Rolling Stone – The 500 Greatest albums ever

Rolling Stone recently updated it’s 500 greatest albums of all time, in a fresh print version. It’s good fun and has some nice album artwork and other good photos of well known artists. It is an update of a list originally put together in 2003 (for which I believe I still have this issue, somewhere “in the vaults”), which can be viewed here. I don’t believe the top ten has changed but other entries have been added and therefore some dropped off.

In a previous post I mentioned how I like lists, especially where music is concerned. I don’t take them totally seriously, but they make, for me anyway, interesting reading. Of course any list is subjective and one mans good, is anthers bad, blah blah. Well taking that into consideration I’m still going to have a little fun / gripe at it. Being Rolling Stone, the list is mainly focused on Rock or Pop music, with some Hip Hop, little dance, and little (some what crappy generic term warning) world music. But that is Rolling Stone for you, it’s primarily a rock magazine, so you get what you pay for.

I could loosely divide up the analysis into 1) top ten, 2) albums I own and quibble about the ranking, and 3) albums I don’t have but want, or are inspired to check out, 4) Albums not included. So let’s start with the top ten:

  1. Sgt Pepper – The Beatles
  2. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
  3. Revolver – The Beatles
  4. Highway 61 revisited – Bob Dylan
  5. Rubber Soul – The Beatles
  6. What’s going on – Marvin Gaye
  7. Exile on main street – The Rolling Stones
  8. London Calling – The Clash
  9. Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
  10. The White Album – The Beatles

A similar poll by Mojo magazine in the nineties had the first two reversed but a similar top ten. Whether you agree depends on your criteria. I would agree that there is not a duff album among them. Out of the ten I’m not overly fond of London Calling, but I do realise how good it is, it’s just not a favourite for me. The White album is my favourite Beatles album, but in music history I can see why Sgt Pepper is more significant. This highlights where criteria comes into the equation. My fave Stones album is Sticky fingers (no 64), my fave Dylan album Blood on the tracks (16). I would make a distinction here between favourite albums of all time and greatest albums. I did a post on my favourite albums of all time which are albums personal to me for various reasons. I would suggest this is different to what I might consider the greatest albums, which might take into account a wider context of music history, how influential and so on, plus which genres I want to consider, which is along similar lines to what this list is about.

To add to where I might have changed a few albums in the top ten, I also take umbrage with the position of other albums. Here are a few examples. Wilco’s “Yankee hotel Foxtrot” is at 493 compared to U2’s “All that you can leave behind” at 280. What? 213 places different? I don’t even think that U2 album is that great, certainly not as good as Wilco’s YHF. Radiohead’s “OK Computer” only features at 162. I would likely have this in the top twenty or if not, top ten. But at number 37 is “Hotel California” by the Eagles. I agree with The dude Lebowski on this one, to quote him, “‘I hate the f*ckin’ Eagles, man!” (the same quote which convinced Allen Klein to allow the film the rights to use the Stones song “Dead Flowers”). Is that really better than Ok Computer? I think not. Further comedy with “the Queen is dead” by The Smiths being at 218. Again a stone cold classic, ranked further down the list than three Elton John albums. Three? Sorry Elton, but you are there with the Eagles for me. I would also quibble about The Who’s “Tommy” being ranked at 96 whilst “Quadrophenia” is at 267. I’m not overly fond of Tommy, but I love Quadrophenia, I think it is the Who’s best album. I could quibble about a few more, but I won’t bore you any longer on that point.

I own a lot of music, in fact out of the top 100 here, I have 64 of them, including the entire top ten. There are always things to buy and what I have noticed on the list so far, is a few I definitely want to check out, and have had on my list for a while. They are The Allman Brothers band at Fillmore East (no 49), Dr John’s “Gris Gris” (No ), and Big Star’s “3rd / Sister lovers”. There are a few more but these ones stand out for now. If you asked me again in a month once I’ve read the magazine, I will likely have a few more.

I have mentioned in previous posts, how my music tastes originally developed as an indie kid, and how I like bands like Sugar, The Boo Radleys, The Flaming lips, The Super Furry animals. These days I have much more varied tastes and an appreciation for many albums that might be considered “classic rock”. However the list contains no Sugar “Copper Blue” yet two by Green Day, No Flaming Lips, yet MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular”, and numerous others I could mention. The Boo Radleys were never even close to big in North America so it is no surprise to not see them, even if I or many others who have heard it, would consider “Giant Steps” a classic. There is no Blur either. What in the top 500 albums ever? But on the other hand, there are entries by PJ Harvey, Arctic Monkeys, Pavement (although not the album I would have chosen).

So the list is interesting, there are hundreds of really good albums.  Not necessarily everything I would have chosen, or in the same order but a lot of good ones. It got me thinking. It is one of the reasons that I like these lists.

Lexicon word of the day: Quack (not the duck speaking definition).


Record shop day and Amoeba records

Yesterday was Record store day, a day to support independent music stores, for the music fan anyway. I suspect most people don’t care too much. That might be a shame considering how many music stores are disappearing in favour of a few online stores. I’m well aware of downloads being the current and mostly future of music (for most people anyway), but I love the physical aspect of vinyl or CDs. Plus the quality. Online downloadable music is not fully up to scratch yet. I did a post about that once. Also as much fun as it can be looking online for music, and it is, I really do enjoy flicking through the racks of a music store. I love the posters, artwork, the smell and feel of a store.

In support of record store day, many artists have been releasing limited edition singles, EPs, or even albums. These are strictly limited number pressings available only through participating independent stores. This year there were a lot of releases, and to some extent it looked like there was a bunch of artists jumping on the bandwagon, just so they will have something out on the day. I might be being cynical, but that is the way it seems. Still there is plenty of cool stuff in there, including a big release by the Flaming Lips (and friends), singles by Jack White, and a good single by Best Coast. However that barely even gives a flavour. A full list of releases yesterday can be viewed at the link at the top of this post.

Having a small child, I’m not really in a position this year to get in line with the music geeks and queue up, making sure I could get a record or two. I kind of like the look of the Flaming Lips release but I figured I was unlikely to get to somewhere before it sold out. That said, whilst I wasn’t desperate to get hold of anything, I figured a trip to Amoeba in Hollywood, was in order (a sort of wedding anniversary gift from my lovely wife). A chance to check out the vibes, and see how different from a normal day it is.

We usually head to Amoeba for when it opens, to get decent parking, but as anyone who has lived around LA can tell you, also to avoid some of the worst traffic. When we arrived, there was an enormous queue of people outside, a couple of blocks long. It was soon revealed as a line for those wanting to try to buy releases for record store day. Otherwise you could head straight in. Good luck to them I say, as previously mentioned, I was not in a position to queue in the hot sun, and I figured I was so far back I would not get what I wanted anyway. So a little disappointed that I might not be able to get the Flaming Lips release, I went for plan B. I was at Amoeba, might as well just browse the store and pick up a few things.

So that I did. It was pretty busy (which is good really, even if not the best for browsing), And I didn’t spend a lot, but I picked up the following:

  • Wilco – “Kicking Television – Live in Chicago” (Wilco are a really good band live, and I have never heard this).
  • Pavement – “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” (deluxe edition)
  • Graham Coxon – “Love travels at illegal speeds” (I already had this, but it came from the time when there was stupid copy protection on the disk and I could not even import it into iTunes, I always wanted to pick it up again with a “clean” disk).
  • Pete Townsend – “Lifehouse elements”
  • The Verve – “Forth” (I thought this might be a bit average, but it was cheap so worth a go).

See, I’m a music fan who has a lot of albums, and a lot that I like. Sure there is always something to discover, but sometimes my music browsing is often to pick up a few things round the edges that I haven’t got yet. Actually I have a list of some things I want to pick up. Many were not there today, but that is ok. I got others, I supported an independent store a little. In terms of record store day releases it was a washout for me, but maybe next year if there is something I want, I will get up nice and early. Amoeba is always good for a look, for something new, or for something to add to the collection.

I think Amoeba had a successful day. You can read their store blog about it here.

Lexicon word of the day: gallimaufry.

What music and horoscopes have in common.

I shall immediately start with pointing out that I’m not a believer in horoscopes or star signs, but if you stick with me you’ll see where I’m going. Don’t worry, it’s not a long piece.

In the box set Quadrophenia by The Who (my favourite Who album) there is an essay by Pete Townsend, where he describes how the many facets of the album came about. I won’t go into everything it covers other than to say, the essay is interesting if you like the album, and you like the story, or the details behind albums. There are also good photos, reproductions of notes, and other things in the box set (click the picture above to view it on Amazon). I love the Quadrophenia album so for me, well it’s all good. However as someone getting back the writing bug there was one part of the essay which stood out a bit more in a different way, and this concerns how to write something that makes sense to the audience.

Pete points out that there is a fundamental difference between how someone writes a story, or drama, compared to someone who writes rock music or songs. From Pete’s perspective, the rock composer has to guide the listener in someway but not provide all the details, leaving something left for the listener to fill. I hope he won’t mind if I pinch a quote:

“The listener jumps into the music and it is only then that the real story begins. Too much information, too much detail, too much plot, makes the leap impossible. Rock and Pop fans don’t merely want to identify with the story … They want to be the story”.

To me this is a great point and something I agree with. That is the reason so many people can take a song and have it mean something to them. It may only be a part of a song that clicks with someone, but that part links with your world. If the whole song does that, then you get something you really like. A classic. But it is how you fill that hole that means so many people from different backgrounds can get so much (and often different things), from one song.

Regular readers might have noted that I’ve been attempting some poetry with varying levels of success. Some are more like songs than poems (like this one), but it makes me wonder if I have achieved that hole that a reader can inhabit. Well if I haven’t, it is something to aim for in the future. I kind of figure poetry in some forms is a fine line of difference between it, and a song, with perhaps some obvious verse, chorus, structure differences, but often that same rule will apply. Again it is why different people can find themselves in different ways within a poem.

So how does this relate to Star signs? Well I could go on a big rant about what nonsense they are, but I suppose this sentence will do that job. If there are any readers who have read a few star signs in their time, they might have noticed that some astrologists, or as I call them “writers”, seem to be better at it, or more related to your life than others. That I believe is a simple point. Horoscopes also work with the same “hole”, that the reader needs to inhabit. If they are too direct and have too much detail, then it won’t fit most readers. Readers of horoscopes are not after a story, they are after something that relates to them. Like any area of writing, some writers are simply better than others. Those <ahem> “good” ones are just better at creating the hole.

So that is what music and horoscopes have in common. Agree or disagree? Or do you even agree with Pete’s point about the hole?

Lexicon word of the day: Indubitable.

The 10 favourite music albums ever

Todays post is not so much about writing and again, more about music. I like music lists. I like music polls. I don’t necessarily believe them, or agree with them, but I like to look. Sometimes I find they remind me of good or great albums I already have, or albums that have been over looked, and they make me want to play them again. They can validate your own choices, if you need that sort of thing, which I rarely do these days, or they can give you the opposite, and something to argue against. I love the year end “album of the year” polls. I love the “greatest albums of the …” type polls.

With that in mind, considering my own favourites, my own lists, whilst not something I do a lot, is an occasional fun, if not somewhat trivial exercise. Still, so what? It is occasionally fun. Whilst ranting about the Grammys the other day, I mused on my favourite albums of last year. Today I shall consider my favourite albums of all time. To clarify, this is my favourite albums of all time, not necessarily the albums I consider to be the greatest of all time, which may be both similar and different. So here goes, in order (album title – artist – year):

  1. Beaster – Sugar (1993)
  2. OK Computer – Radiohead (1997)
  3. Giant Steps – The Boo Radleys (1993)
  4. The Soft Bulletin – The Flaming Lips (1999)
  5. Radiator – Super Furry Animals (1997)
  6. Brighten the Corners – Pavement (1997)
  7. The Queen is dead – The Smiths (1986)
  8. The Holy Bible – The Manic Street Preachers (1994)
  9. Copper Blue – Sugar (1992)
  10. Parklife – Blur (1994)
With the following close calls:
  • In Utero – Nirvana (1993)
  • Hatful of Hollow – The Smiths (1984)
  • Back in Black – AC/DC (1980)
  • Star – Belly (1993)
  • Teenager of the Year – Frank Black (1994)
  • The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow (2008)
  • Dark Side of The Moon – Pink Floyd (1973)
  • In Sides – Orbital (1996)
I realise you could debate what is counted as an album here given that my arguable all time favourite is essentially a mini-album or EP, plus just outside the top 10, “Hatful of Hollow” is a compilation of singles, b-sides, and BBC sessions (and is better than the actual debut album), but for me they are included. I would exclude compilations that either contain more than one artist (not including the main artist plus guest), or compilations of hits, singles or similar. But that is just me. You or I can include what we want.
Also interesting to note is the years when the albums came out. Nine of the top ten came out in the nineties. These were my late teens to mid twenties, a time when generally speaking life was more fun. Actually I should rephrase that, over the last few years, my life is as much fun or mores than it was then. Back then it was a time of less responsibility, and of experiences that shaped the person that I am now. It is when I discovered much of the things I liked, and a time that is now, somewhat viewed through the mists of time, and the hazy glaze of nostalgia. This is not to say that there are not loads of albums I have gotten hold of in the last say, ten years, that are also fantastic, for there are plenty. The above list is just my favourites. A component of the criteria I suppose, is that they pass being a mere fashion, or album of the time, and continue to be there and “great” over a longer period of time, i.e. time shows the album to be just as good. That is why I have no choices from the last few years, they’re quite simply not old enough to be included yet. I’m not sure when that cut-off is exactly, it just needs to feel right. That is also demonstrated by the list not changing too much over time. About 5 to 10 years ago, the list was like this:
  1. Beaster – Sugar
  2. OK Computer – Radiohead
  3. Giant Steps – The Boo Radleys
  4. The Soft Bulletin – The Flaming Lips
  5. Radiator – Super Furry Animals
  6. Brighten the Corners – Pavement
  7. The Queen is dead – The Smiths
  8. The Holy Bible – The Manic Street Preachers
  9. Star – Belly
  10. Teenager of the Year – Frank Black

It is the last two which have changed. So I have some constant favourites. I could, I suppose, build a list of fifty or more although the order would get a little more disagreeable. It is a tough call in the top ten. The point with a longer list might be as much that something is included in it, more so than it’s rank in the list. I wish I hadn’t typed this idea now, I’m probably going to end up doing it. I am now kind of intrigued what might be included, how much of one artist and so on. On my iPod I have 35 days of music and this isn’t everything I own. Yes, I said iPod, there is too much space taken for my iPhone, – and that is kind of scary that iPod is starting to sound slightly out of date already. Although I prefer CD (I have a half decent stereo), and that sounds even more out of date, but i digress.

You can see my choices favour rock and pop more than dance music, only Orbital is near the top. That reflects my music collection at large. There is dance music (e.g. LCD Soundsystem as a recent favourite), and some hip hop, in there, but more of it is rock, pop, folk, alt-country, and things around the edges of that. I may post more on why I like some of the choices, in a later post. You may begin to see here why I like lists. It is the alternative viewpoint of looking at what I own, and they can give me some perspective on it. I like when they make me pick up something I haven’t played in a while and it is good all over again. I think you can tell I like music, a lot more than lists. What would your choices be?

Lexicon word of the day: mendacious.

The Grammys.

It’s not about the Grammys, but a small nod to this blog here (by Aly Hughes) which is in similar spirit to what I’m trying to do with writing lately, and has had to put up with a couple of my comments this past weekend.

I am not American, I am English, and I live in California. I’m not a big fan of the Grammys anymore than I am of the Brit awards, the English equivalent. For me they are an excuse for big mainstream acts, i.e. those which have sold a lot, to back slap each other and tell each other how great they are. It excludes plenty of bands who may do well critically, but for a variety of reasons, have not hit the interest of the public at large, and thus not had the sales. They are mostly flirting with acts I’m not overly thrilled at, with a token indie act pulled in as though to show they’re making an effort. This year see Bon Iver. For a comparison, here is a list of albums I really liked from last year (currently in order but the order may change over time) :

  • 10 Bill Callahan – Apocalypse
  • 09 Tom Waits – Bad As Me
  • 08 Washed Out – Within and Without
  • 07 White Denim – D
  • 06 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
  • 05 The Horrors – Skying
  • 04 Elbow – Build a rocket
  • 03 Wilco – The Whole Love
  • 02 Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know
  • 01 PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

To add to that, you could say these ones where floating around the surface:

  • — Radiohead: The King Of Limbs
  • — Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds
  • — Arctic Monkeys – Suck It And See
  • — Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  • — Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots
  • — My Morning Jacket – Circuital
  • — Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver
  • — Kurt Vile – Smoke Rings For My Halo
  • — Kate Bush – 50 Words For Snow
  • — Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
  • — Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
  • — The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

So I say compare this with the Grammys. See what I mean? Now I’ve nothing against Adele, she is very good, but not really for me, so well done to her. The Foo fighters I like but I’ve not listened to that one much so it is not on my list above (yet). The rest, I cannot even remember even though I watched the tv coverage! However that said, the live performances are often decent. The highlights for me:

  • Bruce Springsteen opening.
  • The Beach boys reunion. Brian Wilson kind of looks like an old man let out for the day who is not entirely sure where he is, or what he is doing, but thinks he ought to soldier on anyway. – Still it was great to see.
  • Adele’s live performance. Good return from surgery, knocked that one out.
  • Paul Mccartney’s finale with the “guitar off”. It put me in mind of the “Base off” that Spinal tap did at (I think) Live 8. It was clear that Dave Grohl & Bruce Springsteen were really enjoying themselves, although I think the latter broke a guitar string. That shines through and was fun to watch. I liked the bit where Paul sang at the end but Dave was still in shot over his shoulder and singing along as though it was him on the mike. This for me is a little of what music is about.

I suppose I should mention Whitney Houston. Not a fave of mine it has to be said, although she was an incredible vocalist. I could have done without the prayer at the beginning but no big deal. I suppose they treated the scenario in a dignified way without going too much over the top. However if this had happened a few months back, I cannot help think that she would have been little more than included in the “those lost” section with Amy Winehouse et al, and a song tribute would not have been necessary. It is only as it was the big news item the night before (and likely for the next few days) that it was felt as needed to be dealt with here

So no PJ Harvey even mentioned at the Grammys or no Wilco either. I’m not sure what the cut-off is for inclusion (and quite frankly have no wish to look it up right now). I saw Wilco live a few weeks ago, they are fantastic right now, playing like a band who know each other and are comfortable together.

I was going to write about the album “Copper blue” by Sugar, twenty years old this summer today. I will do that another day. A great album, and Bob Mould is a music legend. He demonstrates my point about the Grammys too, in that in music circles he is a legend for what he has done / written, but as never a big seller, is not part of that club. It is almost like he might not have existed, where to us who are fans, he means a lot more than many of the forgettable acts who have appeared on the Grammys over the years (This year Chris Brown, however much you try, I’m talking about you).

N.B. 2 PM update. I remembered earlier something I forgot to mention about token indie act Bon Iver. He won best new act – for his second album under this monicker. His first album was a critical hit although not a big seller. Why is that best new act? Are they referring to breakthrough, as in sales?

Lexicon word of the day: Mountebank.