30. The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street
History suggests that, if you want to be part of the conversation for the biggest band on the planet, you need to tackle the ambitious double album eventually. Most of rock’s elite have got one, and the results often polarise the fans and the critics alike, landing anywhere from blinding epic to tottering omnishambles in the uneven consensus. Quite often it becomes the album most wrestled with by the experts in their retrospective perusals through an artist’s career, like the chocolate box of styles that is The Beatles or the perplexing conceptualisation of The Wall. However, few are the bands that use the extended space available to create probably their most widely lauded work – making the decision seem more like a point gradually built towards than a sudden expression of great ambition. Exile on Main St sees The Rolling Stones, quite remarkably, at their consistent best, throwing tune after tune at you with barely a moment to reflect on what you are hearing. It is an album that sweeps you along: once you hear the opening riff of Rocks Off chances are you won’t be stopping the record before the thrusting, choir-backed end to Soul Survivor.
It isn’t surprising to hear that, during the recording of Exile, the band were largely dictated by the lackadaisical spontaneity of Keith Richards, whose laid back swagger is evident throughout. Song titles like Shake Your Hips, Torn And Frayed and Let It Loose so perfectly encapsulate Richards’ demeanour, but also his raw rock and roll spirit. That’s what Exile ultimately is: rock and roll all the way through. There are many injections of typical Stones influences, a burst of rousing gospel choir here and a Bobby Key sax solo there, and the love affair with American roots remains as strong as ever (despite being recorded in a French villa). Richards’ vocal work is also at its strongest, often jostling for place with Jagger over the course of a song. Casino Boogie is the best example of the two in friendly competition – a song that is somehow both raucously fun but effortlessly serene. Even better is Happy, which is surely the best Stones song fronted by Richards, with the most simple title imaginable but one that you could not justifying jazzing up. It pretty much says all it needs to.
There is a real sense of concerted effort here, of all the individual genius being combined into a perfect harmony. Although stories about band members being isolated from each other for long periods of recording make it hard to believe such a supernatural synchronisation could be feasible. Songs are typically busy, with a relentlessly danceable rhythm section, and the live experience is brilliantly encapsulated thanks to the seemingly offhand piano flourishes and guitar solos that dwindle into the background in a wholly organic way. The Stones have never been ones to leave much empty space on their recordings and Exile manages to juggle several balls in the air without becoming suffocating. The closest thing to a mid-album lull is the stretch from Turd On The Run to I Just Want To See His Face, but these act as a low-key precursor to the emotionally-driven final stretch of the album. Jagger takes control here, as he proves how powerful his yelp can be when songs build themselves around his voice. The buzzwords usually ticked off when writing about this album, like ‘loose’, ‘ragged’ and ‘grimy’ (I’m sure I’ve used some of them myself!), don’t do justice to the capacity for it to tug at the heartstrings with a focused ballad. Let It Loose and Shine A Light do this as well as any other Stones efforts, before of course exploding into stirring conclusions.
Exile on Main St. covers the whole spectrum of emotion within the hour-long running time, as its heroin-addled musicians almost certainly did in the years leading up to its creation. It marks the last point of their musical peak, standing in a satisfyingly apt place as the great double album of this great rock and roll band. Soul Survivor finishes the album by belting out “It’s gonna be the death of me”, and it’s hard to believe this wasn’t.
Highlights: Rocks Off, Tumbling Dice, Loving
Write-up by MW304
28= Pearl Jam – Ten
1991 was a good year for rock fans. Amongst others, Metallica brought out the Black Album, Guns n Roses released Use Your Illusion I & II (an over-indulgence Axl Rose has since punished us for).There was also a rumbling in the sleepy North West corner of America, as the Seattle sound put itself firmly in the public conscience. For many, this invokes images of Cobain, Cornell etc., yet the importance of Messrs. Vedder and co cannot be underestimated in securing the legacy of the ‘Grunge Movement’.
Released in August 1991 (a month before Nevermind, an album who’s coattails Pearl Jam were unfairly accused of riding on), Ten was a slow burner, only reaching the top 10 on the Billboard the following summer. Relying on heavy touring to promote the album, it’s no surprise Pearl Jam are seen as latecomers to the musical revolution that was happening around the area, and indeed the nation, at this time.
Compared to their supposed contemporaries on the Seattle scene, Pearl Jam are probably the closest to traditional American Rock of them all, drawing on powerful instruments – be that McCready’s guitar or Vedder’s voice – to create almost an anthemic sound (Ten’s tracks are clearly well polished in the studio, something the band themselves have tried to rectify in Greatest Hits and re-release packages). However that’s not to say the lyrics themselves lack bite. From the moment Once kicks in you know the band are trying to say something, indeed by the time Release fades out (confusingly the outro to this is part of the intro to the opening track) Vedder has made his mark on many topics – Suicide, homelessness, incest, psychosis to name but a few.
Indeed it’s these hard hitting topics that provide some of the finest moments on the album. Even Flow rushes you along, almost as if you are the crazed homeless person wandering through the song, unsure where the next vocal will take (or leave) you. Alive slows the pace down, instead taking you on the emotional rollercoaster of the subject, alternating a powerfully sung, nearly positive chorus with dark melodic verses. Again the song leaves you unsure what to feel even after a number of listens. However, Why Go doesn’t hold back, letting you know exactly the horror in store for the institutionalised, almost punching you in the ears with every refrain.
The emotional barrage hits full tilt on possibly the most famous, if for controversial reasons, song on the album. Jeremy is a compounded tale of suffering, based in part on a school suicide earlier in the year, entwined with a troubled character from Vedders schooldays. It leaves an emotionally charged view of a troubled youth, detailing the reasons for struggle and the reaction of others. It almost comes across as an apology from those left behind, a survivors guilt from those who misunderstood a young man’s troubles. The implied ending (Jeremy spoke in class today) is more of a harrowing cry rather than rallying cry. A rather graphic video (and heavy MTV rotation) brought strong criticism from the conservative America, the very parents Vedder warns about in the lyrics.
The highlight for many off the album is possibly the middle track, the macabre named Black. However despite the name, this is the nearest to a love (or in this case, loss) ballad the album contains. Almost bringing the album to a shuddering halt after 4 tracks, it is a song that makes to take note. Despite showing off Vedders vocal range, its strength lies in the flowing melody leading you through the song. Unsurprisingly it’s become one of rocks favourite ballads over its 20 year life.
For all the seriousness of the album, there are lighter moments, Oceans being a lyrical tribute to Vedders love of surfing, Garden being beautiful if nigh on decipherable (it’s also one of the bands favourite tracks), and those with the European edition will be pleased to hear that in Dirty Frank the band are only imagining their tour driver is a serial killing cannibal.
Over 20 years since this debut, Pearl Jam are still releasing new material. Whilst time has mellow them somewhat – far more acoustic numbers make it to disc nowadays – the band still manage to put the same energy and commitment into live shows as they did in 1991, making them one of the must see acts to this day.
Top 3 tracks
Black (live – no official video for this song) Pearl Jam - Black - Pinkpop 2000 - YouTube
Jeremy Pearl Jam - Jeremy - YouTube
Even Flow Pearl Jam - Even Flow - YouTube
Write-up by cpr
28= Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks
Bob Dylan may be the Charlie Chaplin of rock & roll. Both men are regarded as geniuses by their entire audience. Both were proclaimed revolutionaries for their early work and subjected to exhaustive attack when later works were thought to be inferior. Both developed their art without so much as a nodding glance toward their peers. Both are multitalented: Chaplin as a director, actor, writer and musician; Dylan as a recording artist, singer, songwriter, prose writer and poet. Both superimposed their personalities over the techniques of their art forms. They rejected the peculiarly 20th century notion that confuses the advancement of the techniques and mechanics of an art form with the growth of art itself. They have stood alone.
When Charlie Chaplin was criticized, it was for his direction, especially in the seemingly lethargic later movies. When I criticize Dylan now, it's not for his abilities as a singer or songwriter, which are extraordinary, but for his shortcomings as a record maker. Part of me believes that the completed record is the final measure of a pop musician's accomplishment, just as the completed film is the final measure of a film artist's accomplishments. It doesn't matter how an artist gets there — Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie (and Dylan himself upon occasion) did it with just a voice, a song and a guitar, while Phil Spector did it with orchestras, studios and borrowed voices. But I don't believe that by the normal criteria for judging records — the mixture of sound playing, singing and words — that Dylan has gotten there often enough or consistently enough.
Chaplin transcended his lack of interest in the function of directing through his physical presence. Almost everyone recognizes that his face was the equal of other directors' cameras, that his acting became his direction. But Dylan has no one trait — not even his lyrics — that is the equal of Chaplin's acting. In this respect, Elvis Presley may be more representative of a rock artist whose raw talent has overcome a lack of interest and control in the process of making records.
Presley is the only rock artist whose records have consistently failed to list a producer. When they are great, they represent the triumph of his natural ability over everything that surrounds him — songs, musicians, recording equipment. We remember him, not the record. He creates the illusion that he can do anything he wants to, but never has to be more than he is. It is enough that he sounds like Elvis Presley. Even at his worst, his records sound complete. He defines himself.
For many years I believed that Dylan could do that too. But for many more I doubted it. Through Blonde on Blonde, Dylan's originality as a performer, singer, songwriter and presence haunted a generation — and had an incalculable effect on my own life. But while Elvis Presley never had to rely on anything but himself to see himself through, Dylan needs his specific talents to make himself felt. Since Blonde on Blonde they haven't served him well enough to compensate for his indifference to the process of making records. And in retrospect, it now seems clear that indifference has marred much of his work.
Dylan has often said that his goal in the studio is to catch the feeling and the way he does that best is by keeping things simple: light rehearsal, a few takes and on to the next song. The artist knows how he works best, so there may be no alternative. But the shortcomings of the approach must be noted. Dylan's electric albums have often been pointlessly sloppy, sometimes badly recorded and not nearly as good as some of the material warranted. To me, Planet Waves sounds like nothing so much as a rough draft of an unfinished work, a sketch of planned painting, something to be worked on, not released.
When Dylan recorded by himself, there was something primitively satisfying about his voice-guitar-harmonica performances that made even the weakest cuts on the four purely acoustic albums sound finished. But he produced his craziest and greatest work with rock bands and I think his reputation will finally stand or fall on the basis of what he has done with them.
As a rock artist there were times when he so charged a recording session with the power of his words and voice that nothing else mattered. Coincidentally (perhaps not) these usually took place when the accompaniment was at least adequate and sometimes brilliant. I'm thinking of such personal favorites as "She Belongs to Me," "Like a Rolling Stone," "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," "Highway 61 Revisited," "Just like Tom Thumb's Blues," a good half of Blonde on Blonde, the singles "Positively 4th Street" and "Can You Please Crawl out Your Window?," the "Basement Tapes" and Albert Hall bootlegs, "All along the Watchtower" "Down along the Cove" and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," on John Wesley Harding, "Sign on the Window" and "Went to See the Gypsy" (and maybe another two from New Morning) and a matter of taste — but the Band itself has never sounded more lifeless and colorless. The best music on that album doesn't hold a candle to the worst music on The Band, let alone anything so majestic as "The Weight," "King Harvest" or "Stage Fright."
To bring it all back home: The paradox of Bob Dylan's reputation is that he is regarded as our greatest rock artist without having made the records — the completed works — that should support that reputation. When compared to people who are thought (usually mistakenly so, in my view) to have made their records in the same natural, unproduced style in which he has made his, I find him wanting: He has made no single cut to equal Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train," Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," Jerry Lee Lewis's "Breathless," Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally." If compared to the records of musicians whose work is thought to owe its quality to production, I find him wanting: He's made no single record to equal the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" or Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave." If compared to contemporary rock & roll bands, I find him wanting: He's made nothing to equal the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby," the Who's "My Generation" or the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" (or "Get Off My Cloud" or "Tumbling Dice"). If compared to the trash-rock of the bar lounges, I find him wanting: He's made no records to equal Gary (U.S.) Bonds's "Quarter to Three" or Joey Dee and the Starliters' "Peppermint Twist."
Dylan invented the modern singer/songwriter form and there's no question that he remains the best of the lot, but how any of them will finally stand as recording artists no one can yet say. Most of them display some of his flaws in record making, while others use production to hide a lack of substance --something no one will ever accuse Dylan of. (Only one, Joni Mitchell, seems to have solved the problem by inventing a form of production on Blue that doesn't sound like production at all.)
Consider this: Dylan is supposed to be the standard against which so many have measured rock for the past ten years. But if the reader can allow that any record by performers obviously lacking Dylan's broader artistic credentials equals or surpasses his, then his position as a premier recording artist is called into question.
It didn't matter that Charlie Chaplin may not have been a great director or a great anything else. He made great movies. But it does matter whether or not the sum total of Dylan's talents has added up to the making of great records. By and large I don't believe that they have and, if the unit of rock & roll art were only what survives on vinyl, exclusive of anything else and undivided into its component parts, then I don't believe that Bob Dylan would qualify as a great rock artist.
If Dylan isn't a great rock artist per se, he is a great artist, period. He has transcended his limitations more successfully than anyone else in rock. He succeeded in making himself indispensable. The records may be indispensable in only the first moments in which they are perceived, but they can transmit as much force in those moments as others do in hours, days and years.
Dylan considered in total — as a man, myth, singer, writer and, yes, maker of records — hasn't been merely immediate and urgent: He's given rock its drama. He creates tensions within his audience beyond anyone else's reach. If he isn't as good a record maker as Chuck Berry, he's a much better actor. As an actor and as a personality, Dylan hasn't handled every role with equal skill. He was unconvincing as the happy homeowner. People who criticize that phase of his work never intended to deny him the right to be exactly what he wanted to be. But they reacted to the fact that he couldn't make that experience as real as he could the emotions of anger, pain, hurt, fear, loneliness, aloneness and strength. Like James Dean and Marlon Brando, he was better at playing the rebel than the citizen, the outsider than the insider and the outlaw than the sheriff.
Much of the critical enthusiasm for Blood on the Tracks is really a sigh of relief that he's shaken off the role of contentment that Jonathan Cott also has found never rang true. But in returning to his role as disturber of the peace, Dylan hasn't revived any specific phase from the past, only a style that lets his emotions speak more freely and the state of mind in which he no longer denies the fires that are still raging within him and us. He is using elements of his past to make an album about his past.
The record itself has been made with typical shoddiness. The accompanying musicians have never sounded more indifferent. The sound is generally no more than what Greil Marcus calls "functional," a neutral environment from which Dylan emerges.
But the singing is much better than on any recent album. He turns up with beautiful lines and phrasing on "Tangled Up in Blue," "You're a Big Girl Now," "Shelter from the Storm" and "Buckets of Rain" (but the snarl that he resurrects from "Like a Rolling Stone" in order to sing "Idiot Wind" sounds like a shadow of his former self).
The writing is the source of the record's power. It's been a long time since Dylan has composed a melody line as perfectly suited to his voice as "Tangled Up in Blue," and though the lyrics are both confessional and narrative, Dylan makes it all sound like direct address. There are times when he sounds closer, more intimate and more real than anyone else.
If in Dylan's world of extremes there's room for a middle ground, that's where I place Blood on the Tracks. It's his best album since Blonde on Blonde, but not nearly as good. If it contains nothing so bad as the second version of "Forever Young," only "Tangled Up in Blue" comes even close to "One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)." To compare the new album to Blonde on Blonde at all is to imply that people will treasure it as deeply and for as long. They won't.
But, for the moment, which is when this record was made for, I like everything about it; the good, the bad and the ugly. It all matters: the title "Tangled Up in Blue"; and the way that song propels itself relentlessly forward (even though it is about the past) and always winds up leaving Dylan and us standing in the same place; the lines, "I helped her out of a jam, I guess/But I used a little too much force"; the way that the song sounds so right for the Byrds of 1965; the compassion, not rage, of "You're a Big Girl Now"; the lines "I can make it through/You can make it too"; the innocence and unqualified beauty of Dylan's reprise of his folk music roots on "Buckets of Rain"; the awkwardness of the music for "If You See Her, Say Hello"; the childishness (without any redeeming childlike wonder) of so much of "Idiot Wind"; the holiness of the last verse of "Shelter from the Storm"; the extension of the apocalyptic mood of his earlier work into something still forceful, but mellower, more understanding, more tolerant and more self-critical; the indifference to the subject of women as a generality and his involvement with women and love as something specific, and above all, the arrogance — that defiant indifference to whatever it is others think he ought to be doing. He still stands alone.
Blood on the Tracks will only sound like a great album for a while. Like most of Dylan, it is impermanent. But like the man who made it, the album answers to no one and was made for everyone. It is the work of someone who is not just seeing through himself, but looking through us — and still making us see things that we haven't seen before.
Bob Dylan Blood On The Tracks Album Review | Rolling Stone
26= The Clash – London Calling
The dark, brooding menace of the title track defines the band, the era and the entire genre but London Calling is no one trick pony of an album. Despite their place in the vanguard of the New Wave back in 1976 the Clash were never going to stay long with the frenetic and unsophisticated punk style that characterised their earliest recordings, and by the time this, their third album appeared, they had moved on. The biting social and political comment in the lyrics remained, but the musical influences were diverse, and covered a myriad of styles.
In the 35 years that have elapsed since its release London Calling has figured in the highest echelons of just about every one of the many attempts to list the greatest albums in order of merit. The test of time is a tricky one for any album to pass but London Calling has not dated at all. There are a total of 19 tracks on the double album, and whilst the opener is by far the best known, there are several others that match it. There isn't a duff song in sight, and 'Spanish Bombs', 'Lost in the Supermarket' and 'Train in Vain' are all every bit as memorable as 'London Calling' itself.
Write-up by fredfertang
26= Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik
The album that shot the RHCP to fame, it is the soundtrack for teenage boys who think they're tough ****s with unlimited sex appeal. I'll leave you to ponder what my self image was as a 15-16 year old with a terrible haircut and a poor relationship with my sense of style.
What makes this album great then, instead of the funk pop cousin to Limp Bizkit and Vanilla Ice? Well to get the boring objective musical technical dribble stuff out of the way first, these guys can play, and Kiedis has the moves and the inflated sense of self worth to pull it off. Second, the album shows their development as a band from funk with lyrics that are usually as douchey as possible (with the occasional lyrical gem like "Knock Me Down" or "Fight Like A Brave") to a multifaceted quartet who can show multiple sides of themselves in the same album.
Diversity is what makes this band and this album, especially when you discover the stories behind the songs. AKs twattish bravado shown in the title track or in "Sir Psycho Sexy" is broken down in "I Could Have Lied", a song written in one evening by himself and Frusciante and then the pair threw the tape in the letterbox of Kiedis' ex before speeding away. "Under The Bridge" and "Breaking The Girl" show a growing self awareness, the former being about how Kiedis felt to be kicked out of his own band and the latter recognising he doesn't want to end up like his father. The social conscience of the band also shines through in "Power of Equality" and "The Righteous and The Wicked", and stream of conscious philosophies and tributes in "Give It Away" (inspired by a girl giving him a fancy jacket she owned on a whim of kindness) branch away from the self obsession this band often fell into.
The stories and the lyrics would be nothing though without the music, and the band nail the atmosphere and the tone for every song they write on the album. You can absolutely tell "I Could Have Lied" was written during the night by the quietness, the sadness and the intimacy flowing through, and "Give It Away" retains the organic jam feel it sprung from.
Why is this album great to me though? I think it's because when I discovered this album I was struggling with trying to project the right identity to my friends and wider circle while also knowing I was a bit more than what I was showing. That's not something I knew or thought about at the time, but something I only know in retrospect. It's clear to me on this album that the RHCP themselves were trying to live up to their image whilst simultaneously knowing it wasn't the whole story.
When any well written album that hits your taste finds you at the right place at the right time, it's going to stay with you. There are songs on this album I don't really care for anymore, but once upon a time I listened to them every day. Despite being a considerably different person today I still listen to most of the songs, and I still love them. Albums that resonate with you even after massive changes in your outlook and perspective must be pretty special.
Write-up by Flem274*
25. Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel's duo work remain some of the most iconic music from the 1960s, and their final studio album Bridge over Troubled Water is commonly thought to be their finest work. In this recording, the duo went beyond their traditional folk sound to bring together a number of different genres, tempos and styles, producing a record that was both commercially and critically successful.
The eponymous title track is perhaps the most well known on the album, with a simple, beautiful piano theme accompanying the message of hope and faith into the final crescendo. Further memorable songs include the high-tempo, irreverent Cecilia, and the lamenting ballad The Boxer.
Write-up by Samuel Vimes
24. Arcade Fire – Funeral
There's a part of me that has enjoyed going to funerals. They are curated by people who have a deep, genuine care for the deceased, and want to express their feelings and ensure that they are understood, and hopefully reflected, by the audience with whom they share. Then follows the wake, a chance to share the stories - on a more individual level - that you and others present will remember about the departed; sometimes things get out of hand and you forget where you are and the day's purpose, and though the day is often a sad occasion, remembering back upon the day itself can revive happy memories.
Funeral is an apt name for Arcade Fire's debut album. It's name took inspiration from the loss of several band members' relatives during the writing and recording process, and that sense of hurt and sadness certainly arises through the fifty minutes of the record - particularly through the series of "Neighbourhood" songs.
But there's still an energy that flows throughout that is uplifting and energetic; the angst in the lyrics of Neighbourhood #2 (Laika) is overpowered by the nagging catchiness of the song, as though breaking free from the torment of the song's protagonist.
Wake Up, to me, through that ever so inviting sing-a-long, is the medium through which we start to get that communal chance to share. It's the 'wake' of Funeral, and - the album's peak in my opinion - Rebellion (Lies) those highlights that you grab from the day, the snippets that you learn, or laughs that you didn't think would come at the beginning of the day.
To me, Funeral still tells the whole, wider story of Arcade Fire. Their subsequent albums have been like different eulogy speakers, focusing in on a different part of their existence. Those records have produced some amazing highlights, and the songs that we'll remember, but Funeral presents the full picture, a curated experience of a life well lived.
Write-up by vic_orthdox
23. Paul Simon – Graceland
Paul Simon was a huge star in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His superbly crafted and melodic songs, brilliantly interpreted by Art Garfunkel's voice sold millions of copies and did so consistently over many years. The split with Garfunkel came in 1970, and the wisdom of that decision was questioned by many. Simon proved the doubters wrong though, and three albums from the early 1970s, the eponymous Paul Simon, There Goes Rhymin' Simon and Still Crazy After All These Years were both greeted with critical acclaim and huge sales.
Simon was 34 when the last of that triumverate were released. He became less active after that, no doubt struggling for ideas, and his next few projects made much less impact and, whilst they were all worth listening to, little stuck in the memory and it seemed to be the usual case of a performer losing inspiration as he moved into his fourth decade.
By 1986 Simon appeared to be a spent force, seemingly destined for a career reprising past glories and fielding enquiries from well-meaning journalists about when he and Art Garfunkel would be getting back together. In due course, seven years later, there was a brief and, inevitably, successful reunion, but in the meantime the 45 year old had, remarkably, rolled back the years and produced the album which has proved, above even Bridge Over Troubled Water to be his apogee.
Graceland, so I read in The Guardian, was influenced by and immersed in South Africa, not generally a happy topic of conversation back in those days. But all the papers waxed lyrical about it, and in an attempt to impress a rather sophiscated lady that I was chancing my arm with at the time I decided to invest in it without hearing a single song. I never did get anywhere with Berkshire's answer to Penelope Pitstop, who it turned out wasn't interested in any man whose car had an engine smaller than 4 litres, but I did end up with a very fine album indeed.
I wasn't wordly enough to know what South African music was like, but Graceland was certainly like nothing I had heard before. Songs like the title track, You Can Call Me Al, and Diamands On The Soles Of Her Shoes are amongst the best known popular recordings of all time. Personally my favourite track on the album is The Boy In The Bubble, but to be honest there's not a lot to choose between any of those four, and the supporting cast of seven are not far behind. Graceland has a timeless quality as well. During the 2010 World Cup in South AfricavI went out and bought it again in this new-fangled CD format, and its been one of the six in my car ever since.
Four years later Simon did something similar with a Brazilian theme, and for a man just short of his half century it was a fine effort, well received and a commercial success, but it isn't much remembered today, and wasn't a patch on Graceland - but then very little is.
Write-up by fredfertang
22. The Strokes – Is This It
They were yet to release an album, but were causing mass panic. It was August 2001 and the scene of the panic, well scenes actually, were the Leeds and Reading festival. The Strokes had been slated to headline the second stage, which sat inside a tent. A big tent, but.
See, they had been churning out singles, and EPs, and demos, and had amassed quite the following. Most of the songs that made up the album that would be released to the public the following month were in the public domain. There was an appetite for the album, and for the band, and that tent wasn’t going to satisfy it.
If you spend the half hour or so it takes to listen to Is This It you can easily see why. They were a group of middle class New Yorkers but played lo-fi garage rock. The songs fuzzed into your ears, and three minutes later were gone, leaving an enormous impression in the meantime.
It’s an album full of highlights. Lead single Last Nite, with its 70sesque riff and singalong verse/chorus leaves an impression. You can’t stop singing it. The Modern Age pounds along, leaving you thirsty for more. Hard to Explain’s drum machine beat is joined by melodic guitar and Jules Casablancas tells us what is so hard to explain. You can’t help but whistle along to these songs.
The high point of the album was pulled from the initial American version – New York City Cops. In it, Casablancas sings of his disgust for the men in blue of the big apple, becoming quite animated as the song goes on. It is a ripper, you believe him as he aches out the chorus line of, “New York City Cops, they ain’t too sma-aart.” Alas, the timing was unfortunate as the 9/11 atrocities saw many of New York’s serviceman killed in the aftermath, and the title was respectfully pulled. It remained on the versions around the world though, and was the clincher that made me accept The Strokes as a band I needed in my life.
They have had their moments since but haven’t really come close to matching the benchmark they set themselves. A shame, but it’s an album that will stand the test of the time and has resulted in many youngsters picking up guitars ever since.
Oh, and by the way. They got moved to the headline stage. Probably for the best.
Write-up by GIMH
21. Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion II
I probably should have voted for Use your Illusion I as well as Use your Illusion II. I will be interested to know if that album makes the top 50 and who does the write up (GIMH I suspect).
The band was extremely dysfunctional during the making of the albums and although the final recording of the albums was blasted through with one song every day until they finished it was a tumultuous journey to develop the material. Perhaps one divisive ‘argument’ they had in Chicago over whether it was ok for the groupies they were with to pike out of having sex with them by offering BJs instead summarised their problems.
But as Slash emphasises in his autobiography they were all proud musicians. And they eventually delivered. We purchased those albums as soon as they came out and were expecting the whole thing to be like You could be Mine and basically a repeat of Appetite. We got something not better but just different and more mature. Well except for Get in the Ring; **** knows what they were thinking there.
Use your Illusion II has always been my favoured effort even though it is missing Dead Horse. Civil War is probably the key reason. The opening is epic. A quick Google reveals the speech at the beginning of the song is from the movie Cool Hand Luke: "What we have here is a failure to communicate..."
Civil War is followed by 14 years, then Yesterdays, then Knockin on Heaven’s door, each song just perfectly mixed to follow its predecessor.
It has been said many times that if GnR had’ve combined the best tracks of both UYI albums then they would have created one of the greatest albums of all time. I myself have spent 3 or 4 rainy afternoons putting songs in my order of how they could have been combined. But they chose to do a double album and perhaps that is better as I love what might have been discussions.
My cousin had the awesome experience of working in a record store when it came out. He stocked the shelves and they were sold in minutes on opening day. They kept opening boxes and then just started having people follow them to stock room. Somehow the fans had favourites even on opening day “I need a number one over here” “Chuck me a one bro” “I need a number 2”.
I am glad we got both – but if pressed am a number II guy.
Write-up by Hurricane