Spilling out over the side to anyone who will listen


  Saturday, August 23, 2003

The 50 Most Important Albums (41 - 50)

Genius of Modern Music (Volumes I & II) - Thelonious Monk: A strange man in a strange hat with a strange name sat in a studio playing piano, shuflling his feet around under the piano bench and muttering aloud. His hands stuck to the middle registers in the center of the keyboard, but once in a while, he would throw something at the keys toward the ends of the keyboard, rendering a splendid dissonance that called to mind Rilke's terrible angels. Bop was no longer just about Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie blowing every note in a chord (no matter how high up they had to go) at a breakneck pace to transform harmonics into melody--it was also about making that transformation with the smallest possible outline of notes in the strangest of rhythms.

Exile in Guyville - Liz Phair: Liz Phair set out to answer the Rolling Stones masterpiece Exile on Main Street song for song. Where the Stones found epic world-weariness after years of fame and drugs, Phair found a cheapened but somehow defiant vulnerability in the midst of Generation X drinking and casual sex. This might be the widest-ranging debut album ever released, and it's certainly a milestone in the expression of female sexuality in pop music.

Every Picture Tells a Story - Rod Stewart: This album is why Rod Stewart matters. He wraps his movingly creaky voice around great originals (the title song and "Maggie May") and covers ("I'm Losing You") without saccharine or cheese.

We're Only In It For the Money - Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention: Just when everyone was going to San Francisco to wear flowers in their hair and the Beatles had made serious art of pop music with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention came along with this parodic critique of the Summer of Love. And like all truly great musical parody, this album is both scathingly satirical and musically inventive. It manages to sound less dated than the material to which it was a response.

Making Movies - Dire Straits: From the opening snippet of Richard Rodgers's "Carousel Waltz," this album wanders through a British working-class summer day, from the city to the seaside and back, into and out of love, led only by Mark Knopfler's beautifully distinctive guitar and inexpert voice. Moving and tasteful.

Natty Dread - Bob Marley: Bob Marley was the Jamaican answer to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Dylan. He was the man who was going to bring reggae to the world. He may not have quite managed to live up to all of those expectations, but he came very close. This album is probably the best example of his combination of social conscience and hedonism, and the spiritual uplift that can result.

Computer World - Kraftwerk: Kraftwerk made Germanic machine music that flirted with self-parody, but it's what all the kids are dancing to today. Imagine that.

#1 Record - Big Star: With the Box Tops, Alex Chilton had a hit with "The Letter" when he was only a teenager, and then went on to form Big Star. The strange power pop on this album--their first--suggests that they should have been much more successful and should be known for more than "In the Street" (the theme song from That 70s Show).

Hot August Night - Neil Diamond: Like Mann & Weill and Goffin & King, Neil Diamond spent the sixties writing great pop songs for the Monkees and others (including himself). With the dawning of the seventies, he continued to follow Carole King, becoming a singer-songwriter with a sure pop sense. He only occasionally strayed into unforgivable ponderousness (as he does here on "Solitary Man" and "I Am...I Said," for instance). This album is a summation of his successes as a songwriter and performer right before he lost out to his own worst aesthetic instincts.

8:04:54 AM     What do you think? ()

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Last update: 11/2/03; 10:36:06 AM.


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