Revisited

2008 Revisited

There’s a lot of writing on this post not because I got inspired but because I wrote about so many of these albums and films in real time, so most of what you see hear is cut-and-paste from of-the-moment coverage or (more likely) published year-end-lists, with some minor alterations.

This is the most recent year I’ve tackled so far on a project originally intended to cover 1965-2014 (I’ll still do those but may dip back further at some point) and it’s no accident that it’s also probably the most esoteric set of lists so far, at least on the music side.

By 2008, whatever used to be a center had pretty much dissolved and it was a time of no big things. The top two albums from 2008’s Pazz n Jop national critics poll (TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend) both made my Top 5 a decade later (neither that high at the time), two of the other PnJ Top 5s (Portishead, Fleet Foxes) I found/find barely listenable.

The idiosyncrasy of the film list is less trend than one-off. At the time I proclaimed 2008 the Worst Year Ever for movies, and while there’s plenty of good stuff, there aren’t many candidates for the cultural time capsule: WALL-E, I guess, but I found its second half too conventional, and The Dark Knight, still the best of the era’s dominant commercial genre.

ICYMI, all of the previous years so far:

Anyway, the lists ….  

2008 albums

ALBUMS

  1. Hold On Now, Youngster …  — Los Campesinos!: On this full-length debut as apotheosis, co-leaders Gareth and Aleksandra trade off verses like conjoined twins completing each other’s thoughts while their bandmates bop around behind them in a tumult of handclaps and vocal interjections, dancing to the breakbeats of broken hearts. This young band obsesses over their messy lives (favorite title: “My Year in Lists”) and is always ready with a sardonic rejoinder (“I cherish with fondness the day before I met you”). But they’re the kind of sarcastic, introspective wallflowers delighted to discover themselves actually having fun (“You! Me! Dancing!”). The music is springy, chaotic, breathless: It has to be to keep up with their overactive minds and racing hearts. It sounds like a dorm-lounge lark. It’s beautiful.
  2. Brighter Than Creation’s Dark — The Drive-By Truckers: Though Brighter Than Creation’s Dark peaks at the very beginning with the saddest, loveliest song Patterson Hood will ever write, it holds its shape for an epic 19 songs and 75 minutes. Hood takes the toll of the Iraq war from two vantage points, ruminates on road life, and spits in the wind of recession. Musical life-partner Mike Cooley spins one wonderful, low-rent character sketch after another, several of them probably autobiographical, led by a definitive metal-to-grunge saga he’s old enough to have lived and a shaggy confession that outs country storyteller Tom T. Hall as this great band’s biggest influence.
  3. Dear Science — TV on the Radio: “Williamsburg Radiohead” transforms and transcends with album of defiant dance-rock, full of rhythm and joy but with tinges of darkness and noise adding gravity.
  4. Vampire Weekend — Vampire Weekend: From the write-what-you-know department: detailed, insightful, witty, and not at all uncritical evocations of collegiate lust over perhaps the decade’s most sprightly guitar music.
  5. Made in Dakar — Orchestra Baobab: The follow-up to this vintage Senegalese band’s unlikely 2002 comeback triumph Specialist in All Styles, Made in Dakar combines fresh versions of unknown-in-these-parts West African standards with new songs. As always, guitarist Barthélemy Attisso spins indelible melodies and launches entrancing grooves with his vibrant but deliberate style, while sax man Issa Cissokho offers droll, elegant counterpoint.
  6. Rising Down — The Roots: First half of a two-album peak that resulted from pairing down the band’s drums-first funk and appointing lead voice Black Thought first chair in an orchestra of voices that comprise one notion of a community.
  7. The Way I See It — Raphael Saadiq: There were plenty of artists tapping into ’60s and ’70s soul sounds, but former Tony Toni Tone singer Raphael Saadiq had been working in the vein for 20 years.  He wasn’t a tribute artist; he was (is) a practitioner. And the nonstop groove, compositional detail, and sometimes surprising songwriting (“Keep Marchin'” the campaign theme Curtis Mayfield wasn’t around to write; “Sometimes” a family meditation of Smokey Robinson-level grace) here is still the closest he — or anyone else — has been to the muse since his old band’s 1996 swan song, House of Music.
  8. Fearless — Taylor Swift: Half high-generic (ok, very high) rootsy teen-pop and half classic album unlike any other classic album, a not-entirely-a-self-portrait of a gifted, generous, empathetic — aka totally normal — teen girl. It’s telling that the lesser half is heavy on Music Row collaboration and the better half is driven by solo writing credits. Those solo credits include the album’s biggest hit, about daydreaming through Honors English, and it’s two great songs. One is about freshman year. The other is about how much she loves her mom.
  9. Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails — The Baseball Project: Alt-rock journeymen Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate) and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) — neither of whom meant much to me in their previous pop lives — spin a baker’s dozen of terrific songs about America’s onetime pastime. With jangly bar rock as apt a song-for-song’s-sake vehicle as solo-acoustic, and with the likes of Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and forgotten hurler Harvey Haddix as worthy of the troubadour treatment as Pretty Boy Floyd and John Henry, you might call this the best non-Dylan folk record of the decade.
  10. Feed the Animals — Girl Talk: By and large, this masterful mash-up mix layers rap vocals over pop hits from the ’60s to the present. Though I do wish his taste in hip-hop samples more often reached beyond the declamatory and carnal, he mines his juxtapositions for plentiful comedy. I couldn’t tell you how this works in the club, but as a pop-addict album listener I know it never lets up, its tricks never stop working.
  11. Alphabutt — Kimya Dawson & Friends: Juno soundtrack star follows up her rather unlikely rise to fame with this silly, scatological concept album about kids and parents. With “friends” of all ages joining in to give the record a rambunctious, campfire spirit, Dawson lets songs about hungry tigers, splashing bears, and potty-training triumphs commingle with songs about pregnancy anxiety, schoolyard lessons on egalitarianism, and the ethics of food availability. This collection of deceptively simple acoustic ditties alternately for, to, and about Dawson’s own kid — and maybe yours too — is her most engaging album, though perhaps too sweet, too homely, and too messy for a lot of listeners. A family touchstone in my house.
  12. Stay Positive — The Hold Steady: The fourth and last essential album from America’s most literate bar band opens with something of a master statement: “Constructive Summer,” which spins some Springsteenian imagery off a title almost surely inspired by Hüsker Dü’s “Celebrated Summer” before splitting the difference with a song-ending dedication to the Clash’s Joe Strummer. This fits an album where songwriter supreme Craig Finn literalizes more than ever his band’s mission to unite classic-rock grandeur with the regular-guy modesty and small-scale ethical sense of the hardcore and punk scenes that weaned him.
  13. The Dusty Foot Philosopher — K’Naan: A folkish warm-up that introduces a pop one-of-a-kind, a kind of good-hearted Eminem from Mogadishu.
  14. Tha Carter III — Lil Wayne: At his very best, and this is it, Lil Wayne was something akin to rap’s Al Green — an idiosyncratic vocal genius who combines cutesy with carnal while deploying a wide range of verbal registers and tics. This commercial tour de force is his finest album because it’s the first and maybe last time he’s reined in his logorrhea and put it at the service of so many conceptually focused songs. And yet this 16-song, nearly 80-minute opus drags a little down the stretch — and would have been better as a tidy, 10-song banger climaxing with the Kanye West-produced “Let the Beat Build.”
  15. Lay It Down — Al Green: On the third and final of the secular “comeback” albums Green cut during this period, the 62-year-old icon finds, in the Roots’ Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, both a drummer and producer capable of pushing him. Thompson stated flat-out that he wanted to make the best Green album since the last acknowledged classic, The Belle Album. And though this peaks early with the opening title track repetition and the grateful “Just For Me,” he probably succeeded.
  16. Primary Colors — Eddy Current Suppression Ring
  17. Nouns — No Age
  18. Wamato — Les Amazones de Guinee
  19. Singles 06/07 and Matador Singles 08 – Jay Reatard
  20. Harps and Angels — Randy Newman
  21. Conor Oberst — Conor Oberst
  22. Untitled — Nas
  23. Distortion — Magnetic Fields
  24. That Lonely Song – Jamey Johnson
  25. Just Us Kids — James McMurtry

SINGLES

  1. “Paper Planes” — M.I.A.
  2. “Lights Out’ — Santigold
  3. “Sequestered in Memphis” – The Hold Steady
  4. “Time to Pretend” — MGMT
  5. “Geraldine” — Glasvegas
  6. “Black President” — Nas
  7. “In Color” — Jamey Johnson
  8. “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” — Beyonce
  9. “More Like Her” — Miranda Lambert
  10. “I’m Not Gonna to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You” — Black Kids
  11. “Lay it Down” — Al Green
  12. “Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From an Angel)” — Ponytail
  13. “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It” — Ice Cube
  14. “A-Punk” — Vampire Weekend
  15. “Golden Age” — TV on the Radio
  16. “A Milli” – Lil Wayne
  17. “L.E.S. Artistes” — Santigold
  18. “Rockin’ That Thang” — The-Dream
  19. “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” — Vampire Weekend
  20. “Kids” — MGMT
  21. “Love Lockdown” — Kanye West
  22. “Disturbia” — Rihanna
  23. “White Horse” — Taylor Swift
  24. “High Cost of Living” – Jamey Johnson
  25. “My Year in Lists” — Los Campesinos
  26. “Swagga Like Us” — T.I. featuring Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne
  27. “Oxford Comma” — Vampire Weekend
  28. “I Feel It All” — Feist
  29. “Daddy’s Gone” — Glasvegas
  30. “Love Story” — Taylor Swift
  31. “Gunpowder & Lead” — Miranda Lambert
  32. “Hot n Cold” — Katy Perry
  33. “Heartless” — Kanye West
  34. “I Like It, I Love It” — Lyrics Born
  35. “Furr” — Blitzen Trapper
  36. “Last Call” — Lee Ann Womack
  37. “Takin’ Off This Pain” — Ashton Shepherd
  38. “Electric Feel” — MGMT
  39. “American Boy” — Estelle featuring Kanye West
  40. “Little Bit” — Lykke Li

MOVIES

  1. Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh): From the dreamy, on-the-move triptych opening credits to a serene closing seemingly indebted to ’70s art-house classic Celine & Julie Go Boating, British master Mike Leigh (see also: Topsy-Turvy, Naked, Vera Drake) has never exhibited as light a touch or been as inspiringly humanistic as with this portrait of a London schoolteacher (Sally Hawkins) whose sunny demeanor is challenged by others’ ways of seeing — and being in — the world.
  2. Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani): This “New South” indie rewrite of the Cannes-winning Iranian film Taste of Cherry pairs a charismatic Senegalese immigrant (Souléymane Sy Savané) with an aging white Southerner (Memphian Red West in a career performance) for a rich, moving on-screen partnership. With his film’s feel for urban isolation and cultural assimilation, Bahrani evokes a more sincere, less mannered Jim Jarmusch.
  3. Cadillac Records (Darnell Martin): Better than Ray. Even better than Walk the Line.
  4. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme): Demme directs this blend of intense family melodrama and Robert Altman-style party sequences with the same intimacy and purpose he put into such masterful concert docs as Stop Making Sense and Neil Young: Heart of Gold. The tumultuous homecoming of Anne Hathaway’s doe-eyed narcotics addict is shown as an oscillating series of white-knuckle interactions and quiet retreats, a handheld camera capturing furtive reaction shots. As the gonzo wedding celebration fights against the family tension, Demme turns indulgence into strength, and the viewer is sucked into the middle of a kind of audacious home movie.
  5. Man on Wire (James Marsh): This documentary about the day in 1974 that French tightrope walker Philippe Petit spent 40 amazing minutes on a strand of wire between the World Trade Center towers was a more-exciting-than fiction caper flick. And it’s all the more effective because its wonder at dual human achievements (Petit’s walk and the buildings’ construction) and its melancholy that Petit outlasted the towers are both allowed to emerge without direct commentary.
  6. Milk (Gus Van Sant): Gus Van Sant’s fiercely patriotic biopic of martyred gay politician Harvey Milk (perhaps Sean Penn’s best lead performance) is novel for celebrating Milk as simultaneously a principled leader and a hard-nosed, pragmatic politician.
  7. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson): A vampire procedural suffused with adolescent melancholy.
  8. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan): As an almost sympathetic critique of post-9/11 government overreach, The Dark Knight achieved resonance without straining for topicality. The late Heath Ledger’s agitated, sarcastic performance as the Joker managed the impossible task of exceeding pre-release hype, but credit director Christopher Nolan with making a movie that wasn’t overshadowed by it. There’s a procedural tension and insistent, palpable anxiety to The Dark Knight more common to great crime films (from Fritz Lang to Michael Mann) than comic-hero adaptations.
  9. Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt)
  10. The Class (Laurent Cantet): A doc-like feature about a French middle-school class, embedding its camera within the volatile action.
  11. Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman): An animated, nonfiction fever dream built on first-person stories from Israeli soldiers who fought in the 1982 Lebanon war.
  12. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)
  13. Hunger (Steve McQueen)
  14. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller)
  15. Red Cliff (John Woo)
Revisited

1997 Revisited

There are lots of terrific records here, led by one of my all-time favorites on the album list and some witty/funny hip-hop/R&B on the singles list. But scanning contenders on the singles list reminded me of how deeply lousy the late-1990s were for rock-oriented pop music, with the mid-1990s commercial co-option of indie/alt devolving into scrunge, nu-metal, fratty rap-rock, bad ska, lounge-pop, weird third-hand big band nostalgia, ersatz Lilith Fair exploitations, and so many empty-headed “alt” bands that would have been more bearable as the more proudly empty-headed hair-metal bands they would have been a decade before. The idea of the Foo Fighters (a fun, catchy, B+-level hard rock outfit) as an Important Rock Band starts here, I guess.

Not really related: I re-listened to OK Computer again for this and it’s every bit as soggy and ponderous as I remembered. One of the most overrated albums ever made.

Anyway, the lists …

1997 Albums (2)

ALBUMS

  1. Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney: “The Drama You’ve Been Craving.” “Turn It On.” “Words + Guitar.” “Dance Song ’97.” “Bring your heart to us and we’ll get it purified.” “It’s not want you want/It’s everything.” This album makes big promises and overdelivers. Their previous, 1996’s Call the Doctor, was suffused with a sense of becoming. This is a different brand of thrilling: With Janet Weiss grabbing the sticks for the first time, it’s about pure motorvating mastery, making room along the way for one of the most fraught end-of-a-relationship songs (“One More Hour”). If we’re being honest, it flags just slightly on three of the last four songs (rallying on “Dance Song ’97”). If we’re being honest, you were exhausted by then too.
  2. The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute – Various Artists: Unless I’ve missed something, the apotheosis of a middling genre (the tribute record) but also maybe the secret beginning of “Americana” (as opposed the previously preferred “alt country”), predating both Mermaid Avenue and O Brother, Where Art Thou? as roots rescue missions. It has a lower profile than either, but tops the latter and goes toe-to-toe with the former. Listening is believing. Favorites: Bob Dylan, Iris Dement, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle …. really, everyone but Bono.
  3. Supa Dupa Fly – Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott: Mary J. Blige forged “hip-hop soul” a few years before, but here’s the real synthesis. Inspirational plain talk: “It’s the things that you do that make me not love you.”
  4. I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One — Yo La Tengo: A guided tour de force of their buzzy, sleepily romantic little corner of the (indie rock) world. Nerd-lust apex: “We could slip away/Would that be better?/Me with nothing to say/And you in your autumn sweater.”
  5. … Play 9 Songs with Mr. Quintron — The Oblivians: Not just the great Memphis trash-rock band, but the great American trash-rock band. Did they catch religion off of that added organ or call in the organ after catching religion? Either way, the hottest Memphis rock-and-roll since the Sun Sessions.
  6. When I Was Born for the 7th Time — Cornershop: A new(ish) sound that portended big things that never really came. It’s still pretty sweet on its own terms.
  7. Brighten the Corners — Pavement: Their prettiest album, if occasionally too precious.
  8. The Carnival — Wyclef Jean: Without the need to share time and blend his personality with his Fugee comrades, Jean drifts hard toward corn, as his subsequent career attests. But here he’s still jet-propelled by the energy of his band triumph The Score and his first foray into solo diasporan hip-hop sounds, much like the Cornershop record, like a future we never quite got.
  9. Life After Death – Notorious B.I.G.: The double album (no, worse: double CD) sprawl lacks the focus of Ready to Die, of course. But despite the tragic unintended resonance of the title, it’s so much more than its conceptual trappings. Rather it’s a tribute to craft. “Somebody’s Gotta Die” is one of the finest short stories from one of pop music’s sharpest writers and still best for its rhyme-for-rhyme’s-sake (“Lear jets and coupes/The way Salt ‘shoops’/How to sell records like Snoop … oops”).  His off-hand humor bursts out everywhere. There are too many guests, but here the intent seems less padding than generosity, and the presence of so many mere mortals underscores his own enormous talent. RIP.
  10. Introducing … Ruben Gonzalez – Ruben Gonzalez: The best album to come out of the Buena Vista Social Club Cuban jazz (here piano) boomlet
  11. El Corazon – Steve Earle: I’ve got a soft spot for I Feel Alright, but this is probably his best.
  12. Time Out of Mind – Bob Dylan: Prematurely feted as a new Dylan masterpiece, something that would actually come four years later with “Love + Theft”. But Dylan’s most overrated album is still damn good, though I do think producer Daniel Lanois’ atmospheric murk impinges too much on Dylan’s natural wit and musicality. More a great Bob Dylan album for U2 fans than a great Bob Dylan album for Bob Dylan fans.
  13. Retreat From the Sun – That Dog: A lost gem of 1990s indie/alt, here the “chamber rock” of their debut has (almost) fully transitioned into hooky, scruffy guitar pop, with heart, brains, and more than a dollop of deadpan mischief.
  14. Too Far to Care – Old 97’s: I’m less enthralled by this breakthrough than most other Old 97’s’ fans I know. It has a few of their very best songs as written, but they hadn’t quite hit their musical stride yet, at least in studio. Here, they’re still trying to be an “alt-country” band, and the results are a little pokey at times. But there are hints of the rootsy, poppy rock-and-roll band about to emerge.
  15. Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton – Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton
  16. Springtime – Freakwater
  17. Perfect From Now On – Built to Spill
  18. Baduizm — Erykah Badu
  19. Dig Your Own Hole – Chemical Brothers
  20. Township Jazz ‘N’ Jive – Various Artists: Subtitled “18 South African Urban Swing Classics from the Jivin’ ’50s,” this buoyant comp does for the urbane small-band marabi (think jump blues and Dixieland and swing) and pennywhistle jive of the ’50s what Indestructible Beat of Soweto does for the more rockin’ mbaqanga that followed, giving a joyous portrait of a scene: an elegant fusion of indigenous rhythms and melodies with the influences of American artists such as Count Basie and the Mills Brothers.
  21. Fish Ain’t Bitin’ – Corey Harris
  22. The Velvet Rope – Janet Jackson
  23. Latyrx – Lateef & Lyrics Born
  24. Lee Ann Womack – Lee Ann Womack
  25. The Lonesome Crowded West – Modest Mouse

Singles

  1. “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – Missy Elliott
  2. “MyBabyDaddy” – B.Rock & the Biz
  3. “Tyrone’ – Erykah Badu
  4. “Autumn Sweater” – Yo La Tengo
  5. “Brimful of Asha” – Cornershop
  6. “MMMBop” – Hanson
  7. “I’ll Be Missing You” – Puff Daddy & the Family
  8. “Got Til It’s Gone” – Janet Jackson
  9. “The Ice of Boston” – The Dismemberment Plan
  10. “Sock It 2 Me” – Missy Elliott
  11. “Hypnotize” – Notorious B.I.G.
  12. “Ship to Shore” – Dub Narcotic Sound System featuring Lois
  13. “Thinking of You’ – Tony Toni Tone
  14. “Feel So Good” – Mase
  15. “Block Rockin’ Beats” – The Chemical Brothers
  16. “Everlong” – Foo Fighters
  17. “On and On” – Erykah Badu
  18. “Mo Money, Mo Problems” – Notorious B.I.G.
  19. “Gone Til November” – Wyclef Jean
  20. “Never Say Never” – That Dog
  21. “Da Dip” – Freak Nasty
  22. “Song 2” – Blur
  23. “Tubthumping” – Chumbawamba
  24. “Makes Me Wanna Die” – Tricky
  25. “Criminal” – Fiona Apple
  26. “Face Down” – Prince
  27. “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me” – Patty Loveless
  28. “Lovefool” — The Cardigans
  29. “Michael Jackson” – Fatboy Slim
  30. “Ladies Night” – Lil Kim
  31. “Torn” – Natalie Imbruglia
  32. “Other Side of the Game” – Erykah Badu
  33. “I Know” – Kim Richey
  34. “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” – Busta Rhymes
  35. “Up Jumps Da Boogie” – Timbaland and Magoo
  36. “Hey Hey, You Say” – Papas Fritas
  37. “It’s All About the Benjamins” – Puff Daddy featuring Notorious B.I.G., the Lox and Lil Kim
  38. “Monkey Wrench” – Foo Fighters
  39. “Blue Flowers” – Dr. Octagon
  40. “Fly” — Sugar Ray

Movies

The usual caveats apply. I’ve re-visited every album and song listed in this post but don’t have time to revisit the films. So this list is based on my reaction to the films when I saw them filtered through my sensibility today; essentially how I suspect I would rank them if I did rewatch them all.

I’m struck by the international art cinema here (Kitano, Kar-Wai, Imamura, Kiarostami), from a time when I wasn’t quite a working film critic. It was a reflection of my intersection of interests and free time to pursue those interests, but I also think it’s a reflection of a better time for theatrical film distribution. “Taste of Cherry” did not get a theatrical screening in Memphis, but I think the others did.

  1. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
  2. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  3. The Apostle (Robert Duvall)
  4. Fireworks (Takeshi Kitano)
  5. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
  6. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
  7. Kundun (Martin Scorsese)
  8. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
  9. Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai)
  10. Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith)
  11. Career Girls (Mike Leigh)
  12. Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons)
  13. Lost Highway (David Lynch)
  14. The Eel (Shohei Imamura)
  15. My Best Friend’s Wedding (P.J. Hogan)
  16. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven)
  17. Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage)
  18. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee)
  19. The Rainmaker (Francis Ford Coppola)
  20. Contact (Robert Zemeckis)
Revisited

1978 Revisited

I’ve been sitting on these lists for a while with no time to write anything about them. I’m going to toss out some rambling notes and just post, since all the relistening is now in the past tense. But I’m likely to have a little more hobby writing time on my hands for the next few weeks …  so after a dormant period, I’d expect a few more years to tumble out in short order. As for 1978 …

It’s a bit of an odd year. Classic rock and soul is mostly over. Hip-hop is still on the horizon. The early excitement of punk’s arrival has subsided, but so much of the most interesting stuff is the aftermath of that arrival, the sorting out of the new world being forged.

It’s a year full of good (ok, very good) work from great artists: Rolling Stones, Parliament-Funkadelic, Ramones, New York Doll David Johansen, Neil Young, The Clash, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Prince, Pere Ubu, Television.

All made albums in 1978 good enough to crack this list, or come close. All made better records soon before or soon after.

Exceptions: Elvis Costello and Blondie were career artists that did peak early here, and those are my chart-toppers. This Year’s Model grows less relatable but no less raging as years pass. X-Ray Spex was a shooting star, still thrilling but on revisit best as a singles band despite the eternal album title Germfree Adolescents. Wire was a little of both.

Classic rock, declining (Stones), ascending (Springsteen), or imploding (Big Star) still does pretty good though. Some Girls is a disreputable album (that title track) from a disreputable band, but one musically incapable of making a bad record for most of their recording lives. Whatever else, that’s still Charlie Watts playing drums, Bill Wyman playing bass, Keith Richards scratching out riffs. They play the hell out of this one.

Darkness on the Edge of Town raises the question of what makes a great album. It is the personal Springsteen favorite of many (maybe most) of the biggest Springsteen fans I know. In a peak period that I’d say runs 1974-1987, it is the only Springsteen record that has songs I actively skip over. But what is a lack of perfection in the face of “Badlands” and “Promised Land”? (See here.) There are more flawless records I would leave behind to save Darkness if only so much music could be preserved.

The singles list is more repetitive and probably overlaps more with the album list than in most years. I’m sure this reveals some gaps in my listening and/or perception, but I think a lot of it has to do with the year. Punk was a great singles genre, and disco too. But we’re really waiting for hip-hop and Prince and the pop energy of the 1980s to start shaking things up.

1978 albums

ALBUMS

  1. This Year’s Model — Elvis Costello
  2. Parallel Lines — Blondie
  3. Some Girls — The Rolling Stones
  4. Darkness on the Edge of Town — Bruce Springsteen
  5. Third — Big Star
  6. Motor-Booty Affair — Parliament
  7. Road to Ruin — Ramones
  8. Honky Tonk Masquerade — Joe Ely
  9. Germfree Adolescents — X-Ray Spex
  10. Pink Flag — Wire
  11. Comes a Time — Neil Young
  12. Give Em Enough Rope — The Clash
  13. More Songs About Buildings and Food — The Talking Heads
  14. The Modern Dance — Pere Ubu
  15. One Nation Under a Groove — Funkadelic
  16. David Johansen — David Johansen
  17. Stardust — Willie Nelson
  18. Pure Pop For Now People — Nick Lowe
  19. Body Meta — Ornette Coleman
  20. Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) — Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
  21. Pure Mania — The Vibrators
  22. Before and After Science — Brian Eno
  23. For You — Prince
  24. Generation X — Generation X
  25. Adventure — Television

SINGLES

  1. “Badlands” — Bruce Springsteen
  2. “Ain’t U/Hedi’s Head” – Kleenex
  3. “What Do I Get?” – Buzzcocks
  4. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” — The Clash
  5. “Radio, Radio” – Elvis Costello
  6. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” — Elvis Costello
  7. “Hanging on the Telephone” – Blondie
  8. “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo/I Am A Poseur” — X-Ray Spex
  9. “Le Freak” – Chic
  10. “Uptown Top Ranking” – Althea & Donna
  11. “One Nation Under a Groove” – Funkadelic
  12. “Another Girl, Another Planet” – The Only Ones
  13. “Take Me To the River” – Talking Heads
  14. “Damaged Goods” – Gang of Four
  15. “I Don’t Mind” — Buzzcocks
  16. “Pump it Up” — Elvis Costello
  17. “Ever Fallen in Love” – Buzzcocks
  18. “Life’s Been Good’ – Joe Walsh
  19. “Miss You” — The Rolling Stones
  20. “Identity/Let’s Submerge” — X-Ray Spex
  21. “Alternative Ulster” – Stiff Little Fingers
  22. “Beast of Burden” — The Rolling Stones
  23. “Flash Light” – Parliament
  24. “Soft and Wet” — Prince
  25. Teenage Kicks” – Undertones
  26. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” – Sylvester
  27. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – Elvis Costello
  28. “Shattered” — The Rolling Stones
  29. “Promises” – Buzzocks
  30. “Because the Night” — Patti Smith
  31. “I Want Your Love” — Chic
  32. “September” — Earth, Wind & Fire
  33. “Just What I Needed” — The Cars
  34. “Clash City Rockers” — The Clash
  35. “Listen to Her Heart” — Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  36. “Everyone’s a Winner” – Hot Chocolate
  37. “Surrender” – Cheap Trick
  38. “Running on Empty’ – Jackson Browne
  39. “Shake Your Groove Thing” — Peaches & Herb
  40. “Love You More” – The Buzzcocks

MOVIES

There’s too much from 1978 I’d either need to rewatch to place (Days of Heaven, American Hot Wax, Fingers, The Deer Hunter) or that I’ve just never gotten around to (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Interiors, An Unmarried Woman), so I’ll just offer five faves from the year. The first was mostly unseen until a revival a few years ago (actually, it’s still mostly unseen) and is among my very favorite films. I wrote about it here. “The Last Waltz” is a movie I love almost beyond rationality, though my experience of it has evolved over the years. (Read Levon Helm’s bio, where he and Ronnie Hawkins take the piss out of its mythologizing, and you’ll never see it quite the same way again.)

  1. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)
  2. Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris)
  3. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero)
  4. The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese)
  5. Blue Collar (Paul Schrader)
Revisited

Best of 2017

Ending a too-long blog hiatus with my favorite albums, singles, movies, and television of 2017. We’ll continue our trip through the pop music past soon.

2017 best

ALBUMS

This list is ordered, but it was sort of a five-way tie for first. In the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop national critics poll, you get 100 points to distribute among 10 albums, with a maximum of 30 and a minimum of 5. I’ve given 30 points before. My point distribution for this Top 10 was: 15-15-14-13-13-10-5-5-5-5.

Is Lee Ann Womack’s new one modern country or Americana? Lee Ann Womack is a grown-ass woman and is above your petty genre distinctions and squabbles, which are irrelevant. Here she pulls a bunch of Nashville pros off the assembly line and off to her own personal promised land. They respond like it’s 1968 at American Studios and Chips Moman is behind the board. One version of what freedom sounds like.

Out in the Storm is another. Katie Crutchfield says everything she needs to say about a relationship in her rearview mirror in 10 songs and not much more than half an hour. Regardless of genre, pop music’s greatest thrill might be hearing someone say the exact right thing in the exact right way, hearing someone born in the moment. This is another version of what freedom sounds like.

4:44 and DAMN. are both exercises in mastery in the most dominant pop form of most of our lives. Lamar’s brilliance is both thrilling and exhausting. I admire it greatly, but I don’t quite love it like I loved former personal chart-topper good kid, m.A.A.d city. For relistening, I found myself coming back to Jay-Z. It’s an album about his occasionally cringe-worthy “black capitalism” ethos and his marriage and his status as a hip-hop elder and … . Mostly, though, I think it’s about the double pause he deploys before the raised-eyebrow “Ok” on “The Story of OJ.” It’s about casual conversation that comes in couplets. It’s about the easeful musicality that made us care about him in the first place.

For me, the songwriting on The Nashville Sound isn’t as consistently gripping as on Southeastern (Isbell’s Out in the Storm), but it has a more cohesive shape than Something More Than Free, the fine middle volume in what feels like a trilogy-for-now. But this one peaks twice with twin Song of the Year candidates, the trembling “If We Were Vampires” and the defiant “Hope the High Road.”

  1. The Lonesome, the Lonely and the Gone – Lee Ann Womack
  2. Out in the Storm — Waxahatchee
  3. 4:44 — Jay-Z
  4. The Nashville Sound – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
  5. DAMN. — Kendrick Lamar
  6. All American Made — Margo Price
  7. Talk Tight/The French Press – Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
  8. MacGregor Park — Fat Tony
  9. CTRL – SZA
  10. Freedom Highway — Rhiannon Giddens
  11. War and Leisure — Miguel
  12. Run the Jewels 3 – Run the Jewels
  13. American Teen — Khalid
  14. Trophy – Sunny Sweeney
  15. Wrangled – Angaleena Presley
  16. City of No Reply — Amber Coffman
  17. Chuck — Chuck Berry
  18. Dark Matter – Randy Newman
  19. Deep Dream – Daddy Issues
  20. The Order of Time — Valerie June

SINGLES

  1. “Hope the High Road” — Jason Isbell
  2. “Humble” — Kendrick Lamar
  3. “If We Were Vampires” — Jason Isbell
  4. “Sky Walker” — Miguel featuring Travis Scott
  5. “Love Triangle” — RaeLynn
  6. “Young Dumb and Broke” — Khalid
  7. “DNA” — Kendrick Lamar
  8. “Bottle in My Bed” — Sunny Sweeney
  9. “Say My Name” — Tove Styrke
  10. “New Year’s Day” — Taylor Swift
  11. “Hard Times” — Paramore
  12. “Silver” — Waxahatchee
  13. “Story of O.J.” — Jay-Z
  14. “Diane” — Cam
  15. “Bodak Yellow” — Cardi B
  16. “Los Ageless” — St. Vincent
  17. “Drew Barrymore” — SZA
  18. “Round Here Buzz” — Eric Church
  19. “Bad and Boujee” — Migos featuring Lil Uzi Vert
  20. “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” — Ashley McBryde

MOVIES

My own Top 10,  presented in a format borrowed from one of my favorite recurring features, Film Comment’s “Moments in Time,” which sought to capture each of a year’s movies in a single scene, moment, or memory.  Here are my 2017 “moments in time”:

  1. Tom Hardy immolates his fighter plane and walks stoically toward capture. Grace under pressure on the beaches of DUNKIRK.
  2. A police car pulls up, the audience tenses, and everyone knows what will happen. Or do they? A brilliant double-ending for GET OUT.
  3. Saoirse Ronan leans out of an East Coast dorm window, looks up to the skies, and bellows “Bruce!” with a mix of hope and exasperation. LADY BIRD wishes on a Sacramento star.
  4. Director Sean Baker pans across the decaying, candy-colored ice cream huts, souvenir shops, and roadside motels on the outskirts of Orlando’s Magic Kingdom. Surveying alien topography in THE FLORIDA PROJECT.
  5. “You glad to be back in the Delta?,” white former fighter pilot Jamie grimly asks to black former tank sergeant and could-he-be-a-friend? Ronzell along a Mississippi back road. Two war heroes are now MUDBOUND.
  6. Four feet in unison on a hardwood floor, Betty Grable on the box. Richard Jenkins and a radiant Sally Hawkins share a moment of joy in the Fifties fairy tale THE SHAPE OF WATER.
  7. “You had a beautiful friendship. Maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you.” Michael Stuhlbarg puts a compassionate bow on his son’s heady summer in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME.
  8. Rooney Mara stops to eat a pie, not a piece of pie, amid the Polaroid-framed poetry of A GHOST STORY.
  9. Skeleton ancestors illuminated in the night, a “city of the dead” so full of life in COCO.
  10. THE POST publisher Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) turns her back to the roomful of men who’ve invaded her home, braces herself, and takes a leap. Then she goes to bed.

Honorable Mentions: The Big Sick, A Quiet Passion, Baby Driver, Wonder-Woman, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Logan, It.  

Decent-tasting popcorn: Thor: RagnarokStar Wars: The Last Jedi, Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Lego Batman Movie, Atomic Blonde.

Redeeming qualities: The Beguiled, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Battle of the Sexes, Alien: Covenant.

Duds: mother!, Guardians of the Galaxy II.

Ten I still haven’t seen (but wish I had): Phantom Limb, Faces Places, B.P.M., Girls Trip, Good Time, The Lost City of Z, Personal Shopper, Wonderstruck, Graduation, Jane.

TV

I tend to only have one TV show going at a time, so my television watching is even more haphazard than my listening and movie watching (things which were once far less haphazard). This is everything (new) that I watched in full this year. The ones I most wanted to see that I just haven’t gotten around to yet: Twin Peaks: The Return, The Vietnam War, Insecure.

  1. The Deuce
  2. The Leftovers
  3. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  4. American Epic (PBS series on early American recorded music)
  5. Mindhunter
  6. Fargo
  7. Better Call Saul
  8. Game of Thrones
  9. Big Little Lies
  10. Glow

New to Me

Maybe I’ll keep better track of the “old” stuff I read, watch, or listen to for the first time in 2018, but I’ll offer one newly experienced gem from each medium for 2017: True Grit by Charles Portis is a slim, quick, deeply pleasurable read with an unforgettable protagonist and a setting in my home state of Arkansas. Not sure what took me so long. … After Jonathan Demme’s death, I finally watched Something Wild, his 1980s screwball comedy of sorts with Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, and Ray Liotta. It lives up to its title as a particularly individual take on a classic genre. … James Blood Ulmer’s 1983 album Odyssey caught me by surprise, adding fiddle to his jazz-blues guitar skronk to elevating effect.

Revisited

1983 Revisited

This was a fun year to revisit. 1983 was the year I got my first stereo, and one of the first batch of albums I got with it made this list. (I still think An Innocent Man is Billy Joel’s best album. Sorry, Metal Health and Pyromania.) Still, I think there are only a few albums on this list (Joel, Lauper, U2, Police) I heard in their own time. The rest came later, and most of them much later, well after I’d dug into the classic rock canon. And so the likes of the Talking Heads, Blasters, Marshall Crenshaw, Womack & Womack, and others still sound fresher to me than a lot of even more recent favorites. It makes me want to dive into 1982, 1981, 1980.

From an album perspective, it was an off year for black music. Mostly that’s because it’s the last year before hip-hop asserted itself as an album form (the first Run-DMC album changes that in 1984), but it’s also because Prince and Michael Jackson released mega-albums in 1982 and road their singles through 1983. They’re represented on the singles list.

1983

ALBUMS

  1. She’s So Unusual – Cyndi Lauper: How do people conceive this now? As a fluke? A pop-culture artifact of its time? A singles and filler record? Hopefully as a timeless pop masterpiece, which is what it almost is. In its own peculiar way, it’s as astonishing a match of interpretive singer to song selection as Sun-era Elvis or Muscle Shoals Aretha Franklin, mixing the visionary (“Money Changes Everything,” “When You Were Mine”) with the merely charming (“Time After Time,” “I’ll Kiss You”).  One of the greatest moments in recorded sound: Lauper’s voice reaching out on “I want to be the one to walk in the sun.” Why did she never again come close to it? Goes to show you never can tell.
  2. Speaking in Tongues — The Talking Heads: Their lightest, freest funk. This has always seemed like one of their more minor good albums, but it grows in estimation every time I let it spin. It opens with their biggest single, ends with their best song. (Ok, maybe minus “Once in a Lifetime.”)
  3. Field Day — Marshall Crenshaw: Ten tight little bundles of indelible melodies + hooks on the subject of doomed love.
  4. Odyssey — James Blood Ulmer: One of my very favorite hadn’t-heard-it-befores of this project so far.
  5. Jonathan Sings! — Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers: “Road Runner” was his greatest single, but this is probably his best, wisest album.
  6. Metal Circus — Husker Du: The best hardcore record, if it counts, unless the one they made after it also does. Featuring “It’s Not Funny Anymore,” Grant Hart’s life anthem. RIP.
  7. Love Wars — Womack & Womack: As couple albums with this title theme go, not as focused as Shoot Out the Lights, which is to their personal if not quite artistic benefit. But it’s damn good anyway, the more fraught material especially (title song, “Baby I’m Scared of You”). Near the end, they reverse the Rolling Stones’ relationship with R&B, stealing a Jagger-Richards title (“Angie”) and improving it. Related note: How did I not know Linda Womack was (is) Sam Cooke’s daughter?
  8. Murmur R.E.M.: This would have been higher without a re-listen. Captures a sound and feel, but maybe I do like Reckoning a little more. I already knew I liked Document more.
  9. Non-Fiction — The Blasters: “Americana” before it was so named, as drenched in R&B as country, as it should be.
  10. … And a Time to Dance — Los Lobos: A unique great American band introduces itself, in EP form, with truth in advertising.
  11. War — U2: Its relative tightness sounds even better in the wake of what followed.  
  12. More Fun in the New World — X: Ace Killer cover, silly anti-new-wave.
  13. Hand of Kindness — Richard Thompson
  14. Hootenanny — The Replacements
  15. Legendary Hearts — Lou Reed
  16. Synchro System – King Sunny Ade
  17. Greatest Messages — Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five
  18. You Shouldn’t-Nuf Bit Fish — George Clinton
  19. What Makes a Man Start Fires? — Minutemen
  20. Trouble in Paradise — Randy Newman
  21. An Innocent Man — Billy Joel
  22. In a Special Way — DeBarge
  23. Love Over & Over — Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  24. Synchronicity — The Police
  25. Under a Blood Red Sky – U2

SINGLES

  1. “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” — Talking Heads
  2. “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
  3. “Billie Jean” — Michael Jackson
  4. “It’s Like That”/“Sucker MCs” — Run-DMC
  5. “Middle of the Road” – Pretenders
  6. “Every Breath You Take” — The Police
  7. “Burning Down the House” — The Talking Heads
  8. “Little Red Corvette” — Prince
  9. “Holiday” – Madonna
  10. “Atomic Dog” — George Clinton
  11. “Time Will Reveal” — DeBarge
  12. “Lucky Star” – Madonna
  13. “Beat It” — Michael Jackson
  14. “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” — Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel
  15. “Pills and Soap”’ – The Imposter
  16. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” — U2
  17. “Color Me Impressed” – The Replacements
  18. “Come On Eileen” — Dexy’s Midnight Runners
  19. “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” — Michael Jackson
  20. “Delirious” – Prince
  21. “Hard Times” – Run-DMC
  22. “Racist Friend” — Special AKA
  23. “Black Sheep” — John Anderson
  24. “New Year’s Day” – U2
  25. “Blue Monday” – New Order
  26. “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” — Culture Club
  27. “Gimme All Your Lovin” — ZZ Top
  28. “Looking for the Perfect Beat” — Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force
  29. “Electric Avenue” — Eddy Grant
  30. “Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown” – Ricky Skaggs
  31. “All Night Long” — Lionel Richie
  32. “Amarillo By Morning” – George Strait
  33. “Beat Bop” — Rammelzee vs. K-Rob
  34. “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life” — Indeep
  35. “Let the Music Play” — Shannon
  36. “Modern Love” – David Bowie
  37. “Got Me Under Pressure” — ZZ Top
  38. “Tell You (Today)” – Loose Joints
  39. “Crumblin’ Down” — John Cougar Mellencamp
  40. “She Works Hard for the Money” — Donna Summer

MOVIES

A blend of multiplex stuff I saw at the time that’s held up well (at least in my mind) and more arty stuff I caught up with later on. As always, these film lists are pretty casual, not rooted in re-watching. I have many, many blind spots from this year. I know Cosby has been exposed as a criminal and a creep, but the art is what it is and Himself is good.

  1. The King of Comedy
  2. Videodrome
  3. The Right Stuff
  4. Valley Girl
  5. WarGames
  6. Local Hero
  7. Risky Business
  8. Bill Cosby: Himself
  9. Baby It’s You
  10. National Lampoon’s Vacation

 

 

Revisited

1968 Revisited

Getting out ahead of next year’s 50th anniversary, where I’m guessing the White Album will get the most attention, but I went with a different color in the top spot.

image1 (45)

ALBUMS

  1. Music From Big Pink — The Band: These three voices together, here and on the eponymous follow-up, is one of the enduring pleasures of (North) American music, and I find the slipperiness of meaning here more attraction than hurdle. The greatest LP testament of my distant Arkansas cousin sits at #5, but I’ll confess that the Arkansan musician with whom I most identify is instead Levon Helm, product of a town in the same rural East Arkansas Delta jumble as where I’m from.
  2. Astral Weeks — Van Morrison: The title song is as visionary as anything in rock. “Sweet Thing” as beautiful. “Cyprus Avenue” and “Madame George” as mysterious and unsettling. And then there are a few other songs. All but one is a keeper.
  3. Beggar’s Banquet — The Rolling Stones: It’s phony (“Factory Girl”), scuzzy (“Stray Cat Blues”), corny (“Sympathy for the Devil”), unexpectedly revealing (“Salt of the Earth”) and the sound of the world’s best rock and roll band dispensing with the ill-fitting psychedelia of 1967 to assert the peak of their powers.
  4. John Wesley Harding — Bob Dylan — This and Folsom Prison are companions, and related to the #1 too. “Americana” and “alt-country” start here I, but never measured up. Can’t, I guess.
  5. At Folsom Prison — Johnny Cash
  6. Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin: Probably not quite as strong as I Never Loved a Man … from stern to bow, but better structured. “Ain’t No Way” is as good an album-ender as there is.
  7. The Beatles – The Beatles: This seems like it should be higher, but the competition is stiff and I don’t skip songs on any of those other albums. Their best late Sixties music and their worst, all in one place.
  8. Greatest Hits Vol 2 – Smokey Robinson & the Miracles: Motown’s signature genius in his finest single-disc representation.
  9. Golden Hits — The Drifters: Pure pop product, assembly line produced by various geniuses of composition and recording, and it instills one with as much cultural patriotism as Cash and Dylan.
  10. The Immortal Otis Redding — Otis Redding
  11. White Light/White Heat — The Velvet Underground
  12. Aretha Now — Aretha Franklin
  13. Electric Ladyland — The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  14. The Notorious Byrd Brothers — The Byrds
  15. Odessey and Oracle — The Zombies
  16. The Dock of the Bay — Otis Redding
  17. Sweetheart of the Rodeo — The Byrds
  18. We’re Only In it For the Money — The Mothers of Invention
  19. Life — Sly & Family Stone
  20. Greatest Hits — Stevie Wonder
  21. Live at the Apollo Volume 2 — James Brown
  22. Cheap Thrills — Big Brother & Holding Company
  23. Mama Tried — Merle Haggard
  24. Dance to the Music — Sly & the Family Stone
  25. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Creedence Clearwater Revival

SINGLES

  1. “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” – Marvin Gaye
  2. “Ain’t No Way” – Aretha Franklin
  3. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” – Otis Redding
  4. “The Weight” – The Band
  5. “All Along the Watchtower” – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
  6. “Dance to the Music’ – Sly & the Family Stone
  7. “This is My Country’ – The Impressions
  8. “Think” – Aretha Franklin
  9. “Love Child” – The Supremes
  10. “Mama Tried” – Merle Haggard
  11. “I Wish It Would Rain” – The Temptations
  12. “Hey Jude”/“Revolution” — The Beatles
  13. “Hard to Handle” – Otis Redding
  14. “Jumping Jack Flash” – The Rolling Stones
  15. “Daddy Sang Bass” – Johnny Cash
  16. “Son of a Preacher Man” – Dusty Springfield
  17. “My Song” — Aretha Franklin
  18. “I Got the Feelin’ — James Brown
  19. “I Thank You”/“Wrap it Up” – Sam and Dave
  20. “People Got to Be Free” – The Rascals
  21. “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” — Otis Redding
  22. “Private Number” – Judy Clay and William Bell
  23. “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” — James Brown
  24. “The House That Jack Built” – Aretha Franklin
  25. “What’s Made Milwaukee Famous (Has Made a Loser Out of Me)” — Jerry Lee Lewis
  26. “Everyday People” – Sly & the Family Stone
  27. “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” – Tammy Wynette
  28. “Street Fighting Man” – The Rolling Stones
  29. “Fist City” – Loretta Lynn
  30. “She Still Comes Around (To Love What’s Left of Me)” – Jerry Lee Lewis
  31. “Who’s Making Love” – Johnnie Taylor
  32. “For Once in My Life” — Stevie Wonder
  33. “Ballad of Forty Dollars” – Tom T. Hall
  34. “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
  35. “Alone Again Or” – Love
  36. “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am” – Merle Haggard
  37. “Milwaukee Here I Come” – George Jones and Brenda Carter
  38. “Magic Carpet Ride” — Steppenwolf
  39. “Take Time to Know Her” – Percy Sledge
  40. “Cry Like a Baby” – The Box Tops

MOVIES

  1. Faces (John Cassavetes)
  2. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero)
  3. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski)
  4. The Producers (Mel Brooks)
  5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)
  6. Stolen Kisses (Francois Truffaut)
Revisited

1993 Revisited

1993 was the first year that listening to and thinking about records became a kind of active avocation, both via college newspaper and college radio. The album list here is certainly not the same one I would have made at the time, but it’s closer to it than I would have suspected more than 20 years later. I think that’s mostly the result of the cultural action of the times (indie rock and hip-hop) happening to intersect with where I was as well. Then and now, I don’t think much of a lot of the era’s more mainstream alt-rock (Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, etc).

1993

ALBUMS

  1. Exile in Guyville – Liz Phair: Feminist critique of classic-rock music and then-current indie-rock scenes, sure, but also both more personal/idiosyncratic than that and more broadly representational. I don’t much believe in generational identity, but this feels like a key generational touchstone and as such I’m glad to claim it. A tour de force union of rock riffage and confessional singer-songwriter observation. The best song might be the one about wanting people to leave your house already (damn).
  2. In Utero – Nirvana: Sharper lyrically and more severe musically than Nevermind, which is catchier, and while that doesn’t necessarily represent my inclinations, I think it’s also their best. I find it (even) more indelible, especially with the volume cranked. Maybe my favorite hard rock (not punk) album and essentially a co-#1 here.
  3. Buhloone Mind State – De La Soul: Four years after ecstatic, playful, widely celebrated teen debut (3 Feet High and Rising) and eight years before desperately underrated grown-folks-music testament (AOI: Bionix), here they are putting breakthrough and backlash behind them to flex the muscles of their young adulthood. A great groove record full of smarts and personality.
  4. Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers — The Wu-Tang Clan – As many MCs as tracks, collectively hacking through fields of Native Tongues and mafiosi pretensions to carve an East Coast rap path entirely their own. There would be more polished and certainly more epic albums to come in the Wu-Tang canon. Maybe even one or two better ones. But nothing that feels as busy being born.
  5. Rid of Me – PJ Harvey: Rendering debut mere warm-up, she comes on like she’s trying to be Robert Plant and Jimmy Page all at once, cleansed through punk and feminism.
  6. Reachin (A New Refutation of Time and Space) – Digable Planets: What Arrested Development was supposed to be the year before. Among other things, an exploration of a warm, platonic, equitable male/female hip-hop partnership that has, if anything, grown even more rare.
  7. Painful – Yo La Tengo: They would open up into being an even more epic domestic-bliss noise band on their next two albums, but this, for me, is where they first fully became what they were meant to be.
  8. Midnight Marauders – A Tribe Called Quest: The relative placement of this and #3 represents my general (minority opinion?) Native Tongues love/like hierarchy.   
  9. World Gone Wrong – Bob Dylan: One man’s 10-song anthology of American folk music and a warm-up for the “Love + Theft” to come.
  10. Icky Mettle – Archers of Loaf: One man’s hoarse croak rescued and renewed by his buddies’ guitar-bass-drums backup, a trick repeated over and over again by the niftiest, hookiest little-band-that-could of the indie-rock era
  11. Spinning Around the Sun – Jimmie Dale Gilmore
  12. Gentlemen – Afghan Whigs: Man behaves badly. Confesses with eloquence and intensity. Doesn’t quite apologize. (“This ain’t about regret/It’s when I tell the truth.”)
  13. Westing (By Musket and Sextant) – Pavement: Noise and tunes that would soon synthesize duke it out for primacy as a soon-to-be-great band finds itself.
  14. Career Moves – Loudon Wainwright III: Live de-facto best-of-to-that-point doubles as unlikely career peak (to that point), or maybe not so unlikely — see also: Todd Snider’s 2003 Live: Near Truths and Hotel Rooms. Maybe funny singer-songwriters make for particularly useful live album subjects. Movie comedies are better with audiences too.  
  15. Anodyne – Uncle Tupelo: Confess Your (Is It Still?) Unpopular Opinion: Mermaid Avenue aside, Jeff Tweedy peaked here.
  16. 4-Track Demos – PJ Harvey
  17. Last Splash – The Breeders

  18. One Sock Missing – The Grifters

  19. Janet – Janet Jackson

  20. Very – Pet Shop Boys

  21. Pottymouth – Bratmobile

    and

    Pussy Whipped – Bikini Kill: Riot grrls.

  22. The Bliss Album – P.M. Dawn

  23. Bubble & Scrape – Sebadoh

  24. Sons of Soul – Tony Toni Tone

  25. Ultimate Alternative Wavers

    — Built to Spill

    and

    God Don’t Make No Junk – Halo Benders: Doug Martsch’s two-part preview of coming attractions.

SINGLES

 

  1. “Rebel Girl”/”New Radio”/”Demi-Rep” (three-song 7-inch) — Bikini Kill
  2. “Protect Ya Neck” — Wu-Tang Clan
  3. “Money in the Ghetto” — Too Short
  4. “Heart-Shaped Box” – Nirvana
  5. “Shoop” — Salt-n-Pepa
  6. “50 Ft. Queenie” – PJ Harvey
  7. “Slide” – Luna
  8. “Whoomp! There It Is!” — Tag Team
  9. “Some Jingle Jangle Morning (When I’m Straight)”/“Western Union Desperate” – Mary Lou Lord
  10. “Cannonball” — The Breeders
  11. “It Was a Good Day”/“Check Yo Self”  — Ice Cube
  12. “Web in Front’ – Archers of Loaf
  13. “Ruffneck” — MC Lyte
  14. “Movin’ On Up” — M People
  15. “Man on the Moon” – REM
  16. “If I Had No Loot” — Tony Toni Tone
  17. “Hip Hop Hooray” — Naughty By Nature
  18. “All Apologies” — Nirvana
  19. “Hey Jealousy” — Gin Blossoms
  20. “Come Clean” – Jeru the Damaja
  21. “Feed the Tree” – Belly
  22. “Passin’ Me By” — Pharcyde
  23. “Big Day Coming” – Yo La Tengo
  24. “Down With the King” – Run-DMC
  25. “Chattahoochee” — Alan Jackson
  26. “Nothin But a G Thang” — Dr. Dre w/ Snoop Dogg
  27. “Creep” — Radiohead
  28. “Debonair” – Afghan Whigs
  29. “Dream” – The Cranberries
  30. “Return of the Crazy One” — Digital Underground
  31. “Plastic Dreams” – Jaydee
  32. “Cantaloop” — US3
  33. “That’s the Way Love Goes” — Janet Jackson
  34. “Knockin’ on Mine” — Paul Westerberg
  35. “Show Me Love” – Robin
  36. “Rebirth of Slick” — Digable Planets
  37. “Gotta Lotta Love” – Ice-T
  38. “Method Man” – Wu-Tang Clan
  39. “Send Them” – Lyrics Born
  40. “Soul and Fire” — Sebadoh

MOVIES

No. 6 is a weird place to put Schindler’s List. It feels like it should either be higher or not there at all. But that’s why the film lists are harder than the music ones. I’ve relistened to every album and single on the these lists. Some of these moves, Schindler among them, I haven’t seen in 20 years. At some level, you end up filtering your memory of a film through your present aesthetic sense.

  1. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater)
  2. Naked (Mike Leigh)
  3. Ruby in Paradise (Victor Nunez)
  4. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis)
  5. Short Cuts (Robert Altman)
  6. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg)
  7. The Piano (Jane Campion)
  8. Searching for Bobby Fischer (Steve Zaillian)
  9. Menace II Society (Allen and Albert Hughes)
  10. The Fugitive (Andrew Davis)
  11. The Scent of Green Papaya (Tran Anh Hung)
  12. The War Room (D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus)
Revisited

1987 Revisited

Preamble now shrunk to near-zero. (Translation: I lack the time or energy to justify only mostly liking The Joshua Tree.)

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ALBUMS

  1. Sign O’ the Times — Prince: The most musically expansive, exuberant album from the most musically gifted artist in all of modern pop, with the depth of perspective and feeling somehow matching the sonic range and command. (If we’re being honest, for the first time. And maybe the last.) In other words, not just his greatest musical tour de force, but also his smartest, funniest and wisest record. My favorite album of 1987? Probably my favorite album of any year.
  2. Tunnel of Love — Bruce Springsteen: The antithesis of what people think about when they think about Bruce Springsteen, both coming and going. Not the anthemic rock-and-roll savior/bandleader. Not the Woody Guthrie-esque folk balladeer. Just a grown-ass man thinking hard about love and marriage. Side two is as fine a stretch of music as he’s ever released.
  3. Paid in Full — Eric B. & Rakim: The apotheosis of hip-hop’s beat + rhymes foundation.
  4. Pleased to Meet Me — The Replacements: Not as impossibly spirited as Let It Be or as perfectly sequenced as Tim, but this completes a three-album peak run in style. It’s got a higher floor than Tim (what’s the worst song here? “Red Red Wine”? “The Ledge”?) and maybe a higher ceiling too: “Can’t Hardly Wait” is even more the band’s great Memphis song than “Alex Chilton.”
  5. Document — R.E.M.:  There used to be a early rock-and-soul compilation series called Oldies But Goodies where each album was divided into a “Rockin’” side and “Dreamy” side. That’s kind of the story of R.E.M.’s career, alternating their Rockin’ (Monster, Life’s Rich Pageant) and Dreamy (Murmur, Out of Time) sides. Dreamy is probably their best and truest self, but this is the apex of R.E.M.’s rockin’ side. And I’ve come to think it’s their best album.
  6. Soweto Never Sleeps: Classic Female Zulu Jive — Various Artists: Even if you’ve never heard this record and aren’t that familiar with South African pop, this sounds pretty much exactly like what you’d think something dubbed “Classic Female Zulu Jive” would sound like.
  7. G-Man — Sonny Rollins: On its own terms, should probably be a little higher, but I’m such a jazz dabbler I don’t feel right putting up there. One of the jazz records I’ve played the most.  
  8. Louder Than Bombs — The Smiths: This singles comp, few (any?) of the songs found on studio albums, is probably the most durably pleasurable of the band’s records.
  9. By the Light of the Moon — Los Lobos: An unavoidable step back, but still a pretty satisfying sequel to their debut-as-classic How Will the Wolf Survive.
  10. Warehouse: Songs and Stories — Husker Du: Too big for hardcore from first contact, their mid-career peaks were both higher and broader, but they go out here as a great guitar-buzz pop band, 20 bracing if never quite indelible tunes rising and falling from a consistent hour-plus-long sea of sound.
  11. King’s Record Shop — Rosanne Cash
  12. Tallulah — The Go-Betweens
  13. The Lonesome Jubilee — John Mellencamp
  14. You’re Living All Over Me – Dinosaur Jr.
  15. Yo! Bum Rush the Show — Public Enemy
  16. Sister — Sonic Youth
  17. Rhythm Killers — Sly and Robbie
  18. The Joshua Tree — U2
  19. Soul Survivor — Al Green
  20. The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death — The Housemartins
  21. How Ya Like Me Now — Kool Moe Dee
  22. Substance — New Order
  23. Flash Light — Tom Verlaine
  24. Characters — Stevie Wonder
  25. Trio — Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris

SINGLES

  1. “Bring the Noise” — Public Enemy
  2. “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” — Prince
  3. “Rebel Without a Pause” – Public Enemy
  4. “Can’t Hardly Wait” — The Replacements
  5. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” — Prince
  6. “Right Next Door” — The Robert Cray Band
  7. “U Got the Look”/”Housequake” — Prince
  8. “I Ain’t No Joke” — Eric B. & Rakim
  9. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” — R.E.M.
  10. “How Ya Like Me Now” — Kool Moe Dee
  11. “I Know You Got Soul” — Eric B. & Rakim
  12. “The One I Love” — R.E.M.
  13. “Don’t Dream It’s Over” — Crowded House
  14. “Have a Nice Day” — Roxanne Shante
  15. “Tunnel of Love” — Bruce Springsteen
  16. “Brilliant Disguise” — Bruce Springsteen
  17. “Alex Chilton” The Replacements
  18. “Livin’ on a Prayer” — Bon Jovi
  19. “Sign O’ the Times” – Prince
  20. “With or Without You” — U2
  21. “Top Billin” – Audio Two
  22. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” — U2
  23. “La Bamba” — Los Lobos
  24. “Casanova” – Levert
  25. “Hazy Shake of Winter” — Bangles
  26. “Caravan of Love” — The Housemartins
  27. “Rent” – Pet Shop Boys
  28. “The Way You Make Me Feel” — Michael Jackson
  29. “Like the Weather” – 10,000 Maniacs
  30. “Raw” – Big Daddy Kane
  31. “Skeletons” — Stevie Wonder
  32. “Where the Streets Have No Name” – U2
  33. “Open Your Heart” — Madonna
  34. “Push It” — Salt-n-Pepa
  35. “You’re Gonna Get Yours” – Public Enemy
  36. “Pump Up the Volume” — M/A/R/R/S
  37. “Tramp” — Salt-n-Pepa
  38. “Going Way Back” — Just Ice
  39. “I Want Your Sex” — George Michael
  40. “The Bridge is Over” – BDP

MOVIES

Viva Holly Hunter …

  1. Broadcast News
  2. Full Metal Jacket
  3. Hollywood Shuffle
  4. Matewan
  5. Sign O the Times
  6. Family Viewing
  7. Raising Arizona
  8. House of Games
  9. RoboCop
  10. The Big Easy
Revisited

1976 Revisited

I’ve had this list done for awhile, but couldn’t find time to put together a post. For the sake of getting back in this particular saddle, I’m going to post the list with minimal commentary and try to get back on track with regular listening/listing.

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ALBUMS

  1. Have Moicy! — Michael Hurley, the Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Fredericks & the Clamtones: Bicentennial, bicoastal, bohemian bluegrass and jug-band blues summit meeting as a self-contained hoodoo bash of love, death, food, crime sprees, trips to Paris, cunnilingus, backseat gophers and sundry other subjects. Recorded in two days and one of the most-played albums in my household over the past 20 years. Warning: You might hate this. Rallying cry: “Life is short. Art is long.”
  2. The Wild Tchoupitoulas: The Wild Tchoupitoulas: By contrast: You will like this record. A sort of apotheosis of New Orleans music and one of the records I’m most likely to reach for in a group when I want something I’m sure everyone will enjoy.
  3. The Ramones — The Ramones
  4. Howlin’ Wind – Graham Parker: The missing link between Van Morrison and Elvis Costello.
  5. Another Green World — Eno
  6. Songs in the Key of Life — Stevie Wonder: With the possible exception of Wonder-inheritor Prince, there may not be a modern R&B musician who so fully absorbed the variety of the black music canon. If Songs in the Key of Life isn’t his best album — the consensus is that it is, but I slightly prefer both Innervisions and Talking Book — it’s the ultimate testament to his range and command across this culture.  
  7. The Modern Lovers — The Modern Lovers
  8. Changesonebowie — David Bowie: I’ve always preferred Bowie one piece at a time, and this collects most of what I’d deem essential.
  9. Night Moves — Bob Seger: All Chuck’s children are still out here playing his licks.
  10. Kate & Anna McGarrigle — Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  11. Heat Treatment — Graham Parker: A little bit harder, but also a little less memorable than the debut. A little.
  12. On the Loose — Hi Rhythm: Al Green’s ace backing back doing its own thing while Green and Willie Mitchell are away, and breaking all the rules. This batch of freak-flag funk — sort of like Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On if it were motivated by playfullness instead of bitterness — starts with an anthem called “Black Rock,” ends with a bit of carnal comic relief called “Skinny Dippin’” and is both an oddball indulgence and a total charmer from beginning to end. But you’ll have to decide for youself whether the gently mocking “Superstar” is about Green.
  13. Mothership Connection — Parliament
  14. Marcus Garvey — Burning Spear
  15. Alone Again — George Jones
  16. In the Dark –Toots & the Maytals: I’ve seen four different years listed for this. It’s terrific whenever it came out and I’m just going to put it here.
  17. Black and Blue — Rolling Stones
  18. Full of Fire — Al Green
  19. Station to Station — David Bowie
  20. Blondie — Blondie
  21. Collector’s Item — Harold Melvin & Blue Notes
  22. Tryin’ Like the Devil — James Talley
  23. Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band — Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
  24. Midnight Son — Son Seals
  25. Gimme Back My Bullets — Lynyrd Skynyrd

SINGLES

  1. “Gloria” — Patti Smith
  2. “Blitzkrieg Bop” — The Ramones
  3. “Anarchy in the UK” — The Sex Pistols
  4. “Police and Thieves” — Junior Murvin
  5. “Misty Blue” — Dorothy Moore
  6. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” — Thelma Houston
  7. “One Piece at a Time” — Johnny Cash
  8. “Night Moves’ — Bob Seger
  9. “Kiss and Say Goodbye” — The Manhattans
  10. “Baby I Love You So” — Jacob Miller/“King Tubby’s Meets Rockers Uptown” — Augustus Pablo
  11. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” — Blue Oyster Cult
  12. “Say You Love Me” — Fleetwood Mac
  13. “Are They Gonna Make Us Outlaws Again?” — James Talley
  14. “You Left the Water Running’ — Otis Redding
  15. “More Than a Feeling” — Boston
  16. “Hold Back the Night’ — The Trammps
  17. “I’m Still Waiting” — Delroy Wilson
  18. “Golden Ring” — George Jones & Tammy Wynette
  19. “Love Hangover” — Dianna Ross
  20. “Book of Rules” — The Heptones
  21. “Tear the Roof Off the Sucker” — Parliament
  22. “Rhiannon” — Fleetwood Mac
  23. “Turn the Beat Around” — Vicki Sue Robinson
  24. “Let’s Start the Dance” — Hamilton Bohannan
  25. “Hurt” — Elvis Presley
  26. “Cokane in My Brain” — Dillinger
  27. “Wake Up Everybody” — Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
  28. “Main Street” — Bob Seger
  29. “I Love Music” — O’Jays
  30. “I Don’t Want to Go Home” — Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes
  31. “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” — Paul Simon
  32. “Dream On” — Aerosmith
  33. “War in a Babylon” — Max Romeo
  34. “Crazy on You” — Heart
  35. “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” — The Tavares
  36. “You Sexy Thing” — Hot Chocolate
  37. “The Boys Are Back in Town’ — Thin Lizzy
  38. “Slow Ride — Foghat
  39. “Golden Years” — David Bowie
  40. “December 1963 (Oh What a Night)” — The Four Seasons

MOVIES

Looking at movies from 1976, I weep at all the titles I’ve been meaning to track down for years and still haven’t gotten to: Harlan County USA, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, Kings of the Road, Mikey and Nicky, The Missouri Breaks, The Shootist, Small Change. All a reminder that I need to stop spending my decreasing viewing time on binge-y television. Since doing a Top 10 for 1976 would be a little too close to “here are all the movies I’ve seen from this year that I like,” I’ll keep it to five sure shots:

  1. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese)
  2. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (John Cassavetes)
  3. All the President’s Men (Alan Pakula)
  4. Assault on Precinct 13 (John Carpenter)
  5. The Bad News Bears (Michael Ritchie)

 

Revisited

2004 Revisited

 

This list has been done for weeks and I just haven’t had time to work up a post. In the interest of getting it up and moving on, and because I’m not driven to generalize on the year, I’m going to post it without much preamble.

2004

ALBUMS

  1. The College Dropout – Kanye West: With its scholastic framework, conflicted relationship to hip-hop proper, admittedly grating skits, and overwhelming hubris, Kanye West’s undeniable debut was the newer, better version of an earlier sure shot, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. But where Hill got by on sonics, organic production and sixth-sense vocal arrangements, West is an idea and detail man: confrontational kiddie chorus defending drug-dealing as survival, “token blackey” rolling a blunt on break at the Gap, autobiographical anthem rapped through a wired jaw, literal salvation on the dance floor, family reunions and handed-down civil rights history, “the first nigga with a Benz and a backpack.” Despite this placement, I do think he got better, but only a little bit and only briefly.
  2. More Adventurous – Rilo Kiley: The tunes glisten and the lyrics bite — sometimes more, with “It’s a Hit” free-associating like an indie-pop “Bring the Noise” — and that combination is rare enough. But the power, expressiveness, and smarts of Jenny Lewis’ singing made this maybe the best rock band in the world for a brief little while.
  3. East Nashville Skyline – Todd Snider: The saddest, funniest, and most deeply humane “protest” record of an election year full of them even if it mostly isn’t overtly political. Snider is too modest and too nice at this point to lecture anybody about anything, but he seemed to understand in his bones just how extreme American life was getting, and he was certain of at least one thing: The bad shit always rains down hardest on the poor. A career-altering personal statement and artistic revelation.
  4. Street’s Disciple – Nas: It wasn’t so much that I underrated this at the time as that I didn’t fully absorb it. Illmatic was such an easily digestible hip-hop ideal, and the albums that followed in its immediate path so wandering and underwhelming, that I couldn’t muster the appetite to fully attend to a 25-song, 90-minute Nas album. (Especially since, let’s be honest, a review copy never showed up in my mailbox and there was no Spotify in 2004.) Now, it feels plainly like the year’s second-best rap record, dense with ideas, personality, culture, history, and beats galore. Never a chore, its sprawl and relative messiness, a decade after Illmatic, sounds right, the result of a deeper lived experience that makes pursuit of perfection feel almost callow. (Yet, yes, Illmatic is still better.)
  5. Almost Killed Me – The Hold Steady: Craig Finn and Tad Kubler’s previous band, Minneapolis’ Lifter Puller, earned a nationwide cult following about six months after they called it quits. Relocated to Brooklyn to pursue real work, they’re pulled back in: “She said, ‘It’s good to see you back in a bar band, baby,'” Finn sneers on “Barfruit Blues.” “I said, ‘It’s good to see you still in the bars.'” Trading in Lifter Puller’s heavy-machinery new wave and spastic punk-funk for the bar-band basics, including Skynyrd guitar, Clarence Clemons sax breaks, and the essence of Meatloaf and Billy Joel, Finn continues to write insanely quotable songs about nightlife glitz and grime with which he may or may not have any actual experience.
  6. All the Fame of Lofty Deeds – Jon Langford: “Hard work, get it while you can,” Brit-turned-Chicagoan Jon Langford cackles sarcastically midway through his outsider’s appraisal of a country gone crazy. Once an unintentional preemptive strike at George W. Bush’s debate strategy, it became the comic-horror refrain that haunted the president’s thudding second term. As for Langford, he’d like to condemn his adopted home to damnation but he loves it and its music too much to give up: “The country isn’t stupid even though it’s silent,” he promises, against all countervailing evidence. “It still has eyes and ears, it just can’t find its mouth.” More than a decade down the line, let it still be true.
  7. We Shall All Be Healed – Mountain Goats: Another one I underrated, with John Darnielle’s declarations less in focus than on the preceding Tallahassee. But that turned out to be strategy rather than weakness on this collection of shattered tweaker’s fragments.
  8. Too Much Love – Harlan T. Bobo: Can a song be a standard when only probably a couple thousand people know it? If so, “Bottle and Hotel,” Bobo’s broken honky-tonk tribute to make-up sex, is a standard. This homemade, initially hand-distributed cult triumph probably isn’t much known outside of Memphis or its own subterranean corner of the rock world.
  9. Get Away From Me – Nellie McKay: Flipping the bird to Norah Jones with the deliciously sarcastic title of her debut album and signaling its contents with a gloriously silly album cover (the Lil’ Red Riding Hood of Manhattan Avenue, replete with “Parental Advisory Explicit Content” label), this cabaret-piano-playing, drama-queen hip-hop fan proved a little too weird to be embraced by the NPR-listener fan base she courted. But from gin-soaked reveries to deceptively prickly cocktail-jazz to a gleefully guileless paean to the transformative powers of adopting a pound puppy, this double-disc opus is teeming with ideas.
  10. Good News for People Who Love Bad News – Modest Mouse
  11. The Tipping Point – The Roots
  12. Shake the Sheets – Ted Leo & Pharmacists
  13. The Dirty South – The Drive-By Truckers: The heavy, backwoods-outlaw thematics haven’t aged well, but great songs poke out amid the stuff that’s trying too hard, including Jason Isbell’s folk anthem “The Day John Henry Died,”  Patterson Hood’s gracefully received wisdom “The Sands of Iwo Jima,” and, best of all, Mike Cooley’s “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac,” one of the greatest Memphis songs, a tribute to Sun Records founder Sam Phillips and the men who called him “Sir.”
  14. Beautifully Human – Jill Scott: Though Scott’s pen knows no limitations, her greatest subject might be the same primary subject of most modern soul singers: S-E-X. Scott takes Topic A to compelling places all across Beautifully Human: The post-coital bliss of “Whatever,” the high-stepping lustiness of “Bedda at Home.” But there’s more. On “The Fact Is (I Need You),” the catalog of domestic tasks she doesn’t need your help with ranges from the knowing, charming cliché (“kill the spider above my bed”) to the surely unspoken in love-song history (“I can even stain and polyurethane”). The sneaky “My Petition” starts out as a relationship metaphor only to gradually reveal a more literal intent. And the foolproof “Family Reunion” (see Kanye West’s “Family Business”) is a series of finely observed details skipping into the next until family tensions heat up so much that only a little Frankie Beverly on the stereo can cool things down.
  15. Laced With Romance – The Ponys
  16. Sonic Nurse – Sonic Youth
  17. Raise Your Spirit Higher – Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  18. J.U.F. – Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat
  19. Too Much Guitar – The Reigning Sound
  20. Madvillainy – MF Doom & Madlib
  21. Egypt – Youssou N’Dour
  22. A Grand Don’t Come for Free – The Streets: With its linear narrative, this sophomore platter from Brit wunderkind Mike Skinner is pop music as novella where his debut, Original Pirate Material, was more a collection of short stories. Skinner’s plotline about missing cash and sketchy friends can be a little hard to follow, but the relationship songs at the core comprise a sure romantic arc unlike most anything else in hip-hop or techno history. A love song about coming to the realization that you’d rather lie on the couch at your girl’s house watching TV than go boozing with your mates speaks to the kind of common truth rarely heard in a pop song. It also sounds like the Chi-Lites.
  23. Funeral – Arcade Fire
  24. Van Lear Rose – Loretta Lynn
  25. Horse of a Different Color – Big and Rich: Right, they descended into self-parody almost instantly, but dig below the Kid Rock Goes Honky Tonk rock and hip-hop flash and there’s a battery of really good songs hiding out here, Walter Mitty-ish, sardonic, rooted in harmony vocals. Imagine the Everly Brothers covering “Life’s Been Good.”

SINGLES

  1. “Maps” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  2. “Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson
  3. “99 Problems” – Jay-Z
  4. “Galang” – M.I.A.
  5. “Float On” – Modest Mouse
  6. “All Falls Down” – Kanye West
  7. “Bridging the Gap” – Nas featuring Olu Dara
  8. “Portions for Foxes” – Rilo Kiley
  9. “Yeah” – Usher featuring Lil Jon and Ludacris
  10. “Jesus Walks” – Kanye West
  11. “Formed a Band” – Art Brut
  12. “Musicology” – Prince
  13. “Mud on the Tires” – Brad Paisley
  14. “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” – Jay-Z
  15. “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” – Lee Ann Womack
  16. “Happy People” – R. Kelly
  17. “Portland, Oregon” – Loretta Lynn and Jack White
  18. “Take Me Out” – Franz Ferdinand
  19. “Just A Little While” – Janet Jackson
  20. “Redneck Woman” – Gretchen Wilson
  21. “Freek-a-Leek” — Petey Pablo
  22. “Wild West Show” — Big and Rich
  23. “Yeah (Crass Version)” – LCD Soundsystem
  24. “Slow Jamz” – Kanye West featuring Twista and Jamie Foxx
  25. “Nothing On But the Radio” – Gary Allan
  26. “Rubberband Man” – T.I.
  27. “Suds in the Bucket” – Sara Evans
  28. “The Rat” – The Walkmen
  29. “Me and Charlie Talking” – Miranda Lambert
  30. “Drop it Like It’s Hot” – Snoop Dogg featuring Pharrell
  31. “Break Down Here” – Julie Roberts
  32. “Lose My Breath” – Destiny’s Child
  33. “Mosh” – Eminem
  34. “Bring Em Out” – T.I.
  35. “So Hot” – Rahsaan Patterson
  36. “Salt Shaker” – Ying-Yang Twins
  37. “Gasolina” – Daddy Yankee
  38. “Can’t Stand Me Now” – Libertines
  39. “Toxic” – Britney Spears
  40. “Heartbeat” – Annie

Movies

  1. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
  2. Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
  3. Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
  4. The Saddest Music in the World (Guy Maddin)
  5. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-Liang)
  6. The Corporation (Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott)
  7. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)
  8. Mean Girls (Mark Waters)
  9. The Aviator (Martin Scorsese)
  10. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino)