The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 800-899
For albums #900-1000, and an explanation of what this is all about, click here. If a link to a torrent here is dead, or our commentary leads you to believe that there are no torrents available, if you want the album you should look around anyway. Of course, vinyl copies, if you can find them, are always sonically superior.
For albums #700-799, click here.
For albums #600-699, click here.
Albums #500-599 continue here.
Albums #400-499 continue here.
899. Bettye Swann – self-titled anthology
Bettye Swann is one of the great voices in soul music, blending the upbeat warmth of a mature Diana Ross with a raw, wounded undercurrent. This 2004 anthology released in the UK by EMI doesn’t have her signature song, the 1967 #1 R&B hit Make Me Yours, but it does have her best one, the understatedly wrenching My Heart Is Closed for the Season. Her first producer, Arthur Wright, who recorded her for California indie label Money Records had a terrific ear for detail: the arrangements on her early songs are among the era’s most sophisticated and startlingly beautiful, with Memphis-style horn charts and strings that punch in counterintiuitively. Several of the tracks here were originally released on her 1968 Capitol album The Soul View Now, including a sparse, tender version of Little Things Mean a Lot, and the orchestrated, gospel-tinged Don’t Touch Me. There are plenty of other gems among the 22 tracks here, including the telling Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me, the ridiculously catchy No Faith No Love, an absolutely brilliant reworking of the standard Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye, the gorgeously apprehensive Don’t Let It Happen to Us and the intense, crescendoing These Arms Are Mine. It fades toward the end, with a trio of ridiculously ill-advised rock covers, but the rest is some of the most fetchingly captivating music ever recorded. If you see her 1967 debut Make Me Yours on vinyl for cheap, grab it – it’s worth a fortune. There are lots of torrents for this stuff out there including this random one.
898. Jacob Miller – Reggae Greats
Jacob Miller was the frontman and main songwriter of Inner Circle, the roots reggae group unfortunately best known today for their mid-80s hit Bad Boys, which was appropriated as the theme for the Fox TV show Police Brutality Against Black and Latino People, a.k.a Cops. This collection from the early 80s has all of his big 70s Jamaican hits, many of them backed by studio stars like Robbie Shakespeare, Sly Dunbar and Chinna Smith. Miller mixed ganja-smoking anthems like Tired Fe Lick Weed in a Bush, Tenement Yard and The Healing of the Nation with sly, sensual pop like I’ve Got the Handle and the somewhat bizarre orthodox rasta anthem 80,000 Careless Ethiopians. As with the rest of his brethren from that era, there’s a lot of his stuff out there: some is choice (like his posthumous live 1979 album with Inner Circle); some is lo-fi and dodgy. Miller was killed in a car accident in 1980. Here’s a random torrent of the album.
897. Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs
You heard it here first: someday this will be a cult classic. The sprawling Brooklyn band – consisting of as many as fifteen members, including horns, keyboards and backing vocalists – have been through several different incarnations from indie rock to classic country. On this brief 2008 masterpiece they mine a richly noir 60s psychedelic pop style along with many others, sometimes subtly and allusively, sometimes completely in your face, as with the opening track Subway Horns, a blistering World Inferno style gypsy punk stomp. The titular Bride of Frankenstein here has “the whole damn town standing in line;” Prom Story is a subtly satirical update on Leader of the Pack-style teen ghoul-pop with artful gospel tinges. Frontman Pascal Balthrop’s dramatic, stagy voice dashes the hopes of the doomed immigrants in the shipwreck anthem Ocean’s Arms; the women in the band deliver all the lovely deadpan creepiness they can muster on the suspenseful Red Hook Pool and the horn-driven My Way the Highway. This is one of those albums that’s too obscure to find at the usual torrent sites: the band have it as both a download and a cd at their site.
896. Krzysztof Komeda – Nighttime, Daytime Requiem
Polish jazz pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda is best known for the soundtrack to the film Rosemary’s Baby. A favorite of Roman Polanski, he’d previously made a mark for his score for Knife in the Water. This album is a 1998 reissue of a 1967 sesssion for Polish radio featuring Komeda on piano along with Tomasz Stanko (whose own albums of Komeda works are worth seeking out) on trumpet, Zbigniew Namyslowski on alto sax, Roman Dylag on bass and Rune Carlsson on drums. Originally issued as part of a four-album box set in 1974 by Komeda’s widow Zofia, original copies sell for thousands of dollars on the collector’s market. Komeda used late 50s Miles Davis as a stepping-off point, adding his own brooding, sepulchral shades and the result is some of the most haunting jazz ever written (with its frequent classical overtones, many consider this third stream). This album includes the complete, 27-minute Daytime, Nighttime Requiem (a Coltrane eulogy) along with the somewhat more lighthearted Don Quixote, the austere, menacing atmospherics of The Witch and the lyrical Ballad for Bernt (from Knife in the Water). Also noteworthy, in fact sonically superior, is the 2009 Requiem album by the Komeda Project of pianist Andrzej Winnicki and powerhouse saxophonist Krzysztof Medyna which includes both the Requiem as well as possibly Komeda’s most macabre composition, Dirge for Europe. Komeda’s most famous album, Astigmatic and his more terse, upbeat, vamp-oriented Crazy Girl are also very much worth seeking out. Komeda died in 1969 under very mysterious circumstances from what could euphemistically be called blunt trauma to the head. Critically injured, he somehow managed to board a plane (or was put on a plane) from the US back to Poland, where he succumbed just a few weeks later, reportedly without medical attention. Here’s a torrent of a whole bunch of stuff of his.
895. Lush – Split
Their sound defined the end of an era. Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson wrote dark, richly melodic rock songs with layers of watery, chorus-box guitar and ethereal vocals. This is their third album, from 1994, and it’s their best, a blend of every style they did so well: Kiss Chase, with its tricky time signature and murky, chilly Siouxsie guitar; the punk stomp of Blackout; the buzzy goth pop of Hypocrite and The Invisible Man; the Cure-inflected, bassy sway of Lovelife; the somber Joy Division tones of Desire Lines, Undertow and Never-Never; the straight-up dreampop of Lit Up and Starlust and the understatedly elegaic When I Die. The press tagged them as sort of the Go-Go’s of dreampop, and went nuts over their first album, which actually isn’t all that great: after a couple of songs, they all sound the same. But Spooky, their second album, from 1992, is very worth getting to know, as is their final one, Lovelife, from 1996, which although it went more in a punk-pop direction also varied their sonic palette considerably, allowing both more aggressive guitar and an unexpected sense of humor to creep in. The band broke up shortly thereafter in the wake of drummer Chris Acland’s suicide. Here’s a torrent for all of them.
894. John Cale – Sabotage
A moment in time captured unforgettably: nothing Cale ever did before or after(White Light White Heat included) resembles it. By 1979, when this careening live set was recorded at CBGB, Cale had fallen in with New York’s punk crowd, and the songs reflect it. It’s by far the wildest thing Cale ever recorded, a crazed, drug-fueled night, Mark Aaron’s screaming, unhinged noiserock guitar and George Scott’s loud, distorted, melodic bass flailing against Cale’s off-kilter keys. It’s got the menacing punk/metal anthems Mercenaries/Ready for War (an English counterpart to Warren Zevon), Evidence and Dr. Mudd, a loud, sloppy cover of the blues standard Walkin’ the Dog and in the midst of all the madness, Floor Kiss frontwoman Deerfrance taking a turn in front of the band and stealing the show with her comfortingly calm, tender high soprano on the folk-pop smash Only Time Will Tell. John Cale’s 1970s albums are a mixed bag: the tersely melodic Romantic beauty of Paris 1919; the quirky avant instrumentals of The Academy in Peril and the forgettable stoner folkie songwriting of Vintage Violence. A considerably later Cale live album, 1997′s Fragments of a Rainy Season has him playing a whole bunch of classics including The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Paris 1919, Dying on the Vine and Buffalo Ballet solo on piano along with perhaps the definitive version of his crazed cover of Heartbreak Hotel. Here’s a torrent.
893. Saint-Saens – Symphony #3: Daniel Barenboim/Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Orchestra de Paris
The reason why there aren’t more classical albums on this list is that so many of them from before the cd era will jarringly and mystifyingly juxtapose a classic work with a shorter piece that’s completely unrelated, often vastly inferior, i.e. Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun back-to-back with Kachaturian’s Sabre Dance. This 1976 recording with Gaston Litaize at the organ is a delightful and frequently exhilarating exception. This is the first full-scale orchestral piece to incorporate the organ and it is a doozy: piano for four hands is also featured prominently in places beneath the swells of the strings. Like many of the great French Romantic composers, Camille Saint-Saens’ day job was as a church organist: a clever, witty musician and improviser, his textures give this rousing, optimistic piece an even more epic grandeur. Note that it’s the Orchestra de Paris playing the shorter pieces here: Samson & Delilah, le Deluge and an inspired version of the iconic, absolutely chilling Danse Macabre. The 1957 recording by the great composer Marcel Dupre on organ along with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is also extraordinary. Vinyl fans should keep in mind that both of these albums are easier to find than you would think: used classical lps are typically very inexpensive (we found the Barenboim version for three bucks, new).
892. Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power
A characteristically intense yet nuanced concert recording by the great blues guitarist, clearly amped to be playing in front of a captive audience at the Fillmore West in 1968, probably making twice as much as he did playing the chitlin circuit where he honed his chops. Like a lot of lefthanded guitarists (Hendrix, Otis Rush, Randi Russo), Albert King had an instantly recognizable, signature style, in his case a finely honed, bent-note attack where he could say more with a note’s subtle inflection than most players could say in an entire album. This album captures both sides of King, his subtlety and ferocity, in a mix of extended excursions – Elmore James’ Blues at Sunrise and a sprawling, ten-minute version of King’s own Blues Power – as well as a spirited blast through the instrumental Night Stomp and a bit later, B.B. King’s Please Love Me. Booker T. & the MGs drummer Al Jackson Jr. is his magnificently understated, groovemeister self and the rest of the band hangs back and lets King do his thing without getting in the way. Ask any fan of electric blues if they have this and the answer is that most of them do. As good as King is on this date, he’d get even better as the years wore on: pretty much any bootleg from the 80s has at least a few transcendent moments. Here’s a random torrent.
891. Nico – Chelsea Girl
Bet you thought you’d see the Marble Index here instead, huh? Nope. That one’s the definitive teutonic druggie dirge album, something you should definitely check out if you haven’t already, if that’s your thing. This one’s maybe the ultimate prototypical chamber pop album, ahead of the Pretty Things’ Emotions. Which is ironic to the extreme because Nico hated the string arrangements that were overdubbed onto this afterward. You could even call this the best Jackson Browne album ever: did he ever do another album with three good songs on it? Probably not. Nico could never sing worth a damn, we all know that – but what an atmosphere she and everybody else created here despite themselves. Browne’s The Fairest of the Seasons sets the stage for the understated high drama of the rest of the album. Despite all the flat notes, she gives a genuine angst to another Browne ballad These Days, and the brooding, languid strings help; and she takes Somewhere There’s a Feather from folkie naivete to Marlene Dietrich world-weariness. The best song here is the poignant, organ-infused ballad Little Sister (an obvious Velvets outtake). The stark Weimar blues echoes in John Cale’s Winter Song still resonate today in a million noir cabaret bands from the Dresden Dolls to World Inferno. There’s also the iconic title track, a version of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine that in its own fractured way rivals Sandy Denny’s version with Fairport Convention, and the gently epic, 9/4 Velvets outtake Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams. Here’s a random torrent.
890. The Snow – I Die Every Night
The Snow’s nuanced, stylistically diverse art-rock masterpiece, their second album, came out in January of 2010. Guitarist Pierre de Gaillande contributes the soul-infused title track, reassurance for a would-be suicide, along with the understatedly apocalyptic anthem The Silent Parade – about the snowstorm to end all snowstorms – and the amusingly metaphorical, tongue-in-cheek Reptile. Keyboardist/torch singer Hilary Downes’ equally artsy, richly melodic and lyrical songs here include the stately opening cut, Albatross; the ominously symbolic, unexpectedly syncopated Undertow and the understatedly bitter, minor-key chamber-rock ballad Shadows and Ghosts. Strong contender for best album of 2010 – watch this space.
In their practically thirty-year existence, 17 Pygmies have played quirky new wave, postpunk, ambient soundscapes and artsy, Fairport Convention style folk-rock. This is their masterpiece, an eleven-part symphonic rock suite about love and betrayal in space based on a short story written by bandleader/guitarist Jackson Del Rey. A theme and variations, its rich, icy layers of guitars and synthesized orchestration fade in and out of the mix, alternately hypnotic and jarring, with echoes of Pink Floyd, the Church, the Cocteau Twins, and echoing in the distance, Del Rey’s pioneering noise-instrumental band Savage Republic. Its centerpiece is a menacing, droning twelve-minute feedback instrumental punctuated by bassist Meg Maryatt’s gorgeously melodic, ruthless riffage. A major rediscovery waiting to happen: released on Trakwerx in 2008, it’s still available.
888. Black 47 – Iraq
Our pick for best album of 2008, this album rivals anything the Clash ever did. Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan is also a novelist and playwright, with a terrific ear for dialogue. The album succeeds as well as it does as an antiwar statement because it simply recounts the daily stress of combat as seen through the eyes of the American soldiers there. Some are profiteers, but a lot of them ended up over there because the promise of a payday was better than anything they could get here. Now they can’t wait to leave, they’re scared as hell, and not a little disillusioned. Kirwan doesn’t preach: he lets their anxiety and dread speak for itself. Over catchy, anthemic, Celtic- or blues-tinged rock, Kirwan offers an eyewitness view of the war that the corporate media types “embedded” with the soldiers were never allowed to depict: the guy from Brooklyn who finds himself shocked by the natural beauty of the Iraqi desert; the embittered, cynical GI who can’t wait to get home to watch his beloved San Diego Padres; a heartwrenching account of Cindy Sheehan’s transformation from war supporter to iconic antiwar activist following the death of her son; and finally, the savage Battle of Fallujah, whose narrator leaves no doubt that “If there’s a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again.” What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace ’48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 was to 2008: an important historical work that also happened to have some good tunes.
887. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets
The best album by one of the best-loved cult artists in Americana music. For awhile back in the 90s, Allison could do no wrong: her wry, tersely and often wickedly lyrical alt-country albums The Maudlin Years and Sad Girl are both genuine classics, but this 2009 gem outdoes them since it’s a lot more stylistically diverse. And Allison’s finely nuanced voice is at the peak of its quirkily charming power here. There’s a duet with Elvis Costello on her dad Mose Allison’s wry, brooding jazz classic Monsters of the Id, with the Sage himself on piano; the clever litany of bizarre street names in the title track; the metaphorically loaded, wistful When the Needle Skips (a tribute to vintage vinyl, among other things); the genuinely haunting Dream World, with its down-and-out milieu; and the bitterly evocative Mardi Gras Moon, its jilted narrator high on pills and booze, losing the feeling in her hands on a night which is unseasonably cold in every possible way.
886. The JD Allen Trio – I Am I Am
A landmark album in modern jazz. A theme and variations with a few playful, sometimes wildly furious diversions, this tenor sax trio session was sort of the zeros counterpart to late 1950s Sonny Rollins – but better. Released at the end of 2008, Allen deftly skirts the edges of eerie, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged modal intensity, turning over the darkest shades to bassist Gregg August, who welcomes them like a vampire welcomes the night. Rudy Royston, the greatest of this era’s jazz drummers and heir to Elvin Jones’ throne, is a ferociously hard hitter, building the shape of these strikingly melodic, barely four-minute segments every bit as much as Allen does. They quote the Godfather theme and Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond and even hint at a surf music vamp when they’re not working the terse, brooding central motif from fiery riffage to understated elegiac drama. Allen’s previous and subsequent studio work is every bit as memorable and melodic but not as intense, but his live performances – especially with this rhythm section – are among the most exhilarating of any band in recent years.
885. Jah Wobble – Without Judgement
Hypnotic, atmospheric, occasionally Middle Eastern-tinged grooves from 1989 by the original PiL bassist, taking him further from rock toward the eclectic pan-global sound he’d dive into much more deeply in the following decades. It’s the most dub-inflected album he’s ever made, with vast washes of string synthesizer, funk guitar, all kinds of percussion and the occasional horn weaving up and then out of the mix, his characteristically terse, emphatic bass sometimes fat and propulsive, otherwise playing hide-and-seek with every other texture here – and there are a whole slew of them. There are also a couple of straight-up funk vamps, some proto-trip-hop and more than a hint of reggae in places. Most of the tracks are instrumentals: the highlight of the album is Wobble’s poem A13, a savage critique of suburban conformity and dullness read in a deadpan monotone over bleak washes of sound panning into and across the mix. It ends with the most bizarre, and barely recognizable, version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken ever recorded. Here’s a random torrent.
884. Isaac Hayes – Hot Buttered Soul
Pretty much the ultimate psychedelic soul record. Other soul singers in the 60s – Lou Rawls for one – were giving their songs long spoken-word intros. And stretching out a hit single onstage with a long vamp has been a popular device ever since soul music began. This was the first studio album to do that. Hayes had been a Stax Records producer (and Booker T. Jones’ double on organ in the duplicate version of Booker T. & the MGs, who toured when Booker T., or even the whole band, were busy elsewhere) since the early 60s; this was his second album, from 1969. There are four tracks here. A sprawling fuzztone guitar version of Burt Bacharach’s Walk On By – a smash for Dionne Warwick – clocks in at twelve minutes. The extended wah funk groove Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic goes on for almost ten and has been sampled by a million rappers. Side two has the gospel piano-driven One Woman and a practically twenty-minute version of Jimmy Webb’s By the Time I Get to Phoenix. Millions remember Hayes as the voice of Chef on South Park, or for the Shaft soundtrack, but was his finest moment – and a bedroom album that predates Barry White by a few years. Here’s a random torrent.
883. Polvo – Today’s Active Lifestyles
One of the most ugly/beautiful albums ever made. This 1993 full-length gets the nod over the rest of the Chapel Hill band’s output simply because there are more songs on it. Polvo literally never made a bad album: everything they did is worth owning. If you like noise, of course. The pitchfork/stereogum crowd (actually, it was CMJ back then) never got them, mischaracterizing them as math-rock when what they were really doing is taking peak-era Sonic Youth-style paint-peeling guitar noise to its logical extreme. For epic extremes, this one is bookended by the woozy, tone-bending Thermal Treasure and Gemini Cusp. There’s also the warped slide guitar of Lazy Comet; the swinging, chorus box-driven anarchy of Sure Shot; the Live Skull-ish fragment Tilebreaker; the fractured soul song Time Isn’t on My Side and the hypnotic, seven-minute Stinger, which nicks a memorable Sonic Youth riff. The band regrouped in 2009 and toured for a new cd, In Prism, which showed them mining a newly melodic but still deliciously assaultive sensibility. Long may they scream and thrash. Here’s a random torrent.
882. Henryk Gorecki – Symphony #3: London Sinfonietta/David Zinman, Dawn Upshaw, Soprano
Also known as the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, this triptych is one of the most effective and brilliantly understated examples of minimalism. Its still, spacious lento movements explore grief and bereavement: as an antiwar statement, they make a quietly explosive impact. Its first movement strips down a medieval Polish canon to the bare essentials; its second movement, the most famous, illustrates an inscription scrawled on a Gestapo cell by a young Polish girl snared in the Holocaust (literal translation: “Mother, don’t worry; God help me”). The third develops a Polish folksong theme as a memorial for those killed in the Silesian uprising against the Nazis. While many people have claimed to have been brought to tears by this music, it’s not the least bit maudlin: its slowly shifting ambience is more pensive and weary than anything else. Dawn Upshaw sings its fragmentary lyrics with what sounds, to Anglophone ears at least, like a creditable Polish accent, chamber orchestra and piano maintaining a striking amount of suspense. It premiered in 1977 in Poland but only came to popularity about twenty years later after pieces of it from this album were used in the soundtrack to the film Basquiat. It would eventually go platinum, a rare and now almost unthinkable achievement for a classical recording.
881. New Model Army – Raw Melody Men
The missing link between the Clash and Midnight Oil, British rockers New Model Army have built a thirty-year career on the fiery, uncompromising, anthemic, politically aware songwriting of frontman Justin Sullivan: they’ve literally never made a bad record. This 1992 double live album captures the band at the peak of their majestic art-rock fury (they’ve been through many different phases: currently, they’re just as likely to whip out a gentle acoustic folk-rock number as a straight-up punk stomp). The swirls of electric violin and occasional keyboards here add an eerie ambience above the din of the guitar. Sullivan doesn’t confine his razor-sharp critiques to globalization or the evils of monopoly capitalism: there are few more astute critics of the left, especially coming from a progressive point of view. This one has most of the band’s early 90s concert favorites: the anguished escape anthem Get Me Out; the eco-disaster atmospherics of White Coats; the spot-on examinations of leftwing cliquishness Purity and Better Than Them; and the towering, Middle Eastern inflected majesty of Lurhstaap, a warning in the wake of the fall of the Berlin Wall that “You can buy a crown/It doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” Over the years, a NMA “family” has sprung up, sort of a more conscious Deadhead crew whose common passions happen to be intransigence and defiance of rightwing authority rather than drugs.
880. The Louvin Bros. – Tragic Songs of Life
Best known for their 1960 album Satan Is Real (and its campy fire-and-brimstone cover image), Charlie and Ira Louvin were a popular country gospel group until Ira’s death in a 1965 car accident (ostensibly running from the law – he was wanted on a drunk driving warrant). They’re also the group responsible for one of the earliest nuclear apocalypse anthems, The Great Atomic Power. This album gets the nod over the rest of their catalog because it’s more accessible, minus all the proselytizing that a lot of people find off-putting. A lot of these songs were already country/bluegrass standards when the album was issued in 1956 – and they’re not all as gloomy as the title might indicate. The Louvins play to the crowd with the home-state anthems Alabama and Kentucky (the latter a delicious mandolin-and-guitar picking party), get maudlin with a seven-year-old who misses his sweetheart on A Tiny Broken Heart, and go back in time with the traditional Mary of the Wild Moor, Let Her Go, God Bless Her and the gold-digger cautionary tale What Is Home Without Love. But their versions of In the Pines, My Brother’s Will, Take the News to Mother and the murder ballad Knoxville Girl (a big hit for the Blue Sky Boys in 1937) are as grim and evocative as any rural music ever recorded. The album was reissued in 2007 as a twofer along with Satan Is Real, easily downloaded. Here’s a random torrent.
879. 2 Live Crew – Live in Concert
The first-ever live hip-hop album, it’s an urban supremacist’s wet dream, an all-white audience of Arizona college kids rapping along with every filthy lyric, frequently drowning out the group onstage: “Face down, ass up, that’s the way we like to fuck.” This may seem pretty tame by teens standards but at the time the album came out in 1990, it was radical. As with the Dead Kennedys, the right wing had tried to put the group out of business with an expensive obscenity trial after witnessing the explosive popularity of the 1989 album As Nasty As They Want to Be. But the rappers won the case, and this is their response, a bigot’s worst nightmare. Neither Luke, the group’s leader, nor his sidekicks Brother Marquis or Fresh Kid Ice, could ever rap worth a damn, but their puerile sex jokes, and ability to get the totally crunk crowd to respond to them, are often hilarious despite themselves. This has all the band’s hits from the period: Me So Horny; Face Down Ass Up; We Want Some Pussy; If You Believe in Having Sex; The Fuck Shop; Brother Marquis’ completely inept Throw the D, and the Springsteen ripoff/parody Banned in the USA. There are a lot of torrents out there and many that appear to be for this album are in fact other concerts (which are often very funny themselves): this one appears to be the real deal.
878. Stravinsky Conducts Stravinsky
This moment was bound to arrive: an album on vinyl that doesn’t appear to have made it to digital, at least in its entirety. The 1961 double lp we have in the archive here appears to be out of print in all formats. Recorded with an orchestra assembled by the Columbia Classical label, it includes all the essentials: the Rites of Spring, Petrouchka and the Firebird. It’s amazing how dynamically diverse, in fact old-fashioned this sounds: fans may actually prefer more boisterous versions, especially of the Rites of Spring. But it’s a real eye-opener, a look at how much more subtly Stravinsky delivers his material compared to most of the other recordings out there. For a taste of this you might want to check out this torrent of the Columbia eight-cd reissue of the recordings he made with the CBC Symphony Orchestra in the late 60s, including all three of his symphonies along with a lot of ballet and choral music – but a lot of this is pretty sleepy, an obvious lack of connection between orchestra and conductor. This one you may have to track down in your favorite vinyl emporium (good news: used classical vinyl is often ridiculously cheap – we scored this for four bucks). For those who haven’ t yet discovered him, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was one of the most original and interesting composers of the 20th century (some say the greatest). Not only is his music entertaining and gripping, but its influence continues to be felt to this day. Much of 20th century classical music would not exist without him: the same can be said for a lot of rock music, particularly noise-rock bands like Sonic Youth. His signature style blends eerie, astringent atonalities with somber, minor-key Russian melodies and a frequently carnivalesque, phantasmagorical sound: it’s great fun. If you find a torrent for our vinyl album let us know!
877. Jimmy Reed – At Carnegie Hall
This 1961 album is neither live nor was it recorded at Carnegie Hall, but it is the great bluesman at the peak of his sly, seductive, sleepy power. It’s a bedroom album right up there with anything Al Green or Sade ever recorded, a dusky, nocturnal tour de force. Reed was a big hit with the ladies but also with the guys for his wry sense of humor and his confident subtlety: he doesn’t beg, he beckons. This one gets the nod over the others in his catalog because it’s a double album with more tracks. It’s got all the big hits: Bright Lights, Big City; Baby What You Want Me to Do; Big Boss Man; Going to New York; Take Out Some Insurance, and Ain’t That Loving You Baby. And who’s that laid-back, terrifically interesting, counterintuitive drummer? Believe it or not, that’s Albert King. Extra props to Reed for helping launch that guy’s career. Here’s a random torrent.
876. Onyx – All We Got Iz Us
Best remembered for their 1992 smash hit Throw Ya Gunz, New York rap quartet Onyx were one of the best of the groups from the last few years of hip-hop’s golden age. This 1995 album, their second, is a characteristically intense display of agile wordplay and in-your-face attitude spiced equally with gleeful humor and grim social-realist narratives. In an era of smart lyricists, Sticky Fingaz, Fredro Starr and Suave were three of the smartest. This one has the big apocalypse anthem Last Dayz; the title track, a bitter, fatalistic tribute to hoodlum solidarity; the irresistibly catchy, amusing smalltime crooks’ tale Purse Snatchaz, and one of the most astute revenge songs ever written, 2 Wrongs. Happily, Onyx weren’t dumped by their record label after a wildly successful debut like so many of their contemporaries and would remain on the front line of first-class rap for the better part of the decade; literally everything they did is worth owning, including Sticky Fingaz’ expansive 2001 solo debut, Blacktrash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones. Here’s a random torrent.
875. The Cure – Seventeen Seconds
The popular favorite, and deservedly so, is the quirkily charming Boys Don’t Cry; the goth crowd tends to gravitate toward Pornography, another splendid if completely different album. This is the missing link between the two. The cold gloom of its atmospherics foreshadowed the goth direction they’d take for the next few years, but there’s also a catchy pop sensibility, although it’s happily never cloying like the group’s 1986 debacle Head on the Door or subsequent efforts to hit the top 40. This is their second album, from 1980, bassist Simon Gallup locking with drummer Lol Tolhurst for a tightly wound, propulsive beat (calling it a groove would be an overstatement) beneath Robert Smith’s icy jangle and affectless vocals. The title refers to how long the brain can maintain consciousness after the heart stops beating. A pensive, cinematic instrumental miniature sets the tone for each of the album sides; side one has the big hit Play for Today and a bit later on, the moody, furtive In Your House. Side two has the brooding, somewhat epic A Forest and At Night as well as M, arguably their best song, seemingly a reference to the serial killer role played so unforgettably by Peter Lorre in the Fritz Lang film. Here’s a random torrent.
874. Dorothy Donegan – Live at the 1990 Floating Jazz Festival
Early in her career, pianist Dorothy Donegan was dismissed by critics because she was pretty, she wore what were considered racy outfits for the time and she played everything – and drove her band members nuts onstage, segueing from jazz to R&B to classical, often within the span of a single song. She particularly enjoyed playing Rachmaninoff and excelled at it. Twelve years after her death, she’s gained recognition as one of the most extraordinary jazz pianists ever. By the time she recorded this album, she was as likely to be playing on a boat as at a club and this is one of those gigs. Yet it reveals her to be as blissfully intense and occasionally chaotic as she was at her peak in the 1950s and 60s, matching sizzling chops to frequent repartee with the audience (who seem at times to have no idea what just hit them). And the irony is that she does it with more than just her usual Blackbird Boogie and variations on a million themes. It’s a pretty generic set list for someone so adventurous, at least until you hear it. Most of these songs are standards, but she makes nonstandards out of them, blasting out of Someday My Prince Will Come into Tiger Rag, a bit later leaping from Misty to a rousing version of Ellington’s Caravan. There are also boisterous saloon jazz versions of The Lady Is a Tramp, After Hours and Round Midnight. A lot of her studio albums from the 50s are out of print and worth keeping an eye out for if you’re the kind of person to troll used record stores and the Salvation Army for abandoned treasures. Chiaroscuro still has this one in their catalog; if you’re looking for a torrent, good luck with this.
873. The Klezmatics – Possessed
The most celebrated if not exactly the first of the klezmer revival bands, the Klezmatics brought a gentle but firm punk rock sensibility to ancient Jewish songs that frequently got them in hot water in more conservative circles but won them a wide following outside the klezmer shtetl. This 1997 album is their darkest, a mix of gypsy-inflected dances, jazzy improvisation and a long suite which served as the score to the popular Tony Kushner drama, The Dybbuk, based on the famous ghost story of the same name. There’s a mournful forebearance to most of this, although the group raise the ante when least expected, particularly on a rousing, klezmer-jamband ode to marijuana: every day is Shabbos when you’re stoned. The individual Klezmatics: reed player Matt Darriau, drummer David Licht, star trumpeter Frank London, bassist Paul Morrisett, frontman/accordionist Lorin Sklamberg and fiery violinist Alicia Svigals all went on to do great things as solo artists and sidemen/women after the band broke up; they reunited in 2010. This album was reissued in 2005 as a twofer with their far more upbeat debut Jews with Horns. Here’s a random torrent.
872. The Patti Smith Group – Radio Ethiopia
This is the great Patti Smith album that everybody sleeps on. From 1975, it’s her hardest-rocking, most musically interesting, least lyrical, and least accessible one. But a close listen really pays off. As usual, there’s plenty of defiant, tuneful powerpop: Ask the Angels; Pumping My Heart; Distant Fingers, and the reggae-tinged Ain’t It Strange, a co-write with Smith’s then-boyfriend Allen Lanier of Blue Oyster Cult. There’s also the absolutely gorgeous, plaintive, seven-minute Richard Sohl piano ballad Pissing in a River. But the best part is the epic twelve minutes that closes the album, wherein lead guitarist Lenny Kaye – one of the world’s most reliably melodic players – flipped the script and pretty much singlehandedly invented noise-rock. A murky cauldron of swirling, overtone-laden textures, it’s one of the high points of 70s music, and it shifted the paradigm a little further outside. It’s hard to imagine Public Image Ltd., the Dream Syndicate, or for that matter Sonic Youth, without it. Here’s a random torrent.
871. Tammy Faye Starlite – Used Country Female
A spot-on, politically-charged collection of parodies by one of the most subversive performers to ever hit the stage. An actress and dramatist who got her start in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre, T. Debra Lang’s best-loved alter ego is Tammy Faye Starlite, a washed-up, drug-addled country singer who, in a desperate attempt to get back into the limelight, becomes a born-again. Her improv lampoons rightwingers, bigots, Christian extremists and pretty much everything you see on Fox News more entertainingly than you could possibly imagine. There are two Tammy Faye Starlite albums – the first, On My Knees, is straight-up country and contains Did I Shave My Vagina For This, the funniest feminist anthem ever written. This one, her second, is a boisterous, twangy alt-country record expertly produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and is a lot more diverse. The humor is all based in innuendo, and much of it is hysterical: the faux gospel of I’ve Got Jesus Looking Out for Me; the Doorsy highway anthem Highway 69; Ride the Cotton Pony, which is about menstruation; The Jim Rob Song, about a good Christian man who likes other Christian men (and boys too); and a sex-crazed cover of the bluegrass standard Hear Jerusalem Moan. Tammy Faye Starlite also fronts three irresistibly funny cover bands: the Mike Hunt Band, who do the Stones; the Stay-at-Homes, who do the Runaways; and most recently, the Pretty Babies, a Blondie spoof.
870. Lou Reed – The Blue Mask
This is his big comeback, from 1982, after a couple of real duds in the late 70s. Here he teams up with the late Robert Quine for an unhinged, double-barreled assault on the fretboard, a stripped-down, blistering return to something of a Velvets feel. Part of this is the most intense janglerock ever made; the rest is like a more tuneful, musically proficient White Light/White Heat. Or a more proficient Voidoids with better lyrics (remember, Quine was their guitarist). What’s coolest is that both guitarists run straight through their amps without any effects: it’s amazing how good you can get a Strat and a Fender Twin to sound just by adding a little (or a lot) of distortion. The high points are the viscerally intense Waves of Fear and the blistering noiserock of the title cut. There’s also the death-obsessed My House, a Delmore Schwartz tribute; the evocative, DT-inspired Underneath the Bottle; the ominous plaintiveness of The Gun; the understated requiem The Day John Kennedy Died and the surprisingly funny, tongue-in-cheek Average Guy. After all this, we can forgive him for the mawkish, maudlin love song at the end. Also worth hearing is the Live in Italy double album from 1983 with this same crew, who turn in phenomenally good, revitalized versions of Kill Your Sons, Satellite of Love and Walk on the Wild Side among others. Here’s a random torrent.
869. Can – Monster Movie
The cult favorite is the German band’s 1971 Tago Mago album, with its hypnotic grooves and assaultive avant freakouts. This is Can’s rock record, a memorably twisted piece of post-Beatles psychedelia from 1969. As with the rest of the band’s output, drummer Jaki Liebezeit absolutely owns this. With his inimitable, hypnotic rattle and pulse, it’s already obvious where he’s going to take this band’s music for most of the next decade. Side one begins with Father Cannot Yell, its weird lyrics, melodic bass, proto-Robert Fripp guitar and motorik rhythm evoking a bizarre cross between the Velvets and Terry Riley (who was a big influence, along with Karlheinz Stockhausen, who served as teacher to both bassist Holger Czukay and organist Irmin Schmidt). Mary, Mary So Contrary is a fractured folk-rock dirge, followed by Outside My Door, an Astronomy Domine ripoff but a good one. The second side is a twenty-minute stoner jam (streaming in three parts, here, here and here), sort of a teutonic In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida edited down from what was reputedly a marathon six-hour studio session. With minimal reverb guitar, trebly bass, creepy Farfisa and Liebezeit’s epic funeral drums, they establish their signature trancey sound after it gets going, particularly when they bring it down to just the bass and the drums and leave it there for what seems forever (you can practically smell the pot smoke drifting in from the other room). Joy Division’s Dead Souls owes its drum riff to this one. Here’s a random torrent.
868. Blowfly – Blowfly’s Party
Whether or not Blowfly really earned his nickname as a teenager when castigated by his grandmother for singing “C’mon baby, suck my dick,” instead of “do the twist,” Clarence Reid still has a franchise on x-rated R&B. He was making what used to be called “party records,” no doubt inspired by Red Foxx and Rudy Ray Moore, as early as the 1970s, when he wasn’t working as a hired-gun songwriter for acts as diverse as Betty Wright and KC and the Sunshine Band. But he saved his best stuff for himself. Maybe because he was so funny (or maybe because musicians thought that a connection to his filthy alter ego might translate into a hit single, or a session gig), he attracted topnotch players in droves. This album, from 1980, was an underground sensation and actually made the Billboard charts despite getting no airplay (apparently Blowfly didn’t think of making a “clean” version). Everything here is good for a laugh: Blowfly’s Rap (a Kurtis Blow ripoff) and Show Me a Man Who Don’t Like to Fuck, for example. Can I Come In Your Mouth is actually all about equal opportunity: Blowfly makes it clear to the girl that he’s willing to reciprocate. And some of the tracks are downright hilarious, particularly Who Did I Eat Last Night. All of this you can dance to. In the mid-zeros, Blowfly teamed up with a bunch of punk musicians and issued two albums of sexually explicit punk covers on Alternative Tentacles. Now in his seventies, he still tours. Be extra careful looking for a download – because some consider this adult entertainment (it’s actually the most juvenile album on this list), links that appear to be for torrents may lead to attack sites or malware: good luck and sweep your machine afterward.
867. The Chrome Cranks – Live in Exile
The Chrome Cranks were New York’s best band for most of the 1990s before imploding late in the decade. Combining the assaultive, combative riff-driven charisma of the Stooges with the paint-peeling, feedback-riddled, blues-warped guitar of frontman Peter Aaron and lead player William G. Weber and propelled by the potent rhythm section of former Honeymoon Killer Jerry Teel on bass and ex-Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, their studio albums blew away the rest of the Lower East Side glampunk crowd but never quite captured the raw unhinged menace of their live shows. But this does. Recorded at the end of 1996 in Holland at the end of a European tour, the band are at the peak of their power. Much as most of their songs are about facing down the end with a sneer, a smirk, a snort or something, this one really has the air of desperation: they knew this wouldn’t last, but they wanted to capture it for those who came after. They open the show with their gleefully ugly signature cover, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean and after that, the song titles pretty much say it all. Lost Time Blues; Wrong Number; Dead Man’s Suit; We’re Going Down. Their practically nine-minute version of Pusherman surpasses even the Live Skull version for out-of-focus, fatalistic fury; the last of the encores is the self-explanatory Burn Baby Burn. Reinvigorated and apparently free of the demons that plagued them the first time around, the Cranks reunited in 2008 with a mighty series of shows in New York and Europe, with the promise of a new album sometime in the future.
866. Sham 69 – That’s Life
The second and best album by these first-wave British punks, from 1978. Their 1977 debut Tell Us the Truth was raw to the extreme, half of it recorded live and clocking in at barely a half hour. This one is a concept album, a day in the life of a dead-end blue-collar London kid. Thirty years later, it’s as powerful and vivid as it was when it came out. Stuck in a stupid office job, the kid still lives at home with his dysfuctional family, none of whom get along and always seem to blame him for everything that goes wrong. The early songs set the scene, frontman Jimmy Pursey playing the wry, fatalistic but ultimately indomitable role to the hilt. Of course, the kid eventually gets fired, as chronicled in the catchy, Kinks-inflected title track. The songs really pick up when everybody goes off to the dog track (in Win or Lose, fueled by lead guitarist Dave Parsons’ insanely delicious, judiciously screaming chordal work), and then the pub: Hurry Up Harry is a cockney punk classic. As the night goes on, the kid gets drunker, strikes out with the cynical girls who hang out at his local in the hilarious Reggae Pickup Pt. 1 and 2 and finally comes face to face with a Sunday Morning Nightmare in one of the greatest and most evocative punk songs ever written. Even the period references still resonate: he’s horrified that his brother looks like John Travolta and his sister like Olivia Newton-John. And the slower songs, like the organ-fueled Everybody’s Wrong, have a genuine plaintiveness. The band didn’t last much longer; after a disappointing follow-up album, Hersham Boys (whose only standout track was the classic If the Kids Are United), the band broke up, Pursey disenchanted with the Nazi punk crowd who had strangely glommed onto the group and made their live shows literally dangerous. Parsons would go on to play briefly with Steve Jones in the short-lived punk supergroup the Sham Pistols; bassist Dave Tregunna joined the Wanderers with Stiv Bators and then continued on with him in the Lords of the New Church. Pursey has soldiered on with a completely different, vastly more pop version of the band for decades but little to show for it. There is however a Sham 69 album in the Live and Loud series and although the sound is a bit dodgy, the performances are first-rate.
865. Agent Orange – Living in Darkness
Agent Orange have made a thirty-year career based on this one album, almost by accident. The LA surf-punks’ 1980 debut ep Bitchin’ Summer was well received in the scene, so the following year Posh Boy Records brought them into the studio to do a full-length album…and the guitar amp broke. Short on time and equipment, frontman Mike Palm ran his guitar through a bass amp turned up to the point of distortion, and a new sound was born. Through a wall of eerie fuzztone sustain, the band play fast and desperate. One by one, they rip through one Dick Dale-tinged punk smash after another: Bloodstains; Too Young to Die; A Cry for Help in a World Gone Mad; the brutally cynical No Such Thing; a woozily murderous cover of Misirlou; the absolutely exhausting, somewhat epic title track (reputedly drummer Scott Miller was at the point of collapse by the time they finally got a take they were satisfied with); and the band’s signature song, the ridiculously catchy Everything Turns Grey. If you see this on vinyl, grab it: it’s worth something. Otherwise, the version to get is the 1991 Rhino reissue which also includes the band’s searing, iconic covers of both Pipeline and Mr. Moto. The band still tours. Here’s a random torrent.
864. The Electric Light Orchestra – No Answer
The 1972 ELO debut album – and the rest of the band’s early output – differentiates itself from most of the other orchestrated rock albums out there with its rustic feel. Jeff Lynne would overdub the string section over and over again to simulate the lushness of an orchestra, a sound that he was never quite able to replicate, which actually works better here than he probably ever thought at the time. The scrapy cellos add a sinister edge to the iconic, vaguelly Orwellian British hit 10538 Overture, the hallucinatory Queen of the Hours, the chamber-metal instrumental Battle of Marston Moor and the angst-ridden Look at Me Now, which picks up where Eleanor Rigby left off and takes it to the next level. There’s also the thorny Roy Wood acoustic guitar instrumental First Movement, Lynne’s piano boogie Manhattan Rumble, the charmingly oldtimey Nellie Takes Her Bow and Mr. Radio and the wrenchingly gorgeous lament Whisper in the Night, arguably the best song Wood ever wrote. He would exit after this album to do retro 50s Americana with Wizzard, leaving Lynne at the helm free to pursue his visionary blend of rock and classical music. Here’s a random torrent.
863. Peter Tosh – Live at the One Love Peace Concert
This is the famous 1978 concert where Bob Marley, in an effort to quell sectarian violence in Jamaica, forced Presidential candidates Michael Manley and his right-wing opponent Edward Seaga to shake hands onstage. Marley’s set that night was filmed, most of it included in the documentary Heartland Reggae. Tosh’s wasn’t, but the audio was recorded and issued thirteen years after his 1987 murder on the small Jad label. With the legendary rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass, Tosh and his band deliver a long, psychedelic, absolutely incendiary set punctuated by long, foul-mouthed, stream-of-consciousness rants. “We don’t want peace, we want justice,” Tosh declared right at the start, blowing smoke from his giant spliff in the direction of the candidates. He kicks off the show with the Rasta benediction Igziabeher and then launches into one scathing number after another, starting with 400 Years, which memorializes the Middle Passage while reminding that de facto slavery is still very much alive in the third world. He opens Burial with a withering critique of globalization, follows that with Equal Rights and then a long, rambling demand for marijuana legalization that eventually leads into a ten-minute version of Legalize It and then his signature song (which Tosh actually co-wrote with Marley in the days when he was the Wailers’ bassist), Get Up, Stand Up. Tosh would be beaten within an inch of his life by thugs after the show as retaliation. No freedom of speech in Jamaica in those days. Pretty much everything Tosh ever recorded is worth owning; he may not have had his bandmate’s gift for pop melody, but his vision of liberation continues to inspire new generations around the world. Here’s a random torrent.
862. The Lyres – Those Lyres
Along with their New York counterparts the Fleshtones, Boston rockers the Lyres were the best of the second-wave garage bands of the 80s and 90s. Their live shows could never match the Fleshtones for manic intensity, but several of their studio albums are worth owning, particularly the first two, On Fyre, from 1983, and its 1986 follow-up Lyres Lyres. This one, released in 1995, combines two surprisingly consistent, first-rate live sets, the first from an undated show probably sometime in the early 90s in Boston and the second in Oslo in 1993. It doesn’t have the repeater-box guitar effect that made their sound so instantly identifiable in their early 80s prime, but frontman/organist/obsessive record collector Jeff “Mono Mann” Connolly is at the top of his game and so is this version of the band. As much as the Lyres were a consummate party band, they could also be surprisingly dark, and this has most of their best songs: two versions of the poignant Baby It’s Me; the snarling, chromatically charged Stay Away; the equally fiery Jezebel and How Do You Know; their iconic cover of the Alarm Clocks’ No Reason to Complain; a careening version of their biggest hit, Help You Ann, and a straight-up 4/4 take of their second-biggest one, She Pays the Rent. Connolly was as erratic a bandleader as a frontman; he went through almost as many band members as James Brown, the one longtime standby being bassist Rick Coraccio, who’s on this album. By the early zeros, the band was basically done; Connolly toured a couple of years ago with a regrouped version of his mid-70s band, the Stooges-inspired DMZ. Maybe because of the title, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything; the cd is still in print from Norton.
861. Amy Rigby – 18 Again
Everything Amy Rigby ever recorded is worth owning. She was ten years ahead of her time as a member of obscure alt-country pioneers the Last Roundup and then with the irresistible, irrepressible all-female country harmony trio the Shams before breaking out on her own with the landmark Diary of a Mod Housewife in 1996. So why did we pick this one, a greatest-hits album from 2003? Because the songs were so well-chosen. It’s got most if not all of the best stuff from her first three albums through the year 2000, along with some savagely good bonus tracks which have become big crowd-pleasers, notably the blackly funny murder-conspiracy ballad Keep It To Yourself. With her wounded, nuanced voice always on the edge of either crushing heartbreak or ruthless wrath, her love of puns and double entendres, purist pop sensibility and populist politics, she recounts the last delicious months before family and responsibility took over on the wistful, Beatlesque Summer of My Wasted Youth; delivers a withering sendup of marriage and its equivalents on Cynically Yours; peels the facade off her drunken cheating man with 20 Questions; catalogs the spirit-crushing struggles of a single mom on Raising the Bar, and those of the pink-collar crowd on The Good Girls; casts a scathing glance at guys who would insinuate that this diva is over the hill on Invisible; and offers one of the funniest yet most chilling looks at alienation in the lands far outside the comfort of city limits with Rode Hard. There is a happy ending here: in 2008 she married another first-class musical storyteller, Wreckless Eric, with whom she’s also made two first-class albums.
860. Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares – Volume II
The 1985 debut by le Mystere des Voix Bulgares, or the Bulgarian Voices as they’re more popularly known, was one of the landmark albums in the history of recorded music and spearheaded a global phenomenon. Every choir and every woman who’s ever sung this repertoire, especially those in the west, owes something to this long-running ensemble. First established in the early 1950s, their self-released 1975 album didn’t see a worldwide release until ten years later. But this one, their first recorded for the 4AD label in 1988, is even better (we aim to be counterintuitive here). With its eerie ninth and eleventh intervals, strange, guttural trills and sepulchral ambience, these large-scale choral arrangements of traditional Bulgarian folksongs are nothing less than otherworldly, especially to western ears. The women perform them a-cappella with the exception of one which has an accordion on it. The high point is the insistently catchy Dragana I Slavei, memorably covered in a new arrangement for four voices by groundbreaking Brooklyn quartet Black Sea Hotel in 2008. You can hear the whole thing here: it’s still in print from Nonesuch. If you’re looking for a torrent, here’s a random one.
859. The Damned – Mindless Directionless Energy
The All Music Guide said horrible things about this one: goes to show, who can you trust? We chose this over the rest of their catalog since it has so many inspired versions of some of their best and best-known songs. Recorded live at the Lyceum in London in 1981 and widely bootlegged, to the point where the band finally released it six years later, this captures them hanging onto their punk sound even in the wake of their first dive into goth music, the Black Album. As befits a bootleg from that era, the sonics manage to be both boomy and trebly – midrange is mostly nonexistent – but the spontaneous intensity of the performances is irresistible. Frontman Dave Vanian sounds like he’s been drinking about his baby and the band are just loose enough to be dangerous, stampeding through the riff-rocking punk of I Fall and New Rose, a blistering hardcore version of Love Song, the wickedly catchy guitar-and-organ punk-pop of Smash It Up and I Just Can’t Be Happy Today, a feedback-infested blast through a medley of the MC5′s Looking At You and the Stooges’ 1970 and a murderously careening version of their most haunting if lyrically mystifying song, Plan 9 Channel 7. The only miss is a completely useless cover of the Sweet’s annoying Ballroom Blitz. Most of the Damned’s albums – from the almost equally trebly, garage-style stomp of their 1977 debut Damned Damned Damned through the goth-infused Strawberries, from 1982 – are worth investigating. Here’s a random torrent.
858. Paula Carino – Aquacade
Seven years after her solo debut came out, the former frontwoman of popular indie rockers Regular Einstein remains a titan among New York rock songwriters. With her cool, nuanced voice like a spun silk umbrella on a windswept beach, her catchy, distantly Pretenders-inflected janglerock melodies and fiercely witty, literate lyrics, Carino ranks with Richard Thompson, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello as one of the world’s great lyrical tunesmiths. She never met a pun or a double entendre she could resist, has a thing for odd time signatures and wields a stun-gun bullshit detector. This was one of the great albums of 2003 and it remains a classic. Pensive, watery miniatures like the title track lurk side by side with the mordantly metric cautionary tale Discovering Fire, the offhandedly savage Stockholm Syndrome and Guru Glut and the wistful, richly evocative sound-movie Summer’s Over. The symbolism goes deep and icy on the deceptively upbeat Tip of the Iceberg; Venus Records immortalizes a legendary New York used record store and remains the most charming love song to a prized vinyl album ever (that one’s loaded with symbolism too). The high point of the cd is Paleoclimatology, a resolutely clanging masterpiece that will resonate with anyone longing to escape a past buried beneath ”ancient snow that wrecked tyrannosaurus.” Carino’s 2010 album Open on Sunday is far darker yet still imbued with a similar wit: look for it high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year. This one long since sold out its run of physical copies, although it’s still available online at emusic and all the other mp3 spots.
857. Chopin – 24 Preludes – Walter Klien, Piano
There are a million Chopin preludes collections out there; we chose this one out of familiarity (admittedly, not a very good reason), the quality of the pieces (one classic after another) and the fact that Klien’s 1960 recording is truly excellent. For anyone who might be new to his music, pianist and composer Frederic Chopin (1810-1849) was the godfather of gypsy rock, a paradigm shifter and the guy most responsible for jumpstarting the Romantic era (following the Classical era, of Haydn and Mozart) in western instrumental music. Much of his work is wrenchingly intense, dark, brooding and unselfconsciously anguished, as are many of these, notably the dirgelike C Minor Prelude and the otherwordly E Minor one, both of which have been in a million movies and which you will instantly recognize if you don’t already know them. More effectively than any other composer, he blended the austere, bitter minor key chromatics of eastern Europe with the simpler majors and minors of the west. Without Chopin, it’s hard to imagine Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff or for that matter Gogol Bordello. As popular as this particular album was, a search for torrents didn’t turn up anything promising, probably because search engines mistake Klien’s name for “klein.” So here’s one for a well-known, solidly good Maurizio Pollini collection.
856. Betty Carter – The Betty Carter Album
This album was so far ahead of its time it’s not funny. Then again, Betty Carter herself was way ahead of her time: she could say more in a single minute inflection than a lot of singers could in a career. The former Lillie Mae Jones did an Iggy Pop, adopting a nickname she once hated (jazz players in her native Detroit in the 1940s called the irrepressible teenager “Betty Bebop” because her singing was so more imaginative and complex than the simple scatting her bandmates wanted her to do). She was also one of the first jazz stars to go independent: having abandoned the tour circuit to raise a family, her label dropped her. This one was her big comeback, the 1972 debut release by her own Bet-Car label. And it’s characteristically surprising, considering how much quieter this is compared to how joyously intense she could get onstage. Yet while Carter could wail with anyone, it’s her subtlety that ultimately set her apart from her contemporaries, and that nuance really cuts through here, in a mix of standards like You’re a Sweetheart and Sunday, Monday or Always, along with originals like the suspenseful, intense What Is It, Sounds (Movin’ On) and a very brief take of Tight (a live showstopper). The band behind her – Danny Mixon or Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Buster Williams on bass and Louis Hayes on drums – follow her lead, keeping it smart and simple – not an easy job, considering what a legendary hardass she was to work with. Rhythm and meter take a back seat to emotion: Carter’s voice leads and everyone follows. And yet it’s not self-indulgent: she dives into these lyrics, especially her own, whether they’re celebratory, plaintive or wary, particularly on the cautionary tale Children Learn What They Live. Carter peaked late in her career: pretty much anything she did after 1980 is worth hearing. Good luck finding a torrent (the title doesn’t exactly make it easy to search for): you may have to grab a bunch of other stuff in order to get this one.
855. Florence Dore – Perfect City
These days she’s a Kent State professor, a Faulkner scholar and author of The Novel and the Obscene: Sexual Subjects in American Modernism (Stanford University Press, 2005) which makes the somewhat iconoclastic argument that early 20th century American writers’ embrace of forbidden subjects lagged behind the loosening of prudish obscenity laws. She was also the cool professor on the NYU campus in 2001 when she was playing clubs and released this, her only solo album (which she didn’t tell even her students about until late in the semester). Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and backed by a terrific, jangly Americana rock band featuring Chris Erikson on electric guitar, Scott Yoder on bass and the Smithereens’ Dennis Diken on drums, she runs through a tuneful, tersely literate mix of upbeat janglerockers and quieter, more country-tinged fare lit up by her honey-and-vinegar Nashville twang. There’s the unaffectedly gripping country ballad Early World (the most captivating song ever written about job-hunting in higher education); the raw, riff-rocking title track and the even rawer, early Who-style Framed; the absurdly catchy Americana pop of Everything I Dreamed; the sad, elegaic Wintertown (a sort of prayer for closure for the Kent State massacre); the brooding No Nashville and its vividly evocative dysfunctional family hell; and Christmas, arguably the finest, saddest and most satisfying December kiss-off song ever written. The original album has been out of print for years, although there are still used copies floating around, and amazon still has it as a download.
854. Vivaldi – The Four Seasons – Trevor Pinnock/The English Concert
The best recording of Antonio Vivaldi’s iconic suite that we’ve actually heard is an unfortunately unlabeled cassette copy recorded off a vinyl album. But this one, from 1976, is pretty close. Pinnock conducts from the harpsichord with goodnatured inspiration, and the group play period instruments, so it’s a little quieter than a lot of the other recordings out there. The good omens of Spring lead auspiciously into a very visceral, heartfelt Summer; the wariness of Fall is understated, as is the angst of Winter, to the point that fans of darker music may prefer other, more boisterous recordings. But this is awfully close to what Venetian audiences got to witness circa 1725. Even if classical music is not your style, you have to admit that this is catchy and evocative stuff. And it’s a century ahead of its time. What else can we say: many of you probably own this already. If not, there are a gazillion recordings kicking around the internet, follow your instincts and see what you find. Here’s a random torrent.
853. Israel Vibration – Vibes Alive
There are few more heartwarming music success stories than Israel Vibration. The vocal trio of Wiss (Lascelle Bulgin), Skelly (Cecil Spence) and Apple (Albert Craig), all crippled by polio in early childhood, met in their early teens in a Jamaican orphanage. They discovered Rastafari, left for the bush and the rest is history, as documented in the film Israel Vibration: Reggae in the Holy Land. Over the course of their 35-year career, they’ve released over a dozen albums and all of them are worth owning, if you like classic reggae. Their harmonies may be wobbly, but their songwriting, even by roots reggae standards, is firmly entrenched in the here and now, whether attacking the inequalities of the system, standing up for the sufferahs or simply celebrating a good time. They’ve also released two first-rate live albums, this one from their 1992 US tour being the first, including a good, inspired mix of their many styles: the confrontational Vultures and Racial Discrimination; a defiantly careening version of the ganja-smoking anthem Red Eyes; a raw, guitar-fueled take of the prisoner’s lament On the Rock; and a lusciously jangly, redemptive, practically rock version of Pay Day, which might be their best song. Behind them, bassist Flabba Holt leads the Roots Radics band through one joyous vamp after another as the audience enthusiastically eggs them on to stop the song and start it all over again. Craig left the band in the early zeros; Bulgin and Spence carry on under the same name and continue to tour worldwide. Here’s a random torrent.
852. The Jack Grace Band – Drinking Songs for Lovers
This brand-new 2010 album has the Martini Cowboy reverting to the classic 1960s C&W party vibe of his 2005 cd I Like It Wrong, but with a better band, better songs and an unbeatable concept: this is party music for smart people. With a swing jazz rhythm section of Grace’s wife Daria on bass, Russ Meissner on drums and either longtime Johnny Cash pianist Earl Poole Ball or New Orleans bluesman Bill Malchow on keys, Grace himself takes over the lead guitar here, with literally delirious results. It’s a tribute to all states of drunkenness and those who indulge in it: the crazy neighborhood guy you run into at the bodega on a beer run right before four AM, the guys at OTB, the serious dude who watches his roommate drink himself into a dangerous state, and the drunken parent (on the album’s absolutely brilliant centerpiece, If You’re Gonna Raise a Drunk). The titles pretty much say it all: Morning Margaritas; Drink a Little Hooch; Drinkin’ and Gamblin’; I Drank Too Much Again; and a surprising, vividly cautionary cameo from Daria, Drank Yourself Into a Corner. Jack’s George Jones-inflected baritone offers just the hint of a tequila-infused wink as the band sway and careen behind him. For nondrinkers who find the appeal of this album utterly impossible to fathom, consider that reality – woops, we mean sobriety – might just be a little less fun.
851. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade
This album is about love under an occupation. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow the enemy. Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the New York art-rockers’ second cd was one of the great albums of 2009. Frontman Paul Megna offers Leonard Cohen-inflected menace through the eyes of a metaphorical, suicidal messenger on the skeletally crescendoing Love Yr Way; savages suburban smugness with the garage rock of Fevered Cyclones and the backhanded, sarcastic The War Is Over, and evokes the great Australian art-rockers the Church on the desperate, titanic anthem Finger Trigger: “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” A vivid portrayal of a time and place that nobody who lived through it wants to remember. What is it that happens to those who can’t remember the past? So far this one hasn’t made it to the share sites; it’s still available from the band, whose follow-up is due out in a few months and reputedly maintains the power of this one.
850. Hot Tuna’s First Album
As Jefferson Airplane inched closer toward a Jefferson Starship sound, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were obviously restless: Hot Tuna began simply as a side project where the band’s guitar/bass brain trust could explore the delta blues that Kaukonen loved so much. This is one of those accidental albums, an audience recording of a 1969 show at a San Francisco folk club that the band decided to release despite all the crowd noise – because it’s so casually brilliant. Kaukonen was a great rock player but here he shows that he was already a formidable blues guy, and Casady’s thick, intertwining melodic leads make a perfect match. Along with some occasional, innocuous harmonica, the duo wind their way through a mix of upbeat, adrenalizing stuff like Hesitation Blues, I Know You Rider and Rev. Gary Davis’ Death Don’t Have No Mercy along with a gorgeously laid-back version of Leroy Carr’s How Long Blues. But the highlight is the five-and-a-half-minute original instrumental Mann’s Fate, as much a showcase for Casady as Kaukonen, which over the years has become iconic in acoustic guitar circles. The rest of Hot Tuna’s albums from the 70s are mostly electric and while they have their moments, they never reach the ecstatic heights of this one. In the 80s and 90s, however, Kaukonen would rightfully gain recognition as one of the greatest blues players to pick up a guitar: pretty much everything he’s done since then is worth hearing. Here’s a random torrent.
849. Aimee Mann – Lost in Space
We’re trying to limit this list to one album per artist, so this was a really tough call. Aimee Mann is one of the few who’s literally never made a bad one. We picked this because it’s so consistently intense and tuneful, although you could say that about just about everything else she’s done other than the Christmas albums. The fans’ choice is the Magnolia soundtrack, a dynamite album; the critics’ pick tends to be her solo debut, Whatever, from 1993 (a solidly good effort, but one she’d quickly surpass – goes to show how much they know, huh?). Many other songwriters would have made this 2002 concept album about addiction and rehab mawkish and self-absorbed: not this woman. Mann sings the bitter anguish of the richly George Harrisonesque Humpty Dumpty, the savage cynicism of This Is How It Goes and Guys Like Me (Mann still venting at clueless corporate record label types after all these years) and the rich levels of Invisible Ink with a vivid, wounded nuance over seamless, carefully crafted, tersely played midtempo rock changes. It winds up just as intensely as it began with the venom of The Moth and the bitter, downcast It’s Not, reminding that after all this, all the perfect drugs and superheroes still won’t be enough to pull its narrator up from zero. Clinical depression has seldom been more evocatively or memorably portrayed. Here’s a random torrent.
848. The Adverts – Crossing the Red Sea with the Adverts
As some of you know by now, the original game plan with this list was to put up a single page of all the obvious choices, especially those we share with the other popular “best albums” lists out there. We were hoping to put up about three hundred and then spend a little less than two years counting down the rest. As it turned out, in our haste to get the whole thing up and running, our “obvious suspects page” lists just a tad under a hundred albums. This is one we should have included on it: iconic in punk circles but largely unknown otherwise, it’s a feast of snarling reverb guitar, catchy melody and aggressively dark, often phantasmagorical songwriting. The big 1978 UK hit was Gary Gilmore’s Eyes, the twisted tale of a transplant recipient getting the eyes of the first American killer to die by firing squad in years. There’s also the caustic, 1:45 Bored Teenagers; the defiantly sarcastic One Chord Wonders; the brooding and bitter cripple’s tale On Wheels; the desperately scurrying Bombsite Boy and On the Roof, and the snidely anti-imperialist Great British Mistake. Guitarist Howard Pickup would die of an aneurysm the following year; the band’s follow-up album Cast of Thousands was a great British mistake. There are also a couple of Adverts albums in the Live at the Roxy series, one excellent, the other not so good. After the band broke up, frontman TV Smith continued on and became one of the world’s great literate acoustic punk performers. Here’s a random torrent.
847. The Electric Eels – The Eyeball of Hell
These guys invented no wave. In Cleveland. In 1972. Contemporaries of Rocket from the Tombs as well as the Raspberries (sounds absurd, but it’s true), in their brief three-year career they played three shows and released one album, reputedly because nobody in the band got along. Which makes sense once you hear it. This 1998 compilation contains pretty much everything from that along with almost another album’s worth of outtakes and rehearsal material. Frontman Dave E channels some seriously strung-out vibes over John Morton’s fingers-down-the-blackboard guitar, through a completely unhinged, screeching, feedback-enhanced, sometimes early 70s metal-flaked attack on songs with titles like Agitated, Cyclotron, You’re Full of Shit, Sewercide, and a hilarious spoof of free jazz, Jazz Is. They were also responsible for one of the alltime great punk covers (as a description, punk might be a little tame), a version of Dead Man’s Curve that beats Jan and Dean at the drag race of death. Not exactly easy listening, but as ugly, confrontational, uncompromising and in its own twisted way, disarmingly honest music, it has few equals. Here’s a random torrent.
846. Steve Earle – The Revolution Starts…Now
Believe it or not, this ferocious, guitar-driven Americana rock record won a Grammy – for “best contemporary folk album,” of all things – in 2004. It’s as memorable and apt a response to the Bush regime’s reign of terror as anyone recorded during those years. Many of the songs are as funny as they are savage, from the rig rocking anthem Home to Houston – told from the point of view of a mercenary who went to Iraq for the money but quickly found he couldn’t hack it – to the hilariously sarcastic faux-calypso of Condi, Condi (a backhanded slap at ice queen Condoleeza Rice), to the freedom-of-speech anthem F the CC (as in, “Fuck the FCC, fuck the CIA, we’re living in the goddamn USA”). It’s also got the insightful, acoustic Rich Man’s War, the mysterious Gringo’s Tale (where a CIA black ops guy comes clean…sort of), the rousing title track, the Orbison-inspired I Thought You Should Know and the Byrdsy rocker The Seeker. Pretty much everything Earle ever did, from 1986′s Guitar Town through his most recent album of Townes Van Zandt covers, is worth owning, even including his crack period in the late 80s and early 90s. His short story collection, Doghouse Roses, is also excellent and just as vivid as his song lyrics. Not something you could say about many other songwriters. Here’s a random torrent.
845. Kool G Rap and DJ Polo – Wanted: Dead or Alive
One of the most successful lyricists to come up out of Marley Marl’s legendary Juice Crew posse, Kool G Rap’s machine-gun rhymes vividly chronicled a city gone wild, crack dealers (and pretty much everybody else) pitted against the cops, the drama played out before a backdrop of crushing poverty and the fatalism that goes with it. Kool G Rap didn’t exactly romanticize it, either, whether in the rapidfire cinematography of this 1990 album’s opening track, Streets of New York, the gangster swagger of the title cut or Money in the Bank, the bluntly confrontational Erase Racism (with cameos from Big Daddy Kane and Biz Markie) or the hilarious but cruelly cynical Talk Like Sex and Rikers Island. His slurred, blunted delivery was a big influence on both Nas and Biggie Smalls; his third and final album with DJ Polo, Live and Let Die, from 1992, is also worth owning, as is his 1996 solo debut, 4,5,6. Over the years, he’s managed to maintain commercial success without straying from his generally harsh, unsentimental vision of urban life. You can take a gangster off the street, but you can’t take the street off the gangster. Here’s a random torrent.
844. The Shakers – Living in the Shadow of a Spirit
In 1988, an all-star crew of Nashville alt-country types – singer Rebecca Stout, guitarist Oscar Rice, mandolinist Robert Logue, drummer Ken Coomer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Garing – put out this concept album about the Bell Witch under the band name The Shakers. The Bell Witch is a legendary poltergeist incident, one of the few that apparently caused an actual death. Between 1818 and 1821, the Bell family of Red River, Tennessee was plagued by a mysterious being who reputedly spoke to them, sang hymns, quoted sermons, pushed people around, and depending on who you ask, supposedly stopped General Andrew Jackson’s wagon train dead in its tracks. The family patriarch, John Bell, developed palsy, no doubt affected in some way by the strange activity in his home and perished in 1821. This album, inspired by the events, doesn’t attempt to chronicle or reconcile them: rather, it seeks peace with whatever entity caused them. The four rustic, subtly haunting, sometimes gospel-influenced tracks – Living in the Shadow of a Spirit, Queen of the Haunted Dell, The Healing Hymn and Hymn to Kate – are all up on youtube, although torrents don’t seem to be available. Original vinyl copies of the ep (we have one in the archive) are prized on the collector market, but as recently as the mid-zeros, cassette copies were still available from the band.
843. Gang Starr – Daily Operation
By teens standards, this 1992 golden-age hip-hop classic is almost quaint. Gang Starr frontman Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, a.k.a. Keith Elam) described himself as an anti-gun, anti-violence weedhead. He only directed his hostilities at wannabe MCs, pop acts and racists, but when he went after them, he was ruthless. And he did it with a calm, seemingly effortless precision: on this album, he doesn’t even swear much. As hilarious as many of his rhymes are, it’s stunning just how seriously he approached his art. This is a mix of straight-up I’m-in-charge joints like Take It Personal and The Illest Brother, along with the confidently matter-of-fact No Shame in My Game and Ex-Girl to the Next Girl and the album’s best cut, the coldly withering Conspiracy. The funniest track here is Take Two and Pass, where Guru’s generosity with his blunt turns out to be a little disingenuous – if you listen closely, it turns out that DJ Premier also has one, and each guy plans on smoking a whole one. Primo’s production is characteristically terse and minimalist: he keep the beats and his signature backward-masked samples simple, vocals front and center. Just the way they ought to be. Here’s a random torrent.
842. Auntie Christ – Life Could Be a Dream
X’s Exene Cervenka and DJ Bonebrake teamed up with Rancid bassist Tim Armstrong for a handful of fast, furious, characteristically lyrical punk gems on this brief one-off 1997 classic. This was Exene’s debut recording as a guitarist and she absolutely kicks ass, with the kind of raw roar you’d expect from this woman. It’s got the hallucinatory, hellacious highway anthem Bad Trip, the Gen X dis Nothing Generation (“Stupid fucking kids wake up, you’re sheep”); the grim The Virus (“The virus is you”), the prophetic, riff-driven Future Is a War, the defiant-to-the-end I Don’t and ends with the Stonesy, surprisingly upbeat With a Bullet. The brief nine-song cd repeats all over again for maximum effect. You can hear the whole thing streaming on myspace or try this random download.
841. The Rutles – Archaeology
The soundtrack to the 1978 Rutles movie is one of the funniest parodies ever made. At the time the film came out, rumors of Beatles reunions were swirling, and – if you can believe it – outside of the Fab Four’s fan base, the individual Beatles were pretty much seen as has-beens. Neil Innes, Ollie Halsall, Rikki Fataar and John Halsey (with Eric Idle contributing skits and lyrics) combined their comic and remarkably Beatlesque musicianship for the ultimate Beatles spoof. The film chronicles the exploits of a popular band who mystifyingly had nothing to say and influenced nobody, with cameos from Beatles colleagues including a particularly hilarious one by Paul Simon discussing the long chord at the end of A Day in the Life. But this album, released in 1997 in the wake of the Beatles anthologies (therefore, “Archaeology”) is even better. And the satire is equally ruthless. Cleverly ripping off George and John’s somber major/minor changes, Ringo’s mystifying drum style and Paul’s busy bass, they riff on Beatlisms both famous and obscure. We’ve Arrived (And to Prove It We’re Here) has fun with a Back in the USSR shuffle and airplane noises. Questionnaire is a deadpan, dead-serious Imagine ripoff; Lonely-Phobia and the insanely nonsensical Unfinished Words make fun of 60s chamber pop more than any specific songs. The Knicker Elastic King is a bouncy, lol funny take on Penny Lane; Hey Mister and Joe Public make fun of the Beatles’ hit-and-miss attempts at a harder guitar sound on the White Album and Abbey Road; the funniest songs here are the over-the-top psychedelia of Shangri-La and the uninhibitedly vicious Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Music. Beatles fans either love this (because it’s so spot-on) or hate it (because it’s so unsparing). Because most of the jokes are so specific, it helps if you know the source material. Here’s a random torrent.
840. The Roulette Sisters – Nerve Medicine
Arguably the finest band to spring from the Blu Lounge scene in Williamsburg, the Roulette Sisters first combined the fearless talents and soaring oldtime harmonies of resonator guitarist Mamie Minch, electric lead player Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) and washboard player Megan Burleyson. Their lone album to date, from 2005, is a slinky retro feast of delta blues, hokum and sultry country swing. Innuendo has always been their drawing card, and this has plenty of it, whether Bessie Smith’s Sugar in My Bowl, the hilariously Freudian Keep on Churnin’ (“Keep on churnin’ til the butter flows/Wipe off the paddle and churn some more”) and I’m Waiting, sung with characteristically rustic, austere charm by Burleyson. There’s also the defiant, revenge-fueled Black Eye Blues and Black Dog Blues, the irresistibly charming Coney Island Washboard, a similarly antique take of Bei Mi Bist du Schoen and Reichardt’s wistful, bucolic No Particular Thing. The band broke up in 2007 but fortuituosly reunited in 2010 along with viola player/composer Karen Waltuch, who’d joined them about a year before they first disbanded.
This is the first album to make its debut here on this list. Pretty impressive, considering what a major event its predecessor was. In 2007, the first Roots of Chicha anthology not only introduced the world to what, for better or worse, could be called Peruvian surf music: it also spearheaded a revival of chicha music in the land where it was born. Not bad for an album on a small label (Barbes Records) run out of a Brooklyn bar. And where the Roots of Chicha was a good anthology, this follow-up is a great one. More than its predecessor, this is a rock record: the Roots of Chicha focused on the woozy psychedelic cumbias coming out of the Peruvian Amazon in the late 60s and early 70s, many of them with more of a latin sound than the songs here. This focuses more closely on the rock side of the phenomenon, a mix of songs from 1969 through 1981. Some of them vamp out on a chord, hypnotically, all the way through to the chorus. Most of them have a vintage, 1960s timbre, the guitars playing through trebly amps with lot of reverb backed by tinny Farfisa organ and tons of clattering percussion. Many of these have a swaying cumbia beat, but a lot of them don’t. Likewise, a lot of the songs use the pentatonic scales common to Asian music – some wouldn’t be out of place in the Dengue Fever songbook.
The best song here is an absolutely gorgeous version of Siboney, by Los Walkers. It’s sort of the chicha equivalent of the Ventures’ cover of Caravan, a reverb-drenched rock version of a familiar, distantly ominous melody made even more so. Another knockout is Los Ribereños’ Silbando, a vividly brooding minor-key shuffle that foreshadows Brooklyn chicha revisionists Chicha Libre. The best of the chicha bands of the 70s, Los Destellos (see #903 on this list) are represented by a simple, one-chord fuzztone stinger and the Asian-tinged, warped bucolic jam La Pastorcita. Likewise, Los Wremblers contribute two, one more of a celebration than the title would make you think, the other the original version of La Danza de los Petroleros that became a big hit for Los Mirlos. 80s stars Chacalon y la Nueva Crema contribute a catchy workingman’s lament; Manzanita y Su Conjunto have three songs here that showcase their artful ability to switch from Cuban son montuno, to hypnotic acid rock, to catchy cumbia-pop. There’s also a one-chord wonder (well, almost) by Compay Quinto; Grupo Celeste’s scurrying, bass-driven Como un Ave; Ranil y Su Conjunto’s savage, Asian-flavored Mala Mujer; Colegiala, by Los Ilusionistas, an iconic number that was used – albeit in bastardized, almost unrecognizable form – in a well-known television commercial in the 80s; and Los Shapis’ El Aguajal, another famous one. Very little of this has been available before now outside of Peru; much of it was out of print for years in its native land. All of this you can dance to, and like surf music, it’s easy to get completely addicted to it: youtube is a goldmine of chicha. The extensive liner notes to this album are a great place to start. It’s out now on Barbes Records.
838. The Friends of Dean Martinez – The Shadow of Your Smile
Dilemma of the day: what’s these guys’ best album? Or is everything equal in the shadows off the desert highway where their cinematic, spaghetti western-flavored instrumentals all seem to take place? Literally everything the Friends of Dean Martinez have recorded is worth owning. We picked this one, their 1995 Sub Pop debut, because it has a typical first-album excitement, because of the diversity of the songs and because it’s as good as any example of their richly evocative, often exhilarating catalog. Joey Burns of Calexico gets credit or co-credit for writing six of these and his bandmate John Convertino gets another, which gives them instant southwestern gothic cred; pedal steel genius Bill Elm, their lead instrumentalist, would take a more prominent role in the songwriting as their career went on. The opening track, All the Pretty Horses signals that immediately; I Wish You Love is done with a Bob Wills western swing flair. The drummer’s contribution is the amusingly off-kilter House of Pies, followed by the noir highway theme Chunder, foreshadowing Big Lazy but with steel guitar. These songs all evoke a specific milieu, notably the distant suburban unease of Armory Park/Dwell and the blithe bossa nova instrumental Swamp Cooler which goes deep into the shadows of the favela before you can tell what hit you. The best song here is Burns’ gorgeously noir El Tiradito, Roy Orbison gone to Buenos Aires. There’s also another tango-flavored one, a countrypolitan ballad, a straight-up vibraphone jazz tune, the orchestrated title track and Convertino’s Per Siempre, done as a careening Balkan dirge. Here’s a random torrent.
837. Everything But the Girl – Baby the Stars Shine Bright Tonight
Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt were stars in the UK ten years before the bastardized disco remix of Missing topped the US pop charts in 1994. Their torchy, jazzy 1983 debut was a big hit across the pond: this is their third album, from 1986, a lush, lavishly orchestrated collection of retro ballads, a perfect vehicle for Thorn’s anxious, wounded alto voice. She’s all longing and anticipation on the big 6/8 opening cut Come On Home, the irrepressibly swinging Don’t Leave Me Behind and the ethereal A Country Mile. Don’t Let the Teardrops Rust Your Shining Heart is a pretty successful stab at countrypolitan, as is Come Hell or High Water. Careless and Sugar Finney revert to a soaring, majestic jazz-pop vibe. The knockout punch here is Little Hitler, an understatedly towering 6/8 anthem written by Thorn: “Little Hitlers grow up to be big Hitlers,” she warns over the swell of the strings: “Every woman loves a fascist.” Part of that observation is sarcastic but part is not. If you like this one, their first two albums along with the mostly acoustic Amplified Heart and the charming acoustic ep (look for the red heart on a blue background) are also highly recommended; on the other hand, their explorations of trip-hop and proto-Portishead electronic pop are tepid and boring. Here’s a random torrent.
836. Wire – Chairs Missing
The fan favorite is Pink Flag: no disrespect to that. It’s as fun, and still practically as unique now as it was when these defiantly artsy British punks released it in 1977, despite Elastica and all those Williamsburg bands who stood behind Justine Frischmann in the plagiarism queue. This is Wire’s second album, from 1978, emphasis on the art rather than the punk, but the songs are arguably stronger this time out. As with Pink Flag, there are plenty of anthemic, staccato, chromatically charged, reverb-drenched Syd Barrett-ish vignettes like Practice Makes Perfect and the gleefully insistent anthem I Am the Fly (as in “I am the fly in the ointment”). The best song here is the surprisingly poppy, insanely catchy, genuinely beautiful Outdoor Miner, which a million lame indie bands claim as inspiration they’ll never be able to live up to. Side one also has the distantly off-kilter I Feel Mysterious Today; the Twilight Zone punk of French Film Blurred; the weirdly catchy Men 2nd; the macabre-tinged Marooned; the hypnotic Sand in My Joints and Being Sucked In Again. Side two’s highlights include the unselfconsciously funny From the Nursery, the woozily ominous Used To and the more-or-less straight-up punk Too Late. Colin Newman’s deadpan monotone vocals are not an affectation but a disguise: a lot of the band’s lyrics have a tightlipped, verrrry British absurdist humor. The 1994 reissue has four bonus tracks, which are worth hunting down if you’re a rabid fan. Wire’s frequently interrupted career arguably peaked in the 70s (their 1979 album 154 is also worth hearing), although their recent material is also choice, if a little closer to dreampop than punk. Here’s a random torrent.
835. The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson
Famously covered by the Stones, Van Morrison and the Yardbirds (whose live album with him is a complete trainwreck), Sonny Boy Williamson’s sly, often leering vocals and somewhat unhinged playing have made him an icon among blues fans. The great blues harpist, songwriter and showman was, like every bluesman of his era, a singles artist. For that reason, we picked this 1993 compilation from among the dozens of out there, many of them bootlegs, since it has the most tracks. 45 in all, recorded with a Hall of Fame list of Chess stars: drummer Fred Below, bassist/producer Willie Dixon, guitarist Muddy Waters, pianist Lafayette Leake and too many others to name. To blues scholars, this guy, Alec “Rice” Miller was Sonny Boy Williamson #2, to differentiate him from the first, John Lee Williamson, who was younger and whom #2 outlived by over a dozen years. From his days hustling on the chitlin and party circuit and then emceeing the King Biscuit Flour Hour,Williamson #2 developed a rakish persona to go along with a voracious appetite for alcohol and a knack for an aphoristic turn of phrase that fueled a succession of hit singles in the 50s. The best-known one, if not his best one, is One Way Out, butchered by the Allman Brothers to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Others you may recognize here are Fattening Frogs for Snakes, Your Funeral and My Trial, Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide, Nine Below Zero, Don’t Start Me to Talking and Keep It To Yourself. Some of the other tracks here are ephemeral but virtually all of them are choice. Pretty much anything did during the 50s is worth hearing, if you’re into this stuff: by the 60s, he was pretty much running on (alcohol) fumes. Here’s a random torrent.
834. Willie Colon – La Gran Fuga
That two trombones, a piano, bass and three percussionists could create a sound this big is stunning. This one, from 1970, was literally Colon’s big break, and forty years later, it’s taken on iconic status. As bandleader and trombonist, he gets top billing even though his equally gifted collaborator, Héctor Lavoé took all the vocals (and if you search for these songs you’ll find them much more easily if you’re looking for El Canario). It’s also a major moment in salsa history because it’s such a melting pot (that could be said about latin music in general, but especially New York salsa). Surprisingly, the big hit off the album is a catchy reworking of a Guyanese nursery rhyme, Ghana’E. The mini-suite Panameña is a bomba track, a joyous shout-out to Puerto Rican culture – remember, salsa began in Cuba, so the implication here is that the time has come for el barrio. There’s also the swaying dance hit Barrunto; the hypnotically slinky, beautifully brooding No Cambiaré; the gentle, lovingly mocking Abuelita (poking fun at an old lady’s crazy vernacular); and the not-so-gentle faux Mexican dance Cancion por Me Suegra. Both Colon and Lavoé would go on to bigger and more popular projects, but this captures that beautiful moment where Afro-Cuban-based music was just starting to morph into the big, orchestral Fania sound that would become just as iconic five or six years later. Here’s a random torrent.
833. Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes
Possibly the longest-running of the classic punk bands from the 70s, Belfast’s Stiff Little Fingers are still touring, but in over thirty years on the road, frontman Jake Burns hasn’t lost a step. This 1980 album is the classic lineup including Henry Cluney on guitar and Ali McMordie (one of the most brilliant, unsung players from the era) on bass. We picked this because while it’s not as blisteringly assaultive as their 1979 debut Inflammable Material, or as diverse as 1981′s Go For It, it’s probably their most consistent one. Smalltown anomie and the desperate need to escape it pervades this album. The songs snarl with contempt for authority and conformity: Gotta Getaway and At the Edge resonate as potently now as when the album came out. Wait and See is one of their funniest songs, a snide slap back at everyone who’d dismissed them in their early days, “You’re not good enough to be a jazz band.” The album’s high point is the antiwar anthem Tin Soldiers, still a concert favorite. There’s also the defiant title track, the caustic Fly the Flag and an energized cover of the Specials’ Doesn’t Make All Right. The 2003 cd reissue also included a couple of cuts originally released on mid-90s greatest-hits compilations, including the amusing anti-censorship You Can’t Say Crap on the Radio along with the topical Troubles-era Straw Dogs and Bloody Sunday. Everything the band released through the decade of the 80s is worth owning, along with their handful of live albums: they’re still ferociously good in concert. Here’s a random torrent.
832. Little Milton – Grits Ain’t Groceries
Milton Campbell’s 1969 second album, a mix of live and studio tracks, perfectly capsulizes the point where the blues had evolved to include elements of 60s soul and funk. Little Milton’s growling, charismatic presence here owes more to singers like B.B. King, but the songs sprawl out with long vamps and intros like Lou Rawls and his contemporaries were doing in the mid-60s. Little Milton was always better known as a frontman than a guitarist, but here he reminds how underrated he was, with a bite and a precision similar to Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, or what Buddy Guy was doing early in his career. They open it slowly with Let Me Down Easy and follow that with the blustery, iconic title track: “If I don’t love you, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man.” Subsequent controversies over who Mona Lisa really was only enhance the drama. There’s also a fervently stretched-out cover of B.B.’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, the sultry blues ballad That’s What Love Will Make You Do and the haunting, epic Blind Man and Walking the Streets and Crying that ends the album. Although he never quite hit this hard again, pretty much everything Little Milton ever recorded is worth owning, even the crooner albums from his Malaco Records period later in his career. After a life on the road, vital to the end, Little Milton died suddenly of a stroke in 2005. Here’s a random torrent.
831. The Wallflowers’ first album
While this list is devoted to brilliant obscurities, we also aim to include albums that are underrated, and this is a classic case. Jakob Dylan has always been a magnet for haters, not only because he writes so much like his famous dad, but because of the perception that his dad got him the record deal along with everything that came before and after. But his dad didn’t call up and ask us to put this album on this list: it earned this spot on its own merits. Fact of the matter is that the kid is a chip off the old block, in the best possible way: and not only is he a way better singer, he’s actually a very soulful one. And a sharp, sardonic lyricist, and a first-rate tunesmith…just like his dad. This one dates from 1992, when Jakob refused to answer interview questions about the old man, and seemed especially determined to avoid the inevitable comparisons: the weight of the family legacy seems to have spurred him to take his game to the highest level. The radio hit (the one thing that money bought here, in this case major label payola) was Shy of the Moon, which was sleepy on the album but really rocked out live. There’s also the seductively catchy, sly Sugarfoot; the vintage Springsteen-ish Sidewalk Annie; the individualist anthem Be Your Own Girl; the lyrical folk-rocker Asleep at the Wheel; the brooding, intense Another One in the Dark; the snide, scathingly epic Hollywood (a repudiation of any past that might come back to haunt him, it seems) and the absolutely vicious, towering Somebody Else’s Money. Behind him, the band play smart, edgy, blues and Americana-flavored rock, anchored by Ramee Jaffee’s fluid Hammond organ and Tobi Miller’s incisive lead guitar. Although the Wallflowers would do other good songs (the classic Sixth Avenue Heartache) and good albums (the vastly underrated Breach and Red Letter Days), they’d never string as many good ones together as they did here. Here’s a random torrent.
830. Joe Jackson – Beat Crazy
Jackson’s worn many different hats: popster disguised as a punk, jazz guy, avant-garde composer, dentist-office pop songwriter. He only wore this hat once. It’s red, gold and green and has room for the dreadlocks Jackson never grew. This 1980 psychedelic gem isn’t straight-up reggae but it has a lot of rootsy grooves courtesy of bass monster Graham Maby, who turns in what might be the highlight of a brilliant career on the eleven tracks here. As schlocky as some of Jackson’s top 40 songs have been, once in awhile he validates all those Elvis Costello comparisons, never more than on this album. The big college radio hit was One to One, a better straight-up pop song than anything on Night and Day. The title track and Biology are fast, catchy reggae-pop; In Every Dream Home (A Nightmare) is sticky, green and dub-infused, with a shout-out to Roxy Music. Mad at You follows a similar pattern but at doublespeed; Crime Don’t Pay is buzzy new wave with a characteristically cynical lyric. The snarling ska of Pretty Boys and the nonconformist anthem Fit round it out. Jackson never hit this kind of a high note before or afterward, although his 1999 Night and Day II incorporates pretty much everything he excelled at except for cheesy elevator music, and the subsequent Joe Jackson Live reverts to the stripped-down energy of his late 70s style but with a better choice of songs. Here’s a random torrent.
829. Randi Russo – Live at CB’s 313 Gallery
We’ve included this limited-edition ep on this list because A) it’s transcendentally good and B) although it’s officially out of print, copies are frequently found in New York used record stores. It was the lefthanded guitar goddess/rock siren’s first multiple-track release, a boomy, off-the-cuff soundboard recording from September, 2000 at the late, lamented CB’s Gallery next door to CBGB. Any sonic deficiency here is more than made up for by the stunning spontaneity and ferocity of the playing and the quality of the songs. Russo’s growling Gibson SG guitar sets the tone on a careening version of the chromatically charged, overtone-laden, Siouxsie-esque Adored, followed by an even more otherworldly version of the haunting, flamenco-tinged epic So It Must Be True. Lead guitarist Spencer Chakedis – who would go on to play in the popular, aptly titled jam band Doofus – throws off one shower of sparks after another behind Russo’s velvet vocals and defiantly individualist lyrics. The version of One Track Mind here – the only one that’s been released to date – has an irrepressible Velvets stomp, followed by the catchy, 6/8 ballad Push-Pull, a concert favorite. They end with a sepulchral version of the suspenseful, minimalist Tenafly, the ultimate New Jersey deathtrap song. Russo has gone on to release four excellent, subsequent albums, with the highly anticipated, ferociously guitar-driven Fragile Animal due out any month now. Not to spoil the plot, but you might just see her again on this list a little closer to #1.
828. Jimmy Castor – The Everything Man: Best of the Jimmy Castor Bunch
Jimmy Castor was cursed with a great sense of humor. Cursed, because he’s a serious musician – a classically trained pianist and saxophonist – pegged as a writer of novelty songs. He may be known as the funniest man in funk, but in a career that spans part of seven decades, from doo-wop (he replaced Frankie Lymon in the Teenagers) to go-go to latin soul (he was one of its pioneers) to his most famous period leading the Jimmy Castor Bunch in the 70s, he’s also one of the most successfully eclectic songwriters ever. A lot of his catalog is out of print. This early 90s compilation, for better or worse, focuses on the hits, most of which are as hilarious as they are boundary-smashing, incorporating elements of psychedelia, heavy metal and latin sounds into funk: Sly Stone and George Clinton had nothing on this guy. This covers the decade of the 70s into the early 80s, starting with Hey Leroy, Your Mama’s Callin’ You – the dozens, updated for the pre-disco era; the slinky, Joe Cuba-inspired Southern Fried Frijoles, and It’s Just Begun, sampled by thousands of hip-hop acts in the following decades. That’s just the beginning. There’s also the follow-up Say Leroy (The Creature from the Black Lagoon Is Your Father); Castor’s best-known funk hit, Troglodyte, and its even funnier sequel the Bertha Butt Boogie (a massive top 40 hit in 1975); along with the self-explanatory King Kong, The Return of Leroy (where finally the joke starts to wear thin), the popular and well-sampled dancefloor vamps Potential and Maximum Stimulation and a couple of throwaways among the album’s 17 tracks. Here’s a random torrent.
827. Black Uhuru – Sinsemilla
For a brief period after Bob Marley’s untimely death, Black Uhuru was the biggest reggae band in the world. Touring with the Police (who they routinely blew off the stage, night after night on the Spirits in the Material World tour) didn’t hurt. It’s safe to say that everything they did with the original lineup (Mykal Rose, Puma Jones and Duckie Simpson on vocals, plus the incomparable rhythm section of Sly Dunbar on drums and Robbie Shakespeare on bass) is worth owning, if you’re into this stuff. We picked this 1980 album over their debut and the pretty sensational Live 1981 album because the tracks here are more diverse and arguably stronger than the tunes on on the first album, and because the live one has an anti-choice song on it. It’s nice to see how well it’s aged, with the band’s biggest hit, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, along with the reliably smile-inducing title track, the anthemic Push Push, Fire, and Endurance, the genuinely anguished Happiness, and the bitter, confrontational Vampire. They also celebrate their roots (and, ultimately, everybody’s roots) with World Is Africa: at the time this came out, being socially aware was a necessity if you wanted to get anywhere in reggae music. The harmonies soar and the band pulse along without any help from computers or drum machines. Here’s a random torrent.
826. The Anti-Nowhere League – Live in Yugoslavia
In 1982, these comedically assaultive British punks added a second guitarist to fill out their live sound and then went on a brief tour of Yugoslavia where they’d be pretty much under the radar, working up new material and arrangements – such as there are arrangements in punk rock. Audiences there loved them, and this thunderously entertaining album is the result. It’s got most of the best tracks off their debut We Are…the League, from the previous year, including the hellraising anthem Let’s Break the Law; the woozily insistent title track; the hilariously filthy Reck-A-Nowhere and So What; the society-done-me-wrong number For You; the kiss-off anthem Woman; and a deliciously over-the-top version of I Hate People (“I hate people…they hate me!!!”). There’s also some some equally ferocious stuff, like the defiant ode to living on the dole, Let the Country Feed You and the stomping Going Down, which hints at the Motorhead-style biker rock they’d digress into later in the decade. Over the years new versions of the League have assembled behind leather-clad frontman Animal and toured; practically thirty years since he first was banned from the BBC, he’s as amusing as ever. Here’s a random torrent.
825. Gregory Isaacs – Reggae Greats Live
The Cool Ruler was always ready for leaving out of Babylon, and then left forever. Gregory Isaacs died on October 25, 2010, at 59, leaving a legacy of literally hundreds of albums and many broken hearts. In the last few years, if you wanted to meet Jamaican women of a certain age, you could find them swaying to Night Nurse at a Gregory Isaacs show. This live album from 1983, probably recorded about a year earlier, doesn’t have that one but it does have a bunch of hits from the late 70s/early 80s when he was one of the biggest stars in Jamaica. As with the rest of his catalog, it’s a mix of sly come-ons (Isaacs was sort of the Jamaican Jimmy Reed) and righteous Rasta anthems. His biggest hit before Night Nurse was Number One (as in, “If you wanna be my number one…) and he opens with that, backed by a terrific oldschool roots band with lead guitar, electric piano and percussion. Stylistically, the songs run the gamut from oldschool rocksteady like Tune In (check out the vintage video from Rockers TV), Substitute or Mr. Brown to straight-up pop (Ooh What a Feeling). Other big Jamaican hits in the set include Soon Forward, Sunday Morning (not the Lou Reed song), Top Ten and Front Door. The politically-charged immigrant’s tale The Border closes the album on an epic note, a throwback to his early days as Rasta rebel. As reggae went more digital, so did Isaacs’ recordings, with predictable results, although pretty much anything he did before, say, this album, is usually worth a listen. And there’s a lot of it. Here’s a random torrent.
824. The UK Subs – Crash Course
Believe it or not, the prototypical oi punks’ first live album made the top ten on the British charts in 1980. This is the original, classic lineup with Charlie Harper backed by Nicky Garratt on guitar, Paul Slack on bass and Pete Davis on drums. Unlike so many of the hardcore bands that followed in their wake, the Subs’ irrepressible sense of humor and genuine defiance are in full effect here: Harper always let it be known that he and the rest of the crew were just glad to be able to make a living without having to work for some slimeball boss. The original vinyl album has 20 tracks; the cd includes the bonus ep with four additional live songs recorded considerably earlier. Unfortunately, you can’t download the big 20-inch UK SUBS stencil that came with the record, an absolutely brilliant piece of marketing that literally can still be seen 30 years later in places where long ago, punks used to get together. All their early hits are here: the hardcore classic I Live in a Car; the Subhumans-style reggae-rock Warhead; a trebly New York State Police (without the loud lead bass on the studio version); a comfortably unhinged Emotional Blackmail; the punk-pop of Tomorrow’s Girls and Teenage (Harper was 36 when he sang “I don’t wanna be teenage”). After awhile, a lot of this starts to sound the same, but there literally isn’t a bad song among the total of 24 tracks here. Harper has assembled several different outfits to back him over the years, Garratt and later bassist Alvin Gibbs rejoining at times; after a detour into a more metal-oriented direction in the mid-80s, they’d make a return to their punk roots in later years to cash in on the nostalgia circuit. Now in his late sixties, Harper remains as unstoppable as ever and still tours. Here’s a random torrent.
823. The Best of Spike Jones
The genius of Spike Jones is that his topical jokes from seventy years ago are as funny today as they were then. It helps if you know the source material, but it’s not necessary: after all these years, four-year-olds of all ages still laugh at all the bells and whistles and bumps and crashes in the drummer/bandleader’s crazed vaudevillian catalog. According to amazon, there are 55 Spike Jones albums currently in print; this one has only twelve tracks, but it’s the most solid singles collection we could find (in the early 40s, when the guy was at his peak, everybody was a singles artist). The classic of classics here is Der Fuehrer’s Face, a quintessentially and hilariously American response to Hitler’s WWII propaganda machine. But Jones lampooned the pop music of the era with only slightly less venom, with the horror-movie version of My Old Flame; the drunken, over-the-top Chloe; the Peter Lorre-inspired Laura and The Glow Worm (which surprisingly we couldn’t find streaming anywhere); and the very literal You Always Hurt the One You Love. None but the Lonely Heart is no less amusing a parody of soap operas than it was seven decades ago, and Hawaiian War Chant gives the then-current Hawaiian music craze a thorough stomping. Since classical music was broadcast nationwide on a daily basis during Jones’ heyday, he also lampooned that as well – this collection only has the surprisingly subtle (for him) Dance of the Hours and the arguably funniest moment in an album full of many, the gargling solo on the William Tell Overture, followed by the immortal horse race where the last-place Beetlebomb finally emerges triumphant. Absent here, and probably for the best, are less politically correct numbers like Chinese Mule Train and The Sheik of Araby, which have aged badly. But the album does have Jones’ biggest hit Cocktails for Two, innocuous pop song transformed into one of the great drinking anthems. Here’s a random torrent.
822. Carol Lipnik – Cloud Girl
Coney Island born and bred, noir chanteuse Carol Lipnik walks a tightrope between sinister and sultry. The cover image of this 2006 cd, a shot of the rails of the Cyclone rollercoaster with its “REMAIN SEATED” sign, is apt. Celebrated for her bone-chilling four-octave range, she’s also a multi-instrumentalist songwriter and a regular collaborator with jazz piano great Dred Scott.This is her most phantasmagorical album. It’s got a couple of creepy waltzes – one about cannibalism, another about madness; the playfully lurid Freak House Blues; the macabre pop of Falling/Floating By, and the lushly moody, menacing Crushed. Other songs work dreamy atmospherics for a more distant menace: the lushly beautiful Traveling and the haunting, hypnotic, Radiohead-inflected title track. Lipnik’s been working lately with cabaret/avant garde star singer John Kelly , which gives them about eight octaves worth of vocals put together. Her first two albums before this one, the carnivalesque My Life As a Singing Mermaid and the intense Hope Street are more stylistically all over the map – Lipnik is also terrifically adept at soul, blues and gypsy music – and also worth getting to know.
This album is prized on the collector market. If Dusseldorf organist Almut Rossler recorded frequently, the internet record doesn’t reflect it. But when she did – wow! Classical church organ music is extraordinarily hard to record: the blast of the bass from the pedals contrasts with the delicacy of the high reed stops to the point where it’s almost absurd to attempt to capture the entire sonic spectrum. And French composer Olivier Messiaen’s haunting, otherworldly works take up every inch of what a good pipe organ will give you. This 1973 recording includes a rivetingly powerful recording of his otherworldly, ghostly suite La Navitite du Seigneur (The Birth of the Lord), which rather than triumphantly signaling the birth of a deity, is completely macabre, to the point where it seems that Messiaen (a devout Catholic) was working for the other team. The album also includes the more matter-of-factly ominous Dyptique, the chilly, atmospheric Le Banquet Celeste and last but not least, a casually chilling version of L’Apparition de l’Eglise Eternelle (The Dawn of the Eternal Church), a work which many people consider to be the most life-changing piece of music ever written. We wouldn’t go quite that far, but its icy, burning ambience makes it impossible to turn away from. It’s iconic in the organ world; it has been known to terrify people whose taste in music is more timid. This recording is also absolutely impossible to find online. In lieu of this extraordinary album, here’s a torrent to the complete organ works of Messiaen by another gifted organist, Olivier Latry of Notre Dame in Paris, whose recordings of Messiaen are both thrilling and chilling.
820. Percy Mayfield – His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides
One of bluesman Percy Mayfield’s albums from the late 1950s is called My Heart Is Always Singing Sad Songs, and it perfectly captures his esthetic. Ironically, it’s not those songs that he’s best remembered for: his first big hit was Please Send Me Someone to Love. A few years later later he wrote Hit the Road Jack, iconically covered by Ray Charles. In 1969, Elvis covered Stranger in My Own Hometown; twenty years later, Mose Allison did a killer version of that one. But Mayfield, an old soul if there ever was one, was the best interpreter of his own material. A star of the West Coast blues circuit in the early 50s, he narrowly survived a 1954 car accident that left him disfigured for life, with a sizeable crater in his forehead (the inspiration for Stranger in My Own Home Town). This is a 2003 reissue of 1962-74 recordings. Mayfield always sounded older than he was: among the 28 tracks here are the shuffling R&B of Never No More; the lushly orchestrated piano blues Memory Pain; the even lusher, far more modern-sounding River’s Invitation; the slow, brooding My Jug and I; the funky, psychedelic Nothing Stays the Same Forever and the Louis Jordan-esque Life Is Suicide. The titles pretty much speak for themselves: it’s some of the most wrenching stuff ever recorded. Mayfield’s stuff from the 50s is equally good: other albums worth checking out are his Specialty Singles compilation as well as the Poet Of the Blues, Memory Pain and Two Years of Torture anthologies. Here’s a random torrent.
819. The Bongos – Numbers with Wings
Along with the Feelies, the Bongos put Hoboken, New Jersey (across the river from Manhattan for all you outsiders) on the map in the early 1980s. Their quirky, sometimes jangly, sometimes powerpoppy Drums Along the Hudson remains a cult favorite almost thirty years after it came out. We picked this one not only to be counterintuitive, but also because this 1983 ep is a whole lot better, in fact, it’s got some of the best janglerock ever recorded. The classic here is the swooping, hypnotic, uncharacteristically dark and plaintive title track; Sweet Blue Cage mines a distantly glimmery, psychedelic Rain Parade feel. Barbarella, with its Adam Ant-style percussive dance groove, is the smash hit that should have been. They follow in a similar vein with Skydiving and wrap it up with another deliciously jangly should-have-been hit, Tiger Nights, a party theme waiting to happen. Some fans and critics objected to this album as overproduced and slick, but the band never wrote better songs before or after. Frontman/guitarist Richard Barone has continued as a solo act; guitarist/bassist James Mastro would go on to a career as a brilliant and highly sought-after lead player with Ian Hunter, the Jayhawks, Amy Speace and many others. Here’s a random torrent.
818. 2Pac – 2Pacalypse Now
2Pac’s 1992 debut album was not a commercial success, in fact, it would be another couple of years before he’d release another one. This one’s aged awfully well. He wasn’t yet the effortless lyrical stylist he’d become by the time Strictly 4 My Niggaz hit in 1994, but he also wasn’t slinging ganja-fueled nonsense like he did on the Makavalli albums and all the outtakes that were released posthumously. The bare-bones production puts his wrathful rhymes here front and center. Tupac Shakur may have presented a goofball personality offstage, but in front of the mic, or on a movie set, he was dead serious, fearless, unrepentant and mad as hell. The jokes are grim, the humor is black, and the disses are murderous. The titles are pretty much dead giveaways: socially provocative stuff like Young Black Male, Trapped, and Soulja’s Story; the high point of the album, I Don’t Give a Fuck, the original of the bitterly prophetic Brenda’s Got a Baby and gangsta stuff like The Lunatic. Like two of his lyricist colleagues from back in the day, Ice Cube and Ice-T, his rapping started to take a back seat to his film career; too bad we’ll never know what else this multi-talented guy could have done. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.
817. Love Camp 7 – Sometimes Always Never
New York psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7′s early work bears little resemblance to this richly melodic, lyrical 2007 masterpiece. Their jagged, astringent, rigorously cerebral early stuff drew more from Beefheart and Zappa. By the time they released this one, they’d defined their own sound, jangly and serpentine, with dizzyingly polyrhythmic vocal harmonies carrying frontman/guitarist Dann Baker’s wryly clever, historically infused, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. They’d also added a second guitarist, Steve Antonakos, whose fiery eclecticism became the perfect match for Baker’s counterintuitive, incisive fretwork. This has to be the only album that namechecks NBA star Eldon Brand, California conservationist David Gaines and know-it-all jazz dj Phil Schaap. The two tracks here that seem to have made it to the web scot-free are the lusciously retro psych-pop gem Munoz, and the punkish, politically fueled Naming Names. There’s also a lushly arranged triptych about waterworks corruption in 1930s California; guitar-fueled shout-outs to Barbara Lee (the only member of Congress who voted against giving the Bush regime the authority to declare war) and grassroots hero Jon Strange; a wild tribute to 60s garage rock legends the Seeds; and a couple of bouncy, Kinks-ish psychedelic pop numbers. Drummer Dave Campbell’s vocals pop up where least expected while he propels the unit with deadpan, jazzy aplomb. Campbell’s untimely death this year signaled the end for this unique and clever crew, although they have at least two more albums in the can, one a hilarious Beatles tribute/parody.
816. The Slits – Cut
Here’s a cult favorite. We’re trying to avoid duplicating the most obvious choices which have been featured on other popular best albums lists on the web, but this characteristically weird, irreproducible moment from the peak of punk, 1979 deserves a place here: every so often, good things actually become popular and this is one of them. Quirky and often irresistible, the lone album by the original all-female Slits (drummer Palmolive quit before the band could record: the drums here are played with surprising dubwise groove by Budgie from Siouxsie & the Banshees) has been imitated a million times but never duplicated. It’s hard to imagine Bjork without this. What’s coolest about the album is how dubwise it is, smartly and tersely produced by noted reggae bassist/bandleader Dennis Bovell. Frontwoman Ari Up was seventeen when she recorded this – her hybrid German/Jamaican accent is a long WTF moment – and leads the band with an unselfconscious defiance through the sarcastic, minimalist reggae-pop of Spend Spend Spend, So Tough (a sendup of macho poseurs); the gleeful Shoplifting; the cynical anticonformist anthem Typical Girls; and the scurrying, ominously minor-key garage-punk Love und Romance. Their darker, louder, more punk side comes across with the overtly Siouxsie-esque Newtown and Adventures Close to Home. They’d reunite with a new drummer in 2007 and tour until Ari Up tragically died at 48 just a few weeks ago. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.
815. Weird Al Yankovic – Weird Al in 3-D
Some of you will think we’re insane for including a Weird Al album on this list. But Weird Al is awesome! Even if he isn’t as absolutely essential as he must have been 25 years ago, when there was actually an audience over 12 years old who were familiar with the top 40 hits he parodied so ruthlessly. That’s why we chose this 1984 album, his second: Weird Al doesn’t really make sense unless you know the source material, and a lot of these songs are still in heavy rotation on a lot of stations, all these years after they came out. This one has the crazy accordionist’s biggest 80s hit, Eat It (a spot-on spoof of Michael Jackson’s Beat It, right down to guest guitarist Rich Derringer’s shredding solo that absolutely blows away the Eddie Van Halen original). A lot of these songs are new wave parodies: The Brady Bunch makes fun of Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance; Mr. Popeil does the same with the B-52s, and King of Suede goofs on the Police. The funniest one here is the Eye of the Tiger satire The Rye or the Kaiser, a sad tale of an ex-boxer deli owner who’s only got enough left in him to punch out a sausage or two. There’s also the reggae sendup Buy Me a Condo (insinuating that holier-than-thou Rasta reggae artists are all just sellouts at heart), and the reliably amusing Polkas on 45, a joke version of the hit medley Stars on 45. Weird Al is such a funny guy that he could take a completely boring album like Bad by Michael Jackson and make it interesting. The trouble with what he does is that as the audience for top 40 has eroded, so has his fan base: he could spoof Lady Gaga all he wants, but who over age ten knows any of her songs? Maybe it’s time for Weird Al to do a Broken Social Scene record. Here’s a random torrent.
814. Live Yardbirds – Featuring Jimmy Page
Recorded live in New York in the spring of 1968 on the band’s final tour with Chris Dreja on bass and Jimmy Page on guitar (with some help from Keith Relf), first released in 1971, this one’s been reissued several times but always quickly taken out of print since Page has apparently never liked how he played on it. Which is mystifying because this is the best thing he ever recorded. Wild, inspired, and sloppy (isn’t he always?), he bends notes crazily, fires off fast-foward staggering blues runs and burns through a stunningly fluid six-minute open-tuned blues instrumental that’s half bluegrass. The big blues jam happens at the end of side one; the hits are represented by completely unhinged, paint-peeling versions of You’re a Better Man Than I, Heart Full of Soul, Shapes of Things and the best-ever version of Over Under Sideways Down (sorry, Jeff Beck). Johnny Burnette’s Train Kept a-Rolling is closer to Led Zeppelin than anything the Clapton-era Yardbirds ever did; they also rocket through a lickety-split, open-tuned version of the old standard Drinking Muddy Water. But the killer track here is I’m Confused, an early version of Dazed and Confused which benefits as much from Relf’s gruff, casually unaffected vocal as it does Page’s murky, molten metal Middle Eastern riffage. There doesn’t seem to be an official version of this currently in print; vinyl copies of the 70s albums are prized on the collector market. Here’s a random torrent.
813. Eric Ambel – Roscoe’s Gang
The original lead guitarist in Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel made a name for himself as a ferociously talented soloist in 80s Americana cult band the Del Lords (who have recently reunited after a 20-year hiatus). After that, he’d go on to serve for several years as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist when he wasn’t producing great albums by an endless succession of twangy rock acts over the past 20 years or so. This one could be found playing over the PA in every cool bar and club in New York in the summer of 1989; Ambel has since remastered and tweaked it. Here he’s backed by Springfield, Missouri highway rockers the Morells along with REM collaborator Peter Holsapple and Golden Palomino Syd Straw, along with several New York street musicians including sax player “Mr. Thing.” They rocket through a mix of tight, imaginative covers and originals, all of which are streaming at Ambel’s site. An insanely catchy, considerably altered version of Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction to Your Mind was the New York party anthem of 1989; Ambel’s Del Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s classic powerpop song Forever Came Today is as poignant now as it was 20 years ago. 30 Days in the Workhouse gets a stinging treatment that enhances the lyrics: “If I’d been a black man, they’d have given me thirty years.” There’s also the classic kiss-off anthem You Must Have Me Confused (With Someone Who Cares); Holsapple’s Everly Bros. soundalike Next to the Last Waltz; the macho Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend; and a well-oiled, impromptu live-in-the-studio version of Neil Young’s Vampire Blues that beats the original hands down (and cuts off mysteriously midway through the outro). For newcomers to Ambel’s music, it’s available attractively as a three-fer along with the bitter, stinging Loud and Lonesome and the more recent, frequently hilarious Knucklehead album.
812. Les Porte-Mentaux – Les Misérables
Best remembered for their mid-80s hit Elsa Fraulein, these French punk rockers (their name means “The Coat Hangers”) had half a minute of major label attention with this one stunningly good 1989 release whose ornate 80s chorus-box and big room production gives an artsy sheen to the raw punk fury underneath. Frontman/guitarist Michel Paul anchored his sarcastic anger in history, notably in the revolutionary anthem Les Partisans and the scorching version of the old folk song Ah Ça Ira (sort of the French equivalent of the Clash’s English Civil War). Pas l’Temps d’Rever (No Time for Dreaming) blasts along like early Stiff Little Fingers; the fake march Soldat Soldat evokes famous French rockers Telephone with its snarling antiwar stance. The balmy, Church-esque guitar atmospherics of Le Grand Bateau (The Ark) mask its apocalyptic undercurrent, but no amount of lavish production can bury the desperate punk fury of the wickedly anthemic title track: “Sous le pont du desespoir, les miserables et moi ce soir [“under Despair Bridge, the hopeless and me tonight”]). There’s also the sarcastic Le Mome Poli (The Polite Kid), the singalong Cite Pigalle Sexe (dedicated to Paris’ now-gentrified former redlight district) and Etat de Siege (State of Siege) where Paul implores “Don’t get caught in the trap.” The tunes are so strong on this album that even if you don’t speak French, they’re enough to make you want to sing along. Michel Paul regrouped the band in the late 90s to cash in on the punk nostalgia movement before his tragic early death at age 44; a regrouped band continues to tour Europe, playing the hits. Here’s a random torrent.
811. The Joe Cuba Sextet – Push Push Push
Iconic in latin music circles, the Joe Cuba Sextet were the most popular of the bugalu bands that sprang up in Spanish Harlem in the 1960s, blending the most danceable elements of soul music with catchy horn-and-piano-driven salsa. The famous crossover hit is Bang Bang, covered by thousands of acts in the decades since it topped the charts in 1966. Another crossover smash here is the James Brown-influenced Sock It To Me. The rest of the album is a mix of latin soul and ridiculously catchy, slinky straight-up salsa (Asi Soy and Mujer Divina, for example) with a thicket of percussion (bandleader Cuba was a conguero) and resonantly catchy hooks along with some cool innovative touches like the eerie vibraphone on La Malanga Brava. Alafia was a mambo hit; the final track, Cocinando (i.e. “cooking the sauce”) is a long jam where the band push each other to take it higher and higher. Although as the decades wore on, Joe Cuba moved away from this toward a more mainstream salsa sound, pretty much everything he did is worth hearing if you’re into this sort of thing. Auspiciously, there’s been a bugalu resurgence, with new bands like Spanglish Fly and the Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout continuing the tradicion. Fania has the digital reissue; otherwise, here’s a random torrent.
810. Sacred Music in the Renaissance, Volume 1 – The Tallis Scholars: Finest Recordings 1980-1989
Conventional wisdom is that the audience for Renaissance vocal music is pretty much limited to those who sing it, and who attend churches where it is performed. One look at the crowds who come out for this sort of thing disproves that theory: the appeal of early music transcends everything, including time. This collection is only the second to make its debut at this site on this list. It’s a staggeringly comprehensive five-disc set including some of the most stunning, epic choral works of the Middle Ages as well as an entire cd devoted to the work of seminal British composer Thomas Tallis, for whom the group is named. The Tallis Scholars are hardly the only ensemble to sing these works, but their influence as performers, popularizers and archivists rescuing treasures largely unheard for decades or even centuries cannot be underestimated. Highlights include a surprisingly brisk, vividly energetic performance of John Sheppard’s towering, death-fixated Media Vita and Tallis’ serpentine suite Spem in Alium along with shorter pieces, both iconic and lesser-known, by Palestrina, Allegri, Josquin des Prez, Crecquillon, Cornysh and Victoria. Many are ornate, with harmonies that span several octaves; others are spare and haunting, as one would expect from music made in an era where life was even shorter and more brutish than it is now. Director Peter Phillips made waves and essentially changed the way choral music was recorded by combining the best sections from multiple takes, just as rock albums are made: in twenty years, he’d see his radical innovation adopted by pretty much everyone else in his field. This collection is just out in Fall 2010 and available from Harmonia Mundi.
809. Cesar Franck – Organ Works – Pierre Cochereau
Belgian composer Cesar Franck is not popular with music snobs, probably because he’s one of the alltime great tunesmiths. Considering how vivid and memorable his compositions are, it’s surprising that he’s not better known. He wrote string quartets, piano music and symphonies, but he supported himself as a Paris church organist and his works for organ are arguably his finest. He was reputedly a gentle soul: his students loved him. Recorded at Notre Dame with an unselfconscious intensity in 1958 by legendary organist and improviser Pierre Cochereau, this six-album set, long out of print, absolutely nails the plaintiveness and drama in Franck’s works. These days, the buzzword that describes Franck best is “transparent,” that is, he didn’t dissemble. He wore his heart on his sleeve and in the process created a body of work that resonates with an intensity that ranges from poignant to triumphant. This one has all the classics: the Grand Piece Symphonique, which may or may not have been the first organ symphony (it probably wasn’t: Franz Liszt arguably beat him to it); the uneasily victorious Piece Heroique, and the Chorales (versions of #1, #2 and #3 by various organists, including the extraordinary Charles Tournemire on #3, have made it to youtube). If there’s any composer from the Romantic era who deserves a revival, it’s Franck. Another estimable Notre Dame organist, Olivier Latry recorded a six-cd box set in 2002; Marcel Dupre’s rumbling, reverb-drenched 1948 mono recordings of the chorales are also worth getting if you can track them down. Here’s a random torrent.
808. Lucky Dube – Captured Live
Reggae triumphantly made its way home to Africa: some of the greatest roots artists have come out of that continent. Arguably the finest artist singing in English was Lucky Dube, who was already a mbaqanga star in his native South Africa when, inspired by Peter Tosh, he decided to switch to reggae in 1984. Dube, a talented keyboardist, built his signature sound with swooping, pitch-bending organ and synthesizer lines over a traditional roots rhythm section and horns. Released stateside in 1991, this towering, majestic live set was the band’s international breakthrough, capturing them at the peak of their trance-inducing power. It doesn’t have Dube’s biggest hit, the wrenchingly poignant Victims, but the set is still first-rate. Many of these songs clock in at close to ten minutes or more: the insistent Going Back to My Roots; the bouncy, swaying Together As One; the gospel-infused Born to Suffer and the catchy, anthemic The Hand That Giveth. Dube’s defiant anti-apartheid message comes across powerfully in Slave and Prisoner; the album ends with a sixteen-minute, dub-infused version of the anthem Truth in the World. He would live to see apartheid dismantled, go on to tour with Peter Gabriel and Midnight Oil before being murdered in a carjacking in 2007. Here’s a random torrent.
807. Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac
In a way, this is a coming-of-age album. Johnny Cash’s daughter’s 2006 album inspired by her famous father’s death is more metaphorical than it is autobiographical, a gently brooding, tightlipped, wounded narrative of grief and muted rage. Her breathy, nuanced voice has never been more compelling than it is here: it packs an understated wallop. It’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever lost a loved one in a small town, a neighborhood or a scene where people talk behind your back – family secrets come out, the veil of privacy is shattered and yet the bereaved are expected to behave well. The title track arrives as the hearse leaves and the shock hasn’t settled in yet; God Is in the Roses and The World Unseen allude to Johnny’s surprisingly deeply anchored spirituality. The wistful House on the Lake recalls a childhood vacation spot that by implication will soon be lost forever in the upcoming auction; Like a Wave and I Was Watching You also reach back in vain for lost moments. But the standouts here are the angry ones: the smoldering Like Fugitives captures the family dodging curious eyes and would-be well-wishers, while Burn Down This Town marks the single moment where Cash or her narrator standin loses her composure. After this, nothing will ever be the same, yet she sees more clearly than ever: it’s the quantum leap she never wanted or realized she’d ever take. Behind her, her husband and lead guitarist John Leventhal leads the band deftly through a series of Americana-flavored acoustic rock themes. The album winds up with The Good Intent, taking its title from the name of the ship that brought Cash’s ancestors to America, and a John Cage-like seventy-one seconds of silence for Johnny at the end. Here’s a random torrent.
806. Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Like an album by John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, this is a meeting between two giants of their field early in their careers. Mos Def and Talib Kweli were already stars of the hip-hop underground when they put out this rich and surprisingly subtle lyrical masterpiece in 1998. Released just at the point where major-label rap was getting the substance corporatized out of it, the rhymes here are self-aware without being mawkish, socially aware without being politically correct. It’s got the deep-space, pro-black metaphors of Astronomy (8th Light); Definition, an anti-violence shout-out to Biggie and 2Pac, and many ingenious levels of meaning on Children’s Story. Brown Skin Lady ominously samples Gil Scott-Heron’s nuclear apocalypse narrative We Almost Lost Detroit; Hater Players sends a casually fervent shout-out to their fellow underground MCs. There’s also the in-your-face K.O.S. (Determination) and the eerie, hypnotic Twice inna Lifetime. The centerpiece here is Thieves in the Night, a brilliantly insightful reminder that truth only reveals itself after the brainwashing is erased: “We live the truest lie, wonder why we fight the war of the bluest eye…while we find the beauty in the hideous.” The reverberating, electric piano-drenched samples are surprisingly psychedelic and interesting. Here’s a random torrent.
805. Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution
The most musically sophisticated of all the classic roots reggae bands of the 70s, Steel Pulse’s career began with a string of brilliant albums that lasted into the early 80s. After a struggle with one producer after another who tried to dumb down their sound and turn them into a pop band, they returned to their roots like they’d never left and never looked back. Over thirty years after they started, they’re still an extraordinary live band (the single most popular concert review we’ve published to date concerns a 2008 Steel Pulse show). Since all their early and their most recent material is so consistently strong, we picked this album, their major label debut, from 1978. Frontman David Hinds’ jazzy chords, serpentine song structures and politically charged lyrics are as intense as ever: the title track captures the struggle of West Indians in racist England at the time; Ku Klux Klan, one of their biggest hits, works powerfully on several levels. There’s also the antiwar Soldiers; the snide Bad Man; the echoey, metaphorically driven Prodigal Son; the big dub-flavored concert hit Sound Check; and the ganja-fueled Rasta anthem Macka Splaff. Everything the band recorded through 1982′s True Democracy is worth a spin, as is their elaborate 1992 live concert album, Rastafari Centennial and pretty much everything they’ve done after that. Here’s a random torrent.
804. Man or Astroman? – Intravenous Television Continuum
Don’t let their cutesy habit of introducing the songs with random snippets of dialogue from cheesy 1950s sci-fi movies turn you off. Back in the 90s, these masked men (and women – like the Ventures, there have been various editions of this band, including an all-girl version featuring Ani Cordero of Cordero on drums) put out a series of mostly first-rate instrumental rock albums, sputtering from surf to hotrod to sci-fi themes before going off on more of a dreampop/indie tangent late in the decade. This 1995 release gets the nod over the rest of their catalog because A) unlike a lot of their songs, most of the tracks here have bass in addition to guitar and B) the annoying nerdiness that occasionally surfaces on their other albums is pretty much absent. This is sort of a greatest-hits cd plus punked-out covers of surf classics. After the white noise of “Immersion Static,” they offer their big concert hits Put Your Finger In the Socket and Tomorrow Plus X as well as a 2012 version of the roaring, lo-fi Nitrous Burn Out. The best of the originals here is the eerie, jangly, Asian-tinged Tetsuwan Atomu. There are two version of their song Max Q here (including the weird and obviously titled Reverse Sync Moog Version). The covers range from obscure – an absolutely scorching version of Invasion of the Dragonmen and smartly chosen takes of Calling Hong Kong and Principles Unknown – to iconic, with punked-out versions of Out of Limits, the Munsters Theme, Deuces Wild, Cool Your Jets and a characteristically energetic, tongue-in-cheek Everyone’s Favorite Martian. If you like this, everything they did prior to 1998 is worth a listen. Here’s a random torrent – and you might also enjoy this download of a recent live show in Atlanta from earlier this year.
803. Emmylou Harris – Pieces of the Sky
If you like country music, everything Emmylou Harris did back in the 70s is worth hearing. We picked this one, her sad, beautiful 1975 debut album because the group behind her is so excellent (with lead guitar monster James Burton and drummer Ronnie Tutt from Elvis’ road band). Like her old duet pal Gram Parsons, Emmylou was retro before retro was cool: the playing, and the songs reach back to an earlier era before top 40 pop started to infiltrate Nashville. It’s got a particularly poignant version of the Louvin Bros.’ If I Could Only Win Your Love, which she used to sing with Parsons, along with Sleepless Nights (the title track to his second, posthumous album) and the lone original here, Boulder to Birmingham, a fond reminiscence of her good days on the road with him. But the real showstopper here is Too Far Gone: a lot of good singers have done it, but her hushed anguish is viscerally intense. Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors gets a similarly emotional treatment; there’s also a somewhat subdued yet very compelling version of Merle Haggard’s Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down, a surprisingly effective countrified take of the Beatles’ For No One and Shel Silverstein’s winking Queen of the Silver Dollar. Another first-class Emmylou album that was a contender for this list is Red Dirt Girl, with Buddy Miller on lead guitar, a collection of excellent original songs from 2000 which fell out of contention on account of a Dave Matthews appearance on one of the songs. Here’s a random torrent.
802. Phil Kline – Unsilent Night
You’re on this album. That’s right. You’re part of it. Arguably the first interactive album ever made, avant garde composer Kline’s eerie, gamelanesque 1992 electronic “boombox symphony” began as a protest of the first Gulf War and grew into an annual event that millions have participated in over the years. If you haven’t, now’s your chance. Go to http://www.unsilentnight.com. There you can find out where and where the event is happening in your part of the world. Every year during the holiday season, there are processions of people carring boomboxes, laptops, ipod decks and amplified walkmans, all blasting Unsilent Night in semi-unison to show their support for world peace. The longer the procession, the greater the doppler effect, and the cooler it sounds. For maximum eeriness, if you have the technology, record this onto a cassette instead of burning a cd: if your boombox has a cassette player, it’s probably pretty old, and if the motor flutters, so much the better. You may only hear this album once, but you’ll always have happy memories of it. This year’s New York area Unsilent Night procession takes place on December 18, leaving at 7 PM from the arch at Washington Square Park and marching to Tompkins Square Park. Arrival by about 6:40 PM is advised. If you want a torrent, here’s a random one.
801. Maldita Vecindad – El Circo
Mexican band Maldita Vecindad (translated roughly as “Bad Neighborhood”) made their debut with a pleasantly skittish funk cd which foreshadowed absolutely nothing of this powerful, eerie, Middle Eastern-tinged 1991 album. Widely considered one of the great moments in rock en Espanol, it’s been in influence on innumerable psychedelic rock, skaragga and metal cumbia bands south of the border. Phantasmagorical and carnivalesque, it’s a trippy, sometimes snide romp through a diverse collection of styles, from the swaying hit Pachuco to the swinging, horn-driven Un Poco de Sangre, foreshadowing their late 90s future as a ska-punk band. There’s also the hypnotically Moroccan-tinged Solin, the slinky nocturne Kumbala (another big hit), the brisk punk norteno dance Pata de Perro and the artsy ballad Querida to end it on a surprisingly balmy note. Everything this band did – especially their mid-90s eps – is worth owning, and you don’t have to speak Spanish to appreciate it. Here’s a random torrent.
800. Little Feat – Waiting for Columbus
OK, go ahead and hate on this. Say we’re trendoids, picking this hippie stoner monstrosity within a month of Phish having covered the entire album at a live show. In defense of this album, it’s a party in a box – and it was one of the few from that era that pretty much everybody knew and liked. Little Feat’s studio albums aren’t very good: even more than their contemporaries the Grateful Dead’s studio stuff, they have a rushed, uptight vibe. But not this sprawling 1978 double live lp. Lowell George, Paul Barrere and Bill Payne blended equal parts New Orleans R&B and funk, slowed it down to halfspeed and with the addition of the Tower of Power horn section, created a sly, lazy style of southern rock that was indelibly their own. When you think about it, you know most of these songs: Fat Man in the Bathtub; Oh Atlanta; Time Loves a Hero, and Dixie Chicken. Oh yeah, don’t forget the 41 seconds of Don’t Bogart That Joint. There’s also Willin’, the most laid-back truck-driving anthem ever recorded; the sprawling jam Tripe Face Boogie; the surprisingly harder-rocking Rocket in My Pocket and the shuffling Feats Don’t Fail Me Now. George’s pie-eyed slide guitar dives, bounces and staggers with a shit-eating grin while the rhythm section slinks and the rest of the band sound like Steely Dan on Southern Comfort. None of this is meant to be taken all that seriously. You’d think that powder drugs would be the last thing you’d want to be on while listening to this, but sadly that’s what killed George, dead in his motel room at 34. Payne would go on to play with the Rolling Stones and many others; Barrere put out an excellent solo album in 1984 and pretty much since then has led a regrouped, female-fronted version of the band who have never reached the heights they hit here. Here’s a random torrent.