Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 400-499

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

Albums #800-899 continue here.

Albums #700-799 continue here.

Albums #600-699 continue here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

499. Erika Simonian – All the Plastic Animals

A cult classic from 2004. Simonian’s wryly literate lyrics range from sardonic to casually savage, set to precisely fingerpicked, austere melodies sung in a minutely nuanced voice that can be deadpan hilarious…or absolutely brutal. An air of disillusion and betrayal creeps in with the opening vignette, sarcastically titled Food From the Cow, followed by the even more sarcastic Pretty Good Wife; the cabaret-inflected Self Made Drama Machine, a kiss-off to a selfish bitch; and Mr. Wrong, an amusing pickup scenario predictably on its way to going awry. The most unforgettable song here is Bitter and Brittle, a vivid portrait of the edge of madness; the blackly humorous Eternal Spinsterhood is awfully good too. Surprisingly, this one is AWOL from the usual sources of free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby, where there are also clips from each song. Simonian continues as a member of lyrical indie rockers Little Silver and the entertaining, punkish Sprinkle Genies.

498. Ian Hunter – Rant

Ian Hunter may have played in a stadium rock band back in the 70s, but his best years were ahead of him, and that may still be true – and he’s no less vital today, now in his early 70s. It’s amazing how ten years ago, at practically age sixty, he came up with this bitter, ferociously angry requiem of sorts for the entire world. Taking care to kick off the album with persuasive proof that he’s undiminished by all this, he revisits his glam side with Still Love Rock N Roll before the apocalyptic Wash Us Away, the relentlessly ferocious Death of a Nation and Morons, the anti-yuppie diatribe Purgatory and the vitriolic American Spy, directed at sellout ex-punks. There’s also the Bowie-esque Britrock of Dead Man Walking; the sarcastic Good Samaritan; the defiant Soap N Water and Ripoff; the lush, beautiful janglerock of Knees of My Heart and the alienated angst of No One. Dark, lyrical four-on-the-floor rock doesn’t get any better than this. Here’s a random torrent via [not sure what this blog is called, but it’s really good].

497. Hank Mobley – Soul Station

This 1961 album is sort of a tenor sax response to Almost Blue, with a similarly beautiful nocturnal vibe. Which on one hand makes perfect sense since it has Wynton Kelly on piano and Paul Chambers on bass, with drummer Art Blakey in almost shockingly cool mode. Mobley made a name for himself playing just a hair behind the beat for maximum swing impact (something that didn’t ingratiate him to his hard-bop contemporaries), and he does that tunefully and memorably here, on their remake of the Irving Berlin ballad Remember as well as originals like the wryly soulful This I Dig of You, Dig This, the aptly titled, somewhat ambiguous Split Feelin’ and the high point of the album, the title cut. It ends on a poignant note with If I Should Lose. Who says sidemen can’t make great albums as bandleaders? Here’s a random torrent via Jazz Is My Life.

496. Patti Rothberg – Between the 1 and the 9

Discovered busking in the New York City subway (the album title references the local train running between Harlem and the Battery), Rothberg debuted auspiciously with this in 1996 and has replicated its clever lyricism and catchy, smoldering rock sensibility several times since then. The sarcastic garage rock anthem Treat Me Like Dirt went to #1 in Europe, while the characteristically tongue-in-cheek Inside reached the American top 40; the rest of the album ranges from pensive, symbolically charged purist slightly new wave-flavored pop tunes like Flicker, Forgive Me and It’s Alright to the sarcastic powerpop Perfect Stranger, Change Your Ways and Out of My Mind as well as the coyly sultry This One’s Mine. Everything Rothberg has done subsequently, especially the 2007 album Double Standards, is worth hearing. The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.

495. Robert Sirota – Triptych – The Chiara String Quartet

Arguably the most powerful, intense musical response to the horror of 9/11, composer Sirota’s anguished, horror-stricken suite for string quartet draws on artist Deborah Patterson’s triptych depicting the detonation of one of the towers, the death of NYFD chaplain Mychal Judge and the sky over the smoking hole at Ground Zero. The Chiaras premiered this at New York’s Trinity Church, barely two blocks away, in October, 2002. The frenzied horror of the first movement attempts to replicate sirens, a devil’s choir of car alarms and the chaos following the crash of the planes; the second is a grief-stricken lament; the third reaches for some sort of peace or closure. The only audio for this that seems to be on the web seems to be at cdbaby, where the album is still available, but terrific performances of this piece by the American String Quartet have made it to youtube in three segments, here, here, and here.

494. Buck Owens – On the Bandstand

Despite the title, this isn’t a live album, although it has the energy of one. Buck Owens began his career in the early 1950s as a highly sought-after lead guitarist known for his eclectic style, equally inspired by blues, Mexican music and what was becoming rock. By 1963, when this came out, he’d become a star as a frontman with his band the Buckaroos, including Tom Brumley on pedal steel and Don Rich on fiddle and lead guitar. Together they invented the “Bakersfield sound,” which is still about the hardest that country music has ever been. Some choice cuts: the sweetly twangy Sally Was a Good Girl, Kickin’ Our Hearts Around, One Way Love and Sweethearts in Heaven; a countryfied version of Leadbelly’s Cotton Fields; King of Fools, which foreshadows the buffoon character he’d play on Hee Haw; a boisterous Orange Blossom Special; and Diggy Diggy Lo, covered by many garage bands since then. Here’s a random torrent.

493. Carey Bell – Live at Bellinzona Piazza Blues Festival, 1999

The trouble with studio blues recordings is that labels didn’t stop exploiting the artists after Chess went under. As a result, even as late as the 90s, so many of those albums sound forced and furtive, everybody rushing to get their parts down before time ran out. This extremely obscure lo-fi live set recorded somewhere in Italy features the great Chicago blues harpist onstage, in his element, front and center over an anonymously competent band. Bell achieves his signature spooky, swirling, hauntingly watery sound by playing through a Leslie organ speaker. The set ranges from dark and ominous with Leaving in the Morning, Broken and Hungry, and Lonesome Stranger to the sly My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble and the big party favorite When I Get Drunk, along with a characteristically volcanic version of his big instrumental crowd-pleaser Jawbreaker. Some of this is streaming at Spotify; here’s a random torrent via Renovcevic.

492. Rachelle Garniez – Crazy Blood

Garniez is unquestionably the most eclectic and quite possibly the best songwriter to emerge from the New York scene in the late 90s and early zeros. Serenade, her first album, is lushly pensive and unselfconsciously romantic, as you might expect from someone whose main axe is the accordion. This 2001 release, her second, was her quantum leap, where she established herself as a deviously witty master of every retro style ever invented, from the apocalyptic pop of Silly Me, the gorgeous Memphis soul of Odette and Mr. Lady, the sultry jazz ballad Swimming Pool Blue, the inscrutable psychedelia of Little Fish and Marie, the jaunty, tongue-in-cheek blues of New Dog, the blithe, meticulously arranged salsa of Regular Joe and the album’s chilling, intense tango centerpiece, Shadowland – which would become a tv show theme – and the anguished, Bessie Smith-tinged title track. Garniez’ multi-octave voice swoops and dips mischievously over a band of A-list downtown jazz types. She’d go on to even greater heights with 2003′s Luckyday and 2008′s Melusine Years, and has a new one coming out (the cd release show is November 11 at Dixon Place). Strangely AWOL from the usual sources of free music, it’s still available from Garniez herself as well as at cdbaby.

491. Magic Sam – West Side Soul

This 1967 release pretty much sums up the innovative Chicago bluesman’s career and offers more than just a cruel glimpse of where he might have gone had he lived. An energetic vocalist and talented guitarist, he very subtly and effectively brought elements of 60s soul, funk and rock into a straight-up blues format. Among blues fans, this album has iconic status, and has most of his best-known songs: That’s All I Need; the funky I Feel So Good; soulful, nocturnal versions of Otis Rush’s All Your Love and My Love Will Never Die, and B.B. King’s I Need You So Bad; a surprisingly original cover of Sweet Home Chicago; a plaintive version of J.B. Lenoir’s Mama Talk to Your Daughter; the propulsive Every Night and Every Day, the bitter I Don’t Want No Woman and the instrumental theme Lookin’ Good. Sam Maghett drank and drugged himself to death at 32. Here’s a random torrent.

490. Merle Haggard – 20 Greatest Hits

One of the great transformation stories in musical history, a guy who (either despite or because of his criminal past) started out as a supporter of the extreme right, looked around and then realized that there was a better way, one that made sense given his populist background. This covers pretty much everything. It doesn’t have the honkytonk classic Swinging Doors but the 20 tracks here include most of the others: Mama Tried; Workingman’s Blues; Okie from Muskogee; Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down; the reworked Irish ballad Branded Man; and the Ford/Carter recession-era If We Make It Through December, a tribute to striking Detroit assembly line workers that’s as resonant today as it was thirty years ago. Here’s a random torrent via Kerala MV; if you’re here, and you like this kind of stuff, you might also enjoy Bryan & the Haggards’ twisted jazz instrumental cover album of Merle tunes.

489. Bee & Flower – What’s Mine Is Yours

The New York/Berlin band’s 2004 debut is a stark, often haunting mix of stately, slow-to-midtempo art-rock songs: some of them dirges, some more atmospheric, with slight variations on frontwoman/bassist Dana Schechter’s various shades of grey. The catchy, relentless opening track I Know Your Name sets the tone, followed by the aptly titled, glimmering Twin Stars and the menacing funeral processional Wounded Walking. The pastoral Carpenter’s Fern is as light as it gets here; On the Mouth the most upbeat, which is not really a lot. There’s also the sardonic Let It Shine and then anthemic, Joy Division-tinged closing cut, This Time. Everything else the band has released since then is worth a listen; here’s a random torrent via My Melomania. The album is still available from the band.

488. Tammy Wynette – Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad

She’d have an entire hall of fame career in the wake of this 1967 debut, but she got off on the good foot – and the album also doesn’t have the odious Stand By Your Man. Instead, it’s a bunch of ripping honkytonk numbers like the title track and the classics Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind), I Wound Easy but I Heal Fast along with ballads like There Goes My Everything, Don’t Touch Me, Almost Persuaded and Walk Through This World With Me. The band of Nashville pros is on top of their game and so was Tammy – it would be awhile before the pills caught up with her. Here’s a random torrent via I Could Die Tomorrow.

487. Guided by Voices – Do the Collapse

A lot of you will be scratching your heads over this one: of all the GBV albums, the one that Rick Ocasek produced?!? Yup. By 2001, GBV was a well-oiled (pun intended) road machine, and Robert Pollard had his arguably most lyrical, most straightforward and catchiest bunch of songs yet, equal parts British Invasion, powerpop and the Minutemen but without the phony beat poetry. The real gem here is Teenage FBI – as a teacher, Pollard knew a little something about high school fascism. The sarcastic, fragmentary Wormhole is also choice, as are the chromatically-charged riff-rocker Zoo Pie, the mocking Dragons Awake!, along with the subtly funny Liquid Indian, Strumpet Eye, Picture Me Big Time and the brief, under two-minute An Unmarketed Product among the sixteen characteristically unpredictable tracks here. Here’s a random torrent.

486. Sibelius – Symphony #4 – The BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham

This early 50s recording by one of the great late Romantic composer’s most forceful advocates captures all the brooding magnificence of this dark, stormy piece: the pensive first movement, with its vivid cello/bass figure; the more upbeat second movement, the big crescendoing third movement and its breakneck, anthemic conclusion. If you like this kind of stuff, the rest of his repertoire (especially if you can find Beecham recordings) is worth seeking out, including smaller-scale works like the Karelia suite. Here’s a random torrent via Vinyl Fatigue.

485. Eric Burdon & the Animals – Best of, 1966-68

This one is as good a mix of songs by the iconic white bluesman as there is. Some of this showcases him as a blues shouter, the rest as a surprisingly good hippie songwriter, without any of the Brill Building schlock other than Don’t Bring Me Down (a cursed title if there ever was one). There’s straight up blues with See See Rider, soul including Help Me Girl and a surprisingly strong River Deep, Mountain High; pensive, philosophical songwriting like Inside-Looking Out and Winds of Change; upbeat psychedelic pop period pieces including San Franciscan Nights and Monterey; and the real classic here, the swirling, phaser-driven Sky Pilot, one of the most potent antiwar anthems ever written. “You’ll never, never, never reach the sky!” If you like this stuff, the original albums, especially the 1968 Love Is album, are also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.

484. Jazz at the Philharmonic 1949

These concerts were parties, not sedate mellow jazz, and the crowd got passionately involved. For that reason (and because the recordings tended to be noisy as a result), there is a jazz element that has looked down on this annual series of recordings that went on through the 1950s. This one is probably the wildest: after promoter Norman Granz’s interminable band intros, it’s got the landmark moment where Lester Young famously leaps in during Charlie Parker’s Leap Here. There’s also Coleman Hawkins wailing on Rifftide, chilling out on Sophisticated Lady and the whole crew (especially trumpeter Fats Navarro) getting involved on The Things We Did Last Summer along with bluesy, Bird-driven versions of Lover Come Back to Me and Back Home Again in Indiana. And where can you grab a download? Nowhere! Blame the snobs, not us.

483. The Maddox Brothers & Rose – On the Air

Some of this is corny but a lot of it is hilarious, and you get the picture that even when the band is being serious that they’re secretly laughing at you. Fred, Cal, Cliff and Don along with sister Rose, the star of the show are represented here by their very first radio broadcast, from 1940, plus another one from 1945 which on one hand is something else entirely, but also shows how well they had their act together when they first began. Their best stuff, the “hillbilly boogies,” foreshadows rock music, with its shuffle rhythm and lyrical innuendo: Hold That Critter Down, Small Town Mama, If You Ain’t Got The Do-Re-Mi, The Gold Rush Is Over and Too Old to Cut the Mustard among the best of them. There’s also rustic stuff like I’ve Rambled Around, bluesy stuff like Meanest Man in Town and Fried Potatoes and some requisite country gospel – Gathering Flowers For The Master’s Bouquet – and cowboy songs among the 40 tracks here. If you like this you might also like the 1961 compilation The World’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band, Vol. 2. Here’s a random torrent via the always rocking Rockin Gipsy.

482. Charles Brown – Driftin’ Blues: The Best of Charles Brown

This suave, impeccably tasteful blues pianist/crooner was sort of the missing link between Nat King Cole and Jimmy Reed – outside of the church, this is where soul music got its start. This 20-track reissue from the mid-90s collects sides from 1945 through 1956. Ironically, Brown remains best-known for a cheesy Xmas song, Merry Christmas Baby. But this also has his first big hit, Driftin’ Blues along with the aptly nocturnal In the Evening When the Sun Goes Down and a killler version of Get Yourself Another Fool. There’s also the surprisingly subtle Trouble Blues, the brooding Black Night, Seven Long Days, and Evening Shadows along with somewhat more upbeat stuff like Please Don’t Drive Me Away and Count Basie’s I’ll Always Be in Love With You. Brown gets extra props for being a major influence on both Elvis Costello and LJ Murphy. Here’s a random torrent via Rukus Juice.

481. Danny & Dusty – The Lost Weekend

This semi-legendary 1985 collaboration among several Paisley Underground types from the Dream Syndicate, Green on Red and Long Ryders has the feeling of an album made in a single afternoon fueled by a lot of alcohol, a story that Steve Wynn AKA Dusty has confirmed. Danny here is Dan Stuart of Green on Red. Most of the songs are about drinking, Wynn’s set in a typically surreal LA noir milieu. The Word Is Out focuses on a character who suddenly finds that he’s paying for everything he used to get for free; Song for the Dreamers and Miracle Mile are a memorable grab bag of boozers and losers, an idea they take to its logical extreme on King of the Losers. The best of the bunch is Wynn’s deliriously gospel-fueled Baby We All Gotta Go Down; there’s also the proto alt-country Send Me a Postcard and the creepy Down to the Bone, all of this good enough to make you forget about the pointless Dylan and Donovan covers at the end. Long out of print; here’s a random torrent. If you like this you may also like Danny & Dusty’s 2007 follow-up, still available at Wynn’s site.

480. Little Walter – The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection

Walter Jacobs defined blues harp. His eerie, reverb-drenched, overtone-packed lines have a signature sound that’s often imitated but never duplicated. He wasn’t a bad singer, either, with an amazing, Willie Dixon-led band behind him. This is as good a mix of his own stuff as there is out there – and don’t forget that he also played with Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf and other giants of the era as well. It’s got his big first hit, the 1955 shuffle tune My Babe, as well as hot juke-joint instrumentals like Juke, Roller Coaster, Mellow Down Easy, the jazzy Last Night and the creepy Sad Hours. There are also inspired takes on classics like Key to the Highway as well as originals like the cosmopolitan Boom Boom Out Goes the Light, the stomping, blustery Off the Wall and the tensely exuberant Just Your Fool among the 20 choice tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via KNK Music Blog.

479. Flower Travellin’ Band – Satori

This one’s for the smoking section. By the time these Japanese stoners came out with this sludgy, creepy 1971 five-part suite, they were arguably heavier than Sabbath. Some of you may find this ugly and heavyhanded; the band alternates between bludgeoning blues and morbid, funereal dirges. The lyrics are in Japanese. Part one of the suite sets the stage for the slightly more Hendrix-inspired part two. Part three might be the high point, doom rock with Asian motifs; part four blends funk and even jazz touches into the murk; the concluding movement foreshadows where King Crimson would be in five years. Call it metal, or art-rock, or proto-goth, either way it’s pretty amazing. Here’s a random torrent via Lysergia.

478. Miles Davis – Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud

Hope it’s ok with you if we stick with the creepy stuff two days in a row. Davis came up with the soundtrack to this 1958 Louis Malle noir flick in two days in a Paris studio with a pickup band, much in the same way he did Kind of Blue: it’s a masterpiece of modal jazz, arguably as good or better than that album. The central, recurring theme is Nuit Sur Les Champs Elysees (represented by several takes, most notably the first and second). There are also two versions of Le Petit Bal (A Little Party), a murder scene, a car chase, an elevator scene, some tense moments at a motel, another chase scene and a couple of surprisingly calm vignettes that seem tacked on at the end for good measure: they’re pretty, although they don’t match the noir vibe of the rest of the soundtrack. Here’s a random torrent.

477. Orquesta Harlow – La Raza Latina: A Salsa Suite

This is Fania Records’ All-Star pianist Larry Harlow’s 1977 attempt to capsulize the entire history of latin music in a six-part suite. As history, there are secret corners it misses – lots of them; as music, it’s a titanic, slinky blast of horns, percussion and orchestra. Nestor Sanchez sings the classic salsa of the title track, followed by the percussion-centric Africa; the Afro-Cuban Caribbean and Caribbean Pt. 2, which blends in soca and Puerto Rican sabor; the deliciously gritty New York 1950s and 1960s and the whirlwind Futuro which blends Mingus bustle with late 70s latin disco! Too surreal to imagine, you just have to hear it…and dance to it. Here’s a random torrent.

476. Arnold Schoenberg – Pierrot Lunaire

Here’s the creepiest and possibly least listenable album on this list so far, a 1940 recording with the composer himself conducting an insane clown posse with Erika Steidry-Wagner on vocals. The group – piano, violin, cello, flute and clarinets – do a chilly, methodical job with this four-part suite’s creepy atonalities, many of which you may recognize since they’ve been used over and over again in many horror movies. Catchy, singalong material? Hardly. But it’ll wake you up – and maybe keep you up. You can stream the whole thing and also download it free from archive.org. Those preferring a more up-to-date, slightly more polished (but less crazy) version might want to investigate the 1998 recording by Ensemble Intercontemporain with Pierre Boulez on piano and Christine Schafer singing, all up on youtube here, here, here and here. If you want to download the album, it’s here.

475. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading

The 1967 debut by this vastly underrated, eclectic psychedelic pop band combines the surreal folk-pop of early Jefferson Airplane with snarling garage rock and ornate chamber pop. Frontwoman Sandi Robinson’s vox are sort of a cross between Judy Collins and Grace Slick; the song arrangements are complex and sometimes haunting. The big innuendo-driven stoner-pop hits are Why Did I Get So High and You Took Too Much, both ostensibly love songs – back then, you couldn’t get on the radio if you sang about getting high on anything other than booze. There’s also the gorgeous chamber-rock of Then Came Love; the acid folk hit It’s a Happening Thing; the fuzztone-driven Twice Is Life; the punchy You Can’t Be Found, with its Leslie speaker guitar; and the intense, scampering Dark on You Now among the eleven tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Hippy DJ Kit. The album was reissued in the early zeros as a twofer with the band’s second, more erratic one The Great Conspiracy, which you can get via Acid at Home.

474. The New Trolls – Concerto Grosso

The New Trolls are sort of the Italian Genesis. This 1971 suite is something of a Mediterranean counterpart to Peter Gabriel’s playful, dramatic early Genesis, juxtaposing classical themes with catchy, surreal, Beatlesque art-rock that foreshadowed what ELO would be doing by the end of the decade. They kick it off with a lively, baroque tinged theme, rip off their fellow countryman Albinoni on the stately, stoic Adagio, go into potently chilling Vivaldi territory with the Cadenza – Andante and then the real classic, the darkly pensive Shadows. Side two is ostensibly a jam, although its endlessly shifting permutations, from Grateful Dead-style garage-rock vamps, to Blues Magoos stomps, to spacy drum-circle ambience, leads you to believe that it was all planned in advance. The band has been through a million different incarnations but are still around and still playing fascinatingly elaborate music. Here’s a random torrent via Prog Possession.

473. Public Enemy – Apocalypse 91: The Enemy Strikes Black

The iconic conscious hip-hop group followed up the erratic Fear of a Black Planet with this erudite, entertaining, snarling, politically-charged 1991 lyrical masterpiece. Although many of the references here are necessarily of its Bush I/first Gulf War era time, the criticism is timeless: the anti-racist tirade A Letter to the NY Post; the haunting, murderous By the Time I Get to Arizona (directed at then-governor Fyfe Symington, who abolished the MLK holiday there), the equally ferocious How to Kill a Radio Consultant; the cynical More News at 11; the bitter, eerie outsider anthem Get the Fuck Out of Dodge; and an antidrug/antibooze tirade, 1 Million Bottlebags. But there’s plenty of upbeat stuff too: anthems like Nighttrain, Can’t Truss It, Flava Flav’s unusually pissed-off I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Nigga, the deliriously powerful Shut Em Down and an early rap-metal number, the band’s remake of the classic Bring Tha Noise, recorded with Brooklyn nu-metalheads Anthrax. Here’s a random torrent.

472. Jenifer Jackson – Slowly Bright

This 1999 release was Jackson’s quantum leap: it established her as one of the world’s most astonishingly diverse, intelligent songwriters. Her vocals here are memorably hushed and gentle: since then, she’s diversified as a singer as well. The songwriting blends Beatlesque psychedelia with bossa nova, with the occasional hint of trip-hop or ambient music. Every track here is solid; the real stunner that resonates after all these years is When You Looked At Me, with its understated Ticket to Ride beat, swirling atmospherics and crescendoing chorus where Jackson goes way, way up to the top of her range. The title track, Anything Can Happen and the vividly imagistic Yesterday My Heart Was Free have a psychedelic tropicalia feel; Whole Wide World, Burned Down Summer and I’ll Be Back Soon are gorgeous janglerock hits; So Hard to Believe balances tenderness against dread. The catchiest track here may be the unexpectedly optimistic, soul-infused Look Down; the album closes with the lush, hypnotic, blithely swaying Dream. And believe it or not, this classic is nowhere to be found in the blogosphere or the other usual sources for music, although it’s still available from cdbaby. Her forthcoming one, The Day Happiness Found Me is every bit as good, maybe better; it comes out in December.

471. Sielun Veljet – Live

Sielun Veljet (Finnish for “Soul Brothers”) are iconic in their native land. Their earliest songs set eardrum-peeling, trebly PiL-style noise guitar over catchy, growling, snappy bass and roaring punk vocals. The Finnish lyrics are surreal and assaultive as well. This scorching 1983 concert recording takes most of the songs off their first album and rips them to shreds. The best of these is Turvaa (Saved), with its ominous, chromatics and catchy, burning bassline. There’s also Emil Zatopek, a hoarse, breathless tribute to the long-distance runner; the primal, tribal Haisa Vittu; the surprisingly ornate Karjalan Kunnaila; the spooky epic Yö Erottaa Pojasta Miehen; Politikkaa, a macabre, reverb-drenched chromatic noise-funk tune; and the most traditionally punk number, Huda Huda (basically Finnish for “Yay, yay” – the sarcasm transcends any language barrier). Because of the album title (not to mention that it was never released outside Finland), it’s awfully hard to find online; in lieu of this, here’s a random torrent for their first album.

470. Howlin’ Wolf – The London Sessions

Reputedly the Wolf was hungover when he did this impromptu two-day 1970 session of remakes of many of his classic blues hits with an adoring band of British rock stars whom he’d influenced enormously. Ringo drums on one track; otherwise, the swinging rhythm section is usually Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (whose bass work on Sittin on Top of the World is pure genius). And believe it or not, Eric Clapton stays within himself and plays the hell out of possibly the best version ever of I Ain’t Superstitious, along with Built for Comfort, Who’s Been Talking, and Red Rooster. And he leaves plenty of room to the great Hubert Sumlin, whose guitar slashes as judiciously and unpredictably as always on Rockin Daddy, Worried About My Baby, and a quick run through Do the Do. At the end, the Wolf relents and even sounds inspired on Wang Dang Doodle, a song he absolutely despised. It’s a study in contrasts: the sly, low-key Wolf and a bunch of guys getting to play with their idol, well. Here’s a random torrent.

469. Tommy McCook & the Supersonics – Pleasure Dub

After Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond murdered his girlfriend, tenor sax player McCook broke up the band and went to work playing his soulful, spacious style on innumerable late 60s rocksteady hits for Jamaican producer Duke Reid. This 2009 compilation collects mostly instrumental versions of a whole bunch of them, sans the sometimes cloying lyrics or vocals. As dub, it’s pretty primitive: as grooves, most of this is unsurpassed. The chirpy organ behind John Holt comes front and center on Tracking Dub; another John Holt cut, Love Dub is much the same. There’s the surprisingly lush Dub with Strings; Prince Francis’ Side Walk Doctor; the punchy Ride De Dub; the big hit Bond Street Rock; the cinematic 7-11; and the scurrying Twilight Rock and Many Questions among the 18 slinky one-drop vamps here. Here’s a random torrent via Sixties Fever.

468. Leila Mourad – Sanatain: Arabian Masters

A star of stage and screen in Egypt in the 1930s and 40s, her career ground to a standstill after the Nasser revolution: Mourad being Jewish probably didn’t help. With expansive, powerful, soulful voice that these remastered 78s doesn’t adequately capture – like the rest of her contemporaries, she could jam vocalese for hours sometimes – she’s still fondly remembered in the Arab world. This sometimes lushly, sometimes starkly orchestrated compilation is hardly an adequate representation of her career, but her recordings are hard to find outside of the Middle East. This one has the hypnotic, chillingly insistent title track and seven other cuts, most of them clocking in at around three minutes. Because many of these are taken from musicals, there are occasional breaks that only make sense if you speak Arabic and know the source. If you run across anything by her, it’s probably worth owning. Here’s a random torrent.

467. Cannonball Adderley – Mercy Mercy Mercy: Live at the Club

More than virtually any other artist, alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley successfully bridged the gap between R&B and jazz: he was terrifically popular in the urban juke joint scene, and did his best work live. This 1966 album with a kick-ass band including brother Nate on cornet and a young Joe Zawinul on piano gets the nod because it doesn’t have any of the schlock he occasionally tried to jazz up, like stuff from Fiddler on the Roof. Right off the bat, he spirals all over the place on the opening theme, aptly titled Fun, followed by the swinging proto-funk of Games, the title track (a surprise top 20 hit), the fiery Sticks, Zawinul’s Hippodelphia and a killer, eleven-minute version of Adderley’s own Sack O’Woe, taking the set out on an exhilarating note. If you like this stuff, get to know his other 60s material: it’s pretty much all great. As Joe Strummer said, only half-sarcastically, “Don’t step on my Cannonball Adderley lp’s or cds.” Here’s a random torrent.

466. Message – From Books and Dreams

A cynic would call this 1973 album a Nektar ripoff – and with the galloping tempos, trippy orchestration and soaring, growling, melodic bass, that influence is definitely there. But this German stoner art-rock/metal band with a Scottish singer is a lot more diverse than that here. And a lot darker too: the skull on the cover pretty much gives it away. Some of this is sludgy and Sabbath-y; other times it goes in a jazz direction, with alto sax far more interesting than you’d typically hear from bands like this. It’s a suite, if not a fully realized concept album, beginning ambient and creepy like ELO’s Eldorado Overture, then blasting into the first multi-part segment, Dreams, followed by the sax/metal guitar instrumental Turn Over (which has a hilarious ending). Side two is a quieter but just as macabre continuation titled Sigh, followed by the long, ominously crescendoing Nightmares and its absolutely chilling ending. Now that youtube allows for long tracks, there’s a stream of the whole album here; here’s a random torrent via Fantasy 0807.

465. Ella Fitzgerald – Twelve Nights in Hollywood

The “great American songbook” was the elevator music of its era – 99.99% of it is garbage. But when jazz musicians got ahold of it, magic could happen. This 2009 four-cd box set of previously unreleased 1961 and 1962 small club dates is notable for being Ella backed by a small combo – just understated piano, bass and drums – which gives her the advantage of not having to belt over the roar of a big band. So as with Sarah Vaughan (see #611 on this list), this gets the nod over the rest of her exhaustive catalog because she really gets to take it deep into the shadows. To be truthful, there is some schlock among the 77 tracks here, but there are also innumerable wee-hours gems, notably the original jazz and blues songs: Billie Holiday’s Lover Come Back to Me; Ellington’s Caravan and Squeeze Me; Ray Charles’ Hallelujah I Love Him So; Monk’s Round Midnight and Les Paul’s How High the Moon. There are also expansive versions of One for My Baby, The Lady Is a Tramp, Anything Goes, All of Me, Love For Sale (where she leaves no doubt that it’s about a hooker) and the famous moment where she decides to be a rock singer for thirty seconds before jumping back into Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot. Here’s a random torrent.

464. Gerry Mulligan – The Concert Jazz Band at Newport 1960

This one of those recordings that went unreleased for decades, most likely because the sonics aren’t quite up to cd quality. But in the age of the mp3, it’s not as if most people can tell the difference. And the versatile, nonconformist baritone saxophonist/composer’s big band is absolutely smoking, snaking their way up Kai Winding’s Broadway, taking the Theme from I Want to Live deep into noir territory, going Out of This World and then to gypsyland with Manoir de Mes Reves. They go swinging into the blues with the Johnny Hodges homage Carrots for Rabbit, then expansive versions of Sweet and Slow, I’m Gonna Go Fishin’ and go out on a high note with Blueport. There are also a couple of bonus tracks from European shows around the same time. Here’s a random torrent via Moha Offbeat.

463. The Shivvers – Lost Hits From Milwaukee’s First Family Of Powerpop 1979-82

Every day, there seems to be yet another rediscovery of a great band from decades ago that never “made it,” at least in the old mass-media sense. And more and more frequently,it’s becoming clear that those “unknown” bands were usually way better than what was on the radio at the time. This 2006 reissue includes most of this extraordinary group’s studio recordings as well as a surprisingly snarling, intense live set. In the studio, keyboardist/frontwoman Jill Kossoris’ vocals were quirky and detached, notably on the closest thing they had to a radio hit, the chirpy but cynical anticonformist anthem Teenline. But live, she was a powerhouse, most notably on the second version of You’re So Sure here, which sounds like the early Go Go’s. There’s also No Substitute, like the Raspberries with a girl singer; the scurrying new wavey/Beatlesque Please Stand By; the rich, ELO-inflected Remember Tonight; the punchy garage pop of My Association (“There’s a place I can go where I don’t have to be an outcast”); the George Harrison-esque Hold On; the absolutely gorgeous Life Without You; the Orbisonesque Nashville noir of It Hurts Too Much and Blue in Heaven, their offhandedly attempt at a big artsy (6 minute) synth/guitar anthem…sung by a dead girl! The whole thing is streaming at yucky myspace; here’s a random torrent.

462. Jazz on a Summer’s Day

This is a case where you really should get the movie: the visuals of this 1960 documentary of the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival are fascinating and often hilarious. It’s best known for Anita O’Day, stoned out of her mind, wailing her way through Sweet Georgia Brown and Tea for Two with a great horn player’s imagination and virtuosity. That’s just the juiciest moment; there’s also a young, ducktailed Chuck Berry doing the splits on Sweet Little Sixteen; Dinah Washington making All of Me sound fresh and fun; Gerry Mulligan and his band; and cameos by George Shearing, Thelonious Monk, Big Maybelle, Chico Hamilton, a lot of Louis Armstrong and a real lot of Mahalia Jackson at her peak doing spirituals and a final stirring benediction. Some of you may scoff at how mainstream this is…until you hear what this crew does with a lot of standard fare. The random torrent here is for the movie rather than the stand-alone soundtrack.

461. Rasputina – Oh Perilous World

The original cello rockers, Rasputina have been putting out great albums for almost 20 years, frontwoman Melora Creager backed by an increasingly shifting cast of characters. This is her finest hour, from 2007: she’s always been a great lyricist as well as a composer, but she really took it to the next level with these torrentially metaphorical songs that deliver a very subtle but absolutely brutal critique of the Bush regime’s reign of terror and the paranoia they spread in the wake of 9/11. All this takes place against a backdrop of global warming (1816 the Year Without a Summer), basic human rights taking a beating (Choose Me for a Champion), and anthrax scares engineered from inside the government (Incident in a Medical Clinic). Only in Draconian Crackdown does she let down her guard and blast the traitors of 9/11 for their cowardice. Otherwise, the journey from Child Soldier Rebellion to Bring Back the Egg Unbroken to Old Yellowcake (weapons of mass destruction – get it?) is a treacherous and grotesquely graphic one, and Creager leaves no stone unturned. A courageous and mighty blow for democracy whose time may not have come yet. Here’s a random torrent.

460. The Million Dollar Quartet

As portrayed in the film Walk the Line, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis were all drinking buddies who’d frequently hang out and jam. This informal 1956 acoustic session was assuredly never intended for release, although it might have been an attempt to get some decent quality demos down, considering who was involved (some sources say that Cash wasn’t, since he doesn’t sing on it). Other uncredited Sun Records session guys may have been in on it as well. Obviously fueled by a little hooch and who knows what else, the low-key confidence of this band, whoever all of them were, is irresistible. Most of the songs clock in at less than a minute, among them Elvis’s Don’t Be Cruel and Reconsider Baby, Jerry Lee’s Rip It Up and a bunch of gospel numbers. While it’s a little incongruous to hear Jerry Lee Lewis on a Chuck Berry song, it just goes to show you never can tell who’s cross-pollinating with whom. Here’s a random torrent.

459. The Jazz Combo From I Want to Live

Noir jazz doesn’t get any more lurid, or any better, than this smoldering, haunted 1958 session featuring variations on Johnny Mandel’s theme from the docudrama about executed convict Barbara Graham, the last woman to die in the gas chamber at San Quentin, who may well have been innocent. The band, led by Gerry Mulligan and featuring Shelly Manne on piano, Art Farmer on trumpet and Bud Shank on alto sax, is first-rate. The album actually starts with the downright sexy, tiptoeing Black Nightgown before the brooding, doomed main title theme; the suspenseful Night Watch; the jaunty San Francisco nightclub scene where all the accomplices think they’ll get away with murder (they didn’t); the offhandedly wrenching, pleading Barbara’s Theme and a cruelly ironic Life’s a Funny Thing to end it. Here’s a random torrent via Groove Depository. Big shout-out to Nellie McKay for inspiring this pick – and for writing her own musical about this sad chapter in American “justice.”

458. Robert Nighthawk – Live on Maxwell Street

Here in the 21st century, we can record every concert we go to with our phones…but busking with electric instruments is usually against the law. Back in 1964 at Chicago’s Maxwell Street outdoor market, buskers congregated on every corner: it was like La Fete de la Musique every weekend. But if you wanted to get one of those shows on tape, you had to bring a bulky tape recorder…and that’s what one fan would do every weekend, eventually compiling a substantial private archive. A few of them have been released over the years, this one by Delmark in 1980, thirteen years after guitarist/singer Nighthawk’s death. The raw spontaneity of this impromptu jam is electric in every sense of the word. Nighthawk growls, takes his time and then works his way up to an erudite, jazz-infused style that won him the admiration of musicians from his circle who were far more popular. A lot of these performances had the feel of a cutting contest, especially the Maxwell Street Medley where Nighthawk jumps from one tune to another and whoever happened to be sitting in would try to leap along with him. There’s also his local hit Goin’ Down to Eli’s, instrumentals like Mr. Bell’s Shuffle and Yakity Yak, along with hard-edged stuff like Take It Easy Baby and I Need Your Love So Bad. Be aware that there are many versions of this floating around the web – if you like this one you might want to peek around other downloads. Here’s a random torrent via Way to Your Soul.

457. Neil Young – Living with War

From 2006, this is his best album. A ferocious, electric response to the criminality and genocide of the Bush regime, it’s political rock at its most insightful and tuneful. After the Garden coldly and cynically sets the stage for the sarcastic title track, and the equally scathing The Restless Consumer. Shock and Awe and Flags of Freedom call bullshit on the regime’s endless lies, while Families looks sympathetically at those left behind when Cheney sent the troops off to Iraq, from where 55% of the survivors would come home to disability pensions, unable to work because they’d been poisoned by depleted uranium. Let’s Impeach the President is a classic – and maybe the most intelligent song about an American President ever written. Looking for a Leader suggests that “maybe it’s Colin Powell, to atone for what he’s done;” Roger and Out looks back to Helpless, an enlisted grunt grudgingly admitting “that’s when we needed the hippie highway.” The closing cover of America the Beautiful is pretty pointless, but after all that, it doesn’t matter. The album itself is hard to find online, but the dvd with all the songs isn’t; here’s a random torrent via Three Times J.

456. Mos Generator – The Late Great Planet Earth

The artsy metal trio’s 2005 quantum leap, ironically, remains their mellowest album. Their earlier stuff is solid, but here they take their sound to the next level: this is a lush, atmospheric, genuinely haunting concept album about the apocalypse. The foreboding On the Eve kicks it off, followed by the epic dirge Crematorium; the rhythmically dizzying, manic depressive Six Billion People Dead; the aptly titled Opium Skies; The Myopic and its understated bitterness; the morbid Closed Casket; and the plaintive, Pink Floyd-ish Fall of Megiddo. Frontman/guitarist Tony Reed continued to assert himself as one of the underrated guitar heroes of the past couple of decades, while adding layer after layer of keyboards to the mix (which dominate as the album winds out, hypnotically). It winds up on a crushingly ironic, cynical note with the surprisingly funky title track and a mini-suite with a centerpiece titled Exit the Atomic Age. Long overdue for a reissue, the band is still selling it at cdbaby; if you’re looking for a torrent, try this random one.

Advertisements

September 17, 2011 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, gypsy music, irish music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rap music, reggae music, rock music, ska music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 500-599

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

Albums #800-899 continue here.

Albums #700-799 continue here.

Albums #600-699 continue here.

599. Angie Pepper & the Passengers – It’s Just That I Miss You

The greatest voice ever to come out of Australia, Angie Pepper was the frontwoman in the late 70s janglerock band the Passengers, an edgy, wickedly tuneful band who would have been famous beyond their home turf had the master tapes for their one album not gone AWOL. For years, the only Passengers album was a 1986 release of tinny but still gorgeous rehearsal recordings; this 2000 reissue collects the original late 70s masters along with Pepper’s first 1978 Aussie hit, Frozen World (written by her husband, Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek) plus additional material originally released on Tek’s 1988 Orphan Tracks collection. Pepper can say more in a wary bent note than most can in a whole album, best exemplified in the righteous rage of Last Chance, when she finally, finally cuts loose at the end. There’s also the sultry, Doorsy Miss You Too Much; the garage rock stomp No Way Out; the early new wave Love Execution, and the haunting pop anthems Face with No Name and My Sad Day among the thirteen tracks here. Pepper (and her talented daughter Hana) continue to record and occasionally play live along with Tek. Here’s a random torrent via Striped Sunlight.

598. The Jayhawks – Sound of Lies

Wounded angst has never sounded this romantic – or tuneful. From 1997, it’s the Minneapolis band’s most rock-oriented record, their only real classic. It’s frontman Gary Louris’ record all the way through, rich with jangly guitars, judicious piano and crystalline, three-part harmonies, more Beatles or Big Star than Nashville. The Man Who Loved Life is a majestically bittersweet homage to living intensely. They match that towering, angst-ridden ambience with Sixteen Down, Think About It, Haywire and the gorgeously sad foreshadowing of Trouble. Big Star manages to blend unbridled hope and cynicism, with a big, tongue-in-cheek guitar break. The most stunning track here is Dying on the Vine, a crushingly intense theme for anyone who’s ever been rejected, Marc Pearlman’s insistent, staccato bassline anticipating Louris’ pessimistic lyric: “I’m dying in the shadows.” The quieter tracks include the irresistibly bouncy It’s Up to You, the vicious Poor Little Fish (a dis for a spoiled bitch), drummer Tim O’Reagan’s bucolic Bottomless Cup and the pensive title track. Here’s a random torrent.

597. The Highwaymen’s first album

From 1985, this is the ultimate outlaw country summit: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Sly, often surreal, it’s a party, the guys trading verses (although not everybody sings on every song) through a mix of smartly chosen covers and originals. The funniest one is Cash’s Committed to Parkview, part nuthouse, part rehab; likewise, Welfare Line, a Reagan-era souvenir, perfectly captures the angst of the times. There’s also the defiantly gloomy Desperados Waiting for a Train; Cindy Walker’s elegaic Jim, I Wore a Tie Today; the Jimmy Webb-penned title track; a plaintive version of Woody Guthrie’s Deportees; a singalong of Big River; and Steve Goodman’s not-so-optimistic The 20th Century Is Almost Over. The only dud here is Bob Seger’s Against the Wind, which the band has absolutely no clue how to play. If you like this, the other two Highwaymen albums from the 90s are also worth a spin. Caveat: purists may have a hard time with the synthesizers and chorus-box guitar here – it’s a period piece for sure. Here’s a random torrent.

596. The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor

From 1968, this is one of the great stoner albums of all time, not bad considering that the band it’s credited to reputedly didn’t play on several of the tracks (history is fuzzy on this – a Canadian garage band, the Collectors, were reputedly brought in by composer David Axelrod to complete it when the Prunes basically broke up mid-session). It’s an attempt to make psychedelic rock out of imitation pre-baroque themes, and it’s successful beyond belief: with layers and layers of stinging reverb guitar, eerie organ and trebly, melodic bass, it’s a wild ride. The track everybody knows is Kyrie Eleison, which is on the Easy Rider soundtrack. All the song titles are in Latin, in the manner of a Catholic mass – Agnus Dei; Benedictus; Credo, Sanctus and Gloria – with occasional deadpan, monklike chanting amidst the chaos. Fuzz tones, feedback, all manner of cheap production tricks and some deliriously inspired (some would say sloppy) playing are everywhere. Here’s a random torrent.

595. Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

Erica Smith is the finest singer to come out of New York during the decade of the zeros, capable of extraordinary nuance as well as extraordinary power (check out her Memphis soul wail on the red-hot shuffle Feel You Go). This 2008 album showcases the diversity of her songwriting: the irresistible 60s style psychedelic pop of Firefly; the lush janglerock of Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn; the bucolic Pink Floyd-esque art-rock of In Late July; the chilling Nashville gothic of Nashville, Tennessee and The World Is Full of Pretty Girls as well as sultry bossa nova and hypnotic Velvets pop tunes. There are also two ferocious covers: Judy Henske’s Snowblind, done as early 70s style metal, and Blow This Nightclub’s Where and When, amped up like early new wave. Guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell (both of Love Camp 7) add rich layers of jangle and clang along with a devious jazz edge. Campbell’s unexpected death in 2010 brought an end to the 99 Cent Dreams; Smith continues to perform and record as a solo artist and with her husband, powerpopmeister John Sharples and his band. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Smith’s site.

594. Richard Thompson – Mirror Blue

In case you’re wondering, these albums are in totally random order – if we were actually trying to rank them (an impossible task), this would be somewhere in the top hundred for certain. The British songwriter/guitar god is best known for his volcanic live shows (our predecessor e-zine picked his concert album Semi-Detached Mock Tudor as the best one of 2002). This 1994 release is his hardest-rocking studio record. The anguish factor reaches fever pitch on the swaying, opening Britfolk anthem I Can’t Wake Up to Save My Life, echoed in the haunting shuffles Easy There Steady Now and Slipstream as well as the sad, closing breakup ballad Taking My Business Elsewhere. The obligatory guitar epic is The Way That It Shows, a real barn-burner; the best song here is the ferocious, bitter Mascara Tears, maybe the loudest song Thompson ever recorded. There’s also plenty of typical Thompson wit: the Jethro Tull-ish MGB-GT and the sardonic Fast Food along with the hypnotic, brooding Mingus Eyes and King of Bohemia and the big hit Beeswing, a thinly veiled, nostalgic ballad that has not aged well. Although the album has been criticized for having too many weird percussion tracks (fault of Suzanne Vega’s ex-husband, who was producer du jour that year), happily most of that is pretty much buried in the mix. Here’s a random torrent.

593. Gil Evans – The Individualism of Gil Evans

Best known for his arrangements for Miles Davis, pianist Gil Evans was also an extraordinary big band jazz composer. Almost fifty years later, this 1964 album is still so beyond cutting edge – there are other writers today doing this kind of thing, but nobody in the mainstream. Evans’ compositions are fearless, intense, often completely noir, sometimes lavish, sometimes skeletal and creepy. Here he’s backed by a killer band including Eric Dolphy, Thad Jones, and Elvin Jones on drums. It starts with the shattering, evil, mysterious, syncopated sway of Time of the Barracudas; Kurt Weill’s Barbara Song follows in a similar vein. Las Vegas Tango is a chilly, noir number where the Sketches of Spain influence really cuts through, while El Toreador could have been an outtake from that album. Flute Song/Hotel Me builds from whispery and murderous to a blithe, swinging piano blues. The rest of the album includes the ominous Proclamation, the bustling Nothing Like You, the bossa-tinged Concorde and closes with Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, thirteen minutes of twisted blues. Pretty much everything Evans ever touched, from the 30s onward, is worth a listen: composer Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project is due to come out with a new album of rare and unrecorded Evans works later this year. Most every track here is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Singers & Saints 2.

592. The Dils – Class War

An early Americana-flavored punk band and obvious inspiration for Social Distortion, San Francisco trio the Dils confronted issues of class and race in America head-on when so many of the era’s wannabes just jumped on the punk bandwagon to be cool. This compilation collects many if not all of their best-known late 70s/early 80s singles and b-sides. The best-known track is the trebly, super-catchy I Hate the Rich. You’re Not Blank makes fun of Cali hippie complacency: “the summer of love is ten years gone.” The best song here is the gorgeously jangly Sound of the Rain, steeped in alienation; the defiantly socialist Red Rockers Rule is a Social Distortion prototype for sure (and the inspiration for another band name); Mr. Big raises a middle finger at the powers that be. There’s also the sarcastic Tell Me What I Want to Hear, It’s Not Worth It, Gimme a Break, and the furious hardcore Class War, a casually vicious anti-racist broadside. The only dud here is an awkward Buddy Holly cover. The two brothers who fronted the band would move on to form one of the first alt-country bands, Rank & File. Here’s a random torrent via Ustedville.

591. Black Box Recorder – Passionoia

Possibly the most witheringly cynical album ever recorded. Bandleader Luke Haines (also of the Auteurs – see #744 on this list) has said innocuously that this 1999 release was his adventure in exploring keyboard textures, but it sounds suspiciously like a parody of 90s British dance-pop, albeit with better tunes and artsy flourishes. Frontwoman Sarah Nixey delivers Haines’ corrosive lyrics in an ice-goddess whisper over the glossy sheen. The School Song does double duty as Eurovision satire (a moment that will return again with a vengeance on When Britain Refused to Sing) and knowing chronicle of the kind of torture schoolkids have to endure. GSOH QED is an early satire of internet dating; British Racing Green quietly and cruelly alludes to Britain’s fall from first world power to third world irrelevance. Although much of this is a period piece, the songs stand the test of time – The New Diana mocks the Princess Diana cult, but it’s a brutally insightful look at the cult of celebrity, as is Andrew Ridgeley, the funniest song here, a reference to the guy in Wham who wasn’t George Michael. Being Number One, These Are the Things and Girls Guide for the Modern Diva are savage sendups of yuppie narcissism. The album ends on a surprisingly poignant, haunting note with I Ran All the Way Home, a gorgeously apprehensive omnichord-driven art-pop song straight out of the ELO catalog, told from the point of view of an abused little girl. All the songs are streamable at myspace, but wait fifteen seconds before you put your earphones on, AND refresh the page after each listen or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad. Won’t it be a good day when myspace finally dies? Otherwise, here’s a random torrent.

590. Jean Shepard – Best By Request

Along with Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard was one of the few women who achieved genuine stardom in Nashville in the 1950s. This 1970 compilation of mostly 1950s hits often plays up the bad-girl persona she cultivated, with considerable relish – it may seem tame now, but it wasn’t then. Backed tersely and inspiredly by some of the era’s top honkytonk players, she can be coy one moment, vengeful the next, as I Learned It All from You, I’d Rather Die Young and Why Did You Wait. Uncharacteristically, her biggest hit was the considerably less downbeat A Satisfied Mind, since covered by a million country artists. Under Suspicion and Don’t Fall In Love with a Married Man are typically characteristic themes for her, and she nails them. She’s still around and well-loved for her sardonic sense of humor on frequent CMT appearances. Here’s a random torrent via El Rancho 1.

589. Jolie Holland – Springtime Can Kill You

From 2006, this is the Texas Americana roots songwriter/chanteuse’s masterpiece so far. “My sullen songs have taken me far down this darkened road,” she drawls in the characteristically brooding Stubborn Beast, an insight that pretty much capsulizes her career. Setting wryly gloomy, often death-obsessed imagery to rustic, terse arrangements with resonator guitar, piano and sometimes strings, she evokes a way, way after-hours speakeasy of the mind. Crush in the Ghetto reminds that the boondocks are also ghettos; the jazzy title track’s offhandedness only raises the menace factor. There’s also the defiant waltz You’re Not Satisfied; C.R. Avery’s surreal, tormented Crazy Dreams; the austere Mehitibell’s Blues; the creepy piano waltz Don’t Tell’ Em; Moonshiner, a sultry, seductive blues; the whispery, nuanced Ghostly Girl; and the pensive nocturne Mexican Blue among the twelve tracks. Lately Holland has joined forces with similarly talented oldtimey siren Mamie Minch in the harmony trio Midnight Hours. Here’s a random torrent.

588. Art Tatum – The Chronological Classics 1932-34

If Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite pianist did a lot of composing, the historical record doesn’t reflect it: his favorite pastime was shredding his way through the hits of the day. Which he did with equal amounts precision and power: don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart. Most of his recordings are solo, no wonder since there were few players out there who could keep up with him. The genius of all this is that Tatum wasn’t all cold and mathematical: this digitized singles collection is a Depression-era party album. The number that raises the bar for every historically aware hotshot keyboardist is Tiger Rag; the purist favorites here are St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But Tatum also ratchets up the adrenaline with ballads like Strange As It Seems, I’ll Never Be the Same, a surprisingly visceral Tea for Two, Emaline and I Would Do Anything for You among the 25 brief, barely three-minute tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Paging Mr. Volstead.

587. Larry Young – Unity

Hammond B3 organist Young pushed the envelope with this hot, wickedly tuneful, inspired and cerebral 1965 session with trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Elvin Jones pushing the juggernaut with characteristic intensity. It’s a lot more than just funky Jimmy Smith-style shuffles – melodic jazz doesn’t get any more interesting than this. The artful horn overlays on Zoltan, the shapeshifting version of Monk’s Dream, Shaw’s brisk Moontrane blaze along before the suspenseful If and Softly As in the Morning Sunrise, then the album picks up again, the whole band pushing each other, on the aptly titled Beyond All Limits. Young doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great organists of all time – this is our shout-out. Here’s a random torrent via Jazzgrita.

586. Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party

One of the iconic psychedelic remnants from the late 60s, this late 90s anthology assembles a bunch of obscure soundtrack cuts from some truly terrible German B movies. But the music is as inspired, and as trippy, as the dialogue and everything else about those flicks was awful. The two composers approach psychedelic rock with a mix of classical rigor and joy about being freed from that rigor: the brightly staggering faux jazz of Droge CX9; the fuzztone menace of The Lions & the Cucumber; the psychedelic piano theme There’s No Satisfaction; the lavish, funky Dedicated to Love; the noir bedroom theme The Message; Shindai Lovers, which inspired a million 90s downtempo themes; and the absolutely macabre, trippy Necronomania among the sixteen off-the-wall instrumentals here. Electric harpsichords, reverb guitars, fake Indian and soul music grooves: pre-internet syncretism taken to a deliriously entertaining extreme. Here’s a random torrent via Devo MK.

585. Loretta Lynn – Greatest Hits

As we’ve put together this list, one aspect that’s frustrated us is how hard it’s been to find country albums that are solid all the way through: there’s always a dud, an obligatory halfhearted country gospel tune, a favor to a friend of the producer that always takes the album down a notch or two. As a result, we’ve had to go to the well for greatest-hits collections like this one, a 1968 compilation that’s a solidly good representation of the fearless country siren and songwriter (who wrote her own stuff, and insisted on playing it instead of songs that had been selected for her, paving the way for dozens of other self-directed women artists) during her peak years as a honkytonk singer. It’s got her first big hit, Don’t Come Home A ‘Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind); the rustic Blue Kentucky Girl (redone famously by Emmylou Harris); the accusatory Before I’m Over You, and You Ain’t Woman Enough. The real stunners here are Dear Uncle Sam, a plaintive Vietnam-era antiwar number imploring the Johnson administration to end the war, and Success, the much more subtle, equally sad number, now a country classic, powerfully underscoring the fact that money doesn’t equal happiness. Here’s a random torrent.

584. Junior Kimbrough – Sad Days Lonely Nights

Kimbrough was sort of the Mississippi hill country equivalent of Roscoe Ambel: a bar owner who happened to be a hell of a guitarist (or a hell of a guitarist who just happened to own a bar). Mostly, it’s just Kimbrough with either a rhythm section, or just a drummer. But unlike T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, Kimbrough didn’t go for interminable, overtone-packed chordal vamps: his slowly crescendoing, gorgeously expansive, broodingly meandering blues songs go on for ten minutes at a clip, a clinic in subtlety and minimalism. This stuff is mournful, gently intense, soulful in the purest sense of the word. The title track from this 1993 album, generally considered his best, is the iconic one, setting the tone for a judicious, bent-note style he’d reprise again and again in Lonesome in My Home, Lord Have Mercy on Me, My Mind Is Rambling and Leaving in the Morning. Old Black Mattie is the closest thing to the raw, hypnotic dance music of Burnside and Ford here; I’m in Love is unexpectedly upbeat, but Pull Your Clothes Off is about the most cynically depressing attempt at seduction anybody ever made. And the version of Crawling King Snake here is seriously creepy, in fact barely recognizable compared to John Lee Hooker, or for that matter, the Doors. Here’s a random torrent via Rukusjuice.

583. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, Marty Willson-Piper is also a powerful and eclectic lyrical rock songwriter, much like Steve Kilbey, his bandmate in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church. This 2009 masterpiece is every bit as good as any of his albums with that band. Willson-Piper proves as adept at period-perfect mid-60s Bakersfield country (the wistful A Game for Losers and the stern The Love You Never Had) as he is at towering, intense, swirlingly orchestrated anthems like No One There. The album’s centerpiece, The Sniper, is one of the latter, a bitter contemplation of whether murder is ever justifiable (in this case, there’s a tyrant in the crosshairs). There’s also the early 70s style Britfolk of Lullaby for the Lonely; the casually and savagely hilarious eco-anthem More Is Less; the even more brutally funny Feed Your Mind; the blistering, sardonic rocker High Down Below;and the vividly elegaic Song for Victor Jara. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is still available from Second Motion.

582. Kayhan Kalhor, Shujaat Husain Khan and Swapan Chaudhuri – Ghazal: Lost Songs of the Silk Road

This landmark 1997 cross-genre collaboration put “silk road music” on the global map. The medieval mercantile trail from Asia, through the Middle East, to Europe, brought a lot more than spices, fabric and luxury goods: it was arguably the world’s most important bridge for musical cross-pollination. Here, Iranian Kayhan Kalhor, one of the most important and compelling composers of this era, plays the kamancheh, the rustic, plaintive spike fiddle. Khan is a renowned sitar player, Chaudhuri a percussionist. Revisiting the centuries-old trail, they blend classical Indian and Middle Eastern sounds into a hypnotic, often haunting mix. The big epic here is the almost twenty-minute Saga of the Rising Sun, which is the most overtly Indian of the compositions; the concluding Safar (Journey) is the most Iranian. In between, the almost half-hour of Come with Me and You Are My Moon are a showcase for these great musicians branching out into unfamiliar territory and achieving mesmerizingly intense results. We were only able to find torrents for the whole album in two parts, here and here.

581. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

The 1974 highlight of Bowie’s completely over-the-top glam period, this eclectic, surreal, Orwellian concept album of sorts has always been underrated. It’s as notable for its strangeness (even for this guy) as it is for the fact that he played all the guitars and saxes here. The creepy, atmospheric vignette Future Legend segues into the scorching, iconic slide guitar-driven title track, followed by the fractured soul of Sweet Thing, the disquietingly disjointed Candidate and eventually the big riff-rock hit Rebel Rebel. 1984 takes Philly soul to the next level; We are the Dead, Big Brother and Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family work the creepy psychedelic side of the street. Lots of jarring segues, but a ton of good songs and a lot to think about too. Here’s a random torrent.

580. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa

Minamo is Japanese for “surface of the water;” Kuroi Kawa means “black river.” This largely improvisational double-cd duo album by Japanese pianist Satoko Fujii and American violinist Carla Kihlstedt is aptly titled: it’s menacing, often impenetrable and sometimes downright macabre. There are amusing moments – a cat at play, two sisters struggling to open a window – but most of it is just plain white-knuckle intense. Kihlstedt moves from a whisper to a scream and back again against Fujii’s murderous cascades, ghostly music-box interludes and raw assaultiveness. It ends with long, color-coded suite: the rain-drenched Blue Slope; the head-on attack of Purple Summer; the surprisingly carefree Red Wind, hallucinatory Green Mirage and lethal, relentless snowstorm that winds up well over an hour’s worth of music. It came out on Tzadik in 2009 and still hasn’t made it to the usual sites but is well worth tracking down if raw adrenaline is your thing.

579. Kitty Wells – 20 Greatest Hits

The biggest female country star of the 1950s, Kitty Wells’ gently resolute, crystalline voice made her the perfect vehicle for songs about indomitable women gently and resolutely surmounting a never-ending series of obstacles. From her 1952 breakthrough It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, 1955′s Making Believe, 1957′s She’s No Angel and into the early 60s, she had her choice of Nashville’s top songwriters and honkytonk bands. This isn’t definitive, but it’s a good representation of Wells at her peak, with the defiant ballads This White Circle and I Gave My Wedding Dress Away, the wounded Lonely Side of Town, the outraged Will Your Lawyer Talk to God and the sardonic Meanwhile Down at Joe’s and Paying for That Back Street Affair. Here’s a random torrent via El Rancho 1.

578. Hector Lavoe – 15 Exitos

This is a decent if incomplete representation of the career of El Cantante, regarded by many as the greatest classic salsa singer of the golden age back in the 70s. His life, recounted in the 2003 biopic of the same name, was as uncertain as the angst and passion he channeled in his songs was direct. He died young, in 1993. This compilation, which covers pretty much his entire career, has his signature songs, El Cantante and Mi Gente; the tongue-in-cheek El Rey de la Puntualidad; the rough-and-ready Hacha y Machete, from 1970; the scorching Mentira, from 1976; the much slicker Noche de Farra, from 1980, and Cancer, from 1985. While the brass wails behind him, he’s never at ease: it seems that Fama was the last thing he wanted. Here’s a random torrent via Principiante Salsero.

577. The 13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators

45 years later, the 1966 debut of this legendary, creepy Texas acid garage band – with an amplified jug that sounded a little like a tabla – is still the standard for pretty much every other psychedelic garage group. Setting Roky Erikson’s reverb-drenched, deadpan nasal snarl and nonstop barrage of surreal imagery against tinny, clanging riff-rock that frequently ventures into R&B and funk, it’s a trip, in every sense of the word. The iconic song here is You’re Gonna Miss Me, famously covered by Radio Birdman and a million others; the b-side, Tried to Hide, isn’t bad either. Roller Coaster introduces a macabre riff that would resurface in the Cramps; Through the Rhythm invents a new genre, apocalyptic soul music. There’s also Monkey Island, whose theme the J. Geils Band would echo ten years later, and the more ornate Kingdom of Heaven, You Don’t Know How Young You Are and Splash 1 (Now I’m Coming Home) along with the proto-punk Don’t Fall Down and Fire Engine. Here’s a random torrent.

576. The Larch – Larix Americana

The Brooklyn psychedelic Britpop band’s best and most recent album, from 2010, blends Richard Lloyd-style guitar sizzle, frontman Ian Roure’s clever Elvis Costelloish wordplay and wickedly catchy guitar-and-keys hooks. Sub-Orbital Getaway is paisley underground disguised as new wave, with a characteristically paradoxical double entendre for a theme: it’s a trip, but where to? With Love from Region One is a bittersweet tribute to all good things American; Tracking Tina, a caustic look at cluelessly hypervigilant yuppie parents. The offhandedly charming Strawberry Coast has an ominous undercurrent: behind the chalet, the holiday’s complete. “Smile cause you’re on cctv as you’re walking home.” In the Name Of…, a slam at religious zealots, has a Moods for Moderns vibe; Inside Hugh chronicles a dayjob from hell. Queues Likely is equally caustic, imagining no respite from a wait “from bumper to brakelight.” Space Vacation updates the faux reggae of the Boomtown Rats’ House on Fire; The Long Tail closes it, an aptly sardonic sendup of corporate groupthink. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet but it’s still available from cdbaby.

575. Telephone – Dure Limite

In their late 70s/early 80s heyday, Telephone were commonly known as the French Rolling Stones, but they were closer to the Boomtown Rats, especially by 1982 when they put out this eclectic mix of gritty riff-rock, snarling punkish broadsides and a small handful of artsy ballads. The former are well represented by the title track (“Hard Limit”), Serrez (Squeeze) and the funky, sarcastic Ça (C’est Vraiment Toi), which translates loosely as “Yeah, That’s You, All Right.” Bassist Corinne Marienneau takes over lead vocals on the sexy faux-jazz stripper groove of Le Chat, while frontman Jean-Louis Aubert brings a plaintive, brooding lyrical edge to Jour Contre Jour (Day After Day), Juste Un Autre Genre (Just Another Guy) and the slowly unwinding, Lou Reed-influenced Le Temps. The best tracks here are the scorching Ex-Robin des Bois (Ex-Robin Hood), a metaphorically-charged slam at a sellout traitor; the iconic Cendrillon (Cinderella), who goes from prom queen to dead junkie on the wings of Louis Bertignac’s gorgeously elegaic guitar; and the concluding, towering, angst-driven epic Ce Soir Est Ce Soir (Tonight’s the Night). In lieu of a torrent for this particular album, here’s one for all five of the band’s studio efforts: the first two are hit-and-miss, but everything else afterward is worth a spin, even if you don’t speak French.

574. The Microscopic Septet – Take the Z Train

Drawing as deeply from punk esthetics as from Monk and Ellington, the Microscopic Septet’s playful, often satirical, always swinging charts have tickled jazz fans since their inception in 1981: in a sense, they’re sort of the Spinal Tap of jazz. This is their debut from two years later. Imagine the Lounge Lizards if they’d showed off their chops and you get some idea of what this sounds like (pianist Joel Forrester, one of the group’s two main writers, would later come up with the theme for NPR’s Fresh Air). Soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston is responsible for the spy narrative Mr. Bradley, Mr. Martin, the breathless, bustling Pack the Ermines, Mary, and the latin swing of I Didn’t Do It. Johnston’s compositions here include Chinese Twilight Zone (the album was recorded in New York’s Chinatown utilizing a piano that had once reputedly belonged to Eubie Blake), as well as the tongue-in-cheek title track, the coy Wishful Thinking and the psychedelic closing cut, A Strange Thought Entered My Head, the band’s four-sax frontline blazing through one devious, tricky chart after another. Here’s a random torrent; repackaged as a twofer on the absolutely dynamite 2006 double-disc Seven Men in Neckties, it’s still available from Cuneiform.

573. Emily Remler – Transitions

Emily Remler was such a proficient jazz guitarist that early in her career, she made good on a promise to learn a new Wes Montgomery song all the way through, every day. This 1983 album was where she took her talent to the next level, further establishing the warmly exploratory, insatiably curious voice that would come to define her work. At her best, she wrote songs that you can absolutely get lost in. Here drummer Rakalam Bob Moses gives her a swinging launching pad, and she gets trumpeter John D’Earth and bassist Eddie Gomez to take their game up a notch. It’s notable for her own tunes Nunca Mais, with its bittersweet latinisms along with the thoughtful title track and the psychedelic Ode to Mali. The covers are good too: the obscure Ellington tune Searchin’, a swinging version of Sam Jones’ Del Sasser and an intriguing arrangement of Keith Jarrett’s Coral. Remler undoubtedly would have gone on to even greater things had she not died of a drug overdose at 32. Here’s a random torrent via Virtuosos Guitarristas.

572. Don Drummond – 100 Years After

Classic ska instrumentals from the legendary Skatalites trombonist, 1965. Not only did the Skatalites record an enormous amount of material as a band, they also did numerous solo albums, most of them billed to individual group members Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso – a model that both George Clinton and the Wu-tang Clan would follow with similar success. Drummond was arguably the most talented of all of them, but also the most erratic. This whole thing has the feel of a late-night session fueled by ceiling fans and lots of collie weed. A handful of the dozen danceable cuts here have made it to youtube: the evocative Last Call; the energetic Heaven and Earth; a signature song of sorts, Roll On Sweet Don; a lively ska version of Vienna Woods; and a surprisingly subtle version of the Dick Tracy theme popularized by the Ventures. Drummond would shortly thereafter murder his girlfriend; he died behind bars in 1969. Here’s a random torrent via You and Me on a Jamboree.

571. Penelope Houston – Pale Green Girl

Best known as the leader of late 70s punk rockers the Avengers – who were sort of the American Sex Pistols – Penelope Houston subsequently forged out a brilliant career as a much quieter, mostly acoustic tunesmith. She’s literally never made a bad album. Among the many cult classics in her catalog, this 2004 release gets the nod, if only for its consistency all the way through. Aside from the Avengers, it’s her hardest-rocking effort to date, with a late 60s psychedelic pop vibe fueled by gorgeous twelve-string guitar. As you would expect, it’s eclectic, ranging from the hopeful, jangly Take My Hand, to the sad, ghostly Aviatrix, the disarmingly poppy, metaphorically-charged Flight 609, and the quietly savage outsider anthem that serves as the title track. Bottom Line veers from dark reggae to jangly Byrdsiness; Privilege & Gold, Walnut, and Snow are bitterly vivid, lyrical Britfolk-inflected laments; the album ends with Soul Redeemer, the searing account of a rape survivor, and a lushly beautiful cover of John Cale’s Buffalo Ballet. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers, surprisingly, but the whole thing is streaming at myspace (don’t forget to reload the page after each song or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad) and it’s still available from Houston’s site.

570. Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt – Trio

Three of the finest voices of the past decades joined forces in 1987 for this spirited, inspired mix of traditional Americana classics and a few originals. This is Dolly’s project, a landmark in her career because it represented her first break from the pop schlock she’d been covering for the previous ten years or so; likewise, it reinvigorated Harris’ career and underscored Ronstadt’s then-newfound cred as a purist equally adept at rancheras, country and jazz. They do the old Dolly/Porter Wagoner tune Making Plans as well as her own Wildflowers, take their time with The Pain of Loving You, These Memories of You and a plaintive Telling Me Lies, go more rustic with Jimmie Rodgers’ Hobo’s Meditation, the traditional English folk song My Dear Companion and the early Nashville gothic tune Rosewood Casket. Despite dating from the synth era, the musicianship is remarkably inspired as well; the only dud here is a forgettable Phil Spector bubblegum hit. Here’s a random torrent.

569.Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

A virtuoso guitarist equally adept at delta blues, vintage Appalachian folk, early jazz and rock, Lenny Molotov is also an acerbic, brutally perceptive songwriter and lyricist. This is his latest album, from 2010, an eclectic mix of all of those styles: if the Dead Kennedys had tried their hand at oldtimey music, it might have sounded something like this. Here he’s backed by a rustic, inspired string band including bass, drums, fiddle and blues harp. The early Dylanesque Wilderness Bound chronicles a symbolically-charged journey its narrator never wanted to make; Book of Splendor and the eerily hypnotic Ill Moon hark back to the delta, while Glorious evokes Woody Guthrie. The classic here is Freedom Tower, dating from the early days of the Bush regime, a witheringly sarcastic sendup of fascist architectural iconography (he says it much more simply and poetically than that). David Reddin’s Blues follows a similar tangent, a sardonic modern-day outlaw ballad, its killer on the run caught in an Orwellian snare. There’s also the swinging Faded Label Blues, a wryly bitter Jelly Roll Morton homage; the quietly defiant Devil’s Empire, and the bucolic waltz New Every Morning, which leaves no doubt where Molotov stands: “There’s just two kinds of music under the law/The real live blues, and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” This one’s real hard to find, but still available at shows – or check the blues bin at your local used record store, if you have one.

568. Sally Norvell – Choking Victim

Recorded in an old church in Northhampton, Massachusetts, this 2002 noir classic pairs off cult heroine Norvell’s icy/sultry vocals with Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s plaintive, haunting, reverb-drenched piano. The pitch-black intensity never lets up, through the Marlene Dietrich-ish gothic waltz Blake in the Cake; the seductive Brecht/Weill-tinged One Gentle Thing; Big Louise, a sad ballad for an aging party animal; the blackly sardonic AIDS-era memoir November; the self-explanatory Goodbye Song; the gleefully opiated wee-hours madness of Murder, as well as a hypnotic setting of a Paul Bowles poem, Tom Waits’ Please Call Me, Baby done as noir cabaret, and the Appalachian gothic ballad Forgotten and Abandoned done as straight-up, creepy neoclassical. Surprisingly, it ends on a very funny note (alluded to by the album cover), complete with a deadpan, amusing cameo from Norvell’s old bandmate Kid Congo Powers, with whom she recorded more rock-oriented versions of some of these songs. This one’s very hard to find. The sharelockers have nothing; once in awhile copies will turn up in the used bins – check your local used record store, if one still exists.

567. Squeeze – East Side Story

Ironically, this 1982 album is best known for the band’s worst song (and biggest hit – go figure), Tempted, the only cut that keyboardist Paul Carrack, who was in the group for only this album, ever gave them. But the rest of the songs are so good that they make you forget it’s there. More effectively than any of the well-loved British new wave band’s other albums, it contrasts Chris Difford’s quintessentially English, vaudevillian-tinged, lyrically dense tableaux with Glenn Tilbrook’s more diverse, Beatlesque tunesmithing and blazing lead guitar. Many of these songs take a sardonic but genuinely warmhearted look at romance from a woman’s point of view, without being sappy, notably Woman’s World, the poignant Someone Else’s Heart, the scurrying Is That Love and playful Mumbo Jumbo. The rest of the album is more eclectic than anything the band would do before or afterward, with the bitter country ballad Labelled with Love; the shapeshifting psychedelia of There’s No Tomorrow and F-Hole; Heaven, with its eerie, lickety-split banjo outro, the bouncy, cheery Piccadilly, Someone Else’s Bell and In Quintessence among the fourteen tracks on the original vinyl release. Here’s a random torrent via Ustedville.

566. Rasputina – A Radical Recital

Since the 90s, cellist/songwriter Melora Creager has created an eerily surreal, twistedly lyrical, frequently hilarious, visionary body of work that ranks with any other songwriter or composer’s output during that time. Literally everything she’s ever made is worth owning. This particular edition of Rasputina, from 2005, features three cellos and drums (the drum guy sings a silly English folk song, When I Was a Young Girl, for comic relief from the relentless, dark intensity) plus Creager on vocals doing essentially a greatest hits-live set. It’s a strong if incomplete representation, with the searing chromatics of Saline the Salt Lake Queen; the ferociously sarcastic Howard Hughes; the ethereally sad Sign of the Zodiac and Watch TV; a blistering cover of the old swing tune If Your Kisses Can’t Hold the Man You Love; the amusing Mama Was an Opium Smoker; the entertainingly vicious anti-Rudy Guiliani broadside The Mayor; the pensive suicide anthem A Quitter, plus tongue-in-cheek chamber rock versions of Led Zep’s Rock & Roll and Barracuda by Heart. The cd is still available at the band’s site; here’s a random torrent.

565. Sade – Lovers Live

At the risk of alienating our entire base with the poppiest album on this list so far, here’s a counterinituitive pick, to the extreme. Why? Sade was the default boudoir chanteuse for an entire generation. As with Al Green fifteen years before, thousands (maybe millions) of babies born in the late 80s and 90s owe their existence to Helen Folasade Adu’s wistful, slightly smoky, come-hither vocals. This surprisingly energetic 1999 live album cements her reputation not only as an avatar of seduction, but also as a first-class singer who transcends the torch-song limitations of most of her material. As expected, this set is heavy with bedroom anthems from early in her career: Cherish the Day, Kiss of Life, The Sweetest Taboo, No Ordinary Love, By Your Side and of course Smooth Operator, which is actually pretty ragged here. There’s also Jezebel, a sad ballad for a heartbreaker; the quietly poignant Slave Song, and a swaying, blues-infused version of Is It a Crime among the thirteen tracks here. The band don’t quite make it to the level of jazz, but as trip-hop, nobody ever did it better than they did. Break out the incense, wine and candles, and this random torrent.

564. Canibus – Mic Club: The Curriculum

A rare example of a lyricist who more than lived up to the extreme hype surrounding his 1998 debut, Canibus represents the pinnacle of East Coast hardcore hip-hop wordsmithing: he’s never made a bad album. This 2002 underground classic is where he really took his game to the next level: erudite, serious as hell but also funny as hell with the mot juste when he wants to skewer someone. He’s so articulate here that he doesn’t even feel the need to use any curse words until track six. The rhymes come fast and furious with Poet Laureate; Masters Thesis; the scathing Behind Enemy Rhymes; Allied Meta-Forces, with a typically potent Kool G Rap cameo; Cenoir Studies 02; C Section; Literal Arts (featuring heavy-hitting Philly artist Jedi Mind Tricks) and Curriculum 101. As much as hip-hop has always been more about the lyrics than the backing tracks, the samples here are especially imaginative (when’s the last time you heard somebody sample Pink Floyd’s Summer ’68?). Here’s a random torrent.

563. Firewater – The Ponzi Scheme

A pre-millennial concept album about the deadly consequences of capitalist excess: the personal as political taken to a stunningly prophetic extreme. Fiery art-punks Firewater get extra props for spawning both Balkan Beat Box and Botanica, groups they heavily influenced. This 1998 release is intense and brilliantly lyrical all the way through, along with a couple of evilly cartoonish Balkan brass instrumental romps. The gypsy barroom rock of Green Light comments on the perils of chasing the almighty dollar, “going down like a pederast in a boys school;” Dropping Like Flies sounds like the Damned on a literate gypsy rampage. Caroline cruelly chronicles a girl who “starved herself of everything that money couldn’t buy,” while the noir piano boogie Whistling in the Dark reminds that you can only live on borrowed time for so long. There’s also Isle of Dogs, a snarling, spot-on hypocrite’s tale fueled by Oren Kaplan’s reverb guitar; the twisted tango Another Perfect Catastrophe; the savagely mocking So Long Superman, essentially a punk rock remake of Tainted Love; I Still Love You Judas, proof positive that there really is no honor among thieves; Knock Em Down, a savagely sarcastic noir cabaret tune, and the potent concluding song, Drunkard’s Lament, a searing look at the psychology of spectacles like reality tv a few years before it existed: “Misery loves company, that’s why everybody loves me.” Firewater frontman Tod A. has kept the band alive over the years with a shifting cast of characters, slowly moving further away from rock toward the East, with excellent results. The whole album is streaming at Spotify (as of July 2011) ; here’s a random torrent via Cosmo Zebra.

562. The Modern Lovers’ first album

We’re trying hard not to duplicate the two best-known “best albums” lists on the web, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. Recorded in 1972 (back when Jonathan Richman still had an edge, before he turned into a parody of himself), not released until 1976, enormously influential and still a great party album after all these years, it’s a mix of scurrying second-generation Velvets vamps and poppier janglerock. The iconic one here is Roadrunner (memorably butchered by the Sex Pistols). Richman may have held hippies in contempt (the hilarious bonus track I’m Straight), but he goes in that direction on Astral Plane. Otherwise, he’s cranky and defiantly retro on Old World and Modern World, hauntingly poignant on She Cracked and Hospital, LOL funny on their cover of John Cale’s Pablo Picasso (who really was an asshole), and only gets sappy on Someone I Care About. The early zeros reissue comes with a bunch of bonus tracks which include the Boston classic Government Center but otherwise aren’t up to the level of the John Cale-produced originals. Extra props to the band for contributing members to both the Talking Heads and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters. Here’s a random torrent.

561. The Hangdogs – Wallace ’48

These New York hellraisers got their start as sharply literate if drunken alt-country types in the late 90s. By 2003, when this final album came out, they’d gone in more of an Americana rock direction: imagine Jello Biafra fronting Social Distortion, and you’ll get some idea of what the Hangdogs were all about at the end. This is a slice of life from the early Bush era, a scathingly hilarious account of everyday people battling sadistic bosses, broke and too wasted on reality tv to realize how much closer to slaves they became every day. The title track is a bluegrass homage to perennial Socialist Party candidate George Wallace, followed by Waiting For the Stars To Fall, the towering, elegaic ballad that Oasis never wrote. Lots of funny country songs here: Memo from the Head Office, making sure that we max out our credit cards on the all shit we don’t need; Drink Yourself to Death, a spot-on satire of “new Nashville” music; the self-explanatory Alcohol of Fame, and Serious Guy, who’s somebody you hope you never work for. And just as many genuinely serious songs: the workingman’s lament Early to Bed; the plaintive She’s Leaving You; lead guitarist Texas Tex’s hallucinatory, somber Porch Swing; and the bitter band-on-the-road anthem Goodnight, Texas. Frontman Matthew Grimm would go on to equally good things as the leader of socially aware Iowa rockers the Red Smear later in the decade. Utterly impossible to find as a torrent; the usual pay sites have mp3s, and the whole thing is streaming at Spotify (as/of July 2011).

560. Siouxsie & the Banshees – Join Hands

Over the course of their long career, Siouxsie & the Banshees have pushed the envelope with punk rock, goth, psychedelia and gamelan-inspired experimental sounds. This 1979 album, their second, is where Siouxsie Sioux crystallized her inimitable microtonal vocal style, along with her outraged-witness persona. Side one of this album follows a loosely thematic World War I theme, beginning with the acidic, atonal Poppy Day (sort of a punk version of the famous antiwar poem In Flanders Field). Guitarist John McKay hits his chords like he’s swinging a machete, through the scorching Regal Zone and Placebo Effect, while bassist Steven Severin’s minimalist chords fuel the fires in the savagely menacing Icon (which kicks off with the distant rumble of cannon fire). Premature Burial is as morbidly memorable as the band ever got; Playground Twist a vivid look at the cruelty children inflict on each other; Mother, a horror-movie music-box theme. The album ends with the eleven-minute, dadaist sacrilege of The Lord’s Prayer, originally done by Sid Vicious’ first band the Flowers of Romance. It’s most likely the only instance ever where anyone called Muhammad Ali a ”fucking dick” on vinyl. Here’s a random torrent.

559. Jethro Tull – A

Some of you may be wondering what kind of drugs we’ve been doing, considering that there are not only one but two Jethro Tull albums here (Aqualung is also on the list – see our “obvious picks” page). And while there is a track on this album called the Pine Marten’s Jig, it’s the only hobbity tune here. All the jigging and whistling – and the band’s atrocious metal albums from the late 80s – obscure the fact that when this band was at the top of their game, they made several albums’ worth of terrifically lyrical, absolutely unique, metal and Britfolk-flavored art-rock. This is a 1980 concept album about nuclear armageddon (back then, everybody thought that the world would end in a shower of bombs instead of a meltdown in Japan). Thematically, everything that can go wrong here does. Crossfire was inspired by a hostage situation at the Iranian Embassy in London, while the catchy, spiraling Fylingdale Flyer looks at the logical extreme created when a false alarm signals a nuclear attack. The swaying Working John, Working Joe is a call for solidarity; the real gem, Black Sunday is a tricky, eerie countdown to the end. The metalish Protect and Survive has lyrics taken from a Soviet army manual, followed eventually by the creepy, surreal Batteries Not Included, the nonconformist anthem Uniforms, and the requiem And Further On. In lieu of the album – absolutely impossible to find online because of the title, and because ours is on vinyl – we give you this contemporaneous 1980 live set, with many of these tracks, via theultimatebootlegexperience.

558. The Moody Blues – Long Distance Voyager

Did the Moody Blues invent art-rock…or at least chamber pop? Maybe. Fans of the tuneful, philosophically inclined psychedelic pop band are probably mystified why we chose this 1981 reunion album of sorts over well-loved 60s releases like In Search of the Lost Chord or On the Threshold of a Dream. Answer: all of those albums have some great tunes, but also a bunch of real clunkers as well. This, on the other hand is solid virtually all the way through, and the songwriting is arguably the band’s strongest. The production manages to be ornate and genuinely majestic despite the heavy synthesizers. The big, brisk top 40 hit was The Voice, followed closely by the artsy, ELOish, disco-tinged Gemini Dream (a great song to cover if you played it loud and fast like a lot of bands of the era did). The irresistible Talking out of Turn is a seven-minute pop song that actually works. Guitarist Justin Hayward’s lush kiss-off anthem Meanwhile is genuinely poignant, as is bassist John Lodge’s sweeping, understatedly anguished art-pop ballad Nervous. There’s also the morbid 22,000 Days, the twisted cabaret of Painted Smile and the even more twisted Veteran Cosmic Rocker, a surprisingly snarling satire of aging hippie rockers by a band who knew a little something about being one. Here’s a random torrent.

557. The Jam – Setting Sons

Maybe someday in 2013 when this list is finally finished, we’ll move this 1979 punk rock classic a little higher…or maybe into the alltime top 10, where it probably deserves to be. This might be the best rock bass record ever made, Bruce Foxton growling and punching his way through one fiery, melodic riff after another. The best of all of them might be the one in Private Hell, frontman/guitarist Paul Weller’s searing, sarcastic account of a day in the life of a yuppie shopper. There’s also the ripping, mod-punk Girl on the Phone; the rueful, metaphorically-charged Thick As Thieves; the scorching, anti-imperialist Little Boy Soldiers and The Eton Rifles; the alienation anthems Burning Sky and Wasteland; the populist Saturday’s Kids; the best version of Smithers-Jones, done with a string quartet here; and a punked-out cover of the old Motown hit Heat Wave. Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler still tour, with a new guitarist; Weller sadly and unexpectedly lost his touch as a songwriter when the band broke up in 1984 and never got it back. Here’s a random torrent via Mod 64.

556. Arsenio Rodriguez y Su Conjunto – Sabroso y Caliente

Rustic yet cutting-edge for its time, this is an update on classic Cuban son. Bandleader Rodriguez, blinded in a childhood accident, played the Cuban acoustic guitar known as the tres. Highly sought after in his later years as a sideman, he was a major influence on the great salsa bands of the 70s. This flavorful, hot 1957 session carves out a niche halfway between the blazing big band sounds of Tito Puente or Perez Prado, and the Cuban country music that Rodriguez grew up with. Some may find the vocals a little over the top, but the band is cooking. The dozen tracks here include the soaring, upbeat Carraguao Alante; the lush, minor key Hay Fuego En el 23; Buenavista en Guaguancó, an old song from Rodriguez’s small-combo period in the 40s; the slinky Blanca Paloma; the sly mambo Mami Me Gusto, the hypnotically insistent La Fonda de Bienvenido, and Adorenla Como a Marti, which evades the censors by allusively referencing the notorious 1912 massacres of Afro-Cubans on the island. Here’s a random torrent via Global Groovers.

555. Bartok – String Quartets Nos. 1-6 – The Alban Berg Quartett

Angry, sardonic, brooding, bitter but also surprisingly peaceful in places, Bela Bartok’s six string quartets are among the most gripping pieces of chamber music ever written. Demanding? Yes. Offputting? Not really, unless your ears can’t handle anything more sophisticated than Lady Gag. They’re extremely difficult to play, utilizing the entire sonic spectrum and complicated technique (Bartok, a pianist, performed many small-group or duo concerts with string players and was obviously paying close attention to the challenges his work afforded his bandmates). He drew heavily on the most jarring tonalities of the Hungarian gypsy music he came to love so much, but as abrasive as some of these are (the first is one of the most wrathful compositions you’ll ever hear), they can also be very memorably tuneful. This 2004 box set is notable for being one of the last made by the group’s excellent violist Thomas Kakuska shortly before his death…and it’s also mysteriously hard to find on the web. In lieu of this one we suggest another excellent collection from a couple of years later by the Emerson String Quartet via Holy Fucking Shit 40000.

554. The Who – The Who Sings My Generation

OK, OK, this is “classic rock,” the one thing we’re trying to stay away from here. But what a rhythm section – and a tragedy that both John Entwistle and Keith Moon both left us so young. This album came out in 1965, when the band’s sound was new and fresh, before Pete Townshend turned into a Jimmy Page wannabe and Daltrey…well, the music here is good enough to make you forget he’s on it. With his completely unpredictable rumbling thunder attack, Moon absolutely owns La-La-La-Lies and Much Too Much. A Legal Matter mines the same amped-up R&B style as the Pretty Things and the early Kinks; the Good’s Gone foreshadows the Move. There’s also the country dancehall stomp of It’s Not True, the blue eyed soul ballad I Don’t Mind and Out in the Street, with its cool tremoloing intro. Oh yeah, there’s also an oldies radio standard, a future movie theme and a primitive, fuzztoned quasi-surf instrumental. The band only miss when they misguidedly try their hand at James Brown. Here’s a random torrent.

553. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

A caustic, wickedly tuneful concept album about the struggle for a musician to reach an audience in the last dying days of the major label era, 2009. Treat of the Week scathingly chronicles a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame; the deadpan 60s Britpop bounce of Discount Store masks its sting as an anthem for the current depression. The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: the funniest song here, Apologia is a faux power ballad ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to fight the system. The classic here is City Of… a cruelly spot-on analysis of music fandom (and its Balkanized subcultures) in a Toronto of the mind; Street Team, a spot-on, Orwellian look at how marketers attempt to create those Balkanized audiences; My Alleged Career, an alienated distillation of how Bryk’s music was probably received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a pretty ballad, a musical joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad: “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry,” Bryk insists. Mystifyingly, this one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s streaming at Spotify (as of July 2011) and it’s still available at Bryk’s site, where you can also hear the whole thing.

552. Wadi Al-Safi: Ajmal Aghani – The Very Best of Wadi Al-Safi

The career of crooner/oudist Wadi Al-Safi, “the Voice of Lebanon,” has spanned eight decades. Essentially, he’s a soul singer, with a warm baritone characterized more by nuance than bite. Like so many levantine artists dating back to the 1940s, he was also a star of screwball comedies; much of his repertoire has iconic status that extends beyond his home turf. This is hardly comprehensive, but it’s a decent overview. Lots of hits here: the lushly orchestrated La La Aini La; the sweeping Tallou Hbabna; the plaintive, hypnotic, accordion-driven Remche Ouyounek; the suspenseful, slow Ma Atwalak Ya Layl; the slinky snakecharmer dance Albi Yehwak; Betrehlak Mechwar, with its cool qanun/bass intro; and Ya Rabe’ena, which works equally well as military march or wedding dance. The whole album is streaming at Spotify; here’s a random torrent via Folk Music SMB.

551. Greta Gertler & Peccadillo – Nervous Breakthroughs

Recorded mostly in the late 90s but not available outside Australia until 2004, this is a lush, sweeping classic of chamber pop and art-rock. With her sometimes stratospheric high soprano voice, sizzling keyboard chops and playful, unpredictable songwriting, Gertler comes across as something of a down-to-earth Kate Bush (hard to imagine, but try anyway). With a rock band and string section behind her, she veers from the Supertramp-style pop of Happy Again and the vividly anxious Highest Story to more austere, windswept pieces like Away and the quirky I’m Not a Lizard, and even a blazing Russian folk dance, The Hot Bulgar. The bitterly triumphant, intensely crescendoing Moving Backwards is the real killer cut here, although all the tracks are strong. With its killer chorus, Julian should have been the big radio hit; there’s also a boisterous Aussie football song, and the bouncy, Split Enz-ish Charlie #3. Mysteriously absent from the blogosphere and the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby. Gertler has since taken her game up yet another notch as leader of the symphonic rock crew the Universal Thump, whose current album in progress is every bit as good as this one. You may even see it on this list someday.

550. Machito – Kenya

A landmark of latin big band jazz. Hard to believe, but this stuff was actually mainstream in 1957 when the album came out (one of Machito’s most popular albums was marketed as being recorded at the Catskills resort where he held an annual summer residency for years). On one hand, this doesn’t have the raw bite of the legendary bandleader’s stuff from the 30s and 40s, but the songs and the charts are killer. All of these are originals save for percussionist Chano Pozo’s noir classic Tin Tin Deo. Lots of flavors here: the brisk, blazing guaguanco of Wild Jungle; the slinky, suspenseful Congo Mulence; the lush, majestic title track; the stop-and-start intenstiy of Oyeme; Holiday, with its surgically precise Cannonball Adderley solo; Cannonology, a sideways Charlie Parker tribute; the sinister-tinged Frenzy; proto-ska Conversation; bustling Minot Rama; hypnotically soulful Tururato, and Blues A La Machito, which is more Machito than blues. Here’s a random torrent via Hasta Luego Baby.

549. Genesis – Nursery Cryme

While the veteran British art-rockers’ legacy suffers under the weight of a lot of lousy material from the Phil Collins years and then the 80s, up through the mid-70s they were a sensationally good, theatrical, guitar-and-keyboard-driven symphonic rock machine. This 1971 album may be the best of the bunch, although everything else they did while Peter Gabriel was in the band is worth hearing. Trippy, surreal and often macabre, it’s got many of the band’s best-loved epics: The Musical Box, a metaphorically-charged suite; The Return of the Giant Hogweed, which reminds that in the end, nature always wins; the bizarre, mythological Fountain of Salmacis; the wistful folk-rock vignette For Absent Friends, and Harold the Barrel, one of the weirdest, creepiest three-minute songs ever written. Gabriel imbues it all with a defiant, literate individualism, much as Roger Waters did in Pink Floyd. Here’s a random torrent.

548. Bessie Smith – Complete Recorded Works 1922-23

The real primo Bessie Smith albums are not available digitally: they’re double-vinyl reissues from the 60s and 70s, a series with faux-antique trellis edging the album covers in various colors, still frequently found in used record stores. If you see one, pick it up, because pretty much everything the Queen of the Blues ever did is worth owning. We suggest this double-cd reissue because it has a mix of her most iconic songs, i.e. Down Hearted Blues, Bleeding Hearted Blues and ‘Tain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do, some of her famously suggestive stuff like Nobody In Town Can Bake A Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine and also a whole bunch of her creepiest sides. It doesn’t have Sing Sing Blues, but it does have Sam Jones’ Blues, the chillingly surreal Graveyard Dream Blues, Cemetery Blues, Frosty Morning Blues, Haunted House Blues and the absolutely awesome Hateful Blues. There’s cleverly funny stuff like Eavesdropper’s Blues and topical songs like the escaped-slave allegory Ticket Agent, Ease Your Window Down and for the country crowd, Boweavil Blues. Most of the songs are just piano and vocals, some with the guy who was arguably the greatest blues pianist ever, James P. Johnson. No Louis Armstrong duets here – while it’s quaint to imagine him smoking her up, her strongest songs were always her darkest ones. If you don’t already know her, this will hook you for life. Here’s a random torrent via Dirty Music.

547. The Wirebirds – Past and Gone

By the time this 2003 album came out, the great New York Britfolk band was finished: they did one final show that year, and that was the end. With three first-rate songwriters – frontwoman Amanda Thorpe, guitarists Will Dial and Peter Stuart – they alternated between lush, Richard Thompson-inflected anthems and more stark, bucolic material. This album is pretty much their entire catalog. The album opens with a blast of twelve-string guitar a la the Church with the big, sweeping Can You, winds through a bunch of warily apprehensive ballads before they hit their high point with Dial’s towering, apocalyptic This Green Hell (our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003). Stuart’s catchy, lusciously jangly, rueful One Way Ticket would have been the big radio hit in a smarter universe, a vibe he takes to the next level with Time Stands Still.  Fourteen tracks in all, including a biting cover of the English folksong Three Ravens, all with soaring three-part harmonies and layer upon layer of jangling, roaring, crashing guitar. Thorpe would go on to reach equally intense heights as a solo artist, and then with the Bedsit Poets. Strangely absent from the sharelockers, the whole thing is streaming at Spotify, and it’s still available from cdbaby.

546. Sister Rosetta Tharpe – Complete Recorded Works 1942-44

A gospel guitar goddess who frequently collaborated with the jazz and blues stars who revered her, from the 1940s into the 60s. Not all her songs were completely sanctified, either: I Want a Tall Skinnny Papa, or Trouble in Mind, for example. She played acoustic, she played electric, didn’t waste notes, kept her solos terse and intense. This is as good an overview of her career as any, although if you like this stuff you’ll want to investigate the rest of her extensive catalog. This double-disc set has Big Bill Broonzy’s This Train, gospel hits like What He Done for Me, I Want Jesus to Walk Around My Bedside and inspired, rocking versions of spirituals and folk songs like All Over This World and Down by the Riverside.  There’s also the plaintive Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares and the inspiring Strange Things Happening Every Day among the 27 tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Flabbergasted Vibes.

545. Cocktail Angst – Our Big Top Parade

Like Richard Cheese, New York band Cocktail Angst made fun of lounge music, but much more subtly. Frontwoman Toby Williams, keyboardist Jon Dryden, vibraphonist Tom Beckham, bassist Tim Luntzel and drummer John Mettam gave their songs period-perfect torchy 1950s latin jazz arrangements, then gently and expertly mocked them. This 2001 release is the better (or at least longer) of their two often pricelessly funny albums, much of it foreshadowing the considerably darker direction Beckham would take as a solo artist. It’s got the title track’s seedy circus milieu; the absolutely silly, over-the-top, Pineapples, a spoof of 50s “exotica;” Samba de Angst, a cynical look through the eyes of a gold-digging stripper; and Mindless, which reminds that the New York City subway was just as bad fifteen years ago as it is now. Last Tango in Vegas is actually a creepy blues lamenting the Disneyfication of the city: “Be wary of the great American dream/The Elk’s Club bids you all a good night.” With its big Henry Mancini-esque crescendos, Kama Sutra is even creepier. There’s also Bates Motel, a twisted noir vacation scenario and the blithe yet bitter Case of Cheap Goodnight along with a John Denver cover which is as hideously awful as the original, probably for a reason. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from cdbaby.

544. Pulp – Separations

The best British band of the 90s made a bunch of great albums. This one, from 1992, is their most theatrical. There’s a distinct A-side and a B-side, the first an update on noir 60s American pop, the second a cruelly deadpan parody of the era’s computerized disco music. Love Is Blind and Don’t You Want Me Anymore are Jarvis Cocker at his most glammy and sarcastic; She’s Dead, the title track and the absolutely creepy Down by the River aren’t particularly subtle, but they’re troubling nonetheless (Cocker has always dealt with death and tragedy by exposing others’ callousness and obliviousness to it, and these are prime examples). Side 2 is just plain funny, even if the joke starts to get old by the time they reach the end, with eight mindlessly throbbing minutes of This House Is Condemned. Leading up to it are the moronically repetitive Countdown, the catchy synth-pop of My Legendary Girlfriend and Death II, which revisits the morbid vibe of side one. Here’s a random torrent.

543. Ruben Blades y Seis Del Solar – Escenas

One of the most socially aware artists of the classic salsa era, Ruben Blades gets extra props for introducing Hector Lavoe to Willie Colon while working in the Fania Records mailroom and writing songs on the side. The rest is history. While he bridges several eras, Blades’ songwriting has never wavered. The production on this 1984 release isn’t as ballsy as it would have been ten years previously, but the songs are consistently excellent, even Silencios, which is badly miscast as a pop ballad. Otherwise, there’s the starkly scurrying widow’s lament Cuentas Del Alma; the scathing Tierra Dura, which addresses famine in Ethiopia; the blackly humorous La Cancion Del Final Del Mundo; Sorpresas, which continues the story of the struggling blue-collar Pedro Navaja, star of Blades’ signature song; Caina, a gritty look at the not-so-glamorous side of the cocaine trade (“Why would you want to do coke/It makes you edgy and obnoxious”) and an update on the Los Van Van hit Muevete. Here’s a random torrent.

542. The Long Ryders – Native Sons

This 1984 album is one of the best early alt-country records. Frontman Sid Griffin – who would go on to write an acclaimed Gram Parsons biopic – shifted from Stonesy stomp, to twang, to the occasional venture into the psychedelic paisley underground sound that the other northern California bands of the era were so well known for. The real gem here is the ferocious Cali gothic Wreck of the 809, driven by its eerily soaring bassline. The rocking stuff includes the surreal Final Wild Son and Run Dusty Run (a Steve Wynn reference); the country is represented by the bittersweet Ivory Tower, I Had a Dream, Fair Game, the wry bluegrass-tinged Never Got to Meet the Mom and a boisterous cover of Mel Tillis’ Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge. The band would stay together through the 80s; everything they put out is worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent via Gas Music.

541. Elvis Costello – Costello & Nieve Live

Recorded on tour in five different cities, one per cd, this limited-edition box set went out of print shortly after its 1996 release – but thanks to the folks at For the Dishwasher, you can still download it. Just Costello playing acoustic guitar, and genius noir pianist Steve Nieve turning in a lot of characteristically transcendent performances. Highlights of the 27 tracks here: the best-ever version of what might be Costello’s most paradoxically brilliant song, Man Out of Time; an especially creepy Long Honeymoon; a skeletal, low-key Temptation; the surreal, seven-minute Brecht/Weill-influenced My Dark Life; a plaintively plainspoken cover of the Grateful Dead’s Ship of Fools; a biting, jaunty You’ll Never Be a Man; a real showstopping version of the suicide anthem All the Rage; and a lot of stuff from All This Useless Beauty, including takes of The Other End of the Telescope, Little Atoms, Poor Fractured Atlas and I Want to Vanish, all of which are even better than the studio versions. To those who say there are too many Elvis Costello albums on this list: he’s probably made at least a dozen classic albums, and plenty more than that are also worth hearing, so why shouldn’t we include half of them?

540. The Kinks – Something Else by the Kinks

This was a tough call. Everybody loves Village Green; Arthur is also a great album. But how about this 1967 release? What an eclectic, smart, catchy bunch of songs. The ones everybody knows and loves are Waterloo Sunset and David Watts (thanks to the Jam for making that one a punk classic). But the rest of the album is just as strong: the sarcastic Situation Vacant; the austere chamber pop tunes Death of a Clown, Two Sisters and No Return; the antiwar Tin Soldier Man, no less true today than it was then; the sly stoner anthem Harry Rag; Lazy Old Sun and Afternoon Tea, which foreshadow what was to come on Village Green; and the soul-infused ballad Love Me Til the Sun Shines, which would be a hit for the Lyres almost twenty years later. Here’s a random torrent via Oldish Psych Prog.

539. Either/Orchestra – The Calculus of Pleasure

Before Ethiopiques, before Either/Orchestra became Mulatu Astatke’s North American backing unit, they were a very clever, original, often noirish big band. When they weren’t doing cinematic, genre-defying instrumentals that bridge the gap between rock and jazz, that is. Literally everything saxophonist/composer Russ Gershon’s long-running Boston outfit has released is worth hearing; this 1992 album gets the nod because it’s probably their darkest and most cohesive. The real stunner here is a sad, elegaic ballad aptly titled Grey. There’s also the bracing, uneasy swing of Whisper Not; Bennie Moten’s Weird Nightmare, with its tongue-in-cheek Mingus echoes; the cinematic, suspenseful Consenting Adults; Ecaroh, which alternates between creepy bossa nova and swinging contentment; Unnatural Pastime, which begins as an animated jump blues but gets dark fast; and the epics Miles Away and The Hard Blues. Most of this is streaming at myspace (and surprisingly, this playlist isn’t interrupted by ads); here’s a random torrent via Six By Six.

538. Bobby Vacant and the Weary – Tear Back the Night

We picked this as one of the best albums of 2009. It’s as much a masterpiece of simple, potently imagistic wordsmithing as it is musically, multi-instrumentalist George Reisch a.k.a. The Weary giving these haunted, alienated songs the gravitas they deserve with some stunningly eclectic arrangements. Stand in Time gets an elegaic, vintage Moody Blues arrangement, while the surprisingly witty Waveflowers paints a portrait of slipping away in the night against a vividly nocturnal mid-period Pink Floyd style backdrop. Bobby Vacant opens the album by cautioning everybody to stay away; by the end, he’s willing to open the door a crack. In between, he chronicles acid casualties, sold-out ex-idealists and the down-and-out on the Arthur Lee-esque Clark Street and the snide country-rock romp Dylan’s Dead. The death obsession goes front and center on the dirge Some Walk; the most powerful tracks here are the title track, a creepy post-party scenario, and Never Looking Back, a bitter, morbid escape anthem set to a triumphant janglerock tune that will resonate with anyone who ever felt surrounded and threatened by people who just don’t get it. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers, it’s still available from the excellent Chicago label Luxotone, where you can hear the whole thing. Bobby Vacant continues as a solo artist while running another excellent upstart label, Switzerland’s Weak Records.

537. Mama Cass Elliot – Dream a Little Dream

What a voice. What soul, and longing, and sensuality. Some of the tunes on the 60s cult heroine’s torchy 1968 debut release, like Burn Your Hatred and Rubber Band, are a little dated, but those vocals are timeless. And it’s too bad she isn’t with us anymore (the story about choking on a sandwich is cruelly untrue – it was bad dope that did her in). As you would expect from the hippie milieu she inhabited at that point, a lot of usual suspects stepped up to help out. Steven Stills’ guitar spices up the surprisingly plaintive Talking To Your Toothbrush; the Band’s Richard Manuel contributes Blues for Breakfast; John Sebastian throws in the pensive chamber-pop Room Nobody Lives In; and Leonard Cohen – who knows something about sexy allure – gives her You Know Who I Am (and she reciprocates mightily). There’s also the heavily reworked title track, a Bessie Smith hit forty years previously; California Earthquake, a psychedelic pop period piece that still resonates;  the big ballads What Was I Thinking Of and Long Time Loving You; the blue-eyed soul of Sweet Believer, and the jokey but actually very spot-on Jane the Insane Dog Lady. Here’s a random torrent via Jensen Brazil.

536. Ward White – Pulling Out

One of the world’s most literate rock songwriters, Ward White’s sardonic, sometimes scathing lyrics use devices usually found only in latin poetry or great novels – but he makes it seem effortless, maybe because he’s got a great sense of humor. He’s also a great tunesmith, and a first-class lead guitarist. Choosing from among his half-dozen albums is a crapshoot, since they’re all excellent. This one, from 2008, has a purist janglerock vibe, with keyboardist Joe McGinty turning in his finest, most deviously textural work since his days with the Psychedelic Furs. It opens with the bitter Beautiful Reward; Getting Along Is Easy cruelly chronicles a high-profile breakup; Let It All Go hilariously explores family dysfunction in Connecticut WASP-land. Miserable contrasts the catchiest tune here with the album’s most morose, doomed lyric. And The Ballad of Rawles Balls (White was once their bass player) immortalizes the legendary, satirical New York cover band from hell. There’s also bleak, jaundiced chamber-pop and a Big Star homage of sorts. Too obscure to make it to the share sites, it’s still streaming at White’s own site, where copies are also available. And his latest, 2011 release, Done with the Talking Cure, is just about as good as this one.

535. Exotica – Original Soundtrack

Canadian composer Mychael Danna has gotten a lot of Hollywood work; the best of his extensive career is this obscure 1994 score for an Atom Egoyan film that pretty much sank without a trace. Marketed as a suspense flick about a Montreal stripper and her stalker, it’s reputedly awful. But the music is a treat. It’s the kind of thing you might have discovered around that time on an adventurous late-night show on a good NPR affiliate. It’s notable for including several haunting, astringent Armenian melodies, including the folk songs Dilko Tamay Huay and Mujay Yaad (the latter completely redone as proto-bhangra). Some of these themes Danna expands on for his own compositions, most chillingly a series titled Field 1 through Field 4, a simple motif that in the end has grown to become downright macabre. There’s also the (possibly deliberately) silly disco title theme; the appropriately titled Something Hidden, Snake Dance, and the final track, The Ride Home, lush and more than a little exhausted, a bit of a respite from all the intensity. Here’s a random torrent via Judy Step.

534. New York City: Global Beat of the Boroughs

This 2001 Smithsonian Folkways release may be a long series of ludicrously bad segues, but multicultural party playlists don’t get much better than this. It’s predominantly latin and Balkan music played by obscure but frequently brilliant expatriate New York-based groups, although other immigrant cultures are represented. While the tracks by Irish group Cherish the Ladies and klezmer stars Andy Statman and the Klezmatics are all excellent, it’s surprising that the compilers couldn’t come up with the same kind of obscure treasures they unearthed from Puerto Rican plena groups Vienta de Agua and Los Pleneros de 21; or Albanian Besim Muriqi’s scorching dance tunes; or stately theatrical pieces by the prosaically titled traditional groups Music From China and the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Association. There are also rousing Greek and Bulgarian romps from Grigoris Maninakis and Yuri Yunakov, respectively; a soulful suite of Lebanese songs by crooner Naji Youssef; and even a spirited if roughhewn version of the Italian theme for the Williamsburg “Walking of the Giglio,” a big wooden tower paraded through the streets by a large troupe of hardworking men every August, among the 31 fascinating tracks here. Mysteriously AWOL from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from the folks at the Smithsonian.

533. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

Ex-Hangdogs frontman Grimm’s second album with this fiery, Social Distortion-esque Iowa highway rock band is what the Dead Kennedys might have sounded like had they survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf music for Americana. This 2009 release mixes snidely, sometimes viciously humorous cuts like Hang Up and Drive (a hilarious chronicle of idiots calling and texting behind the wheel), Cinderella (the self-centered girl who wants it all) and My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me (a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot chick, and who just can’t seem to complete his collection) with more savage, politically fueled songs. The centerpiece is the cold-blooded, murderous 1/20/09, celebrating the end of the Bush regime and looking forward the day when the “cloistered and dull trust-fund kid” might have to face up to his crimes in The Hague. There’s also the amusing Wrath of God, a sendup of doomsday Christians; White, an irresistibly funny, spot-on parody of white hip-hop; the triumphant and quite possibly prophetic singalong One Big Union, and the LMFAO Ayn Rand Sucks, which bitchslaps the memory of the “Nazi skank.” Also strangely AWOL from the usual sources for free music, but it’s still available from cdbaby. The band’s first album, Dawn’s Early Apocalypse, is just about as entertaining too.

532. Linda Draper – Bridge & Tunnel

Quietly and methodically, New York tunesmith Linda Draper has established herself as an elite lyrical songwriter. This 2009 release is the best and slightly most rock-oriented of her six consistently excellent, melodic albums. In a cool, nuanced voice, backed by her own nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar and a terse rhythm section, she stakes out characteristically sardonic, richly literate territory from a defiant outsider’s point of view. With its chilly organ background, the title track (Manhattanite slang for “suburban moron”) packs a quiet bite; the nonconformist anthems Sharks and Royalty and Broken Eggshell reflect a similar gentle confidence. Pushing up the Days is a snarky, pun-infused kiss-off, while Time Will Tell reverts to the psychedelic stream-of-consciousness vibe of her earlier work. The charmingly rustic Last One Standing hints that there could be a third choice other than leading or following; there’s also a casual, fun cover of the Stones’ Mother’s Little Helper. Here’s a random torrent via The Terminal; cd’s are still available at Draper’s site, with a highly anticipated new one due out sometime around the end of 2011.

531. Monty Alexander – Yard Movement

What the Jamaican pianist did on this 1995 live release was pretty radical at the time, but when you think about it, all he did was basically bring reggae full circle. Consider: reggae comes from rocksteady, rocksteady from ska, ska from calypso and calypso from jazz. Alexander has been a lyrical, exuberant player for decades, and immersed in reggae even if he didn’t start out playing it, so it was a natural progression for him. His equally ecstatic band here includes reggae guitar icon Ernest Ranglin (a jazzcat himself – see #903 on this list). They kick it off by winding their way up slowly and deliberately into a twelve-plus minute version of Bob Marley’s Exodus, hitting the same hypnotic groove as the original but with cascading, incisive leads by the piano instead of the guitar. The rest of the album is all Alexander originals: the more stern Regulator; the blissful ballads Crying, Love Notes and Moonlight City, his popular tribute to his favorite Jamdown spot, Strawberry Hill, and the hot closing jam, Sneaky Steppers. Pretty much everything Alexander has ever done is worth a spin, including his latest, Harlem-Kingston Express live record. This one is streaming in its entirety at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via Ras Cope.

530. Devi – Get Free

The 2009 debut release by this Hoboken, New Jersey psychedelic powerpop trio is a feast of good guitar and solid tunesmithing. But Debra, the band’s frontwoman, doesn’t let her virtuoso chops clutter the songs: instead, she goes for intricate layers and textures, with the occasional long, exhilarating, blues-infused solo. The genuine classic here is Welcome to the Boneyard, a haunted 9/11 memoir told from the point of a ghost in the rubble, drenched in watery riffs played through a Leslie organ speaker. When It Comes Down and the title track are the big concert favorites, all rises and falls and scorching solos. There’s also the wickedly catchy, gritty Howl at the Moon; Another Day (which could be the Runaways if they’d had better chops); Demon in the Sack, which pokes fun at gender stereotypes and sexual politics; Love That Lasts, which finally crosses the bridge over into exuberant metal; and a richly textured cover of Neil Young’s The Needle and the Damage Done. The album is streaming in its entirety at bandcamp and available as a free download at the band’s site.

529. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

We go to the well, or to be precise, to a church in the wilds of Pennsylvania for this one, a hypnotic, often downright macabre 2009 set of originals and improvisations by this dynamic baritone sax/piano duo. Shah’s glimmering chromatics evoke Erik Satie as much as they do Keith Jarrett, livened and eclectically flavored by Evans’ panoramic lines – he uses the entirety of his range including all kinds of harmonics. Yet as bracing and strange as this is, most of it you can hum. It’s a couple of mini-suites, a playful, bluesy Jan Roth cover, and many lengthy passages alternating terse, blues-based purism with murky, often menacing suspense from both instruments. Too obscure to make it to the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Moppa Elliott’s fantastic Hot Cup Records label.

528. Memphis Minnie – I Ain’t No Bad Gal

The prototypical blues guitar goddess, Memphis Minnie’s career spanned from the delta into the Chicago era in the early 1950s. She could outplay most of the guys around her and never really got the credit she deserves. Like many blues artists of the time, she recorded for quick money, very frequently – she wrote hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. This 1998 reissue doesn’t have her signature tune When the Levee Breaks (famously covered by Led Zep), but it’s as good a representation as any. Most of the sides here date from the late 30s or early 40s. Some, like Can’t Afford to Lose My Man and You Need a Friend echo popular artists like Bessie Smith; others (Looking the World Over and Down by the Riverside) offer an update on old folk themes; but the best are her most defiant, rebellious ones like the title track, Remember Me Blues, You Got to Get Out of Here and I Am Sailing. It’s surprisingly absent from the usual sources for free music, but in lieu of this one you can check out the first volume in the “complete recorded works” collection via On Muddy Sava Riverbank.

527. Curtis Eller – Wirewalkers and Assassins

2009 was a particularly good year for music – if you’ve been following this space, you’ll see we’ve been mining it quite a bit lately. This is Curtis Eller’s latest and best album – he plays banjo and happens to be one of the finest lyrical songwriters of our time. His specialty is fiery, minor-key, bluesy songs full of historical references and punk energy. This one has his very best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails; the New York-centric Sugar for the Horses; the grim party anthem Sweatshop Fire; the chillingly summery, hallucinatory Hartford Circus Fire; the sardonic Firing Squad; the gentle, blackly humorous country sway of the Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife, and the wrenchingly haunting, whispery Save Me Joe Louis, its title taken from what were reputedly the last words of the first man (who was probably wrongfully convicted) to be executed in the gas chamber. It hasn’t made it to the filesharing sites yet but it’s still available from Eller’s bandcamp, where you can hear the whole thing.

526. The JPT Scare Band – Past Is Prologue

Legendary in the midwest, the Kansas City power trio of drummer Jeff Littrell, bassist Paul Grigsby and guitarist Terry Swope recorded most of this between 1973 and 1975. While none of these tracks were officially released until 2001, the band was a cult favorite of the “cassette underground” for years. The opening track here, Burn In Hell, a forest of tense, flanged minor chords, was actually recorded that year and shows that the band was keeping up with the times. But it’s the old stuff that’s the most riveting: Sleeping Sickness, practically fourteen minutes of virtuoso Texas blues with metal flourishes, ten years before Stevie Ray Vaughan mastered the art; the wildly Hendrix-inspired proto-noiserock of I’ve Been Waiting and Time to Cry (which clocks in at a modest 12:59); Jerry’s Blues, which sounds a lot more like Jimi than the Dead; and the riff-rocking psychedelia of Titan’s Sirens. Recently reunited, the band played their first show in thirty years earlier this summer and are reputedly as scary as ever. Most of the tracks are streaming at myspace (without ads, happily); here’s a random torrent via Cavites Pride. The album, along with the equally good, bizarrely titled Acid Blues Is the White Man’s Burden, is also still available from Ripple Music.

525. Melomane – Glaciers

This eclectic 2007 release captures the lushly lyrical New York art-rockers at the top of their game. It opens with the blackly amusing Hilarious, a breezy Crowded House-ish art-pop tune, frontman/guitarist Pierre de Gaillande blithely chatting up a girl while the climate and the arms race heat up on all sides. Unfriendly Skies is Elvis Costello’s Radio Radio for the millennial generation, followed by the darkly romantic Open Invitation and then Nobody, which takes a turn into tropicalia with its bossa rhythm, trumpet and strings. The real classic here is The Ballot Is the Bullet, a quietly ferocious, stately funeral march in advance for the Bush regime. There’s also the defiantly populist, catchy Little Man’s Castles; the quirky, psychedelic mini-suite This Is Skyhorse; the clever satirical, Gruppo Sportivo-esque Pistolla di Colla (Italian for “glue gun”) and the pensive Thin Ice. The whole thing is streaming at myspace, of all places; strangely missing from the usual sources for free music, it’s still available from Melomane’s site. In the years since this came out, De Gaillande has gone on to equally gripping projects including the Snow (see #890 on this list) and his Bad Reputation project, which plays witty English translations of classic Georges Brassens songs.

524. Black Fortress of Opium’s first album

Led by a charismatic multi-instrumentalist who goes by Ajda the Turkish Queen, the Boston noir rockers’ 2008 debut alternates between assaultive, noir anthems and more hypnotic but equally dark stuff. Martin Bisi’s raw yet rich production blends layer upon layer of reverb guitar in with Ajda’s mandolin, banjo, wind instruments and “field recordings,” creating an irresistible sonic tar pit. The gothic-titled House of Edward Devotion sets the stage for what’s to come with its eerie overtones, the melody only baring its fangs in the quietest moments, followed by the savage Black Rope Burns. The most stunning moment here is the seven-minute Ari (dedicated to the son Nico had with Alain Delon) with its ferocious sheets of distorted slide guitar and an earth-shattering plummet into the abyss at the end. There’s also the wistful Crack + Pool and its reprise; the Nina Nastasia-esque Twelve Gross; the jarringly percussive Your Past; the sad, sarcastic lament Model Café; the sultry, bluesy soul ballad From a Woman to a Man and the trance-inducing, ominous, nine-minute Dulcet TV. Most of this is streaming at the band’s myspace; AWOL from the sharelockers, it’s still available at cdbaby.

523. Woody Guthrie – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

This isn’t all of them, but it was in 1940 when Alan Lomax recorded Woody solo, and as you would expect from Lomax, there’s an awful lot of traditional stuff – Rye Whiskey, Foggy Mountain Top and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – along with the originals. While Guthrie was just as much an archivist as activist and performer, it’s his own songs that everybody wants, and this has most of the early classics. The 3-cd box set intersperses dust bowl ballads – Talking Dust Bowl Blues and Dust Bowl Refugee, to name just two – with less contemporaneous populist anthems like I Don’t Want Your Greenback Dollar, Hard Times and Pretty Boy Floyd along with modern day folk classics like So Long and a handful of instrumentals (Guthrie never would have been so popular if he hadn’t been such a great tunesmith, and a surprisingly good picker). The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via 0 Earth.

522. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night: Original Soundtrack

This 1967 psychedelic soul classic is more of a collection of songs, some of them without words, than it is atmospheric mood pieces. Twenty tracks in all, many of them clocking in at barely two minutes apiece: detective Tibbs’ confrontation with the cops; a tense jail scene; and edgy, noirishly funky chase scenes galore. Ray Charles sings the title theme and Mama Caleba’s Blues. There’s also jaw-droppingly silly, satirical C&W from Glen Campbell and Boomer & Travis and Gil Bernal’s It Sure Is Groovy, which sounds like one of the Vampyros Lesbos tracks. Reissued in the 80s as a twofer with Jones’ soundtrack to the long-forgotten 1970 followup flick They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, here’s a random torrent via Banana Spliff.

521. The Violent Femmes’ first album

When Chrissie Hynde discovered these snotty acoustic punks in Milwaukee in 1983, little did anybody know that they’d be able to base an entire thirty-year career on this one album. The catchy intros to Blister in the Sun and Add It Up may blare over sports stadium PA systems these days, which is especially amusing since the lyrics that always get faded out quickly are so filthy. Brilliant acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie plays the leads behind Gordon Gano’s petulant, smirky whine as they move from post-Velvets angst (Please Do Not Go, Prove My Love and Good Feeling) to belligerence (Kiss Off) to bluesy pop (Gone Daddy Gone) to more menacing stuff like Promise, The Kill and Confessions that could be the real deal, or just a spoof. Still a great party record after all these years. Here’s a random torrent.

520. Noir Desir – Dies Irae

Often compared to Joy Division, these French rockers were actually closer to the Gun Club, with a twangy, noir, often Middle Eastern-tinged guitar sound and frontman Bertrand Cantat’s bitter, doomed lyricism. This blistering 1994 double-disc live set is the band at their most raw and assaultive, and contains most of their best songs, including the hypnotically galloping Mexican immigration epic Tostaky and the savage anti-globalization anthem Ici Paris. It opens with a signature song of sorts, La Rage, and closes with the bitter, cynical En Route Pour la Joie (Looking for Some Fun). In between, the 22 tracks include Les Écorchés (The Burnouts); the punked-out folk song Johnny Colère; the hallucinatory La Chaleur (Heat); the furtive À L’arrière des Taxis (In the Backs of Cabs); and dirges like Marlène and Sober Song (about the hangover from hell). Cantat is vastly more articulate in French than English, although he means well, as in The Holy Economic War. The band broke up in 2003 when Cantat murdered his mistress in a coke-fueled rage; a comeback after his release from prison generated considerable controversy. Here’s a random torrent.

519. The Angelic Upstarts – Live

A high point of the classic punk era. Over the course of a long career and innumerable lineup changes, this captures the original 1981 edition of the band playing most of their best early songs. It’s a long album, 15 songs: the alienation anthems Never Had Nothing and Leave Me Alone; the kids-against-the-world broadsides Teenage Warning, Kids on the Street, 2,000,000 Voices and their signature song, I’m an Upstart; and the antiwar Last Night Another Soldier. Aware of what was going on in the outside world, they sided with the people of Poland in Solidarity; with the Afghans against the Soviets in the ironic-to-the-extreme Guns for the Afghan Rebels (which had absolutely nothing to do with Osama Bin Laden or the CIA); sided with the outlaws and the kids against the cops with Machine Gun Kelly, Police Oppression, Who Killed Liddle Towers (a West Indian immigrant who died suspiciously in police custody) and a version of the Clash’s White Riot that beats the original. Here’s a random torrent via Mirotvorce.

518. King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown

Not bad for a bunch of cover versions that were all initially released as b-sides. Along with Lee “Scratch” Perry, the late King Tubby is considered to be one of the inventors and early giants of dub reggae, and this is his high-water mark. As you would expect with a hit album from Jamaica, 1976, versions exist which are credited to King Tubby himself (who engineered it), others to the other groove genius behind this, producer/melodica player Augustus Pablo. Either way, it’s a woozy, intoxicating ride, guitar, horn flourishes and all those echoey drum bits fading up and then out of the picture. Many of these songs rework hits by Jacob Miller, including the title track, Stop Them Jah, and Each One Dub, while Frozen Dub reinvents an old Heptones hit. There’s also Keep on Dubbing; Young Generation Dub; 555 Dub Street; Brace’s Tower Dub (part one and part two); Corner Crew Dub; Skanking Dub and Satta Dub. The late 80s reissue comes with four bonus tracks, included here in this random torrent via It’s Coming Out of Your Speaker.

517. Iron Maiden – Live After Death

“Scream for me Long Beach!” Bruce Dickinson howls again and again. By the time the standard bearers of the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM for short) made this double vinyl monstrosity, they were a well-oiled machine in the midst of a 1985 tour that would take them around the world more than once in over a year. It’s basically their greatest hits live done by the classic lineup with the two-guitar attack of Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, with the unsurpassed, nimble rhythm section of bass god Steve Harris and Nicko McBain on drums. Every facet of the band is represented: the pounding, punkish Aces High, Die with Your Boots On, Running Free and 22 Acacia Ave.; the artsy, classically-flavored epics Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Powerslave and Phantom of the Opera (no relation to the musical); and catchy, anthemic classics including Run to the Hills, 2 Minutes to Midnight and of course The Number of the Beast. Tuneful, melodic and intelligent, this band transcends any metal stereotype. Don’t confuse these guys with another great British band called Iron Maiden, a proto-metal group from the late 60s/early 70s. Here’s a random torrent via Sergio Maiden.

516. Bahamadia – Kollage

One of the tracks on this late golden-age hip-hop album is simply called Innovation, which pretty much sums up what Bahamadia is all about. She was respected in her native Philadelphia before Guru and Primo from Gang Starr discovered her and produced most of the tracks on this 1996 debut. It’s easy to see why they liked her. She’s a purist who – other than on Tru Honey Buns, where she gets off on playing a clueless guy for his money – puts lyrics and ideas out front rather than posturing for fame or namechecking luxury brands. Think a mature Roxanne Shante without the Brooklyn accent. Some of the best of the 15 tracks here: Spontaneity, a rapidfire freestyle with Razhel; the calmly erudite Wordplay; the Nas-influenced Rugged Ruff; the plaintive I Confess, ecstatic Uknowhowwedo, kick-ass Total Wreck and the single that should have been huge, 3 the Hard Way. The only dud here is a maudlin, sentimental piece that samples 70s elevator-pop band Ambrosia. Here’s a random torrent via Blazewon.

515. Mike Ness – Cheating at Solitaire

The reaction to this one was mixed when it came out in 1999, but it’s aged well, especially since this foreshadows so much of what the Social Distortion frontman would do with his main project in the years ahead. A lot of the covers here hint at the more somber, straight-up country direction he’d take, particularly the carpe-diem anthems Charmed Life, If You Leave Before Me, Rest of Our Lives, the troublemaker’s lament  that serves as the title track, and also the unexpectly upbeat kiss-off number Ballad of a Lonely Man. Bruce Springsteen guests on Misery Loves Company, and the covers are absolutely killer as well – have you ever heard a more intense version of Long Black Veil…or an actually good version of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice? Hank Williams’ You Win Again isn’t bad either. This random torrent has everything except the bonus track that appeared on the vinyl version.

514. Motorhead – No Sleep Til Hammersmith

How does Motorhead manage to sound so titanic with only one guitarist? Lemmy’s wall-of-sound bass chords. He plays bass like a guitarist, which enables whoever’s on guitar – in this case, Fast Eddie Clarke, in his last stint in the classic original lineup – to take off and go way, way out into the bluesmetal ionosphere as much as he wants. This raw, cheaply produced but intensely adrenalinized 1981 live set – which went to #1 on the British charts – includes the longer anthems like Capricorn and Bomber that the band was beginning to introduce alongside their more punk numbers like their signature song, Stay Clean (what a joke that title is), The Hammer, Overkill and of course Ace of Spades. The best track is actually a mammoth version of We Are the Road Crew, the irresistibly catchy tribute to the guys who lug all the gear and never get any credit; the band also tackle a cover of Born to Lose and actually avoid embarrassing themselves. Why’d we choose this one? Only because everybody else seems to choose Ace of Spades. Here’s a random torrent.

513. Nina Simone in Concert

How do you choose one Nina Simone album over another? You don’t. You could point, blindfolded, and still hit a bullseye most of the time with the iconic, fearless, badass soul siren. We picked this one because it’s from when she was young and embittered but not worn down by that bitterness: she still had an awful lot of fight left in her. This one’s got her fronting a solid jazz quartet – with her playing piano of course – doing a few tracks from her popular debut album like I Loves You Porgy and a towering, theatrical version of Kurt Weill’s Pirate Jenny along with a coy take of Willard Robison’s Don’t Smoke in Bed, her own sultry Go Limp and Plain Gold Ring. But the real stunners here are the civil rights anthems Old Jim Crow and the totally punk rock Mississippi Goddamn – you can hear the mostly-white audience laughing nervously, especially after she introduces it as a showtune for a musical “that hasn’t been written yet.” In 1964, it hadn’t. Here’s a random torrent.

512. George Jones – The Best of George Jones: Hardcore Honkytonk Vol. 1

Let’s stick with iconic voices for two days in a row, ok? If you’ve followed this countdown for any length of time, you’ve noticed that most of the country albums here are greatest-hits collections, and that’s not just us being lazy: it’s because so many of the great C&W artists date from the pre-album era, and also because a lot of country albums have a lot of filler. Not this one! It doesn’t have She Thinks I Still Care (the Definitive Collection 1955-62 does, and that album’s also impossible to find as a download), but it’s a good representation of the great honkytonk singer’s career, before he turned into No-Show Jones. Some primo drinking songs: Just One More (“Put the bottle on the table/Let it stay there til I’m not able…”); Relief Is Just a Swallow Away, and The Last Town I Painted. A bunch of anguished ballads: You’re Still on My Mind; Out of Control; Color of the Blues; Mr. Fool; and more upbeat stuff like Why Baby Why and Window Up Above among the 20 choice cuts from the late 50s and early 60s. Here’s a random torrent via Down Underground.

511. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

At the risk of losing our entire subscriber base, here’s something that might be kind of obvious to some of you and completely offensive to everybody else. In order to “get” Led Zep, you have to remember that they were a bunch of hippies, consequently, they didn’t take themselves all that seriously (especially the goofball singer). Ironically, this is the one place where they reached for epic grandeur and actually nailed it, particularly on the magnificently arranged, utterly chilling Ten Years Gone and the eleven-minute bluesmetal epic In My Time of Dying. The rest of this sprawling 1974 double album is eclectic to the extreme: woozy stoner metal like Custard Pie, Sick Again (a prototype for AC/DC) and the tongue-in-cheek prog-rock Houses of the Holy; In the Light, with its almost nine-minute, twisted Indian vibe that the Beatles reached for but never quite achieved; Trampled Under Foot, which sounds like Stevie Wonder gone metal; the delicate instrumental Bron-Yr-Aur; the gentle, bucolic Down by the Seaside; the completely sick funk-metal of The Wanton Song; The Rover, a midtempo riff-rocker; Night Flight, a 1971 shot at a pop hit with swirling organ; an amusing Beggars Banquet-era Stones ripoff, a jam with the Stones’ keyboardist, and, oh yeah, that song from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Here’s a random torrent.

510. Esma Redzepova – Queen of the Gypsies

This 2007 album from the legendary Macedonian chanteuse includes both a disc of songs from her native land as well as the Roma songs she was brought up on, which earned her fame throughout Europe. The Macedonian stuff here tends to be more plaintive, Zosto Si Me Majko (Oh Mother Why Was I Born) being a prime example. Backed by a rustic, often haunting acoustic band, Rezdepova makes her way through anthems like Zapej Makedonijo (Macedonia Sings), Svadba Makedonska (Macedonian Wedding) and the wistful Grade Moj (My Town). The gypsy material is a lot more upbeat, often absolutely exhilarating,  a showcase for both her wild vocal ornamentation and also her minutely honed nuance, especially on dance numbers like Esma Cocek and Romano Horo, and the towering, dramatic Hajri Ma Te Dike. Pretty much everything she’s recorded is worth hearing; these 24 tracks are a good overview of her career. Here’s a random torrent.

509. The Knitters – Poor Little Critter on the Road

This is basically the X record between More Fun in the New World (#936 on this list’s “such an obvious choice that we didn’t bother to explain” page) and Ain’t Love Grand. From 1985, it’s not the first alt-country album, but it is one of the best. Foreshadowing the popular Pete’s Candy Store sound that came out of in Brooklyn in the late 90s/early zeros, it’s a bunch of punk rockers playing old country and folk music, with both passion and chops. Before country was cool, Exene and John Doe really understood the kinship between hillbilly music and punk, exemplified by the blithely grisly title track, sad songs like Silver Wings and Poor Old Heartsick Me, the defiant Baby Out of Jail and rattling versions of Rock Island Line and Walkin’ Cane. There are also mellower yet still edgy versions of a few X tunes including The New World and The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball, which the band has amusingly updated over the years. X has done a couple of tours as the Knitters in recent years: if you get the chance to see them, don’t pass it up. Here’s a random torrent.

508. Amalia Rodrigues – Com Que Voz

The best-known and most influential singer in the world of fado – the sad ballads considered to be the national music of Portugal – was 49 when she made this album in 1969. It’s a collection of iconic Portuguese poems set to music by her longtime musical director Alain Oulman, who gets credit for expanding her sound to include styles from all over Europe. The sonics are lushly orchestrated but not cheesy, and Rodrigues’ steely, resolute, plaintive voice is in top form, through the bitter expatriate anthem Trova Do Vento Que Passa (Tradewinds); a remake of her 1961 hit Maria Lisboa; ballads like As Mãos Que Trago (I Give You My Hand); the stately title track, swaying Gaivota and Formiga Bossa Nova; the haunting Cuidei Que Tinhas Morrido (I Saw That You Died) and Naufragio (Shipwreck); nostalgic Havemos de Ir a Viana (Back to Vienna), Madrugada de Alfama (Alfama Morning) and Meu Amor, Meu Amor. Everything else Rodrigues did before this point is also worth seeking out, if your taste runs to quiet, emotionally vivid songs, Portuguese not required. Most of this album is streaming at myspace; here’s a random torrent.

507. Willie Nelson – One Hell of a Ride

On one level, this mammoth four-cd retrospective box set is kind of overkill: everything by Willie that you’ve ever heard on the radio – you know, On the Road Again, and Whiskey River, ad infinitum – plus a solid mix of stuff from throughout his career. It’s got pro songwriter Willie, outlaw stoner Willie, jazz crooner Willie, and also ridiculous eclecticist Willie, which is most of cd four, when the overkill factor kicks in. Ironically, the choicest material here is the stuff he wrote for other people: Crazy for Patsy Cline; Night Life for B.B. King; Hello Walls for Faron Young; and Funny How Time Slips Away, to name a few. And delightful oddities like Texas in My Soul and Mr. Record Man, along with modern-day standards like Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Yesterday’s Wine and Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, to name just a few of the one hundred tracks here, many of which you know by heart. Here’s a random torrent via Nathan’s Hideaway.

506. Tandy – To a Friend/Did You Think I Was Gone

This is cheating a little, since this twofer combines Steve Earle’s favorite rock band’s two most recent albums, from 2005 and 2006. But it’s double the goodness. Frontman/guitarist Mike Ferrio’s jangly, lyrically driven songs linger in your mind, pensive and often haunting. Some of them, like The Fever Breaks, Evensong and I Am the Werewolf, mine a creepy southwestern gothic vein; others, like Home and Girls Like Us look back toward Springsteen when he was still blue-collar. There’s also the brooding Epitaph, On the Hill and Bait along with more upbeat stuff like the first album’s title track, which reverts to the Wilco-inflected pop that Ferrio was writing around the turn of the century. The band was until very recently extremely popular in Europe, but suffered a tragic setback with the unexpected death of their brilliant, eclectic lead player Drew Glackin. Since then, the band has performed sporadically but extremely well with a number of guest guitarists. Both albums are streaming in their entirety at cheesy myspace, here and here; surprisingly, the blogosphere hasn’t caught up with them yet, but the double cd is still available from the band.

505. The Very Best Of Marlene Dietrich

42 tracks from the prototypical world-weary chanteuse, goth girl and lesbian icon, 1930 through the late 50s. As you would expect, there are a million Dietrich anthologies out there, and pretty much anything she did in German before 1940 is worth a listen. We chose this one because A) it’s downloadable and B) it’s a good mix of both the teutonic and the American stuff. It wouldn’t be here if it didn’t have Lili Marlene and My Blue Heaven; it’s also got Ich bin die fesche Lola, and its American translation; Nimm dich in acht vor blonden Frauen (and Blonde Women); Das Lied is aus; the amusing German version of Miss Otis Regrets, Mein Mann ist verhindert; along with risque American dancehall stuff like The Boys in the Back Room, Makin’ Whoopee and You’re the Cream in My Coffee. If you think this is all camp, give a listen: it’s actually pretty creepy. Nico couldn’t have existed without her. Here’s a random torrent.

504. Crowded House – Together Alone

Their best album, an alternately lush, jangly, and sensual Beatlesque psychedelic pop gem from 1993. The opening track, Kare Kare offers swirling atmospherics, followed by the catchy pop tune In My Command, and the album’s best track, the absolutely gorgeous, crescendoing Nails in My Feet. Neil Finn, as good a guitarist as he is a tunesmith, gets dark and edgy on the biting mood piece Fingers of Love; Pineapple Head and Private Universe are gently romantic, while Black and White Boy and Locked Out are scorching, guitar-fueled riff-pop. A janglerock masterpiece, Distant Sun has one of the alltime great choruses; there’s also the jagged Skin Feeling along with the slightly trippy Catherine Wheels and the title track. The suicide of excellent drummer Paul Hester made the prospect of a reunion unlikely, but Finn’s put the group back together with a new one, and they’re reputedly as entertaining and tuneful as ever. Here’s a random torrent via Neurotico y Romantico.

503. The Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock

This is XTC in 1985 doing a loving parody of pretty much every 60s psychedelic band and every 60s psychedelic rock production trope, having a great time making fun of stoners in the process. Blippy loops, echoes, thumps and swirls pan back and forth across the speakers as they parody the Electric Prunes on the title track, early Pink Floyd on Bike Ride to the Moon, the Yardbirds on My Love Explodes, the Beatles and Stones on What in the World, the Stones again with the fuzztone-fueled Your Gold Dress (whose leapfrogging brontosaurus drums are LMFAO funny) and finally the Move on the surprisingly sweeping, majestic The Mole from the Ministry. The keyboard settings are as trebly and cheesy as you would expect; perhaps surprisingly, Colin Moulding would never play more interesting, soaringly melodic basslines than he does here. There’s also a full-length album, Psonic Psunspot, which includes these songs along with several vastly less interesting Beach Boys ripoffs. Here’s a random torrent.

502. The Only Ones – Even Serpents Shine

Although this British band got their start during the punk era, they’re not particularly punk at all. Sometimes jangly, sometimes growling, their two-guitar attack reminds a lot more of a more terse, powerpop-oriented version of Television than any punk band. This 1979 album, their second, doesn’t have their big hit Another Girl Another Planet: it’s a lot more serious. The real stunner here is the opening anthem, From Here to Eternity, as assaultively menacing as it is seductive, frontman Peter Perrett’s suave croon giving nothing away. There’s also the sarcastic No Solution; the glamrock-inspired Out There in the Night; the seedily picturesque Programme; brisk pub-rockers like Oh No and Curtains for You as well as more slowly unwinding, guitar-fueled tracks like Flaming Torch, You’ve Got to Pay, In Betweens and the wryly titled Instrumental. Here’s a random torrent via Straighten Out.

501. JB Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim – Live ’63

Recorded in lo-fi mono by blues enthusiast Norman Oden at the obscure Chicago nightspot Nina’s Lounge and reissued 37 years later, this is a prime example of the blues as blue-collar neighborhood drinking music, not cultural tourism for politically correct yuppies. As The Hound has insightfully observed, Lenoir’s subtly chordal guitar style was a big influence on Ali Farka Toure, helping to jumpstart the desert blues movement. This doesn’t have Lenoir’s “protest songs” like Eisenhower Blues or Vietnam Blues, but this mostly solo set on his home turf is a treat. Pianist Sunnyland Slim – the guy who introduced Muddy Waters to Big Bill Broonzy and springboarded Waters’ career – plays with his usual casual, incisively smart style as Lenoir makes his way through the understatedly biting Harlem Can’t Be Heaven, hits like It’s You Baby and Brown Skin Woman along with a bunch of jams with titles obviously not supplied by the musicians, i.e. J.B.’s Harp-Rack Blues.The whole thing is streaming at spotify if you have it, deezer also (if you haven’t used your allotted monthly hour or whatever it is now); here’s a random torrent via The Blues-That Jazz.

500. Twin Turbine – Jolly Green Giant

The second album from these New York underground rock legends blends the surreal guitar assault of Guided by Voices with more straightforwardly melodic British Invasion and punk sounds. It’s got creepy, intense stuff like Fade For Sunday – frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck sounding like Roger Waters doing his best Darth Vader imitation – along with the scathing Made for TV Murder, a Jon-Benet Ramsey narrative. Downsizer, the single, is even more timely in these depression days, with its bitter lyrics and catchy Stiff Little Fingers-inflected tune. The best of all of these is Susquehanna, a gorgeous, vengefully hallucinatory anthem setting layers of guitars over a swaying country backbeat. There’s also the squalling Love Rock & Roll, the Stoogoid Stop This Thing and Womankind, and Both Kinds, which sets an old 60s garage rock riff to 90s GBV crunch. A cult classic from 2005, it’s AWOL from the usual sources for free music – even Spotify doesn’t have it – but it’s still available from the band.

June 11, 2011 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music, rock music, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 600-699

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

Albums #800-899 continue here.

Albums #700-799 continue here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

Albums#400-499 continue here.

699. Paula Carino – Open on Sunday

Our pick for best album of 2010, it’s a cool, sometimes icy, sometimes velvety beautiful janglerock masterpiece, with some of the most clever lyrics of any rock record in recent years. Carino markets herself as part of the indie camp when she’s actually more of a missing link between vintage Chrissie Hynde and Richard Thompson, a deviously witty, wry observer who never fails to find some gallows humor in tough situations. This is a brooding yet occasionally hilarious concept album of sorts about dissolving relationships and what they leave in their wake. It’s got her best song, the poignantly metaphorical countrypolitan ballad Lucky in Love; the wry rockabilly-tinged Saying Grace Before the Movie; the wickedly catchy, minor-key rocker The Great Depression; and the gently swaying, rueful With the Bathwater – “It’s been raining since that day I threw your Nick Drake tapes away” – while The Road to Hell perfectly captures the exasperation that came before. There’s also the Rod Serling-esque Robots Helping Robots, the even more sinister The Others, and the irresistibly funny, rhythmically tricky Rough Guide with its faux-latin guitar. It hasn’t made it to the sharelockers but the whole thing is streaming at myspace (be careful, you have to reload the page after each song or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad), and it’s also up at cdbaby.

698. Django Reinhardt – Swing de Paris

We’re going to make another exception to our “no box sets” rule for another guy who was making records back in the day when albums were bound up like books. This massive 4-cd set spans from the 30s through the early 50s, about a third of the tracks with his longtime collaborator, jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, some with brass, some without. What can we say about Django that hasn’t already been said? Guitar genius whose style was shaped – literally – when the surgeons put his fret hand back together again after a car accident; inventor of gypsy jazz; someone whose impact arguably ranks with Hendrix, at least as far as the guitar is concerned, maybe more (would Gogol Bordello exist if not for Django? Maybe not). This isn’t as exhaustive as you’d think (no Swing 36, for example), although it does have Swing 39 and Swing 48, along with Tiger Rag, Blue Drag, Djangology, Improvisation No.2, Nuages, Nagasaki and Nuit de St.-Germain. When Django wasn’t composing – which was seemingly all the time – he was covering the hits of the day: After You’ve Gone, Limehouse Blues, Japanese Sandman and Viper’s Dream are some of the high points among these biting, bristling gems. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of beyondmidnight.

697. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

For the better part of 15 years, the Asylum Street Spankers were arguably the funniest band on the planet, a raucous acoustic Americana counterpart to the Dead Kennedys. Fearlessly political, they took on the Bush regime with a ferocious sarcasm matched by few other bands (their best being their last big hit, the Iraq War satire Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV). This 2008 double cd is sort of a greatest-hits collection, recorded in front of a packed house at New York’s Barrow Street Theatre. Frontwoman Christina Marrs and percussionist/singer Wammo banter back and forth over sizzling violin, guitar and manolin, through a mix of originals and classic blues and gospel tunes. The best of these is My Baby in the CIA, a hilarious, spot-on critique of corporate-sponsored American anti-democracy moves over the years. There’s also the equally spot-on Winning the War on Drugs, an equally funny update on Black Flag’s TV Party, the Medley of Burnt-Out Songs, the amazing, intricately arranged My Favorite Records, and Marrs’ Hawaiian-flavored homage to marijuana, Pakalolo Baby. They also intersperse several skits between songs, the funniest being the Gig from Hell, which every musician will relate to. Mystifyingly hard to find as a torrent; the Spankers (who’ve recently disbanded, reputedly for the last time) still have it at their site.

696. The Ventures – Live in Japan ’65

The holy grail of surf music. What Never Mind the Bollocks is to punk, what Kind of Blue is to classic jazz, this album is to instrumental rock. The Ventures weren’t the first surf band, but they were the most successful, at least during their 60s heyday. This has virtually all of the best versions of their best songs, recorded in front of a hilariously polite audience in a country where they’re still more popular than the Beatles. It’s got kick-ass rockers like Penetration and Diamond Head; darker, eerie stuff like a skittish Besame Mucho Twist, Pipeline and the irresistible yet wary medley of Walk Don’t Run, Lullaby of the Leaves and Perfidia; Beatlesque jangle including When You Walk in the Room and the Fab Four’s I Feel Fine; sci-fi themes like Telstar, Out of Limits and a pummeling Journey to the Stars; and the crashing encore of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, with the late Mel Taylor’s long, iconic drum solo. The cd reissue is poorly mastered and on the tinny side, but the original mono vinyl album is strictly a collector’s item. Here’s a random torrent via dreamexpress.

695. The Fania All-Stars – Live at Yankee Stadium Vol. 2

Conceived as a branding mechanism for the label, the Fania All-Stars were supposed to be the greatest salsa band of their era – a goal that wasn’t all that hard to achieve because virtually everybody in the band was a bandleader. The lineup reads like a latin music hall of fame: Larry Harlow, Justo Betancourt, Yomo Toro, Johnny Pacheco, Ray Baretto, Willie Colon, Hector Lavoe and literally dozens of others. From 1967 to the early 80s, they put out one ecstatic, danceable album after another, which makes this a particularly hard choice. The four-cd box set Ponte Duro: The Fania All-Stars Story was awfully tempting, but since this group was first and foremost a live orchestra, that’s where they did their best work. This scorching 1976 set, most of it actually recorded in Puerto Rico (the sound mix was better than most of the stuff from the actual session in the Bronx), captures them at the peak of their brass-heavy power. These are long, psychedelic jams: Hermandad Fania, which gets things cooking right off the bat; the eleven-minute Celia Cruz epic Bemba Colora; Ismael Quintana’s first big, soulful hit, Mi Debilidad; as well as Echate Pa ‘lla and the fourteen-minute stomp Congo Bongo. Here’s a random torrent via sogoodmusic.

694. Portishead – Roseland NYC Live

To say that when this album came out in 1998, it was the last thing anybody expected from Portishead is an understatement. This is the only good album the band ever made – it sounds nothing like anything they recorded before or afterward. Recorded with an orchestra and a (mostly) live band at New York’s Roseland Ballroom, it’s more like the Cure with strings and a girl singer. Together, the live percussion, orchestra, moody synth and guitar combine for a tense 80s goth vibe that offsets the occasional doofy electronic blip or the annoying turntable scratching. It’s a mix of downtempo trip-hop grooves like Humming, Cowboys and Only You along with the orchestrated wah soul of All Mine, the mood pieces MysteronsOver and Half Day Closing, the fan favorite Glory Box and epic closers Roads and Strangers: slow, slinky stuff, sort of the equivalent of Isaac Hayes for white kids. Reputedly the band has since disowned this. Here’s a random torrent.

693. Paul Whiteman – Greatest Hits 1920-27

The jazz snobs are gonna kill us for this one. Ninety years after the fact, Paul Whiteman is still paying for the hubris of calling himself the King of Jazz in an era when Jelly Roll Morton was hot and Duke Ellington was coming up. Almost a century later, it doesn’t even seem that anybody wants to download his stuff. Which is too bad. His shtick was lushly ecstatic, lavish orchestrations of the hits of the day. In the 1920s, there were thousands of hot jazz bands working regional circuits all over the country – in fact, outside of the US as well – but nobody with the juice that Whiteman had, nor as much access to the new phenomenon of radio. Whatever you think of his arrangements, you can’t fault his taste: he was the first to have a hit with Rhapsody in Blue. This popular 1950s vinyl reissue – still kicking around used record stores – collects a lot but not all of the big hits, extending as far as 1932 (the album title actually gets it wrong). Can you argue with Paul Robeson doing Old Man River? Bix Beiderbecke on cornet on Ramona? The irresistibly towering grandeur that the band gives catchy pop songs like Japanese Sandman, Whiteman’s signature song Whispering, or My Blue Heaven? There’s also cinematic stuff like Valencia, Birth of the Blues and Song of India as well as comedic but still charming material including the cartoonish I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise and the Three O’Clock in the Morning Waltz among the almost two dozen tracks here. A rigorous search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything – if we find something more interesting than an anthology, we’ll put it up here.

692. Patricia Vonne – Guitars and Castanets

Patricia Vonne is yet another great American songwriter who’s huge in Europe and lesser known here in the US (other than in her native state of Texas). With her signature full-throated wail, the Mexican-American rock siren has stood up for American Indian rights, immigrant rights and Amnesty International campaigns for the women who’ve disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. This 2005 album, her third full-length release, is characteristically diverse, with songs in both English and Spanish, a richly arranged, guitar-driven mix of rock anthems, ranchera ballads and Tex-Mex shuffles. Everything she’s ever released is excellent; we picked this one since it has her best song, the unselfconsciously wrenching, intense escape narrative Blood on the Tracks (a hubristic title, but Vonne has the muscle to back it up). Joe’s Gone Ridin’ is a tribute to Joe Ely; the clanging backbeat anthem Texas Burning was a big CMT video hit. The festive title track and Fiesta Sangria, along with the mournfully gripping norteno ballad Traeme Paz show off her grasp of traditional Mexican sounds; the anthemic Long Season sounds a lot like the BoDeans with a girl singer. There are also two stunningly catchy, deliciously layered guitar rockers, Lonesome Rider and Rebel Bride that sound like the Church transplanted to Austin. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Vonne’s site.

691. Chet Baker – The Best of Chet Baker Sings

Here’s something for the ladies. This is a guy whose vision never wavered: the warm, soulful, direct clarity of his trumpet matched his voice and made this one of the great bedroom albums. Pretty impressive, considering how wasted he was most of the time. Nobody ever did a jazz ballad better than this guy. This 1989 reissue includes everything on the iconic original 1952 Chet Baker Sings plus almost another album’s worth of mid-50s material with Russ Freeman on piano, Bob Whitlock on bass and the great Chico Hamilton on drums. It’s got all the hits: Let’s Get Lost; The Thrill Is Gone; Time After Time; I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes) and Just Friends. Among the later singles are That Old Feeling and It’s Always You (and yeah, it’s got My Funny Valentine too, but that song is so overrated). The jazz world hated this when it first came out: everybody thought this was a sellout. A couple of other Baker albums also worth seeking out are his Together album with Paul Desmond from the 70s, and his live Chet Baker in Tokyo album from 1987, just a year before his death. Here’s a random torrent.

690. Ice Cube – Death Certificate

Hmm…how do we follow the subtle urbanity of Chet Baker? With this cruelly obscene 1991 golden-age hip-hop classic. Ice Cube may be best known as the goofy guy from the Friday movies, but he was one of the world’s most formidable lyricists before Hollywood came calling and he gave it up. Time after time, Ice Cube gets it. Whatever was happening that year, he nails it. Black girl killed by bodega owner who thought she was stealing memorialized in Black Korea. Young black guys turning to crime since corporate America won’t hire them? A Bird in the Hand. Cops who’d rather watch a guy bleed to death in the hospital than solve a crime? Alive on Arrival. One of the best anti-Bush I numbers, I Wanna Kill Sam, lots of hilarious comedy stuff like Givin’ Up the Nappy Dug Out, Look Who’s Burnin’ and the high school reminiscence Doing Dumb Shit along with the vicious dis No Vaseline, aimed at his old NWA bandmates since he felt they’d sold out. Here’s a random torrent.

689. Shonen Knife – Brand New Knife

Shonen Knife don’t sing about choco bars or ripping the heads off Barbie dolls on this one. To be counterintuitive, we picked one of their most accessible albums, where Naoko’s guitar is multitracked and beefed up and Atsuko’s drumming is still skittish but better than anything she’d done before. By 1997, the lo-fi Japanese all-girl punk band had become an institution with a devoted cult following who didn’t care whether they’d ever actually get proficient on their instruments. In the meantime, that’s exactly what they did: for anyone who wants to claim them as kitsch relics of the 80s or 90s, eat shit and die. The classic here is the Black Sabbath parody (or homage – it could be both) Buddha’s Face. A close second is Fruits and Vegetables, a topic close to our hearts. There’s also the irresistibly catchy Wonder Wine (the Japanese version of Night Train?); the surreal E.S.P.; the amusement park tale Loop-Di-Loop; the ridiculously catchy but completely inscrutable Explosion and One Week. Here’s a random torrent.

688. Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland – Showdown

A blues guitar summit from 1985. Collins was one of the most intense, exhilarating musicians ever, icy fire blasting from his custom-made amp for the “cool” sound that made him famous. Although better known as a singer than guitarist, Copeland gave 100% here and Cray proves that he belongs onstage with any other great blues player. The songs are cool too: as you might expect from a Collins album, it’s a Texas vibe with only a couple of standards and those get reinvented: an edgy, low-down Bring Your Fine Self Home and Black Cat Bone, modeled on Hop Wilson’s lapsteel version. From the first track, T-Bone Shuffle, they’re wailing; Cray picks his spots and fires off one smartly chosen volley after another on She’s Into Something and the airy, psychedelic The Dream. As you’d expect, the Texas shuffles are also in full effect: Lion’s Den and the instrumental Albert’s Alley are as adrenalizing as you’d expect. And on the long volcanic outro to the closer, Blackjack, surprisingly it’s Copeland who really takes the energy up. Many, many notes, none of them wasted. Here’s a random torrent via mississippimoan.

687. Merle Travis – Guitar Rags and a Too Fast Past

A titan of Americana roots music, Merle Travis was one of the great country guitarists whose signature picking style has influenced most C&W players ever since. As imaginative at western swing as he was at bluegrass, he was a star from the mid-40s when he was doing anti-Nazi comedy songs under an assumed name, to the 60s. This massive 5-cd set, first issued on vinyl in the mid-70s in Europe, contains 145 tracks in all and includes most of his iconic songs: the bitter coal miners’ antems Sixteen Tons and Dark as a Dungeon, along with more lighthearted stuff from folk songs like John Henry and Nine Pound Hammer, to Hoagy Carmichael’s Lazy River, Bob Wills’ Steel Guitar Rag, and novelty numbers like Divorce Me C.O.D. CD #5 is mostly a waste, but the whole thing still has more than ten dozen cool songs. Essential stuff for guitar players and country music fans. Here’s a random torrent via lokaldensayo. Also worth checking out: Travis’s recently unearthed 1966 concert up at Wolfgang’s Vault.

686. Ice-T – The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech…Just Watch What You Say

Before Ice-T was the leader of a metal band, or a character actor specializing in cop roles, he antagonized them with his lyrics – which were usually brilliant. This 1989 album by the self-styled “inventor of the crime rhyme” is the highlight of his rap career. It opens with a long, Orwellian Jello Biafra spoken-word piece over a Black Sabbath sample. The rest of the album mixes the verbal gymnastics of the title track and Hit the Deck with crime rhymes like the ominous drive-by scenario Peel Their Caps Back and the rapidfire, desperate Hunted Child, the hilarious The Girl Tried to Kill Me and the ferocious, antagonistic, politically spot-on This One’s for Me. The only dud here is an interminable party rap with one forgettable cameo after another. Here’s a random torrent via fromthaold2thanew.

685. Anita O’Day – The Lady Is a Tramp

Originally titled Anita O’Day Sings Jazz when it was first released in 1952, her debut album is sassy and fearless. With a carefree rasp as she went up the scale, she sang like she was bulletproof, which is probably how she felt since she was so wasted most of the time in those days. Some singers wrestle with their vulnerability, but Anita O’Day (pig latin for “I need dough,” appropriate for a junkie) swung her voice like a sharp little axe. Backed by a boisterous, inspired quartet, she rips through a bunch of mostly upbeat, bluesy numbers and ends up reinventing half of them. Rock n Roll Blues? Remember, this was before Chuck Berry. Love For Sale is sardonic to the extreme; she rocks out Lullaby of the Leaves, turns Lover Come Back to Me from sadness to cynicism, does an absolutely conspiratorial version of Speak Low and then flips the script and gives the novelty song No Soap, No Hope Blues some genuine poignancy. Pagan Love Song, however, is just what it ought to sound like. And maybe because of the title, finding a working set of files for this album is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In lieu of the needle (ha ha) we give you a marvelous Anita mixtape via planetbarberella.

684. Blur – The Great Escape

This is a ruthless, brutally sarcastic 1997 art-rock concept album that mocks the shallowness and vapidity of Tony Blair/Bill Clinton era yuppies – it was a similar kind of greed, after all, that built those Japanese reactors. Damon Albarn wastes no time getting going with Stereotypes, followed by the even harsher Country House, the sardonic Best Days and brutal Charmless Man. The blandness of yuppie status-grubbing gets excoriated in Fade Away, Mr. Robinson’s Quango and He Thought of Cars; the deathlike boredom in Ernold Same and It Could Be You; the fascism in Top Man and ultimately, death, personified in the lush, towering, epic The Universal. Blur made catchier albums – Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife are both full of killer tunes – but both of them also include a bunch of duds.  Here’s a random torrent.

683. Death – For the Whole World to See

Signed to Arista Records in 1975 but dropped when they refused to change their name, this Detroit trio are remembered for being the first black punk band. That’s a bit of a stretch, but David, Bobby and Dennis Hackney took the raw power of the Stooges to new and unexpected places with this brief but intense proto-punk album, never officially released until 24 years later. Rock N Roll Victim foreshadows the Damned; Keep on Knocking is a delicious, shuffling rocker with some sweet Ron Asheton-style lead guitar from guitarist David Hackney, who sadly didn’t live to see this reissue see the light of day. You’re a Prisoner wouldn’t have been out of place on Fun House; Freaking Out, true to its title, is scorching, fast riff-metal. The best songs here are the most original ones; the psychedelic mini-site Let the World Turn and the ferocious, epic antiwar anthem Politicians in My Eyes. The rhythm section would continue later in the excellent roots reggae outfit Lambsbread. Recently reunited with a new guitarist, there’s supposedly more unreleased stuff due out at some point. Here’s a random torrent.

682. Muddy Waters – Muddy Mississippi Waters Live

With this icon, the question is not which Muddy Waters albums belong here, but which ones don’t. Basically, everything this guy put out between the Alan Lomax recordings from the late 30s until the 1956 Blues and Brass album is worth owning. After that, everything up to the grossly overrated Fathers and Sons album. After that, the pickings get slim among the studio albums, although he was still an unstoppable live act. This 2003 reissue of a 1979 release mostly recorded in the early 70s features Muddy at his matter-of-fact, sly, occasionally harrowing peak of his powers as both a singer and slide guitarist, includes a second disc recorded in Indiana in the early 80s. Johnny Winter handles a lot of the solos and doesn’t embarrass himself; Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson takes a stinging solo on what may be the best-ever version of Baby Please Don’t Go. There’s also the slow, growling She’s Nineteen Years Old, Nine Below Zero and Deep Down in Florida along with a casually potent version of Streamline Woman and the requisite Mannish Boy. The second disc isn’t quite up to the level of the first, but it’s mostly the same band including the ageless Pinetop Perkins on piano. Here’s a random torrent via dimosblues.

681. Pink Floyd – The Final Cut

 Where armageddon right now looks like a water table saturated with plutonium, Roger Waters – and pretty much everyone else in 1983 – saw the world ending in a deluge of atom bombs. Part murderous response to the fascism of Thatcher and Reagan, part continuation of The Wall to its logical extreme, this was once rated one of the ten most depressing albums of all time by a fashion magazine – reason alone to make it worth owning. The raging hiss of vignettes like The Post War Dream, One of the Few and Get Your Hands Off My Filthy Desert put everything in historical context. It’s hard to imagine a more poignant requiem for lost time than Your Possible Pasts, nor a more plaintive war widow-to-be’s lament than Southhampton Dock. The Hero’s Return is beyond sarcastic; The Gunner’s Dream floats cruelly down to end in a fatal plane crash. And The Fletcher Memorial Home is a musical death warrant for some of the era’s evillest despots, among them Thatcher, Brezhnev and Begin. The gorgeously quiet, completely apt piano ballad Paranoid Eyes and the sweeping, epic grandeur of the title track complete the picture along with the sludgy metal anthem Not Now John (a big FM radio hit) and the rhythmically tricky, pensive end-of-the-world tableau Two Suns in the Sunset. Antiwar songs have seldom been more powerful. Here’s a random torrent.

680. The Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MGs – Back to Back

The ultimate soul groove band in the ultimate setting: live, onstage. This brief, barely thirty-minute 1967 album has organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and the guy who might have been the greatest drummer of the rock era, Al Jackson, taking their sly, slinky two-minute instrumental hits to new levels. It’s got Red Beans and Rice, an especially amped Tic-Tac-Toe, a funked-up Hip Hug-Her and contrasts them with a considerably more lush version of Rufus Thomas’ Philly Dog. Even Green Onions, as cheesy as that tune is, has an impossibly fat groove. Side two is the Mar-Keys (that’s Booker T. & the MG’s with a horn section) taking the energy up with Grab This Thing, Last Night and a cover of Gimme Some Lovin that blows away the original, along with the early Booker T. hits Booker-Loo and Outrage. Here’s a random torrent via kingcakecrypt.

679. Echobelly – On

Ferocious, fearless, sultry UK punk-pop from 1993. One of the most stunningly powerful voices in recent decades, Echobelly frontwoman Sonya Aurora Madan belts and wails over the roar and crunch of Glen Johansson and Debbie Smith’s guitars, through a mix of mostly upbeat, catchy songs lit up by the occasional George Harrisonesque lead line. Defiantly alluring, Madan romps through the irresistibly catchy, scorching Car Fiction, the similarly stomping King of the Kerb – a cynical tale of a pimp and his hookers – the unstoppable optimism of Great Things, the dismissive Go Away, the feminist-stoked Natural Animal and Pantyhose and Roses, and the sarcastic but swoony Something Hot in a Cold Country. Four Letter Word nicks an idea from the Sonic Youth playbook; the absolute classic here is the slowly simmering, psychedelic nocturne Dark Therapy, which winds up with an unreal crescendo delivered by steel guitarist BJ Cole, in what might be his best-ever cameo. There’s also the distantly X-influenced Nobody Like You and In the Year as well as the morbidly quiet, mostly acoustic closing cut. The band’s 1991 debut is also worth a spin. Here’s a random torrent.

678. Jeff “Tain” Watts – Watts

Most political and social commentary in jazz has been limited to musical portrayals of various type of pain and suffering. Inspired by the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles and the malfeasance of the Bush regime, here’s a rare one that doesn’t limit itself to just the tunes. The iconic, powerhouse drummer and sometime bandleader is joined on this 2009 release, his most recent, by Branford Marsalis on saxes, Terence Blanchard on trumpet and another powerhouse, Christian McBride on bass. It’s a diverse mix of New Orleans second line tunes, funk and bracing improvisation, all imbued with Watts’ signature sense of humor, frequently vicious and satirical. Katrina James, a hurricane reminiscence, is cynical to the extreme; Wry Koln, with its tongue-in-cheek latin groove, isn’t the slightest bit teutonic. There’s also the bitter, intense Dancing 4 Chicken, the playful Monk homage Dingle-Dangle and the eerie atmospherics of M’Buzai. The centerpiece is a brutally funny evisceration of George W. Bush’s legacy, The Devil’s Ring Tone: The Movie – which includes a conversation between the devil and Bush’s attorney, and is reprised as a stand-alone instrumental at the end. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but most of it is streaming at myspace, and it’s still available from cdbaby.

677. Les Chauds Lapins – Parlez-Moi D’amour

One of the alltime great boudoir albums, and you don’t have to speak French to appreciate it (although that helps). This is the irresistibly charming 2007 debut by a group that began as a side project of two Americans, Roulette Sisters guitarist/chanteuse Meg Reichardt and former Ordinaires bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Kurt Hoffman. In the passing years, the band took on a life of its own, with a great new album Amourettes just out and a cd release show tomorrow at 10 at the 92YTribeca for all you New Yorkers. At the time they released this, Les Chauds Lapins (French slang for “hot to trot”) specialized in mining the witty wordplay and lushly jazzy arrangments of now-obscure French pop hits from the 1930s and 40s (the band has since broadened their palate a bit). This one’s got the coy Il M’a Vue Nue (He Saw Me Naked), the unselfconsciously romantic J’ai Dansé Avec L’Amour (I Danced with Love); the surreal Swing Troubadour; the sad shipwreck lament La Barque D’Yves (Yves’ Boat), the dreamy title track (whose original version was included in the soundtrack to the film Casablanca) and the not-quite-so-dreamy Parlez-Moi D’autre Chose (Let’s Talk About Something Else) among the thirteen sweepingly nocturnal tunes here. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available (also on vinyl!) from the band’s site.

676. Barbara Brousal – Pose While It Pops

One of the great voices of the last fifteen years or so, Barbara Brousal can pull more emotion out of a thoughtfully bent note than most people can with a whole album. A professional musician from Boston via Brooklyn, her background is Americana, and that’s one element among many in this diverse and intensely lyrical 2000 album, her second. The real classic here is the opening track The Human Arrow, a bitter and brilliantly metaphorical portrayal of love as a circus act. The slow, angst-driven country ballad Take These Tears wouldn’t be out of place on a Dolly Parton album from the late 60s; the carefree sway of Soap and Water contrasts with the stiletto dismissiveness of the lyric. Charm Bracelet and Picture Booth are offhandedly brooding without being maudlin; there’s also the irresistibly catchy, lyrical Throwing Bones, the hypnotic chamber-pop of Lay Down Your Soul and the long, intensely crescendoing Breathing Down Your Neck. Brousal’s excellent band here includes David Poe and Kevin Salem on guitars, John Abbey on bass and Jane Scarpantoni on cello. Awfully hard to find in hard copy form but still available from the usual download merchants, and myspace has several of her tracks streaming. If you like this one you might also enjoy her 2002 collection Almost Perfect, a collection of demos that frequently reaches the heights this one does.

675. The Jentsch Group Large – The Brooklyn Suite

Hope it’s ok with you if we stay in Brooklyn for a second album in a row. A fiery, David Gilmouresque guitarist and composer, Chris Jentsch’s largescale works (this is his second, released eight years after his lush 1999 Miami Suite) are towering, majestic and sometimes absolutely creepy, blending elements of jazz, classical, rock and even reggae. This bustling, bracing, nocturnal suite for sixteen-piece big band essentially works variations on a wickedly menacing four-bar theme, first introduced with deadpan ominousness by a tenor sax and then eventually picked up with slasher intensity by the guitar and then the whole band. Altogether, the suite is one of the greatest pieces of noir music ever written. Solos from the horns and reeds are interspersed between movements, along with hypnotic, ambient passages that foreshadow the fireworks ahead. Tacked on afterwards here are a long, blazing samba-jazz tune and a playful reggae instrumental titled Our Daily Dread. A rigorous search didn’t turn up any torrents, but much of it is still streaming at Jentsch’s site, and it’s still available there. If you like this you may also enjoy Jentsch’s even more lush, psychedelic and frequently creepy Cycles Suite from 2009.

674. Moisturizer – Moisturizer Takes Mars

The shortest album on this list, it clocks in at around nine minutes. Is this even an album? If you count ep’s, why not? And since it’s the only physical product one of the world’s most entertaining, exciting, danceable bands ever put out, it’ll have to do. For about ten years, there was no funner group in New York than this all-female instrumental trio. Blending their low-register sounds into an intoxicating, hip-shaking groove, baritone sax player Moist Paula, bassist Moist Gina and drummer Moist Tomoyo literally never wrote a bad song. And they had dozens more than just the three on this 2004 release: the title track, Cash Incentive and Selfish: Not a Dirty Word. When they started right before the turn of the century, they were basically a surf band with sax instead of guitar; when they wrapped it up in 2009, they’d become one of New York’s best bands, blending funk, punk, trip-hop, soul and go-go music into a uniquely moist sound. Since then, Paula has gone on to recognition as a composer of cinematic soundscapes and plays with innumerable projects including ambient big band Burnt Sugar. Gina went on to play with the Detroit Cobras, World Inferno and continues to be sought out as a touring pro; Tomoyo left the band in 2004 and was replaced by a guy, Moist Yoshio. Tomoyo is Japanese and we hope she’s ok. This one was a very limited edition, but there’s a bunch of tracks up at the band’s myspace and all are worth owning.

673. Radio Birdman – The Ring of Truth

Hope it’s ok with you if we go with two ep’s in a row. If this 1988 release was a bootleg, as some say (all but one track were subsequently issued “officially,” for what it’s worth), the sound quality is amazing. Recorded at Dave Edmunds’ studio in Rockfield, Wales just prior to the band’s initial breakup ten years previously, this captures the Australian garage punks at the peak of their fret-burning, frequently macabre power. Just four songs here, all of them winners, each a good example of the band’s ability to tackle a surprisingly diverse number of styles, considering what a loud, ferocious group they were. If I Wanted You is a creepily pulsing, low-key guitar/organ tune; Dark Surprise is an example of their Stooges-inspired riff-rock style, and the surprisingly mellow Didn’t Tell the Man (a 1979 hit for the Hitmen) features one of the most wrenchingly beautiful rock organ solos ever, courtesy of Pip Hoyle. The centerpiece here is Death by the Gun, a country murder ballad done Detroit style, lead player Deniz Tek’s lightning rampages blasting over Warwick Gilbert’s insanely catchy, punchy bassline (done decently thirty years later by the Horehounds). Here’s a random torrent via thewickedthing.

672. The Dog Show – “Hello, Yes”

Ferociously literate oldschool R&B flavored mod punk rock from this Lower East Side New York supergroup, 2004. Everything the Dog Show – who were sort of New York’s answer to the Jam – put out is worth hearing, if you can find it, including their debut, simply titled “demo,” along with several delicious limited edition ep’s. Frontman Jerome O’Brien and Keith Moon-influenced southpaw drummer Josh Belknap played important roles in legendary kitchen-sink rockers Douce Gimlet; Belknap and melodic bassist Andrew Plonsky were also LJ Murphy’s rhythm section around the time this came out. And explosive lead guitarist Dave Popeck fronted his own “heavy pop” trio, Twin Turbine. O’Brien’s songwriting here runs the gamut from the unrestrained rage of Hold Me Down, the sarcasm of Every Baby Boy, the gorgeous oldschool East Village memoir Halcyon Days – which just sounds better with every passing year – and the tongue-in-cheek, shuffling Everything That You Said. Diamonds and Broken Glass is a snarling, practically epic, bluesy kiss-off; White Continental offers a blistering, early 70s Stonesy let’s-get-out-of-here theme. Too obscure to make it to the sharelockers yet, the whole album is still streaming at myspace.

671. Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – May I See Some ID

This 2006 album by the Raymond Chandler of indie rock, as he’s been called, is generally regarded as his best – although everything the wry, cleverly lyrical, noir-tinged songwriter’s ever done is worth a spin. This one is most notable for the classic 40 People, a vicious swipe at greedy club owners and promoters told from the disheartened point of view of an obscure rocker trying to get a better slot than eleven on a Monday night. It’s also got the Orbisonesque janglerock of Whose Heart Are You Gonna Break Now; the spaghetti western sway of The Wild Bunch; the offhand menace of A Little Space, and the surreal shuffle of the title track, lit up by one of lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna’s trademark, incisive solos. There’s also the obvious but irresistible The Sky Is In Love With You; the eerie, off-kilter gothic stomp One of Us and the potently sarcastic Kissing Stand. It hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but most of it is still streaming at myspace, and it’s up at the usual merchants and cdbaby.

670. Ali Jihad Racy – Ancient Egypt

One of the world’s most extraordinary Middle Eastern musicians, Dr. Racy is a multi-instrumentalist equally skilled on the buzuq (similar to the bouzouki), ney flute, rabab lute and violin, among other instruments. This 1993 suite, based on selections from the Book of the Dead, is both homage to and an attempt to recreate the sounds of the age of the pharaohs. It follows a trajectory from the stark ney piece, The Lamentations of Isis, to the lush, rich jangle and clank of the buzuq and rabab in The Land Of The Blessed. Hymn to Osiris is balmy and otherwordly; The Boat of a Million Years, a ghostly, haunting tone poem, is the centerpiece. Racy follows that with the quiet, dreamy The Holy Lotus (the drug of choice among many around the region in those days) and the self-explanatory Funeral Processsion, which actually isn’t as dark as you might expect. After that, the gloom lifts with Hymn for the Sunrise and The Triumph of the Deceased, ending on an optimistic note. Here’s a random torrent via Like a Raging Bull.

669. Chet Atkins and Les Paul –  Chester and Lester

This was an off-the-cuff jam session done in Nashville with a rhythm section in 1976, jazzy country legend and (occasionally) countryish jazz legend having a great time. Both of these guys were oldschool – there’s no explosive distorted passages or Hendrix-style noise here, but both of them are fast – lickety-split runs and staccato, sometimes Django-ish rhythm all over the place. For what it’s worth, it won a Grammy, not bad for a bunch of standards, even as fairly radically reworked as these are. It’s Been a Long, Long Time goes by in a short, short time. The Moonglow/Picnic medley does not. Caravan is a cross between Ellington and the Ventures; It Had to Be You gives them a rare breather here. There’s also an expansive version of Avalon (the jazz-pop hit, not the Roxy Music classic) as well as brisk, purist, somewhat bluesy versions of Deed I Do and Lover Come Back to Me, among the ten tracks here. It was reissued with some outtakes  in 1998 as a twofer along with the follow-up disc, the duo album Guitar Monsters from the following year. Here’s a random torrent.

668. Mascott – Art Project

Here’s one that’s short and sweet. One of the most irresistibly tuneful bands of recent years, Mascott is the project of indie pop mavens Kendall Jane Meade (formerly of Juicy) and Margaret White. In December of 2008, we called this gem “pure concentrated sunshine,” and two years later that holds true. Meade’s warm, matter-of-fact vocals are a perfect match for the catchy mix of acoustic and electric guitar textures underneath, sometimes dreamy, sometimes jaunty. The video for Fourth of July, set in a now-vanished Coney Island milieu, perfectly captures the feeling of the song; the chimingly gorgeous Opposite is a high-water mark in indie pop craftsmanship. There’s also the brief, bustling Dream Another Day, the charming, harmony-driven Nite Owl, the surprisingly brooding breakup ballad Letting Go of the Sun and a campfire singalong of Wildwood Flower. Tragically obscure, even good old Captain Crawl didn’t turn up any torrents, although many of the songs are still streaming at the band’s myspace, and tracks are up at all the usual online merchants.

667. Jefferson Airplane – After Bathing at Baxter’s

The bass player owns this album. Jack Casady’s growling, spiraling climbs, slinking funky rhythm and burning chords defined the Airplane at peak altitude, 1968. Add to that Paul Kantner’s stinging rhythm, Jorma Kaukonen’s crazed, jagged twelve-string leads, Spencer Dryden’s jazz-influenced drumming and Grace Slick’s presence (on the wane at this point) and you have a psychedelic rock classic. Kaukonen’s anxious ballad The Last Wall of the Castle, Slick’s darkly hypnotic James Joyce homage, Rejoyce and Kantner’s ferociously incisive Young Girl Sunday Blues are all great cuts. So is Two Heads, pulsing along on Casady’s bass chords. Watch Her Ride and Wild Tyme are slamming upbeat numbers; The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil a big crowd-pleaser and Won’t You Try/Saturday Afternoon a reversion to the folk-rock of Surrealistic Pillow. There’s also the woozy instrumental Spare Chaynge, which sounds like Jorma and Jack jamming out after way too much ganja, forgetting that the tape was rolling. It was the last good studio album the band would make. Here’s a random torrent.

666. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

“If this is the only album the band ever does, at worst it’ll be a cult classic,” we said here in 2009, choosing it as best album of the year. Happily, the band is not only still together but still recording, with a ferocious series of singles coming out. What the Clash were to the UK in the late 70s/early 80s, the Brooklyn What are to New York thirty years later: fearless, funny, good at everything they do, eclectic beyond belief and armed with a social conscience. Where the Clash wanted global revolution, Brooklyn’s finest band at the moment would settle for an end to the gentrification that’s destroyed so much of the city over the last ten years. The acknowledged classic here is I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, a hilarious anti-trendoid rant that namechecks every silly indie fad and fashion circa 2004. No Chords echoes the anti-trendoid sentiment with a quite, satirical savagery; The In-Crowd mocks them again, much more loudly. The most intense point, musically is frontman Jamie Frey’s Planet’s So Lonely, a haunting, 6/8 blues with some screaming, intense lead guitar from Evan O’Donnell. There’s also the soul/punk We Are the Only Ones, an anthem for a new generation; the late Billy Cohen’s snarling, surreal Soviet Guns and Sunbeam Sunscream; the brooding For the Best; the Ramones-y She Gives Me Spasms, and a fiery tribute to Guided by Voices. Impossible to find at the sharelockers, but it’s still up at cdbaby and all the usual download merchants.

665. The Psychedelic Furs – Book of Days

Over the years, countless bands, from A Flock of Seagulls to the Editors, have tried to imitate Joy Division. All have failed, pathetically. Stylewise, it was probably only a matter of time before the Furs took their sarcasm to its logical, bleak extreme: this 1989 album remains the only one to ever reach the same extremes of existential angst that Ian Curtis evoked so well. It gets off to a false start with the pretty 6/8 ballad Shine before the title track, a chilling, atmospheric dirge that offers absolutely no escape. The shuffling acoustic requiem Torch maintains the funereal atmosphere, which lifts on side two, if only a little, with the manic depressive stomp of Shake This House. “This day is not my life,” frontman Richard Butler insists. There’s also the Jesus & Mary Chain-esque Should God Forget; the mystifying but catchy riff-rocker Mother-Son; the swirling Wedding, and Parade, evocative of the band’s early years; the sarcastic Entertain Me, and the noisy, thrashing, death-obsessed I Don’t Mine that drives the final nail in the coffin. Listen to this with the lights out. Here’s a random torrent.

664. Serena Jost – Closer Than Far

If we survive this year, you’ll see a lot more like this one on this list: not a single substandard song among the eleven tracks here, and for us, that’s what defines a great album. Alternately lush and austere, often mysterious yet richly tuneful, the former Rasputina multi-instrumentalist’s 2008 solo debut is a deliciously eclectic mix of chamber pop, early 70s-style art-rock, and Americana with unexpected, playful detours into funk and even surf music. It opens with a plaintive, gorgeous version of Iris DeMent’s Our Town, followed by the somewhat stark Halfway There and then the ridiculously catchy, cleverly lyrical pop gem Vertical World. Julian Maile’s twangy Ventures guitar lights up the mini-suite I Wait, followed by the shapeshifting Almost Nothing and Reasons and Lies. Jump (not the Van Halen song) contrasts a brooding melody with a tongue-in-cheek disco beat. The most classically-influenced number here is In Time; the album closes with the poignant yet hopeful Stowaway. A search of the sharelockers didn’t turn up anything, but the whole thing is streaming at myspace, and it’s still up at cdbaby.

663. The Disposable Heroes of Hip-Hoprisy – Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury

Michael Franti’s second entry here (Spearhead’s Chocolate Super Highway is at #768) is his prophetic, low-key, smoldering 1992 hip-hop project that he toured as an opening act for U2. The most famous – and obvious – track here is Television, the Drug of a Nation, an update on a 1989 tune by his old funk-punk band the Beatnigs. Another big crowd-pleaser is his remake of the Dead Kennedys’ California Uber Alles, with its vicious dis of Reaganite governor Pete Wilson. Famous and Dandy (Like Amos & Andy) mocks the culture of celebrity; Everyday Life Has Become a Health Risk and Financial Leprosy are self-explanatory, like mini Michael Moore movies. There’s also the Salman Rushdie shout-out Satanic Reverses, the brooding, brutal Gulf War I narrative Winter of the Long Hot Summer, the bitter anti-racist Socio Genetic Experiment, the sardonic Music and Politics and Water Pistol Man, later reprised as a Spearhead song. Here’s a random torrent via musictraveler.

662. The Luniz – Lunitik Muzik

Oakland hip-hop duo Yukmouth and Numskull, the “Highest Niggaz in the Industry” as they called themselves on their 1997 sophomore album, were a couple of West Coast guys with East Coast flow. Redman was paying attention, and collaborated with them on the rapidfire classic Hypnotize. The rest of this crazily ganja-fueled lyric session spins between assaultive, gleeful gangsta stuff, comedy rap and weedhead rhymes. In My Nature features early Dirty South pioneers Eightball and MJG; My Baby Mamma, Jus Mee & U, and the sarcastic $ad Millionaire have the same surreal sense of humor. Killaz on the Payroll, Mobb Shit and the Tupac-influenced Why Do Thugzz Die work the dirty side; Phillies and the impossibly funny 20 Bluntz a Day – featuring the whole 2 Live Crew – represent for the smokers. A high point in the history of west coast rap. Here’s a random torrent.

661. The Dave Brubeck Quartet – The Last Time We Saw Paris

This is the last live recording the classic original group made, with Paul Desmond on alto, Gene Wright on bass and the late, great Joe Morello on drums, so, Joe, wherever you are, this one’s for you. What an amazing, and surprising, and unexpectedly wild improvisational album: as much as Brubeck’s greatest strength has been as a composer, what they do with a bunch of generically pretty standards here is a clinic in the kind of fun you can have deconstructing and then reconstructing a tune. Brubeck may have wanted to stay home and compose and spend more time with the wife and kids at this point in his career, but if this 1967 tour was anything like what’s on this album, the group definitely went out on a high note. They rip through These Foolish Things; the bossa-tinged Forty Days alternates between austerity and unselfconscious beauty. One Moment Worth Years is the most judiciously expansive number here; they elevate La Paloma Azul far above its generic Mexican folk-pop origins, follow it with maybe the best-ever version of the absurdly memorable Three to Get Ready and close the set with a barely recognizable, all-stops-out version of Gone with the Wind. Long out of print and never officially issued digitally,you’ll either have to spend some time going through the jazz bins at your local used vinyl place (that’s what we did) or try your luck with deeply buried google pages.

660. The Dream Syndicate – The Days of Wine and Roses

One of the most influential albums of all time, it’s hard to imagine much of indie rock – Yo La Tengo and innumerable noise-rock bands – or for that matter, much of dreampop and shoegaze, without this deliriously fun 1981 masterpiece. That the first full-length album that Steve Wynn would appear on would become so iconic, and would age so well, attests to his brilliance from day one. Here he builds the foundation for the cataclysmic guitar duelling, savagely direct, literate lyricism and potent tunesmithing that has defined his career, through his most recent success with the Baseball Project (despite going over to the dark side by rooting for the Evil Empire, Wynn remains one of the most articulate baseball writers on the planet). And for a noisy album, this one’s amazingly diverse: distorted janglerock with Tell Me When It’s Over; insanely catchy riff-rock with Definitely Clean and That’s What You Always Say; the blistering post-Velvets shuffle Then She Remembers; the gleefully allusive When You Smile; the vivid manic depression and insane crescendo of the title track; the creepy Until Lately; bassist Kendra Smith’s quietly deadpan, spot-on Too Little, Too Late, and lead guitarist Karl Precoda’s volcanic, macabre Halloween. Other songwriters have sold more albums; Wynn’s career, meticulously documented via youtube and archive.org, attests to his status as one of the best-loved rockers ever. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. Here’s a random torrent.

659. Dexter Gordon – Our Man in Paris

To steal a phrase out of the JD Allen fakebook, this is jukebox jazz, low-key, nocturnal and irresistible, for wee-hours glass-clinking and whatever hopefully comes afterward. The famous tenor saxophonist doesn’t waste notes, he doesn’t overdo it, and in fact there are places where you’ll probably wish he’d trade that casual staccato pulse for a long wail. But this isn’t about wailing, it’s about setting a mood, and that’s what he does from start to finish, backed very tersely by pianist Bud Powell, drummer Kenny Clarke, and French bassist Pierre Michelot. The opening seven minutes of Scrapple From the Apple sets the tone, contrasting mightily with the stern, Sixteen Tons-style version of Willow Weep for Me. The best cuts here are the gorgeous, reverb-assisted Stairway to the Stars, and Like Someone in Love, an outtake that didn’t make it onto the original 1963 album, driven by Powell’s potently Romantic ripples and crashes. There’s also the jaunty Broadway, a solid version of A Night in Tunisia and a breezy postbop cover of Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here to Stay. Here’s random torrent via the excellent latin jazz blog bosquesonoro.

658. The Congos – Heart of the Congos

Considered to be dub producer genius Lee “Scratch” Perry’s finest hour, this 1977 roots reggae classic was reissued as a double cd in 1993 along with a handful of rare, consistently excellent, absolutely psychedelic dub versions of original album tracks. The harmony trio’s lead singer Cedric Myton’s falsetto soars over the oldschool backing unit, including Boris Gardiner on bass and Ernie Ranglin on guitar, as Perry moves one instrument and then another through the mix, twisting and turning them inside out, sometimes breaking it down to just the drums or the bass, everything drenched in reverb. The songs run the gamut: from the remake of the old mento song Fisherman (complete with a basso profundo shout-out to a local herb dealer); the hypnotic chant Congoman; the gospel-influenced Open Up the Gate, Sodom and Gomorrow and Can’t Come In; the sufferahs’ anthems La La Bam Bam (Jamaican patwa for “clusterfuck”) and Children Crying; and the Rasta anthems Ark of the Covenant, Solid Foundation and At the Feast. Here’s a random torrent.

657. Erroll Garner – Contrasts

A virtuoso jazz pianist with an inimitable style, Garner’s signature sound mixed classical flourishes into a highly ornamented, relaxed attack. With what looked like an effortless command, he’d play a song fairly straight through while expanding on the melody, rather than using it as a template for bebop. He’s best remembered for the iconic Misty, which is here, along with a dozen other tracks from this 1954 trio session with Wyatt Ruther on bass and Eugene Heard on drums, reissued in 1998. The big showstopper is the jaunty, bluesy 7-11 Jump (which is what the song clocks in at). There’s also a darkly Tschaikovskian Sweet and Lovely, a conspiratorial Exactly Like You, a fairly radical reinterpretation of You Are My Sunshine, an expansive Part Time Blues and a refreshingly bluesy, un-Broadwayish There’s a Small Hotel along with upbeat versions of Rosalie and Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me along with a luxuriant take on In a Mellow Tone. Highly recommend wee-hours listening. Here’s a random torrent.

656. Yomo Toro – Música Para El Mundo Entero

A surprisingly low-key but gorgeous and characteristically eclectic studio album from the Puerto Rican Jimi Hendrix, 1982. Playing his cuatro with his signature lush, jangly, watery tone, it almost sounds as if he’s using a twelve-string guitar. His most potent performances have always been live – he’s one of the fastest fret-burners on the planet – but other than his innumerable performances as a sideman with big orchestras, concert recordings by this guy are very hard to find. Stylistically, this one’s all over the map. It opens with the title track, a blazing salsa tune; after that, he offers a joyous, playful guided tour of the entire history of Puerto Rican music in six minutes and forty-seven seconds. The two best tracks here are lush ballads, Virgencita and Alma Llanera. There’s also the jazzy Le Vi Por Primera Vez; the catchy bolero La Cuesta De Josefina; the bouncy dance hit Popurri Sentimental and a salsa gospel tune. Even a Billy Joel cover – which the band manages to elevated a level above pure stench – can’t ruin this. The whole thing is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via bosquesonoro.

655. Kelly Hogan – Because It Feels Good

Hogan got her start in the obscure but smartly adventurous indie band the Jody Grind. She was a good singer then; by 2001, when she released this cruelly underrated gem, she’d become one of the most hauntingly compelling voices in any style of music. And as much as she can haunt, she can also be very funny. Backed by a killer twangy Americana band, she’s a David Lynch girl on the lush tremolo-guitar soul ballad I’ll Go to My Grave Loving You. She’s more of a Russell Banks character on the countrypolitan kiss-off to a white trash guy, No Bobby Don’t. The misty, creepy Speedfreak Lullaby reminds of Mazzy Star; Please Don’t Leave Me Lonely has a vintage 60s Dionne Warwick feel. The best of the bunch is the Nashville gothic (You Don’t Know) The First Thing About Blue. There’s also the echoey, sparse ballad Stay (an original, not the oldies radio hit); a spare, poignant version of Randy Newman’s Living Without You, and a Smog cover done as Castles Made of Sand-style Hendrix. Why an album so good would be so hard to find is a mystery: other than at Hogan’s myspace, which has some of the tracks, it simply doesn’t exist online. And if you stream the songs there, be careful, you have to reload the page AND clear your browser after every play or else you’ll be assaulted by a loud audio ad.

654. The Crippled Pilgrims – Under Water

By the time this lo-fi 1985 janglerock masterpiece came out, the band had broken up. One of the best of the first wave of indie rock outfits, the Crippled Pilgrims’ signature sound built from the snaky, intertwining, sometimes psychedelic guitars of lead player Scott Wingo and frontman Jay Moglia, with snarling, melodic bass from Mitch Parker, formerly of Government Issue. Pensive, sometimes sardonic but richly tuneful, they sound a little like the Meat Puppets but with better vocals and songwriting. The gorgeous centerpiece is Oblivious and Numb with its neat bent-note hook. What You Lost and Down Here are straight-up four-on-the-floor guitar pop; the sarcastic So Clean is as directly lyrical as they ever got. Dissolving twists and turns with some noiserock passages; the album winds up with the epic, crescendoing Calculating with its eerie major-on-minor bassline. Reissued in the late 90s by Parasol along with the band’s only other album, their 1983 debut ep, the whole thing is streaming at myspace (but be careful, you have to reload the page AND clear your browser after each song to avoid being blasted by a loud audio ad). Here’s a random torrent via digitalvinyl.

653. McCoy Tyner – Sahara

Conventional wisdom is that this 1972 album is the renowned John Coltrane Quartet pianist’s best solo effort, and it’s hard to argue with that: it’s adrenaline in a bottle. The most powerful left hand in jazz is in full effect here, along with a bunch of mighty melodies to match it, alongside Sonny Fortune on alto sax and flutes, Calvin Hill on bass and reeds and Alphonse Mouzon on drums. Ebony Queen might capsulize Tyner’s intense, chordal style better than anything he ever did, followed by the blistering, beautiful, rippling solo piece A Prayer For My Family, the Asian-flavored Valley of Life, with Tyner on koto, and the lickety-split Rebirth. Side two is the epic, cinematic, 23-minute title rack, simply one of the greatest pieces of jazz ever written, with its suspenseful flute/percussion intro, rampaging cascades and Fortune’s darkly acidic lines. That one’s up on youtube in three segments, here, here and here. Here’s a random torrent.

652. American Ambulance – Streets of NYC

Along with the Hangdogs, American Ambulance were the best Americana roots rock band on the planet from the late 90s – when Wilco went to La La land – through the early zeros. They literally never made a bad album, from their 2001 debut though this final gem from four years later. This is a defiant concept album about growing up in the 70s. It’s an allusive, whiskey-fueled 48 hours of fun despite it all, frontman Pete Cenedella’s snarling vocals set the stage with the Stonesy Down in the Basement and Won’t Be Home Tonight, lead guitarist Scott Aldrich firing off searing riffs that draw as deeply on the Yardbirds and Kinks as much as Johnny Cash. The hopeful Here Comes the Day and expansive Shimmering Rain set the stage for the tongue-in-cheek Don’t You Like Rock N Roll and First One of a One-Too-Many Night, a big concert favorite. The night peaks with the surreal Your Name Little Girl and the foreboding Bad Moon Over Brooklyn. The classic here is Ain’t Life Good, a cruelly beautiful hungover Sunday morning scenario lit up with Erica Smith’s wounded, beautiful harmonies. Cenedella hints at a bitter future with Leave This City, but that’s a false alarm. Too obscure to find at the sharelockers but still available at the band’s site, and much of this is streaming there.

651. Mahalia Jackson – Come to Jesus

Mahalia Jackson predated the album era, our excuse to give you this fine four-cd box set of perhaps the greatest woman to ever sing gospel. There’s one glaring absence here: Swing Low Sweet Chariot, otherwise this is as good an approximation of her career as there is. Some songs are solo vocal with piano; some with organ; some with a choir; some with all of the above, dating from the 30s through the 70s. It’s a mix of spirituals and 20th century gospel. Much of this foreshadows soul music and even funk. Highlights: Gonna Move On Up a Little Higher; Just Over the Hill; Go Tell It on the Mountain; How I Got Over; City Called Heaven; His Eye Is on the Sparrow; In the Upper Room; On My Way to Canaan; Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen; and a titanic version of Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho. Here’s a random torrent via one of our favorite blogs, africangospelchurch.

650. Link Wray – Rumble! The Best of Link Wray

One of the guidelines we’ve been following here is no greatest hits albums unless the artist dates from the pre-album era. Link Wray claimed to have invented rock music, since he was playing his primeval, stomping instrumental blend of country and R&B in the late 1940s. We think that argument’s as good as any. This 1993 compilation mixes stuff from the late 50s through the mid-60s, many of the songs iconic in surf music circles. For lo-fi menace, nothing beats The Rumble, from 1958; Jack the Ripper, from 1961; the twisted Heartbreak Hotel theme Big City After Dark; Switchblade, with its tortuous slow pickslide intro; and The Shadow Knows, which is sort of his Harlem Nocturne. On the slightly lighter side, this one also has Run Chicken Run, Rawhide, the galloping Deuces Wild and Ace of Spaces. The Cramps, or for that matter Hasil Adkins, would never have existed without this guy. Here’s a random torrent.

649. Serge Gainsbourg – Aux Armes Etcaetera

Here’s a counterintuitive pick: the poete maudit of French hippie rock rapping in his Gauloise rasp over a deadpan groove supplied by Bob Marley’s band circa 1979. The lyrics only make sense if you understand uncouth 70s French slang, but the imperturbable bounce of the band is irresistible. The famous one here is the title cut, Gainsbourg doing the Marseillaise in a faux dancehall style. Lola Rastaquouere is a French pun (“rastaquouere” ironically means “vagabond,” with an immigrant connotation); Relax Baby Be Cool is fake R&B done almost ska style. Hostility gets out of hand with Brigade Des Stups, the bitter account of a stoner harrassed by the cops, as well as on Des Laids Des Laids (Ugly, Ugly) and Vieille Canaille (Old Bitch). Les Locataires (The Tenants) and Pas Long Feu (Real Soon) are more subtle. The cd reissue comes with an additional disc of outtakes and dub versions: all together, a twisted, weird idea that worked out better than anyone probably could have imagined. Here’s a random torrent.

648. The Gun Club – The Las Vegas Story

The late Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s fondness for the blues, garage rock and doomed sensibility meshed best on this impressively eclectic 1984 album. It’s hard to imagine much of the 90s glam/punk resurgence, from Jon Spencer to the Chrome Cranks – or for that matter, Nick Cave – without this. Abetted by the Cramps’ Kid Congo Powers, they scurry through the ominous Walking with the Beast and get eerie and hypnotic with The Stranger In Our Town. The Blasters’ Dave Alvin contributes a searing solo on the wickedly catchy Eternally Is Here. Side 2 begins with a murky solo piano miniature followed by a plaintive, torchy version of Gershwin’s My Man’s Gone Now, followed by the stomping Bad America, Moonlight Motel (a throwback to the swampy garage punk of the band’s first two albums) and the big anthem Give Up the Sun. The only miss here is a Blondie ripoff so blatant it’s funny. True to the doom and gloom of his lyrics, Pierce drank and drugged himself to death in 1996 at 37. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of c60lownoise.

647. Fairouz – The Olympia Concert

When the iconic Middle Eastern chanteuse played this show at the Olympia in Paris in 1979, her beloved Lebanon was under siege. You don’t need to speak Arabic to feel the pain and longing in the her stoic, carefully modulated voice: she’s sort of the Linda Thompson of the Arab world. Here she’s backed by a full orchestra plus a rock rhythm section and a brilliant oboeist who gets a lot of solos and makes the most of them. The acknowledged classic here is the sweeping, majestic epic Sheherezade, resplendent with oud, choir and orchestra. There’s also plenty of unselfconscious longing in another epic, Ya Aukht Zeinab, A Song for Paris, the bittersweet Ya Hawa Beirut (For Love of Beirut) and the slowly unfolding European-flavored ballad Rudani Ila Biladi (It’s a Pleasure). Habbaytak Bessayf (I Loved You in the Summer) is typical of the Rahbani Brothers’ songwriting (she married one of them): brooding Northern European Romanticism with Middle Eastern tonalities. The spooky, flute-driven nocturne Ya Markab’ Al Rih is rustic and cinematic; Bhibbak Ya Lebnan (I Love You Lebanon) could break your heart. It captures a moment like few songs can. The rest of the fourteen tracks here range from Arabic disco to carnivalesque pop to slow, sweeping ballads. Bootlegged to death throughout the Arab world (visit your local Arab music store if you have one; it’s probably there in one form or another), impossible to find in English. Many of the tracks are streaming at this Vietnamese site.

646. Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen – Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas

Did Commander Cody invent alt-country? Maybe. Pianist and stoner Americana maven George Frayne – who’s still going strong, with a different band behind him – is sort of the missing link between Dan Hicks and Little Feat. On this sprawling but tight live set from 1974, the eclectic showman and his three-guitar band blaze through a mix of western swing, roots rock, blues, and a snarling electric take on oldtime country. Lead guitarist Bill Kirchen, then in his early 20s, had already earned iconic status with his sizzling licks, and gets to air them out on his signature song, Too Much Fun. There’s also the C&W dance tunes Armadillo Stomp and Git It; the Chuck Berry style shuffle I’m Coming Home; the barrelhouse blues number Oh Momma Momma; a romp through Riot in Cell Block #9; a hippie update on the old cowboy song Sunset on the Stage; and a couple of sad ballads, Crying Time and “one of the world’s saddest songs,” as the Commander put it, Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues. The only thing missing here is the most obvious one, Lost in the Ozone. Here’s a random torrent via chocoreve.

645. Flatt & Scruggs – 20 Greatest Hits

Bluegrass guitar legend Lester Flatt first joined forces with iconic, paradigm-shifting banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs – who influenced pretty much every banjo player to come after him – in the Foggy Mountain Boys in 1946. There’s such a glut of their stuff floating around that we suggest this out-of-print collection (if you can find it) as a solid representation of their fast fingers at work. The one that everybody knows is Foggy Mountain Breakdown; other standards here include Sunny Side of the Mountain and Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms. Yonder Stands Little Maggie is actually an English folk song; Salty Dog Blues is a dirty song, while country gospel is represented by Preachin’ Prayin’ Singin’. There’s also a drinking song – Drink That Mash And Talk That Trash – sad ballads – We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart and Farewell Blues – the chain gang song Doin’ My Time, the wry I’m Gonna Sleep with One Eye Open, the nostalgic My Cabin in Caroline, a couple of instrumentals, a blistering bluegrass version of Dill Pickle Rag and a pointless Carter Family cover. Mysteriously hard to find in the usual places: as an alternative, check out two delicious discs worth of 1950s radio recordings with the Foggy Mountain Boys via scratchyattic.

644. Taraf de Haidouks – Band of Gypsies

Active in their native Romania since the 90s, this exhilarating 2001 album by the scorching acoustic gypsy band makes Gogol Bordello seem tame by comparison. It’s as otherworldly and ecstatic as you could possibly want. Brief, blistering violin dances – Dance of the Firemen, Sorry Only My Sorrow, A Storm Crosses the Danube in the Company of a Raven and Caricura Dances intermingle with the lickety-split fiddling of The Return of the Magic Horses, the tricky, Macedonian-flavored A Gypsy Had a House and Absinth I Drink You, Absinth I Eat You, which is much further from blissful than you would expect. Green Leaf, Clover Leaf sets a buffoonish duet to a gorgeous tune, followed by the stark lament Little Buds, Bride in a Red Dress – which sounds like a syncopated version of the Exorcist theme – and the closing showstopper, Back to Clejani, whose lead instrument sounds like a broken tuba. The entire album is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent.

643. Los Saicos – Wild Teen Punk from Peru 1965

Los Saicos invented punk rock. In 1964. In Peru, off all places. Los Saicos (pronounced “los psychos”) had the raw, screaming vocals, amusingly antagonistic lyrics and sledgehammer guitars going a dozen years before the Ramones or the Clash (who most likely never knew they existed – sometimes great inventions happen in different places at different times). In their brief mid-60s heyday they never released an album or for that matter anything outside Peru. This reissue compilation collects pretty much their whole repertoire. Their big hit, still a cult favorite today, is Salvaje (The Savage); the surprisingly quiet, doo-wop tinged Ana was also a hit. There’s also the stomping, eerie surf punk of Come On; Lonely Star, which sounds like fast noir Orbison pop; the Peruvian ghoul janglerock of Cemeterio and El Entierro de Los Gatos (The Cats’ Burial); the brooding, hypnotic Fugitivo de Alcatraz; Te Amo, a sneering love song parody; Demolicion, a punked-out Twist; and the macabre R&B of the aptly titled Intensamente. Here’s a random torrent via Psychedelic Obscurities.

642. Ennio Morricone – The Platinum Collection

Everybody’s favorite Morricone is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly soundtrack, right? After all, it’s where the Italian film music maestro created his prototypical spaghetti western sound. Give him credit for basically inventing southwestern gothic all by himself, but he’s actually much more diverse than that. This exhaustive four-disc retrospective showcases his eclecticism, with tracks from the 50s through the late 80s. Many of these themes are probably better known today than the B movies in which they appeared (The Ballad of Hank McCain, for instance). From guitar tunes to sweeping, lushly orchestrated overtures, wrenching angst to balmy contentment, Morricone evokes it all, usually in five minutes or less – much less, sometimes. The sixty tracks here include the dark proto-Bacharach La Donna Della Domenica; the brooding Sicilian Clan; the cartoonish My Name Is Nobody; the sweepingly beautiful Deborah’s Theme from the pretty awful Once Upon a Time in America; the totally noir Dimenticare Palermo; the plaintive accordion waltz from The Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man; the iconic Fistful of Dollars, and of course tracks from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly including the title theme and the climactic cemetery scene. Here’s a random torrent via sharingisliberty.

641. The Stanley Bros. – All Time Greatest Hits

We’re gonna sneak another greatest-hits package in here because it’s representative, not necessarily because it’s any better than any other collection by these bluegrass legends – and their stuff has been packaged and repackaged a million times. Ralph and Carter Stanleys’ high lonesome voices, banjo and guitar, along with some topnotch 1940s and 50s Nashville players, rip through eleven songs, many of which have become standards. The real stunner here is Rank Strangers, one of the most vivid depictions of alienation ever set to music – its quietly resolute, suicidal atmosphere will give you chills. The one everybody here knows is Man of Constant Sorrow; the rest of the gothic Americana includes Oh Death and White Dove. There’s also the prisoner’s lament Stone Walls and Steel Bars; the wry, amusing Don’t Cheat in Our Home Town; the English dance Little Maggie; the lickety-split Little Birdie, and for country gospel fans, there’s Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. Mysteriously, this one isn’t very easy to find, so in lieu of this particular item you might want to check out something just as interesting, the complete Rich-R-Tone 78s collection, which is decent although the journey from 78 to digital was somewhat less than successful.

640. King Crimson – Red

King Crimson have played an awful lot of styles over their off-and-on forty-year existence – mellotron-driven symphonic rock, crazed acidic jazzy stuff, nerdy staccato new wave, ambient soundscapes. This 1974 album finds guitarist Robert Fripp at his loudest and most metal-oriented, with bassist John Wetton amazingly terse and tuneful. Side one runs through the tricky time signatures and offhandedly ominous tones of the title track, Fallen Angel, the menacing One More Red Nightmare and violin-driven Providence. The sidelong suite Starless rips a riff from Olivier Messiaen’s Concerto for the End of Time and takes it to its logical, murderous conclusion in over fifteen minutes of increasingly brutal, slowly stalking, crescendoing intensity, including the best (and longest) one-note solo ever played on any instrument (that’s Fripp shrieking and firing off sparks over Wetton’s slowly ascending, growling bass). Here’s a random torrent.

639. Champagne Francis – I Start to Daydream

Other than an extremely limited-edition acoustic ep, this 2006 album represents the entirety of this blissfully tuneful, catchy Brooklyn janglerock/powerpop trio’s recorded output. Imagine the Lemonheads if they’d stayed in college and majored in something interesting, and you have an idea what it sounds like. Frontman/guitarist Brian Silverman has a wit to match his supersonic chops, from the hilarious faux Steve Vai tapping solo on the album’s most surreally catchy number, Waterskis, to the crushingly deadpan anti-trendoid satire Our Parents Had Money. Burned to the Ground captures a drunken late-night party more vividly and captivatingly than that scenario would let you believe; the rest of the album slips in and out of focus artfully and entertainingly, from the opening track, Old Vampires, through the riff-rocking Done So Secretly and the inscrutably High Comedy and Walter. Too obscure to find at the sharelockers, but all the tracks are still streaming at the band’s site, and it’s still available from cdbaby.

638. Linton Kwesi Johnson – More Time

Conventional wisdom is that the great Jamaican-British dub poet’s incendiary work from the late 70s and early 80s is his best. To be counterintuitive, we’re going with this 1998 album, whose subject matter has a more diverse, international focus than the community-based broadsides that springboarded his career fronting a band. With bass genius Dennis Bovell and the Dub Band behind him, Johnson stoically intones his way through a couple of of elegies – Reggae Fi Bernard, Reggae Fi May Ayim – and reflections on the impact of art on politics, with the tongue-in-cheek If I Was a Top Notch Poet and Poems of Shape and Motion. The aphoristically explosive title track ponders what society would be like if leisure and family time were accorded as much status as material possessions; the even more explosive License Fi Kill namechecks pretty much everybody in John Major’s cabinet as complicit in the murder of innocent black people in British police custody. The album wraps up with the eerily prophetic New World Order. Here’s a random torrent.

637. The Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass

This is as outside as we’re going to get here. At the risk of alienating some of you, we give you this sprawling 1970 theatrical acid jazz tour de force by these legendary improvisers. Burnt Sugar would be impossible to imagine without them. As much as this is free jazz per se, the reality is that this was an extraordinarily tight band that practiced sometimes as much as twelve hours a day, meaning that many of the motifs you hear here were minutely finessed in rehearsal. Here the classic late 60s/early 70s lineup of Lester Bowie on trumpet, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell on reeds, Malachi Favors on bass and Don Moye on drums is joined by Fontella Bass who contributes both vocals and piano. Two long, sidelong suites: How Strange/Ole Jed on side one, Mitchell’s Horn Web on side two, which is more of an outright jam and features some characteristically tasty interplay between the saxes. Don’t hold it against these guys that they’re one of the grand total of two – two – jazz acts included on the best-albums list at that awful Chicago indie rock site run by those gay dudes. Here’s a random torrent via African Gospel Church.

636. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands

Angst-ridden atheist post-Velvets powerpop from 1986. It’s the only really solid album the band ever did, a template they tried to fit into many times afterward without nearly as much success. Much as the idea of putting an album by a rock band propelled by a drum machine on this list is pretty abhorrent, it’s hard to argue with the catchy death-obsessed title track, or the stark, gorgeously bitter defiance of Deep One Perfect Morning, the strongest song here. There’s also the hook-driven, overcast goth-pop of Happy When It Rains and April Skies; the brisk, stomping Down on Me; the Stoogoid garage-punk of Fall; the poppiest number here, Cherry Came Too and a couple of impressively successful attempts at ethereal grandeur, Nine Million Rainy Days and About You. Here’s a random torrent.

635. Mr. Airplane Man – Moanin’

Boston duo Mr. Airplane Man started out in the late 90s as a two-woman Howlin Wolf cover band. By 2002, when they put out this one, they were one of the best garage rock bands on the planet. Guitarist Margaret Garrett and Tara McManus – who often played a Casio while drumming – beat the White Stripes to the guitar-and-drums thing by a couple of years, and were many leagues above them. Lo-fi but richly tuneful and often haunting as hell, the album opens with the punk blues Like That, the hypnotic title track and the gorgeous 60s garage-pop of Not Living At All. The shuffling Highway 61 blues Somebody’s Baby, the stomping riff-rock of Drive Me Out and the popular Jesus on the Mainline follow that. Then they do the dark, scurrying Uptight and a tensely suspenseful version of the Wolf’s Commit a Crime. The three classics here are noir rock masterpieces: the brooding Very Bad Feeling, the wickedly catchy Sun Sinking Low and the fiery, chromatic Podunk Holler, ending with the slow, meandering W*Nderin’. The whole album is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via Oh Robot.

634. The Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us

 The Cramps took Link Wray, Hasil Adkins and the darkest side of surf music to its logical punk extreme. Produced by Alex Chilton – who gave Kid Congo Powers a wall of feedback here that might never be topped – the late Lux Interior, guitarist Poison Ivy and drummer Nick Knox primitively stomp their way through a bunch of menacing originals – TV Set and Garbageman being the best of them – as well as completely over-the-top covers of Strychnine and The Fever, done the opposite of Peggy Lee with no bass. The fun continues with I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Lux panting like Norman Bates on steroids; What’s Behind the Mask is like that too. There’s also the ghoulabilly of Sunglasses After Dark, Mystery Plane and Zombie Dance among the thirteen tracks here. The Memphis Morticians and a million other goulabilly bands would be pretty much unthinkable without these guys. RIP, Lux. Here’s a random torrent.

633. Webb Pierce – King of the Honky-Tonk: The Original Decca Masters 1952-59

Webb Pierce was the prototype for Elvis. He wore Nudie suits, always had great musicians in his band, pulled a lot of girls, was no stranger to intoxication and was one also one of the best country singers of his era. Why was Elvis more popular? Because he was tamer than this guy. Pierce lived hard, was a lot more versatile as a singer, with a high lonesome, wounded wail, and also wrote some of his own stuff. This album collects most if not all of his best and most popular stuff from the peak of his career. Pierce’s signature song is There Stands the Glass – “it’s my first one today.” His other hits range from heartbreak songs – Wondering and It’s Been So Long – to cheating songs – Broken Engagement and Back Street Affair – to more retro stuff like a killer cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ In the Jailhouse Now, his first big hit Slowly and the defiant Tupelo County Jail. Here’s a random torrent via Western Swing.

632. Gil Scott-Heron – From South Africa to South Carolina

Choosing one of the great revolutionary jazz poet and his Fender Rhodes colleague Brian Jackson’s politically-fueled psychedelic funk/jazz albums over another is a judgment call; for better or worse, we’re going with this 1975 release, the second with their legendary Midnight Band. It’s got Johannesburg, the first rock song to call attention to the horrors of apartheid, and the chilling cautionary tale South Carolina, about nuclear waste being dumped on unsuspecting rural communities. A Toast to the People is an optimistic shout-out to freedom fighters around the world; it’s also got the warm, captivating Summer of ’42, Essex and Fell Together, the hypnotic Beginnings and the unexpectedly summery Lovely Day. It doesn’t have the casually terrifying We Almost Lost Detroit, which at this point in history may be the most important song ever recorded, a cautionary tale which cruelly came true when Fukushima blew. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of Flabbergasted Vibes.

631. Steely Dan – Katy Lied

Let’s stay in 1975 for two in a row, shall we? This is self-mythologizing, deviously literate jazz-funk from Donald Fagen, Walter Becker and a cast of studio pros. Great band, but practically every one of their albums has a real clunker to go along with the good stuff, so that’s why we picked this one.There’s only a couple of super standouts here – Any World That I’m Welcome To, where Fagen lets down his guard and bares his fangs at the morons he grew up with, and the absolutely macabre Black Friday – but it’s solid all the way through. Bad Sneakers is a spot-on period piece, a couple of losers “with a transistor radio and a whole lot of money to spend” making their way up Sixth Avenue past Radio City. Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More works an oldschool blues vernacular better than any of the band’s contemporaries could, while Chain Lightning goes in a slow, funkier direction. Rose Darling and Everyone’s Gone to the Movies offer a leering, cynical look at romance, the surreal Dr. Wu was a pseudo-hit, and Your Gold Teeth II and the closing track, Throw Back the Little Ones reach for a distant, offhand menace. Here’s a random torrent via Walrussongs.

630. Sonic’s Rendezvous Band – Sweet Nothing

Back in the 70s, while the southern midwest had bands like the fictitious Stillwater (the sadly spot-on stoners from the movie Almost Famous), Detroit had hard, intense, uncompromising bands like these guys. Tragically, the bandleader didn’t live to see this album or its successors, and during the band’s lifetime, Sonic’s Rendezvous band (named after its leader, Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5) released only one vinyl single. This 1998 collection was the first in a series of reissues that culminated in a six-cd box set for you completists who have to have every outtake with Smith messing around on the saxophone. From the aptly titled first track, Dangerous, it’s careening riff-rock with a surreal, bluesy menace: it’s hard to imagine a lot of garage-punks bands like Radio Birdman without them. There’s some resemblance to the Stooges, but this stuff is heavier, slower and more soul-oriented, especially with the influence of Detroit legend Scott Morgan. The one track that sort of made it into the public eye is City Slang, one of the catchiest rock songs ever written: it blows the Ramones to shreds. There’s also the swaying, potent Getting There Is Half the Fun, the stalking, eight-minute title track; the warped boogie Asteroid B-612; the hammering Song L; the cynical Love and Learn and a careening cover of the Stones’ Heart of Stone. Here’s a random torrent via digitalmeltdown.

629. Absinthe – A Good Day to Die

Sam Llanas may be known as the soulful baritone co-founder of Milwaukee roots rock legends the BoDeans, but this 1999 album by his other project Absinthe – with the Violent Femmes’ Guy Hoffman on drums and Jim Eanelli, formerly of the Shivvers, on guitar – is the best thing he’s ever done. Inspired by the suicide of Llanas’ older brother, this anguished, death-obsessed, semi-acoustic rock record follows the Bukowskiesque trail of a life in a long downward spiral so harrowing that when it ends with Time for Us, a surprisingly warm, comforting ballad that his main band would pick up later, the mood still resonates. This guy just never had a chance. Bully on the Corner gets the foreshadowing going on early (although the narrator looks back and basically forgives him: his life must have been hell too). Defeat, with its mantra-like chorus, is just crushing; the title track is all the more haunting for its dignified treatment of the suicide. They follow that with the wistful, pretty Spanish Waltz, the unconvincing It Don’t Bother Me and then the two absolute masterpieces here, the down-and-out scenario Still Alone and the wrenching, Orbisonesque Messed Up Likes of Us. There’s nowhere to go from there but the bitter Dying in My Dreams, the denial of What I Don’t Feel and the paint-peeling noise-rock of A Little Bit of Hell, Eanelli’s great shining moment here. Surprisingly obscure, there don’t seem to be any streams of this anywhere, but it’s still up at the BoDeans’ site; here’s a random torrent.

628. Astor Piazzolla – Hommage a Liege

In putting this list together, we’ve tried to limit the number of albums per artist to one or two. Which with Astor Piazzolla is just plain absurd: there must be at least a dozen, maybe several dozen of his recordings that belong among the 1000 best albums ever made. Did the iconic Argentinian composer, bandleader, bandoneon player and inventor of tango nuevo put out one that stands over the rest? Frankly, no – they’re pretty much all good. We picked this dark, richly lush 1985 live album because A) Piazzolla plays on it and B) even though it doesn’t have any of his signature songs, like Libertango, it represents him well. Backed by two guitarists plus the Liege Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leo Brouwer, this is Piazzolla the classical composer rather than Piazzolla the pop tunesmith (he was both, and preferred to think of himself as the former). It’s two suites: first the epic triptych Concerto para Bandoneon y Guitarra (Intro, Milonga and Tango), then the four-part Histoire du Tango (does anybody besides us think it’s funny that the concerto is Spanish but the history is French?). This one is a musical portrait of how the style developed (with major contributions by the composer himself), from the whorehouse in 1900, to the Cafe 1930, Nightclub 160 and Aujourd’hui (Today). If Piazzolla is new to you, get to know him via Piazzolla Radio streaming 24/7. Here’s a random torrent via musicaparalacabeza.

627. Bernard Herrmann – The Film Scores: Los Angeles Philharmonic/Esa-Pekka Salonen

This 2005 reissue of an early 90s recording covers many if not all of the great film composer’s greatest moments, most of them from Hitchcock movies. It’s also maddeningly hard to find. At least it’s nice to see the guy who was arguably Hollywood’s foremost composer getting the full symphony orchestra treatment. The first track is the opening theme from The Man Who Knew Too Much, followed by most of the string quartet stuff from Psycho, notably the creepy intro, rainstorm scene, mommy getting offed and of course the shower scene. There’s also the stormy intro from Marnie, the even more ominously blustery North by Northwest theme, a ton of stuff from Fahrenheit 451, from the intro to the closing overture and the most noir moments from the Taxi Driver soundtrack. The one piece that really ought to be here but isn’t is the “concerto macabre” from Hangover Square, arguably Herrmann’s finest ten minutes – but the movie is obscure and the snobs probably felt it wasn’t well-known enough. A rigorous search didn’t turn up any torrents for this album, but you can download the Taxi Driver soundtrack, as well as the Marnie, Fahrenheit 451, NXNW, Torn Curtain and Vertigo soundtracks via The Cheerful Earfull.

626. Ran Blake & Jeanne Lee – The Newest Sound Around

Pianist Blake and singer Lee were just out of Bard College when they recorded this in 1961. Her recorded debut, fifty years later, remains the definitive noir jazz album. Mostly just piano and vocals, it’s shattering and intense, Lee’s quietly otherworldly, understated alto matching Blake’s often gleefully macabre cascades for a chemistry that has seldom existed anywhere between a singer and instrumentalist. They’re off with a menacing flourish and a couple of icy blood droplets as Blake launches into Laura, Lee deadpan and chilling against the relentless suspense. The chill factor goes up a notch higher on the spacious, doomed Where Flamingos Fly and the quietly anguished vocalese of Vanguard. Love Isn’t Everything also understates its case, potently, and Lee’s a-cappella version of Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child is heartbreaking. Yet not everything here is sad: there’s also the cynically funny Season in the Sun, the distantly gospel-tinged Church on Russel St. and a luridly sexy cover of Willie Dixon’s Evil. Forty-nine years later, Blake would recreate this mood with another another extraordinary singer, Sara Serpa, on their collaboration Camera Obscura. Here’s a random torrent.

625. The Act – Too Late at 20

Before Nick Laird-Clowes had the easy-listening radio hit Life in a Northern Town with his chamber-pop band the Dream Academy, he fronted this ferocious, sharply literate, Elvis Costello-influenced two-guitar new wave rock band with David Gilmour’s kid brother Mark playing lead. Their lone 1981 album is a masterpiece of catchy tunes, snarling guitar and restless lyricism. “I belong to the ones that got away,” he sings on the album’s best track, the resolute escape anthem Long Island Sound – but by the end, it’s hard to tell whether he’s singing “I belong” or “I’m alone.” That moment is characteristic here. Zero Unidentified is about as exhilarating as a three-minute song can get: it won’t take no for an answer. Get It While You’re Young has an uneasy undercurrent beneath the ecstatic two-guitar powerpop intensity, while The Art of Deception salutes the cheaters amongst us, Clash-style. There’s also the sizzling, upbeat Sure Fire; the reggae-tinged, cynical Protection and Skip the Beat; and the surprisingly tender Touch and Go. Only one dud amongst all this fun. Issued on the same label that would put out Richard & Linda Thompson’s Shoot out the Lights only a few months later, it’s been out of print for decades. Here’s a random torrent via Powerpop Criminals.

624. Roy Ayers – Coffy: The Original Soundtrack

Conventional wisdom is that the classic blaxploitation soundtrack is Curtis Mayfield’s score for Superfly. Great album, no doubt, but have you ever heard this one? Ayers had already made a name for himself in jazz before the movie came out in 1973, but here he really gets to be eclectic and also funny as hell. Mid-70s stoner funk jams with electric piano, wah guitar, vibes and strings don’t get any more fun than these. As you can expect from the movie, some of these are a little over the top: Coffy Is the Color (Pam Grier’s theme), as well as the themes for the evil Pricilla and King George. Then there’s Aragon to the rescue; the irresistible Coffy Sauna scene; the elegaic King’s Last Ride; self-explanatory Brawling Broads; the brooding Bernard Herrmann-esque Escape; the hard yet sultry funk of Exotic Dance; the LOL boudoir scene Making Love and the pensive electric harpsichord piece Vittroni’s Theme. The movie is a hoot too. Here’s a random torrent.

623. Ferlin Husky – Greatest Hits

Although his career reached into the 80s, country singer Ferlin Husky’s best years were the 50s and early 60s and for that reason, we’re breaking our “no greatest hits” rule since those songs predated the album era. Husky’s persona was more vulnerable, maybe Orbisonesque, than his contemporaries and for that reason he had a huge cult following, especially among women. The big early 50s hit was Gone, which set the stage for Dear John Letter, his duet with Jean Shepard. The longing in Once and Every Step of the Way is visceral; for fans of country standards, there’s Wings of a Dove and Heavenly Sunshine. Just for You shows him still at the top of his game in 1968; I Feel Better All Over was resurrected thirty years later by Knoxville Girls. This 70s reissue is also awfully hard to find outside of church sales and junk shops; instead, you can check out his 1967 I Could Sing All Night album via Some Local Loser.

622. Public Image Ltd. – The Flowers of Romance

Just when it seemed that PiL couldn’t push the envelope any further, they came out with this bitter, astringent album that’s arguably even more cutting-edge than Second Edition. The melodies may seem Middle Eastern, but it’s actually inspired by the ancient Celtic music that John Lydon had been listening to around 1981. It’s also Martyn Atkins’ great shining moment: he fills the spaces between these eerie, ghostly, skeletal tunes and Lydon’s ominously wailing monotone with some of the most memorable rock drumming in decades. The intensity never lets up, from the claustrophobic, terrorized Four Enclosed Walls, Track 8 and Phenagen; the ridiculously catchy, anthemic yet completely avant-garde title track; the creepy, singsongey Under the House; the hypnotic instrumental Hymie’s Him; the snarling Banging the Door, antifascist anthem Go Back and elegaic Francis Massacre (about an IRA activist sentenced to life in Mountjoy Prison). This was also the group’s last adventure in experimental music: from there, they’d go through a funk phase, a generic stadium rock phase and end in the early 90s with something of a return to their punk roots. Here’s a random torrent.

621. Abdel Halim Hafez – Ala Aal El Shoaa On: Greatest Hits

The iconic Egyptian film music crooner is best known for his anguished, improvisational epics – throughout his almost thirty-year career, from the 50s to the late 70s, he never sang a song the same way twice. The pain in his voice may have had something to do with the fact that he was plagued by a chronic skin condition that eventually killed him at age 47. The fifteen tracks here range from something beyond epic – about 38 minutes of Zay El Hawa (Feels like Love) – to the remarkably brief, five-minute Al Toba. Most of these are iconic in the Arab world, including the Mohammed Abdel Wahab standard Ahwak (I Love You), Sawah (The Wanderer), Gana El Hawa (Love Came to Us), Ouloulu, and the title track, all set to lush, haunting orchestral arrangements. Like so many of his contemporaries, his recordings have been bootlegged to death; we’re suggesting this one because it represents his career well, and actually exists in digital form (many don’t). Here’s a random torrent.

620. Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach – We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite

In 1960, folksingers weren’t the only ones doing socially conscious music: plenty of jazz people were doing it too. This fiery civil rights-era suite is as inspiring and relevant today as it was when it came out that year. The chanteuse and her brilliant, innovative drummer husband are joined by an inspired, eclectic band including Coleman Hawkins on sax and African percussionist Babatunde Olatunji. They open with the insistent minor gospel-flavored Driva’man, follow with the irrepressible indomitable Freedom Day and then the album’s epic centerpiece, Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace. It’s possible they inspired a young Gil Scott-Heron with the early anti-apartheid broadside Tears for Johannesburg. There’s also the hypnotic, percussion-driven All Africa. Here’s a random torrent.

619. Richard Cheese – Lounge Against the Machine

What Weird Al was to the 80s, Richard Cheese was around the turn of the century – and he’s still going strong, making fun of the suckiest songs you’ve ever heard. And he’s more than just a one-trick pony – his parodies make fun of lounge music just as much as they skewer the lamest corporate rock songs of the last 20 years. Caveat: if you weren’t tortured by a younger sibling (or, even worse, an older sibling) with bad taste in music back in the 90s, you may not know a lot of these songs. Ironically, the most popular track on Cheese’s 2000 debut is the best one, the Dead Kennedys’ Holiday in Cambodia, which when you think about it is even more punk than the original. Creep, by Radiohead, another good song, is also better – and creepier – than the original. Otherwise, the satire is brutal: with his cover of Guerrilla Radio, the lounge lizard exposes Rage Against the Machine for the limousine liberals they were. He gets gleefully cruel with the fratboy standards Closer (“I wanna fuck you like an animal”) by Nine Inch Nails, the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up and the ultimate frathouse atrocity, the Beastie Boys’ Fight For Your Right to Party. Anybody remember Papa Roach? They get turned into noir cabaret here. And Fatboy Slim – remember him? – gets subjected to more of a spoof of lounge music than of whatever he was (if you missed him, you don’t want to know). Here’s a random torrent.

618. Blind Blake – Ragtime Guitar’s Foremost Fingerpicker

The album title doesn’t do justice to this kick-ass guitarist who pushed the envelope and mixed blues, country, ragtime and early swing into a catchy, tuneful, inimitably original style. This album collects many of his best 78 RPM singles from 1926 through his last dates in 1932. A lot of the British blues guys from the 1960s took a stab at Diddie Wa Diddie, but the original still beats all of them; the one that Albert King, Jimmy Reed and a lot of their contemporaries picked up was Early Morning Blues (which actually isn’t on this album). The rest of this is as ghetto as ghetto gets: songs about raising hell, going on the lam, police brutality, an execution, illegal gambling, domestic violence, drugs, unfaithful girlfriends, and lots and lots of sex among the 23 tracks. Their rustic charm and defiant energy still resonates eighty years later. Here’s a random torrent.

617. The New Race – The First to Pay

Think about this for a second: in 1988, the late great Ron Asheton was so broke that he had to sell the master tapes for this album to a French record label, since no American one would put it out. Another shocker is that it’s been out of print pretty much since then. The New Race were a Detroit rock supergroup with the MC5′s Dennis Thompson on drums, Asheton and Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek on guitars, plus Warwick Gilbert on bass and Rob Younger from that band on vocals. They did a single Australian tour that resulted in three live albums of raw, searing, primevally intense garage punk metal. It’s a mix of Birdman and Stooges songs plus three tunes the group came up with together: the metalloid space shuttle tribute Columbia, the surprisingly poppy Living World and the maniacally scurrying Haunted Road. Gilbert’s menacing bass chords take the doomed intensity of Love Kills to another level; likewise, the chromatically-charged Smith & Wesson Blues and All Alone in the End Zone are completely unhinged. They also do a very satisfying, amped-up cover of Destroy All Monsters’ November 22, 1963 along with the Stooges’ Loose and TV Eye. The whole album is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via rogkentroll.

616. Mulatu Astatke – Ethiopiques Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-74

The best-known Ethiopian jazz bandleader, Mulatu Astatke continues to be sought after as a collaborator by all sorts of western musicians. His career on this side of the globe may have been springboarded by his numerous contributions to the soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers, but he was well-known as the father of Ethiopian funk long before that – he’s every bit as much of an innovator, and a great dance tunesmith, as Fela Kuti was. This album collects most of the bittersweet, memorable themes from early in his career: the iconic Tezeta (Nostalgia), the longing of Metche Dershe (When Will I Get There), the love songs Munaye and Gubelye, the eerie, reggaeish Sabye and the rousing overture Dewel (The Bell) among the fourteen tracks here. Intricate, complex yet danceable, it’s a good introduction to a guy who needs none among African music fans. Here’s a random torrent via Totem Songs.

615. The Amazing Bud Powell Vol. 2

A 1951 recording reissued in 1955 and digitized in the 90s. We picked this one rather than the almost identical Vol. 1 because it doesn’t have that horrid Judy Garland song that everybody knows. Here the certifiably crazy pianist leads a quintet with Fats Navarro, Sonny Rollins, Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes, along with a handful of trio and solo performances. It’s got two takes of his signature song, Un Poco Loco, on one hand absolutely creepy, on the other a welcome example of Afro-Cuban music infiltrating the jazz world. There’s also the similiarly foreboding Dance of the Infidels, the wary nocturnal bustle of Monk’s 52nd St. Theme, the expansive, surprisingly gentle It Could Happen to You and the totally amazing Parisian Thoroughfare, which has echoes of Debussy. And also the popular Bouncing with Bud, Ornithology and A Night in Tunisia (this list must have at least a half a dozen versions of that song on various albums – is 50s jazz great or what?). Here’s a random torrent; if you really want Vol. 1, here’s a random torrent for that one.

614. Live Skull – Snuffer

The best New York band of the 80s wasn’t Sonic Youth. It was Live Skull. They shared a producer, Martin Bisi, whose ears for the most delicious sonics in a guitar’s high midrange did far more to refine both bands’ sound than he ever got credit for. As noisy as this band was, they also had an ear for hooks: noise-rock has never been more listenable. By the time they recorded this one, guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C., fretless bassist Marnie Greenholz and drummer Rich Hutchins had brought in future Come frontwoman Thalia Zedek, but on vocals rather than guitar. It’s a ferociously abrasive yet surprisingly catchy six-song suite of sorts, Zedek’s assaultive rants mostly buried beneath the volcanic swirl of the guitars and the pummeling rhythm section. By the time they get to Step, the first song of side two, they’ve hit a groove that winds up with furious majesty on the final cut, Straw. Like Sonic Youth, their lyrics are neither-here-nor-there; unlike that band, they had the good sense to bury them in the mix most of the time. Very influential in their time, it’s hard to imagine Yo La Tengo and many others without them. Here’s a random torrent via Rare Punk.

613. Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Original Recordings

Dan Hicks was literally a half-century ahead of his time. The title of his 1969 debut alludes to a much earlier era – the 1920s and 30s – whose music he updated, yet keeping a sultry roaring 20s feel courtesy of the harmonies of  Lickettes Sherri Snow and Christina Gancher. It’s all low-key acoustic stoner swing Americana with funny lyrics. The funniest – and most vicious – number here is Canned Music, in a way 50 years ahead of its time, as a parody of lite FM cliches. There’s the sardonic How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away; the faux gypsy I Scare Myself (another one that was way ahead of the curve); the proto-Moonlighters shuffle Evening Breeze; the tongue-in-cheek boogie Waiting On the 103; the noir diptych Shorty Takes a Dive and Shorty Falls in Love; It’s Bad Grammar Baby (sort of his All Along the Watchtower); the sort of obvious Milk Shakin’ Mama, and after all this, they pull out all the stops for the Jukie’s Ball. They were steampunk 30 years before that term existed and remain one of the funnest, funniest retro swing bands ever recorded, Here’s a random torrent via Smalltown Pleasures.

612. Jackie McLean – Jackie’s Bag

Jackie McLean was an alto saxophonist with a bright, hard-hitting style. This 1960 album comprises two sessions: one with Donald Byrd on trumpet, Sonny Clark on piano, Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, the other with Chambers plus the great, underrated Tina Brooks on tenor sax, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Kenny Drew on piano and Art Taylor on drums. The title is a pun: at the time he recorded it, McLean was a heroin addict, and he wasn’t the only one in the band. Nevertheless, it’s a swinging record, steeped in the blues yet consistently surprising, with some great solos. There’s the vivid, scurrying Quadrangle; the blazing minor swing of Blues Inn; the genially optimistic Fidel (how little they knew then, huh?); the pensive but wickedly catchy Appointment in Ghana; the brisk, bright Ballad for a Doll; as well as Brooks’ blistering Isle of Java (another pun) and gritty, gospel-infused Street Singer. The cd reissue also includes the klezmer-tinged Melonae’s Dance and darkly smoldering Medina. Here’s a random torrent via toukoutou.

611. Sarah Vaughan – Sarah +2

To a generation of fans, Sarah Vaughan is divine; another camp (guess which one we’re in) thinks she could have done more with less. On this 1962 album she does exactly that, backed magically and tersely by Barney Kessel on guitar and Joe Comfort on bass. Kessel absolutely owns this album, reminding why he was was one of the most sought-after (and today, underrated) guitarists ever. No effects, no frills, no overplaying, just richly counterintuitive syncopation, surgical precision and a dynamic chordal attack, and Comfort’s even more minimalist bass is just as cool. The spacious arrangements mean that much of the time it’s Vaughan solo, or with the bass, or the guitar. The big hit here was The Very Thought of You. Just in Time starts out like Peggy Lee’s The Fever until the guitar finally comes in; When Sunny Gets Blue doesn’t have the intensity of Jeanne Lee’s version, but what does? All I Do Is Dream of You works surprisingly well with such a cosmopolitan arrangement, as does the stripped-down Ray Noble big band hit Goodnight Sweetheart. The early Ellington hit Just Squeeze Me nails the coyness of the theme. There’s also a wary reinterpretation of Bessie Smith’s Baby Won’t You Please Come Home and a dreamily surreal, bossa-tinged version of Key Largo. Here’s a random torrent.

610. The Delmore Bros. – Classic Cuts 1933-41

Alton and Rabon Delmore really weren’t brothers, but that didn’t stop them from pretending they were. A lot of that kind of stuff happened in country music back in the old days. This massive 4-cd box set spans from the fire-and-brimstone country gospel of No Drunkard Can Enter There and Goodbye Booze – did anybody ever take these songs the least bit seriously? – to blues like Nashville Blues and I’ve Got the Railroad Blues, standards like Lay Down My Old Guitar and Blue Hills of Virginia along with creepy southern gothic tales like The Dying Truck Driver. Rustic, provocative evidence that there was an awful lot of cross-pollination between black and white musicians in those days. This one hasn’t showed up in the usual places, so in its place you might be interested in these 1933-35 radio tracks via Did You Remember El Diablo Tuntun.

609. Jimmy Smith – Midnight Special

Conventional wisdom is that Back at the Chicken Shack is the great Hammond B3 jazz organist’s alltime classic (although pretty much everything the guy ever recorded is worth hearing). We picked this 1963 release A) to be perverse, B) because the tracks are a little better, and lesser-known, and C) because it’s everything BUT Smith’s signature shuffle grooves. Everything on both albums was recorded in a single day – to say that Smith and his band (Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Donald Bailey on drums and Kenny Burrell guesting on guitar on three tracks) were on top of their game is an understatement. Basie’s One O’Clock Jump gets a terse, biting blues treatment, alongside Bird’s Jumpin’ the Blues, while Why Was I Born? makes funk out of the Rodgers/Hammerstein showtune. Turrentine’s A Subtle One is a wickedly catchy song without words; the title track, a straight-up blues, swings with a jaunty, summery joy. Here’s a random torrent via Oufar Khan.

608. The Secret Museum of Mankind Vol. 7 – North Africa: Ethnic Music Classics: 1925-48

This seems to be the last in the wild and eclectic Secret Museum of Mankind series of reissues of old public domain 78s from all over the world. The first was old hillbilly music from the 20s; the other volumes include gospel, zydeco and stuff you’d otherwise only find in a museum – literally. This one’s the best, a collection of famous oud players, flute players, horn players, male and female singers, bellydancers, solo acts, small combos and big ensembles. The best-known names here are oldtime Moroccan oud star Raoul Journo and Algerian rai hitmaker Cheikh Hamada (who was doing trip-hop 70 years before it became a popular corporate pop rhythm), but the obscurities are just as fascinating. Here’s a random torrent via Major Bonobo.

607. Shostakovich: String Quartets 1-13 – The Borodin String Quartet

This 1967 recording with Valentin Berlinsky on cello, Rostislav Dubinsky and Nina Barshai on first and second violins and Rudolf Barshai on viola is considered the gold standard for the iconic composer’s complete quartets. It’s literally a journey from somewhat brash, to wounded and bitter, elegaic (the literally terrifying 11th is one of the most haunting pieces of music ever made) and quiet, almost mystical. Awfully hard to find in digital form: here’s a random torrent for #3, #7 and #8. Otherwise, here’s a torrent for the Emerson Quartet’s terrific box set of these pieces from 1999.

606. Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch

This gorgeously melodic 1963 album – which transcends any attempt to categorize is as “postbop” or otherwise – features the great reed player along with with Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis and an 18-year-old Tony Williams absolutely astonishing on drums. Dolphy plays bass clarinet on the Monk homage Hat and Beard, later switching to flute on Gazzelloni; Something Sweet, Something Tender is lyrical and aptly titled. The title track is a cinematic mini-suite, surpassed here only by the surreal epic Straight Up and Down, ostensibly meant to illustrate a long walk home after closing down the bar. Here’s a random torrent via Holy Fucking Shit 40000.

605. The Strawbs – Grave New World

The Strawbs started out in the UK in the late 60s as the Strawberry Hill Gang, playing bluegrass; they backed Sandy Danny on her first full-length recording, not issued til decades later. By 1972, they were taking British folk and making towering, anthemic, psychedelic art-rock out of it, sort of like Jethro Tull without the gnomes and hobbits. This one’s all over the map: there are a couple of duds, but otherwise it’s a masterpiece, a loosely thematic collection of songs that ponder aging and death. Benedictus takes a 12-string Byrds theme and makes a hypnotic, circular anthem out of it; the title track, with its murderous, crashing mellotron intro, is one of the most vengeful songs ever written: “May you rot, in your grave new world!” There’s also the apprehensive, Procol Harum-ish Tomorrow; the artfully backward-masked Queen of Dreams; the psychedelic folk of Heavy Disguise and The Flower and the Young Man and the surprisingly quiet, resigned concluding track Journey’s End. After all these years, and a turn in a harder-rocking direction, frontman Dave Cousins continues to tour a more acoustic version of the band. Here’s a random torrent.

604. Farid Al-Atrache – 25 Ans Deja

What B.B. King or Richard Thompson are to the guitar, Farid Al-Atrache was to the oud, the ancient Middle Eastern four-string bass lute. B.B. is probably the better comparison: Al-Atrache had supersonic speed on the frets when he felt like cutting loose, but he was more about soul than flash. And he was a lot more than just a musician, with a long career as a star of screwball Egyptian musical comedies. The title of this late-90s compilation alludes to the years since his death. Most of this is lushly orchestrated levantine dance music, many of the tracks, like Adnaytani Bel Hagr and Ich Inta having become a part of the standard bellydance repertoire. There’s also the catchy, upbeat Hebbina Hebbina; the sweepingly majestic Baa Ayez Tensani; and the hits Zaman Ya Hob, Ana Wenta We Bass, Manheremch el Omr and Odta Ya Yom Mawlidi among the eighteen tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via ubdocleahq.

603. Graham Parker – Songs of No Consequence

For more than thirty years, Graham Parker has been making snarling, wickedly melodic lyrical rock albums: you could make the case that several of them belong on this list. We picked this vastly underrated 2007 release because it represents everything that’s good about him: his unapologetically savage, literate lyrics, his tunefulness and ability to perfectly match musicians to the songs. Here he’s backed mostly by powerpop cult heroes the Figgs. Right off the bat, Parker thumbs his nose at the media with the spot-on Vanity Press. She Swallows It is a typical Parker pun, less corrosive than perplexed; Suck N Blow is the opposite. The real stunner here is Chloroform, a murderous send-off to a record label exec on his slow, painful way down. There’s also the sardonic soul shuffle Bad Chardonnay, the surreal Dislocated Life, the self-explanatory Evil, the Elvis Costello-ish There’s Nothing on the Radio, the wry Did Everybody Just Get Old and the insanely catchy Local Boys, a tongue-in-cheek follow-up to his old 70s British hit Local Girls. Mysteriously impossible to find at the sharelockers, this is a rare album that’s actually worth owning as a hard copy: cdbaby still has it.

602. Knoxville Girls – In the Woodshed

Active from the late 90s through the early zeros, darkly swampy New York rockers Knoxville Girls inhabitated a stylized world of Jim Jarmusch noir Americana. With Dimestore Dance Band leader Jack Martin, former Cramp Kid Congo Powers and the Chrome Cranks’ Jerry Teel on guitars, Barry London on organ and original Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert, they were the “the ultimate Lower East Side resume band” as one blog aptly billed them. As entertaining and occasionally menacing as their two studio albums are (In a Paper Suit, from 2004 is highly recommended), onstage they were an unstoppable beast. From 2000, this is their only live album, released only on vinyl and sold exclusively as tour merch. When Teel croons Warm and Tender Love, somehow it feels like just the opposite, a feeling that recurs on I Had a Dream and Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly standard Have You Ever. They take Ferlin Husky’s I Feel Better All Over to the next level, careen through the shuffling Armadillo Roadkill Blues, Kung Pow Chicken Scratch, the tongue-in-cheek One More Thing and the instrumental Sixty-Five Days Ago with an unhinged abandon that peaks in the sprawling, closing jam, Low Cut Apron/Sugar Fix. It doesn’t look like this has ever been digitized: try your local used vinyl joint. The band’s two studio albums are still available from In the Red.

601. Richard Strauss – Death and Transfiguration – The Berlin Philharmonic/Ivan Fischer

Strauss is best known these days as a composer of opera and lieder: his trademark is lavish arrangements, most of them possibly devised to conceal the fact that the music is not all that deep. This is his career highlight, a massive multi-part tone poem inspired by the Nietszche work. It has the potential to be stormy: it usually isn’t. What makes it work is the tension: it’s meant to portray a relatively incessant struggle for redemption. We picked this 2009 release because it works the dynamics more boisterously than other recordings: it’s not supposed to be all ambience and suspense, and when they reach a peak here, it packs a wallop. Here’s a random torrent.

600. T-Model Ford – Pee Wee Get My Gun

Primeval menace at its most raw and ramshackle, this 1997 live-in-the-studio recording is a fair approximation of what the Mississippi hill country blues legend is like onstage. A convicted murderer who let his reputation proceed him and seems to have a lot of fun letting people believe how bad he is, T-Model Ford was a nonmusician until his late 50s. His pounding, hypnotic style doesn’t indicate that he was listening to much of anything other than the careening one-chord juke-joint vamps popular in his neck of the woods. Where Junior Kimbrough was all about nuance, this is all about the adrenaline rush. By the time he made this, he was in his late 70s, with a bad hip that forced him to play sitting down. But it doesn’t hold him back, just him and his drummer Spam. Marilyn Manson is G-rated compared to this guy. It’s angry, assaultive stuff, kiss-off numbers like Cut You Loose; the defiant Nobody Gets Me Down; the T-Model Theme, a warped boogie; the completely unhinged I’m Insane and seven other tracks, most of them in the same key, otherworldly overtones flying from the muted strings of his cheap guitar. Still vital at almost ninety, he keeps playing and recording. The whole album is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via I Hate the 90s.

March 1, 2011 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, folk music, funk music, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rap music, reggae music, rock music, ska music, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 600-699

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time 700-799

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

For albums #800-899, click here.

For albums #600-699, click here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

Albums #400-499 continue here.

799. Millie Jackson – Live and Uncensored

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

798. James McMurtry Childish Things

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

797. Lefty Frizzell – 16 Biggest Hits

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

796. The Church – The Blurred Crusade 

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

795. Marcel Khalife – Taqasim

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

794. Funkadelic – America Eats Its Young

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

793. Gogol Bordello – Gypsy Punks

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

792. R.L. Burnside – Burnside on Burnside

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

791. Kenny Garrett – Songbook

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

790. Dolly Parton – Little Sparrow

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

789. Redman & Method Man – Blackout

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

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

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

787. Bo Diddley – The Chess Box

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

786. Jimmy Martin – 20 Greatest Hits

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

785. The Abyssinians – Satta Massagana

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

784. Come – Gently Down the Stream

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

783. Mark Sinnis – The Night’s Last Tomorrow

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

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

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

781. Elliott Smith – Figure 8

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

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

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

779. The Vapors – New Clear Days

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

778. Tom Waits – Blood Money

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

777. The Goats – Tricks of the Shade

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

776. The Dirty Three – She Has No Strings Apollo

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

775. Jim Campilongo – Heaven Is Creepy

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

774. The Viper Mad Blues anthology

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

773. The Pogues – Peace & Love

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

772. Machito y Su Orquesta – Esta Es Graciela

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

771. Buddy & Julie Miller’s first album

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

770. Jean Grae – Attack of the Attacking Things

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

769. Peter Gabriel – Up

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

768. Spearhead – Chocolate Supa Highway

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

767. The English Beat – Wh’Appen

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

766. Oum Kalthoum – Rak El Habib

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

765. Songs by Tom Lehrer

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

764. Culture – Two Sevens Clash

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

763. David J – Urban Urbane

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

762. Supertramp – Paris

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

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

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

760. Jaguares – Bajo El Azul de Tu Misterio

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

759. Duke Ellington – The Far East Suite

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

758. Laura Cantrell – Live at Schubas

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

757. The Coup – Steal This Album

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

756. Split Enz – Waiata

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

755. The Pretty Things – SF Sorrow

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

754. Ellen Foley – Spirit of St. Louis

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

753. Alpha Blondy – Jah Victory

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

752. Albert Collins – Live 92-93

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

751. Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation

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

750. Blotto – Collected Works

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

749. Immortal Technique – Revolutionary Vol. 2

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

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

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

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

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

746. Edith Piaf – 65 Titres Originaux

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

745. Earth Wind & Fire – I Am

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

744. The Auteurs – After Murder Park

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

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

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

742. Gillen & Turk – Backs to the Wall

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

741. Tuatara – Trading with the Enemy

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

740. Khaira Arby – Timbuktu Tarab

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

739. Alice Lee – Lovers and Losers

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

738. Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx

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

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

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

736. Lucky Peterson – Beyond Cool

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

735. PJ Harvey – Dry

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

734. The Scofflaws – Live Vol. 1

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

733. Naughty By Nature – Poverty’s Paradise

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

732. The Church – Of Skins and Heart

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

731. Aswad – Live and Direct

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

730. Willie Nile – Streets of New York

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

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

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

728. The Moonlighters – Live in Baden-Baden

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

727. Patato y Totico

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

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

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

725. The BoDeans – Joe Dirt Car

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

724.Sharon Goldman – Semi-Broken Heart

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

723. Max Steiner – Casablanca: Original Soundtrack

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

722. The Quintet – Jazz at Massey Hall

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

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

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

720. Abby Travis – Glittermouth

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

719. Norden Bombsight – Pinto

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

718. The Alkaholiks – 21 and Over

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

717. The Larval Organs – Posthumous

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

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

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

715. The Church – Hologram of Baal

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

714. Apache – Apache Ain’t Shit

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

713. Them – The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison

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

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

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

711. Busta Rhymes – The Coming

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

710. The Rain Parade – Emergency Third Rail Power Trip

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

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

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

708. Ghostface Killah – Ironman

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

707.  Lloyd Cole – Easy Pieces

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

706. Fela Kuti – Coffin For Head Of State

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

705. The MC5 – Kick Out the Jams

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

704. The Nig-Heist Album

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

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

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

702. Steve Nieve – Playboy

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

701. Parliament – Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome

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

700. Dumptruck – D Is for Dumptruck

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

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

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time

The 1000 Best Albums of All Time was a spinoff of our 666 Best Songs list. It was a daily feature here for over a year, but it stalled out at #456 and probably won’t be continued beyond there. Many of the links here are dead. To keep them up to date requires more time and energy than we have. Sorry. Why did we even bother doing this at all?

For people who like to download music; for people who troll junk shops and used vinyl stores in search of buried treasure; for anyone who’s on the prowl for good songs and artists who’ve gone unnoticed; for anyone who ever bookmarked this blog and visited every day. Because our 666 Best Songs list was such a hit, we stuck with the same guiding principles: A) to focus on albums that may be undeservedly obscure, underrated or forgotten, B) to give props to our hometown, NYC, and, C) to be counterintuitive.

These albums are listed in completely random order, since trying to figure out which of these classics rates higher – Never Mind the Bollocks? Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back? – is a colossal waste of time. And unlike our 666 Best Songs, we did this one by the seat of our pants, a day at a time. We also tried hard to avoid replicating either the Rolling Stone 500 best albums list, or the “1001 albums to hear before you die” list, both of which are at Steve Parker’s excellent music list blog.

It’s also worth considering that recorded music has only been available on a mass scale to a western audience for about a century – and for about half that time in the third world. If you consider the entirety of human history, virtually all great musicians, songwriters and composers never had the opportunity to record since they didn’t have the technology. Also keep in mind that even during the last century, the great bands and musicians who never made an album vastly outnumber those who did – and those numbers will only increase as the digital divide between rich and poor grows wider and wider. So if you don’t see your favorite artist here, that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t any good: it might just be that a single, classic album of their work that stands up alongside everything else on this list simply was never made, for reasons most likely beyond their control.

This was also an attempt not to get cute. For example, you won’t see any mixtapes we received (or made) as birthday presents, nor any prized bootlegs that we and we alone know exist because we made them and we’ve been hoarding them. Remember, this list is about fun – there have been so many albums issued over the last century that no individual or organization, no matter how far-flung, could ever be aware of more than a tiny fraction of them. You could create your own list without including a single album on this one and it might be just as good. This is just one more opportunity for us to get the word out about some of the great music out there that you’ll never hear about in the corporate media or from their imitators at the indie blogs.

This page begins with the obvious choices: consider this our bona fides, our stake to some credibility. Torrents for everything on this page are easy to find: just search “album title” + “torrent,” “rapidshare” or “mediafire” and you’ll find what you’re looking for. If our commentary anywhere on this list leads you to believe that there are no torrents available – or if you find a dead link, which is bound to happen as time passes – you should look around anyway if you want the album: people are posting new files all the time. Captain Crawl is a good place to start.

Albums #800-899 continue here.

Albums #700-799 continue here.

Albums #600-699 continue here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

Albums #400-499 continue here.

1000. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper

999. Love – Forever Changes

998. Curtis Mayfield – Greatest Hits (Rhino)

997. The Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks

996. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers

995. Ray Brown, John Clayton and Christian McBride – SuperBass 2

994. The Beatles – Yesterday and Today

993. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

992. Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks

991. Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers. Vol. 1

990. Elvis Presley – Elvis’ Fifty Golden Records

991. The Clash – London Calling

990. Hank Williams – Hank Williams’ 40 Greatest Hits

989. Bob Marley – Exodus

988. Bob Marley – Uprising

987. Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey

986. Toots & the Maytals – Funky Kingston

985. James Brown – Greatest Hits

984. Johnny Cash – Live at San Quentin

983. Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

982. Dave Brubeck – Greatest Hits

981. Patsy Cline – Greatest Hits

980. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

979. Pink Floyd – Animals

978. Pink Floyd – The Wall

977. Bill Monroe – Greatest Hits

976. Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

975. NWA – Straight Outta Compton

974. Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded

973. The Notorious B.I.G. – Life After Death

972. Black Sabbath – Paranoid

971. Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True

970. Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model

969. Elvis Costello – Armed Forces

968. Elvis Costello – Get Happy

967. Elvis Costello – Taking Liberties

966. Charles Mingus – Tonight at Noon

965. Charles Mingus – Epitaph – Gunther Schuller, Conductor

964. John Coltrane – Giant Steps

963. David Bowie – Scary Monsters

962. Wilson Pickett – Greatest Hits

960. The Supremes – 20 Greatest Hits

959. B.B. King – Live at Cook County Jail

958. Muddy Waters – Folk Singer

957. Midnight Oil – Diesel & Dust

956. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run

955. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska

954. Jimmie Rodgers – The Singing Brakeman

953. The Harder They Come – Original Soundtrack

952. Grateful Dead – American Beauty

951. Lee Scratch Perry – Super Ape

950. Nick Drake – Pink Moon

949. The Doors – first album

948. Iggy Pop – Lust for Life

947. The Skatalites – Greatest Hits

946. Rachmaninoff – Symphony #2 – Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Yevgeny Svetlanov

945. Rachmaninoff – Second Piano Concerto – Oslo Symphony Orchestra/Kjell Baekkelund

944. Mendelssohn – The Complete Organ Sonatas – John Scott

943. Dvorak – New World Symphony – NY Philharmonic/Arturo Toscanini

942. Bach’s Greatest Hits – E. Power Biggs

941. The Go-Go’s – Beauty & the Beat

940. Joy Division – Closer

939. Cypress Hill – first album

938. Joni Mitchell – Mingus

937. The Boomtown Rats – The Fine Art of Surfacing

936. X – More Fun in the New World

935. Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland

934. Billie Holiday – Best of (Columbia 3-album set)

933. Lennie Tristano – The New Tristano

932. Leonard Cohen – The Future

931. Redman – Dare Iz a Darkside

930. EPMD – Business As Usual

929. Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot out the Lights

928. Bill Frisell – History/Mystery

927. Elmore James – Dust My Broom

928. John Lennon – Plastic Ono Band

927. REM – Reckoning

926. Twin Peaks – Original Soundtrack

925. Roxy Music – Avalon

924. The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground & Nico

923. Public Image Ltd. – Second Edition

922. Jethro Tull – Aqualung

921. The Byrds Play Dylan

920. The Buzzcocks – Singles Going Steady

919. The New York Dolls – first album

918. The Specials – first album

917. This Is Spinal Tap – Original Soundtrack

916. Neko Case – Blacklisted

915. Morphine – The Night

914. Al Green – Greatest Hits

913. Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

We should have included this amongst the obvious choices to begin with – this is a real iconic one. Originally recorded for RCA in 1978, the band and label had a falling out, the band finally forced to delay releasing it for a year until they (with some help from future Factory Records impresario Tony Wilson) could afford to buy back their master tapes. It was worth it. The prototypical goth band mix it up here: the majestic anthem New Dawn Fades, the fiery dirge Day of the Lords, the skittish punk fury of Interzone and the manic depressive stomp of Shadowplay mingle amongst eerie minimalist sketches like Candidate, Wilderness and Insight. The 2007 cd reissue includes a bonus cd with a surprisingly good quality recording of the famous Russell Club concert from July of 1979 featuring especially choice live takes of Dead Souls and Shadowplay. There are several torrents out there for this one; vinyl copies, on the other hand, tend to be expensive, especially on the Factory label.

912. The Mofos – Supercharged on Alcohol

Guitarist Gary Siperko (now with the Whiskey Daredevils) fronted this snarling, amphetamine noir surf band circa 2002. Their lone cd is simply one of the most exhilarating albums ever made, a blend of reverb-drenched horror surf, noir soundtrack and Link Wray-style stomps. Siperko is a master of vicious, macabre chromatic surf guitar, all reverb-drenched intensity. The textures here are to die for – layers and layers and layers of distortion and twang and blazing fury – and the tunes are worthy of Big Lazy or Friends of Dean Martinez. Adrenaline usually gets the upper hand here, as on the aptly titled Satan A-Go-Go or the surprisingly poignant, funereal Drag City. The offhandedly titled Dune Buggy War at Pismo Beach is a masterpiece of wild guitar fury; there’s also a punk spaghetti western number, a punk flamenco song and the vicious, chromatically-charged Fuck Art, Let’s Make Money. No song has ever been more ironically titled. And 2 Minutes to Live is one of the few songs we blinked on when we did our Best 666 songs of All Time list – it’s a virtual line of cocaine, one that won’t kill you. These guys probably never made a dime from this but their brilliance will last forever. The album is still available at cdbaby.

911. Sylvia Rexach – 20 Canciones Inolvidables

Sylvia Rexach was sort of the Puerto Rican Edith Piaf, a doomed bolero songwriter who drank herself to death at 39 in 1961. The sadness in her voice is visceral: fifty years later, she still has a cult following among latin music fans. Much of what’s here is just voice and acoustic guitar (she was a fluent player, also adept at piano and saxophone) with hits from the fifties including Alma Adentro (Soul Inside), Di Corazon (Tell Me, Sweetheart), Olas y Arenas (Waves and Sand) and Nave Sin Rumbo (Rudderless Ship). Unlike Piaf, Rexach’s lyrics (she was also a highly regarded poet) employ simple, metaphorically charged imagery; the resignation in her vocals can be chilling. She partied hard, and it doesn’t seem that anyone was particularly surprised that she died so young. Original copies of her singles (she released many, including her biggest early hits, Alma Adentro and Di Corazon, before any of them were put on album) are collectors items. This collection has some filler (a couple of pointless instrumental versions), and obviously the sonics don’t come close to the warmth of the original vinyl. But all that stuff has been out of print for decades, at least stateside. Here’s a random torrent.

910. Jenifer Jackson – The Outskirts of a Giant Town

Quietly and methodically, Austin songwriter Jenifer Jackson has built an eclectic and pantheonic catalog of songs. She started out as a teenager in Boston playing loud guitar rock, moved to New York and released the classic 1999 album Slowly Bright, a masterpiece of bossa nova tinged, Beatlesque psychedelia. Birds, in 2001 followed, stark and Americana-inflected, followed by Together in Time, a collaboration with her jazz singer father; a prized limited edition album of Brazilian and latin covers; the psychedelic pop of 2004′s So High, and then her greatest one so far, The Outskirts of a Giant Town (reviewed here in 2007). Jackson’s gentle yet worldly, wounded voice, her gemlike lyrics and an even broader mix of styles take centerstage here: the wrenching Beatlesque ballad Saturday, the jaunty tropicalia of Suddenly Unexpectedly, the Philly-style soul of I Want to Start Something, the bitter noir Americana of Dreamland and the shapeshifting garage rock of For You. And from the look of  the material she’s been working up live over the past year, the follow-up to this one promises to be every bit as diverse and enchanting.

909. Nina Nastasia – The Blackened Air

This album was recorded before 9/11, but released shortly thereafter, it made a potent soundtrack for a city, and an era, reeling from the impact and braced for the worst. Conventional wisdom is that Nastasia’s classic album is her 2000 debut, Dogs, and while its songs are wrenchingly vivid, this one’s the counterintuitive choice. Nastasia’s lyrics on Dogs were like a Weegee lens, sardonic portraits of dissolution, disillusion and sometimes despair, perfectly suited to her matter-of-factly plaintive, sometimes biting vocals. Here they tend to observe from a few hundred feet, often achieving a towering angst equal to Pink Floyd or the other great art-rockers. Backed by a brilliant band including Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard on guitar, Dylan Willemsa on viola, Stephen Day on cello, Joshua Carlebach on accordion and Jay Bellerose on drums, Nastasia alternates between starkly bucolic minimalism, eerie miniatures and hypnotic pitchblende atmospherics. She’s never made a bad record: her other albums Run to Ruin and You Follow Me (a 2007 collaboration with Jim White of the Dirty Three) are closer to the vibe of Dogs and very much worth getting to know – ideally with the lights out.

908. Ween – 12 Golden Country Greats

Making fun of the excesses of country music is even more popular than heavy metal spoofs (we’re waiting for The Rough Guide to Country Music Parody). But nobody’s ever done it funnier than Ween. Their 1996 masterpiece features Gene and Dean backed by a hall of fame cast of 1960s/70s country sidemen : Hargus “Pig” Robbins on piano, Charlie McCoy on a bunch of instruments and even the venerable Jordanaires when necessary, on ten period-perfect C&W songs (the album title is a joke). The lyrics range from sophomoric (Japanese Cowboy) to sick (the gay-baiting, faux-countrypolitan Mr. Richard Smoker: “You’re a chicken choker”) to the sad tale of Fluffy, the badly toilet-trained dog, to arguably the most hilarious kiss-off-song ever written, Piss Up a Rope. Here’s a random torrent.

907. The Essential Skeeter Davis

A popular country singer whose cult audience lives on six years after her death, Skeeter Davis first hit the country charts in 1953 as one of the (unrelated) Davis Sisters with I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know. Years ahead of her time, Davis wrote her own material and grew from chirpy, starstruck Nashville ingenue into the prototypical David Lynch girl, best exemplified on the haunting 1964 noir pop smash It’s the End of the World. Nuance was everything for her: even on her most upbeat songs, there’s a restraint, a frequently wounded resignation and a style that’s every bit as sophisticated as Patsy Cline. As with virtually all the country artists from that era, her many albums are riddled with both gems and duds (for one, the label had to get the album out there quick to ride the success of the hit single) – this one, a 1996 compilation, is a particularly well-chosen collection including both I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know and It’s the End of the World along with the proto-Amy Allison The One You Slip Around With, the bouncy Gonna Get Along Without You Now, the lushly noir-tinged Optimistic, and Mine Is a Lonely Life. Here’s a random download – it’s also streaming at the link above if you want to check it out first (keep your finger on the mute button for the annoying commercials after every three songs).

906. Fairport Convention – What We Did on Our Holidays

This was a tough call: the best of the Britfolk bands, Richard Thompson’s first group, had a great run from the late 60s through the early 70s, with one great album after another. This one, their second, from 1969, was Sandy Denny’s debut recording (she’d previously done an wonderful chamber-pop album with the Strawbs that only saw a release in the 90s). We’ve decided to give it top billing over the band’s wonderfully jangly, psychedelic 1968 debut (with Judy Dyble handling the majority of the vocals) and their most expansive early album, Unhalfbricking: even though that one’s got Who Knows Where the Time Goes, it’s also got three C-list Dylan covers. This one is practically perfect top to bottom: bassist Tyger Hutchings’ scorching Mr. Lacey; the acoustic Saxon gothic of The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place and an equally severe if rousing version of the traditional Nottamun Town; the gorgeously expressive Sandy Denny vocal showcase of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine, and Thompson’s most haunting, death-obsessed early anthem, Meet on the Ledge. Here’s a random torrent.

905. Los Destellos – Constelacion

In putting this list together, we went searching for the best available albums from a number of artists. Initially, a greatest-hits compilation for Los Destellos – the Peruvian psychedelic surf rock pioneers who basically invented the chicha genre – was the best we could find. But Secret Stash Records has reissued the band’s classic 1971 Constelacion album, available for the first time outside the band’s native country – on limited edition purple vinyl! Bandleader Enrique Delgado’s guitar shoots off trails of sparks over the bouncy cumbia beat on classics like A Patricia (which first reached a mainstream Anglophone audience on Barbes Records’ first Roots of Chicha compilation); Senorita, like the Ventures’ Walk Don’t Run done Peruvian style; the slinky title track; the wah-wah/fuzztone stoner suite Honsta La Yerbita; and the moodily scurrying Pasion Oriental. There’s also a rare vocal number, Otro Ano; La Cancion de Lily, which sounds like Buck Owens stoned on Peruvian weed; the trippy flamenco-flavored Pachanga Espanola; the gorgeously pensive, bossa-flavored Azuquita; the dueling guitars of La Aranita; and the hilarious El Corneta, a mockery of a silly trumpet tune. A must-hear for surf music fans (Los Destellos are in Peru what the Ventures are in the US) and for anyone who likes psychedelic guitar music with an unexpected sense of humor.

904. The Bonzo Dog Band – The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse

Verrrrrry British stoner humor from 1968. This album gets the nod over the others in the Bonzos’ frequently hilarious catalog, as it’s more song-oriented than skit-oriented – which ironically means that there are more jokes here. They’re also especially biting, even for these guys, right down to the album title (“granny’s greenhouse” is 60s-era British slang for “outhouse”). It doesn’t have anything as hysterically funny as The Intro and the Outro (that one’s on their first album, Gorilla, from 1967), but it’s solid all the way through. It’s also their hardest-rocking album: Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes and the rest of the crew are quick to lampoon anything and everything, especially 60s psychedelic rock excess, with the distorto organ rocker We Are Normal (which nicks an Arthur Lee trope), Beautiful Zelda and 11 Mustachioed Daughters. The snide Can Blue Men Sing the Whites? throws a jab in the direction of Cream; Rockaliser Baby mixes woozy, smoky one-liners into what sounds like a parody of the Move. The satire turns absolutely caustic on Trouser Press, a spoof of dance-craze songs introduced by a creepy Misterogers-type emcee. The jokes run the gamut from completely over-the-top – Stanshall mixing a drink and then slurping it on the intro to the phony ragtime ballad Hello Mabel – to clever and deadpan, best exemplified by the status-grubbing neighbors of My Pink Half of the Drainpipe. Pretty much everything the Bonzos did is worth owning; here’s a random torrent.

903. Ernest Ranglin – Wranglin’

The preeminent Jamaican guitarist, Ernest Ranglin had led probably hundreds if not thousands of calypso and ska sessions by the time he recorded this album, only the second where he’d been credited as a bandleader. The original 1964 Island Records lp did not sell well and has been out of print for decades, but is happily still available as a bootleg, if a somewhat dodgy sounding one. Ranglin’s career began almost fifty years ago, during the age of calypso yard sessions (and the birth of what would become hip-hop twenty-five years later). He was probably in the studio, maybe playing, when Lloyd Knibb of the Skatalites invented the one-drop, which would transform ska into rocksteady and then into reggae. Ranglin served as Jimmy Cliff’s musical director throughout his 70s heyday, then mined a frequently transcendent reggae-jazz collaboration with pianist Monty Alexander in the 80s and 90s. Now almost eighty, he retains the vigor and vitality of a player fifty years younger. This album shows how developed his jazzy, Les Paul-influenced style had become by the early sixties, replete with whispery, lightning-fast filigrees that switch in a split-second into frenetic tremolo chords and then back again. Here he sticks with a straight-up 4/4 beat, taking British bassist Malcolm Cecil and drummer Alan Ganley into the Caribbean sun for a characteristically warm, expansive jaunt through a mix of originals and old mento standards like Linstead Market and Angelina. You can download it here.

902. Dickie Goodman – Greatest Fables

Dickie Goodman invented sampling. Along with his partner Bill Buchanan, Goodman enjoyed a string of comedy hits in the mid-1950s that worked a bizarrely funny call-and-response between an announcer (usually the fictitious, bewildered reporter “John Cameron Cameron”) and snippets of the pop hits of the day, the first and most famous of these being The Flying Saucer, a War of the Worlds parody. In shades of what the RIAA would do to unsuspecting downloaders fifty years later, the recording industry sued them for copyright infringement. Buchanan and Goodman responded that their creations were parodies and therefore exempt from prosection – and won the case. And responded with the even funnier Buchanan and Goodman On Trial. Goodman resurfaced, solo, in the 70s with the topical Energy Crisis, the blaxploitation soundtrack parody Superfly Meets Shaft and then his only platinum single, Mr. Jaws, in 1975.

Goodman: “And what did you say when the shark touched you?

Olivia Newton-John: “Please, mister, please.”

And so on. This 1998 compilation has all the Buchanan and Goodman hits, including The Touchables (a spoof of late 50s tv detective shows) along with all of his solo singles including the very funny King Kong, from 1978, and an updated version of Flying Saucer by Goodman’s son Jon, utilizing more contemporary song samples. Dickie Goodman committed suicide in 1989. There are several torrents for this out there: here’s a random one.

901. The Lounge Lizards’ first album

Corrosive punk jazz from 1981. Bracingly assaultive for a few minutes, viscerally painful to listen to for much longer, especially at high volume, it’s the high moment in the history of the brief No Wave movement in New York. Other than a more-or-less steady beat and bassist Steve Piccolo walking a new scale with every measure, loud and growling, the tracks here don’t have much structure. Alto saxophonist John Lurie, his brother Evan on keys and the actually quite talented Anton Fier on drums blast away, with former DNA guitarist Arto Lindsay adding an ominous undercurrent of distorted, atonal chicken-scratch skronk. Other than the originals, there’s a warped version of Harlem Nocturne and even less recognizable ones of a couple of Monk tunes. Easy listening? Hardly, but great fun for fans of angry, noisy music. One suspects that the Luries were more talented than they let on here, especially considering how diversely melodic later incarnations of the Lizards would be. Many of their other albums are worth owning: the ROIR collection of live takes from 1979 through 1981 has a similar gritty savagery; their Live in Tokyo album, from 1986 mines a vastly more suave, somewhat noir vibe, albeit with an almost completely different cast of players. Out of print for years, the debut album is extremely hard to find – most recently, there was a torrent for several dozen Tzadik albums that doesn’t seem to be working anymore. If you find one let us know!

900. Laika & the Cosmonauts – Laika Sex Machine Live

Incredibly eclectic surf and instrumental rock from Finland, 1999. These guys did it all: pounding Dick Dale chromatic stomps, spacy sci-fi themes, rapidfire chase scenes, twangy bucolic vignettes and dozens of catchy, two-and-a-half minute hits that are every bit as iconic in Europe as the Ventures are here. Laika & the Cosmonauts’ sound frequently uses keyboards as well as guitars, often in the same song, further diversifying their textures. This is a greatest-hits album of sorts recorded before ecstatic crowds in Germany and Finland: happily, we don’t have to suffer through any of their applause until the very end. As with so many of the great surf bands to come out of the Nordic regions, the band uses a lot of moody minor-key and chromatic passages, sometimes bordering on the macabre. Several others are satirical and quite funny. This collection includes the late 60s psychedelia of The Hypno-Wheel; the utterly gorgeous Turquoise; Disconnected, a surfy spoof of disco music, the bitter chromatics of Sycophant and Boris the Conductor (a bombastic sendup of Boris Yeltsin) as well as the themes from the Avengers, Get Carter and a pastiche of the Psycho and Vertigo themes. 26 songs in all, a terrific representation of one of the world’s great instrumental bands, one that literally never made a bad album. Their surprisingly traditional sounding first album, C’Mon Do the Laika and the psychedelically-tinged tour de force Absurdistan are especially worth seeking out. Be careful looking for torrents for this one: because of the title, attack sites disguised as porn have it listed, as do several dubious-looking sites located in Russia (where surf music is as huge as it is in the US).

Albums #800-899 continue here.

Albums #700-799 continue here.

Albums #600-699 continue here.

Albums #500-599 continue here.

Albums #400-499 continue here.

July 30, 2010 Posted by | blues music, classical music, country music, funk music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rap music, reggae music, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments