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My personal Top 20 albums (11-20)

In my previous post I gave you the first 10 of the 20 most influential albums in my life. Here’s the second half. (Remember, these aren’t in any particular order… it was hard enough narrowing it down, much less ranking them.)

11. Neil Young and Crazy Horse – Weld
As a musician, one of the best things about Neil Young is that he can’t decide who the hell he is. One minute he’s giving you Harvest (which almost made this list) and the next you’re getting Zuma or Rust Never Sleeps. When you’re just starting out on guitar and really suck, Needle and the Damage Done is an unreasonable goal. But sweet jeebus, Weld was like finding the freaking Rosetta Stone. Given a guitar that’s even halfway in tune, ANYBODY can sound good playing along with this live album. It was the 1991 equivalent of Guitar Hero. There’s so much noise and feedback and distortion that anybody can hide their suckage in the sonic flotsam and jetsam floating around their ears. (It comes as no surprise that Neil claims he ruined his hearing mixing this album.) So yes, it’s a lot of noise. But it’s sweet, beautiful noise. There’s a difference between this and the heap piles of crap turned out by Sonic Youth (his opening act on the tour during which this album was recorded) — it’s that there’s still an underlying melody to the noise.

Given this album, a dirty distorted guitar, three chords and the truth, any kid can be a rock god in his bedroom for the two hours between when he gets home from school and when his parents come home and make him “turn that racket down.”

We got a thousand points of light
For the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler, machine gun hand

We got department stores and toilet paper
Got styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer
Got a man of the people sayin’ keep hope alive
Got fuel to burn, got roads to drive.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

12. Pearl Jam – TEN
To me, this is the perfect grunge era album. I know others would say Nirvana’s Nevermind should belong here, but quite frankly that’s a “Coke vs. Pepsi” argument — and while in the world of soft drinks the clear answer is Coke (unless you’re a pinko commie Jeff Gordon loving yankee dimwit), in the case of those two albums it comes down to personal preference. My circle of friends much preferred Pearl Jam. You know those memories of your youth that are just like snapshots of your life, rather than full stories? Several of those moments in my life are punctuated by songs from this album. Evenflow will always remind me of sitting in the front of Greg’s dad’s boat, skipping across the choppy water of Joe Pool Lake trying to get a former offensive lineman from Auburn up on skis. (That memory is made more vivid by the fact that it was one of the first times we were ever accompanied by actual girls in actual bathing suits.) Jeremy will always remind me of a car full of teenagers awkwardly self-censoring the lyrics as “gnashed his teeth and bit the recess lady’s … NOSE!” in an attempt to escape the wrath of a disapproving parent. Alive will always remind me of sitting in my friend Lee’s backyard and our duo doing a semi-impromtu “unplugged” gig to impress a couple cute girls from school … and their boyfriends, if I recall correctly. Anyway, the point is that it wouldn’t matter what Kurt Cobain did or didn’t do, in my mind he’ll always be playing second fiddle to Eddie and the boys.

Clearly I remember
Pickin’ on the boy
Seemed a harmless little FREAK
But we unleashed a lion
Gnashed his teeth
And bit the recess lady’s NOSE

13. The Beach Boys – Endless Summer
Yes, it’s another compilation. And yes, it only contains pre-Pet Sounds
material. However, my appreciation for good melodies and close harmonies can be traced back in no small part to this album. I don’t really remember listening to much "children’s music" when I was a kid. I’m sure I probably did to some extent, but I don’t remember much Sesame Street or Raffi or anything like that. I know I wore out my Snoopy vs. The Red Baron single (check out the video on YouTube) on my Fisher-Price record player, but for the most part I remember a lot more "kid-safe" adult music. Driving around town in the back seat of Mom’s Monte Carlo we were usually pacified by the sounds of the Beach Boys or Neil Sedaka or motown hits. And the Beach Boys were my favorite. In fact, the earliest concert I remember attending was a post-game Beach Boys concert at Arlington Stadium. Even late into the elementary school years Greg Stone and I spent more than a few endless summer afternoons laying on the bedroom floor playing with Legos and singing along with the Wilsons, et al. We got to where we had specific parts. I’d usually go high and Greg would go low. If you ever hear new music that has Brian Wilson style harmonies, send it my way. Chances are good I’ll probably love it.

Well I’m not braggin’ babe so don’t put me down
But I’ve got the fastest set of wheels in town
When something comes up to me he don’t even try
Cause if I had a set of wings man I know she could fly
She’s my little deuce coupe
You don’t know what I got

14. Alabama – The Closer You Get and Mountain Music and My Home’s in Alabama

Oh I’ll speak my Southern English just as natural as I please
I’m in the heart of Dixie, Dixie’s in the heart of me

I can’t separate these three albums. They might as well be one triple album to me. My sister and I must have listened to these records a hundred thousand times growing up. The needle would hit the groove on the first side and we’d sing along and run around the living room in circles until we fell over or got sick. (Whichever came first.) But this isn’t just a nice piece of nostalgia to me. This may be overproduced pop country, but it’s still damn fine music.

I think if this "work" thing doesn’t pan out I’m just going to start an Alabama cover band and hit the road.

Whitetail buck deer munchin on clover, redtail hawk settin on a limb
Chubby old groundhog, croakin bullfrog, free as the feelin in the wind
Home grown country girl
Gonna give me a whirl
On a tennessee saturday night
Lucky as a seven
Livin’ in heaven
With my dixieland delight

15. Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

I can’t imagine the stones it must’ve taken to make this concert happen. And I’ll never forget the chills I got the first time listened to the line “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” Nor the second dose of chills I got a few listens later when I realized the cheers that line got from the inmates.

Now I’m gonna shut up on this one and let other people speak.

I bet there’s rich folk eatin’ in a fancy dining car.
They’re prob’ly drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars,
But I know I had it comin’, I know I can’t be free,
But those people keep a movin’, and that’s what tortures me.

16. Weezer – “The Blue Album”
My write-up for this album o’ geek anthems took me longer to write than most of the others on this list because I am listening to each of these albums as I write. Despite the fact that this is probably the shortest album on the list, it was hard to actually do the writing since every time I started to type I’d get the undeniable urge to pick up the guitar and strum along. This was one of about 4 CDs I copied to tape and ALWAYS had in the glove box of my little blue truck just in case the urge struck. Weezer sounded especially good on that sound system. Most of my high school garage bands could play this album — Say It Ain’t So was a signature song for one of them.

Thanks to My Name is Jonas this album took on a new life for me my freshman year of college. An organization I was involved in had coffeehouse-style performances at their retreats and pretty much anybody who could play anything would get up on stage and do something. After a bit of pushing and prodding by friends I got up there and did a pretty killer solo acoustic version of the song. (Thanks in no small part to a high degree of audience participation.) That led into a Polyphonic Spree-eque performance of The Violent Femmes’ Blister in the Sun wherein half the audience — 30-odd people (or 30 odd people, take your pick) rushed the stage and grabbed various instruments and “things to bang on” and played along. But a bunch of us bonded over Weezer. In high school a handful of us liked Weezer. Here I had found a crowd. Bless you, TmfH.

I’ve got an electric guitar
I play my stupid songs
I write these stupid words
And I love every one
Waiting there for me
Yes I do, I do

In the garage
I feel safe
No one cares about my ways
In the garage
Where I belong
No one hears me sing this song
In the garage
In the garage


17. Sloan – Navy Blues
If you listened to most of your music on the radio I’m sure that this is probably the first band on my list that you had to stop and ask yourself if you’d even heard of them before. Well, if you’re a radio person, no, you probably haven’t. (They’re Canadian and they’re not Sarah McLachlan or Rush.)

My parents were one of the first people in the neighborhood to ditch cable, and in 1998ish you could get this fantastic Canadian version of MTV that actually played music videos all the time. And these videos weren’t the garbage you’d see on TRL. Greg (once again) and I were playing cards or something late one night with that channel on the tv in the background and the following video came on the tube:

Unfortunately, we missed the tag at the very beginning of the intro that said the name of the band — and I NEEDED this album more than I had ever needed anything in my life up to that point. This was new and different. This was a full year before anyone had heard of the White Stripes. (And at least three years before White Blood Cells.) This was a full five years before Jet debuted with Get Born. Nobody had made shit like this since Bullitt was still in theaters.

And we had no clue who we had just seen. We just knew it was incredible. And all we had to go off of was the name on the drum kit: Andy Sabola.

This was before Google could answer any question in the known universe. We had SOME ability to search the interwebs, but that name drew a complete blank everywhere we looked. You couldn’t find it at Blockbuster Music. You couldn’t find it at Forever Young. You couldn’t find it anywhere.

As it turns out, Andy Sabola is the guy that Sloan’s drummer bought his used drum kit off of and he thought it would be funny to leave the name on there.

It took us several months to track down this band. I eventually lucked into finding the CD at a store while looking for something else and thinking the album art looked kind of like the video I remembered.

You may have noticed from the video (and if you haven’t watched it yet you should be ashamed of yourself), this band has a real knack for those elusive little buggers music critics like to call “pop hooks.” The whole album’s like that. It’s one hook after another, and they’re all just SO. DAMN. GOOD. Click through on the album or the link above to listen to a few of the other clips from the album. You’ll be glad you did.

We’re still the same
After all these years
It’s funny how you get a feel for it
When you finally lose your sense of fear

When Iggy said it’s loose down on the street
Living in the city
And everything went black ’cause it’s in my eyes
Everything denied

Well, Kurt’s still cool and Angus rules
I’m gonna plug it in again


18. Barenaked Ladies – Rock Spectacle
Speaking of Canadians, I picked up this album because a girl I had a crush on in college said that if I liked Ben Folds I would probably like Barenaked Ladies. I do pretty much anything that smart, attractive women tell me to do, so of course I had to check them out. I had heard about them long before this, but never had the proper motivation to think of them as anything but a band that played fun, gimmicky songs like If I Had a Million Dollars. So I popped in this CD and liked what I heard. Brian Wilson hit most of the right chords with me: solidly crafted song, pop culture trivia, etc. But then the player got to track 5 — When I Fall — and I was completely mesmerized.

I was nearly driven to the loony bin trying to figure out the guitar intro. I immediately went straight to the internet, to utilize it for its originally intended purpose: looking up homemade guitar tabs. Unfortunately, nobody had cracked this one yet. The best I could find was some guy who basically just said, “It’s sorta in the key of E. Good luck.” Again, this is before the days of Google or YouTube, or artists doing anything like THIS on the internet:

Had videos like this existed in 1997 I’m sure that I would have found it in short order and had the song aced in no time flat.

Then I stumbled on what I thought was yet another “unofficial internet fan site” for the band that actually listed an email address at the record label for Ed Robertson — the guy in the video above. He’s the bandmember who wrote and performs most of the “magic” in this song.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I shot off an email to the address that opened with an apology in the likely event I was accidentally writing the Ed Robertson who is a dentist in Saskatoon instead of the Ed Robertson who is the member of a rock band. Then I told him how enamored I was with the song, and how much it inspired me, and asked if there was any way he could point me in a direction on how to figure the song out — something simple like just let me know if it’s capoed and how the first chord is fingered … you know, if he didn’t mind.

The next morning I got a response. From the man himself. He not only told me where to start and gave me a few pointers, he also went to the trouble to scan the sheet music and attach it! He then told me where I could get the book with the music for the entire album and thanked me.

I was stunned. What gold-selling artist (the next album went platinum) takes the time to have that sort of personal interaction with a random fan? Nicest freaking guy in music. And this was back in the days before Napster taught everyone how to steal music and artists HAD to start appreciating their fans.

But seriously, by this time I had been working for over a year on concert promotion at A&M and I had brushed elbows with quite a few famous musicians. Really only a few are assholes. Most are actually pretty nice people, and they got into music because they love it. Most people who do what they love for a living are generally pretty happy. But few musicians of that level have the time, much less the inclination, to do something like what he did, and I was very grateful.

A year or two later I saw BNL at the Horde Festival. As luck would have it, the band had an autograph signing session. This was after Stunt came out and so the line was a total zoo. But I waited in it not so I could get anything signed (though I did anyway), but just so I could thank Ed for that bit of kindness he showed me. He actually remembered the exchange, “Oh yeah! I had the book there, and the scanner, and so I just figured, ‘Why not?'” We ended up chatting about it for a couple of minutes until their tour manager scolded us for holding up the line.

As a lesson for all of you budding musicians out there (or aging musicians suing your fans), though Ed gave away the secret to that song for free, it was repaid to him at least 30 fold later on. After that I bought their entire back catalogue, every CD since then, and hundreds of dollars of concert tickets. Being a supremely nice guy wins you fans for life.

She wrote me a letter as big as a phonebook
I’ve never been big on mail
I sent her a postcard from somewhere near Lethbridge
And wondered if it still went by rail
I’ve never been frightened of being enlightened
But some things can go too far
Though sometimes I stammer and mix up my grammar,
You get what my meanings are

These apples are delicious!
As a matter of fact they are, she said
Can all this fruit be free?

19. The Band – Music From Big Pink
“Back in 1967 or ’68 I had a record called Music From Big Pink and it changed my life. It changed the course of American music.”
— Eric Clapton

That endorsement was good enough for me.

Big Pink has such a laid-back rootsy sound that it’s hard not to love it. The Weight is the classic that everyone points to on this album, but to me the greatest gem is on side two. You’ll not hear a better version of Long Black Veil than the one you’ll find here.

The remastered disc issued in 2000 includes a bunch of outtakes that are just as good as the rest of the originally released material. I especially love Orange Juice Blues, which I listened to nearly every morning for three months when my job (and a few other things) were completely beating me down five or six years ago. The vocal inflections on that recording are therapeutic.

This album also reminds me of my dear friend Sophie, who was one of the first people I knew who had the same sort appreciation for it that I did.

There was a time in my life, back in my snobbier days, when I would sometimes weed out potential dates based on whether or not they were familiar with this album. It probably wasn’t the smartest policy, but it never failed me. Any gal who loves this album is worth knowing.


20. Fleetwood Mac – The Dance
I know, I know. This should be Rumours, right?

Well, not in my case. This album has the meat of Rumours on it, so that aspect is pretty much covered, but most importantly, the version of Big Love on this album is one of the most wonderful things ever recorded. The rest of the album is so freaking good, too; It’s one of the best live albums ever made, period. From the time that this CD was released until the iPod became my primary music machine in the car, this disc pretty much never came out of slot 6 in the changer.

But back to Big Love.

I knew of Fleetwood Mac. I knew of Lindsey Buckingham. I liked it all. I sang along with it in the car. Then in 1997 I’m sitting in a friend’s dorm room with a guitar in my lap and MTV is on the tube. It’s a pretty typically boring spring semester night. And then the made for MTV concert special for “The Dance” came on the tube. So we’re watching that. And it’s pretty good. We comment about how we hadn’t realized how much we kinda missed this band.

Then Lindsey Buckingham goes out on stage by himself and does this:
http://www.kewego.fr/video/iLyROoaftTas.html

Once I picked my jaw up off the floor I put the guitar down and I don’t think I touched it for a two weeks.

It was one of those, “I’ll never be able to do that, so why I should I even bother?” moments.

A couple years later my fingerpicking had improved pretty dramatically (thanks in no small part to my attempts at the aforementioned BNL song) and I decided I was going to give Big Love a shot. After a year or so of playing it every time I picked up the guitar as my “warm up” song I actually got it pretty well nailed down. Of all of the little personal achievements in my life, this is one of the ones I’m most proud of.

I wish I had recorded it. You HAVE to practice this song frequently to stay good at it. Now I kind of sloppily fumble through it.


So there you go. That’s my top 20. Maybe someday if I’m motivated I’ll put up a few honorable mentions I thought of while making this list.

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