Saturday, August 28, 2010

Albums: I like 'em!

There used to be a time when buying an album meant having a collection of songs from a band that defined where they were in the careers or a certain point in the evolution of music. The concept of the "album" has largely been lost on most mainstream artists these days. The emergence of the .mp3 format and the internet have destroyed what it means to make a complete album. Most "artists" now compile songs on a CD hoping that 2 or 3 of those songs are good enough to chart as singles and sell a bunch on iTunes or some other website that sells songs individually. Now, don't get me wrong.....that doesn't make the music itself bad. Nor is there anything inherently wrong with wanting to sell songs. But, it has shoved aside, what I feel to be a very important part of listening to music. Putting an album on and enjoying the entire thing because it was meant to be listened to as a whole.

I won't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are some bands that seem to still work hard on putting together a real collection of songs that flow and lead into one another, fit a common theme, or define a sound an artist/band is working on. Bands/artists (that are currently working) like this include, but certainly are not limited to Steve Earle, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Lucinda Williams, Metallica, Beck, Alejandro Escoveda, Counting Crows, Joe Henry, John Mellencamp, and REM.. Myself, I really do like song collections from various artists, but the album is where my heart lies. I was looking over some Top Albums Of All-Time lists and Rolling Stone included "Greatest Hits" compilations, which in my  opinion are not albums. They are collections of songs from different times in an artists career. You only have to make it to #21 before Rolling Stone had a "best of" collection (Chuck Berry, The Great Twenty Eight) nestled in ahead of such landmark albums as "Rumors"- Fleetwood Mac, "Hotel California"- The Eagles, and "Songs In The Key Of Life"- Stevie Wonder. What a travesty. By that standard, the #1 collection that was released by Apple some time ago that featured only the songs by the Beatles that reached the top, would be the greatest album EVER. But it's NOT an album. Rolling Stone has aided in watering down what an album is.

I like many different kinds of music. So much so, that I really don't consider genres unless I pretty well have to in conversation. For my money, a good Son Volt album (Trace) is no less country than a Waylon Jennings record (Honky Tonk Heroes). Nor is it any more rock n roll. We get hung up on genre and many times that keeps us away from hearing music we would probably enjoy. When I hear someone say "I don't like country music" and then they say they like Johnny Cash, it leads me to believe that the person probably is not going to have the pleasure of enjoying artists like Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, Slaid Cleaves, or Willie Nelson, simply because they are considered to be country or I used to tell people I didn't like "metal", but that really wasn't entirely true, because I (at different times and moods) can enjoy Quiet Riot, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard, and others. So, if I defined all those bands as metal and decided I wouldn't listen to metal, then I would miss out on some stuff I like.

Which brings me to the very point of this blog entry; My Favorite Albums! No rhyme or reason. No real order. Just a list of albums that, regardless of what genre someone may want to put them in, really do it for me as a whole and not just as small pieces. I really hope if any of these sound appealing that maybe one of the three people that read this blog will try out an album or two off my list. Put 'em on the iPod, lay back on the couch, put on  headphones and lose yourself in the sounds and songwriting. It's very relaxing to zone out for about 45 minutes or so a couple of times a week.

The Replacements "Pleased To Meet Me"-- This is a tweener album for The Replacements. They were starting to move away from punk/underground with the previous two albums (Let It Be & Tim) and moving towards pop accessibility. The music is fairly raw for its' time, but preceded the "grunge/alternative" movement by a few years. Bands such as Green Day, Gin Blossoms, Nirvana, and Goo Goo Dolls cite The Replacements as having an influence on their sound. Thanks to Brian M, this may be my favorite album, by my favorite band.  He let me borrow this cassette just before I left for college. I gave it back to him.....10 years later.

 The Beastie Boys "Paul's Boutique"--Simply one of the best hip hop albums ever by any decent standard. Within two years of its completion, it was deemed as a record that could not be made again. The Dust Brothers and The Beasties sampled no less than 105 songs on this album and layered them one on top of the other for a very distinct throw back sound to the 70's with a very late 80's rap style (utilized by greats like Run DMC and LL Cool J). If you think the Beastie Boys were all about fighting for ones right to party, you'd be wrong. Great depth of sound make this a great record, and there is an upgrade lyrically from the alcohol fueled "Licensed To Ill".  While most people were "dissing" this album at the time of release, it's now regarded as a masterpiece.

Jimmy Buffett "A-1-A"-- While I have plenty of negative things to say about Buffett's music post 1980, the decade of the 70's were stellar for him. Before he found mainstream success, Buffett didn't cater to Parrot Heads or any of that nonsense. He wrote great songs about life and how satisfying, surreal, and fun it can be. He gets points for his music because as far as I know, he's the only famous person ever to have his ass beat by the real life Buford Pusser (see Walking Tall). This is a very enjoyable listen. Especially good for deck sitting.

The Beatles "Rubber Soul"-- I probably don't need to say much of anything about this. From this album on, nobody would be able to say that the Beatles were a bubble gum band, ever again. "In My Life" may be the best song I've ever heard. The topics of the songs had evolved from holding hands and writing letters to attacking politics, and lamenting change. George Harrison really came alive on this album and showed himself to be more than capable of making the McCartney and Lennon duo to push themselves a little harder.

The Jayhawks "The Sound Of Lies"-- Top quality album. As one song ends, it seems to breed into another song that is superior than the last. It has a great flow and for anyone who likes The Byrds, Beatles, or Fleetwood Mac, you would probably dig this great record. "Bottomless Cup" and "16 Down" are great songs that deserved more people to hear them. This band has yet to make what I'd say is a disappointing album. If I had to say that one album out of this five was a flowing, wholly satisfying and immersive record, I'd have to say this one is.

Here are a few honorable mentions that I will discuss on another blog, as this entry is getting quite lengthy. So, if you actually liked this, look for me to do a follow up pretty soon!

Led Zeppelin "Houses Of The Holy"
The Eagles "The Long Run"
Michael Jackson "Thriller"
Wilco "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"
Pink Floyd "Dark Side Of The Moon"

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