In their current issue, Spin Magazine breaks down the 100 Greatest Albums between 1985 and 2005.
Since it was done by Spin, the focus of the list is alternative and rap music. This list prompted me to come up with my own countdown. The 3 elements which factored in making up my list were originality, influence, and most importantly, music that I could not personally keep off the list. Remember these rankings reflect Scott Long choices.
1. Radiohead- The Bends (1995)
Despite featuring Beavis’ favorite song, Creep, Radiohead’s rookie offering, “Pablo Honey” didn’t really give anyone an idea of the two masterpieces that would follow. “The Bends” is one seamless piece of music, marrying U2 dramatics, with Beatlesque harmonies. Actually, this album reminds me some of Who’s Next, with great rock songs, High and Dry and Just, plus delicate ballads like Fake Plastic Trees and Street Spirit. I can understand anyone choosing “OK Computer” over “The Bends”, but how SPIN kept this masterpiece off of their entire list is by far their biggest omission.
2. Prince- Sign ‘o’ the Times (1987)
The best album of his career, Sign is a diverse collection of styles that no one else on this planet could have done. It’s hard to name a better pop song, with a dynamic social message than the title track. The album as a whole melds funk and psychedelica, into a classic.
3. U2- Achtung Baby (1991)
After taking a lot of shots for being too pretentious on the underrated “Rattle and Hum”, U2 made the most drastic stylistic turn that any major band has ever attempted and guess what, it’s flawless. From the edgy first single, “The Fly” to the bands greatest ballad “One”, Achtung was a statement that U2 was still the best band in the world. (Favorite song: Until the End of the World.)
4. REM- Automatic for the People (1992)
When they begin the begin, Michael Stipe used his voice like another instrument, so it was a question if the band was capable of writing quality lyrics. This is the album where they put it all together. “Man on the Moon” is a brilliant look at people who live outside the mainstream, while “Everybody Hurts” and “Nightswimming” are the two best ballads of their career. America’s greatest band of the past 20 years.
5. Nine Inch Nails- The Downward Spiral (1994)
Darkness on the edge, in the middle, and all over the town. Trent Rexnor, who works like an industrial Prince, putting all the parts together in his studio, followed up his debut, “Pretty Hate Machine”, with a concept album, which showed how anger could be filled with beauty and emotion. It’s the best industrial album of all-time and it’s difficult to see how it could be topped.
6. Pixies- Doolittle (1989)
Right from the start, with “Debaser”, the Pixies shatter your eardrums with melodious distortion. While Nirvana made popular the quiet/loud dynamic, even Cobain would have admitted that the Pixies were a large influence on his band. Songs like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” sound better today than they did when they originally came out.
7. Nirvana- In Utero (1991) 8. Nirvana- Nevermind (1993)
Hard for me to rate one over the other, as “In Utero” sounds fresher, but “Nevermind” truly changed the world of music, as it opened radio ears to the best 3 year period over the airwaves in my lifetime. The little mentioned, but key aspect of “Nevermind” was the incredible wall of sound that producer Butch Vig added to the band’s alternative hooks. As a follow-up to this ear candy, the band hired producer Steve Albini (Pixies) to add to the darker music of “In Utero” and as usual, Albini shredded the sound making it a different, but completely worthy follow-up to “Nevermind”.
9. Radiohead- OK Computer (1997)
Rated Number 1 on SPIN Magazine’s list, “OK Computer” began the band’s direction towards electronic sound, as this concept album discusses how computers have dehumanized us. While the music is much different than “The Bends”, both are most fully realized when listened to from beginning to end. On both this one and “The Downward Spiral”, the influence of Pink Floyd is apparent.
10. Hole- Live Through This (1994)
Has one man had a better run of creating great music than what Kurt Cobain did between 1991-1994? While I’m confident that Cobain wrote most of the music on “Live Through This”, Courtney Love deserves a lot of credit for the lyrics and the vocals she brings to this classic. On many levels, this album surpasses even Nirvana, as Love throws herself into her material, which is as emotional and as honest as anything I’ve ever heard.
11. U2- Joshua Tree (1987)
SPIN Magazine’s second major omission, this is the album that put U2 on the list of great rock and roll bands, as “Joshua Tree” is alternative classic rock. The first three songs were the hits, but it’s the next 6 that follow them, which make it so great. “Bullet the Blue Sky”, “In God’s Country”, “Trip Through Your Wires”, and “One Tree Hill” are songs that most bands would dream of writing, but were not even singles for U2.
12. Replacements- Tim (1985)
No album sounds more like college radio than “Tim”, as Paul Westerberg even tipped his hat to the small stations on “Left of the Dial”. While Prince was at his peak, producing epics in the Twin Cities, the Replacements were making very different, but just as compelling music in the same part of the country. On “Tim”, Westerberg merged punk ethos, with classic rock touches, which made for a gem which both punk and alt. country bands have echoed since then.
13. George Michael- Faith (1987)
In case you might have forgotten, between the pop star Wham days and the bathroom blowjobs of more recent times, Michael made some great music. This is the best pop album on the list. “I Want Your Sex” was a song Prince would have released as a single, while the ballads have a jazzy feel that would fit beautifully on a Diane Krall release. I know I will get slagged for including it here, but it belongs.
14. Public Enemy- Fear of a Black Planet (1990)
While their first 2 releases set the table, it’s “Fear of a Black Planet” which shows PE at their best. “Welcome to the Terrordome” and “Fight the Power” spit out their anger, with an intelligence that fit a band influenced by Malcom X. The Bomb Squad is at its peak, while Chuck D. raps with an urgency not heard before or since. It also features Flavor Flav’s greatest moment, 911 is a Joke.
15. Rage Against the Machine (1992)
Influenced greatly by Public Enemy, Rage came out of the shoot with a chip on it’s shoulder, but with the added bonus of Tom Morello’s guitar pyrotechnics, which were the most unique since Eddie Van Halen. Every song is a bombtrack, as “Freedom” has a scream that Roger Daltrey would be proud of.
16. Pavement- Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain (1994)
While “Slanted and Enchanted” is the one that sits on most of the lists, I’ve never been able to get past the lo-fi recording. On their follow-up, they polished the songs just enough to make for their most accessible and at the same time, best Pavement release. Amazingly for a band that main influences are the Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth, the song “Cut Your Hair” received radio and MTV airplay.
17. Pixies- Surfer Rosa (1988)
Sure the distorted glory of the twin guitar attack of Joey Santiago and Black Francis are fantastic, but my favorite part of the Pixies is the beautiful harmonies that Francis and Kim Deal blend. “Where is My Mind” was the first song I ever heard by the band and it’s still my favorite. “Broken Face” and “Bone Machine” are harder edged tunes, but feature the same vocal blend.
18. The White Stripes- Elephant (2003)
The best blues-rock album since Led Zeppelin, Jack and Meg White are a bombastic wonder slamming the skins and ripping guitar chords, which sound new and old at the same time. Just when you think you have them figured out, the Stripes turn Bacharach on his head, with “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” or “It’s True that We Love Each Other”, which gives a preview of what Jack White would do producing Loretta Lynn. While the garage rock revival has brought some good bands to the forefront, it’s the White Stripes which truly standout.
19. Green Day- American Idiot (2004)
The best concept album since OK Computer, this album just gets better with repeated listens. Part punk, part Beach Boys, part “Who Sells Out”, Green Day demonstrates that punk bands can evolve. Drummer Tre Cool is the dominant player, especially on “Jesus of Suburbia”.
20. Matthew Sweet- Girlfriend (1991)
From Beatle-like pop (Girlfriend, I’ve Been Waiting), alt. country (Winona, I Wanted to Tell You), and rock (Divine Intervention, Holy War), Matthew Sweet delivered a flawless performance. The twin guitar attack of Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd added a special edge to Sweet’s hooks. Sweet has a couple of other releases just outside the Top 100.
21. John Mellencamp- Scarecrow (1985)
22. Bruce Springsteen- Tunnel of Love (1987)
23. Elvis Costello- King of America (1986)
24. Lyle Lovett- Joshua Judges Ruth (1992)
25. Peter Gabriel- So (1986)
Up until 1985, he was Johnny Cougar, a creation by David Bowie’s former manager. He had just started to be more of John Mellencamp over the preceding 2 albums. (see Pink Houses) Then came the “Scarecrow”, making a large grab at Springsteen, Guthrie, and Dylan. This is the sound of middle of America.
“Tunnel of Love” is the most honest record a major artist has ever released about his personal life. Oh and by the way, the music is great, also. “Brilliant Disguise” is Springsteen’s best relationship song.
The best alt. country record I’ve ever heard wasn’t by Wilco, Son Volt, or Gram Parsons, it’s by a British bloke by the name of Declan McManus. “King of America” is the most underrated release of Elvis Costello’s career. Check out the lyrics of Brilliant Mistake.
How is it that country radio can’t get enough of Shania’s and Toby’s, but have no room for the magnificent music of Lyle Lovett. There are at least 4 of his CD’s I would put in my Top 200, but “Joshua Judges Ruth” is the peak. From spirituals like “Church” and “I’ve Been to Memphis”, which demonstrate the talents of his great band and wonderful backup singers, to ballads like “North Dakota”, this is a great place to discover Lovett. “And there is nothing so unwavering as a woman, when she’s already made up her mind”— (from She’s Already Made Up Her Mind)
Every once in awhile, a great artist produces something that even the masses can’t escape, which is what happened in 1986-87, with “So”. Known for his atmospheric music, Gabriel kicked off the album with 2 funky singles, “Sledgehammer” and “Big Time”. Add in 3 of the best ballads of the 80’s, “Red Rain”, “Don’t Give Up”, “In Your Eyes”, and you have a piece of work that is smart and sensuous. (Ask Lloyd Dobbler)
26. Wilco- Being There (1996)
27. Pearl Jam- Vs (1993)
28. Beck- Odelay (1996)
29. Moby- Play (1999)
30. PJ Harvey- Rid of Me (1993)
While “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” is the one always on the lists, it’s “Being There” which demonstrates Wilco at their best. Here is Jeff Tweedy exploring different musical genres, but always staying true to what he does best, the alt. country sound. Have you ever wondered if Alex Chilton and Johnny Cash made an album together, what it would sound like? Look no further.
The sophomore release by Pearl Jam is the best melding of their anthem rock style and their more artistic leanings. This and the follow-up, Vitalogy, pointed to the idea that Vedder would lead a band somewhere between The Who and REM. Unfortunately, like Radiohead, they have decided to step away from any commercial instincts, leaving U2 without competition for “Greatest Band in the World”.
“You know where it’s at—2 turntables and a microphone.” Beck appeared from another planet on the excellent “Mellow Gold”, but it’s on “Odelay” that he will be remembered most for. A sound collage, which brings about every musical style together and somehow takes the diverse mix and makes it blend into great songs.
On the subject of blended styles, “Play” is right there. Not a fan of Moby’s before “Play”, his use of blues recordings that Alan Lomax had collected during the first half of the 20th Century is brilliant, giving techno the soul it lacks.
Polly Jean Harvey is a modern blues singer, who with the great producer, Steve Albini at the controls, came together to great effect. “Rid of Me” is the sound of a woman in heat, one who is vulnerable, yet strong, passionately in control, but always on the edge of flying completely out of control.
31. Living Color- Time’s Up (1990)
32. Soundgarden- Superunknown (1994)
33. Everclear- Sparkle and Fade (1995)
34. Sugar- Copper Blue (1992)
35. The Red Hot Chili Peppers- Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
Although their self-titled debut was excellent, “Time’s Up” was even better, showing off their talents in many musical genres. Another influenced by Public Enemy, guitarist Vernon Reid is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Corey Glover’s singing was just as great, which makes one wonder why neither one of them has had much of musical career since this release. One to Download: “Love Rears It Ugly Head”
Somewhere in-between Metal and Grunge was Soundgarden. Led by Chris Cornell’s operatic vocals, “Superunknown” is the second of three top-notch albums they released.
At this point, Cornell’s fixation on the sun, the waves, and blackness still seemed fresh. Definitely don’t try to karaoke “The Day I Tried to Live”
Art Alexakis has been slammed for being Kurt Light, but while he’s not as good as Cobain, he should be given credit for making some great music, which this album best demonstrates. “Santa Monica” is one of the 10 best rock songs of this era, while “Heroin Girl” and “You Make Me Feel Like a Whore” show the direct way Everclear’s lyrics are.
I’ve tried and tried, but Husker Du just has never been something I’ve felt much passion for. Now, Bob Mould’s solo work and with Sugar are a whole different story, with “Copper Blue” being the best. To me the ideal way to enjoy Mould is with the slick production values that are present with Sugar and this is a pop album, with distorted sound. “Good Idea” is the best Frank Black song, not written by him.
While always a great live band, it took an ace producer like Rick Rubin to help bring their talents to the recording studio. “Suck My Kiss” and “Give It Away” are the 2 best funk rock songs of this era, while unexpectedly, 2 great ballads “Breaking the Girl” and “Under the Bridge” give the record a different feel than they had shown before.
36. Dire Straits- Brother in Arms (1985)
37. REM- Out of Time (1991)
38. REM- Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
39. Bruce Springsteen- The Rising (2002)
40. U2- All that You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)
Remember the days when a mature band could kick it up a notch and become superstars? Well, in the world of segmented music, those days are over, as modern marketing doesn’t allow for guys who look like Mark Knopfler to become sensations in the middle of their careers. “Brothers in Arms” capitalized on a great chorus sung by Sting, plus a video that brilliantly satirized what marketing was doing then on MTV and the channel ate it up. “Brothers in Arms” is a song Roger Water’s wishes he would have written. (Note: I HATE the song “Walk of Life”, but the rest of the album is great.)
“Out of Time” was the release that put REM on the map, when it came to international stardom. What a time period 1991-92 was, with “Losing My Religion” fighting it out on the charts with “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, “Alive”, and “One”. While none of them were radio hits, the last 5 songs on the CD are all magnificent.
Five years before this release, REM put out “Life’s Rich Pageant, which is a transitional record for the band, with Michael Stipe clearly singing the words, but I’ll be damned if I know what half of them mean. Whatever he was singing about, the result was some great sounding music, with “Begin the Begin”, their best rocker of the 80’s. Considering that Mellencamp producer, Don Gehman did the same on this record; it’s not surprising the record has a Scarecrow-like sound. “Superman” is a hidden track and Mike Mills’ top lead vocals with the band. “Fall on Me” has a gorgeous harmony and is one of their best.
After “Tunnel of Love”, Bruce Springsteen had done some spotty work. “The Rising” is an album which speaks to the events of 9/11 more clearly than any other musician has done and is a triumphant return for the Boss. The first recording he had done with the E Street Band in 17 years, it is the best the band had sounded since “The River”. Song after song are dramatic and filled with feeling that only U2 can match.
When I think of the TV concert for the victims of 9/11, it’s Springsteen and U2 that stand out above everyone else. While not on the scale of Springsteen’s comeback, “All that You Can’t Leave Behind” was a return to the dramatic rock U2 does best. “Beautiful Day” has the energy and power that few rock songs capture, while “In a Little While” and “Walk On” are gospel-tinged pleas, which hit all the right notes. While it was written more than a year before 9/11, “Peace on Earth” said a lot more about the current state of our world than any jingoistic Toby Keith or Daryl Worley song.
41. Run DMC- Raising Hell (1986)
42. Eminem- The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
43. Eric B and Rakim- Paid in Full (1987)
44. Beastie Boys- Ill Communication (1994)
45. Morphine- Cure for Pain (1993)
Until “Raising Hell”, rap played to just a segment of the population, but Run DMC changed that with their duet with Aerosmith on “Walk that Way”. The album is a collection of singles, which acts as a bridge between the old school and newer, more hardcore rap.
Eminem can be hard to like, but his talent shines through these obstacles, especially on “Marshall Mathers”. Funny, sophomoric, smart, vile, Slim Shady is a cartoon with a lot of substance. On the song “Stan”, he raps over a little known (at the time) singer, Dido and creates the best single of 2000.
Outside of Grandmaster Flash, the early days of rap had MC’s using party voices, like Kurtis Blow, Whodini, and the Sugarhill Gang. Rakim took it to a whole nutha’ level. It could be argued that “Paid in Full” is the most sampled, most influential rap album of all-time and I’ve still never heard a voice more commanding in the genre.
“Paul’s Boutique” is the trendy choice of critics, but I like “Ill Communication” best, as it’s jazzy music blends with great rapping (I’ve got more action than my man John Woo, and I’ve got mad hits like I was Rod Carew) combine for a more complete recording. Also points for the best video of all-time, (Sabotage) which was directed by the best in the biz, Spike Jonze.
Who says you need to have a guitar to be a grunge band. Led by a bass and a saxophone, “Cure for Pain” is a modern-day detective novel comes to life. Check out the song Thursday, if you need some proof. http://www.lyricsdepot.com/morphine/thursday.html
46. INXS- Kick (1987)
47. Ben Folds 5 (1995)
48. Rufus Wainwright- Poses (2002)
49. The Cure- Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me (1987)
50. Depeche Mode- Violator (1990)
INXS had put out some good songs on their first 4 LP’s, but with “Listen Like Thieves” (1985), the band made a statement that they were better than just being a part of the New Wave wave. “Kick” was even stronger, with every song laden with hooks. Michael Hutchence was one of the most versatile singers in rock history, as he proved with funk rock songs like “New Sensation” and “Wild Life”, while completely delivering on a great ballad like “Never Gonna Tear Us Apart”. One of the best groups of the era.
During a time when all alternative music seemed to be tinged, if not completely overwhelmed with grunge, Ben Folds debuted with an album that had the energy and attitude of the Seattle scene, but used a piano to rock the house. Somewhere between Joe Jackson and Elton John, Folds fit in sound, but his lyrics are often focused on what it’s like to not be part of the cool scene. “Alice Childress” points to the influence of Brian Wilson, which becomes more apparent in his solo work.
While it might not reach the peaks of Jeff Buckley’s work, “Poses” is a more complete record, as it is filled with gems that sound timeless. Rufus Wainwright has a very affected style of singing , but with the words and melodies he brings to “Poses”, it works in some magical Beatles meets Sondheim style. “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” manages to be funny and beautiful at the same time, while on most of the other tracks, there is a dreany quality to the music, which blends wonderfully with Wainwright’s voice.
Much like The Smiths and New Order, The Cure were a band that I thought made great singles, but I never felt they put together a top notch Long Player. “Kiss Me”, while still having some filler, has so many quality songs that you can get past the fluff. While Scritti Politti made the quintessential British alternative Prince album (Cupid and Psyche), the Cure added some of these Prince elements, while making an even better record than Scritti Politti.
Another great singles band is Depeche Mode, but on Violator the singles are so great, they make up for the weaker tracks. “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence” are 2 of the best dance tracks of the era. The remixes are worth downloading.
51. Smashing Pumpkins- Siamese Dream (1993)
52. Green Day- Dookie (1994)
53. Urge Overkill- Saturation (1993)
54. Frank Black (1993)
55. Offspring- Smash (1994)
“Siamese Dream” had a sound like modern rock Boston. “Today” is majestic, while “Cherub Rock” demands you crank it on your car stereo. “Disarm” is awful.
When “Dookie” came out, Billy Joe’s vocals demanded you listen to them, as this was the poppiest punk ever recorded. “Longview” and “Basket Case” hold up completely.
Urge Overkill had put out some great music on prior releases, but this is one case where having Albini and Vig produce was holding them back. Like Cheap Trick, Urge was a band, which needed clear pop crunch and on “Saturation” they found it. “Sister Havana” is one of the Top 10 alternative songs of the era, while the rest of the disc features singer Nash Kato’s unique vocals. Check out the follow-up “Exit the Dragon”, also.
When I first heard the Offspring, I acknowledged their talents, but couldn’t truly embrace their sellout tendencies. Give me Bad Religion, I would’ve told you. Well, as the years have gone by, I’m more and more of a fan, as “Smash” is the greatest high school, drive around in your bitchin’ Camaro, with your speakers blastin’ music of the past 20 years.
56. The Call- Reconciled (1986)
57. Live- Throwing Copper (1994)
58. Cake- Fashion Nugget (1996)
59. Crowded House- Temple of Low Men (1988)
60. Del Amitri- Change Everything (1992)
Much like the next Dylan or next Jordan, there have been a lot of the next U2’s. The Call and Live are the 2 best in this category. “Reconciled” is one anthem after another, with “Everywhere I Go” (with backup vocals by Peter Gabriel and Jim Kerr), I Still Believe, and “Oklahoma” the standouts. The Call’s lead singer “Micheal Been is an under appreciated musical talent. On ‘Throwing Copper”, the band Live made a huge step up from their debut. The next 2 releases by Live, “Secret Samadhi” and “The Distance to Here” are worth checking out, as well.
Cake is one of the most unique bands on this list, as they blend funk, rock, rap, and Latin horns, which create an unlikely sweet jam. “The Distance” is another on the Top 10 rock songs list of the era. While they put out other good albums, there is no filler on “Fashion Nugget”.
I would rate Crowded House and Del Amitri, the two most underrated bands on this list. Led by former Split Enz front man, Neil Finn, all 4 of their releases are of top quality. Their second, “Temple of the Low Men” is my fav., as Beatlesque harmonies are juxtaposed with some great dark songs. “Into Temptation” is a gorgeous ballad.
Del Amitri is similar to Crowded House in style and production, with “Twisted” and “Some Other Suckers Parade” just missing the Top 100. “Change Everything” is their best work, with some of the greatest dark love songs ever put on one album. Start with “Always the Last to Know” and “Be My Downfall”.
61. Chris Whitley- Living with the Law (1991)
62. Robbie Robertson (1987)
63. Steve Earle- El Corazon (1997)
64. John Mellencamp- The Lonesome Jubilee (1987)
65. Sting- Dream of the Blue Turtles (1985)
It’s amazing that Chris Whitley’s atmospheric blues debut came 14 years ago, but it sounds as good today, as it ever has. Someone could make a great Western movie, just making videos of the dusty tunes on “Living with the Law”.
With help from an all-star lineup including U2, Peter Gabriel, Bodeans, and, Daniel Lanois, Robbie Robertson’s solo debut is another atmospheric classic. Robertson’s smartly uses these artists to supplement his gravelly, Tom Waits/Leonard Cohen voice.
My favorite of a long list of quality recordings by Steve Earle is “El Corazon”, which is even better than his prior effort, the excellent “I Feel Alright”.
The underrated follow-up to “Scarecrow”, there is not a clinker on “The Lonesome Jubilee”. By the way, Mellencamp’s “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” (’96) is just off the Top 100.
When Sting left the Police and released his solo debut, many critics attacked him. Well, 20 years later, this album really holds up, as the musicians Sting surrounded himself with, are amazing players. Challenging lyrics, mixed with some diverse grooves, leave it Sting’s best solo record. “Ten Summoner’s Tales” is second behind the “Blue Turtles”.
66. Jellyfish- Bellybutton (1990)
67. Jason Falkner- Author Unknown (1996)
68. XTC- Skylarking (1986)
69. Lemonheads- It’s a Shame About Ray (1992)
70. Jeff Buckley- Grace (1994)
Simply the purest ear candy ever pressed to a listening device, “Bellybutton” is a powerpop classic. The record that Badfinger and The Raspberries dreamed of. Jellyfish’s follow-up, “Split Milk” is another gem, which has a Beach Boys meet Queen sound.
Jellyfish guitarist, Jason Falkner, made an excellent album with Jon Brion in the group, The Grays, after his original band broke up, but it’s his 2 solo records which are his best work. His debut, the aptly titled “Author Unknown” is reminiscent of Todd Rundgren’s best work. “She Goes to Bed” and “Don’t Show My Heaven” are the standouts.
XTC produced some great singles over the past 20 years, but it’s “Skylarking” which is their most complete record. Man do I love Beatlesque pop.
Some athletes are known as underachievers, as their production doesn’t match their ability. Well Evan Dando is that to music, tantalizing you with his talents, but rarely putting together a complete work. “It’s a Shame About Ray” is the exception, demonstrating his ability with a complete album. “Confetti” is the best Dando rocker.
I know many will question why “Grace” is rated this low, but I just think it’s an incomplete album. I still rate it this highly, because of his influence on other artists and the transcendent nature of the songs, “Last Goodbye” and the cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. Unfortunately, we will never know if he was the genius some claim he was.
71. Guns and Roses- Appetite for Destruction (1987)
72. The Cult- Electric (1987)
73. Faith No More- The Real Thing (1989)
74. Temple of the Dog (1992)
75. System of a Down- Toxicity (2001)
76. Perfect Circle- Mer de Noms (2000)
77. Queens of the Stone Age- Songs for the Deaf (2002)
Oh 1987, a world where Poison, Warrant, and Winger ruled rock radio. It still gives me the willies. Sure it was Nirvana that made the final purge of this pop metal plague, but it was Guns and Roses, which started their downfall. The pulsating energy of “Welcome to the Jungle” and the dark hooks of “Mr. Brownstone” are the best hard rock songs since Aerosmith’s 70’s prime.
Two other releases, which helped clear the Firehouse’s and Slaughter’s from the arenas were The Cult and Faith No More. “Electric” was a stylistic change of pace for The Cult, as producer Rick Rubin took it farther then the Zeppelin samples he used with the Beastie Boys and shaped an actual band to sound like Zeppelin, with “Back in Black” sound production. The Cult would never match this release. Its forgotten how fresh Faith No More sounded when they joined with new lead singer, Mike Patton. “Epic” truly lives up to its title, as “The Real Thing” was the first rap/metal album and it’s still the best of the genre. Their remake of “War Pigs” is the best Sabbath cover, ever.
Another forgotten music moment during the past 20 years is the tribute to Andrew Wood, which brought members of Pearl Jam together, with Chris Cornell fronting them. Unlike Soundgarden releases, this features Cornell singing from his heart. Check out Cornell and Vedder singing a duet on “Hunger Strike”. “I don’t mind stealing bread, from the mouth’s of decadence”
The best rock album of the past 5 years is “Toxicity”. The elements to System of the Down’s sound features thrash metal, jazz, rap, funk, and they somehow put all these ingredients together to create music that doesn’t leave out the hooks. Unlike most other bands today, they are not afraid to address social issues.
Tool is one of the Top 5 metal bands of this period, but singer Maynard James Keenan’s best album, was done by his other band, Perfect Circle. Mainly written by guitarist Billy Howerdel, “Mer de Noms” is goth rocker, with Pink Floyd flourishes.
“Songs for the Deaf” improves on Queens of the Stone Age debut, with a great rock sound, which features the best drumming of Dave Grohl’s career. If you like this record, check out Masters of Reality’s “Sunrise on the Sufferbus” (1993), which sounds similar, with it’s heavy Cream-like sound. (MOR’s drummer is the great Ginger Baker)
78. Shawn Colvin- A Few Small Repairs (1996)
79. Sarah McLachlan- Surfacing (1997)
80. Sheryl Crow (1996)
81. Dixie Chicks- Fly (1999)
82. Kelly Willis- What I Deserve (1999)
83. KD Lang- Absolute Torch and Twang (1989)
84. Alanis Morrisette- Jagged Little Pill (1995)
Here is my own personal Lilith Fair section. Shawn Colvin in the mid 90’s put out two outstanding releases, “Polaroids” and the even better, “A Few Small Repairs”. The best of all these chick albums from beginning to end. Colvin has a angelic voice that only Alison Krauss can top and Shawn’s a much better lyricist.
Sarah McLachlan isn’t a prolific artist, only releasing 3 studio albums over the past 13 years, but all them are quality works. “Surfacing” is her best, with the ethereal “Do What You Have to Do” and the sensuous “Adia” my personal faves.
After Sheryl Crow’s debut, many questioned if she was a producer creation, with Bill Bottrell, David Baerwald, and Kevin Gilbert helping write and produce most of her songs. Well, on her follow-up, Crow does a female channeling of the Rolling Stones and shut her critics up, as it’s the best work of her career. “If It Makes You Happy is a modern classic and don’t forget the underrated “It’s Hard to Make a Stand”.
Today, the country charts are filled with foxy mama’s, with MOR instincts. Don’t put the Dixie Chicks in this category, as they are talented musicians with a foot in classic country. They have fought record companies and country radio, while still succeeding.
Kelly Willis is just another case of a great country singer, who receives little airplay. (see Lovett, K.D. Lang, Kasey Chambers, Kathleen Edwards, Steve Earle) “Not Forgotten You” is Willis at her best and “Got a Feelin’ for You” is a smoky, sexy honky tonker.
Compared to Patsy Cline, I would argue this K. D. Lang record is more complete than any by Cline. “Pulling Back the Reigns” and “Trail of Broken Hearts” are amazing songs.
Like Offspring and the Counting Crows, I was not a big fan of Alanis Morrisette’s music, but as time has gone by, I have come to appreciate “Jagged Little Pill”. Kind of like a pop version of P.J. Harvey and Liz Phair, it’s amazing that lyrics this edgy could sell 30 million CD’s worldwide. Though her examples on “Ironic” are not true irony.
85. David and David- Boomtown (1987)
86. Counting Crows- Recovering the Satellites (1996)
87. Eurythmics- Be Yourself Tonight (1985)
88. Talking Heads- Little Creatures (1985)
One of the great one-shot groups was David and David. Like a West Coast version of Springsteen, David Baerwald’s songs and vocals told stories about people “swallowed by the cracks”.
Initially, when I heard the Counting Crows, I couldn’t get past the aping of Van Morrison, but I’ve come to appreciate the artistry of the band. Their most complete record, “Recovering the Satellites” has some great ballads and their most alternative rocker in “Angels of the Silences”.
The first couple of records by the Eurythmics were chilly new wave offerings, but with “Be Yourself Tonight”, the duo showed their white soul side, with Annie Lennox belting out like a British Aretha. Fav: “It’s Alright (Baby Coming Back)”
After a career of challenging listeners, the Talking Heads put together their most mainstream record, “Little Creatures” and it’s filled with quality singles. “And She Was” is their version of The Cars, while the delightful “Stay Up Late” and David Byrne’s gospel-tinged “Road to Nowhere” are delicious pop. Underrated record.
89. Ben Folds- Rockin’ the Suburbs (2001)
90. Posies- Frosting from the Beater (1993)
91. Spoon- Kill the Moonlight (2002)
92. Badly Drawn Boy- The Hour of the Wilderbeast (2000)
93. Marshall Crenshaw- Mary Jean and 9 Others (1987)
94. Jude Cole- I Don’t Know I Act this Way (1995)
If you noticed yet, I’m a real power-pop fan, so here are 6 excellent albums that you might have missed, which fit that musical genre. Ben Folds solo debut is a beautiful recording, which combines character studies like Costello, but music with pop flourishes like McCartney. “Annie Waits” and “Not the Same” are 2 standouts.
While the rest of the alternative scene and especially the Pacific Northwest were under a grunge tidal wave, a band from Seattle named the Posies were putting out power pop gems. They were generally ignored by the masses, but their fans know they are one of the best bands of the era. “Dream All Day” is the best song of 1993.
So you think there aren’t any great power pop bands today, well let me recommend the last 3 releases by Spoon. Even though they are from Texas, lead singer Britt Daniel sounds like he is from Liverpool, but it’s no Radiohead karaoke. I dare you to try to get the chorus of “The Way We Get By” out of your head.
Flying under the radar in the US, Damon Gough (AKA Badly Drawn Boy) is someone you should get to know. “The first track, “The Shining” is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, with a wonderful French horn musical intro. Sgt. Pepper musical sound.
Marshall Crenshaw started his career with six excellent albums, with my favorite, “Mary Jean and 9 Others”. “This is Easy”, Calling Out for Love (at Crying Time), and “Somebody’s Crying” are the standouts. Sadly, this CD is out of print.
Like an American Neil Finn, Jude Cole always had a hard time fitting a radio format, as his music is somewhere between pop and roots rock. While all 3 of his major label releases are excellent, “I Don’t Know Why I Act this Way” is my favorite, as it’s a rare introspective look at someone who knows there chance at stardom has probably passed them by. “Believe in You” is a Cole’s career best. Currently, Cole, who was set to be Kiefer Sutherland’s best man, when he was to marry Julia Roberts, is a partner with Sutherland in a recording studio and Cole has become a successful producer. Unfortunately, none of the music he has produced is as good as his own solo work.
95. Kid Rock- Devil without a Cause (1998)
96. George Michael- Listen without Prejudice (1990)
97. PM Dawn- Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross: The Utopian Experience (1991)
98. De La Soul- Three Feet High and Rising
99. Daft Punk (2001)
In 1998, out of nowhere came a White trash cat from Michigan, who was equal parts Hank Jr., Grandmaster Flash, and Diamond David Lee Roth. Sure the guy was cribbing from everyone and every style, but who says this isn’t as legit as Beck’s collages. I have no idea what “Bawitdaba” was about, but it rocked hard. His subsequent follow-ups were progressively worse, but “Devil Without a Cause” made Bob Ritchie a star and gave him a chance to rest his head on Pam Anderson’s 38DD saline feedbags. “Now get in the pit and try to love someone!”
While not the sales success of “Faith”, George Micheal’s follow-up, was a mature record, with only the great dance tune “Freedom 90” (one of the best video’s of all-time), being Faith-like in style. Unfortunately, this was Micheal’s last good release.
Despite being classified as rappers, PM Dawn was too musical to fit that narrow of a classification. The Cordes Brothers biggest influences seemed to be Prince, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys. “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss”, with its Spandau Ballet’s samples still sounds fresh. Later PM Dawn release, “Jesus Wept” is also worth checking out.
Unlike PM Dawn, De La Soul’s music has not held up as well. When “Three Feet High and Rising” came out, it was the freshest rap album I had ever heard, with a blend of stoner-like raps, with Steely Dan and Hall and Oates samples. I still think the album is good and I appreciate its influence, so it just makes my Top 100.
Remember when Techno was going to take over the world? So how is that 2 guys from France (Daft Punk) would make my list? I answer it’s the hook heavy sounds, which make them sound like a modern day ELO, with disco flourishes. 70’s K-tel meets techno.
100. Liz Phair- Exile in Guyville (1993)/ Liz Phair (2003)
Another record that hasn’t held up as well is Liz Phair’s “Exile in Guyville.” I still love the attitude and the lyrics, but the lo-fi recording is not aging as well. If I were to be honest, I would admit that 9 out of 10 times, I would reach for Phair’s self-titled latest, over her debut. If you didn’t look at a lyric sheet, you would wonder if it’s the same person, as her 2003 release has a pop sheen, which is quite overwhelming. On repeated listens, it hypnotically makes you either love or hate it. Put me in the former category. “Little Digger” is a beautiful song, with a great story of what it’s like for a young child to deal with divorced parents’ dating life. Considering that 10 years ago, “Exile in Guyville would have been in my Top 20, I’m going to put 2 Phair recordings tied for 100.
NOTE: If you’ve made it this far, thanks for indulging me. Please feel free to put your lists in the comment section and begin to slam me or pat me on the back now.