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.

image1 (40)

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)

 

Revisited

1996 Revisited

1996 was the year I graduated from college and the first year I was paid to write. The #2 record from this album list was the subject of my first long-form paid piece, for the now-defunct Twin Cities Reader, and some of the language in the blurb here has survived from that piece. The #1 record here was the subject of one of the last long-form pieces I did for my college paper, a piece that’s been lost and which would no doubt embarrass me, even if my ardor for the album has aged well.

Previous years:

1967

1973

1988

2016

Next years planned: 2004, 1976, and 1987.
image1-31

ALBUMS

  1. The Score – Fugees: Every few years I pull this back out thinking it can’t be as good as I remember it, and it’s always as good as I remember it. A profound journey through hip-hop’s then-raging identity crisis that also returned the genre to its roots in both the West Indian sound system and male-female vocal interplay (Funky 2 +1, with the “1” looming large). And, still, it didn’t quite sound like anything that came before it, or anything that’s come since. Technically their second album, but ultimately hip-hop’s greatest ever one shot.
  2. Diary of a Mod Housewife – Amy Rigby: A post-punk grad, a former temp worker, and a single mom, Rigby asserts herself on this debut as American music’s poet laureate of structural underemployment and bohemian domesticity. It traces what happens when urban daydreams of art and freedom dissolve into workweek monotony, and how relationships take a hit along the way. If you’ve ever had a day job that subsidized a dream and felt the dream slipping away, put your liberal-arts degree to work in the service industry, felt adulthood and domesticity creep up on you, tried to patch together a marriage that’s falling apart, or just felt like stopping in the middle of your daily routine to shout something like “I’m not just some soulless jerk/Hey, I got a band/I know what life is for,” then Amy Rigby writes songs for you. It was Exile In Guyville for grown-ups — but not too grown-up —  and on my short list of cult items that I’m sure would earn a much bigger fan base if people only heard it.
  3. Call the Doctor – Sleater-Kinney: Their second album and still a year before drummer Janet Weiss would join to complete them. The next record on this list is more perfect and most (probably all) on this list are more polished, but none below this feel as intensely necessary. The side 1/side 2 transition from “Good Things” to “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” is still about as thrilling a stretch as on any record.
  4. Endtroducing – DJ Shadow: A culmination of a twenty-year history of recombinant creation on the wheels of steel, this post-modern beat symphony is also a kind of visionary hymn to vinyl culture. Shadow rewires the DJ-driven hip-hop of his Eighties adolescence with a fan’s ardor and an aesthete’s sophistication. If the most familiar sample-driven music had heretofore tended tended toward wholesale appropriation or spot-that-reference intertextuality,  it’s the startling anonymity of Shadow’s sources that lend Endtroducing gravity, mystery and musicality. Constructing elaborate sonic cathedrals from the barest snatches off a generation’s worth of garage sale and record-shop refuse, Shadow completed a hero’s quest that proved unrepeatable.
  5. ATLiens – Outkast: I underrated this a little at the time, though I had been a fan of their debut, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. It’s overlong and a little too dense, like most of their albums, but there’s a righteous sense of place and evolution here. The deployment of “Elevators” in the final scene of Atlanta was maybe my favorite cultural moment of 2016, and a testament to what a richly earned generational/regional talisman it is.
  6. Colossal Head – Los Lobos: Their best full-length since their first and better than anything since. Experimental roots-rock masquerading as bar-band R&B, and as Americana-before-it-was-named transfigured into arty soundscape, it beats Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, by six years and so much more.
  7. The Way I Should – Iris Dement: Her first album, 1992’s Infamous Angel, was for her mother, who dreamed of singing at the Opry and never got the chance. Her second, perfect, album, 1994’s My Life, was for her father, who put his fiddle away as a young man because, for him, it represented sin and was incompatible with the responsibilities of shepherding a family. This one is for her, and it’s searching and awkward in equal measure. The latter, topical songs – about the Vietnam memorial, child abuse, parental neglect yuppie-style, and, with “Wasteland of the Free,” whatever you’ve got – are the ones you notice first. But the ones that sneak up on you – the invocation “When My Morning Comes Around,” the clear-eyed “I’ll Take My Sorrow Straight,” and, most of all, the hymns to independence and mystery “The Way I Should” and “Keep Me God” – are the ones that stick.
  8. I Feel Alright – Steve Earle: His first post-jail record packs plenty of concept, but it turns out to be his best because it’s also his most pleasurably musical.  
  9. House of Music — Tony Toni Tone: Opens with the best Al Green record not sung by Al and then shifts into just a terrific, traditional R&B band album, less a throwback than a kind of farewell.
  10. Reject All American — Bikini Kill: They mourn Kurt Cobain, reject Sylvia Plath and make a righteous racket, turning cursive letters into knives throughout.
  11. From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah — Nirvana
  12. Spirit – Willie Nelson: Draws on the spare Western sound of his mid-Seventies notables Red-Headed Stranger and Phases and Stages.
  13. Ironman — Ghostface Killah
  14. Emancipation — Prince: Longer than double-album Sign O the Times from nearly a decade earlier, and with less inspiration and vision, but it’s a similarly sprawling assertion of mastery. From a distance, you might only remember a handful of the songs (Seventies soul covers, “One of Us” transformed into a kind of deep blues, elegant “The Holy River,” sprightly “Courtin’ Time”), but put it on, let it go, and it’s nearly all good and often surprising. This is the rare time when there really is too much of a good thing, but it’s probably his most underrated album.
  15. Odelay – Beck: “The jigsaw jazz and a get-fresh flow” is both apt description and an over-promise. Still, more fetching than what followed from this always-a-little-overrated artist and it still contains one of my favorite collegiate lyrics from my own college era: “Karaoke weekend at the suicide shack/Community service and I’m still the mack.” An impressively witty cycle of free-associative verse and free-form soundscape.
  16. Conversin’ With the Elders – James Carter
  17. Seasick – Imperial Teen
  18. Stakes is High — De La Soul
  19. Pre-Millennium Tension – Tricky
  20. Reasonable Doubt – Jay-Z
  21. Popular Favorites – The Oblivians
  22. Fountains of Wayne – Fountains of Wayne
  23. Grown Man – Loudon Wainwright III
  24. Beats, Rhymes and Life – A Tribe Called Quest: Inspirational Verse: “Hip-hop is not a way of life/It doesn’t teach you how to raise a kid/Or treat a wife.”
  25. New Adventures in Hi-Fi – REM

 

SINGLES

  1. “C’Mon and Ride It” — Quad City DJs
  2. “No Diggity” — Blackstreet
  3. “Beer and Kisses” – Amy Rigby (a de facto single in my book)
  4. “Not Gon’ Cry” – Mary J. Blige
  5. “All That I Got is You” — Ghostface Killah with Mary J. Blige
  6. “Fu-Gee-La/How Many Mics” — The Fugees
  7. “ATLiens” — Outkast
  8. “1979” — Smashing Pumpkins
  9. “Elevators (Me & You)” – Outkast
  10. “What I Got” — Sublime
  11. “Ready or Not” — The Fugees
  12. “Where It’s At” — Beck
  13. “You’re One” – Imperial Teen
  14. “Only Happy When It Rains” — Garbage
  15. “Stakes is High” – De La Soul
  16. “If It Makes You Happy” — Sheryl Crow
  17. “Let Me Clear My Throat” — DJ Kool
  18. “I Feel Alright’ — Steve Earle
  19. “California Love” — Tupac
  20. “Santa Monica” — Everclear
  21. “Head Over Feet” – Alanis Morissette
  22. “On & On” – Erykah Badu
  23. “1nce Again” — A Tribe Called Quest
  24. “Blue” – Leann Rimes
  25. “Killing Me Softly” — Fugees
  26. “Ain’t No” — Jay-Z featuring Foxy Brown
  27. “Da Funk” – Daft Punk
  28. “Ya Playin’ Yaself” – Jeru Tha Damaja
  29. “Give it a Day”/“Gangsters and Pranksters” – Pavement
  30. “Nobody Knows” – Tony Rich Project
  31. “One in a Million” – Aaliyah
  32. “Give Me One Reason” – Tracy Chapman
  33. “Butch” – Imperial Teen
  34. “Ironic” — Alanis Morissette
  35. “Radiation Vibe” — Fountains of Wayne
  36. “What They Do” – The Roots
  37. “Devil’s Haircut” — Beck
  38. “Setting Sun” — Chemical Brothers
  39. “Pony” – Ginuwine
  40. “Strawberry Wine” – Deana Carter

MOVIES

The movie lists on these posts — and especially those from the 1990s — are less solid than the music ones, since they’re rooted much more in memory than in a recent re-experience of the work. But here’s one stab at a Top 10 for 1996:

  1. When We Were Kings
  2. Get on the Bus
  3. Mother
  4. Lone Star
  5. Secrets and Lies
  6. Bottle Rocket
  7. Chronicle of a Disappearance
  8. Big Night
  9. Crash
  10. Fargo
Revisited

Best of 2016

 

2016 was the year where I thought I was out but they pulled me back in. “They” being my lifelong urges toward consuming records and movies and then thinking about them, talking about them and maybe sometimes even writing about them. Early in the year, my primary professional responsibility morphed from “arts and entertainment editor” to “new kind of general city columnist” and between daily deadlines and a couple of kids, I drifted away from full engagement with new culture more than at any point since probably before college.

The urge to revisit and explore birthed this blog as a landing point for old lists and new lists of old things, but a muscle-memory sense of duty toward filing ballots in film and music polls shifted my attention back toward the present over the past couple of months, and, man, did I miss it. So I’ll keep better track next year, even if I’m still not writing as much, and probably in some capacity in this space. As for now, I’m putting a bow on 2016 with my favorite albums, singles, films and (a bow to the times) television of the past year. If my consumption of the former (and superior) three was a little skimpier this year than in the past, so it goes. Next month, I’ll return to this blog’s occasional but primary pursuit, with revisits of 1996 and 2004 next on deck. But first, on to 2016:

ALBUMS

I wrote a little bit about some of these albums and a few of the singles below it here. This list probably has even more of a country tilt than most recent years because, in addition to inclination, even as my overall listening was scaled back, I still vote in the Nashville Scene country music critics poll, so I kept up a little better there than in other core (to me) genres. If this was a good year for indie rock, I missed most of it, as even albums from bands I know I like (Parquet Courts, Coathangers, Julie Ruin) didn’t stick with me quite as much as some of their past stuff. Maybe it was me, and maybe I’ll get reacquainted with guitar rock in 2017. As for Hamilton, as I note in the linked piece above, it was a late(ish) 2015 record, but one I didn’t fully absorb until 2016.

These numbered lists can sometimes be a little misleading. One thing I’ve always liked about the Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop poll (renamed for 2016, but forever Pazz and Jop here) is the points system that gives you 100 points to distribute over 10 albums, max of 30, minimum of 5 per title. On my PnJ ballot, I gave 20 points to Chance and 12 each to McKenna, Rihanna, and the Truckers. The rest were in single digits, so this list features a strong #1 and a three-album second-tier.

  1. Coloring Book — Chance the Rapper
  2. The Bird & The Rifle — Lori McKenna
  3. Anti – Rihanna
  4. American Band – The Drive-By Truckers
  5. Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording – Various Artists (2015)
  6. We Got it From Here .. Thank You 4 Your Service — A Tribe Called Quest
  7. Teens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest
  8. Upland Stories – Robbie Fulks
  9. The Weight of These Wings – Miranda Lambert
  10. Eastside Bulldog – Todd Snider
  11. AIM – M.I.A.
  12. A Sailor’s Guide to Earth — Sturgill Simpson
  13. Big Day in a Small Town — Brandy Clark
  14. The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
  15. Midwest Farmer’s Daughter — Margo Price

SINGLES/SONGS:

Most places (the Nashville Scene poll is an exception) have dispensed with the “singles” designation in favor of just “songs.” I tend to stick to some notion of “singles” as songs experienced outside an album context even though as a matter of commerce it’s mostly a distinction without a difference these days.

“Humble & Kind” was a huge hit for Tim McGraw. I’m not sure if it was really a “single” for McKenna, who wrote it, though she did release a video for it (as with “The Bird & the Rifle”). But when McGraw sings it, he sounds like a country singer who’s been handed a good song. When McKenna sings it, she sounds like a mother singing her own words to her own children.

  1. “Love on the Brain” – Rihanna
  2. “We the People” — A Tribe Called Quest
  3. “Humble & Kind” – Lori McKenna
  4. “Cranes in the Sky” – Solange
  5. “Record Year” – Eric Church
  6. “Work” – Rihanna with Drake
  7. “Formation” — Beyonce
  8. “No Problem” — Chance the Rapper
  9. “Hold Up” – Beyonce
  10. “FDT”- YG
  11. “Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West
  12. “Better Man” – Little Big Town
  13. “Daddy Lessons” — Beyonce with Dixie Chicks
  14. “Vice” — Miranda Lambert
  15. “Three Packs a Day” – Courtney Barnett

Five Favored Non-Singles:

  1. “Blessings” – Chance the Rapper
  2. “Ever South” – Drive-By Truckers
  3. “Halfway Home” – Lori McKenna
  4. “Needed” – Robbie Fulks (close runner-up: “Alabama at Night”)
  5. “Three Kids, No Husband” — Brandy Clark

MOVIES:

As good as Moonlight is — and there’s nothing else quite like it, even as it nods (rather heavily in its final third) to my beloved Wong Kar-Wai — I doubt it would have topped my film list in many other of the past 20 years. A year full of good films, as most are, but short on great ones. 

  1. Moonlight
  2. Everybody Wants Some!!
  3. Manchester By the Sea
  4. I Am Not Your Negro
  5. Hell or High Water
  6. Loving
  7. Arrival
  8. Green Room
  9. La La Land
  10. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
  11. Krisha
  12. Little Men
  13. The Witch
  14. Edge of Seventeen
  15. The Fits

TV:

Unlike the album, single/song and film lists, this isn’t a list of favorites, it’s a list of everything. I still privilege music and film over television and the majority of my TV diet is basketball and politics. So this is all of the 2016 television I watched in full form. A few notes:

I might be more of a music/movies person, but I think my favorite cultural thing of 2016 was probably Atlanta, and especially its first episode, which had a tone and rhythm not quite like anything else I’d seen. There was some of the absurdity of high-end modern sitcoms (30 Rock, Arrested Development), but paired with a sense of place and feel for incident more associated with the being-born period of American indie film (there’s maybe some Jarmusch, some Linklater, some Spike Lee). And that talk-show episode suggests there are some Hollywood Shuffle fans involved. But it was its own thing, and no place in 2016 I more enjoyed hanging out.

People vs. O.J. and Made in America are companion pieces, of course, and pretty much ties here. The latter is the more gargantuan achievement, and it probably seems a little disreputable to put its pulpier, fictionalized companion piece one place higher, but if Atlanta was my favorite thing of 2016, the Marcia Clark showcase episode of People vs. O.J. might have been my second favorite, Sarah Paulson in full flight and Otis Redding on the soundtrack.

Stranger Things at the bottom of this list isn’t totally an insult — I didn’t stick it out with anything I didn’t like — but something about it did rub me the wrong way. Yes, it’s better than the Gilmore Girls encore, which is a transparent piece of fan service (and I’m a fan), but as a white guy who grew up in the 1980s reading Stephen King novels and watching John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg movies, I didn’t thrill at being so microtargeted. The kids were charming and the masonry of the bricolage immaculate, but I felt just little bit too pandered to.

  1. Atlanta
  2. American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson
  3. O.J.: Made in America
  4. Lemonade
  5. Game of Thrones
  6. Westworld
  7. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life
  8. Stranger Things
Revisited

1988 Revisited

With the run-up to the NBA season and the final stretch of the presidential election, I fell off the podcast-reduction wagon, but now I’m back to my non-chronological year-by-year trip through pop music’s past.

1988, time to set it straight … This list features a really strong Big Three: The Greatest Rap Album Ever, the Greatest Post-Punk Guitar Album Ever and the greatest female singer-songwriter/folk-rock album ever (so sayeth me, absent acclamation).

After that, the year sounds more muddled to me. Some great afropop aftershocks from 1986’s Graceland/Indestructible Beat of Soweto breakthrough, a classic year for hip-hop singles yielding more good but few great albums, the full-fledged debut of alt-rock’s essential ’80s-to-’90s bridge band (Pixies), and lots of veteran prestige artists doing good work that’s not quite at their best (Prince, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, the Traveling Wilburys conglomerate, U2, R.E.M., Talking Heads, Richard Thompson, Robert Cray). There were also some Big Statements that haven’t aged that well (Tracy Chapman, Midnight Oil, maybe U2/R.E.M. apply here) and shocks of the new that aged even worse (Living Colour, Sugarcubes, Fishbone).

But I probably can’t intro my 1988 lists without talking about what might be the two most retroactively lauded albums of the year, neither of which factor prominently for me. N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and Guns N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction are in many ways the same record.

Both are essentially hits-and-filler records and, as such, both are better represented on the singles list.

There’s more than a little self-conscious epater la bourgeoisie, one more strategically righteous than the other, the other a little more consistent and enduring as a total piece of music.  (Another historical hits-and-filler comp, but better: Never Mind the Bollocks … Here’s the Sex Pistols.) Both are (pock)marked by misogyny, with N.W.A.’s problems in this area both more transparent and also more (unintentionally) instructive: “I Ain’t Tha 1” is the best non-hit on either album, not just because it sounds incredible, but because Ice Cube’s resentful attack on a would-be romantic partnere instead turns on itself; it’s a portrait of male loserdom made all the more grand for its lack of self-recognition.

Both bands fell victim to artistic bloat and internal chaos that made follow-ups less worthwhile and their careers — as bands, at least — short-lived. These are definitely two of the most culturally momentous albums of 1988. But this isn’t a list of bands or cultural eruptions, it’s a list of records, and Straight Outta Compton and Appetite for Destruction are both “classic” albums for people who don’t really listen to albums, each with highpoints, each better as an idea of a record than as a listening object.

image1-24

ALBUMS:

  1. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back – Public Enemy: Definitely one of the albums I’ve listened to most, and would be on the short list if I only concluded spins from 1988-1992. Despite how thoroughly I know every beat, hook, sample, exhortation, and aside, it still thrills. The perfect vocal contrast of bullhorn and court jester. Avant-garde and accessible, relentless and funny. Packed with detail (sound and sense) and sometimes a little full of shit. A Top Five all-time contender.
  2. Lucinda Williams – Lucinda Williams: Her 1998 follow-up-once-removed Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is more widely considered Williams’ masterpiece, and I used to feel that way, but I’ve come back around to this not-actually-a-debut. It’s a less perfect record, and maybe that’s partly why it cuts deeper. Car Wheels may peak at the very beginning, but every song is of a piece. Lucinda Williams is comparatively uneven. Half the songs are brilliant; the rest offer companionable support. The breathless, yearning opener — “I Just Wanted To See You So Bad” — rushes by in 21 lines, nine of them a repetition of the title refrain. “Changed the Locks” is a love-gone-wrong song that builds steadily toward the cosmic, managing to be horrified and funny all at once. “The Night’s Too Long,” a fictional story of a small-town girl moved to the city, and “Crescent City,” an autobiographical sibling song, are sketches so precise you can feel the cool moisture coming off the beer bottles in the bars where one song ends and another begins. And then there are “Passionate Kisses” and “Side of the Road” — twin titans about the imperatives and limits of romantic love that are at once visionary and also grounded in the everyday. Throughout, Williams’ breathy, marble-mouthed vocals — her signature, if anything is — are just a little more naked and open than they’d ever be again. The simpler secondary songs — the straight country “Price To Pay,” the alt-country Velvet Underground “Like a Rose,” the lonely lament “Am I Too Blue” — give the album some room to breathe, and they grow more lovely all the time. The closing Howlin’ Wolf cover? A turf grab. Not just a declaration of artistic support but one of artistic equality.
  3. Daydream Nation – Sonic Youth: I’ve tended to disagree with consensus (to the degree there is one) on Sonic Youth. Give me relaxed late career hookfest “Rather Ripped” over pre-Daydream insurgency or Nirvana-era alt-rock breakthroughs. But I agree with pretty much everyone that this was the peak of their powers.
  4. Paris-Soweto – Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens: Captured in a Paris studio during a European tour after the success of Graceland spurred a reunion, this is the classic mbaqanga sound (West Nkosi producing, the Makgona Tsohle Band playing) updated for state-of-the-art recording. The gritty quality of the earlier recordings is missing, but the beauty is all there: the shimmering, swirling guitars, the open-hearted vocals, the impossible brightness. (In fact, I often think that the second track, “Awuthule Kancane,” is among the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.) There’s even a healthy dose of English lyrics, and, sung in these voices, they don’t embarrass.
  5. Strictly Business – EPMD: Two barely distinguishable voices intertwined around a scratched-up post-disco groove that never lets up. Hip-hop reduced to the verities.
  6. Virgin Beauty – Ornette Coleman & Prime Time: Part of this list-making exercise is relistening to and reevaluating records I know well, but part of it is seeking out contenders I’ve missed along the way, and this is my best discovery so far. A dabbler in the realm of jazz, I mostly just know what I like. I like this. A lot.
  7. Surfer Rosa – Pixies: The bridge from Husker Du/Sonic Youth to Nirvana/Pavement is … um … paved with sugar-rush guitars and obscurantist screaming.
  8. The Heartbeat of Soweto — Various Artists: As ’80s mbaqanga comps go, this is a folkier, more wide-ranging alternative to The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, duplicating only Amiswazi Emvelo on the artist list. It’s more rural-sounding, with almost country-blues equivalents such as Mlokothwa’s “Thathezakho” and Armando Bila Chijumane’s “Kamakhalawana.” The result is a record with a more relaxed pace and possibly a calmer spirit — less of a joyous rush but perhaps just as rewarding.
  9. Follow the Leader – Eric B & Rakim: Similarly elemental as Strictly Business, but more personalized: Eric B’s beat and Rakim’s mind-to-mouth continuum engaged in private conversation as perpetual musical motion.
  10. Folkways: A Vision Shared – Various Artists: Woody’s rock-era inheritors Dylan, Springsteen and even Mellencamp all sound better here than they would elsewhere for a while and Sweet Honey in the Rock and Taj Mahal more than earn their keep. Not quite as fine as Mermaid Avenue or A Tribute to Jimmie Rodgers, which would come a decade later, but a fine stage-setter.
  11. Thunder Before Dawn — Various Artists
  12. Thokozile – Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens
  13. Black Album – Prince
  14. Land of Dreams – Randy Newman
  15. Straight Out the Jungle – Jungle Brothers
  16. I’m Your Man – Leonard Cohen
  17. By All Means Necessary – Boogie Down Productions
  18. Critical Beatdown – Ultramagnetic MCs
  19. 16 Lovers Lane – Go-Betweens
  20. The Tenement Year – Pere Ubu
  21. Volume One – The Traveling Wilburys
  22. Appetite for Destruction – Guns n Roses
  23. Old 8X10 – Randy Travis
  24. Isn’t Anything – My Bloody Valentine
  25. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman

 

SINGLES:

  1. “It Takes Two” – Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock
  2. “Sweet Child O Mine” – Guns n Roses
  3. “Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness Mix)” – Eric B & Rakim
  4. “Don’t Believe the Hype” – Public Enemy
  5. “It’s My Beat” – Sweet Tee & Jazzy Joyce
  6. “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’” – Big Daddy Kane
  7. “Fast Car” – Tracy Chapman
  8. “Potholes in My Lawn” – De La Soul
  9. “Microphone Fiend” – Eric B and Rakim
  10. “Fuck Tha Police” – NWA
  11. “Runaway Train” – Rosanne Cash
  12. “Bass” – King Tee
  13. “Teenage Riot” – Sonic Youth
  14. “Go On Girl” — Roxanne Shante
  15. “Strictly Business” – EPMD
  16. “Da Butt” — EU
  17. “Shake Your Thang” – Salt-n-Pepa
  18. “(Nothing But) Flowers” – Talking Heads
  19. “You Gots to Chill” – EPMD
  20. “Straight Outta Compton” – NWA
  21. “Talkin’ All That Jazz” – Stetsasonic
  22. “Because I Got It Like That” – Jungle Brothers
  23. “Handle With Care” – Traveling Wilburys
  24. “Birthday” – The Sugarcubes
  25. “Follow the Leader” – Eric B. & Rakim
  26. “Joy and Pain” – Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
  27. “Welcome to the Jungle” — Guns and Roses
  28. “Anchorage” – Michelle Shocked
  29. “Beds Are Burning” – Midnight Oil
  30. “Plug Tunin” – De La Soul
  31. “My Philosophy” – Boogie Down Productions
  32. “DJ Innovator” – Chubb Rock
  33. “Paper Thin” – MC Lyte
  34. “Colors” – Ice T
  35. “Alphabet Street” – Prince
  36. “Hazy Shade of Winter” – The Bangles
  37. “My Prerogative” – Bobby Brown
  38. “Going Back to Cali” – LL Cool J
  39. “Whoever’s in New England” – Reba McEntire
  40. “Parents Just Don’t Understand” – DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

 

Revisited

1973 Revisited

1973, the Year of My Birth, was some kind of year for albums. Al Green, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley and David Bowie, four of the decade’s signature artists, all doubled up.

Springsteen, the New York Dolls and Lynyrd Skynyrd debuted. Gram Parsons went solo. Bob Marley was introduced to the world. And Willie Nelson inhabited his new and lasting public persona.

This might be the most interesting year ever for R&B albums, which make up five of my top seven for the year, and six if you want to include reggae in the R&B diaspora. And even that doesn’t include arguable career-best from Marvin Gaye (my #1 single) or the Spinners (just missed the Top 25).

It’s a dicier year for singles, with the classic soul era receding and the punk/disco/hip-hop explosions still a few years away. And it features some pretty overrated classic-rock touchstones: The Dark Side of the Moon, Band on the Run, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, the latter a good record that was a near-miss here because it really could have used some editing.

In case you missed it, I’m selectively re-listening to the past 50 years of popular music, and sharing my findings in list form. This is the second post, the first was 1967 and includes more explanatory preamble. Up next: 1988.

The list:

image1-22

ALBUMS:

  1. Call Me – Al Green: The singles are as good as on any Green album: Title track a wary consideration of the gulf between breakup and reconciliation; “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” one of his greatest, grittiest rave-ups; “You Ought to Be With Me” winnowing Green’s sound to its essential parts. The covers are perhaps his most purposeful: Bending country music to his will with paired readings from Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. The twin anthems tower: “Stand Up” a human rights assertion worthy of Bob Marley, the closing “Jesus is Waiting” a promise and a foreshadowing. But befitting his later path, the meek inherit the album: Ostensible filler “Have You Been Making Out OK” and “Your Love is Like the Morning Sun” are the most tender recordings from pop music’s most tender genius. The last great classic soul album was the best one. A perfect album.
  2. New York Dolls– New York Dolls: Musically, the missing link between the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols, except they reach back even further and feel deeper. Yelping and yowling, they assert the existence and value of a rich, kinda scary private world where lonely planet boys and bad girls are just trying to make their way. Another perfect album.
  3. Live at Carnegie Hall – Bill Withers: The rare live album that enlarges the artist, where his grip on the audience is palpable and it transforms him in turn. The grown-folks, middle-class James Brown Live at the Apollo.
  4. Fresh – Sly & the Family Stone: Riot’s extended outro.
  5. Innervisions – Stevie Wonder: “Visions” is Wonder’s ultimate testament of faith in this world, more affecting for how matter-of-fact it is, a blind man’s meditation on the certainty of leaves changing from green to brown. “Living for the City” is an epic, personalized allegory for the civil rights movement that makes pained acknowledgement of its lost momentum. “Higher Ground” is a funk workout not even the Red Hot Chili Peppers could ruin. His best album? Maybe.
  6. Burnin’ – Bob Marley & the Wailers: “If you know what life is worth/You will look for yours on Earth.”
  7. Livin For You – Al Green: The follow-up to Call Me is less commanding — how could it not be? — but more odd, more subtle and probably Green’s most under-recognized album. The mood, initially, is the theme — contentment, especially domestic: “Home Again,” “So Good to Be Here,” the clinching “Let’s Get Married.” Maybe Livin’ With You would be a better title, and there’s a devotional quality to this ostensibly secular music. Then it gets weird: jailbait hymn (“Sweet Sixteen”), deconstructed Righteous Brothers (“Unchained Melody”), religious plea (“My God is Real), and eight-minute vamp (“Beware”) where that earlier contentment is imperiled.
  8. Pronounced Leh’nerd Skin’nerd – Lynyrd Skynyrd: Southern boogie-rock gets tougher, harder, smarter, deeper, funnier, if not all at once. Except maybe so on “Gimme Three Steps.” A tidy eight songs, even if one of them is “Free Bird.”
  9. Sweet Revenge – John Prine: Another 12 Songs.
  10. GP – Gram Parsons: I was a big Parsons fan back when I didn’t know enough better, then the “tribute to country music” distance/aspiration started to turn me off. I’ve come back around to the craft and care of it. Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now. Emmylou stepping up on “We’ll Sweep Out the Ashes In the Morning” helps.
  11. Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin: Their weirdest major record.
  12. Countdown to Ecstasy – Steely Dan
  13. The Wild, Innocent and the E Street Shuffle – Bruce Springsteen: The sound of a major talent who might be great someday. Someday came in a hurry. On “Rosalita,” it was already there.
  14. Takin’ My Time – Bonnie Raitt
  15. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye: After the lead/title song, the rest is mere afterglow, both figurative and almost literal.
  16. Catch a Fire – Bob Marley & the Wailers: Less bumpy than Burnin’.
  17. Time Fades Away – Neil Young: The hardest good Young to find.
  18. The Rhymer and Other Five and Dimers – Tom T. Hall
  19. Shotgun Willie — Willie Nelson: An icon emerges
  20. Greatest Hits – Janis Joplin
  21. Attempted Moustache – Loudon Wainwright III
  22. Quadrophenia – The Who
  23. Moondog Matinee – The Band
  24. Aladdin Sane – David Bowie

  25. Mott – Mott the Hoople

SINGLES:

  1. “Let’s Get It On” — Marvin Gaye
  2. “Personality Crisis”/”Looking for a Kiss” – New York Dolls
  3. “If We Make It Through December’ – Merle Haggard
  4. “Living for the City” – Stevie Wonder
  5. “Gimme Three Steps” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  6. “I Can’t Stand the Rain” – Ann Peebles
  7. “Jolene” – Dolly Parton
  8. “All the Way from Memphis” – Mott the Hoople
  9. “Call Me (Come Back Home)” — Al Green
  10. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – Stevie Wonder
  11. “Reelin’ in the Years’ – Steely Dan
  12. “If You Want Me to Stay” – Sly & the Family Stone
  13. “Midnight Train to Georgia” — Gladys Knight & the Pips
  14. “Behind Closed Doors” – Charlie Rich
  15. “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” — The Spinners
  16. “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” – Al Green
  17. “Angel” — Aretha Franklin
  18. “Drift Away” – Dobie Gray
  19. “Ramblin’ Man” — The Allman Brothers
  20. “Apache” – The Incredible Bongo Band
  21. “Darling Baby” – Jackie Moore
  22. “Livin’ For You” – Al Green
  23. “Kodachrome” – Paul Simon
  24. “Higher Ground” – Stevie Wonder
  25. “Rock the Boat” – Hues Corporation
  26. “My Tennessee Mountain Home” – Dolly Parton
  27. “Cum On Feel the Noize” – Slade
  28. “Ooh La La” – The Faces
  29. “Loves Me Like A Rock” – Paul Simon
  30. “Search and Destroy” – The Stooges
  31. “Sixty Minute Man’ — Clarence Carter
  32. “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)” – Johnnie Taylor
  33. “Love Train” — The O’Jays
  34. “Georgia on a Fast Train” – Billy Joe Shaver
  35. “Keep On Truckin’” — Eddie Kendricks
  36. “Can’t You See” – Marshall Tucker Band
  37. “Doing it to Death” – The JBs
  38. “Angie” – The Rolling Stones
  39. “Killing Me Softly” – Roberta Flack
  40. “Soul Makossa” – Manu Dibango

MOVIES:

  1. Badlands (Terrence Malick)
  2. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese)
  3. American Graffiti (George Lucas)
  4. The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)
  5. Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich)
  6. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman)
  7. Don’t Look Now (Nicolas Roeg)
  8. The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates)
  9. Amarcord (Federico Fellini)
  10. Charley Varrick (Don Siegel)
Revisited · Uncategorized

1967 Revisited

This list (unlike the first one) and others that will (probably? maybe?) follow are the product of a kind of cultural mid-life crisis. Lately, I’ve found myself spending too much time listening to talk radio and podcasts and watching Netflix-y television shows that are rarely quite as good as they’re made out to be.

As a reaction, and because writing about new music is now a very small part of my professional life, I’ve decided to relisten to my record collection, or most of it, filling in the some gaps along the way via Spotify or YouTube or whatever. I’m doing a 50-year stretch of pop music that encompasses what I think of as the album era, which started around 1965, when artists like Bob Dylan (Highway 61 Revisited) and The Beatles (Rubber Soul) changed the conception of the album as a complete work of art, to 2014, to create a tidy half century time span and land amid a moment when technology shifts, for better or worse, are changing the notion of what an album is.

So I’m doing one year at a time, non-chronologically, until I finish them all or decide to stop (you never know). I’m adding a longer singles list and shorter movies list, probably without commentary. Album commentary will be half-formed thoughts and only occasional. When I get to years with records I’ve written about in the past, I may crib from older writing I still agree with and don’t find embarrassing. Future years already planned: 1973, 1988, 1996. After that, I dunno.

On 1967: I decided to start here because the idea came while I was re-reading ‘Nixonland” and a section about Sgt. Pepper’s made me want to re-listen to that album. I came of musical age in the late 1980s and Rolling Stone magazine’s 1987 “100 Best Albums of the Last 20 Years” issue looms very large over my musical education, as it does for pretty much every music writer of my generation that I’ve met. It was an introduction to the classic-rock canon and a kind of checklist. (Shoutout to the old second floor of the Memphis main library, at Peabody and McLean, where I checked out most of the albums from the list.) Sgt. Pepper’s, of course, topped the list. Baby boomer nostalgia was rampant at the time, and Sgt. Pepper’s is a now a generational talisman twice over I’ve been attracted to or repulsed by at various points over the years.

In album terms, I feel like 1967 was not quite as good as it was momentous. Part of that might be that “psychedelic” is among my least favored rock forms. Among some of the Class of 67 psychedelic also-rans that didn’t make this list, I’d rank them, roughly: Cream, 13th Floor Elevators, Youngbloods, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane’s trippier sequel.  The list …

image1-21

Top 25 Albums:

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band — The Beatles: I’ve gone back and forth on this over the years, and pulling it out for the first time in a few years was surprised at how fresh it sounds. The further removed from the tyranny of “20 years ago today” baby-boomer nostalgia, the better it sounds, the more timeless its topicality. Not The Greatest Album Ever Made, and probably not the Beatles’ very best. But I’ve come back around to it being pretty great, and just maybe the best of its day. (Order was tough on this top three.) Other than “Within You Without You,” which I would still ditch, and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” which I wouldn’t, it’s not really all that psychedelic. It renders much of its cohort dated and a little silly by comparison. A generous consideration of a then-exploding generation gap, where studio meticulousness doesn’t dampen humor or musicality. They have empathy for the old. They envision being them one day. Some of them made it.
  2. The Velvet Underground & Nico — The Velvet Underground & Nico: The S&M anthem “Venus in Furs” works because it’s sung and written in a muffled laugh. (Or is that my own?) “Heroin” is about as thrillingly unsettling as recorded music gets. It’s texture and particular beauty stand apart from the rest of the culture of its moment. Do I always play all of the eight-minute noise-freakout outro “European Son” the way I do the next year’s 17-minute “Sister Ray”? I do not, which goes to show that they progressed, I guess. But I’m not sure they made a better record.
  3. Are You Experienced? — The Jimi Hendrix Experience: My first favorite album, as in my favorite album the first time I ever decided to make a list of favorite albums. Now seems ossified, more the idea of an album, but then I put it on and woooshhh. Play loud.

  4. I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You) — Aretha Franklin: Singles and filler, but oh what singles and oh what filler. Title track sounds most shocking. The Ray Charles is better than the Sam Cooke, but the combination is a turf grab.

  5. The Byrds’ Greatest Hits — The Byrds: 11 songs, 4 Dylan covers, all (ok, mostly) chiming perfection. Captures the band and its moment better than any of their studio albums.

  6. Forever Changes — Love: My favorite hippie record.

  7. You Got My Mind Messed Up — James Carr: The peak of Memphis soul, circa 1967, album and single, did not come from Stax.

  8. The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt — Mississippi John Hurt: The calm yin to Howlin’ Wolf’s turbulent yang atop my personal blues pantheon.

  9. The Who Sell Out — The Who: I admire the craft, charm and smarts of this radio-broadcast concept, especially as a juxtaposition to the indulgences that surrounded it, but have never felt the concept quite rewards repeat listening in accordance with its classic status.

  10. Axis: Bold as Love — Jimi Hendrix Experience: Lighter and slighter than the debut, but underscores Hendrix’s poetry and vocal affability in addition to his historic guitar.

  11. Live in London – The Stax/Volt Revue: Better than the more celebrated Otis solo disc with which it shares one song, ceding the spotlight to Sam & Dave.

  12. King & Queen — Otis Redding & Carla Thomas: Lovable lark.

  13. Born Under a Bad Sign — Albert King

  14. Flowers — The Rolling Stones: I love how this was a retrospectively bad year for the Rolling Stones. “Summer of Love” was not their most comfortable milieu, with greatness before and after but not so much here. (Big Between the Buttons fans would argue this point.) My favorite of their three 1967 releases is this singles comp.

  15. Magical Mystery Tour — The Beatles

  16. Younger Than Yesterday — The Byrds

  17. Wild Honey —  Beach Boys

  18. Live in Europe — Otis Redding

  19. Moby Grape — Moby Grape

  20. Between the Buttons — The Rolling Stones

  21. The Soul of a Bell — William Bell

  22. Safe as Milk — Captain Beefheart

  23. Surrealistic Pillow — Jefferson Airplane

  24. Chuck Berry in Memphis — Chuck Berry

  25. The Doors — The Doors: Do 9th graders still have their minds blown by this? A kind of schlock classic at this point. Silly, but more enduringly enjoyable than many of the year’s alleged cult classics

SINGLES:

  1. “The Dark End of the Street” — James Carr
  2. “Respect” — Aretha Franklin
  3. “Sing Me Back Home” — Merle Haggard
  4. “Tramp” — Otis Redding & Carla Thomas
  5. “Cold Sweat” — James Brown
  6. “Strawberry Fields Forever”/“Penny Lane” — The Beatles
  7. “Soul Man” — Sam & Dave
  8. “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You” — Aretha Franklin
  9. “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” — Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
  10. “Chain of Fools” — Aretha Franklin
  11. “Waterloo Sunset” — The Kinks
  12. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — Aretha Franklin
  13. “Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King
  14. “I Am the Walrus” – The Beatles
  15. “I Second That Emotion” — Smokey & the Miracles
  16. “All You Need is Love” — The Beatles
  17. “When Something is Wrong With My Baby” — Sam & Dave
  18. “I’d Rather Go Blind” — Etta James
  19. “Don’t Hit Me No More” — Mable John
  20. “For What It’s Worth” — Buffalo Springfield
  21. “I Can See For Miles” — The Who
  22. “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” – Tammy Wynette
  23. “Cold Hard Facts of Life” — Porter Wagoner
  24. “Higher and Higher” — Jackie Wilson
  25. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
  26. “I Think We’re Alone Now” – Tommy James & the Shondells
  27. “Purple Haze” — Jimi Hendrix Experience
  28. “Let it Out (Let it All Hang Out)” – The Hombres
  29. “I’m a Believer” — The Monkees
  30. “The Letter” — The Box Tops
  31. “Ode to Billie Joe” — Bobbie Gentry
  32. “Your Precious Love” — Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
  33. “Nobody But Me” — The Human Beinz
  34. “Soul Finger” — The Bar-Kays
  35. “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long” — The Rascals
  36. “Expressway to Your Heart” — The Soul Survivors
  37. “Groovin’” — The Rascals
  38. “I Was Made to Love Her” — Stevie Wonder
  39. “Jackson” — Johnny and June Carter Cash
  40. “Mercy Mercy Mercy” — Larry Williams and Johnny Watson

MOVIES:

This isn’t a film project, but I’ll throw a Top 5 or Top 10 movies list (depending on how deep my viewing is for a particular year) at the end of these for the hell of it. My sense has never been that the 1960s were a particularly great movie decade, particularly for American movies. I prefer both the 1950s and 1970s. This year, in particular, is lousy with cultural touchstones that either aren’t that good (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In the Heat of the Night) or that I feel like might be pretty overrated but would like a re-watch to confirm (Cool Hand Luke, The Graduate). One cultural touchstone of 1967 that is not overrated tops this list:

  1. Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn)
  2. Point Blank (John Boorman)
  3. Playtime (Jacques Tati)
  4. Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard)
  5. Belle de Jour (Luis Bunuel)

Honorable Mention:  The Good, the  Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone)