1. Sigur Rós – Með blóðnasir (Takk… , 2005)
Faltering start and angel harmonies, that has to be Iceland’s finest: last time I saw a train, this time my nose bleeds. Sigur Rós kind of started off slowly, debuting three years after being founded with Von (1997, Hope). A real good beginning came with the break-through second album two years later, opening some doors for them, like releasing an album containing eight untitled tracks sung in a made-up language. Takk… became their fourth album, blending the previous two and featuring three vigorous singles.
2. Grizzly Bear – Ready, Able (Veckatimest, 2009)
New York indie quartet that originally started as (singer/keyboardplayer) Ed Droste’s solo project. Not seeing himself develop any further as a singer-songwriter, he transformed Grizzly Bear into a classic rock line-up on the second album: Yellow House (2006). They quickly developed their characteristic sound, injecting vocal harmonies based folk rock with a little bit of psychedelia by using some unorthodox electronic instruments. No wonder they were signaled by Radiohead, for whom they (just like Sigur Rós) opened a couple of shows during the summer of 2008. After this tour they started to record this third album, named after an uninhabited island and becoming a great success, this being one of the strongest tracks on it.
3. Echo & the Bunnymen – Pride (Crocodiles, 1980)
Sleazy sixties garage guitars in the intro, but the computerized rhythm of the drums transports us twenty years ahead: Echo & the Bunnymen. It was one of the two bands that rose from the remnants of A Shallow Madness, following a dispute between members Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch. Cope transformed ASM into The Teardrop Explodes and McCulloch formed Echo & the Bunnymen (1978) with a guitarist, bass player and drum computer. However, by the time this debut (produced by professional wacko Bill Drummond and The Teardrop Explodes’ David Balfe) was recorded the band was already joined by drummer Pete de Freitas.
4. The Beatles – Help! (Help!, 1965)
Most famous opening and title track from the album on which The Beatles left their youth behind them by retrieving from their pop comfort zone and starting to incorporate influences from other artists and genres: the solid bridge towards Rubber Soul. The up-tempo song was initially meant to become a sober ballad written by a truly depressive John Lennon and in this way it can be viewed as a first minor step towards his later expressive work.
5. Bob Dylan – Isis (Desire, 1976)
We prolong our stay at the penthouse of rock’s treasure chamber with Dylan’s 17th album. 1975 brought along the release of Blood on the Tracks as well as The Basement Tapes and the start of Dylan’s famous ‘Rolling Thunder Revue’-tour. Just before the start of this tour, Dylan had finished the recordings of Desire (featuring most of the supporting musicians on that tour) and released it in between of the two legs of the tour. One of those musicians was ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn, who had brought Dylan into contact with Jacques Levy, a psychologist, theatre director and… Dylan’s songwriting partner on Desire. ‘Isis’ was their first collaboration: a story about a man who leaves the mysterious Isis, goes treasure hunting, returns without loot and on top of that has to bury his deceased travelling-companion, completely in The Band’s ‘The Weight’-style.
6. Talking Heads – Swamp (Stop Making Sense, 1984)
Live recording from the song that originally appeared on the band’s fifth studio album Speaking in Tongues (1983), that was supported by the famous ‘Stop Making Sense’-tour. Speaking in Tongues ultimately succeeded Talking Heads’ 1980 masterpiece Remain in Light after a three years hiatus. During this period, Frantz and Weymouth kept recording with the Tom Tom Club while Brian Eno went his own way. No reunion possible in the future.
7. Joni Mitchell – My Old Man (Blue, 1971)
Second track on Mitchell’s magnum opus, with only Joni herself on vocals and piano. As can be induced from some lyrics on the album, some songs were written by Mitchell during a vacation around Europe she had after breaking up with Westcoast partner Graham Nash. Back in California, she was dumped by another usual suspect, James Taylor, after which Blue was recorded. Taylor even plays guitar on some of the tracks, just like Stephen Stills of course.
8. Metallica – Fade to Black (Ride the Lightning, 1984)
Another blue cover, with Metallica’s first attempt to make a power ballad, featuring an opening riff that would later inspire a lot of emo-shit that lacked Metallica’s hard core. The song itself would have inspired a lot of suicides, as Ulrich and Hetfield would have been obsessed by death at the time of recording. Whether some stolen gear and getting kicked out by your manager after drinking all his liquor is a legitimate reason for suicide or not, it still remains my favorite Metallica album.
9. Tool – Swamp Song (Undertow, 1993)
Another Swamp, from Tool’s debut album this time. It must have been difficult for an album with such unorthodox song structures to compete with the booming grunge wave at that time but luckily K-Mart and Wal-Mart came to the rescue with the creation of some controversy about a couple of sleeve pictures. Noteworthy anecdote from the support tour: when Tool found out they had to play at a venue owned by Scientology’s Ron Hubbard, MJ Keenan ‘spent most of the show baa-ing like a sheep at the audience’. Gotta love them.
10. The Flaming Lips – The Observer (The Soft Bulletin, 1999)
Instrumental from a very sweet album full of pieces of candy. Band that went a long way from the harder alternative rock in the eighties and early nineties to the ultimate pop sound on this ninth album. Not to mention its predecessor you had to play simultaneously on four separate stereo systems…