Sunday, March 27, 2016

The List of Lists 2015

For the uninitiated: this is the annual post in which I dump part of my reserve of meaningless ranked lists and usually create a few new ones for the occasion. It normally is posted at the end of December but I put it off in order to stay on top of current work. These are meant to be fun and subjective and frivolous, and some are obviously more thoughtful than others, some are not particularly broad-minded, but hey, they might be a kick to peruse. In that spirit, onward.

***

THE BEST LIVE ALBUMS
Live albums are one of this blog's blind spots, in that I tend to only even listen to them if they're the product of an artist I love passionately. Live music has come to mean a great deal to me but part of the crux of that experience is that it can't really be duplicated on record. Still, there are some that stand up to repeated exposure along with a given artist's studio recording; in a few cases below, they actually are a superior taste of someone's prowess to any of their proper albums. Another caveat is that some of the best live recordings ever made were never officially issued. Exhibits A, B and C would be the Clash, Stevie Wonder and Yo La Tengo. There are literally dozens of astounding Clash bootlegs, all undeniably better than the hodgepodge live releases CBS has mustered. To a lesser extent the same basic tenet holds for Wonder. YLT is anti-live album but with a band for whom each and every concert is such a unique entity, download any show and you're likely to hear something magical. I've considered doing a bootlegs list but I tend to think it would be even more unbalanced than usual for me, since I'm only likely to hear boots by a handful of acts. Bootlegs will, however, be addressed within one of the new features of this blog I'll be introducing in the next few months, so watch for that. There's also the question of someone like Television, whose astonishing performance The Blow-Up is officially available but in abysmal quality -- that holds for most Velvet Underground live tapes too. At any rate, these officially released live records are all certifiably extraordinary.

(Restricting this to one per artist; otherwise repeats from James Brown and Talking Heads would easily place.) I've formatted this with the recording date followed by initial release and then the date of any subsequent, superior edition.

1. James Brown: Live at the Apollo (King 1962/1963)
2. Jerry Lee Lewis: Live at the Star Club, Hamburg (Philips 1964)
3. Sam Cooke: Live at the Harlem Square Club (RCA 1963/1985)
4. Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense (Special New Edition) (Sire 1983/1984/1999)
5. The Velvet Underground: 1969 Live with Lou Reed (Mercury 1969/1974)
6. Lou Reed: Rock 'n' Roll Animal (RCA 1973/1974)
7. Johnny Cash: At Folsom Prison (Columbia 1968)
8. Van Morrison: It's Too Late to Stop Now (Warner Bros. 1973/1974)
9. John Cale: Sabotage/Live (I.R.S. 1979)
10. The Beach Boys: In Concert (Reprise 1973/1974)

***

1950s ALBUMS
Here's a list with two necessary disclaimers. First is that while the '50s remain steadfastedly my favorite decade of rock & roll, I'm less familiar with LPs from the period than those of any subsequent era. As a result I've chosen not to properly "rank" this list. Instead it's a catch-all collection, ranked in order of preference, of everything I've discovered so far. Assuming there's lots more -- in jazz especially -- to hear, this is an evolving and naive list, like all of these but even more so. Yes, Birth of the Cool is technically a compilation; for lots of reasons as explained in my review, I've chosen to consider it a studio album for my purposes here. We will begin a hopefully illuminating trek through the great rock & roll singles in next year's List of Lists, starting with 1956. (Note: The jazz albums below are listed by recording rather than release date.)

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Columbia '59) A+
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Capitol '50) A+
Cannonball Adderley: Somethin' Else (Blue Note '58) A+
Dave Brubeck: Time Out (Columbia '59) A+
Miles Davis: Walkin' (Prestige '54) A+
Howlin' Wolf: Moanin' in the Moonlight (Chess '59) A+
John Coltrane: Blue Train (Blue Note '57) A+
Here's Little Richard (Specialty '57) A
Art Blakey: Moanin' (Blue Note '58) A
Miles Davis: Relaxin' (Prestige '56) A
Elvis Presley (RCA '56) A
Buddy Holly: The "Chirping" Crickets (Brunswick '57) A
John Coltrane: Lush Life (Prestige '58) A
Sarah Vaughan: After Hours (Columbia '55) A
Buddy Holly (Brunswick '58) A
John Coltrane: Dakar (Prestige '57) A-
The Everly Brothers: Songs Our Daddy Taught Us (Cadence '58) A-
Frank Sinatra: Songs for Swingin' Lovers! (Capitol '56) A-
Johnny Cash: With His Hot and Blue Guitar (Sun '57) A-
The Everly Brothers (Cadence '58) A-
Chuck Berry Is on Top (Chess '59) A-
Johnny Cash: The Songs That Made Him Famous (Sun '58) A-
Chuck Berry: After School Session (Chess '57) A-
Chuck Berry: One Dozen Berrys (Chess '58) A-

***

1965 ALBUMS
This and all but one of the lists below come originally from my last sweeping revision of my personal database in 2009 (with the addition of any wholly new discoveries made for this blog. In this case I have no serious errata; Highway 61 Revisited, far and away my favorite Dylan album, I would maybe move up to #3. Help! and The Kink Kontroversy should possibly be switched. I almost never play side two of Help! from start to finish and, upon buying a vinyl reissue of Kontroversy not long ago, was stunned by how strong it consistently is.

1. The Beatles: Rubber Soul (Parlophone) A+
2. Otis Redding: Otis Blue (Volt) A+
3. John Coltrane: Om (Impulse!) A+
4. Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia) A+
5. John Coltrane: Ascension (Impulse! 1966) A+
6. The Beach Boys: Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) (Capitol) A+
7. Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia) A
8. Vince Guaraldi: A Charlie Brown Christmas (Fantasy) A
9. Herbie Hancock: Maiden Voyage (Blue Note 1966) A
10. The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads (London) A
11. John Coltrane: Sun Ship (Impulse! 1970) A-
12. The Beatles: Help! (Parlophone) A-
13. John Coltrane: Meditations (Impulse! 1966) A-
14. Herb Alpert: Whipped Cream and Other Delights (A&M) A-
15. The Beach Boys: Today! (Capitol) A-
Them (Parrot) A-
The Kinks: The Kink Kontroversy (Pye) A-

***

1975 ALBUMS
Errata: The top three are almost impossible to distinguish, quality-wise; Zuma would be too if not for "Stupid Girl". Pour Down Like Silver should probably be several spaces higher. I wish people didn't so consistently ignore that John Lennon record, which is surprisingly emotional and striking. I'm vastly less enamored of Loudon Wainwright than I used to be, but it's been a while since I did a checkup.

1. Patti Smith: Horses (Arista) A+
2. Neil Young: Tonight's the Night (Reprise) A+
3. Brian Eno: Another Green World (Island) A+
4. Neil Young: Zuma (Reprise) A+
5. Funkadelic: Let's Take It to the Stage (Westbound) A+
6. Modern Lovers (Home of the Hits) A
7. Lou Reed: Coney Island Baby (RCA) A
8. Burning Spear: Marcus Garvey (Island) A
9. Bob Dylan: Blood on the Tracks (Columbia) A
10. Richard & Linda Thompson: Pour Down Like Silver (Island) A
11. Ohio Players: Honey (Mercury) A
12. Fleetwood Mac (Warner Bros.) A
13. Bob Dylan & the Band: The Basement Tapes (Columbia) A
14. John Cale: Slow Dazzle (Island) A
15. Parliament: Chocolate City (Casablanca) A
16. Brian Eno: Discreet Music (EG) A
17. The Meters: Fire on the Bayou (Reprise) A-
18. The Mahotella Queens: Marriage Is a Problem (Shanachie) A-
19. Richard & Linda Thompson: Hokey Pokey (Island) A-
20. The Spinners: Pick of the Litter (Atlantic) A-
21. David Bowie: Young Americans (RCA) A-
22. Loudon Wainwright III: Unrequited (Columbia) A-
23. John Lennon: Rock 'n Roll (Apple) A-
24. The Staple Singers: Let's Do It Again (Curtom) A-
25. John Cale: Helen of Troy (Island) A-

***

1985 ALBUMS
Errata: I might prefer Little Creatures to both Fables and Psychocandy now. Actually, even Tim is eclipsed for me by the albums before and after it in the Replacements' discography. These are all excellent albums but this is, from my retroactive understanding, one of the weakest years for LPs. Hearing Fables again while working on posting this I realized that it might constitute the biggest side one-to-side two quality collapse in the annals of the rock album. Not that side two is bad -- I eventually even came around on "Auctioneer", and the Appalachian folksiness of "Green Grow the Rushes" is a pleasing forecast of "Losing My Religion" -- but there's nothing that even competes with their best stuff, whereas the first half is completely flawless as the left side of Reckoning or the whole of Chronic Town. The one time I saw R.E.M. live, they threw "Life and How to Live It" in the middle of the set and it might have prompted the most conspicuous public freakout of my life.

1. The Replacements: Tim (Sire) A
2. The Jesus & Mary Chain: Psychocandy (Reprise) A
3. R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction (I.R.S.) A
4. Talking Heads: Little Creatures (Sire) A
5. Run-DMC: King of Rock (Profile) A-
6. Tears for Fears: Songs from the Big Chair (Mercury) A-
7. Mantronix: The Album (Sleeping Bag) A-
8. Fine Young Cannibals (I.R.S.) A-
9. INXS: Listen Like Thieves (Atlantic) A-
10. Suzanne Vega (A&M) A-

***

1985 SONGS
Brand new list. On the other hand, 1985 was full of stone classic singles; in some ways it was the perfect moment of pop radio at one of its most blissful heights, the tail end of the old school rap golden age with Mellie Mel's funky, imaginative minimalism dominating almost innumerable classic twelve-inches. In dancehall, the Sleng Teng riddim set off an absurd firestorm of between 200 and 300 singles; only three are represented here but cultists who can't afford old Jamaican 45s will have a field day on Youtube. DJing several oldschool and reggae theme sets in my younger days and too many hours watching MTV in adolescence gave me a leg up on this year in all quarters except indie / "underground" rock; an extensive exploration led me to believe I wasn't missing a whole lot. As so often, the more time you spend with the lion's share of alternative bands the more you realize how formulaic and reactionary a lot of that music really is. Still, there are some jewels here, just overshadowed by some of the hardest beats in hip hop ever. And with the entrances of LL Cool J -- all of his best stuff is from this year -- and Slick Rick, and Schoolly D with the indelible beginning of rap's forthcoming darker turn, it's a watershed year.

The rule here where applicable remains one song per album excluding singles and b-sides which are unrestricted, which is not the ideal rule but it's the best one I can think of. I like "Feeling Gravitys Pull" and "Maps and Legends" (and, hell, "Old Man Kensey") more than "Cant Get there from Here" or "Driver 8", but it would seem bizarre to me to have seven or eight R.E.M. songs on this list and equally bizarre for the two classic singles not to be on it. (Did you know "Wendell Gee" was also a single? It didn't make it.) Someday I'll do decade lists and they'll be a free-for-all. Oh, and Madonna's big hits of this year -- "Material Girl" and "Into the Groove", two absolutely perfect singles -- are technically from 1984, hence their absence.

1. New Order "Love Vigilantes" [Low-Life]
2. Mantronix "Needle to the Groove" [Mantronix: The Album]
3. Kate Bush "Cloudbusting" [Hounds of Love]
4. Roxanne Shanté "Bite This" [non-LP single]
5. Doctor Rocx & Co. "Girl Friends / Boy Friends" [non-LP single]
6. Pet Shop Boys "West End Girls" [Please (1986 LP)]
7. Depeche Mode "Shake the Disease" [Catching Up with Depeche Mode]
8. Prince "Raspberry Beret" [Around the World in a Day]
9. Tears for Fears "Head Over Heels" [Songs from the Big Chair]
10. Double Dee & Steinski "Lesson 1 - The Payoff Mix" [non-LP single]
11. Kate Bush "Running Up That Hill" [Hounds of Love]
12. Talking Heads "And She Was" [Little Creatures]
13. R.E.M. "Life and How to Live It" [Fables of the Reconstruction]
14. Sheila E. "A Love Bizarre" [Romance 1600]
15. Shebba "We Should Get Together" [non-LP single]
16. Simply Red "Holding Back the Years" [Picture Book]
17. Toddy Tee "The Baterram" [non-LP single]
18. John Wayne "Call the Police" [non-LP single]
19. Stevie Wonder "Part Time Lover" [In Square Circle]
20. The Replacements "Kiss Me on the Bus" [Tim]
21. The Jesus & Mary Chain "Just Like Honey" [Psychocandy]
22. Sparky D vs. the Playgirls "The Battle" [non-LP single]
23. LL Cool J "I Can't Live Without My Radio" [Radio]
24. R.E.M. "Ages of You" [b-side]
25. Run-DMC "Together Forever (Krush Groove 4)" [b-side]
26. Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew "The Show" [Oh, My God! (1986 LP)]
27. Double Dee & Steinski "Lesson 3" [non-LP single]
28. Bernice Frazier "Will You Be the One" [non-LP single]
29. Mantronix "Hardcore Hip Hop" [Mantronix: The Album]
30. Talking Heads "Road to Nowhere" [Little Creatures]
31. Schoolly D. "P.S.K. What Does It Mean?" [s/t]
32. LL Cool J "Rock the Bells" [Radio]
33. Til Tuesday "Voices Carry" [Voices Carry]
34. OMD "So in Love" [Crush]
35. Talking Heads "Perfect World" [Little Creatures]
36. Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force "I Wonder If I Take You Home" [s/t]
37. Kurtis Blow "If I Ruled the World" [America]
38. Pet Shop Boys "In the Night" [b-side]
39. Grandmaster Mellie Mel & the Furious Five "Pump Me Up" [Stepping Off]
40. Run-DMC "King of Rock" [King of Rock]
41. LL Cool J "You'll Rock" [Radio]
42. The Replacements "Bastards of Young" [Tim]
43. Beat Happening "Bad Seeds" [s/t]
44. Fine Young Cannibals "Blue" [s/t]
45. Marley Marl feat. MC Shan "Marley Marl Scratch" [non-LP single]
46. The Cars "Tonight She Comes" [Greatest Hits]
47. a-ha "Take on Me" [Hunting High and Low]
48. Run-DMC "You're Blind" [King of Rock]
49. Tim Greene "The Facts of Life" [non-LP single]
50. INXS "Same Direction" [Listen Like Thieves]
51. The Replacements "Here Comes a Regular" [Tim]
52. Too Short "Players" [Players EP]
53. The Chesterfield Kings "She Told Me Lies" [Stop!]
54. Tenor Saw "Ring the Alarm" [non-LP single]
55. UTFO "Bite It" [s/t]
56. INXS "What You Need" [Listen Like Thieves]
57. Curtis Hairston "I Want Your Lovin' (Just a Little Bit)" [non-LP single]
58. Colourbox "The Moon Is Blue" [s/t]
59. Aretha Franklin "Freeway of Love" [Who's Zoomin' Who?]
60. Sparky D "Sparky's Turn (Roxanne You're Through)" [non-LP single]
61. Beastie Boys "Rock Hard" [non-LP single]
62. Oingo Boingo "Weird Science" [Dead Man's Party]
63. R.E.M. "Cant Get There from Here" [Fables of the Reconstruction]
64. Craig G "Shout" [non-LP single]
65. Tears for Fears "Shout" [Songs from the Big Chair]
66. Simple Minds "Don't You (Forget About Me)" [The Breakfast Club OST]
67. The Commodores "Nightshift" [Nightshift]
68. Everything But the Girl "When All's Well" [Love Not Money]
69. Fine Young Cannibals "Johnny Come Home" [s/t]
70. Mantronix "Bassline" [Mantronix: The Album]
71. Steady B "Just Call Us Def" [non-LP single]
72. Yello "Vicious Games" [Stella]
73. Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew "La-Di-Da-Di" [b-side]
74. The Bats "Claudine" [And Here Is Music for the Fireside EP]
75. Wayne Smith "Under Mi Sleng Teng" [non-LP single]
76. Word of Mouth "King Kut" [King Kut EP]
77. UTFO "Leader of the Pack" [s/t]
78. Ready for the World "Oh Sheila" [s/t]
79. Lone Justice "Ways to Be Wicked" [s/t]
80. NYC Cutter "DJ Cuttin" [non-LP single]
81. Klymaxx "Meeting in the Ladies Room" [Meeting in the Ladies Room]
82. R.E.M. "Driver 8" [Fables of the Reconstruction]
83. Death City Boyz "Bopsey Twins" [non-LP single]
84. Lloyd Cole & the Commotions "Lost Weekend" [Easy Pieces]
85. Double Dee & Steinski "Lesson 2 - James Brown Mix" [non-LP single]
86. Fela Kuti "Army Arrangement" [Army Arrangement]
87. Kate Bush "Hounds of Love" [Hounds of Love]
88. Half Man Half Biscuit "Fuckin 'Ell It's Fred Titmus" [Back in the DHSS]
89. The Beach Boys "It's Gettin' Late" [s/t]
90. The Cure "In Between Days" [The Head on the Door]
91. The Boothill Foot Tappers "Have You Got the Confidence for the Trick?" [Ain't That Far from Boothill]
92. Roky Erickson "Don't Slander Me" [Don't Slander Me]
93. Leonard Cohen "If It Be Your Will" [Various Positions]
94. Yossou N'Dour "The Rubberband Man" [Nelson Mandela (1986 LP)]
95. Johnny Osbourne "Buddy Bye" [non-LP single]
96. Run-DMC "Can You Rock It Like This" [King of Rock]
97. The Organization "The Big Beat" [non-LP single]
98. Pet Shop Boys "A Man Could Get Arrested" [b-side]
99. The World Class Wreckin' Cru "Surgery" [World Class]
100. Killing Joke "Love Like Blood" [Night Time]
Eurythmics "Would I Lie to You?" [Be Yourself Tonight]
Beastie Boys "She's on It" [non-LP single]
Newcleus "Space Is the Place" [Space Is the Place]
west Coast Crew "D.O.A." [In the Mix]
Boogie Boys "A Fly Girl" [City Life]
New Order "The Perfect Kiss" [Low-Life]
Suzanne Vega "Small Blue Thing" [s/t]
The Bangles "I Got Nothing" [The Goonies OST]
Madness "Yesterday's Men" [Mad Not Mad]
Whitney Houstin "How Will I Know?" [s/t]
Tears for Fears "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" [Songs from the Big Chair]
Howard Jones "No One Is to Blame" [Dream into Action]
Mantronix "Fresh Is the Word" [Mantronix: The Album]
The Cult "She Sells Sanctuary" [Love]
The B-Boys "Girls" [non-LP single]
Husker Du "Makes No Sense at All" [Flip Your Wig]
The Jesus & Mary Chain "Some Candy Talking" [b-side]
Prince "Pop Life" [Around the World in a Day]
The World Class Wreckin' Cru "Juice" [World Class]
Yello "Oh Yeah" [Stella]
Hoodoo Gurus "Bittersweet" [Mars Needs Guitars!]
Howard Jones "Things Can Only Get Better" [Dream into Action]
The Smiths "How Soon Is Now?" [Meat Is Murder]
R.E.M. "Burning Down" [b-side]
INXS "Listen Like Thieves" [Listen Like Thieves]
Depeche Mode "It's Called a Heart" [The Singles 81>85]
The Del Fuegos "Don't Run Wild" [Boston, Mass.]

***

1995 ALBUMS
Errata: A fan of both since grade school, I'm no longer able to stomach Ben Folds Five and although I stand by Red Hot Chili Peppers as an underrated and fun band, I rarely listen to them anymore. Proud to say I bought The Bends just a couple of months after its release, mostly because of a savvy preteen hipster I was friends with -- a preacher's son, ironically -- who prompted by god knows what external source sought to be a cutting-edge alternative rock expert. (He was learning to play guitar until he eventually shifted to an obsessive budding comedian who taped Conan every night to "study" it; last I heard he had become a Christian rock musician.) The only other record here I actually owned in 1995 was Oasis; still good but worn the hell out by now, unlike Definitely Maybe. I got Exit Planet Dust in '97, Passengers as soon as I learned what it was so probably 1996 (and it's still pretty awesome I think), Matthew Sweet around '98 or '99 when I had a huge flurry of interest in him. He's also up for a reevaluation, as I haven't put on much of his stuff in nearly a decade. The others came up later in high school save the two Stephin Merritt creations, but this alternative-exclusive list is a pretty succinct portrait of what I loved as a teenager. There's good stuff here, if not much variance.

1. Yo La Tengo: Electr-O-Pura (Matador) A+
2. The Chemical Brothers: Exit Planet Dust (astralwerks) A+
3. Radiohead: The Bends (Capitol) A
4. The Cardigans: Life (Minty Fresh) A
5. The Magnetic Fields: Get Lost (Merge) A
6. Luna: Penthouse (Elektra) A
7. Ben Folds Five (Caroline) A-
8. Björk: Post (Elektra) A-
9. The 6ths: Wasps' Nests (London) A-
10. Oasis: (What's the Story) Morning Glory (Epic) A-
Passengers: Original Soundtracks 1 (Island) A-
Matthew Sweet: 100% Fun (Zoo) A-
The Flaming Lips: Clouds Taste Metallic (Warner Bros.) A-
Red Hot Chili Peppers: One Hot Minute (Warner Bros.) A-

***

2005 ALBUMS
Errata: This is a weird one, reflective much more of my taste in 2009 than in 2005 or now. The top four seem fairly infallible. The Sunset Tree and Eggs should be higher. The Cookbook, Missy's weakest album, doesn't belong in the top ten. Surprised to see Madonna's record so far down below; I played it nonstop for most of this and the following year. My actual favorites in 2005 were, roughly, New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene (which, come to think of it, should also be higher), Depeche Mode, Madonna, Missy Elliott, Goldfrapp, Dylan, Junior Senior, Eels. I wasn't keeping up very devotedly at that time and mostly just heard whatever friends recommended or what I read about from favorite writers of mine.

1. The New Pornographers: Twin Cinema (Matador) A
2. Sufjan Stevens: Illinoise (Asthmatic Kitty) A
3. Kanye West: Late Registration (Def Jam) A
4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine (Epic) A
5. The Decemberists: Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars) A
6. The Mountain Goats: The Sunset Tree (4AD) A
7. Laura Cantrell: Humming by the Flowered Vine (Matador) A-
8. Depeche Mode: Playing the Angel (Reprise) A-
9. Andrew Bird: The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe) A-
10. Missy Elliott: The Cookbook (Atlantic) A-
11. Goldfrapp: Supernature (Mute) A-
12. Broken Social Scene (Arts & Crafts) A-
13. The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan (V2) A-
14. Feist: Let It Die (Interscope) A-
15. M. Ward: Transistor Radio (Merge) A-
16. Bob Dylan: Modern Times (Columbia) A-
17. Madonna: Confessions on a Dance Floor (Warner Bros.) A-
18. Junior Senior: Hey Hey My My Yo Yo (Crunchy Frog) A-
19. eels: Blinking Lights and Other Revelations (Vagrant) A-
20. Okkervil River: Black Sheep Boy (Jagjaguwar) A-
Chatham County Line: Route 23 (Yep Roc) A-

******

The March review post is coming up in a couple of days, and there is so much outstanding new music out there right now, folks. It's been fun to delve into the past a bit but we are in no kind of a drought. Stay tuned.

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