The rules: Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen albums you’ve heard that will always stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes.
With this very simple rule in mind, all I had to think of was the albums that blew my mind on first listen. Not albums that eventually clicked with me – although that would make an interesting list (it would include The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society and more than a few FZ albums) – but the albums that when it was over, all I could say was, “Holy fuck, this was INCREDIBLE.”
Sell Out – The Who
In their recent “Gateways to Geekery” column entry on The Who, Scott Gordon of The A.V. Club took a rather cynical shit on this record. I don’t think I’d been so incensed by The A.V. Club (which is saying something), because I think it’s their best album, featuring all members of the group contributing to the project. Note that I referred to it as a project; that’s why I like it, that the album was conceived as a project, meant to flow like a radio broadcast, complete with phony ads. Never again would their sound be so varied. It did what The White Album did…a year before it came out.
Key tracks: “Armenia City In The Sky,” “I Can See For Miles,” “I Can’t Reach You,” “Sunrise”
Preservation Act 2 – The Kinks
The 2-LP conclusion to their epic rock opera, it features The Kinks tackling all sorts of sounds (I’m a sucker for John Dalton’s Rickenbacker bass on this album…plus the fact that nowhere else in The Kinks’ catalog can you hear Dave Davies fiddling with a wah-wah pedal) with Ray delivering some deliciously theatrical vocal performances. As far as the story goes, it details a village run by a corrupt businessman and the revolution against him led by a promise-making savior…who turns out to be an authoritarian moralist whose master plan involves turning the populace into robots.
Not for everyone…but I dig it.
Key tracks: “When A Solution Comes,” “He’s Evil,” “Nobody Gives,” “Scrapheap City”
Time Fades Away – Neil Young
Part one of Neil’s ditch trilogy, this rickety live album captures Neil as a man on edge, haunted by the recent death of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, but convinced the show must go on. A sense of panic, doom, and false hope hovers over the album like an apparition…all in a druggy haze.
Key tracks: “Time Fades Away,” “Don’t Be Denied,” “Last Dance”
The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground
Here’s your free absolutist claim from your resident critic: this is one of the most important pieces of postwar American art. The music marries rock and roll with the avant-garde (atonal screeches from John Cale’s viola, odd tunings, minimalist drumming), while the lyrics deal with such pleasant themes as bondage sex, prostitution, and drug abuse. I’ve never heard anything like it before, and although a few others at their best (Bauhaus in particular comes to mind) came close, no one’s bested it yet.
Key tracks: “Venus In Furs,” “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” “Heroin,” “European Son”
Magical Mystery Tour – The Beatles
I like Sgt. Pepper just fine, but this one is weirder. The movie is grossly underrated, too. The six songs featured in the film are paired with five single tracks, which all flow one after another like a greatest hits…at least, to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had enough conversations with fellow Beatles fans to acknowledge that I am in the minority in championing this album – and for holding George Harrison’s eerily beautiful “Blue Jay Way” as one of their best songs – but I’ll take it over Abbey Road any day.
Key tracks: “Fool On The Hill,” “Blue Jay Way,” “I Am The Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields Forever”
We’re Only In It For The Money – The Mothers of Invention
This was it for me as far as falling in love with Uncle Frank was concerned. Here was something that had the attitude of punk (which I had just gotten into) but with a musical sense of sophistication that I’d never heard before. Parts of the album were startling at first, namely the examples of musique concrete and tape experiments, but they were oddly just as engrossing to me as hearing Frank’s humorous lyrics. I also really dug – and still dig – that Frank had a sense of pathos in his lyrics on songs like “Mom And Dad” and “The Idiot Bastard Son.”
I also have distinct memories of being told to turn this off during the chaotic finale of “Flower Punk” by my mom.
Key tracks: “Who Needs The Peace Corps?,” “Mom And Dad,” “Flower Punk,” “Mother People,” “The Chrome-Plated Megaphone Of Destiny”
Bringing It All Back Home – Bob Dylan
The speed-laced paranoia of “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The gently playful “She Belongs To Me.” The almighty fuck-you of “Maggie’s Farm.” The equally defiant “On The Road Again.” The surrealistic beauty of “Mr. Tambourine Man.” I could keep going, but this an album that speaks for itself – and I approached it as a skeptic towards all things Dylan. Needless to say, I ate my words with a side of cranberry sauce and yams.
Key tracks: “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “She Belongs To Me,” “Maggie’s Farm,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “It’s All Right Ma (I’m Only Bleeding”
King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown – Augustus Pablo/King Tubby
Hearing this – on the in-game radio in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, no less – convinced me to get more into reggae and dub. The title track remains one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard. What I love about this is how much of it is in the production…bathe a song in echo and you’ll win the keys to my heart.
Key tracks: “555 Dub Street,” “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown,” “Corner Crew Dub”
Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols
Hearing this as an angst-riddled 13 year old whose own sense of politics was just developing, this might as well have been a revelation from Heaven. In time, I feel half the album is pretty disposable…but the songs that I thought were great then have only gotten better. When the band kicks in on “Holidays In The Sun,” or when the heralding of the apocalypse that is “Anarchy In The UK” I still think to myself “Holy fucking SHIT this is the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Key tracks: “Holidays In The Sun,” “Bodies,” “God Save The Queen,” “Anarchy In The UK,” “Submission”
Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness – Smashing Pumpkins
A sprawling double album, there’s lots of great sound on this record. I’ve driven to it, listened to it drunk, listened to it stoned, listened to it while drumming…it’s like an old friend, dense, complex, and versatile. There’s some gorgeous compositions here, but also some boisterous rock and roll. Oh, and Jimmy Chamberlin is one of the best drummers of the 1990’s.
Key tracks: “Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness,” “Tonight, Tonight,” “Zero,” “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Fuck You (An Ode To No One,)” “Love,” “Porcelina Of The Vast Oceans,” “Tales Of A Scorched Earth,” “Through The Eyes Of Ruby”
From Here To Eternity – The Clash
Their studio albums are all iconic, and I worship them, but this was the first full Clash album I heard in my youth, and it’s a 75-minute concert/party with “the only band that matters.” Songs that sounded great in the studio are done faster, maybe slightly rickety, but it’s a Hell of a good time. For whatever it’s worth, my great-grandmother like the song “The Guns Of Brixton.”
Key tracks: “What’s My Name,” “Career Opportunities,” “City Of The Dead,” “London Calling,” “The Magnificent Seven”
Holy Wood (In The Shadow Of The Valley Of Death) – Marilyn Manson
The reaction, no matter who I talk to, when I tell them I like (some) Manson is, “Really?!” Years after my Manson phase, I relistened to this album, and as far as I’m concerned it still holds up. It’s Manson’s response to being America’s scapegoat following that ugliness at Columbine, wisely suggesting that America’s love affair with “Guns, God, and the Government” has more to do with kids being driven to homicide than his music.
Key tracks: “The Fight Song,” “Disposable Teens,” “Target Audience (Narcissus Narcosis),” “The Nobodies,” “The Death Song,” “Born Again,” “King Kill 33”
Roger The Engineer – The Yardbirds
The epitome of Swinging 60’s cool. I hate that The Yardbirds are known as “the band that turned into Led Zeppelin,” or as the band that gave Clapton his start…because their best work was with the guitarist’s guitarist of the lot, Mr. Jeff Beck.
Key tracks: “Over Under Sideways Down,” “He’s Always There,” “Turn Into Earth,” “What Do You Want,” “Ever Since The World Began,” “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”
Cheap Trick – Cheap Trick (1977)
I adore Cheap Trick. They’re too clever to be branded as arena rock…too heavy to be power pop…too versatile to be considered New Wave or post-punk…and this album proves it better than any of them. Some pretty demented song topics here, things like nuclear war, child molesters, suicide, shotgun weddings, becoming a gigolo, and a serial murderer. One of the best go-to albums for a long drive or a raucous party.
Key tracks: “Daddy Should Have Stayed In High School,” “Oh Candy,” “He’s A Whore,” “Mandocello,” “The Ballad Of TV Violence (I’m Not The Only Boy)”
The Third Reich & Roll – The Residents
A full-frontal assault on popular music by a group of neo-Dadaists working in complete anonymity, by way of them playing along (poorly) with a bunch of bubblegum pop tunes from the 1960’s. If this sounds appealing to you, you are my new best friend.