1. The Velvet Underground – What Goes On (The Velvet Underground, 1969)
One of my favorite Velvet-songs, this second track from their (post-Cale) third album. Pretty straight forward, with that awesome pushing Velvet guitar sound. The instrumental combo with the rhythm guitars and Doug Yule’s (replacing Cale) organ could easily be called one of rock’s greatest song climaxes ever.
2. The Cure – The Figurehead (Pornography, 1982)
Just like Faith from 1981, this fourth album continues the bands practice from its break-through album Seventeen Seconds (1980): explicit melancholy written by the classic line-up Smith-Tolhurst-Gallup. This song in particular resembles The Smiths’ sound, especially the surprisingly melodic guitar riff and of course the desperate lament, but is fortified with that typical repeating drum and bass rhythm. The instrumental parts laid the groundwork for post rock, while Smith himself would rather concentrate on writing some solid pop songs later on.
3. XTC – 1000 Umbrellas (Skylarking, 1986)
Andy Partridge signed the end of XTC’s touring history in 1982, as he started to suffer from stage fright. Just like The Beatles did earlier, XTC concentrated on working in the studio from then on and also picked up the idea of making a concept album. Skylarking was supposed to be about growing up, getting older and dying, all in one day. The result was an incredible album filled with orchestration, like the numerous string sections in this song, completely in line with the Paul McCartney Academy of Pop Music.
4. Afghan Whigs – Now You Know (Gentlemen, 1993)
Typical guitar sound from the nineties, resembling that of their lumberjacket wearing peers from Washington. However, not only did their wardrobe differ, also the lyrics from this Cincinatti band sound much more mature and devoted, even reminding of Dylan sometimes. This is of course their best (and fourth) album, released one year after break-through album Congregation (great cover) and recorded in Memphis.
5. The Beatles – Not a Second Time (With the Beatles, 1963)
Iconic pop album, released in the US as Meet The Beatles. It’s actually a mix of some of the bands’ live covers like ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’, ‘Please Mister Postman’ and ‘Money’, together with the Fab Four’s first songwriting gems, like McCartney’s ‘All My Loving’. This one is a Lennon song without electric guitar, so no Harrison.
6. Smashing Pumpkins – To Forgive (Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, 1995)
For me personally one of the biggest rediscoveries last year. Billy Corgan already dominated the Pumpkins on their second album (Siamese Dream (1993), on which he frequently overdubbed the bass and guitar parts with his own stuff), and on this magnificent third (ultimate cocktail of riff & melody) he shined like never before, and never afterwards. The threatening, modest sound of this song would dominate the next album and also returned on Radiohead’s OK Computer .
7. Pavement – Conduit For Sale! (Slanted and Enchanted, 1992)
More nineties, and not complaining. Californian trio that formed in 1989, played till 1999 and saw their status grow each year since. Great record that offers a lot, except pretention.
8. The Raconteurs – Top Yourself (Consolers of the Lonely, 2008)
Second and (for now?) last album of The Raconteurs, written by Brendan Brenson and Jack White, the man who secured the heritage of all preliminary guitar music in the new century. Whatever band this guy played in, it never took long before I liked it.
9. David Bowie – Right (Young Americans, 1975)
Bowie leaves his androgen identity behind and freely throws Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder into the blender in a way that makes all other attempts at white soul pale into insignificance. Featuring Carlos Alomar for the first time.
10. The Eagles – Life in the Fast Lane (Hotel California, 1976)
A dash of funk blew over from the previous song into the guitar playing of Joe Walsh. Classic.
1. Eels – Hospital Food (Electro-Shock Blues, 1998)
The Beautiful Freak from 1996 had his reasons to sing the blues on this second album, as he lost his mother (lung cancer) and sister (suicide), making him the only remaining member of the family after his father’s death in ’82. Good album (not really comparable to the later and great Blinking Lights), with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s ‘Living Life’ being often played during its supporting tour (an admiration that eventually led to a tribute album in 2004).
2. 13th Floor Elevators – Splash 1 (Now I’m Home) (The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators, 1966)
One of my favorite sixties bands, despite (or maybe thanks to) their limited discography. Band that came from Texas, but when the lead single from this album (‘You’re Gonna Miss Me’) reached San Francisco and people there heard about this band that served as an elevator for your consciousness, their fame was made in the Bay Area. The Elevators started performing at the notorious Fillmore with bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service and The Great Society. After the release of their second great album, the band practically split up, despite the release of a third ‘album’ in 1969. Later work that ís worth mentioning: singer Rocky Erickson’s album True Love Cast Out All Evil (2010), a collaboration with Okkervil River.
3. The Smiths – Unhappy Birthday (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987)
Final (Marr even left the band before the release) and probably best Smiths album. It’s a classic thoroughbred cooperation between Marr (music) and Morrissey (lyrics), both acting on their top level.
4. Tortoise – Six Pack (Standards, 2001)
Album that was already shuffled a couple of times before, but that couldn’t convince me. Called post-rock, alternative rock or indie rock, although I personally would never associate any of those genres with Tortoise.
5. Jethro Tull – For a Thousand Mothers (Stand Up, 1969)
From Jethro Tull’s key album, on which this song is the memorable clincher. Ian Anderson must have realised he just created a pretty damn good album and on this track he throws out all his anger towards his parents, who were always doubting his potential. His voice and flute sound more uptempo than anywhere else on the album, finishing it off with a tremendous flute solo.
6. The Mothers of Invention – Concentration Moon (We’re Only in It for the Money, 1968)
‘No Commercial Potential’ was the name of Zappa’s project (‘it’s all one big album’) that produced four of his best albums, with this one perhaps having the most commercial potential. That would have even been higher when the original cover artwork (parodying The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s and eventually being used as interior artwork) would have been used, but Zappa didn’t get permission from The Fab ‘only in it for the money’ Four’s managers. This is probably still the reason why some Zappa-fans don’t play any Beatles music in their bar.
7. The Byrds – Don’t Doubt Yourself, Babe (Mr. Tabourine Man, 1965)
Of course a lot of Dylan-covers on The Byrds’ deciding breakthrough album, but this song was written by Jackie Deshannon. She supported The Beatles before during their first US ‘In it for the money’ Tour and also wrote some hit singles (like ‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Me’) together with Jimmy Page, before he started Led Zeppelin. Time to discover some more of her own music.
8. Creedence Clearwater Revival – Sweet Hitch-Hiker (Mardi Gras, 1972)
Last track on Creedence’s last album, and maybe one of the best songs they ever made. Or should I say … he ever made? Always an interesting issue, but if one album makes clear that CCR would have been nothing but a very mediocre roadhouse band without John Fogerty’s songwriting, than it’s this one, thanks to its somehow hilarious historical account. The other members of the band would have requested to have additional say in the group’s musical decisions. As a result, Fogerty kind of obliged them to contribute songs equally, resulting in by far the worst Creedence-album, although Fogerty himself shines again with this song and his masterpiece ‘Someday Never Comes’. However, how many classics like this did he make during his solo career…?
9. The Moody Blues – House of Four Doors (In Search of the Lost Chord, 1968)
Hands down one of the best albums ever made, on which the magnum opus (‘Legend of a Mind’) is captured between the two parts of ‘House of Four Doors, separated by John Lodge’s cello (aka the cracking door). The four doors the Moodys open during this first part represent four musical eras in European music: medieval minstrel music (acoustic guitar and flute), Baroque (harpsichord and cello), classical music (piano) and… modern rock music, as the opening of the last door is followed by the epic ‘Legend of a Mind’.
10. Fleet Foxes – Battery Kinzie (Helplessness Blues, 2011)
Already three years old this one, but still played now and then in expectation of that crucial third album. Pecknold’s intentions were to create ‘that kind of cohesive sound’ like on Astral Weeks, ‘with guitar mistakes and without flawless vocals’. Did he succeed? I guess not, but there are a lot of gems out there on this album, like this one for example.