I went down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse, goin’ as much with the river as not:
|15||The Beatles||Rubber Soul||1965||22|
|14||The Band||The Band||1969||3|
|13||Pink Floyd||Wish You Were Here||1975||14|
|12||The Beach Boys||Pet Sounds||1966||15|
|11||The Rolling Stones||Let It Bleed||1969||*|
|14||The Beatles||The Beatles (White Album)||1968||22|
|13||The Doors||The Doors||1967||*|
|12||Genesis||The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway||1974||4|
|11||The Rolling Stones||Let It Bleed||1969||9|
|15||Bob Dylan||Blonde on Blonde||1966||4|
|14||Van Morrison||Veedon Fleece||1974||20|
|12||Van Morrison||Astral Weeks||1968||3|
|11||Pink Floyd||The Dark Side of the Moon||1973||14|
1. Bob Dylan – Visions of Johanna (Live 1966: The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert, 1998)
Famous live sounds of the master, from probably rock music’s most famous bootleg. As a result of his motorcycle accident that followed 2 months after finishing this world tour, it was one of Dylans last live perfomances until 1974. Dylan was backed by the Hawks, who kept him company during Dylans recovery in Big Pink and lined up again (as The Band) in that following tour of ’74, which was released on Before The Flood, another geat live album.
2. The Beatles –Yer Blues (White Album, 1968)
The best way to bypass your insecurity about something still remains acting like everything you’re doing is just one big parody, and before you can realize it everything you did ends up to be a smashing masterpiece. The combination of the ‘I want to die’ lyric with the oompah sounds and the terrific guitar solo makes this track one of Lennon’s most fascinating contributions to the White Album, on which it resides perfectly in all its nudity.
3. The Smashing Pumpkins – Thru The Eyes of Ruby (Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness, 1995)
Bombastic Pumpkins at their asolute peak, with Mellon Collie being the ultimate cocktail of riff & melody. Luckily, and as always on this double album, the guitars dominate the second part of this song. Not very surprising by the way, as approximately 70 guitar tracks were used on this song. Quarrels with your bandmates seem inevitable at some point.
4. Bruce Springsteen – Further On (Up the Road) (The Rising, 2002)
Uptempo drums-driven intro, ultimate stadium voice: the striking come-back of The Boss. Springsteen had been on a 7 year hiatus and it was his first collaboration with the E-Street Band in 18 years. The Rising was Springsteen’s response to 9/11, but in fact it was just the next episode in the whole Springsteen-saga, in which the high priest repeatedly offers hope to his most dedicated followers during gigantic mass gatherings. Good album (just a little too much fillers?).
5. The White Stripes – I’m Slowly Turning Into You (Icky Thump, 2007)
From their sixth and final album: a rough song, with screaming guitars and a pumping organ. According to Jack White himself, an album about ‘being really happy’. What is there to add?
6. Fleet Foxes – Sun Giant (Sun Giant, 2008)
Must have been the greatest contrast in clearness the shuffle could come up with. Both fans of Dylan and Neil Young, Robin Pecknold and Kyler Skjelset joined forces to start one of the best things that happened to popular music during the last decade. They delivered two very strong albums, treated us on some really marvelous folk classics (like ‘Drops in the River’ on this EP) and easily equalize the sound of some of the seventies’ most famous Westcoast choirs. Pecknold apparently suffers from social anxiety, and the fact he only hangs out with his bandmates offers us hope regarding the release of that long expected third album.
7. Cloud Nothings – Wasted Days (Attack On Memory, 2012)
Kings of Leon guitar intro? Green Day drums riff? Foo Fighters maybe? Wait, and your patience will be rewarded when echoes of Ride are coming through and it all turns into one big power trip. It all stems from the brain of Dylan Baldi, who made up numerous fictitious bands to place ‘their’ music on MySpace and find out whether or not somebody would appreciate it. One of those bands was Cloud Nothings, so just like Tame Impala and the early Grizzly Bear, it also started as a one guy project, that would only consist of a full band when playing live. This album (produced by Steve Albini), was the first one recorded with that live line-up.
8. The Kinks – Fancy (Face To Face, 1966)
Hypnotizing song full of eastern influences and the ultimate sixties voice of Ray Davies, somehow resembling Bowie and even a mopish Robert Plant here. Face to Face was the beginning of a dazzling period for the band, thanks to Davies’ nervous and physical breakdown preceding its release, as a lot of new songs that ended up on the album were written during his recuperation. Davies however continued to struggle, as that very new album (well, and the alcohol I prudently suppose) delivered him another bunch of headaches. Davies was not allowed by the record label to connect the songs with various sound effects as he intended and the psychedelic looking album sleeve was not at all to his satisfaction. Absolute fan.
9. Neil Young – Shock and Awe (Living with War, 2006)
Another old god with some more recent work, another anti-war one. Young’s lyrics and musical note are however not at all comparable to those of Springsteen: Neil is not here to give you hope, he wants to pour the incovienenth truth down your throath and asks you how it tastes. It’s an approach I appreciate, just like the way Young offered his album: it was released on the internet, but only as a whole, not as separate tracks. No direct and easy to digest consumption, but only the complete message.
10. Brian Eno – Another Green World (Another Green World, 1975)
This title track of Brian Eno’s third album, with a soft, rippling piano in the background, is the perfect soundtrack for that first spring morning. The window cautiously opens itself a little bit.
1. Steve Earle – Goodbye’s All We’ve Got Left (Guitar Town, 1986)
Although sounding like the Bakersfield sound with a small touch of Elvis Costello, it’s a real Texan singing here. Steve Earle spent his youth following his idol Townes Van Zandt throughout the Lone Star State and seemed to remain dubious about whether to stay there or move to Nashville, Tennessee for the rest of his life. This hesitation was translated into his music as being a mix of pure country and a rather raw Springsteenesk sound (Earle was in fact the working man people thought Springsteen was: having a daytime job and playing music at night). 1986 finally brought Earle his break-through with this debut album, recorded in Nashville and delivering two country hits (title track and this song). Later Earle received a Grammy for his anti-Iraq war album The Revolution Starts Now, with the title track being used for a TV commercial of… General Motors.
2. Sonic Youth – Tuff Gnarl (Sister, 1987)
Same era, same country, totally different planet. Founded in 1981 after Thurston Moore joined his later wife Kim Gordon’s band, quickly accompanied by guitarist Lee Ranaldo. Like often, the position of the drummer would remain unstable for a few years, on the noisy and experimental debut album Confusion Is Sex (1983, moderate success in Europe) as well as the dark and gloomy Bad Moon Rising (1985). Not coincidentally, they are finally recognized in their home country with their third album EVOL (1986), after Steve Shelley had become the unchallenged drummer and Sonic Youth definitely opts for alternative rock with a melodic touch. This fourth album, which I consider not a highlight, was recorded during EVOL’s supporting tour. However, everything (even the introduction of a loose concept) pointed to the fact that the band was working his way towards another peak, which was released the next year.
3. Sufjan Stevens – Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt from My Sandals as I Run (Illinois, 2005)
Beta Band, Broken Social Scene? It’s the instrumental closing track of Sufjan Stevens’ most notorious album, in contrast with the works of his mentioned indie-colleagues containing a serious dose of pop and baroque. Illinois is full of affluent pop arrangements, shaping the musical background for lots of places, people and historic events that took place in that state, and all composed with instruments played by the prodigy himself. Already on his debut album (A Sun Came, 2000), he brings together 14 instruments. After giving electronic influences a try on his second album, he starts his so-called ‘Fifty States Project’, an ambitious idea that (just like Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley-plan) quickly goes through the shredder. Instead, after Michigan (2003) and Illinois, Stevens accepts an even greater challenge by trying to appreciate Christmas. Can’t call him a coward.
4. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Our House (Déjà-Vu, 1970)
Third single from the album after ‘Woodstock’ (Mitchell) and ‘Teach Your Children’ (Nash), another super soft song from Nash written when he lived with Joni Mitchell in LA’s Laurel Canyon. Contrary to the other album tracks, which were rerecorded numerous times until the four excellences considered them good enough to release them (this way easily lifting the total studio recording time over 500 hours), this song was written in about an hour according to Nash.
5. Simon & Garfunkel – Bookends Theme (Bookends, 1968)
Another couple of flawless harmonies, in the version that closes side A on this record. The album is often called the most ‘intellectual’ one from the duo, and the sober, nerdy album cover is completely in line with that idea. Paul Simon was struck by a writer’s block after the release of Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (1966), but came back with this half concept-album, depicting the course of life from childhood till old age on side A. It became a musical triumph especially for Simon, who, thanks to outdated contract terms (the label paid for the sessions, assuming that a folk duo will never cost that much) chose to push all limits. Completely in CSNY-style, Simon brought the recordings to perfection, not shying away from spending 50 studio hours on a barely two minutes lasting song. Still, because of the two different sides, the album sounds a little incoherent: why not use both sides for the concept? Did the label want ‘Mrs. Robinson’ to be on it to earn back the high production costs?
6. Led Zeppelin – The Battle of Evermore (Led Zeppelin IV, 1971)
Third song from the excellent fourth album, with a Celtic touch due to the mystical intro (folky Plant with mandolin). It will always remain the only Led Zeppelin song featuring a guest vocalist, Sandy Denny from Fairport Convention, in duet with Robert Plant. Led Zeppelin didn’t end up coincidentally with her, as she was considered an authority in the field of traditional British folk back then. The fact that Led Zep moved from London to a Victorian cottage in East Hampshire for the recordings of this record, will without any doubt have to do something with this revived interest in traditional folk.
7. Bruce Springsteen – Something in the Night (Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1978)
Characterizing bells and piano-intro, followed by a howling scream of the master himself: this is the real Springsteen. Just like Led Zeppelin on Headley Grange and Bob Dylan in the basement of Big Pink, Springsteen withdrew to a farm in New Jersey after the success of Born to Run and the lingering conflict with his former manager Mike Appel. That’s why it lasted three years before Springsteen came up with the successor of his big break-through album, which was considerably less bombastic (as reflected by the sober album cover). Most of the material from the sessions by the way didn’t end up on the album, but was lent out to other artists or released on The River (1980). Luckily this third track was not rejected, as it remains one of his unrivalled classics.
8. The Beatles – Rocky Racoon (White Album, 1968)
Of course The Beatles also withdrew to distant places now and then, like in 1968: it was down in Rishikesh, India where most of the material for the White Album was written. Just like Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, this album meant the beginning of the end for them. The unlimited studio time in London took away all the pressure to play together and the constant discontentedness with each other’s songs led to the point of Ringo leaving the band. In that point of view, it may not be surprising that the four of them are only heard on 16 of the total of 30 tracks. This song is obviously one from McCartney (‘Gideon’s Bible’…), about a triangular relationship that seems to stem directly from the Deadwood script.
9. Nick Drake – Place to Be (Pink Moon, 1972)
A guy that was later imitated by numerous less authentic and less talented songwriters. Also a guy that liked to withdrew himself, as Drake locked himself in his sober house in London after the poor reviews of his previous album, Bryter Layter (1970). This album became as sober as the environment it was written in, without backing band and with only Drake himself on vocals and acoustic guitar. Despite the legends that rose afterwards, Drake would have been very proud of the album, which was nevertheless followed by his suicide two years later, at the age of 26.
10. The Twilight Sad – Cold Days from the Birdhouse (Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters, 2007)
Contagious Scottish vocals from indie rockers The Twilight Sad, consisting of the trio Graham (responsible for the accent), MacFarlane (walls of sound, also producer of the album) and Devine. This is the opening track of their debut album, that was (contrary to some work mentioned above) recorded in only three days. Cheers.
Genre: Alternative Rock
Preceded by: Surfer Rosa (1988)
Followed by: Bossanova (1990)
Related to: Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II
What do Sgt. Peppers, Meddle, White Light/White Heat and Doolittle have in common? They are all among the respective bands’ best albums, with the absolute masterpiece at the very end of it. It’s 1989 and Pixies are at the center of the emerging alternative rock scene.
The Pixies formed in Boston in 1986, when singer Black Francis and lead guitarist Joey Santiago met at University. Kim Deal was the only person that responded to their absurd advert for a bass player and so she joined them without ever having played the instrument. After contacting drummer David Lovering and a random look in the dictionary they had a new band: Pixies. After releasing a first EP (Come On Pilgrim), the first LP quickly (it was completed in two weeks) followed in the beginning of 1988: Surfer Rosa. The raw guitar sound with little surf rock ingredients and the yowling voice of Francis gained the band acclaim in Europe.
So as measured by their record sellings, the Pixies were initially most successful in the UK. In the US, their music found its way to the listening crowd through the underground music scene, which was flourishing during the late eighties. While the radio stations played new wave and hair metal, youngsters were looking for pure guitar music and the Pixies offered them exactly what they desired. Together with bands like Sonic Youth they even nurtured the new subgenre of ‘grunge’. Kurt Cobain himself loved the band so much he wished he was in it. You can ask yourself which music stimulated the Pixies themselves to pick up this raw rock sound again. Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin (especially Led Zeppelin II) are often cited, just like Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s distorted guitar sound. But each time I listen to Doolittle, it sounds to me like a modern remake of The Beatles‘ White Album, with short uptempo tracks like ‘Glass Onion’ (with muscular intros and a scream now and then), happy melodic songs like ‘Bungalow Bill’ (with ‘naked’ verses and heavily orchestrated choruses) and simple musical intermezzo’s like ‘Why Don’t We Do It in the Road’.
First of all, Doolittle has a much cleaner sound than its predecessor, probably due to the quadrupled budget. Contrasting with this sound are the dark subject lyrics, ranging from surrealism to death and whores. No surprise the original album title was Whore, as Francis (who wrote all tracks) was inspired by the biblical figure of the whore of Babylon. All songs are separate shots of different kind of energies, which are launched at such a speed by their masterly intros that they’re already over before you know it. I think there’s only one ‘weak’ track on it (‘Dead’), and even that one has a nice sinister intro.
The other 14 tracks can be categorized in four kind of songs. First there are the happy sixties sounding songs that can bring you into a good mood on every moment of the day. ‘Wave of Mutilation’ for example has some very melodic vocals, reminding of the early Velvet Underground. Didn’t know until recently that the song is actually about suicidal Japanese businessmen. Even better is ‘Here Comes Your Man’, including catchy Byrds-style guitar riffs and some beautiful vocal harmonies in the chorus. No surprise this song was the commercial break-through for the band. At the same level is ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, which gave the inspiration for the album cover. It also has the riffs and harmonies, with the lyrics being about environmental disaster. The song features one of the absolute highlights of the album, being the crescendo bridge towards the end where Francis screams that God is seven. The ultimate sixties song on the album however is without any doubt ‘La La Love You’. It has this awesome intro and it’s sung by drummer David Lovering, who happens to sound exactly like The Smiths’ Morrisey.
Still melodic but averagely shorter and slower songs are ‘I Bleed’ (with this typical Pixies bassline), ‘Mr. Grieves’ (a kind of beatlesque sing along), ‘There Goes My Gun’ and (to a lesser extent) ‘Silver’. ‘There Goes My Gun’ always sounds to me like a retake of ‘Here Comes Your Man’, with the title covering all the songs’ lyrics. ‘Silver’ to the contrary prolly is the strangest song on the album, however very interesting. I think I can describe it best as Kate Bush meets some seventies instrumental western band like The Buoys. So are there also any longer tracks on the album? Yes, ‘No. 13 Baby’ and ‘Hey’, lasting 3’51” and 3’31” respectively. The first one really stands out for me because of its awesome instrumental outro. For one time, it’s not about the intro and the band takes its time for some pure instrumental performance like they did on Surfer Rosa. ‘Hey’ forms a beautiful tandem with this one and is even better, definitely a personal favorite.
What’s left are those songs that really defined that typical Pixies sound throughout the years: pounding drums, distorted guitars, yowling vocals and the characterizing soft-loud approach. First of all the album opener: ‘Debaser’. Already during the first 30 seconds of the song you get the idea that this album is about guitar music. Call it a ‘grunge-light’ song, with it’s clear bass notes and the surrealistic lyrics with references to movies like Eraserhead and Un chien andalou. This song immediately flows over into ‘Tame’. It can’t get more ‘quiet dynamic to sudden loud’ than this. The verses feature a simple bassriff and basic drums, ready to end up in a screaming chorus each time, bringing aggression into alternative rock.
Another ‘musical intermezzo’ is ‘Crackity Jones’, but a much more uptempo one than the melodic ‘There Goes My Gun’. Like ‘Tame’, the basic drum is there, the tempo is there and the aggressiveness is there. It just sounds like some crazy Spanish punk song, and happens to be about a former roommate of Francis, a ‘weird psycho gay’ according to his own words. But the absolute masterpiece (imho) is of course the final track: ‘Gouge Away’. The delicious guitar riff, the sharp vocals, the perfect soft-loud progression, this will always be an all-time classic for me.
Pixies released some more albums after Doolittle, but disbanded already in 1993 after tensions between Francis and Deal. Francis subsequently persecuted a solo career and Deal had success with her new band The Breeders. However, they never reached the same level again as on Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, two albums that can not be compared because of their different styles, but still both sound like masterpieces. Thom Yorke once said that, while he was in school, the Pixies changed his life. Maybe the same can happen to you, whether you’re in school or not.