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Friday, June 16, 2006

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Listing to Starboard ...

I recently had the good fortune to stumble upon this blog produced by a guy from Belfast, 'bout 25 miles down (meaning "up and over, eastward") Route One from Arguably So HQ.

It turns out that he DJs for
WERU – a community radio station broadcasting out of Blue Hill – one night a week. I describe WERU as a college radio station without the college. Alternative Radio news runs regularly during the day, and variously formatted, locally DJ'd music shows run throughout the night.

This show, "Modern Moonlight," is about as close of a representation of my musical taste, at least with respect to rock/pop, as I've ever heard broadcast on the radio.

Anyway, the DJ took advantage of the station's pledge drive to do a "Best of" show. I tuned in at #48 of a "Greatest Alternative Rock Albums of the Last 25 Years" countdown, which was Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning." Inspired a bit, I started to sketch out my own list, although I morphed the theme a bit into: "50 Most Influential Albums from 1980-2005." Looking back, my list largely lined up with alternative/punk music dominating with smatterings of rap, but with a minor quibble, I maintain that that all the music included is essentially rock music – i.e. the blissful merger of blues, folk, country, soul, r&b, funk, etc., etc., etc.

Anyway, I completed my list before he made it much past number 35, and yet, it lined up almost lockstep with the playlist the DJ
posted on his blog the next day, with a few slight divergences. Anyway, I felt compelled to drop him a line to share my list and consider the discrepancies.

As I shared this discussion with a handful of folks, some interesting personal exchanges ensured. Chiefly, the questions centered around stumbling with the true theme of the list. "Favorite" v. "Most Influential".

However, it is worth noting that several of my omissions, in some cases, pointed out to me by said folks, haunted me – do I include the omissions and delete something to make space? Ultimately, I resolved to pull a MLB with Roger Maris and provide an asterisk, adding enough spaces above #50 to permit listing of the seminal excluded albums. The follow below, with snippets of the exchanges that alerted me as to their omission.

NOTE OF CAUTION: The CDs are not ranked!

The CDs are merely listed in the order they popped into my head. If any significance is to be derived from the order, it's that bands of a feather are likely near each other … and I started making it as you played the Minutemen:

The Minutemen – Double Nickels on the Dime.
Husker Du – Zen Arcade (Honorable Mention: "New Day Rising")
Replacements – Tim (HM: Let it Be)
Prince – Sign of the Times
Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (HM: Sister)
REM – Reckoning (HM: murmur)
Talking Heads – Remain in Light
Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones
U2 – Achtung Baby (HM: The Unforgettable Fire)
The Pogues – Rum Sodomy and the Lash
The Smiths -- Queen is Dead (HM: Meat is Murder, Louder than Bombs)
Jesus and Mary Chain – Darklands
The Cure – Disintegration
New Order – Substance
Police – Synchronicity
Pixies – Surfer Rosa
The Breeders – Last Splash
Sugarcubes – Stick Around for Joy
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Violent Femmes – VF
Janes Addiction – Nothing Shocking
Dinosaur Jr – You're Living All Over Me (HM: Bug)
Pearl Jam – Ten
Nirvana – Nevermind
Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
Smashing Pumpkins – Siamese Dream
Fugazi – Repeater (HM: 13 Songs)
Tori Amos – Under the Pink
Sleater Kinney – All Hands on the Bad One
Bikini Kill – Reject All American
Radiohead – OK Computer
Stone Roses – SR
Blur – 13
Beck – Odelay (HM: Midnite Vultures)
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head (HM: Paul's Boutique, Ill Communication)
Public Enemy – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Dr Dre – The Chronic
Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Lou Reed – New York (HM: Magic and Loss)
Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Blood Sugar Sex Magic
Green Day – Dookie
NIN – Pretty Hate Machine
Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted
Guided By Voices – Bee Thousand (HM: Alien Lanes)
Morphine – Cure for Pain
Yo La Tengo – And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out (
HM: I Can Hear Your Heart Beating As 1/Painful)
Flaming Lips – The Soft Bulletin (HM: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots")
White Stripes – Elephant
The Strokes – Is This It?
Arcade Fire – Funeral

Omissions now included, with accompanying excuses/explanations:

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1. PJ Harvey – "Stories of the City Stories from the Sea." I meant to include this one, but it slipped my mind as I proceeded through all of the cock-rock and never returned as I briefly entered Riot Grrl-ville. Meegish chastised me on this point, and later continued after noting my choice of Polly Jean CDs, to which I noted, "I hope this isn't cause for derision, as it's the only CD of hers I like. It actually has a rather hallowed status, and its accidental omission is only a reflection of my slapdash mind."

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2. Sugar – "Copper Blue." Husker Du joined the list early for me. Cajun presented me with this point: "I know you've got husker du on there, but sugar's copper blue is really good too..." To the point, and full of painful truth. This presented a tough secondary question for me, i.e. How do you deal with successor acts of Seminal bands that reached some tumultuous demise? Ironically, I had no trouble posting The Breeders, despite The Pixies' obvious place on the list. Yet, no Sugar … which is particularly strange considering I enjoy CB as much or more than either Zen Arcade or New Day Rising. Same problem requires inclusion of:

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3. Sebadoh – "III" (honorable mention: "Bakesale"). Cajun recommended, "Sebadoh is pretty good too – bubble and scrape maybe …" Perhaps posting Sebadoh should have been easier than the struggle over Sugar or the Breeders or Fugazi/Minor Threat. After all, Lou Barlow left Dinosaur Jr. to form Sebadoh (and Folk Implosion) because his footprint was gradually diminishing as J. Mascis pushed him out. The opposite was true with Bob Mould in H.D. and Kim Deal in the Pixies. And frankly, I couldn't tell you why Ian McKaye dissolved Minor Threat to form Fugazi, other than his decision to join with the Fugazi fellers.

4. Belle and Sebastian – "If You're Feeling Sinister" Nobody chided me about this omission, except my own subconscious. I've come to love this band, particularly over the last 3 years. I have a hard time settling in on a particular CD – in fact, I think their newest one, "Life Pursuit" is as good as anything they've done and breaks new ground while maintaining the classic Anglo-Drear-Bliss. For that matter, "Push Barman to Open Old Wounds," "Boy With The Arab Strap," "Tigermilk," " Dear Catastrophe Waitress" … they all have their plusses, too, But I list "If You're Feeling Sinister" because it was my first B&S and it's as good as any of them.

5. The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones – "Don't Know How to Party" I am still uncertain that this belongs here, but I think the discussion needs to be noted. Somehow, the Ska-Core movement ought to be represented, and they were as big in that subgenre as were any others – Rancid, maybe, too. I like this CD, too. Worth noting. But just because I tap my foot every time I hear Barenaked Ladies, "One Week" and "If I Had a Million Dollars" doesn't mean I should list them.

Other thoughts – disagreements over "The" CD for certain artists:

• The Beastie Boys are probably the most hotly disputed band on here, as some love Licensed to Ill (I don't) and some love Ill Communication. Perhaps I should have included the rarely invoked, but always sincere "honorable mention" status on the latter (I don't like licensed to ill …)

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• Per Meegish, in re Sleater-Kinney: " All Hands holds not even a birthday candle to One Beat (far as SK goes)." Hmmm … All Hands was the breakthrough from the edgiest of their stuff ("Call the Doctor" and "Dig Me Out") to their newer, more highly produced, musically complex, and pop-friendly stuff. Because of its bridge status, I rank it here.

• Per Meegish, in re Pixies and all things Deal: " Surfer Rosa as your top Pixies choice? And the Breeders shouldn't even be on there." Ouch. See above.

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• Per Packy, a former roommate who enjoyed disparaging indierockers of the jangly, underproduced ilk – namely, Pavement: " No Pavement? What the fuck?" As a note, I posted Slanted and Enchanted pretty high on the list. Yet, he doth protest too much … so add "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" and "Wowee Zowee" here. Crooked Rain was their Pop break out ("Cut Yr Hair" videos, MTV exposes on the "… out on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins …" lyric in "Range Life," etc.). Wowee Zowee is their Physical Graffiti. I say no more …

• Per AJ: "Good list, Commish (a nickname for me) but I woulda added Rage - Evil Empire or Battle for LA. And Tool - Aenima." OK. I meant to include a Rage Against the Machine CD, but I was leaning toward the eponymous first CD. And while I never dove deeply into Tool, I agree that they were seminal and that "Aenima" is the one – "Stinkfist" is one of the most intense rock songs ever and provides an amazingly most powerful combo of guitar and bass. I blame them in part for the late 90s crap-metal revival, but that doesn't take away from their importance.

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• Per Cajun: "I still think the Screaming Trees are just as good as any of thoseother Seattle bands....." and "Since they're last coupla albums were really horrible its hard to
remember how good Soul Asylum used to be. But In 1990 I was sure that
"Hang Time" was one of the best albums ever....." Duly noted, and I now express regret for not seriously considering either "Sweet Oblivion" or "Uncle Anesthesia," although I must admit that I never did the Soul Asylum thing beyond the 1993 MTV breakout, i.e. "Somebody to Shove" and "Black Gold"

Oh and that's The Replacements' Tommy Stinson playing here with Soul Asylum

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And Finally ...

• Per AJ: " This list is just for alternative/Indie/college radio type bands correct? Because Zep, Who, Stones etc … would certainly have some shyt up in there.
The Stones "Tattoo You" was 1981, AC/DC "Back in Black" was 1980, Zep "Coda" was 1980, Pink Floyd "The Wall" was 1980 and Van Halen must have something cool along with the Clash and REM?

• My Response: "Most Influential", not "Enjoyable"

The point of the distinction: Strive for an objective standard, not subjective aesthetic pleasure. It's impossible in the abstract, but the attempt is worthy.


The Rolling Stones' CDs that I would list as Most Influential were made in the 1960s and 1970s -- i.e. Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street.

AC DC's only Most Influential stuff is tough to pinpoint, but while "Back in Black" is probably their mainstream breakthrough, it wasn't ground-breaking. It was merely a more refined version of the stuff that was ground breaking around 1976 -- i.e. the Bon Scott stuff: "Powerrage," "High Voltage," "Dirty Deeds," "Let There Be Rock." Their impact was to strip down rock to the basics, a la punk, but without the punk-ish political connotation. By 1980-81, nothing Angus Young was doing was new.

Van Halen – again – "1984" wasn't groundbreaking. Neither was Diver Down. VH I arguably was, but it was released in ... what, 1977 or 1978.

Pink Floyd – "The Wall," maybe ... you could make a good argument for it, but I wouldn't personally include it. Definitely "Dark Side of the Moon," but not "The Wall." Not to mention that it, to me, belongs more to the 1970s than the 1980s, even if its release date was in the 1980s.

And I did include REM: Reckoning, with a Murmur "Honorable mention."

I DID NOT include any Clash .... because they didn't release anything in the 1980s that deserves inclusion. Their important stuff was release in 1976-77, i.e. London Calling. Same goes for the Ramones and Sex Pistols and Talking Heads (although Remain in Light warrants consideration) and the like. I could be swayed on "Sandinista!" which was the 1980s, but probably not – it's such a divisive album, with some saying the Reggae fusion thing was genius, and others saying it caused the band's disintegration. That said, it includes probably my favorite Clash song, "Up in Heaven." And don't give me any of that "Combat Rock" stuff. Combat Rock is to London Calling what Tattoo You was to Let it Bleed.

II would not say my list is restrictive to "alternative/Indie/college radio type bands"

I included Prince, PE, NWA, B-Boys ...

If any heavy metal acts from the 1980s or 1990s deserved inclusion, I would have added them. The only one, in retrospect that I would have considered is Guns and Roses' "Appetite for Destruction."

Beyond them, the bands you are likely including in "alternative" are what I would deem "Rock" and no different than the Stones, Who, AC DC, or VH of the modern era.

• AJ responded: "I see ok Rich that makes sense then. I do think That Back in Black does belong on there though. I think to a degree it brought metal into the mainstream and the crue, ratt, gnr and all those fucs rode the wave to shore."

• My response: " I guess it's the same argument in support of Back in Black as you would make for Combat Rock -- i.e. their seminal material was released earlier, but these albums brought them to a mainstream audience, which is arguably "important."

I'll accept that. But they still don't make my list.

I don't think I'd lump GnR in with Motley Crue, and I know I wouldn't dump them in with the likes of Ratt. I found an excerpt from a
Chuck Klosterman article from Spin that nicely waxes my belief on this one:

""Paradise City," Guns N' Roses (rock video, 1988) Dressed like a glam-metal Tom Wolfe and chucking his sunglasses at no one in particular, Axl Rose came dangerously close to making GNR the new incarnation of the Rolling Stones. Which was what everyone was hoping would happen, and (obviously) didn't happen, or even come close to happening. But this video could not be any better than it is, particularly when Steven Adler points at New York City from a boat, unconsciously implying that this place is, in fact, where the girls are pretty."

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Final Thought:

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• Phish …. I don't think I can name one of their LPs. I don't really even like them … in fact I'm on record saying I don't like them. (See "King Eiders Pub," discussion between Crissi, Bartender Dave, and I, circa 1997-98 – D: "Tell me why, please, you hate Phish … and keep it under 500 words …" Me: "Cause they suck.") That said, they are clearly among "The Most Influential," if nothing else. Nuff said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Prince: would have Purple Rain, instead. SOTT is too long, furthermore has 3-4 very good songs. That's a lot of GD filler!
2. Looking back, Remain in Light has only 3 essential songs. Loved the 'Heads but not sure any one cd is essential. They (and some other acts, here) benefit more from the mix/retrospective format...
3. Pogues: overrated. And RSATL is not that good.
4. Sugarcubes, D jr, Soundgarden, Sleater-Kinney, Stone Roses, Blur, Green Day, and Police cd's---would not have included. Not essential, or all that important.
5. As I've said, Wilco's Summer Teeth is way better than YFH, which is uneven, sometimes excelletn---but when they started to suck.
5. I guess I agree with your inc. of the Smiths TQID. But relatedly, what about Morrissey's Vauxhall And I, a consistently excellent cd?
6. SY's DN doesn't age that well to me. Better to go with Sister; like has been said, SY was important before they were good...but Sister to me is their cohesive, watershed statement.
7. Not sure about the 'Mats. Pleased to Meet me was my fave...not as 'important'but best 'songs.'

9:48 AM


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