Let me begin part 2 by mentioning that this project to list the Top 100, with some short write-ups has taken me over 30 hours so far. I had no idea how long this was going to take. Well, let’s get to the next 30.
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.
(NOTE: The final 50 will most likely go up on Friday.)