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.
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.