuosic – perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the final, tense months of the Bush regime, when nobody knew if Dick Cheney was going to cede power or had something even more apocalyptic up his sleeve. The songs here alternate between fiery and brooding: this album is the high-water mark for both artists up to this point. The centerpiece is the ferocious, prophetic Fall Down, a nightmare scenario where the blowback from the war comes back to haunt us much like Malcolm X predicted. They explore smalltown anomie with the gorgeously harmony-driven These Nameless Streets, inner city bleakness with the allusive fingerstyle blues Satchmo, love during wartime with the stark Takes Me Away and aptly make the connection between military service and a jail sentence on the brutal war veteran’s remembrance, Killing Machine. The eerie psychedelic jam Three resembles early Country Joe & the Fish. The lone cover here is a joyous, piano-drenched version of Steve Kirkman’s Peace Rant. Turk also contributes Peruvian-flavored political pop, Gillen a soaring, historically aware anthem about the Black Hills. The album ends optimistically with the Beatlesque title track and the mandolin-infused singalong This Town Is Our Song. Hard copies of this one quickly sold out, but it’s still available at cdbaby and itunes.

741. Tuatara – Trading with the Enemy

Best known for their 1997 debut Breaking the Ethers, postrock instrumentalists Tuatara take their name from a lizard native to New Zealand, but their sound blends Indonesian gamelan textures with rock and outsider jazz. This one from the following year is their loudest and most diverse album. With vibraphone, bells, sax and guitar from REM’s Peter Buck, they blend hypnotically ringing, shimmering nocturnes like The Streets of New Delhi, Smugglers Cove and the rustic Japanese folk feel of the Koto Song with more upbeat jazz-oriented stuff that sometimes takes on a cinematic feel, as with Night in the Emerald City. Fela the Conqueror introduces a Afrobeat rhythm; L’Espionnage de Pomme de Terre is as psychedelic as they get here. The best track is the long ska vamp that closes the album, PCH/Afterburner, a live showstopper. Here’s a random torrent via frekenblog – thanks for this!

740. Khaira Arby – Timbuktu Tarab

A cousin of Ali Farka Toure, Arby is sort of the Aretha Franklin of Mali. This 2010 album blends desert blues with elements of 60s American soul, psychedelic rock and even echoes of country music. Her two-guitar band here, playing through all kinds of vintage effects, is augmented by ngoni lute and screechy ritti fiddle, adding extra layers of spikiness to the hypnotically rambling, careening songs. Arby sings in four dialects, railing against offenses against women, her rasp soaring over the maelstrom. Some of the songs update folk themes – a tribute to a legendary warrior, for example – while others tackle contemporary topics, including a blistering broadside against female genital mutilation. Garage rock riffs give way to patiently circling Malian themes, the guitars sometimes playing off each other, sometimes intermingling to the point that it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. File this under psychedelia – it’s a throwback to the golden age of the 60s, in spirit and in style. Here’s a random torrent.

739. Alice Lee – Lovers and Losers

Her third album, from 2005, edgily blends oldschool soul vocals and vibes with hip-hop and tropical rhythms, with Lee playing guitars and keys and backed by an inspired crew including Pere Ubu’s Tony Maimone (who also engineered the album) on bass. Her contralto voice cools the burn from lyrics that range from torchy to arsonistic, although the bitterness is sometimes cushioned by her wry sense of humor. A lot of this sounds like what Fiona Apple was reaching for about five years ago but never could hit. In a perfect world, the big hits would have been the concert favorite A New Bruise, the hypnotic trip-hop Retrograde Heart and the catchy, wounded soul-pop of Perfect Girl (which Lee assures she’ll never be). Friendly Fire sets artsy janglerock over a slinky funk beat; Heroin jolts you with a big metal guitar crescendo. The swirling, trippily atmospheric Gloria and I Breathe evoke Lee’s brief flirtation with downtempo chillout music; the masterpiece here is Last Night (as in “last night on earth”), one of the most evocative nocturnes ever written. Lee ends the album with the acoustic soul of Going Home, the gorgeously funky, bass-driven No Idea and the solo acoustic tropicalia of Hard to Forget. The album doesn’t seem to have made it to the share sites yet, but it’s still available at Lee’s site and cdbaby.

738. Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx

A prime example of how good East Coast hardcore hip-hop got in the mid-90s, the first of the “solo” Wu-Tang albums, Raekwon’s 1995 release is really just a Wu album in disguise. Like George Clinton, the Wu-Tang Clan aren’t just great lyricists, they’re great businessmen, always finding a way to have something new out there that everybody wants. Along with The Chef, this featured Ghostface, U-God, GZA, Cappadonna, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa plus cameos from Nas and Method Man. Raekwon seldom gets a track to himself, but that’s ok: the energy is high and gets everybody to take their game up a notch. Together they sprint through just about every style that was popular in hip-hop at the time. The big hit with the girls was Ice Cream; the big gangsta hit was Incarcerated Scarfaces. Spot Rushers (which samples a malt liquor commercial), Wu-Gambinos and Criminology also work the gangsta tip. Nas duels it out on Verbal Intercourse; the machine-gun rhymes sputter fast and furious on Knowledge God, Guillotine (Swords) and Glaciers of Ice, with an aptly psychedelic Electric Prunes sample. RZA’s horror-movie production is at the peak of its power here: if the lyrics hit a bump, there’s always an eerie electric piano riff or sweeping wash of strings to maintain the brooding ambience. Here’s a random torrent.

737. Grieg – The Peer Gynt Suites: Malmo Symphony Orchestra/Bjarte Engeset

A heavy metal classic from 1875 – that’s when Edvard Grieg wrote a bunch of theme music (much of it including a massive choir) for the Henrik Ibsen play. Later he divided up the hits into a couple of suites, the first being the one pretty much everybody knows: the sleepily optimistic morning theme, haunting ambient dirge Aase’s Death, the creepy waltz Anitra’s Dance and In the Hall of the Mountain King, most recently done by Trent Reznor and in years past by Epica (ok), Apocalyptica (awesome, dude) and ELO (the heaviest of them all). The second suite includes the cinematic Abduction of the Bride, Ingrid’s Lament, more creepiness with the Arabian Dance, plus another funeral theme, some traveling music, a nasty shipwreck scene and a sad lament. In 2007, The Malmo Symphony under Bjarte Engeset did a spiritedly competent version of all this plus six orchestral songs including the “Mountain Thrall,” a narrative about trolls in the underbrush. It doesn’t quite match the truly epic sweep of Sir Thomas Beecham’s recording with the London Symphony Orchestra from the 1930s, but reissues of that one pop up in used vinyl stores from time to time (his 1957 stereo re-recording isn’t all that special). Here’s a random torrent.

736. Lucky Peterson – Beyond Cool

The rare child prodigy who lived up to early expectations, Lucky Peterson made his debut on album at age six. By sixteen, he’d become Otis Rush’s favorite pianist. He’s also a fiery, virtuosic presence as a lead guitarist, and most recently, as a church organist. In concert, he’ll play all three instruments, often in the same song. His early albums on Rounder are perfectly decent, but his stuff from the 90s onward is absolutely brilliant (with one exception, the Lifetime album, a one-off plunge into contemporary “R&B”). This one from 1993 is characteristic: if he’s new to you, a lot of his stuff is streaming at deezer. This one’s got incisive stuff like I’m Talking To You and You Haven’t Done Nothin, more pensive but equally intense material such as Count on Me, an organ cover of Hendrix’ Up from the Skies, vintage soul-funk like Compared to What, snarling ballads like Pouring Money on a Drowning Love Affair, and the smoldering, seven-minute title track. By they time they reach a cover of Drivin’ Wheel, it’s pretty anticlimactic. The production is purist and pristine – no big-room drum sound, no slick wash of guitar effects, no cheesy synthesizers. Maybe because of all the early attention, we take this guy for granted: he’s truly one of the titans of blues. Here’s a random torrent via barin99.

735. PJ Harvey – Dry

She came out roaring with this one in 1992 and never looked back. PJ Harvey has had an impressively eclectic career as a goth, art-rocker and torch singer, but this is arguably her loudest, most aggressive and most memorable effort. The iconic classic is Dress, her scorching first single. The bluespunk stuff shows what great things can happen if you let your daughter grow up listening to Howlin Wolf: O Stella, Victory, and the hypnotic, R.L. Burnside stomp of Joe. Oh My Lover is goth blues through the prism of Patti Smith; Happy and Bleeding echoes Siouxsie Sioux; Sheela-Na-Gig foreshadows Randi Russo. On Plants and Rags, you can hear why Kurt Cobain liked her so much. She also gets tricky with the time signature on the artful, Siouxsie-esque Hair, Fountain and the ominously allusive Water. Pretty much everything she ever did other than her brief flirtation with trip-hop is worth hearing. Here’s a random torrent.

734. The Scofflaws – Live Vol. 1

With jazz chops and punk attitude, Long Island, New York’s Scofflaws were one of the most entertaining of the third-wave ska bands of the 90s – and fifteen years later, still are. On this 1997 live set (conceived as the first of a series of live albums) frontmen Sammy Brooks – vocals and tenor sax – and Buford O’Sullivan – vox and trombone – work the crowd into a frenzy as the rest of the eight-piece band cooks behind them, through a mix of oldschool ska classics, boisterous originals and a characteristically amusing, pretty punked-out cover of These Boots Are Made for Walking. The instrumentals here are killer: alto saxophonist Paul Gebhardt’s Skagroovie sounds like a Skatalites classic; they rip through Tommy McCook’s Ska-La Parisian, Jackie Opel’s Til the End of Time and do a neat original arrangement of Gerry Mulligan’s Bernie’s Tune. The briskly shuffling Groovin’ Up is a launching pad for blistering solos around the horn, while the baritone sax-driven reggae-rap Nude Beach echoes the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire. The surreal Paul Getty offers a raised middle finger to the boss – the outro singalong, “Work sucks!” is classic. There’s also the bouncy seduction anthem After the Lights, the comedic Back Door Open, the even funnier Ska-La-Carte, the horror movie sonics of Spider on My Bed and a homage to William Shatner, the “sexiest fucking skinhead in outer space.” Here’s a random torrent.

733. Naughty By Nature – Poverty’s Paradise

Ever now and then we feature something on this list that was popular nationwide: this 1995 smash (it made the Billboard top ten, for what that was worth) is one of them. Best known for their comedic 1989 hit O.P.P. (i.e. Other People’s Parts – the joke is that you can change the last “P” according to gender), this tight and amusing crew put New Jersey on the map for hip-hop during the golden age. This one perfectly balances hook-driven hits with surprisingly complex, pensive narratives about ghetto solidarity and survival through hard times – the title, and the brief narrative on the album, reflect that. The big party anthem is Clap Yo Hands; the drug-slinging ghetto entrepreneurs are represented on City of Ci-Lo, Hang out and Hustle, Slang Bang and Klickow-Klickow. Feel Me Flow, a huge radio hit, is a homage to technical excellence that lives up to its boasts; Craziest is an irresistibly catchy shout-out to fans around the world. The strongest and most memorable tracks here are the conscious ones: Holdin’ Fort, the suprisingly bitter, spot-on Chain Remains and the wry World Go Round. Here’s a random torrent.

732. The Church – Of Skins and Heart

Who would have known that when the Australian rockers came out with this one in 1981 that they’d still be going, absolutely undiminished, thirty years later (with New York shows at the Highline on Feb 16 and at B.B. King’s the next day). Blending the epic grandeur of Pink Floyd, David Bowie surrealism and the luscious jangle and clang of the Byrds, Steve Kilbey’s warily allusive lyricism here distantly foreshadows the visionary, apocalyptic turn he’d take later in the decade. The Unguarded Moment (a cover, actually, written by a friend of Kilbey’s at the time) is the iconic hit, sort of the Australian equivalent of Freebird. Opening with a blast of guitar fury, For a Moment We’re Strangers strips a cheap hookup to its sordid bones, while the ghostly, gorgeous Bel-Air hints at the otherworldly side they’d mine on albums like Priest=Aura. Other standout tracks include the roaring epic Is This Where You Live; the glimmering country slide guitar ballad Don’t Open the Door to Strangers; the Kinks-inflected Tear It All Away, and the hook-driven janglerock smash Too Fast for You. Even the straight-up powerpop like Fighter Pilot/Korean War, Chrome Injury (a new wave take on Iron Man), the proto-U2 Memories in Future Tense and the riff-rocking She Never Said all have their moments. Here’s a random torrent; a cd worth getting is the brand-new reissue that combines both the Australian and self-titled American release’s tracks along with extensive liner notes from twelve-string guitar genius Marty Willson-Piper.

731. Aswad – Live and Direct

Along with Steel Pulse, Aswad were one of the creme de la creme of the thriving British roots reggae scene in the late 70s/early 80s. Their studio albums through the mid-80s have a similarly complex, jazzy feel along with the requisite social consciousness; this scorching live set, recorded at London’s Notting Hill Carnival in 1983, captures the original band at the absolute top of their game. With the horn section, percussion, guitars and keys going full tilt, they run through the politically-fueled anthems – Not Guilty, Not Satisfied and the wickedly catchy African Children – alongside dancefloor vamps like Roots Rocking, Drum & Bass Line and a brief excursion into latin music with Soca Rumba. Likewise, their Rockers Medley mixes lush ballads – Ease Up and Your Love’s Got a Hold on Me – with the fiery Revolution and Waterpumping. They end it on a high note with Love Fire, stopping and restarting as the crowd screams. The band’s front line has remained the same over the years although the backing unit has turned over numerous times: after a predictable deviation into a more digital, formulaic style late in the 80s, they’ve recently revived their original roots sound with impressive results. Here’s a random torrent.

730. Willie Nile – Streets of New York

Nobody writes a more potent rock anthem than Willie Nile. An iconic figure in the New York rock underground, he managed to catch the tail end of the Greenwich Village folk scene, made an early mark during the punk era, survived the the 80s and then the indie era before really taking off in the past decade – he’s huge in Europe. This one, his next-to-most recent studio album from 2006 captures a little bit of the best of all of them. We picked it over the ferocious Live From the Streets of New York album because the tracks are a wee bit stronger. It begins with the surreal Welcome to My Head, the backbeat powerpop of Asking Annie Out and then the snide shuffle Game of Fools, with the Wallflowers’ Ramee Jafee on organ. Nile’s machine-gun lyrics carry the bitter era-spanning travelogue Back Home; the understatedly snarling Irish ballad The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square perfectly captures “the kind of scene politicians adore,” with “”hipsters and posers galore…a million people will say they were there.” The even more savage Best Friends Money Can Buy blends Who stomp with Byrds jangle, followed by the plaintively majestic Faded Flower of Broadway, a surreal, Beatlesque Rickenbacker guitar anthem. The centerpiece is the volcanic Cell Phones Ringing in the Pockets of the Dead, an evocation of the Madrid train bombings, lit up by Mellencamp guitarist Andy York’s pyrotechnics. Surprisingly, some sleuthing didn’t turn up any links for torrents; it’s still available at cdbaby and Nile’s home page (click the link in the title above).

729. Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays – As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls

If you’re wondering what on earth Duke Ellington is doing at #759, with these guys thirty albums ahead, relax: all of these are in completely random order. You probably know this one even if you don’t think you do, especially if you watch nature programs on PBS. Babbling brook in early spring? Dollars to donuts that’s Pat Metheny’s cool, rippling guitar somewhere in the background. Which is the rap on him: Metheny is one of the genuinely nicest guys in jazz, and cynics are quick to dismiss him for being a one-trick pony. This is his most pensive album, from 1981, rather obvious from the black-and-white album cover shot of a tornado. The centerpiece is the often strikingly brooding, atmospheric, roughly twenty-minute title suite: it’s as much Mays’ triumph as it is Metheny’s. September Fifteenth is a thoughtful Bill Evans homage; the Americana jazz returns with a vengeance on It’s For You and Ozark, both of which have been used as tv mood music for decades. Estupenda Graca foreshadows the turn Metheny would take toward tropicalia and latin sounds later in the decade. Here’s a random torrent.

728. The Moonlighters – Live in Baden-Baden

This one was a hard call. Everything the well-loved harmony-driven, Hawaiian-flavored, oldtime New York swing band has released, from their swoony 2000 debut Dreamland, through the bristling charm of 2009′s Enchanted, is worth owning. We picked this 2004 release because it so vividly illustrates how effortlessly tight the arrangements and the tricky layers of vocals are in a live setting. Effervescent yet edgy frontwoman/uke player Bliss Blood (who as a teenager played in S&M punk legends the Pain Teens) is best known for writing songs that sound like classics from the 1920s, and this album is full of them. It’s got her best one, Blue and Black-Eyed, an eerie account of a desperate prostitute leaping from the fire escape at the notorious Bowery dive McGuirk’s Suicide Hall. The hypnotic Chaining up the Moonlight matches that one’s brooding ambience; most of the other tracks, like the jaunty hobo tune Ballad of a Gink, the casually seductive Desperado and a scurrying cover of My Blackbirds Are Bluebirds Now are considerably more upbeat. Trombonist/crooner Michael Arenella adds sly hokum blues vocals on a cover of When I Take My Sugar to Tea; the rest of the album includes an unselfconsciously romantic Hawaiian medley, a biting version of There Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears and the hilariously risque Mr. Mitchell. A little sleuthing didn’t turn up any torrents, but the album is still available via cdbaby and itunes.

727. Patato y Totico

Raw, primal and hypnotic (some would say magical) but also cutting-edge, this landmark 1967 Afro-Cuban session came together when Cuban-American singer/conguero Eugenio “Totico” Arango joined forces with his fellow conguero Carlos “Patato” Valdes on a high-energy mix of classic rhumba tunes and originals, adding extra spice to the concoction with legendary tres guitarist Arsenio Rodriguez and brilliant latin bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez. Essentially, this is the kind of streetcorner latin music played by gaggles of older guys throughout New York neighborhoods, taken to the next level. They give Jorge Ben’s Mas Que Nada a thorough workout, take a jaunt through the hood with Nuestro Barrio, get the passersby dancing with Ya Yo and offer a memorable dis with Ingrato Corazon. The rest of the ten tracks here include the santero chant Agua Que Va Caer (the recently deceased Totico was a highly sought-after santeria shaman); the hilarious En El Callejon and the big dancefloor hit Dilo Como Yo, covered by a million bands including Antibalas. Here’s a random torrent.

726. Bauhaus – Press the Eject and Give Me the Tape

Thirty years later, it’s easy to pigeonhole Bauhaus as the prototypical goth band, but at the time they came out they were nothing short of paradigm-shifting: they get too little credit for adding a noise-rock edge to the gleeful gloom. This 1982 live set captures them at their early creative peak: guitarist Daniel Ash can’t quite find what he’s looking for half the time, but it’s the search that’s impossible to turn away from. Meanwhile, the brothers in the rhythm section, bassist David J and drummer Kevin Haskins careen with a visceral chemistry behind Peter Murphy’s sepulchral croon. The iconic classic is the practically ten-minute version of Bela Lugosi’s Dead, with its funeral march bass and Holiday in Cambodia guitar sonics. In the Flat Field remains a concert favorite after all these years; The Man with X-Ray Eyes and Dancing are less energetically morbid than simply energetic. The Spy in the Cab and Kick in the Eye rock out while Hollow Hills and Stigmata Martyr mine darker corners. The 1988 cd reissue includes several bonus tracks from that era including an untight yet memorably Siouxsie-esque dirge cover of I’m Waiting for the Man featuring Nico on lead vocals. It would be one of her last moments on record. Here’s a random torrent.

725. The BoDeans – Joe Dirt Car

Despite their occasional brushes with fame – the powerpop hit Closer to Free was the theme song to a 90s network tv sitcom – the BoDeans have always been colossally underrated. Gifted with not one but two first-rate songwriters, they foreshadowed the advent of alt-country by almost a decade. By the turn of the 90s, they’d moved on to a more anthemic straight-up rock style. This exhilarating 1995 double live album intersperses singer/rhythm guitarist Sam Llanas’ dark, cynical Americana songs among lead player/singer Kurt Neumann’s big rock anthems. The iconic classic here is Idaho, recorded on the spur of the moment at a soundcheck, a brutally sarcastic portait of rural redneck hell. The big hit is their 1985 debut single, the lusciously jangly revenge anthem She’s a Runaway. The scorching Stonesy rockers here are Fade Away, Still the Night, Say About Love and an absolutely volcanic Feed the Fire, alongside the starkly intense Ballad of Jenny Rae – another battered woman’s revenge tale – and Black White and Blood Red. Llanas mines a wry, wistful oldtime country vibe with I’m in Trouble Again and Looking for Me Somewhere; Neumann’s distant, alienated angst gets plenty of space on the jangly concert favorite Paradise and the bitter You Don’t Get Much and True Devotion. More than two dozen tracks here, virtually all of them first-rate and a handful of genuine classics. Almost thirty years after they started, Llanas and Neumann still tour with a revamped version of the band, continuing to pack stadiums throughout the Midwest. Here’s a random torrent.

724.Sharon Goldman – Semi-Broken Heart

Conclusive proof that there actually is such a thing as intelligent folk-pop. The New York songwriter’s 2004 album is sort of an American version of Shoot out the Lights: in a more quietly harrowing way, it chronicles the disollution of a relationship. Against a lush, lusciously jangly backdrop of acoustic and electric guitar and keys, Goldman stoically but plaintively lets the story unveil: the disillusion of Make-Believe and Happy Ever After give way to the wounded Uncertainty and Blue Rain. The big concert favorite (in another era, it would have been a huge radio hit) is Stained Glass Window, a casually chilling epiphany. The richly sweeping, clanging Change gives way to the NYC tableau Never-Ending Skyline, where a glimmer of hope appears. Finally, at the end, Goldman allows herself some righteous rage at the duplicitous cad who broke her heart. Moral of this story: never mess with a songwriter. They always get even in the end. The one thing this album doesn’t have is Goldman’s signature sense of humor: when she’s on her game (check out the Subway Song from her 2007 follow-up album Shake the Stars), she’s off-the-charts hilarious. A little sleuthing didn’t turn up any files floating around, but the album is still up at cdbaby (where there are samples of all the tracks) and at Goldman’s site.

723. Max Steiner – Casablanca: Original Soundtrack

Great movie, but how about that score? “Play it one more time, Sam.” It’s got boogie woogie blues, it’s got jazz standards (As Time Goes By), it’s got classic French chanson (Parlez-Moi d’Amour, recently resurrected by Les Chauds Lapins), period perfect for 1942 with a stunningly eclectic, global sensibility. The Middle Eastern and North African-tinged moments, fleeting as they may be, are arguably the high points of the soundtrack. Along with Erich Korngold, Max Steiner was one of Hollywood’s busiest film composers from the 30s through the 50s – he even had a pop hit with the instrumental Theme from a Summer Place, which has survived as a staple of the surf rock repertoire. What’s most notable about this score is how much of a mash-up it is: true to the classical world he came out of, Steiner alternates two main themes and then follows with endless, clever variations on them all the way through. Cynics might scowl at the weepy strings in heart-tugging moments – but the scene where Bogey says bye to Ingrid Bergman tugs harder than most. If you’re looking for just the score, it’s here (you’ll have to register; it’s free); the whole movie is here.

722. The Quintet – Jazz at Massey Hall

The evening got off to a bad start. Charlie Parker was missing his sax, as usual, and had to borrow a plastic one. Then hardly anybody showed up – it was a cold spring night in pre-global warming era Toronto, 1953, and there was a big hockey playoff game going on. So a tiny crowd got to see a hall of fame lineup – Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach – play an absolutely scorching set. And to be fair to Bird, he’d been working out a lot of material on the new Grafton plastic sax, so he knew what he was doing – which is something of an understatement. He didn’t phone this one in, and the rest of the crew rose to the occasion despite not drawing enough bodies to get paid. The original lp only contains about half of the material on the 2004 reissue, which was remastered to include the original rhythm tracks (Mingus redid his basslines in the studio on the original album because the original concert master had him too low in the mix). The songs are a mix of dark burners – Juan Tizol’s Perdido, Diz’s A Night in Tunisia – plus jazzed-up Broadway tunes like All the Things You Are, Embraceable You and Lullaby of Birdland along with a mellower trio set and a long drum solo not included on the original record. Here’s a random torrent.

721. The Greenwich Village Orchestra – Greatest Hits 2006-2008

Fifty years ago, orchestras in smaller cities all over the world consistently put out first-class recordings. Some of them still do. For almost fifteen years the Greenwich Village Orchestra, as you would imagine for an ensemble from a New York neighborhood that until the last decade was a hotbed of good music, has played with a flair and virtuosty on par with any other orchestra passing through town. Here conductor Barbara Yahr leads the group through a spirited version of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, a vigorous Firebird Suite that arguably outdoes the composer’s own version (see #878, Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky), and a dynamically rich, anguished take of Shostakovich’s Stalin-era, brutally narrative Tenth Symphony that may be unsurpassed by any other. After that, there’s the Elgar Cello Concerto and a Rossini overture for the opera crowd. This one hasn’t made it to rapidshare or megaupload as far as we can tell, but it’s still available at the orchestra’s site. Also recommended – the 2002-03 “greatest hits” album including works by Brahms, Handel, Grieg, the allegro non troppo from Franck’s D Minor Symphony and selections from Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

720. Abby Travis – Glittermouth

Abby Travis is one of the greatest bass players in rock. She’s also a terrific songwriter, in a sultry, sinister noir art-pop vein: she beat the Dresden Dolls to it by ten years. Her solo debut, Cutthroat Standards and Black Pop, from 2000, is the critic’s choice. To be stubborn, we went with this one from six years later. It’s more diverse, and beneath the shiny veneer, just as menacing. The big stunner is Now Was, a towering, Jeff Lynne style art-pop ballad that makes a potent showcase for her breathy unease. There’s a lot of trip-hop here, like Portishead at their creepiest, along with the noir cabaret of Hunger, the gently ominous psychedelic downtempo pop of Chase Me, the big 6/8 anthem Roberto – a goth response to the Tubes’ Don’t Touch Me There? – and the off-center, surprisingly upbeat little goth waltz Shoot for the Stars: “Shoot for the stars, you might land on the moon.” Travis is sister to filmmaker Dave Travis, who has a very auspicious new documentary A History Lesson, about the California punk scene coming out. The album hasn’t made it to rapidshare or mediafire yet as far as we can tell but it’s still up at cdbaby.

719. Norden Bombsight – Pinto

Norden Bombsight are not the shortest-lived band on this list, but they’re a contender. The Brooklyn band lasted roughly two years, played maybe two dozen live shows, shot a video and then broke up in the fall of 2010. Before they did, they made this scorching, menacing art-rock record, a hallucinatory, shapeshifting blend of early 1970s art-rock and psychedelia with gothic flourishes. Guitarist David Marshall hammers out wild tremolo-picking and anguished David Gilmour-style sustained lines against keyboardist/singer Rachael Bell’s funereal organ and piano while bassist Jonathan Gundel twists upwards like a snake over the hypnotic, careening gallop of drummer Julian Morello and percussionist Derrick Barnicoat. The album opens with the distant shriek of a garbage truck with the aptly titled Never to Be Seen Again. The nightmare expands with the surreal Four on the Lawn, gets lush and Procol Harum-esque with Help Desk and then echoes Pink Floyd on Other Side. “Side two” is a suite: the anguished Siouxsie-esque lament Raven (the only song to ever commemorate West Haven, California) is followed by the southwestern gothic epic Snakes, the savage Altercation, the Grateful Deadly murder ballad Virgil and then the ornately shuffling, funky Water Song. And then it’s over. The band breakup was an amicable one; whatever configuation these musicians end up in is worth keeping an eye on. The whole album is still streamable at the band’s reverbnation site.

718. The Alkaholiks – 21 and Over

This album might as well be called 21 and Under: it was a rite of passage for high school and college kids back in the 90s, and still keeps the party going when everybody’s half in the bag. Back in 1993, when everybody else was rapping about pot, these California “hip-hop drunkies” carved out a niche for themselves with some of the funniest drinking songs in recent memory. What’s most impressive is that nobody stumbles, nobody slurs their words, and the rhymes are as sophisticated as anything coming out of the East Coast at the time. And they were great in concert. The big hit was Only When I’m Drunk, whose catalog of drunken misadventures is more cautionary tale than boast. But with the opening cut, Likwit and Last Call, they definitely have the beer goggles on. Can’t Tell Me Shit, and Bullshit, are where the booze gets into the muscles. Ganja finally makes an appearance on an update of the Rick James hit Mary Jane, where it’s obvious that the crew have no objection to other types of intoxication. Not the deepest album out there, but it’s also not stupid. Their two other albums, Coast II Coast and Likwidation are also worth a spin. Much of this is streaming at myspace (but be careful, you have to reload the page after each song or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad). Here’s a random torrent.

717. The Larval Organs – Posthumous

This careening, intense New York punk/metal band put out a couple of lo-fi limited-edition ep’s during their brief 2004-06 lifetime and this is the better of the two. The original, long out of print, had just four amazing songs. The grand guignol dysfunctional holiday scenario Ziploc Torso and the explosively manic-depressive Devil Come Madness capture the band at their loudest. City Parks is a characteristically vivid portrait of angst and alienation; maybe ironically, the classic here is the uncharacteristically upbeat janglerock anthem Mansion of Your Skull, a rare example of a love song that doesn’t suck. The narrator’s “death machine rusts in the yard” while he reveals that “my heaven is a hall in the mansion of your skull that I wander through.” A recent reissue comes with welcome bonus tracks: the inscrutably bizarre, catchy anthem Israel, the hauntingly funny Wizard Gardenia, Heaven Is a Drag, and Close to the Bone. Frontman Daniel Bernstein a.k.a. Cockroach, a brilliant and prolific songwriter, would go on to front the equally assaultive Whisper Doll and then chamber-pop band Hearth before going solo, frequently collaborating with another brilliant, brooding songwriter, Erin Regan.

716. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys – The Tiffany Transcriptions

When we first started the countdown, we had a rule: no box sets. If you’ve followed us for awhile, you’ve noticed that we’ve made an exception for pre-album era artists and we’re going to do this for Bob Wills since A) he invented western swing and B) he claimed to have invented rock music – in 1929 – an argument for which there’s a strong case. Whether he’s jazzing up country music or putting a country twang on jazz or the blues, he’s pushing the envelope, and he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for it. This massive ten-cd box set, first issued on vinyl in the 70s, collects a series of 1945-47 recordings made by his production company, Tiffany Records, which were sent to radio stations as complete shows. Because these versions weren’t limited to the brief space of a 78 RPM side, the band got to jam them out more and had a ball with them: this is sort of the holy grail of western swing. All the hits are here: Trouble in Mind, Faded Love, San Antonio Rose, Milk Cow Blues, Sittin’ on Top of the World (appropriated by the Grateful Dead), Steel Guitar Rag, Shame on You and dozens more. Hard to find as a complete download because of its size; individual discs are floating around. A couple of good places to start are the awesome Western Swing 78 and The Rockin Gipsy blogs.

715. The Church – Hologram of Baal

The one band featured on this list more than any other thus far, this is the Australian art-rockers’ big 1998 comeback: in a way, it perfectly capsulizes their career. It’s got lush, gorgeous janglerock songs like Anesthesia and Louisiana; hypnotic, swirling, atmospheric mood pieces like Another Earth; the brutal satire of Tranquility and The Great Machine; the blistering multitracked guitars of No Certainty Attached; the hauntingly elegaic This Is It; and the album’s two most compelling cuts, the characteristically enigmatic yet irresistibly catchy Buffalo – which could be a wintry love song – and Ricochet. Lead guitarist Peter Koppes had rejoined the band after a five-year absence and bassist Steve Kilbey had rediscovered his lyrical muse, and everyone sounds completely reinvigorated. It’s a good way to get to know the band if you’re new to them. Here’s a random torrent.

714. Apache – Apache Ain’t Shit

Raw to the extreme, Apache’s only album, from 1994, is typical of so many promising hip-hop artists from the era: signed and then abruptly dumped when their labels realized how difficult it was to move serious weight – in terms of records, that is. And that was 17 years ago. The gleefully crude single that won him notoriety and made him a target of the goody-goody anti-rap crowd was Gangsta Bitch, ostensibly a prime example of hip-hop misogyny. Ironically, Apache generously gave some choice cameos on this album to female rapper Nikki D, including the tongue-in-cheek Tonto and the perversely amusing Who Freaked Who. Otherwise, he was a man of his time, whether with the irresistibly hilarious Blunted Snap Session, the street hustler numbers Make Money – a Biggie ripoff – Get Ya Weight Up and Ways of a Murderahh, the cynical Do Fa Self and the brutally sarcastic title track. There’s also a seventeen-second rant that earned him slightly less controversy when the right wingers branded him an anti-white racist – although it’s likely that he had more white fans than black ones. Apache died in 2010. Here’s a random torrent.

713. Them – The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison

We once went on record as saying that for a moment in the early 60s, the best rock band in the world wasn’t the Beatles, and it sure as hell wasn’t the Rolling Stones. And come to think of it, it might not have been the Yardbirds either. How about Them? Although they seem to have been the model for the Lyres – more turnover among band members than you can count – Ireland’s greatest contribution to rock music until the punk era put out one ecstatically good garage rock single after another. Arguably, Van Morrison’s best moments were as a member of this band. And as great as all their original albums with Van the Man are, we got greedy and picked this reissue because it has more songs. You want the best version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Richard Cory? It’s by Them, right down to that snarling bass hook. How about It’s All Over Now Baby Blue? Or Route 66, Turn On Your Lovelight, I Put a Spell on You, or even a MC5 cover? The originals have the same wild, out-of-control intensity: Gloria, Mystic Eyes, Don’t Start Crying Now, Friday’s Child and more. The rest of the fifty tracks on this double cd set include the considerably laid-back, soulful original of Here Comes the Night (with Jimmy Page on guitar) and the epic Story of Them as well as covers by Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed. After Morrison split, the band continued but were never the same. Here’s a random torrent.

712. Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys – Bluegrass Classics

You may have heard the story about a teenage Jerry Garcia rushing to his motel room to audiotape a televised concert featuring these guys so he could pilfer their licks. By the time this 1964 collection came out, Jim and Jesse McReynolds (guitar and mandolin, respectively) were past their peak as stars of the Bible Belt, even if musically they’d never been better. Like all country bands of the era, they were singles artists; as an introduction, this compilation is as good as any. It’s more virtuosic than fiery; like a lot of roots acts, they were better onstage. It’s a mix of nostalgia, longing, cheating and kiss-off songs: Las Cassas Tennessee, When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again, Drifting and Dreaming of You, I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, The Violet and the Rose, Take My Ring from Your Finger and a bristling version of Nine Pound Hammer among the ten tracks here. Jim drank himself to death just a couple of years after this came out; Jesse, now in his eighties, still performs and hasn’t lost a step, most recently recording an album of Dead covers. Here’s a random torrent.

711. Busta Rhymes – The Coming

If you weren’t around when Busta Rhymes was the leader of the Leaders of the New School, or when he released this, his solo debut, in 1996, you might not know that he was once not only a good lyricist, but a great one. He came up as a charter member of the Flipmode Squad with giants like Redman and Keith Murray (who both guest here), and the genius obviously rubbed off. East Coast hardcore has seldom been as funny or as catchy as these tracks: Do My Thing, his signature Everything Remains Raw, Abandon Ship, Hot Fudge and It’s a Party among the 13 tracks here. ODB guests on Woo Hah!! Got You All in Check and it becomes obvious how much he ripped off Busta Rhymes for his shtick. Busta’s 1997 follow-up, When Disaster Strikes is just about as ferocious and funny as this one; sadly, in the years that followed, his lyrics took a back seat to the googly-eyed persona. Here’s a random torrent.

710. The Rain Parade – Emergency Third Rail Power Trip

One of the forgotten classics of psychedelic rock, this hypnotic 1983 album by one of the era’s finest “paisley underground” bands blends the jangly best of the Beatles and the scorching, lead-guitar driven best of the Jefferson Airplane courtesy of rhythm guitarist David Roback (who would go on to greater fame in the much less interesting Mazzy Star) and ferocious lead player Matt Piucci, whose snaky solos are absolutely transcendent. The album kicks off with the gorgeously George Harrison-esque backbeat hit Talking in My Sleep, folllowed by This Can’t Be Today, hypnotic ambience matched to fiery riff-rock, echoed in I Look Around, more distantly in the swirling 1 Hour 1/2 Ago and left to jangle unselfconsciously in What She’s Done To Your Mind. The two rich dreamscapes here are the misty, jangly Carolyn’s Song and Kaleidoscope; there’s also the sly, trippy anthem Look at Merri and after all this craziness, the welcome, jangly embrace of Saturday’s Asylum. The lyrics aren’t much and the vocals are kind of wimpy, but with all that great guitar, so what. The band would to on to record a killer ep, Explosions in the Glass Palace and live album, Beyond the Sunset before calling it quits in 1987. Here’s a random torrent.

709. Respighi – The Fountains of Rome/The Pines of Rome: Ricardo Muti/Philadelphia Orchestra

File this under cinematic music. It’s not white-knuckle intense, nor is it particularly dark or haunting, but it’s not stupid either. Search for these pieces at amazon and you’ll discover that people who like this also apparently like The Planets by Holst (#788 on this list), which makes sense. Ottorino Respighi loved Rome like we love New York: the Fountains illustrates ten historic fountains at various times of day, while the Pines is more of an integral work. There are lots of good recordings out there to choose from: we picked this 1990 recording because it has both suites plus the Roman Festivals mini-suite (but not the Ancient Airs and Dances, which are also worth snagging).  Listen closely and you’ll hear orchestral approximations of flocks of pigeons, gladiators thrown to the lions, haggling at the greenmarket and a thousand other street scenes: it’s surprising that these haven’t been appropriated for film more than they have. Thank you to the wonderful people at boxset.ru for the download.

708. Ghostface Killah – Ironman

The genius of the Wu-Tang Clan, as a business concept, is that they rippped off George Clinton’s concept of Parliament/Funkadelic: for the better part of a decade, they hoodwinked a big record label into releasing everything they ever breathed on. The irony is that the Wu and their affiliated members basically kept the label in business over that time. Genius all around? Ghostface’s 1996 solo debut is just as much a group effort as Raekwon’s, or the RZA’s, or anyone else in the group. The RZA produced this one; Ghost typically takes a verse, leaving his bandmates to fill out the rest, a luxury most hip-hop groups could only dream of. Ghost doesn’t even appear on the intense centerpiece here, Assassination Day, but he does on the silly, predictable but absolutely spot-on faux “R&B” hit Camay.  Poisonous Darts is an East Coast hardcore free-throw contest; Daytona 500 is an irresistibly nimble series of racecar riffs, Chuck Berry updated for the hip-hop age.  There’s also a poignant narrative based on the jazz classic Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, an extrapolation on the 70s soul hit Wildflower and an attempt at controversy, Black Jesus, among the thirteen craftily composed tracks here.  Here’s a random torrent.

707.  Lloyd Cole – Easy Pieces

The British janglerock songwriter made a splash in 1985 with his catchy Rickenbacker guitar-stoked debut, Rattlesnakes. Following up with this one a year later, just as Elvis Costello – the guy he most resembled at the time – had hit a barren period, it looked like the world of lyrical rock might have a new guy at the top. It never happened. Although Cole wrote some nice tunes after this one, he pretty much gave up on lyrics, which is too bad because these are ferociously smart and match the bite of the music. Rich, the stomping opening track, savages an old corporate type withering away in retirement; Pretty Gone takes no prisoners as far as lovelorn guys are concerned. Brand New Friend nicks a line from Jim Morrison and gives it some genuine intensity; there’s also the beautifully clanging Grace and Minor Character; the big college radio hit Cut Me Down, the morose and pretty spot-on Why I Love Country Music along with the chamber pop James and Perfect Blue, foreshadowing the direction he’d take later in the decade. If you like what you hear here, Rattlesnakes and 1989′s lushly orchestrated Don’t Get Weird on Me, Babe are also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.

706. Fela Kuti – Coffin For Head Of State

Fela’s albums from the 1970s onward typically feature a couple of sidelong vamps: this has the sprawling title track – the most murderous song he ever wrote – and the equally hypnotic, intense Unknown Soldier. By the time he released this in 1980, he’d been imprisoned, tortured and beaten within an inch of his life and seen his nightclub burned to the ground. And still he didn’t give up. And as revolutionary a personality as he was, he was every bit as revolutionary as a musician: he basically invented Afrobeat. For anyone who thinks that Vampire Weekend has anything to do with Africa, we recommend a thorough immersion in this deliriously defiant, funky stuff. Here’s a random torrent; for those who prefer something better than a lousy overcompressed mp3 off the web, or want to investigate his extensive and pretty extraordinary back catalog, Knitting Factory Records are reissuing the entire thing from the late 60s onward in bits and spurts.

705. The MC5 – Kick Out the Jams

Here’s one you know. We’re trying to steer clear of the stuff on the web’s two most popular “best albums” lists, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. It works whether you consider this metal, proto-punk, garage rock or the avant garde (it’s a bit of all of them). The MC5′s 1968 debut kicks off with frontman Rob Tyner screaming “Motherfuckers!” and ends with the drony proto-noiserock epic Starship. In between we get a practically punk version of an old folk song and then the title track – an urgent message to self-indulgent hippie musicians to keep things tight – as well as the completely nonsensical but deliriously fun Rocket Reducer No. 62, the lumpen, proletarian Come Together and Borderline, the searing bluesmetal anthem Motor City Is Burning (which nicks a page from fellow Detroiter John Lee Hooker’s book) and I Want You Right Now, one of the first attempts to blend metal and funk. Guitarists Fred “Sonic” Smith and Wayne Kramer kick up a cataclysm while Dennis Thompson, one of the most exhilarating rock drummers ever, adds extra firepower to the river of molten sludge. Here’s a random torrent.

704. The Nig-Heist Album

This list includes some pretty raunchy comedy albums by 2 Live Crew (#879), Blowfly (#868) and Millie Jackson (#799) here. But all that is G-rated compared to the Nig-Heist. The creation of Steve “Mugger” Corbin, a roadie for Black Flag, the band put out a single album in 1984 that remains one of the most obscenely funny (some would say absolutely tasteless) records ever made. Backed by a rotating cast of musicians he toured with, he’d typically take the stage dressed in drag, bait the audience and then spew one twisted, sexually explicit song after another. Most of them have less to do with actual sex than masturbation or simply getting drunk; none of this was meant to be taken the least bit seriously. The titles pretty much speak for themselves: Love in Your Mouth; Tight Little Pussy; Hot Muff; Slurp a Delic; Balls on Fire; and a deadpan Velvets cover retitled If She Ever Comes. The album was reissued as a double cd in 1998 along with a collection of dodgily recorded live stuff that’s more notable for the between-song banter than the songs themselves. Meanwhile, Corbin worked his way up from roadie to label co-owner and then went into the computer business, where he made millions during the late 90s dotcom boom. Here’s a random torrent via the excellent punknotprofit.

703. Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue/An American in Paris: Leonard Bernstein

We now turn from the obscene and juvenile to one of the most urbane and sophisticated albums on this list. It might come as a surprise to some that for several generations of New Yorkers, these pieces were a rite of passage, as much a staple of frathouses as concert halls. This is George Gershwin at the peak of his powers as one of the first, and best, white bluesmen. And who more appropriate to deliver the jaunty ragtime suite Rhapsody in Blue along with its companion An American in Paris – one of the most unselfconsciously romantic pieces of music ever written – than Leonard Bernstein? The first he does with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra (assembled by the label) and the second with the NY Philharmonic. This late 80s reissue makes a diptych of both epically sweeping mid-50s mono recordings. Strangely, a little sleuthing didn’t turn up a single link for the album, although you can download them separately: Rhapsody in Blue here and An American in Paris here.

702. Steve Nieve – Playboy

This is a hard one to find. Originally issued on vinyl in 1987 and out of print since not much later, Elvis Costello’s keyboardist’s second solo album is a characteristically droll, witty, sometimes hypnotic series of piano miniatures. Nieve likes to improvise silent film scores, and his originals here, including Pictures From A Confiscated Camera, A Walk In Monet’s Back Garden, the 9.4 Rag and Once Upon A Time In South America share a cinematic feel. He quotes liberally from Debussy, Morricone, Satie, Chopin and probably dozens of others, then covers the Specials’ Ghost Town with the same matter-of-fact, deadpan intensity as his genuinely moving version of Bowie’s Life on Mars. He finds the plaintiveness inside George Michael’s Careless Whisper and turns White Girl by X (dedicated to Exene’s dead sister Mirielle Cervenka) into a downcast mood piece. An extensive search didn’t turn up any torrents: we’d upload our own except that ours is the vinyl version. If we find a digital one, we’ll give you a link.

701. Parliament – Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome

Big record labels always wanted to eliminate musicians from the equation. By 1978, as disco gained traction, they were doing it with drum loops and primitive samples, and musicians were worried sick. Into the battle stepped George Clinton with this ferocious, deliriously danceable broadside aimed at the music industry and clueless listeners, personified by Sir Nose d’Voidoffunk (i.e. “devoid of funk”). Among other things, this clueless idiot can’t dance, despite the presence of some of the era’s best funk musicians – Clinton, Bernie Worrell, Eddie Hazel and Bootsy Collins. The album’s two big hits, Bop Gun and Flash Light, with its ridiculously catchy synth bass hook, have been sampled in a gazillion hip-hop songs. There’s also the caustic, sarcastic Wizard of Finance, the anti-consumerist cautionary tale Placebo Syndrome and the mesmerizing ten-minute title track. Thirty years later, the winner of this battle couldn’t be more clear. Here’s a random torrent.

700. Dumptruck – D Is for Dumptruck

In 1984, there was one American janglerock band that was better than just about any other one and it sure as hell wasn’t REM. On their debut album, Brookline, Massachusetts’ Dumptruck added a growling noiserock edge to their Byrdsy jangle and clang and the result was vastly more intense and interesting than anything the Athens band ever did. Drenched in cool reverb, Seth Tiven and Kirk Swan’s Telecasters slink and intertwine, firing off uneasy sparks when they’re not slamming their way through one catchy chorus after another. The big crescendoing college radio hit was Alive; the closest thing to a straight-up pop song here is The Haunt. Things Go Wrong foreshadows the brooding, sullen sound they’d mine on later albums. How Come builds slowly out of a long, noisy crescendo to catchy early Cure-style janglepop; the aptly titled Repetition works a hypnotic, insistent vibe; Swirls Around, Something’s Burning and Carcass contrast jarring noise with anthemic tunefulness. The late 90s digital reissue includes four bonus live tracks recorded at CBGB which one person here claims aren’t very good, because he was at that show. Despite being subjected to every record label nightmare conceivably possible, the band eventually managed to put out three more albums over the following couple of decades, and they’re all worth owning. Here’s a random torrent via victoriansquidmusic, thanks for this.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rap music, reggae music, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments