20 faves #19: sleater-kinney, dig me out

19th of 20, roughly by chronology.

I didn't realize this would become a mini-theme, but once again, I pick an album that meant the most to me personally over albums that I might think of as "better". I've written way too much about this band ... not sure what I could add at the moment. Suffice to say that they are my favorite band since this album came out in 1997, and were already approaching that status by then. I've mentioned seeing many of the acts on this list multiple times ... since I first saw this group, I've seen them 15 times, only one less time than I've seen Bruce Springsteen during that period (and I've seen 7 or 8 shows featuring members of the band in "side projects"). The Woods could easily be on this list. That's an album remarkable for being arguably their best, ten years after their first, seven albums in. But Dig Me Out won my heart. And there has never been a better breakup song than "One More Hour".

Dig me out


20 faves #18: hüsker dü, new day rising

18th of 20, roughly by chronology.

I chose Dirty Mind over later, perhaps "better", Prince albums because it has a special place in my life. If I were going by the same concept, this 18th album would be Zen Arcade, which I played over and over. Still play it, especially "Turn on the News", one of Grant Hart's best (my fave of his remains "Sorry, Somehow", for the way he sings, "You're making me sorry, sorry somehow, AND I'M NOT SORRY!"). But New Day Rising gets my vote. It's not as sprawling as Zen Arcade, and while Hüsker Dü played in more than one style, the overwhelming sonic power is best when compacted into what we used to call a single disc. The opening cut and title track is in some ways the ultimate Hüsker track ... the entire lyrics being "New day rising" repeated over and over atop a noise squall ... if nothing else, that one must have imprinted itself on my kids' brains, I bet if I mentioned Hüsker Dü to them now, in their 40s, they'd say "New Day Rising!". And there's my favorite of all favorite Hüsker Dü songs, the one I quote regularly because it's the story of my life, but I can't really get it in words, because like with Grant in "Sorry, Somehow", Bob Mould's vocals are crucial:

So now sit around we're staring at the walls
We don't do anything at all
Take out the garbage, maybe, BUT THE DISHES DON'T GET DONE!!!!!!!!

My wife, who loved the Ramones, never liked Hüsker Dü, because of the noise. I'd tell her that they wrote great pop songs, just like the Ramones, and they were loud, just like the Ramones, but she'd say they were just noise. She was probably right. For me, though, the way the sound of the instruments all bleed into each other is the primary appeal.

New day rising


20 faves #17: prince, dirty mind

17th of 20, roughly by chronology.

I'm showing my age ... it took me 17 albums to reach the 80s.

I've chosen Dirty Minds for my Prince album. Others might be better ... Purple Rain, Sign 'o the Times ... but this is when I discovered him, and so here it is. Every song is at least good, some are great, "When You Were Mine" is a classic. As great as this album is, Prince's talents were so diverse that Dirty Mind only begins to suggest future directions. And, oh yeah, there's a lot of sex on this album. As Christgau said, "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home."

Dirty mind


20 faves #16: the clash, london calling

16th of 20, roughly by chronology.

Favorites lists are by definition personal. Many of the albums I've chosen made room for me to climb inside, which led to a lifetime of connections. London Calling worked the opposite way: it climbed inside of me. I always had an odd relationship to punk ... steelworker, married with two kids, a fairly mundane life. But it mattered to me, and none of the punk bands mattered as much as The Clash. The ambition behind London Calling was life-affirming, that a genre that was so simple originally could expand so effectively in such a short time. The Ramones were simpler than most, and they mostly just worked at getting better at simplicity. The Clash took on the world. Perhaps no song demonstrated this better than "The Right Profile", "about" Montgomery Clift. Some songs spoke to my soul as an unhappy factory worker ... "Clampdown", obviously, and "Death or Glory".

There are many interpretations of the line "London is drowning, and I live by the river". To me, it signified the ways living by the river meant we were always in danger of drowning, but when the whole city is drowning, well, welcome to our world. It reminds me of "River's Gonna Rise" by David and David.

London calling


20 faves #15: marianne faithfull, broken english

15th of 20, roughly by chronology.

When I posted a video of a Rolling Stones song earlier in this series, I said there was someone in the video who would turn up later on my list. Phil Dellio correctly guessed Marianne Faithfull. Hers is one of the great comeback stories in rock and roll. So good, in fact, that she had more than one comeback, I guess. Anyway, Faithfull was inextricably linked to the Stones, so there was some irony when Broken English came out a year after Some Girls. Some Girls was the last great Stones album. They never again produced anything as good as ... well, as Broken English. The title track was classic, "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan" fit right into Thelma and Louise, her "Working Class Hero" was definitive, and "Why'd Ya Do It" ... well ...

Broken english


20 faves #13: patti smith, horses

13th of 20, roughly by chronology.

I'm up to 1975 now, which means punk is beginning to rear its head. Patti Smith is not only the first punk artist on my list, she was the first punk artist we saw live, in 1976. (It occurs to me that we saw all of the last 8 artists on the list in concert, at least once and often more than once. The joys of being an adult with a coupla bucks in your pocket.) More than half of the remaining albums are punk, or rooted in punk. This emphasis (some would say, over-emphasis) on punk means a couple of powerful genres won't make my list. Disco never struck me as an album-oriented art, so that's not a big loss (if you need some disco for the soundtrack, play "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston). And hip-hop disappears under the punk onslaught (the last two hip-hop albums I cut were It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, and Paul's Boutique). I've made it this far without saying anything about why Horses matters so much to me. Perhaps the accompanying video, which features a couple of songs from Horses being performed 40 years down the road, helps explain it.

Horses


20 faves #12: derek and the dominos, layla

12th of 20, roughly by chronology.

Eric Clapton's work with Cream solidified his reputation. His long career has entrenched his work in the rock history books. A man who plays guitar as good as Clapton is always going to have tracks here or there that amaze. But I'd say the title of his 1989 album describes much of his career: Journeyman. (Christgau wrote, "What did you expect him to call it--Hack?") Which leaves Layla. The Dominos blend seamlessly with Derek, Duane Allman gives the sideman performance of all time, and Clapton's pain leads to an anguished work of art that never got old. One of only two non-compilation "double albums" on my list ... it makes great use of the extra space.

Layla


20 faves #11: john lennon, plastic ono band

11th of 20, roughly by chronology.

How appropriate the I finally move beyond the 60s with the album that did what it could to end the 60s. This album was part of a two-pronged attack ... the major part, to be sure, but Jann Wenner's interview with John Lennon, which ran in two issues of Rolling Stone, was amazing at the time, with Lennon pulling some of the same tricks he did on the album, basically trashing everyone but himself and Yoko. It's ferocious on the page, although if you hear the audio, he sounds much nicer, somehow. For me, there are the post-Beatles solo albums, a few good, mostly not, and there is Plastic Ono Band, which dominates them all to this day.

Plastic ono band

 


20 faves #10: the velvet underground

10th of 20, roughly by chronology.

It isn't a question of whether The Velvet Underground would be on this list. It's just a matter of choosing an album, and more than usual, my selection changes on a regular basis. The Velvet Underground and Nico introduced them ... White Light/White Heat has "I Heard Her Call Me Name" ... Loaded has many classics but is also missing many of the key members. Then there's the posthumous stuff, like 1969 Live, which has always been a favorite of mine. But I'm going with the self-titled third album, because I like the ways it defies the image of the band as the noisemakers who made "Sister Ray". John Cale is sorely missed, and perhaps that's the reason why no other VU album shows their quieter side with such beauty. "Pale Blue Eyes" is my pick to click, but there are so many others ... although I admit I don't care if I ever hear "The Murder Mystery" ever again. And it closes with one of Mo Tucker's rare, lovely vocals.

The velvet underground album