Wednesday, September 18, 2019

I'm sick of this brave new world: August 2019 music diary

I've got a migraine, bear with me.

Ty Segall: First Taste (Drag City)
You have to use song titles to tell Segall's records apart, and I think I've worked harder to try to distinguish them than he or his fans have. This is the one with "I Worship the Dog" and "When I Met My Parents (Parts I & III)." Secret tip: when each song starts, the little timeline bar on your computer goes back to the beginning.

Florist: Emily Alone (Double Double Whammy)
Not awful indie folk group from Brooklyn, led by singer-songwriter Emily Sprague; some of the guitar playing (solid riffs on "Celebration") and singing recalls Big Thief and/or White Album-era Lennon-McCartney with far less interesting songs and considerably more grim humorlessness ("death will come in a cloud of love," etc.). There's some intimacy, some pleasing double-tracking, some word-salad poetry slamming. Fave lyric: "I also have eyes."

Burna Boy: African Giant (Atlantic)
Nigerian singer pushes pop with West African flavor, but the record takes too damn long to go not much of anywhere; it's easily at its most compelling when it focuses on history and legacy, but musically it's just too ordinary, going out of its way to blend in with bland Hot 100 ambient noize, though it's not without its pleasant, even soothing throwback qualities.

Bon Iver: I, I (Jagjaguwar) [c]
Not that it's a shocker, but fuck this chopped-up insubstantial AM radio crybababy wank and fuck the system that continues to reward him for releasing the same ludicrous album every three years.

Marika Hackman: Any Human Friend (Sub Pop) [r]
London-based singer-songwriter sets herself apart; she has chops, plays the drums, writes serious stuff and understands her own talents. She kicks this off with a pleasing acoustic trifle but launches into the flawlessly constructed melodic pop "The One" with considerable fanfare because she knows it deserves it. "Blow" has a nice nocturnal beat and handclaps. "I'm Not Here You Are" is catchy '80s pop in the MGMT sort-of-ironic-but-not-really fashion with good guitar. There's a little Tori Amos and a little St. Vincent but it's all more human and direct than any obvious reference points, and kissing and fucking all night, sure, please.

Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won't Hold (Mom + Pop)
Speak of the devil: you know, Annie Clark will turn us all into fucking boring formalist robots if we let her. Pete Quaife left the Kinks because of "Tin Soldier Man"; Janet Weiss is a bigger loss for a better reason, and a far more significant element to this band's longtime appeal. This stuffiness, this lack of personality (from a band of so much personality), it's suffocating. Those who are showering this with praise, I wonder if they're actually hearing the record itself or just hearing what they want to hear. Greil Marcus is completely correct to state that St. Vincent, whose self-constructed image has never been as profound as her fans think, is a fraud and that the record is an act of theft, and I say that without having anything like the investment in Sleater-Kinney that he does. Inspirational Sentiment, from Amber Morris the first time I played the record on the office speakers: "I hate this. I fucking hate this."

Oso Oso: Basking in the Glow (Triple Crown)
Do not adjust your set -- this band formed in 2014 in Long Beach, NY and is now getting absurd amounts of credit for ticking all the emo boxes and doing literally nothing else. Innovation abounds.

Taylor McFerrin: Love's Last Chance (From Here)
Bobby's son, jazz-R&B fusion with a feather touch of relationship-oriented angst but mostly NPR-friendly lite entertainment; the sort of thing you'd hear at a hotel bar that hosts live music three nights a week and you're like "Man these guys are bringin' it." That's not a criticism.

Pere Ubu: Long Goodbye (Cherry Red) [the tweens are gonna love it]

Andre Bratten: Pax Americana (Smalltown Supersound)
Felicia Atkinson: The Flower and the Vessel (Shelter Press)

* Ride: This Is Not a Safe Place
Sarathy Korwar: More Arriving
Nerija: Blume
Shura: Forevher

Night Moves: Can You Really Find Me
Trash Kit: Horizon
Ada Lea: What We Say in Private [NYIM]
Beyonce: The Lion King- The Gift
Clark: Kiri Variations [NYIM]
B Boys: Dudu [NYIM]
Angie McMahon: Salt
Clairo: Immunity [I knew what this would sound like before I played it because of the cover]
Of Monsters and Men: Fever Dream
Chance the Rapper: The Big Day [lol jesus]
Strange Ranger: Remembering the Rockets
The Regrettes: How Do You Love?
Eilen Jewell: Gypsy
Lillie Mae: Other Girls
Oh Sees: Face Stabber
Uniform: Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back [NYIM]
The Murder Capital: When I Have Fears
Blanck Mass: Animated Violence Mild
Fionn Regan: Cala
The Hold Steady: Thrashing Through the Passion

Ada Lea "Easy" [What We Say in Private]

Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Interscope 2012) = [hr] -> [A+]
Saint Etienne: Words and Music (Heavenly 2012) = [hr] -> [A+]
Kelela: Hallucinogen (Warp EP 2015) = [hr] -> [A+]

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Beatles: Complete BBC Sessions (1962-68)

(bootleg [10CD])


If not the most cohesive listening experience among the Beatles' still-unissued recordings (though spacing it out sufficiently does give it that grace), this is surely the most essential and comprehensive bootleg that retains its value as an enormous chunk of professionally performed, well-recorded (and usually well-preserved) Beatles music that even casual fans will at least enjoy and that hardcore fans will find fascinating. There are several varying versions of this ten-disc collection out and about but the one I'm reviewing is the 2004 compilation by Purple Chick; my understanding is that slightly superior editions exist on the unauthorized internet marketplace, usually as free downloads, but the content across all variations should be more or less the same.

Basically, as you probably know if you're reading this, this eleven and a half hours of material is comprised of every surviving performance by the Beatles that was recorded for broadcast on the BBC, where they played dedicated sessions over fifty times from 1962 to 1965, though the overwhelming majority date from 1963, the defining year of their hectic career in Great Britain. As fans of this material well know, this was long an untapped goldmine for Beatles fans because not only are these unique and tight but also quite raw performances, they have the added benefit of mostly (though not always, and not entirely) being live Beatles recordings that usually don't have the distraction of an audience filled with screaming teenagers. Moreover, the Beatles varied their setlist considerably from the constraints of their stage show at the time, especially when they got their own series called Pop Go the Beatles for a season, allowing them to take deep dives on a great number of old Hamburg and Cavern Club favorites and some oddball new selections that were never recorded by the group at EMI. In total, the Beatles recorded 36 songs for the BBC that they never otherwise laid down professionally in a studio; all together, they played 88 different songs for the radio corporation in 275 distinct performances on 52 different broadcasts (often of established series like Saturday Club but sometimes dedicated specials for the Beatles).

So why on earth wasn't this wealth of material mined well before bootleggers began to have their way with it in the 1970s? The problem was the BBC's truly dire archival practices in the '60s, which meant that the masters of these invaluable performances were wiped, usually just after broadcast. As a result, most of the early bootlegs were created from home tapes that happened to be kept and located, and some such recordings still are the primary preservation method for a number of these shows, though thankfully several BBC backup tapes for network distribution were tracked down in the '80s and are the source for many of the official releases; Purple Chick has updated their copies accordingly (though you'll note that Apple's releases put out since 2004 tend to sound better than these) and maintain this mammoth set to be as consistent as can reasonably be expected; though the quality, especially early on, is sometimes lacking, the number of established BBC dates that the collection is actually missing is pleasingly scant.

Its value has been slightly diminished over the decades by the existence of a few official releases that have chipped away at its uniqueness, namely the nearly transcendent Live at the BBC, plus its sequel On Air and the enjoyable archive dump Bootleg Recordings 1963, as well as some fragments in Anthology 1 and the now-obscure 7" EP and promotional CD single for "Baby It's You." But that still leaves a number of gaps, some of which are unlikely ever to be approved for release for various reasons, and moreover, the official versions don't give you the full experience of sitting and listening to a full show with all of its songs and banter presented in their correct original sequence. Although the bootlegs are still missing some content from the broadcasts (namely, the performances of other artists that were originally interspersed, and the occasional playing of a record), the proper organization has a surprisingly modernist application now -- if you put on a Beatles BBC broadcast once a week you can pretend you're privy to this terrific band's regular podcast, and it's essentially the truth.

As noted, the bulk of Complete BBC Sessions -- really, the majority of the first seven discs -- dates from 1963, which is also the most extensively mined year of Beatles BBC music for official release; that's mostly because it's the only year for which Apple prepared a dedicated copyright extension release, and you can assume that the various scraps from '63 that remain unissued are nearly certain to stay that way forever. Before and after that date there's a greater proportion of intriguing material you can only hear "illegally," and some of it is fascinating, though in fairness it should be stated that most of the best BBC recordings are now available for anyone to hear quite easily from above-board sources. The Beatles' earliest BBC work predates their EMI contract and in fact predates Ringo Starr's replacement of Pete Best, while their presence at the Beeb was far more sporadic -- and, sadly, less cozy -- after they became a global act in 1964.

To review the contents of these ten discs, I'm going to quickly go over each of the surviving Beatles BBC programs and a listing of the (extant) broadcast songs. I'll have some general notes on each show overall and specific comments on performances that have not been released by Apple on any of the official CDs or downloads. On those instances when a song has been released, I will give the source. The date given is the date of recording, not the date of broadcast (which was usually days and sometimes weeks later). When possible I've tried to include a few details about the DJ or "compere," who in some cases (Brian Matthew, most famously) have a wonderful rapport with the band that comes through clearly in their interactions.

A general note on this set as a listening experience. At the very least, I suggest spreading it out disc by disc, but ideally you should hear the individual programs as each a distinct piece unto itself; I believe you'll get more out of the experience that way, and if you do so and you like the Beatles' early rock & roll material, going through this collection is a wonderful experience with a real sense of journey. There's great intrigue to hearing the band's early career in what amounts to "real time," as you witness the chit-chat around each single's rise to prominence and the band's increasing dominance of the national, then international, charts, as well as their considerable development as artists. There's a lot to learn from these discs, and a great deal to enjoy.


1962-03-07 Teenager's Turn: Here We Go [live audience; host: Ray Peters]
1. Memphis - Chuck Berry cover, never recorded at EMI. The recording is faint, Pete's drums are rough, but John's vocal is powerful.
2. Dream Baby - Roy Orbison cover, never recorded at EMI and no version officially released by the Beatles. A rudimentary stomp, Paul doing an Elvis impression, with Beatles "Big Beat" inappropriately applied perhaps but fascinating to hear.
3. Please Mr. Postman - Marvelettes cover, later recorded for With the Beatles; relatively unenthused, but it's crazy to hear this over a year before they recorded it for EMI. Lewisohn's book points out that this would have been the first time a Tamla-Motown song was played on the BBC.
- Notes: The Beatles' first national radio performance, arranged through the ingenious machinations of Brian Epstein and recorded before a very enthusiastic live audience in Manchester; incredibly, said audience wouldn't have been familiar with them prior to this, but the girls are already screaming. It's crucial to note the chronology here: this is two months past the infamous Decca audition and predates the first EMI session by three months, which means Pete Best still has nearly half a year left in the band. (In fact, this is so early that, while he's no longer in the band, Stuart Sutcliffe is still alive as it's being recorded.)
- This and the next BBC showcase are the only live-on-stage recordings of the band with Pete. It's overall a very promising performance with lots of personality, infinitely better than the Decca tape, and Best remembered its broadcast as a watershed moment of happiness for the group.
- One additional song, "Hello Little Girl," was played but not aired, so it very nearly would have been the first Lennon-McCartney song ever heard on the radio.

1962-06-11 Here We Go [live audience; host: Ray Peters]
1. Ask Me Why - Eventually (November 1962) recorded as the b-side to the Beatles' second single, "Please Please Me," and then included on their debut LP. First BBC broadcast of a Beatles original, John coos but they don't sound like they're clicking with the song yet.
2. Besame Mucho - Famous 1940 song by Consuelo Velázquez, recorded by numerous artists with the Beatles' version inspired by the Coasters' novelty record, played by them at both Decca and EMI recording tests, the latter officially released in the '90s. More incoherent Pete rumbling, still a weird cover choice to which the band was curiously attached (not the last example we'd get of that).
3. A Picture of You - Joe Brown cover, big British hit. George vocal, audience handclaps; it swings a little but it's indistinct, with some unexpected stop-starts and a Paul scream or two.
- Notes: Though the audience for the second BBC show (still with Pete, also in Manchester) included a large number of Beatles fan club members, they sound less enamored on the recording we have, at least to me. It sounds like someone boos when Joe Brown's name is mentioned!? The performance isn't particularly interesting except vocally, and "Ask Me Why" is an excellent song but doesn't quite push over the top like it eventually would. There's still a touch of that Decca-level, suit-wearing tentativeness.

1962-10-25 Here We Go [live audience; host: Ray Peters]
1. A Taste of Honey - 1960 instrumental pop standard, based on the lyric version sung by Lenny Welch, later recorded for the Please Please Me LP. This is only a fragment, can't tell much.
- Notes: The first BBC broadcast with Ringo in the band. Three songs were broadcast (four played) but this is all that still exists.

1963-01-16 Here We Go [live audience; host: Ray Peters]
1. Chains - Cover of a song by the rather obscure girl group the Cookies, of whom the Raelettes were a subsequent offshoot, recorded by the Beatles for Please Please Me a month after this. Very hard to hear the band, sounds like a club performance; Paul's bass is very prominent for some reason. They're clearly a lot tighter.
2. Please Please Me - The band's first huge hit, which had been released five days before this recording was made. John overdoes it on the falsetto a bit here, sounds like shit on the tape! But they're all in on this song and he's otherwise pretty vicious.
3. Ask Me Why - The second extant BBC performance of the b-side to "Please Please Me," first with Ringo. A big improvement from last year, John is over-miked but shows a lot of passion.
- Notes: The recording quality and the fact that 2/3 songs are incomplete keeps this from being as valuable as it would be otherwise, especially because we have a much better record of them playing just a week later.

1963-01-22 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. Some Other Guy [released on Bootleg '63]
2. Love Me Do [Bootleg '63]
3. Please Please Me - Second BBC performance of this song. Just a fragment, with a jarring cut in the middle of the song, unfortunate because from what we can tell it's a good performance.
4. Keep Your Hands Off My Baby [Live at the BBC]
5. Beautiful Dreamer [On Air]
- Notes: One of three programs the band recorded at the BBC on this day; only a fraction of the work overall survives but this show is complete. It's tinny but quite clear, a huge improvement on all previous selections sonically; "Love Me Do" is preceded by a statement that Beatles fans are now mostly in Liverpool but "soon" will be all over the country. They sound great here overall, bluesy and loose except "Please Please Me" which sounds very well-oiled. "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" is a tad longer than on the official CD here, with a nice coda. This performance overall is particularly interesting because it catches them on a good night just before they recorded their first album. "Some Other Guy" has considerable punk swagger here.
- Three songs never recorded for EMI: "Some Other Guy," "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby" and a very strange arrangement of "Beautiful Dreamer."

1963-01-22 The Talent Spot [live audience; host: Gary Marshall]
1. Ask Me Why - Third extant BBC version of the b-side to "Please Please Me," released just over a week before this. Very distorted (especially vocals), can't tell much; sounds like the song is a little quickened, or maybe the recording is the wrong speed. George never misses a bit with that closing guitar.
- Notes: Two other songs -- "Some Other Guy" and "Please Please Me" -- were broadcast but don't survive.

1963-03-06 Here We Go [live audience; host: Ray Peters]
1. Misery [On Air]
2. Do You Want to Know a Secret [Bootleg '63]
3. Please Please Me [Bootleg '63]
- Notes: This entire broadcast has been officially released (they also performed "I Saw Her Standing There" but it wasn't broadcast); the emcee notes that the songs are from the band's forthcoming first LP, soon to be released (on March 22nd, having been recorded in early February). This has the only live (with audience) versions of "Misery" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret" on tape anywhere.

1963-03-16 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. I Saw Her Standing There [Bootleg '63]
2. Misery - Second BBC tape of this song. EMI version released a week afterward on the Please Please Me album; introduced as a song written for Kenny Everett, and an excuse for promoting the LP here. Lots of echo and a slightly slower, "jauntier" tempo.
3. Too Much Monkey Business - Chuck Berry cover, never recorded at EMI. Guitar is a little high in the mix but John's vocal on this is brutal and relentless, at least in the verse. Pretty elaborate George solo too; I still can't figure out what John is saying instead of "for me to be involved in" on his performances of this song.
4. I'm Talking About You [On Air]
5. Please Please Me - Fourth BBC tape of this song. George is having guitar troubles.
6. The Hippy Hippy Shake - Chan Romero cover, long a stage staple and one of the Beatles' live signatures in the pre-EMI days along with "Some Other Guy." This take is an oddly intimate arrangement heavy on guitar interplay (drums are buried) but kind of cool.
- Notes: One of the messier, thus more intriguing 1963 shows, dating from just after John was out with sore throat, as directly noted -- he just rejoined last night. Kind of funny that they play "I Saw Her Standing There" shortly before "I'm Talking About You," blatant source of the former's bassline.
- "I'm beginning to see why nobody could exist on the same stage as this act" says the DJ, and not incorrectly. The band was in the middle of slowly coming to dominate a tour on which they were opening for Chris Montez and Tommy Roe.

1963-04-03 Easy Beat [live audience; host: Brian Matthew]
1. From Me to You - Very early performance of this eventual #1 single, eight days out from release (it was recorded at EMI a month earlier) and still "hoping" it will be a hit. It sounds a little stilted and boring, rather like the record. There's a Gerry Marsden intro for some reason, hamming it up and self-promoting.
- Notes: Versions of "Please Please Me" and "Misery" don't survive, nor does a sequence in which John and Paul reviewed new records.

1963-04-18 Swinging Sound '63 [live audience; hosts: George Melly & Rolf Harris]
1. Twist and Shout - Isley Brothers cover and the climax of the Please Please Me LP. A lively performance; it's surprising that it's not officially released, maybe because George hits a bum note on the bridge.
2. From Me to You - Third BBC tape of this song. The first of many examples of performances of this being better than the single, if only slightly here; it's just more enthusiastic... some tape glitches though.
- Notes: Recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. Paul met Jane Asher during the aftermath of this performance.

1963-04-01 Side by Side [Purple Chick breaks chronology here to keep discs even; host: John Dunn]
1. Long Tall Sally [Bootleg '63]
2. A Taste of Honey [Bootleg '63]
3. Chains [Bootleg '63]
4. Thank You Girl - B-side of the Beatles' third single, "From Me to You," which was ten days from release. Tape glitches are probably the main reason this is the only cut that hasn't been released from this show; it's a serviceable rendition, and the only original at the session. Also, John sings "that's the kind of love that seems too good to be true" here -- a touch of optimism??
5. Boys [Bootleg '63]
- Notes: This is well before the canon recording of "Long Tall Sally," which wouldn't see release until June 1964.
- John tells the Flaming Pie story in a stupid voice. Paul says "A Taste of Honey" is "a great favorite of me Auntie Gin's."
- Overall a jaunty, spirited performance; John and George don't even sound bored on "A Taste of Honey." Nice skit when Dunn asks who does arranging, composing, etc. and they all say they did. They play the Side by Side theme song too but there's only a fragment.

1963-05-21 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. I Saw Her Standing There - Second BBC tape of this song, first track on the first LP. Muffled but propulsive. Afterward George reads a letter in which Peggy Lucas of Matlock asks the Beatles to play "anything."
2. Do You Want to Know a Secret [Bootleg '63]
3. Boys - Third BBC tape of this Shirelles cover recorded for EMI on Please Please Me; a pretty loose version, sounds like the rhythm guitar isn't miked until the bridge? And Ringo is off-tempo vocally!
4. Long Tall Sally - Second BBC tape of this Little Richard cover, which would be recorded for EMI a year later. A quick, extremely fast (over-fast) version; Paul says "bald headed Sally" (the correct line) here. Atypically terrible drums from Ringo.
5. From Me to You [Bootleg '63]
6. Money - Barrett Strong cover, recorded at EMI starting two months later for With the Beatles. A very early take on this, already much improved from the performance at Decca in January 1962, and edging gradually toward the master version; mediocre recording quality is probably the only reason it didn't make any of the official releases.
- Notes: That fast version of "Do You Want to Know a Secret" is quite strong, with George really getting into singing the hell out of it. "Long Tall Sally" and "Money" at the time were non-EMI songs but of course would later be recorded at Abbey Road.

1963-05-21 Steppin' Out [live audience; host: Diz Disley]
1. Please Please Me - Fifth BBC tape of this song. Terrible quality, badly distorted, but it's a very enthusiastic performance if you can hear under all that.
2. I Saw Her Standing There - Third BBC tape of this song. The problems continue here; apart from the weak solo, a good performance too.
- Notes: This is a dreadful recording but seems like they were in a groove, and just 45 minutes after laying down the previous BBC program!

1963-05-24 Pop Go the Beatles #1 [host: Lee Peters]
1. Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - Pre-EMI take on this Carl Perkins song eventually (Oct. 1964) recorded for Beatles for Sale at EMI. This tape is heavily distorted and distant, but actually more "countrified" than the master.
2. Do You Want to Know a Secret - Third BBC tape of this Please Please Me track. This song gets faster and more rollicking every time; it's not even a ballad anymore at this point. Also, two George songs in a row!?
3. You Really Got a Hold on Me [Bootleg '63]
4. The Hippy Hippy Shake [Bootleg '63]
5. Misery - Third BBC tape of this song; a pretty bouncy version, hey did you ever notice the irony of this jolly number being called "Misery"!?!?!
- Notes: First in a 15-episode BBC series conceived by corporation employee Vernon Lawrence that was devoted exclusively to the Beatles and guests, and this is where their song choices and arrangements get really interesting; this debut episode starts the tradition of "deep cuts" with just two songs that were then offered on the Beatles' EMI releases.
- They recorded a Big Beat-styled "Pop Go the Weasel" theme tune that's pretty dumb, but hey, it's kind of a lost song. "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" is a pre-EMI version (the song would be laid down at Abbey Road in July) and subtly electrifying.

1963-06-01 Pop Go the Beatles #2 [host: Lee Peters]
1. Too Much Monkey Business [Bootleg '63]
2. I Got to Find My Baby [Live at the BBC]
3. Young Blood [Live at the BBC]
4. Till There Was You [Bootleg '63]
5. Baby, It's You [Live at the BBC/Baby It's You EP]
6. Love Me Do - This had lost its status as a live staple -- to the extent it ever was -- by this point, and they sound rusty on it! Paul almost cracks up at one point. Lots of guitar.
- Notes: It was always the Beatles' aim to use Pop Go to bring back their eclectic, rock & roll-oriented setlists from the pre-EMI days and this is a great example of them immediately starting to fulfill that promise.
- Almost all of this has been released; it was apparently a hell of a great day, with even more distinct songs recorded than at the Please Please Me session (see also next show).
- "Young Blood" has a flub from George after "better leave my daughter alone."
- John just feels every bit of "Baby It's You," and it gets a perfect solo and ending; it's too bad they didn't play it more.

1963-06-01 Pop Go the Beatles #3 [host: Lee Peters]
1. A Shot of Rhythm and Blues [Bootleg '63]
2. Memphis - Second BBC tape of this Chuck Berry cover, unrecorded at EMI, the previous one having been from the Beatles' very first BBC performance with Pete Best on drums. There seems to be a bit of echo on John's voice. The influence of Lonnie Mack's cover version is obvious in the guitars. There's a lot of rumbling, the good kind, from Ringo. Unfortunately we have weird issues here with the tape source; the song changes tone completely during the bridge.
3. A Taste of Honey [Bootleg '63]
4. Sure to Fall [Live at the BBC]
5. Money [Bootleg '63]
6. From Me to You - Fifth BBC tape of the then-most recent Beatles single. A fairly rudimentary performance but not bad, not sure why it's unreleased.
- Notes: The bulk of this has also been released over the years though most of it is on the archival record rather than either of the commercial BBC discs.
- No repeat songs across the first 3 Pop Go the Beatles episodes.
- Across several programs, there are comments on the mountain of requests from fans for "From Me to You."
- "Money" was still almost two months away from being laid down at EMI.
- There's a long-lived mystery of why the Beatles played "A Taste of Honey" so much at the BBC. Nothing else to say, really, I just had to mention it.

1963-06-19 Easy Beat [live audience; host: Brian Matthew]
1. Some Other Guy [Live at the BBC]
2. A Taste of Honey [Bootleg '63]
3. Thank You Girl [Live at the BBC]
4. From Me to You - Sixth BBC tape of this song. The official release compilers apparently were as cool on this selection as I am; this is actually a pretty good version, tight and fast, and John's practically shouting through it.
- Notes: Aside from the Cavern performances from 1962, a good chance to hear onetime Beatles signature "Some Other Guy" in high quality. Also, the only live (with an audience) version of "Thank You Girl" that exists on tape.
- Recorded the day after John beat the living shit out of Bob Wooler, allegedly because Wooler implied John and Brian Epstein were having an affair. Perhaps this is some clue why Lennon sounds so oddly aggressive on "From Me to You"?

1963-04-04 Side by Side [another chronological break from Purple Chick; host: John Dunn]
1. Too Much Monkey Business - Second BBC tape of this song has John killing it once again, the band a little quieter, and a great scream before the solo.
2. Boys - Second BBC tape of "Ringo's one and only song." A slightly lackluster performance, the solo cuts out and flails, though Ringo sounds good.
3. I'll Be on My Way [Live at the BBC]
4. From Me to You - Second BBC tape of this brand new song, restrained but rocking pretty hard; they're very tight on a cut that was once demanding a lot of them.
- Notes: They sing the Side by Side theme song again, and here it's complete.
- This precedes Billy J. Kramer's release of "I'll Be on My Way" -- the only Lennon-McCartney original the Beatles recorded at the BBC but not EMI -- by a couple of weeks. George is too hoarse to sing and demonstrates by trying to sing "From Me to You" before "I'll Be on My Way," which incidentally is ever so slightly shorter on this bootleg than on the official release, resulting in two extra seconds total.

1963-06-17 Pop Go the Beatles #4 [host: Lee Peters]
1. I Saw Her Standing There - Fourth BBC tape of this song. The tape is badly degraded and hissing, though the performance is very audible and solid.
2. Anna (Go to Him) [Bootleg '63]
3. Boys [Baby It's You EP/On Air]
4. Chains [On Air]
5. P.S. I Love You [On Air]
6. Twist and Shout - Second BBC tape of this song and a rawer than usual performance, John really working the vocal; he finds a new bit of soulful melody on "twist it little girl." There's also prominent bass, which is pleasing. I'm surprised this one isn't officially out there.
- Notes: Strange jazz chord at the end of "P.S. I Love You." A lot of letters get read out in this episode which are kind of funny, especially if you have Google Maps handy; I assume Lewisohn has looked up all these people?

1963-06-24 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. I Got to Find My Baby [Bootleg '63]
2. Memphis - Third BBC tape of this song, has a distant transistor-radio sound that's weirdly appealing. First of many inexplicable mentions of "Harry and His Box" on Beatles BBC programs, and to this day I don't think anyone knows what that means.
3. Money - Third BBC tape of this song, still a month ahead of its EMI recording. Dreadful quality on this one though, probably not releasable, but you can make out a good performance.
4. Till There Was You - Second BBC tape of this song from The Music Man, popularized by Peggy Lee, which the Beatles had been playing for some time (it was trotted out at Decca and is audible on the Star Club tape) and would bring to EMI for With the Beatles a month after this. Paul is doing some jazz phrasing shit on the vocal here. Poor tape quality continues but this sounds better than "Money."
5. From Me to You - Seventh BBC tape of this song, pretty much the average performance of what was then The Hit.
6. Roll Over Beethoven [Bootleg '63]
- Notes: Not a bad show but not very memorable either. The first track (finally released in 2013) is by far the best; the "Roll Over Beethoven" sounds pretty rough, though I like the barroom vocals at the end.

1963-07-03 The Beat Show [live audience; host: Gay Byrne]
1. A Taste of Honey - Fifth BBC tape of this song, in awful quality, with wow and flutter etc.
2. Twist and Shout - Third BBC tape of this song. A pity the sound quality is so bad because this sounds like a downright thunderous performance.
- Notes: The growing frenzy of the audience compared to the last time they did a live recorded performance is very obvious.
- A performance of "From Me to You" has been lost.
- Bernard Herrmann served as conductor on this program!

1963-07-02 Pop Go the Beatles #5 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. That's All Right [Live at the BBC]
2. There's a Place - Highlight of the Please Please Me LP. This sounds rough because of the tape but what an enthuiastic vocal performance! We don't have any non-BBC "live" versions of this, which is why they sound a bit loose here presumably (though one of the BBC takes has an audience) so it's great to hear the broadcast versions.
3. Carol [Live at the BBC]
4. Soldier of Love [Live at the BBC]
5. Lend Me Your Comb [Anthology 1/On Air]
6. Clarabella [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: this was heavily DNR'd on the Apple release, so you can hear lots of distortion on the boot, but it's one of the Beatles' most spectacular live performances regardless. As would soon be tradition for Pop, only one EMI Beatles song is played here.

1963-07-17 Easy Beat [live audience; host: Brian Matthew]
1. I Saw Her Standing There - Fifth BBC tape of this song. The recording quality is pretty bad again, but they sound fine of course. Really good solo from George.
2. A Shot of Rhythm and Blues - Second BBC tape of this Arthur Alexander song, never recorded for EMI. It's very interesting to hear a track like this in front of an audience!
3. There's a Place - Second BBC tape of this song and the only "live" (with audience) performance of it of which we have recorded evidence. John hits a couple of bum notes.
4. Twist and Shout - Fourth BBC tape of this song. Stabbing guitar lines during the instrumental break!
- Notes: A solid enough band performance, maybe a little uneasy, but the tape quality wrecks it for anyone except hardcore fans.

1963-07-10 Pop Go the Beatles #6 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. Sweet Little Sixteen [Live at the BBC]
2. A Taste of Honey [Live at the BBC]
3. Nothin' Shakin' [Live at the BBC]
4. Love Me Do [Live at the BBC]
5. Lonesome Tears in My Eyes [Live at the BBC]
6. So How Come (No One Loves Me) [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: One of several extraordinary episodes of this recorded within the same week, and little wonder it was issued in its entirety (save banter) in 1994. "Sweet Little Sixteen" sounds better here than on the official release but don't ask me why. This whole disc (disc 4) of the PC set is fabulous.
- The Beatles seem to have had the time of their lives making the setlists for these performances. Goodness gracious they were a thundering raucous band.

1963-07-10 Pop Go the Beatles #7 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. Memphis [Live at the BBC]
2. Do You Want to Know a Secret [On Air]
3. Till There Was You [On Air]
4. Matchbox [Live at the BBC]
5. Please Mr. Postman [On Air]
6. The Hippy Hippy Shake [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: "Memphis" was either slowed down for the 1994 CD or is sped up here. "Do You Want to Know a Secret" is so fast here (but is on the CD too), as if they are breaking their necks to get through it, which is how the song usually came off at these shows!
- Pre-EMI "Till There Was You" (laid down at Abbey Road a week later), "Please Mr. Postman" (three weeks later) and "Matchbox" (a full year later).
- Only one then-canon Beatles song here.
- I just realized they used maybe the worst version of "Hippy Hippy Shake" for the Apple release (and it's still terrific).

1963-07-16 Pop Go the Beatles #8 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry (Over You) [Live at the BBC]
2. Crying, Waiting, Hoping [Live at the BBC]
3. Kansas City [Live at the BBC]
4. To Know Her Is to Love Her [Live at the BBC]
5. The Honeymoon Song [Live at the BBC]
6. Twist and Shout [On Air]
- Notes: The Beatles recording an astonishing three programs on this same day. This is another with an intriguing, wildly unorthodox setlist; only "Twist and Shout" among these songs was then an EMI cut, which is quite a bold choice. ("Kansas City" would be added to the canon almost a year and a half later.) "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Cry," "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" and "To Know Her Is to Love Her" are three of the greatest Beatles performances not on their actual records, and "The Honeymoon Song" is one of the oddest.

1963-07-16 Pop Go The Beatles #9 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. Long Tall Sally [Live at the BBC]
2. Please Please Me [On Air]
3. She Loves You - The Beatles had just recorded this at EMI on July 1st and it wouldn't be released as their fourth single until the 23rd of August. Uneven volume and tempo on this and a vocal flub (John and Paul go flat a lot); a slightly clunky performance, maybe to be expected.
4. You Really Got a Hold on Me - Second BBC tape of this transcendent Miracles cover, which they began recording at EMI two days later. Someone writes in a death threat ("a package that ticks, and it won't be a clock")! George's vocal is miked heavily here. It's a lovely version as usual. Notice heavy echo on "tighter."
5. I'll Get You - The b-side to "She Loves You," poised for release soon. An especially enthusiastic version, surprisingly unreleased unless it's because of too much level on Lennon's guitar (but I actually like that).
6. I Got a Woman [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: The audience (?) is becoming self-aware with such vicious bon mots directed at Burke as "We believe you write all of the requests. We believe you wrote this!"

1963-07-16 Pop Go the Beatles #10 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. She Loves You - repeat of the preformance from episode #9.
2. Words of Love [On Air]
3. Glad All Over [Live at the BBC]
4. I Just Don't Understand [Live at the BBC]
5. Devil in Her Heart [Baby It's You EP]
6. Slow Down [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: At time of broadcast, "She Loves You" was just released and on the verge of charting explosively. "Words of Love" (in poor quality compared to the eventual official release of that performance) and "Slow Down" are well ahead of EMI versions, both by a year or more. The requests pour in, sometimes for non-Beatles songs bizarrely. "Slow Down" has an almost Pete Best-like rumbling rhythm!

1963-07-30 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. Long Tall Sally - Fourth BBC tape of this song, still pre-EMI but they knew this one back to front regardless. Horrendous quality, barely even audible.
2. She Loves You - Second BBC tape of this song is also washed out, can scarcely be heard; it's multiple generations away from whatever source exists, and apparently Apple doesn't have a good one either. My wife Amber says it sounds like they're "gargling blood" on this tape.
3. Glad All Over [On Air]
4. Twist and Shout - Sixth BBC tape of this song preceded by another Harry & His Box reference: "is this the box? We must remember to ask Harry." The tape improves here. Not sure why this isn't out unless it's because John sounds listless and like his voice is torn to pieces.
5. You Really Got a Hold on Me [Live at the BBC]
6. I'll Get You - Second BBC tape of this song is actually a sweet, full-throated version that takes the slight characteristic of a barroom singalong.
- Notes: The first part of this program is terrible quality; the rest is apparently sourced from an archival BBC telecast in the '90s.

1963-08-01 Pop Go the Beatles #11 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. Ooh! My Soul [Live at the BBC]
2. Don't Ever Change [Live at the BBC]
3. Twist and Shout - Seventh BBC tape of this song. Weird guitar arrangement, sounds like chiming acoustic here, and John still sounds totally fucked.
4. She Loves You - Third BBC tape of this song but just a fragment. Afterward, Burke reads a letter addressed to him: "We hate you, you never crack a joke and you pay them to laugh at you."
5. Anna (Go to Him) [On Air]
6. A Shot of Rhythm and Blues [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: First of two programs recorded this day. Paul destroys the Little Richard song ("Ooh! My Soul"). Overall one of the weaker episodes though, not least because a chunk of it is missing and another bit of it sounds awful here. ("Anna" improves on official release.)

1963-08-01 Pop Go the Beatles #12 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. From Me to You - Eighth BBC tape of this song is washed out and hard to hear, thanks to both bad broadcast and bad tape quality.
2. I'll Get You - Ditto with the third BBC tape of this song, although it does have a nice loud bass sound!
3. Money - Fourth BBC tape of this song just days after it was recorded at EMI, oddly enough requested... in a letter from "two John lovers." The sound quality is pretty bad still and the arrangement isn't totally polished just yet.
4. There's a Place [On Air]
5. Honey Don't [Live at the BBC]
6. Roll Over Beethoven [On Air]
- Notes: "Honey Don't" of course heard here well over a year before the EMI version, with John's lead vocal rather than Ringo. Others are good once the thing gets going. "Roll Over Beethoven," which they'd just recorded at EMI, is a request from "Shep the Sheepdog!"

1963-09-03 Pop Go the Beatles #13 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. Too Much Monkey Business [Live at the BBC]
2. Love Me Do [Bootleg '63]
3. She Loves You [Bootleg '63]
4. I'll Get You [Bootleg '63]
5. A Taste of Honey [Bootleg '63]
6. The Hippy Hippy Shake [On Air]
- Notes: First of three Pop episodes (the last three) recorded this day. Heavily mined of course, and highly slick versions of all these songs. Fall 1963 was the peak of their tightness/professionalism as a live act. A version of "Till There Was You" is set up but is apparently missing. John's freakout when reading letters is fun.

1963-09-03 Pop Go the Beatles #14 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. Chains [Bootleg '63]
2. You Really Got a Hold on Me [Bootleg '63]
3. Misery - Fourth BBC tape of this song; slightly mediocre quality tape, sounds a little distant but I like how lively the band seems to be here.
4. Lucille [On Air]
5. From Me to You - Ninth BBC tape of this song, requested in the midst of an apology for the "mean fans" who complained last week. A pretty typical performance, vocals mixed way above the instruments; it actually sounds a lot like the record. Also: people want George to say "brackets."
6. Boys [Bootleg '63]
- Notes: Wildly bizarre guitar solo on "Lucille" here, plus some of Ringo's most incredible drumming and a perfect vocal from Paul.

1963-09-03 Pop Go the Beatles #15 [host: Rodney Burke]
1. She Loves You - repeat of the performance from episode #13
2. Ask Me Why [On Air]
3. Devil in Her Heart [On Air]
4. I Saw Her Standing There [Bootleg '63]
5. Sure to Fall [On Air]
6. Twist and Shout [Bootleg '63]
- Notes: The last episode of the series with a lot of manufactured dismay at this fact, when really it was only ending because the band were going to be too busy to continue. It's startling to consider it was all over before JFK was shot, and of course before they had an inkling of forthcoming popularity in America.
- What a sweet, lovely performance of "Ask Me Why."
- They thank "Rodney, for being a good help throughout the 49 weeks." They sing to each other at the conclusion and it's goofy.

1963-09-07 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. I Saw Her Standing There [On Air]
2. Memphis [On Air]
3. Happy Birthday Dear Saturday Club [On Air]
4. I'll Get You [On Air]
5. She Loves You [On Air]
6. Lucille [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: Saturday Club's fifth birthday show. The comment "paying tribute to the Everlys," which made it to the intro of "Lucille" -- a Little Richard song, though the Everly Brothers did cover it -- on Live at the BBC finally makes sense! (They were guests on this episode.) "She Loves You" has an excellent "woo!" toward the end.

1963-10-16 Easy Beat [live audience; host: Brian Matthew]
1. I Saw Her Standing There [Live at the BBC]
2. Love Me Do [Bootleg '63]
3. Please Please Me [Bootleg '63]
4. From Me to You [On Air]
5. She Loves You [Bootleg '63]
- Notes: The final BBC show before an audience, apparently because of safety concerns (the crowd here is positively manic).
- The concept, as explained by Brian Matthew, is a runthrough (after the intro) of all the Beatles' big hits of "the past twelve months" since they hit "the show business jackpot" so there's an interesting linear quality to the performance.
- "Love Me Do" already sounds... old! This is the last time the Beatles would ever play it, aside from a goofing off at the Get Back sessions.
- The Royal Variety Performance is announced.
- Matthew, in response to the shrill crowd reaction: "All I can say is Alfred Hitchcock's Birds have got nothing on you lot." That was a very contemporary reference at the time! (The Birds had premiered in London a month earlier, after an American release earlier in 1963.)

1963-10-09 The Ken Dodd Show [live audience; PC chronology broken again]
1. She Loves You - Super distorted and hard to hear. You can tell they were extremely tight on this cut though.
- Notes: The only song they played on this night, as this was primarily a sketch comedy show starring fellow Liverpool favorite son Dodd.

1963-12-17 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. This Boy [On Air]
2. I Want to Hold Your Hand [Bootleg '63]
3. Till There Was You [Bootleg '63]
4. Roll Over Beethoven [Bootleg '63]
5. She Loves You - repeat of the 9/7/63 performance
- Notes: "All My Loving" is listed but is just a clip of the studio version.
- Obviously winding down on their once-breathless BBC schedule (by necessity); it was two months since their last appearance. Interestingly, perhaps as a result of this hiatus George feels a need to re-explain the concept that the Beatles are going to be actually playing in the studio... though the trotting out of the master of "All My Loving" probably has something to do with that.
- There's some additional singing/performing here of "All I Want for Christmas" and something called "Crimble Medley" of their hits plus "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," which was probably put together for the then-forthcoming Christmas stage show. They also change the novelty "All I Want for Christmas Is a Beatle" to "All I Want for Christmas Is a Bottle," predating a bad Comedy Central pun (referring to Joel Hodgson as "the fifth bot-tle" for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 promo) by three decades.
- The Christmas-related goofing around is quite charming. It's strange to hear them in the brief window between the release of With the Beatles (and the JFK assassination) and their explosion in America, which was about ten days away from kicking off.
- Overall a solid performance; what a long way they'd come in two years. Or one year, even.

1963-12-18 From Us to You #1 [host: Rolf Harris (!)]
[From Us to You theme] - this version interrupted by Rolf Harris chatting
1. She Loves You [Bootleg '63]
2. All My Loving [Bootleg '63]
3. Roll Over Beethoven [Bootleg '63]
4. Till There Was You [Bootleg '63]
5. Boys - Sixth BBC tape of this song. Nice swinging performance here, with Ringo really into it; not sure why this wasn't released unless it's the deviation from the usual structure of his vocal.
6. Money [On Air]
7. I Saw Her Standing There - Eighth BBC tape of this song; also a perfectly good, raucous, nicely loose performance.
8. Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport - Cover of a novelty number by host Rolf Harris, with his own contributions. As a result of his child sexual abuse allegations uncovered in the 2010s, this will never be released. Also it sucks. And blatant self promotion from Rolf.
9. I Want to Hold Your Hand [On Air]
[From Us to You theme]
- Notes: Instead of another weekly series like Pop Go the Beatles, the band's next close collaboration with the BBC was an irregular run of specials starting with this one, broadcast on Boxing Day.
- It's now unreleaseable due to the hosting duties of Rolf Harris! Harris and Jimmy Savile, both of whom participated in the Christmas shows, are going to have to be wiped totally clean from the Beatles' early history. Harris is insufferable, too, and terribly unfunny. "All my love in" wtf.
- God Paul sings like an ass sometimes.
- George sounds sloppy as hell on "Roll Over Beethoven," but it's a lot more spirited than it was just one day earlier.
- On "Till There Was You" Paul loses a little of the remarkable swagger from yesterday (which may or may not be the best thing for the song) while George finally nails the goddamn solo that's been giving him trouble since Decca.

1964-01-07 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. All My Loving - Second BBC tape of what's been called the Beatles' first "standard," from With the Beatles. Note the arrangement change after the bridge on every live performance of this. This performance is nice, and would likely have been released if it weren't from 1964; that goes for a lot of stuff from here on out, where we finally encounter some excellent performances that haven't been put out officially.
2. Money - Sixth BBC tape of this song; nice pounding beat here.
3. The Hippy Hippy Shake - Fifth BBC tape of this song is a less bass-heavy and rollicking version, kind of minimal/punkish; afterward, there's nice discussion about the filming coming up.
4. I Want to Hold Your Hand - repeat of 12/17/63 performance
5. Roll Over Beethoven - Fifth BBC tape of this Chuck Berry number included on With the Beatles; there's unfortunate voiceover over the intro. George sounds rough and under-rehearsed, John's rhythm guitar line is chk-chk-chk weirdness. Glad they don't do the weird rumbling under the "glow-worm/spinning-top" lines anymore. This is the finalized arrangement I reckon.
6. Johnny B. Goode [Live at the BBC]
7. I Wanna Be Your Man - Ringo-centric rocker, finally replacing "Boys" as his usual staple, from With the Beatles; the intro mentions the Stones' version, which was that band's first single. Someone's sister Pam requested it!! Ringo sounds breathless: "tell me / thatcha / love me / baby!!" In the outro, he closes us out by sarcastically muttering "that's fine."
- Notes: I never actually liked this performance of "Johnny B. Goode"; it sounds so listless... otherwise this is a nice moment of the Beatles in the absolute eye of the storm, on the verge of the biggest year of their lives, while the residency of Christmas shows was still in the midst of happening!

1964-02-28 From Us to You #2 [host: Alan Freeman]
[From Us to You] [Live at the BBC]
1. You Can't Do That - The b-side of "Can't Buy Me Love," which had just been recorded a few days earlier but would be released by the time this program was actually broadcast. It's a really interesting version, a tad listless, with John's timing slightly off -- but it's still cool to hear them play this so soon after it was laid down; and George does pretty well on the solo (one of his best in the studio) actually.
2. Roll Over Beethoven [Live at the BBC]
3. Till There Was You [Live at the BBC]
4. I Wanna Be Your Man [Live at the BBC]
5. Please Mr. Postman - Third BBC tape of this Marvelettes classic included on With the Beatles, which was something of a live rarity. John's vocal is pretty wonderful. The denouement is soulful in a very different way from the master.
6. All My Loving [Live at the BBC]
7. This Boy - Second BBC tape of the b-side of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Closer, more unified harmonies on this version, more of a "wall of sound" vibe. It's quite terrific and is one of the best unreleased performances in the vaults; holy shit, does John soar on the bridge. This is a keeper.
8. Can't Buy Me Love [Live at the BBC]
[From Us to You] - rocks.
- Notes: The Beatles return to British radio after a transformative month in which they had all but literally conquered the U.S.
- "Can't Buy Me Love" b/w "You Can't Do That" wasn't released yet as of the recording date, was #1 by the time of telecast.
- Freeman is... playful! Lot of annoying dad jokes but also some good chemistry with the lads. John, re writing career: "well, I'm not blooming." They talk about how many songs will be in the film, with "Can't Buy Me Love" already planned for it.
- Someone asks for "Young Blood" but the Beatles refuse to play it!
- General note: the Beatles pretty much permanently changed the arrangement of "All My Loving" immediately after recording it, it seems.

1964-03-31 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - Second BBC tape of this song, still half a year away from being recorded at EMI, and here is heard in an even more slowed-down country version! It's a slightly better, more playful (but also more Perkins-like) arrangement.
2. I Call Your Name - A song that had been sent to America for release but wouldn't be issued in Britain till the summer. Heard here with a double tracked vocal in a skeletal, bass-heavy version. It's really interesting to hear such an approach to the song despite bad reproduction quality. The weird reggae bridge makes it too, and a pretty nice transition out of it.
3. I Got a Woman [On Air]
4. You Can't Do That - Second BBC tape of this song, pushing the flipside of the hit. The overdubbing is very obvious -- which kind of gives it an interesting, time delayed vibe -- but they've gotten pretty tight on this one.
5. Can't Buy Me Love - Second BBC tape of this song, with awkward double track at beginning. Otherwise this is pretty much the single except really maxed-out and distorted by poor tape quality!
6. Sure to Fall - Second BBC tape of this cover of one of Carl Perkins' best songs, never recorded by the band at EMI. A more gentle, acoustic-driven version than the Live at the BBC take; I like the singing better on this one but I hate Ringo's weird skipping beat on the bridge. George fucks up the solo too.
7. Long Tall Sally - Fifth BBC tape of this classic that had finally been recorded at EMI at the beginning of the month and would be issued first in America, then on an EP in the UK in the summer. Furious Paul vocal here, as good as he ever sounded on this track.
- Notes: The Beatles were in the middle of filming A Hard Day's Night and hadn't played live in over a month. There's a bit of distortion on this, especially early on, but the performances are very tight and strong, though they're a lot more worked over than the older strictly live BBC recordings. It's cool that they're still doing exclusive non-EMI cuts at this point too.
- Brian Matthew thanks them for not forgetting the BBC while they were in America. You can sense how different things are now with this being a more infrequent affair, and it's really quite weird to hear them dedicating songs to individual people after becoming a global phenomenon.
- Paul describes the plot of the film. "It sounds dull, but I don't think it is."

1964-05-01 From Us to You #3 [host: Alan Freeman]
[From Us to You] - repeat of the performance from the previous edition
1. I Saw Her Standing There - Ninth BBC tape of this song; a nice, rocking version.
2. Kansas City - Second BBC tape of their cover of Little Richard's variant of this song. Also a very strong, rollicking performance; is the master the laziest version of this they ever recorded? (And i even like it!)
3. I Forgot to Remember to Forget [Live at the BBC]
4. You Can't Do That - Third BBC tape of this song; slightly rawer than the studio version, but basically identical otherwise.
5. Sure to Fall - Third BBC tape of the song is a marginally more muscular, John-dominant approach. Still with the stupid stuttering off-beat on the bridge though. Afterward: "I think you're disgusting" - Paul to DJ who asks him to send a "big juicy kiss" to a fan.
6. Can't Buy Me Love - Third BBC tape of the song, emphasis on slamming beat.
7. Matchbox - Second BBC tape of another Carl Perkins song, which they would record at EMI a month later; fun as usual, at last breaking the monotony of Ringo always singing "Boys."
8. Honey Don't - Second BBC tape of still another Carl Perkins song, still with John singing lead, which would be taken over by Ringo at the end of the year on Beatles for Sale. It's still fun to hear Lennon take it on even though it's so well suited to Ringo.
[From Us to You] - this disc of the PC set closes with the complete version from the official BBC CD.
- Notes: They also sing "Whit Monday to You," a stupid off the cuff song to the tune of Happy Birthday.
- No less than three Carl Perkins covers, and they'd done another at the last BBC session!

1964-07-14 Top Gear [host: Brian Matthew]
1. Long Tall Sally [On Air]
2. Things We Said Today [Live at the BBC]
3. A Hard Day's Night [Live at the BBC]
4. And I Love Her [On Air]
5. If I Fell [On Air]
6. You Can't Do That [On Air]
- Notes: "I Should Have Known Better" is listed but is just a fragment of the studio master. The bootleg has bad distortion on "You Can't Do That," improved on the official CD.
- Carl Perkins was a guest on this. There's a great promo in which the Beatles assail Brian Matthew for having a "posh voice."
- Weird crunchy guitar effect on "Long Tall Sally."
- Also contains one of the best bits of dialogue from Live at the BBC, in which Matthew discusses how "they used to have actors in films" and demonstrates his agility with Beatle banter.
- The solo from the recorded version of "A Hard Day's Night" is very awkwardly spliced in; and for more BBC wizardry, there's a double-tracking error on "And I Love Her."
- "Don't Pass Me By" is mentioned as the song Ringo is working on writing four full years before the White Album.

1964-07-17 From Us to You #4 [host: Don Wardell]
[From Us to You] - same as it ever was
1. Long Tall Sally - Seventh BBC tape of this song -- a more bare/skeletal version, which I kind of enjoy. It comes off as a tad raucous!
2. If I Fell - Second BBC tape of this song from the album and film, A Hard Day's Night; actually looser than it was just a few days earlier! Downright infectious in this guise.
3. I'm Happy Just to Dance with You - The only live version of any kind of this A Hard Day's Night selection that we have (though sessions reveal the vocal was recorded separately). It won't win any converts to the song (the romance of which I always loved), but the vocals sound great even though George flubs a couple lines.
4. Things We Said Today - Second BBC tape of the b-side from "A Hard Day's Night" sounds a bit distant -- super loud handclaps! -- but I like the double-track sound on Paul.
5. I Should Have Known Better - The only live performance of this AHDN selection too (but not really live, vocal/harmonica overdubbed). It's a very basic arrangement but lovely and John sings the hell out of it. Strange that this is the only time the Beatles played it outside Abbey Road.
6. Boys - Seventh BBC tape of this song; surprisingly, this was still in their regular repertoire at this late stage. Obviously they know it backwards and frontwards... which doesn't prevent George from playing a really odd (not bad) solo.
7. Kansas City - Third BBC tape of this which would've been the only non-EMI song at this session, though of course they were soon to record it for Beatles for Sale... so clearly this is a different arrangement than on the eventual recording, with a jauntier, more Perkins-like solo and a general resemblance more to Wilbert Harrison's record, though it does have Little Richard's new bridge. Paul gets kind of lost on the last minute but he's soulfully lost.
8. A Hard Day's Night - Second BBC tape of the new single and title song from the concurrent LP and film. Faster than the Top Gear version... and clearly better, especially because it has an actual (and quite competent) solo. Inexplicable that Apple went for the earlier version on the 1994 compact disc.
[From Us to You] - still bashing it out
- Notes: PC's disc includes recording sessions for this program.
- The Beatles probably aren't fond of this set because it's so unusually relaxed and messy (and heavily doctored), but this makes it one of the most fascinating Beatles performances of the period (they were somewhat out of practice, just out to promote LP/film).
- Cilla Black's "It's for You" is included for some reason (maybe just because it was a Lennon-McCartney song?).
- Wardell has a damned awful voice.

1964-11-17 Top Gear [host: Brian Matthew]
1. I'm a Loser [Live at the BBC]
2. Honey Don't [On Air]
3. She's a Woman [Live at the BBC]
4. Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby [Live at the BBC]
5. I'll Follow the Sun [Baby It's You EP/On Air]
6. I Feel Fine [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" sounds almost exactly like the EMI master, about to be released.
- On Air also has outtake version of "I Feel Fine," rumored to be substituted at the last second for "Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport."
- This program has the "Riding on a Bus" bit which is poignant in time context (with a few more jokes about Americans edited on the official release). There's also a lot of behind the scenes talk about Beatles for Sale.
- On "Honey Don't," we've got Ringo now!
- Weird skittering beat on the BBC version of "She's a Woman." "I Feel Fine" complete with feedback.
- As already noted, "I'll Follow the Sun" is lovely and better than the EMI version (but speed seems off here).
- Banter that's funny in context about "the b-side's better than the A-side" and "the people in Australia gave me a ring" and "when are you gonna get married, George?"
- Promotion of the Beatles Christmas Show (with Jimmy Savile).

1964-11-25 Saturday Club [host: Brian Matthew]
1. Rock and Roll Music [Live at the BBC]
2. I'm a Loser - repeat of 11/17/64 performance
3. Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - repeat of 11/17/64 performance
4. I Feel Fine - repeat of 11/17/64 performance
5. Kansas City [On Air]
6. She's a Woman - repeat of 11/17/64 performance
^ "Rock and Roll Music" swings a little here, with an interesting varying drum pattern. But it and "Kansas City" seem to be the only actual new performances for this episode of Saturday Club.
- The new film's going to be in color; "great choice," says Matthew.
- The performances are still good but the BBC stuff has really lost its excitement by this point. Recording session work on "I Feel Fine" is supplemented to the end here as well as a bit of the "single track vocal" version. Lennon calls the sound "crap."

1965-05-26 Ticket to Ride Special [host: Denny Piercy]
1. Ticket to Ride (short introductory version)
2. Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby - Fourth BBC tape of this song; it's distorted but George is seemingly having fun.
3. I'm a Loser - Second BBC tape of this melancholic Beatles for Sale selection. "Beneath this wig I am wearing a tie": this is how John amuses himself. A fine version as usual despite bad tape quality.
4. The Night Before - The only outside-EMI version of this Help! track. Piercy talks over the beginning and the tape is bad still. John sounds exhausted on the backing vocal. There is an electric piano though!
5. Honey Don't - Fourth BBC tape of this song; Ringo's usual freeform approach.
6. Dizzy Miss Lizzy [Live at the BBC]
7. She's a Woman - Second BBC tape of the "I Feel Fine" b-side; "my love don't buy me presents," Paul sings, so John's not the only one who's over this.
8. Ticket to Ride [Live at the BBC]
- Notes: the last of the Bank Holiday specials, no longer labeled From Us to You at the band's insistence. Also the very last Beatles BBC program, and while "Ticket to Ride" sounds all right, it's really time.
- "One big question right now, the film." "That's not a question..."
- My question: why THESE songs? Some fairly rudimentary covers, a fairly musty b-side and only two Help! selections. Also, even the announcements are half-assed by this point. Weird to think this chapter of the story was ending when it's still early days in terms of their legacy.

The last disc of the PC set has a bit of extra interview material; 1965 brings a few notes of mild disharmony when Brian Matthew asks John and Paul twenty questions about songwriting and George chimes in with "Ringo and I are painting Buckingham Palace." A similar bitterness permeates when Matthew asks about a potential musical that John and Paul are thinking of writing and Lennon says "Paul's thinking of it, I'm doing it." They also rather openly chide him for labeling "Ticket to Ride" as "folk."
- You also get Apple's edit of "Honey Don't," and a version of "Ticket to Ride" that the compilers call "unfettered." Finally some later '60s material that was used for interstital purposes: the mysterious "All Together on the Wireless Machine," and John's half-assed version of "Cotton Fields" for Kenny Everett... which I like to pretend was thrown on the end of Abbey Road instead of "Her Majesty."


In sum total, everything after the end of 1964 here is pretty pedestrian, but there are few more immersive ways to experience the Beatlemania years from the British perspective than this often wondrous collection of music and chatter.

Friday, September 6, 2019

The Best Albums of the 2010s

A storm rages outside my house as I scramble to finish this post that was, in many ways, the entire original impetus for this weblog's existence. As end-of-decade chatter was heating up in 2009 I, being a guy who loves lists for some reason, especially when I'm the one who makes them, threw my hat in the ring; but while I had no trouble thinking up fifty records that had staked their claim on some part of my life during that hectic period, something didn't sit well with me about how erratic it was. Not that I had especially great taste as a teenager in the '90s, but broadly speaking, there was something comfortably systematic and careful about the way I found and digested music -- it had been an actual hobby, no matter how much I relied on radio, MTV and various periodicals to find anything. In the 2000s, not only was there a substantial period of roughly four years in which I listened to almost no new music whatsoever (when successive fixations on synthpop and '50s rock & roll took me over), surveying my end-of-the-line favorites it was clear that what modern albums or songs I did love I had come about haphazardly, almost incidentally, and while there's nothing actually wrong with this, it did make me wonder how much wonderful stuff I had inadvertently skirted by being quite perpetually Out of the Loop.

So in 2010 during a conversation about the sort of annoying Boomers who stand in denial that any possible cultural experiences had manifested after 1975, I made a pact with a musician friend that he and I were going to spend the 2010s very much In the Loop. The process of achieving those ends has changed over time, much as the way that we broadly as a culture consume and enjoy music has radically changed in that time, and I think my methodology in the first year or so was maybe a little too simplistic (I kept up with every artist that made a record I loved sometime in the present century, and kept up with three particular publications' most highly praised items, regardless of whether I knew anything about them going in); but in essence, while there are gaps here and there and while no one in their right mind is ever going to look upon my eccentric tastes as some barometer of what constitutes Canon, one thing I don't think anyone can deny is that I listened to a whole fucking lot of new music in the 2010s, and that I heard or at least sampled virtually every release that was considered by the popular press to be of significant importance. Math, like brevity, isn't my strong suit, but I can tell you factually that I graded and wrote up (though not necessarily at considerable length) 1,274 albums or EPs in this decade. I don't think I had opinions on half that many albums in all of human history before I started this project, and that does not consider the estimated 3,000 additional LPs I sampled or heard in full and chose not to review, a habit I picked up when I briefly had a professional gig as a music critic from 2011 to 2013 and have kept ever since.

I won't tell you that I didn't enjoy this process, but I also won't tell you that I adored every second of it. The 2010s brought me from my mid-twenties to my mid-thirties, thirty being an age at which I have discovered the impulse to not really a give a shit really takes over, and a major hurdle I had to overcome was my obsessive need to live up to my original goals for this place by weighing in on just about everything (except metal, on which I give myself a pass because I sincerely do not understand and almost literally can't hear the genre, the same way that cilantro tastes like soap to some people), including stuff that I frankly didn't give a shit about. That's half the story; the other half, as I've mentioned here, is that painstaking discovery work is just that: work, and after a certain point it does become exhausting. I do not regret trolling aggregates and publications intensely throughout these ten years to try and make sure I wasn't missing anything -- I can think of at least three artists now major to me, and many others I like very much, that I probably would not have found by any other means -- but I do not plan on continuing to quite the same extent in the future. For one thing I've made my point: if you put your hand under the running water long enough, you find an embarrassment of riches. For another I want very much to shift back toward longform writing in this space, specifically longform writing about music -- new, yes, but particularly old -- that I'm really deeply passionate about, before I completely run out of time to do that.

Talking of running out of time: I did just that, when preparing this list. List-making is something of a sacred process to me in the sense that I get a huge kick out of it and am relatively precise in my methods. Basically I saw the lead-up to this moment as an excuse to listen to every record in my collection, to revise my old decade lists before moving onward to the new one, and at that point I planned to re-listen to everything new this decade that I rated highly in this blog. I got up to the '60s before I realized I wouldn't finish this at any conceivably appropriate moment if I continued with that, and upon skipping straightaway to the '10s, I got through 2010 before I realized that even the smaller task of taking on all of my highly recommended records from '10 to '18 would in no way be possible if I wanted this posted by the end of the summer, which was always my intention.

So in some ways, this is an abbreviated and maybe inaccurate list in a couple of ways. Firstly, in order to make it I essentially only listened to the albums that I had privately given "A" or "A+" grades on my annual lists, leaving off the many very special LPs that fell slightly below that arbitrary index, some of which undoubtedly warrant reappraisal -- I'm sure of that, since systematically reexamining these 71 albums, many of which I've come to know very well since they were released, I already found my original opinions changing in small and large ways. Secondly, it leaves off anything that was released in 2019, when I'm confident that Big Thief and Ibibio Sound Machine and Andrew Bird at the very least have a strong claim to placement in it. The second issue will be rectified in an abbreviated but revised version of the list to be posted at the end of 2019; my primary reasoning is that I don't want to disturb my usual end-of-year list by trying to settle it now, and I also don't want to distract from it (a huge risk since the eyes of the world are obviously on my blog at all times) by posting both projects simultaneously. The first problem will have to wait a bit longer; I'm going to crawl my way through the '70s and '80s etc. first and then rummage back through the lower reaches of my annual 2010s lists again; it will not be for a couple of years, but I will offer a "final for now" version of the whole shebang eventually.

Throughout these years, when I thought about what this mammoth post would look like I had high hopes of constructing some thought-provoking narrative about the story that the music of these times tells us, and how it's mutated; you don't have to be more than half-awake to notice that the critical perspective from which we were generally working in 2010 has been almost completely replaced by now with an altogether different kind of social branding -- arguably forecast a bit by the poptimism movement -- and one that carries considerable benefit as well as detriment to music criticism as a craft. I figured I would talk about the "zeitgeist" without using that dreadful word; that I would tell you what I thought about the long-advertised Death of Indie Rock (chiefly, the people at the shows I go to seem not to have gotten the memo), and maybe I would tell you that I thought Heems -- whose upending of the culture itself was as radical and violently world-expanding as what Johnny Rotten did in the '70s, or would have been if he'd been able to get the public's attention -- was the defining artist of the decade, or that the Dreiser-scale narrative of the Palm Beach band Surfer Blood, who began the decade poised to ride an unironic wave of Guitar Hero splendor on into a ripe old age that seemed so far away, really told the entire story about our interactions with art and pop in the teens: derailed by their status as a band led by an abuser and populated and enjoyed by implied abuse-defenders, stymied in their hyped major label bid, beset by health problems and eventually death, and more than anything, haunted by the reality that the music they played -- music that seems as innately appealing at first blush as Alex Chilton's or Paul Westerberg's, if not nearly as crafty or intelligent -- was becoming a niche.

Except what the fuck am I talking about? Chilton's music in its heyday, Box Tops notwithstanding, was less than niche -- absolutely no one listened to it except rock critics, even if that was strictly because of Stax's failing distribution at the time. The Replacements were a hype of sorts, on the other hand; they signed to Sire, they upheld a specific image, they deliberately trolled on MTV, but they too were never more than a specialized secret-menu item in the 1980s, reduced on some occasions to a lifestyle symbol, albeit in time when big labels happily subsidized such ventures. What I was actually doing by dreaming about forming all this shit into an intricately woven web of interrelationships and inter-interrogations was the very thing I'm so sick of, reducing the depth of disparate things by constructing a narrative out of them. You're not stupid. You don't need me to tell you that we used to torrent and now we stream, and that oddly a growing number of us started buying vinyl again just to put a tactile piece of this stuff back in our hands; it seems only right to mention it, but in practice I can't fathom anything more banal. What specifically makes it banal is that it doesn't actually do any work to explore why we care about any of this shit. I've said a few words about the top fifty records below and not about what they tell us about this or that, or certainly not what the response to them tells us about the world they occupy. You can figure that dross out yourself; I'm interested in what is moving and overwhelming and feels timeless, and what I think lends it those qualities. This was a wonderful time for music, an abundant time. I want to engage with the work, to celebrate what is simply good and not confine myself to the context around it, or else this blog would have a very different format and subject.

In other words I am not a culture writer, and this is probably the last time I will be talking about "modern music" in any broad sense, though I will be reviewing the remaining important releases of 2019 and will keep checking out new releases and reviewing those that strike me as significantly worthwhile... but broadly, I think everyone reading this "gets the idea" and I run the risk now of just repeating myself. So this venue from now on will be more a further digging into the past century of recorded art than it will be any attempt to stay on top of What's Happening -- monthly posts will continue but will be a good deal shorter -- as at this point I think I have a good feel of what that's like, and while it was occasionally rewarding, I don't think overall it's the direction I want to go in with this unpaid hobby, not least because the way the internet at large seems to want to engage with art as a set of ultra-woke instructions for day-to-day conscious living is abhorrent and deeply uninteresting to me, and I say that as someone who generally hates when people say shit like that.

The only overarching point I'll make about the list below is that I surprised myself at times by how I worked the rankings out; there are records down in the twenties and thirties on which I think nearly every song is brilliant, and a few in the upper reaches that don't contain any songs I would genuinely call Great. It was more a matter of consistency, but on some level I also corrected myself a bit on the temptation to second-guess certain albums that I love because they just became an inextricable part of my life. I wanted to get away as much as possible from the idea of listing records that made the most of their form or their cultural context or whatever else, even though many of these I think do accomplish that, and switch back to just sharing the things that I loved the most and made me happiest (or saddest, this being music) in these strange years. So at the end of the day, I ended up essentially doing the same thing I did in 2009... except now with a much larger pool to choose from, and I am glad to have had the chance. Summarizing all this is going to require me to return to that storm outside ("I hope my grass stays green"), barreling around with wind gusts in a house where I live with my wife, with whom so many of the moments now immortalized for me by this music have been shared. The associations that have formed in these ten years, since a time when this relationship was new and when so much was different, are what really informs the essence of this whole project. Maybe that limits the audience of these observations strictly to myself; but what was that thing I said earlier about not giving a shit?


71 records were reevaluated for this project; I'm writing quickly about fifty of them, but I ranked them all and so 70 of them are here because that's a nice round number. But let's have a moment of silence for clipping.'s CLPPNG, which would have been #71 but came in just under the wire even though I love it to bits and especially enjoyed dicking around with the 100 locked grooves on side 4 of the LP. And also, a moment of fully engaged cheering for Kelela's Hallucinogen, an EP I have re-graded to A+ that would be near the top of this list if I chose to let us have EPs on it. (A "top ten EPs" list would be rounded out by both of Courtney Barnett's that are collected on A Sea of Split Peas, Sheer Mag's II and III, the Tallest Man on Earth's Sometimes the Blues Is Just a Passing Bird, Swet Shop Boys' Sufi La, Ezra Furman's Songs by Others, Holy Fuck's Bird Brains and PAPA's A Good Woman Is Hard to ind.)

Why "very"? Because this hurts the heart! These are all verified to fully deserve higher placement, if only I'd heard fewer records I loved in the 2010s.

70. Ciara (Epic 2013)
69. Yo La Tengo: Fade (Matador 2013)
68. The Wave Pictures: Look Inside Your Heart (Moshi Moshi 2018)
67. Danny Brown: Old (Fool's Gold 2013)
66. Nadine Shah: Holiday Destination (1965 Records 2017)
65. PJ Harvey: Let England Shake (Island 2011)
64. Ezra Furman: Day of the Dog (Bar/None 2013)
63. The Julie Ruin: Run Fast (Dischord 2013)
62. Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian 2016)
61. Rhye: Woman (Republic 2013)
60. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop 2018)
59. Surfer Blood: Astro Coast (Kanine 2010)
58. The Wave Pictures: A Season in Hull (s/r 2016)
57. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down: A Man Alive (Ribbon Music 2016)
56. Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (Def Jam 2017)
55. Slowdive (Dead Oceans 2017)
54. Tirzah: Devotion (Domino 2018)
53. Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On (Matador 2018)
52. The Mountain Goats: Goths (Merge 2017)
51. Robyn: Honey (Interscope 2018)


50. The National: Trouble Will Find Me (4AD 2013)
Bloated to an extent its predecessor wasn't even though it probably wasn't a lot shorter, this failed to register initially, but it is the music of drunken bleak parking lots and wet streets, and opens up an avenue to raw expression that they've been trying and only sporadically succeeding to rediscover ever since.

49. Hospitality: Trouble (Merge 2014)
You start ignoring guitar music, you start ignoring bands that write songs that could totally turn your whole outlook upside down, and albums like this that run such an unheralded gamut of feeling, joy and introspection, and with a hook to die for in nearly every cut.

48. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD 2010)
It has come to my attention that I'm not, in the end, that huge an acolyte of Bradford Cox, but only a misguided fool would deny the roll he was on in the early part of this decade; this record is gorgeously constructed, capturing and transcending the indie-prog moment and concocting a mood as dimly lit and sophisticated as on an I.R.S.-era album by his fellow favorite-son Georgians. But no, Cox didn't write the best song.

47. Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL 2010)
I have been bored of talking about this band for nearly twelve years now and suspect I will remain so until the end of my days, but it's not even their fault, it's the totally decrepit manner of shallow interpretation that seems to be all many outlets have at their disposal. Did you know that they are #influenced by African music!? Well, did you also know that you can get paid to wring your hands about that for 5,000 words, all while knowing less about a whole continent of culture than Ezra Koenig does?? Except for the ones you're sick of, these are genuinely lovely, often gorgeous songs, even the ones you're sick of actually, and even the ones like "Giving Up the Gun" that seem at first glance to fulfill every stereotype about who they were then.

46. Pet Shop Boys: Electric (x2 2013)
By my estimation, no more than six years have ever flown by without a terrific Pet Shop Boys album, even though their track record has grown spottier on the whole since the mid-'90s; they gave us two extraordinary dance records at the middle of the decade. There's not even the faintest feeling of aged-out throwback to this return to the floor; even the blissed-out power pop romance "Thursday" with its cornball Example interlude means the world to me, perhaps because around 2013 I really was only able to see my lover on the weekends, and if there's any longtime PSB fan who isn't shaken to their bones by "Vocal" I don't think I want to speak to them.

45. Beach House: Bloom (Sub Pop 2012)
Beach House albums are practically interchangeable to me except Teen Dream, which I checked on and do in fact still mostly dislike; but either this or Depression Cherry is my go-to, music that fills the house and drones with beautiful imperfection.

44. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge 2010)
I really didn't expect this to find its way here; even at the time as a certified Fan I was a little skeptical of it and found it overlong, but when I was running through my A-minuses for 2010 (making this a good example of why this list may look different once I've had time to do a full reevaluation of everything) I found myself almost moved to tears by a good amount of what it contained about the growing disconnect of early-thirties adulthood, something I couldn't have really grasped when I first heard it -- and before I, hilariously, moved back to you guessed it. Plus, fuck it, the songs are really good.

43. The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans 2010)
Seeing Kristian Matsson live with Amber (who introduced me to his music) just after this was released, on folding chairs at a run-down church for a campus event that was $5 for non-students, with no one but him on stage and nothing separating us from the alcohol on his breath and the erratic, singular way he kept time with himself was one of the most magic things that happened to me in these years... and I had a splitting migraine all the way through it, which reminds me: fuck Lemonade or whatever, the defining moment of the 2010s in this household was when my doctor prescribed Nadolol. Anyway, lovely album!!

42. tUnE-yArDs: Nikki Nack (4AD 2014)
I never remember how wonderful this is until I play it loud again. It would have been hard for any record to follow up on one that so deeply inspired me in the early years of the decade and I think it was natural to register some disappointment at the time. But even if just in light of where Merrill Garbus chose to take the project after this, I honestly long to return to this moment. Hearing it today, it sounds buoyant, plagued, and most of all, free.

41. David Bowie: The Next Day (Columbia 2013)
It is completely fucking unfair how good Bowie's last two albums are. There's no precedent, even; I've been listening to his pre-hiatus stuff and, while invariably charming, none of it has this energy or passion at its center. Hearing this and Blackstar for this cycle I have to confess, my head was genuinely spinning as I remembered how much excellent material was contained on both. Rockers his age don't just recharge like this. Even Prince couldn't have made a record that would sit this interchangeably with something from his golden period, ditto Dylan, etc. How in fuck did he do it?

40. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (Out Here 2013)
Malian near-masterpiece is an impassioned, angry, vibrant response to repression that gets as close as any music does to actually defining the feeling of being alive, human and full of fire -- labeling this as rock & roll, and powerfully feminine rock & roll at that, isn't reductive, it's a testament to the universality of the music that enlivens and explains modern life.

39. Beyoncé (Columbia 2013)
I would eventually get as sick as everyone else of the tiresome shorthanding of Beyoncé as not just the one cultural signifier we mostly agree on but the only cultural signifier we're willing to prop up as untouchable, and damn you to hell if you don't worship her. But in one sense we're lucky, since this is a Zeitgeist-Approved artist whose work is actually for the most part very good... and in this case, brilliant, and weird too. You've almost certainly forgotten how weird this album is. Jay-Z's verse on "Drunk in Love" is as jarring as the Police song stuck in the middle of their most beloved album where Andy Summers rants incoherently about his mother and girlfriend, who are -- not irrelevantly -- the same person.

38. Yoko Ono: Take Me to the Land of Hell (Chimera 2013)
I try not to be That Guy about anything but I am deeply suspicious of anyone who hears any of Ono's recent work (or almost any of her albums, really, though I will allow that POB and Fly aren't for everyone) and honestly doesn't catch its winning genius. This sly, funny, philosophically blunt celebration may be the best-ever synthesis of her intimidating skill set. I don't think there is anyone else left alive who's been recording consistently good music as long as she has -- Dylan's hopeless by now, sorry -- and at this point, ignorant dismissals of her grate me so much that I'd almost rather hang out with a Beatles hater than a Yoko hater. But I'd prefer neither!

37. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady (Bad Boy 2013)
Very marginally the least of her three full-lengths, and of course a vivacious shot of absolute pleasure from beginning to end. There just isn't much to say -- it's such a visceral and purely good time that only a total square would try to explain it. The black and white vinyl looks like your electric meter spinning from the side.

36. Twin Shadow: Confess (4AD 2012)
George Lewis has turned out to be such an irksomely small-minded performer since this point that I'm tempted to pretend this isn't one of the albums I listened to most voraciously in the years after its release, one of the scattered records I genuinely couldn't get enough of and practically had memorized. Maybe it's coated with arrogance, but it also captures every bit of the night-driving Captain EO-with-relationship-problems vibe it aims for, and if you corner me about it I will admit to you that I don't know if I can name half a dozen songs I love more than "Run My Heart." Seeing his band play that and "Old Love/New Love" live totally redeemed a show filled with schlock from his subsequent major label debut.

35. Lady Lamb: After (Mom + Pop 2015)
The sort of record that sneaks up on you. Aly Spaltro has made a lucrative career of wild time signature changes, bizarro arrangements and undiluted guitar heroics, but her second proper album throttles because its songs are so phenomenally elegant, walking a line between intimacy and confidence, between the pure joys of sound and melody. Years after I first heard it, moments I never even thought about are still suddenly embedding themselves in my head, like currently the seductively operatic opening verse of "Ten." The cunnilingus-as-birth-control metaphor "Penny Licks," meanwhile, is one of the anthems of the decade for me -- and I admit disappointment when I found out she never plays it live.

34. Cut Copy: Zonoscope (Modular 2011)
Once again, if we were measuring in frequency of plays, this would be in the first or second spot on this list, though in this case it would be because of about half the songs; I actually think Cut Copy's virtually ignored subsequent albums are more consistent, but the peaks this one hits, especially out of the gate with two of the most glorious dance-pop constructions of my lifetime and later on with the ecstatic one-two punch of "Hanging on to Every Heartbeat" and "Corner of the Sky," are all but undeniable, and for me at least, they eclipse the perfectly lovely singles the band was first kicking the door in with around 2008.

33. Atlas Sound: Parallax (4AD 2011)
To my mind, Bradford Cox's magnum opus -- a shimmering procession of subtle, moody grooves and hooks and sounds full of hiding places and strange interludes but also a palpable, irresistible humanity. When you take it apart and examine it, it has almost no recognizable consistency of sound, yet all of it hangs together marvelously -- it's honestly one of the best-sequenced and designed, and most lovably morose, rock albums in recent memory.

32. The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers (Matador 2014)
This was another case in which I remembered placing this very high on my year-end list and recalled certain songs that had stayed in constant rotation -- this is really one of my favorite modern-ish bands so I listen to their stuff on shuffle a lot -- but only upon cuing it up again did I remember what a cacophony of pleasure it is, and as each track blared out I found myself amazed to realize that I knew all the songs pretty much by heart and had somehow lost the awareness that they all were part of this same release, which now feels like a greatest-hits to me, a tower of joy, which is doubly impressive since I don't think they had made an exceptional record in a good while by this point.

31. Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (Bad Boy 2018)
I'm still pissed off at the forum posters I saw proclaiming that Monae, a rocker-approved Real Musician, had sold out by spending a whole album proclaiming and discussing her sexuality and its place in the universe -- as if a certain breed of fan can only handle self-exorcism when couched in sci-fi metaphor. Meanwhile, this didn't go over hugely with the sort of writers who seem to build their careers on memes, presumably because on top of being righteous, clever and sexy it's actually fun... and, perhaps more importantly, fun in an often specifically primal way.

30. Hot Chip: One Life Stand (astralwerks 2010)
Most of the key artists of the 2000s for me wasted little time in proving the old axiom that our faves really get one decade to shine bright and that's about it, and Hot Chip wasn't really an exception, but it's easy to forget that their best album actually did hail from 2010 and not earlier, and for me it's a classic: a perfectly sustained expression of dancefloor romance that almost overwhelms in its sincerity, and at times forgoes beat entirely to foreground its more complex reflections (the stunning "Alley Cats") but I especially dig when it balances both instincts (the stunning "Take It In").

29. Shabazz Palaces: Black Up (Sub Pop 2011)
Like Nikki Nack, a record that sounds mostly like an odd curio until you spin it at top volume, at which point it takes you to Neptune and back -- Ishmael Butler has continued to innovate and tease as a producer, but his achievements under this name all seem to follow up from this one, and its metallic, disorienting mood is all but impossible to explain or duplicate as an avenue for musical expression.

28. David Bowie: Blackstar (Columbia 2016)
If The Next Day was Bowie proving he could toss out gobs of material in his sixties that engaged every longing we'd ever had fulfilled by his era-defining work in the '70s, Blackstar reasserts his status as a creator of sustained, carefully considered albums: shorter than The Next Day but no less diverse or vast in ambition, it's sufficiently smart and focused that it nearly renders its author's identity beside the point. From anyone, it would be a feat; from someone at death's door, it's an act of love.

27. Anthony Joseph: Caribbean Roots (Heavenly Sweetness 2016)
Not sure I have thus far successfully convinced anyone to listen to this -- maybe put off by the rather bland-sounding title -- but let me use this opportunity to try again: listen to this. All Joseph's albums are good; a poet by trade, he has a splendid speak-singing style that finds infinitely engaging nuance and dimension in his own words, so skillfully you wouldn't mind listening to these songs a cappella if the music weren't so terrific. But this one has bite, despite its considerable emotional grace. If you've only got time for one track, go with "Neckbone," one of my favorite musical moments of the decade.

26. Kate Tempest: Let Them Eat Chaos (Fiction 2016)
Its luster is retroactively diminished by the contrivances Tempest uses to string its narrative together, which weren't necessary on her first album and were limited to arbitrary chapter titles in her novel, and I think one reason it stung on this round is that her new record is nothing but the strings. But when the music kicks in and Tempest takes on her litany of characters and lays into these stories and observations that seemed to lead directly into one of the most harrowing events of any of our lives, it's still impossibly powerful. We drove six hours to see her perform it live in 2017, blocks away from the White House.

25. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop 2015)
What makes Barnett heir to whatever throne of great rock & roll storytelling you feel like naming is not her lyrics or her phenomenally powerful, emotive guitar playing, both of which complement for sure, but rather her ability to leave exactly enough blank space in her words to make her delivery of them the entirety of the story, so that a straightforward-on-paper narrative like the earlier "Avant Gardener" or even a mundane one like "Depreston" is given a whole narrative thrust thanks to the obviousness of the pain, empathy, longing, anger or curiosity that she brings with her singing. She is the full package and I'm so glad she exists.

24. Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (Bella Union 2015)
Best pure rock & roll album since, I dunno, probably one of Lou Reed's!? And like Reed, one of his idols, Furman harnesses the sonic language of early rock & roll to weave poetry, and does so not as an intellectual exercise but because rock & roll is what reached him, and he wants it to reach you. Across these songs, the purity of expression and honestly never falters, but they also are the words of a heavy reader and a wordsmith, someone who gives a shit about how he's going to tell you about his pain just as much as he cares about the very act of expressing said pain. This time I couldn't stop thinking about the two ballads, "Watch It Go By" and "Hour of Deepest Need," both worthy of Gram Parsons.

23. The Wave Pictures: Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon (Moshi Moshi 2015)
Maybe the biggest thank-you I owe to this blog is that my routine procedure of trawling through new release lists brought me to this album, and in turn to what has become probably my favorite guitar band running (ex-faves the Walkmen went on hiatus in 2012, and I don't know if Yo La Tengo fully qualifies as a guitar band anymore) and one with a marvelous wealth of material to discover. My introduction to them is very unlike the rest of their work, in that it boasts the frenetic production work and songwriting assistance of Billy Childish and thus has a cleaner, harder sound than their typically raw and unkempt material. But the constant is the warmth and humor in their work, the unapologetic sophistication, wit and poetic yearning of Dave Tattersall's lyrics, and the seemingly bottomless well of inspiration from which they draw; they're not just one of the best bands in the world, they're also one of the most dedicated and prolific. And I really can't say enough good things about them -- there's so much to hear in their work, so much to draw from it, and its generosity is staggering. And no one in the U.S. has heard of them and they never tour here. Hooray for idiosyncrasy!

22. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor (XL 2010)
It seems redundant to even explain why this is a brilliant album. It's also the only time that any of Patrick Stickles' cockamamie "concepts" has really worked, though I really think it's mostly incidental to the power of some of the rawest, most unapologetic punk songs I've ever heard, though in the manner of London Calling this is punk that sometimes leans hard on classicism of the sort that can spawn the heartbreaking Jenn Wasner guest shot "To Old Friends and New," and the remarkably bleak country anthem "Theme from Cheers." What renders this so hypnotic and cathartic is its absolute conviction, which could only come from either a damaged soul or one with deep empathy for the damaged. But I believe him when he yells to his dad in the middle of a rant about wanting to die that, at least in the moment, he's not making it up.

21. The National: High Violet (4AD 2010)
"Terrible Love" isn't much. But everything after that drives its hooks into you whether you want them there or not -- and these minor-chord anthems become the haunting rhythms of the everyday before long, until you find that you're never going to shake them again. It's a record that justifies clichés without leaning on any. Beautiful ugliness and all that. At times Matt Berninger's unredeemed-brooding lyrics can be annoyingly obtuse, but sometimes he hits on just enough telling detail and open-endedness to say a great deal: "Bloodbuzz, Ohio" and "Lemonworld" are the kinds of bad moods and difficult memories I can never resist poring over one more time.

20. Das Racist: Relax (Greedhead 2011)
For just a sec, forget that Kool A.D. turned out to be a dickhead or that Das Racist are to this day almost completely misconstrued as a novelty act thanks to their methodology for noteworthiness, a video that went viral before most of us knew what viral meant. Sometime when you have a chance, go to Youtube and track down every Das Racist interview you can find from 2009-11, when their mixtapes were coming out and they were trying to get in everyone's faces with their anarchic message. This wasn't some artificially constructed intersection of music and comedy, this was an incredibly well-articulated and passionate rebuke to the cultural tide that I don't think most who would've cared took the time to fully understand, and now all these years later they'll probably never bother. But there was much to learn from the tepid response to this magnificent record on which Heems, Kool and Dap roll up their sleeves and go for broke on all their impulses from avant garde to protest music to heartfelt R&B to indie rock irony, shitposting before Soundcloud, waking up before woke, and generally creating a kind of fabric-tearing menace evocative of the actual Marx Brothers, not the facile comedy teams that are always getting compared to the Marx Brothers by people who've never seen Duck Soup. When you get ambitious, you make enemies. And then you break up. And then no one ever knows what the hell to do with your legacy. They should probably buy it.

19. The Walkmen: Lisbon (Fat Possum 2010)
The most consistent American rock band of the 2000s never had time to prove that they weren't going to hold it together for another decade because they unceremoniously split (not permanently, they once claimed) after one more album past this, the underrated Heaven. You and Me from 2008 had been a rallying cry for sheer loveliness, the optimistic and romantic flipside to the National's equally expansive misery. Somehow Lisbon doubles down further on mood while producing at least seven or eight utopian ideals of guitar-based indie pop, rendered with a confidence, kindness and dimension that you feel could knock you down if they wielded it in a certain way. But from the open-armed opening notes of the Van Morrison-like "Juveniles" to the final yearning strains of "Lisbon," this record maintains delicacy and engagement as a life's mission, and there's simply no analysis that will mean more than simply indulging in its open spaces and glorious minimalism.

18. Danny Brown: Atrocity Exhibition (Warp 2016)
Might've been the rap album of the decade if he didn't get stoned before deciding how to end it. I'm reminded, anyway, of what Lester Bangs said about the Stones being dirty and the Doors being dread. Lots of music in the mid-to-late 2010s seemed to build itself on the idea of looking into the void (Yeezus, for instance), but this album -- this is the void, an existential nightmare that's perversely exploding with life, all the identity-crisis chaos of Remain in Light and all the perplexing bluster of Aphex Twin, but with Danny Brown yelling about threesomes over the top of it. I said I wasn't going to talk about how these albums defined the times, but...

17. Nicolas Jaar: Sirens (Other People 2016)
An immersive composition as much as a pop album, this would probably be compelling as a sample-based procession of collages and moods or even a straightforward follow-up to Jaar's incredible semi-ambient debut Space Is Only Noise, but the moments when it periodically bursts into traditional songcraft are so wildly invigorating that it lends the whole record an almost diabolical structure, whereby every little piece of its marginalia seems to fit almost magically, and when "The Governor" pops into place, everything else in Jaar's world and yours disappears... but only long enough for him to weave his next web.

16. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (Columbia 2012)
Before we lost Cohen in 2016, he was my favorite living artist and another of the catalysts for my trying to engage more fully with music news -- when I found out from a Barnes & Noble cashier that I'd missed him playing a show in Durham; as it panned out, I never did get to see him -- and when rumors were afoot of his first new record in nearly a decade (his second such lapse), I badgered my editor at Metro Times as well as Cohen's label to get a chance to review it professionally. And the humiliating thing is, I did so but completely got it wrong; I actually complained that I missed the angry Leonard Cohen of The Future and the wickedly reflective pervert of Dear Heather. Hearing the record today, it's already astonishing how much of it is comprised of what seem like instant entries into the Great American (well, Canadian) Songbook or some such hallowed canon. By the time Marianne Faithfull covered "Going Home" a few years later it sounded like she was visiting a standard; "Amen," "Show Me the Place," "Anyhow" and "Different Sides" at the very least enjoy the same quality of grace and out-of-time wisdom. The master still had so much to teach us, and even some of his most devoted students weren't truly ready.

15. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada 2014)
A blistering, vibrant, funny and heartfelt story of heists, jealousy, dead culture, dead cities and all but unnoticed opportunities for connection in a city teeming with life, later adapted by Tempest herself into an excellent novel (The Bricks That Built the Houses), but here functioning as the setup for the second-best LP-length hip hop narrative of the decade. And what makes it work is that each of the songs, full of keen observations and ferociously quick-witted delivery of them, operates completely on its own terms whether you go on to parse out the entirety of the story or not. The characters Tempest creates, and our muddled sympathies toward them, have a complexity that no lesser artist the world over could synthesize into music this appealing.

14. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic 2012)
Our less than prolific poet laureate of neurotic music-hall conundrums was as fired-up as ever the one time she graced us with her presence in the 2010s; her fourth album seemed to build and build on itself, its carefully worked-out but audibly impulsive melodic fears and private confessionals finally attaining nirvana with the two closing love songs. I didn't know Apple's music very well until after this came out; hearing it again now, in the context of her entire catalog, it's simply breathtaking -- once again, each song had lyrics and hooks and melodies I didn't even realize I'd committed to memory, but she snapped her fingers and I was right there again.

13. Janelle Monáe: The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy 2010)
The loose construction of an Afrofuturist-revival album around the basic plotline of Fritz Lang's Metropolis serves only to prove that even two great artists like Lang and Monáe can't make Thea von Harbou's hackneyed novel and script any less silly... but both use it merely as a springboard, and for Monáe, it prompts a head-spinning but remarkably effortless-sounding journey through what seems to be the entire history of American popular music, from Mancini to Stevie Wonder to gentle folk-rock to P. Funk to lite-FM, and after dozens of listens, the surprises continue to surprise, and most fascinatingly, the emotions continue to wholly belie their conceptual context, which for Monáe is just a way of talking about the same out-of-sorts alienation that figures in all of her work, and she does herself proud in carving out a cultural space for herself, on her own terms, with endlessly thrilling results.

12. The Wave Pictures: City Forgiveness (Moshi Moshi 2013)
Part of me wants everything to be short. Singles over albums (2010s song list coming this fall!), short stories over novels, 80-minute movies over massive epics, etc., but there's a certain threshold that gets passed in which prolonged indulgence feels like the only correct thing, and the experience of sitting back while this ridiculously gifted Leicestershire trio works out twenty new ones from a seemingly endless supply of lyrics, hooks, tunes and riffs is so immersive that the scattered weaker songs, or the ones that just don't go much of anywhere, seem only to add to the experience, to the sense of journey. And when they pull it all together -- which is most of the time, but especially on "All My Friends," "Before This Day," "Better to Have Loved," "The Inattentive Reader," "Atlanta," "Golden Syrup" and "Like Smoke" -- they weave such magic from such modest context that it makes a teenage fan out of the listener: you hang on to every word of the songs, to every solo, and when you pause and let it wash over you passively, the experience is somehow equally profound. One of the best of all rock double albums.

11. Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City (XL 2013)
Here's a musical regret from these times: when I went to New York City for the first time in my life, this had come out and I hadn't heard it yet -- which surprises me now because I associate the record so strongly with that trip. This is one of only three albums released this decade that I immediately recognized as what I'd consider a classic, an album I knew very quickly that I would be listening to forever and that I would feel safe casually calling it Great. It isn't soured by Ezra Koenig's later banality either, even if I did play it too much for too long to be able to truly hear it anew again just yet. The songs are consistently stunning, but more than that, the moments are so charged-up and inspiring, like the building up of the chants on "Ya Hey" or the closing hook that Koenig later stole from himself on "Finger Back." It's a brief shining moment of absolute confidence that whatever remains of the band will never be able to recapture; age is an honor, it's still not the truth.

10. Love Is All: Two Thousand and Ten Injuries (Polyvinyl)
I didn't let myself grade this an A+ at the time; it just seemed too modest in scope and execution, as lively as it is. Truthfully, if I'd known how much I was going to obsess over it for the next ten years, I probably would have changed my mind, but now, it's here at this level because I can't imagine wanting more out of music than what this gives me. This is one of those bands that gets forgotten because they come from the same place we do: they're nice people who listen to rock & roll to give their demons a place to escape and now they're making fast and furious music to serve the same purpose for themselves and for others. But the thing is, they're also perfectionists -- this manifests in how much is clearly poured into every explosive guitar riff or saxophone break, and especially into the thoughtful ways that leader Josephine Olausson expresses herself: disappointments, private dreams, private rages, and numerous bits of comical bitterness. As explosive as the band's X-Ray Spex-derived sound is, its ragged edges and subtleties make it profound, and make it sing with life. I miss this band a lot.

9. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam 2010)
This album is really really good.

In all seriousness, the day this came out I had to drive like sixty miles with no heat on a really cold night and I loaded it onto my MP3 player and even now I feel cold when I hear it. The music West and his engineers constructed around these songs is some of the most evocative ever heard in pop music. Listen particularly to "All of the Lights" and "Hell of a Life."

8. SOPHIE: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (Future Classic 2018)
Something that I guess marks my taste is that I like music a lot of people tend to find "difficult" (annoying) in some ways, which I don't say for some kind of bragging rights or to be a cool goth teen but because I want to reassert here that stuff like SOPHIE and Yoko Ono and Crystal Castles or whatever else is truly and basically automatically pleasurable to me, and it doesn't register to me as especially off the wall. Fine, I acknowledge that SOPHIE's album and singles are outre -- apart from the moments when she specifically aligns with trad club or pop music -- but every second of wild sounds and weird panning is riveting to me, and exciting, like a transmission from a world in which music, at least dance music, conforms to a very different set of expectations. I'm not going to pretend this is the future or whatever, but I love the way it carves out the idea of imagining the future, and I deeply appreciate that I didn't hear anything remotely like it in these last ten years.

7. Kanye West: Yeezus (Def Jam 2013)
This record was inescapable the year after its release in a way that none of West's albums had been since the mid-2000s; for one thing, I played it incessantly in the summer of 2013, but I also heard it everywhere, and it was actually exciting that something so unorthodox seemed to briefly be gaining that degree of mainstream acceptance. Like his previous record, it was one of those rare moments when an artist meets advance hype with full self-justification. West's sheer audacity as a performer has probably increased since this point, but he has also become less and less inspired in his writing and conceptual work, so this is the lone impeccable moment we probably get with West the provocateur and West the immensely gifted rapper-producer. It's actually more abrasive and shocking and edgy than I recalled, a record that doubles down on eccentricity, a record that rewards attention, and probably the zenith of a man who was then one of the most fascinating artists in the country.

6. Joanna Newsom: Divers (Drag City 2015)
Quite frankly I wrestled with which of Newsom's masterpieces from this decade to put in which position -- the logical thing would've been to string them together right in a row, but something felt gauche about that. I unabashedly worship this individual, and I don't think there's an artist working today I trust more, nor one whose work I love more, and in a lot of ways I think this is her most perfect release because it discovers the intersection between her love of pure emotion and melody via folk tradition and her more ambitious conceptual impulses -- plus it gives the people who whined about her pre-surgery voice their own Milk Eyed Mender without three discs to scour for a way in, but more than anything it's crushingly moving because of what it tells us about love, loss, death, and the frayed, wounded sensibilities of someone who in our conception should by all rights be invincible. But none of us are.

5. tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l l (4AD 2011)
It just immediately sounded right, from the first moments of the first song; Merrill Garbus doubling down on her range and her abrasiveness simultaneously, conceiving and executing a series of exciting, provocative, rhythmically tricky and thematically thorny songs with steely resolve. The ten tracks seem to bounce off one another like game pieces, and while there are peaks that undoubtedly burst out of the frame -- "Doorstep" is an absolute soul-stirrer, "Powa" one of the most sensual songs in the annals of indie, to say nothing of the obvious "Gangsta" and "Bizness" -- each seems so desperate to impart its message that it shuts out the rest of the world in that moment, as though all that can matter is Garbus' pure exuberance and what she is saying to you. And on top of its element of protest and alarm-sounding, it's really a record about living in your own skin and refusing to question your creative muse, a skill Garbus knows better than anyone can be absolute hell to put into practice. When this came out I thought it was one of the most exciting, jolting things I'd ever heard; knowledge of the future -- hers and ours -- tempers that, but why shouldn't it, and why should that hurt it?

4. Saint Etienne: Words and Music by Saint Etienne (Heavenly)
This wasn't an A+ until recently, when it dawned on me that I can no longer imagine my life without it. A kind-hearted self-examination in which we are all meant to participate, this song cycle about learning, knowing, discovering, living inside music is the sort of thing I have a hard time imagining someone not loving... but even I didn't appreciate it to the extent I now think it deserved from the first. Today all of the longing that inhabits it, all the knowing glimpses backward and forward in Sarah Cracknell's miniature narratives, provide it with one of the most judicious, unmistakably sincere perspectives on youth from an adult perspective that I've ever witnessed in any medium, and the band is fully cognizant of the way that music like nothing else can create its own sort of time travel, or can stop time altogether. It's one thing for songs like "Tonight," "Over the Border" and "DJ" to talk about that feeling, though, and another for them to achieve it musically all on their own, which the entire record consistently does. I think the key to the whole operation may actually be "When I Was Seventeen," which is about the feeling of youthful invincibility, but never once accuses that feeling of being naive. Like the Beach Boys, longtime favorites of theirs, Saint Etienne look upon youth as a fact of life, not as a particular time or place. But they know they'll often stop and think about them.

3. Kendrick Lamar: good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Interscope 2012)
I have continued to admire Lamar's work but he hasn't done anything else that gripped me like this lyrically and sonically intricate narrative of misguided youth, which plays out with such immaculately cultivated empathy and complexity that the only problem with his "short film" declaration on the cover is that an actual short film probably couldn't handle this much plot without bogging down. As usual when concept albums work, which is rare, it's music rather than words that deliver the narrative -- and on revisiting the record, it was the apocalyptic, immersive production on tracks such as "The Art of Peer Pressure" and "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" and the way that Lamar controls, mitigates and dispatches his various avenues of storytelling -- while never causing any song to drag or to lose its purpose as music, even when that music is deliberately expressing a naive or satirical idea as part of the story -- that brought this above and beyond every other hip hop album of the decade for me.

2. Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me (Drag City 2010)
My one regret ranking this sprawling triple-discer above Divers is that it seems a little too much like the Default Position, when I think Divers is both a truly great work of art and managed to feel underappreciated in the final analysis, whereas the sheer heft of Have One on Me could make its high placement feel almost predetermined. I'm too scared to go back and see what I wrote about this at the time, but what I can tell you now is that just about every one of these eighteen songs is now tied to a memory: some good, some bad, all rendered three-dimensional by the presence of Newsom's songs in my life; and what I may be most attached to -- which has also become increasingly true of her prior record, Ys -- is the manner in which the longer, more intricate cuts that take some time to fully know gradually and beautifully unfurl themselves, until eventually hearing each of them with full concentration becomes an event, something to witness and treasure. Like Divers, this record has intimate origins, in this case apparently the story of the last 24 hours of a dying relationship; and there is something beautifully masochistic about those 24 painful hours providing the soundtrack to ten full years. But what cannot be denied is that the record's utility and presence has not diminished one iota with the loss of youth, with the advance of time, with the change of mood. It sits, and it doesn't change, but we do... and then it does too.

1. D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA 2014)
I genuinely didn't know what was going to be at the top of this list. I had several candidates, this among them, but when I actually listened again, there was basically no question. It isn't the only record here I think of as a masterpiece by a longshot, but it is the one that I think sits at the greatest cross section of kinds of appeal -- for pure aesthetic, for genre-bending, for brilliance in composition and production, for variance of mood, and for lyrical messaging. The dense layering of sounds coating it, the obscurity of D'Angelo's current vocal technique, the way the entire concoction so skillfully avoids easy streamlined interpretation... and of course, the outrageous riffs and shots of unhinged pleasure that populate its dark, textured grooves... it is the makeup of a record that I feel will prove timeless, and a missive from someone whose sense of quality control doesn't let him speak out loud unless he has something to tell us.

I have expressed disgust at the expectation that we must make lists like this, and write about music in general, strictly through the prism of how it's informed by the times in which we live. However, in the liner notes for this album -- which is the best funk LP, I think, in nearly forty years, and is also probably the best new album issued this century -- D'Angelo decries any temptation to ignore the record's political and racial text and subtext. I won't. There is no way to engage with new music, certainly not music this passionate and vital, while ignoring the larger world (forum moderators be damned). But what makes Black Messiah transcend the idea of a political work of art is the same thing that let There's a Riot Goin' On, which directly inspired it, do the same thing: like every other record among these top ten, it is a personal exorcism, a spiritual outcry, a release from the heart and soul that badly needed to happen. Years from now when the landscape is hopefully very different, it will take no great effort for us to understand the emotions at the core of it. We will change. But this record doesn't need to.