Guitarist Bill Dolan is one of my favorite musicians and one of the most under-rated, unsung guitar players of my lifetime. He also happens to be my friend. Twenty years ago, Bill and I – along with Ronnie Kwasman and Matthew Tucker – played in a couple of bands together in Chicago.
I don’t like telling people what they should and shouldn’t do – despite spending seven months and 100,000 words on 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not. However, in the case of this interview, you almost have to read Part 1, especially the introduction, which explains in excruciating detail my relationship with Bill and his music. Plus, there are a bunch of hot jams included in the reading.
In fact, up until a few minutes ago, an abbreviated version of the original introduction from Part 1 occupied the screen where these three paragraphs now sit. In the end, it was an awkward game of creative writing Jenga. The structure got a little bit weaker every time a piece was removed.
Of course, it’s up to you. Part 2 picks up smack-dab in the middle of a four-hour conversation. And one of us was…impaired. Nevertheless, we now move forward with the interview, which, for the record, took place March 9, 2013.
Bill Dolan: Hey, you wanna see some of my paintings real quick? Because I’m exploring those avenues, too.
Christian Adams: Hell yes! You’ve been talking to me for an hour and you haven’t told me about your paintings?
[Bill goes off-camera to retrieve some of his work. Returns and holds up a painting.]
BD: That’s the Hutchison effect having a direct influence on my art. You were asking how that’s going to work? This is it, buddy. This is the Hutchison effect, in effect.
CA: That’s great.
BD: Well, I’m glad you’re enthused about it.
[Bill holds up another painting.]
CA: OK, now I understand why you’re not playing guitar.
BD: Chris, I am playing guitar.
CA: I mean, you’re not touring, you’re not making records.
BD: I’m not touring because I don’t have the gumption to make it happen. I don’t want to book a tour and nobody wants to book it for me. It’s an expensive endeavor and, I don’t know. Maybe if we put another record together, because I do have another record ready in my head. It’s rehearsed. We just have to make it.
CA: So SixGunLover [Das Boton’s record label] is not giving you any cash. You’re not getting any tour support. Man, that’s a travesty.
BD: It takes money to go on the road, and I just don’t have it. But it’s OK. I like touring; I just can’t do a lot of it. It’s just not for me.
CA: But…what about during the 90s? You guys toured all the time. I just saw this video of you guys playing “Vic Firth” in Glasgow or somewhere.
BD: That was Leeds, but the video you’re talking about was in 2008. That was part of a fifteen, sixteen show tour, and that’s great. But people go out on the road for like three months at a time, I mean, I can’t do that. I don’t want to do that. My health won’t allow it.
Das Boton – Vic Firth
CA: Did you lose money on tour?
BD: On that European tour? Absolutely. We didn’t make anything on that tour. But I’d never been to Europe and played my music. I’d played other people’s music there, but not my own.
CA: Who did you play with over there?
CA: What was it about Jeremy that you liked?
BD: Well, I loved his voice.
CA: He seems to be a very charismatic dude. He’s tall, right?
BD: He’s our height, dude. What are you, five-eight?
BD: Yeah, he’s probably five-eight, I’d say.
CA: Maybe it’s his eyebrows that give him the height. I was just watching a live version of [Fire Theft’s] “Chain”, and I was thinking, “Oh that’s my boy Bill on guitar!” But it’s not.
Fire Theft – Chain
BD: No, but there’s another Chicago dude on there.
CA: What do you want to next?
BD: I wanna make this record and continue with my paintings. Spread good cheer…and love [smirking].
CA: [laughs] What are you a fucking hippie?
BD: [deadpan] Whatever.
CA: So that leads me to the next question. You don’t have to say yes to this, OK? But I was wondering if you’d be interested in playing on my record.
CA: Now, that’s not the reason I got in touch with you for the interview.
BD: Acutally, I was kind of wondering about that. I wasn’t dwelling on it, but it did cross my mind that maybe he’s calling to ask if I’d play something, I mean, I didn’t know.
CA: Well, I wasn’t going to ask, and don’t feel obligated to do it.
BD: Not at all. You could just send me the MP3 and I’ll download it into my Pro Tools.
CA: Exactly. Super easy.
BD: I’ve done some of that before. Like with the Hella Sound [Running Music] thing. This guy had the drums tracks, and he sent it to me. I did my stuff, sent it back to him, he refined it and sent it back to me. And it went like that. I like doing it that way. Unless you want me to sing on it?
Bill on Hella Sound
CA: Sure, if you want to. But I think you’ll find my stuff is a bit more pedestrian than what you normally do.
BD: I don’t know about that. I know your music from before, so I…
CA: OK, well, I’ll send you the tracks and you can decide what you want to play on.
BD: Yeah, I can do a couple of tracks.
CA: When I was corresponding with Carol Kaye, I kind of asked her about it, too.
BD: Oh yeah, I want to talk about that.
CA: We will. But at the end of our correspondence, I asked if she still played on other people’s stuff and how much it cost, and it turns out she has a flat rate of a grand per track.
CA: That’s cheap, I think.
BD: A grand?
CA: Per track.
BD: That’s a lot of fucking money. I wouldn’t ask you for that, Chris. Not unless you were sitting on a giant pile of cash, I wouldn’t ask anybody for that.
CA: But she’s Carol Kaye. She played on Pet Sounds. She came up with the bass line for “California Girls.”
BD: Oh that’s right. She played with the Beach Boys.
CA: But she also just had her house foreclosed on. So she needs cash.
BD: We all need cash. I wouldn’t charge you. You’re a friend.
CA: But she said she hasn’t played on a rock record since 1969, either.
BD: Maybe it’s because she charges too much.
BD: Hey can we take a quick break? Like, ten minutes?
CA: Sure. Make it fifteen.
Conducting an interview is analogous to driving a car in that it’s pretty easy to learn and even easier to do, once you get the hang of it. And one of the worst things you can do as a driver is to over-think the driving experience.
The conversation lasted almost four hours—we had a lot of catching up to do. Fortunately, I was able to ask a fair amount of decent questions in Part 1. Taking a break right here gave me time to jet down to the 7-11 for a quatro of Kirin tallboys. The second bottle of wine was long gone by this point.
I don’t know how many of you have been forced to listen to four hours of your own personal conversations, but I would imagine that only a slight percentage have had to listen to themselves get progressively more drunk as well. Now, I obviously knew the interview was scheduled to go down that night; in fact, that’s why I had took it easy and had a big dinner to soak up the juice. Two bottles of California red is slightly below the average of what I would drink on any given night. It’s nothing to me. My wife says she can barely tell the difference in my demeanor between the first sip and the end of bottle number two. Anyway, I thought I was coherent. The tape tells a different story.
Returning from the break, Bill and I picked up where we left off, but my state of inebriation really begins to interfere with my ability to interview anyone, let alone Bill. A fair amount of what was said between us would neither constitute an “interview” nor be of any interest to anyone on the planet, and thus, is redacted. Though we hardly strayed from the topic of music, a lot of my statements/ramblings were along the lines of, “Man, Bill, you should be/do/see/hear” and Bill did his best to wrangle me back into a dialogue.
BD: Maybe. I think so.
CA: When you started Five Style, did you consider it what Allmusic calls a “funk-jam” band?
BD: No, I didn’t consider it that, but LeRoy had that band Uptighty, and they were very much a funk band. So I knew I was getting into that territory. I was fine with the funk element, but I never wanted it to be strictly that. I knew funk from like, James Brown and that other guy, Rick…
CA: Rick James.
CA: But weren’t you also into Skynyrd?
BD: I got into them way later.
CA: I’ve always heard a twinge of Jerry Reed in almost everything you do.
BD: I don’t know Jerry Reed.
CA: Really? Jerry’s the shit.
BD: Name one of his songs.
CA: He did “Eastbound and Down.” What’s great about that is, you don’t even know Jerry Reed but you’ve instinctively played a bunch of his licks. Well, I mean, he got those licks from other people. I’ll pull up something from YouTube. But I remember at one point you were listening to a lot of The Fall.
BD: That was Kurt Niesman’s doing. He was the house DJ. Well, LeRoy [Bach], too, but a lot of my influences came directly from whatever Kurt was playing.
CA: Refresh my memory on this Kurt Niesman guy.
BD: He was a friend of mine from high school who eventually moved to the Loft. He’s the guy playing bass in shorts that you don’t like.
CA: I didn’t say I didn’t like it.
BD: You said it was a rock and roll faux pas.
CA: I guess.
BD: There was another thing I wanted to tell you about that Leeds video. A guy named Matt Woodward connected me through MySpace and said, ‘I know your work. Would you consider playing some dates?’ That was 2008. So ultimately that happened. He booked the dates with his band, and that’s the Das Boton experience.
CA: Oh, hey, I found the Jerry Reed video.
[Plays “Jerry’s Breakdown”]
BD: I think I hear Les Paul in there.
CA: That’s Chet Atkins.
BD: It’s great, but I can’t really do that. It’s not really what I do, whatever that is.
CA: Where do you think your style comes from?
BD: Well, my first guitar teacher was a “picker”. It might come from some of that.
CA: What was his name?
BD: Greg Whitson. In the 80s he was allegedly going to Nashville to do sessions. But I’ve gotten that question before, you know, where do you get that kind of twangy thing? But I mean, there was this band Soul Asylum. They were kind of a hillbilly punk rock. But you could also say that about the Cramps. They don’t sound anything like Soul Asylum but…
CA: The Cramps are fucking nuts, man.
BD: My point is, the country-twangy thing, I don’t know where that comes from. Oh, I had a Chet Atkins record when I was a kid. My dad kind of turned me on to him.
CA: Me, too. Leo Kottke. That’s what I was pointing out about “Marmy the Count”. I was thinking, ‘Man, he’s doing sort of a Leo Kottke thing.’ But as it turns out, of course, that was totally not the case.
BD: I remember you used to say that about Steve Howe from Yes. You told me, ‘You’re playing just like Steve Howe.’
CA: Hell, yes! I remember that. We were into certain Yes jams at that point in the 90s—we played “South Side of the Sky”—and I always though that you and Steve Howe were in the same realm of guitar – your phrasing and your note choices.
BD: I like him a lot but I don’t think I ever listened to him to play like that.
CA: So who do you listen to in that way? You were into Fela Kuti for a while, if I’m not mistaken.
BD: I went through phases of trying to play like so many different people, like, the obvious: Hendrix, Page, and Van Halen. All the typical white-boy wanna-be guitar kids have their Rock God influences. Then finding more obscure punk stuff like the Dead Kennedys. East Bay Ray? His guitar playing is pretty twangy. It’s pretty surfy, actually.
CA: Dude, East Bay Ray is the most under-rated guitar player of the 80s. If I have it, I’ll send you a video of me doing an acoustic 12-string version of “Calfornia Uber Alles”.
BD: Awesome. He’s got a distinct style. John Hammond [Jr.] is another country-twangy bluesy thing that I did try to listen to and pick up on. I don’t know if you know him.
CA: I’ve heard a few of his jams but he hasn’t really been on my radar. Other people have mentioned him.
BD: And when a white boy like myself tries to play funk-blues like The Meters, it just lacks so much authenticity and soul that it sounds like hillbilly music, you know what I’m saying?
CA: I never got the sense, especially with Heroic Doses, that you were going for a white funk thing. Did you and Ryan ever say, ‘Oh let’s do a funk groove?’ For me, it’s just a lot of fun to listen to your music and try to figure out where it comes from and where you’re trying to go with it. Sometimes I hear Gentle Giant and other times I hear Captain Beefheart.
BD: I don’t know. I think you’re talking about after Five Style, we were not doing funk as deliberately. So I agree with you there, but at the beginning of Five Style, we were so taken with the Meters, that we were literally doing five or six of their songs just to cultivate the spirit. And then from there, we started writing music. When I moved in with LeRoy, he had a Meters record and I just fucking loved it right off the bat.
CA: Which is somewhat of a dichotomy, since you also loved Skynyrd. At one time I thought that was one of the things that brought us together, since Whitey was totally down with Skynyrd, and you were like, ‘I dig that.’
BD: “On the Hunt”. Did we do that song?
CA: Yes, we did.
BD: That’s a good one. I liked that.
CA: We continued to play that jam in Golden Tones, too. It was a staple of our practices.
CA: Skynyrd was probably for me, one of the most listened-to bands in the second half of the 90s. And then when I moved out to S.F., I kept going with it. But the point is, your taste in covers was really interesting. Like, [AC/DC’s] “Dog Eat Dog”.
BD: Well, that was a direct influence from being a kid, I mean, that record [Let There Be Rock] was in heavy rotation. As a kid, literally that was my favorite record, along with Kiss and Cheap Trick. But that’s not unusual for any kid growing up on rock in the U.S. to own those records.
CA: Did you ever meet Cheap Trick?
BD: Well, yeah, they’re from Rockford. I’d see them around town and be awestruck.
CA: I mean actually meet them and have a conversation? Who are some of the famous people you’ve met since becoming a famous person yourself?
BD: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, Chris.
CA: I just did, so you don’t have to. That’s fine, Bill. I get it.
BD: The most high-profile person that comes to mind is Nate Mendel, the bass player for the Foo Fighters. He was an acquaintance. And I’d hear all these stories about Dave Grohl and Kurt Cobain, but I didn’t know them and I don’t know them. But speaking of Dave Grohl, and that movie Sound City. Did you know that some of [the] Masters of Reality [first album] was recorded there?
CA: I do now.
BD: That movie was pretty cool.
CA: It’s all right.
BD: You didn’t like it.
CA: I like anything with Rick Nielsen in it, and Dave Grohl is an undeniably likeable character. There’s just something about him. Charisma, I guess. I loved watching him play drums, man. When I got back into playing drums, I would think about the way he goes for it on every note. I love that. His guitar playing is OK, too, but for me, it’s his spirit on the drums that sets him apart.
[Redacted bits about rock stars and whatnot.]
BD: Anyway, you were asking earlier about the Five Style record [Static Disco] we did at Ghetto Love, I did happen to find the cassette. Can you see it? I’ll take it out of the case if you want a screenshot.
Hi. Christian here. You really need to read Part 1 in order to have some context. At one point in 1996-97, my band [theoretically, Whitey] and Five Style were recording at the same studio, Ghetto Love, owned and operated by Dale Meiners, formerly of Wesley Willis Fiasco. Neither band ever released anything from this period. However, a cassette of Five Style’s aborted recordings found its way into my possession, and I’ve held on to it for nearly 20 years.
CA: [laughs] Static Disco? Well, I understand the title now.
BD: The guitar riff for that song is totally copped from the “Mean Streets” solo by Van Halen. Do you want me to show you?
BD: [Plays the guitar solo, basically note for note, in its entirety] This part. [Plays the riff]
CA: Oh, so you just slowed it down.
BD: Do you know that?
BD: For that particular instance, yes. Are you disappointed?
CA: Hell, no. That makes me want to go back and listen to the song even more. Which track number was that again? The second track? Hang on. I gotta pull it up.
CA: Bill, man, you have no idea what type of effort it took for me to go back to S.F. and find that cassette.
BD: I’ll tell you a story about that…
CA: It was heroic. The effort.
BD: This dude in Madison wanted to release that record, and he was transferring all those tapes to Pro Tools, but a couple came up missing. And I thought to ask you, but you don’t know, and Dale Meiners, I have no idea how to contact that dude.
CA: Uh, I dunno.
[I finally dial up the Five Style record and hit play.]
BD: Um, that’s not “Static Disco”. That’s “Love On the Hour”.
CA: I called it “Haystackin’”
BD: That’s a good name.
CA: How about this one? This is the one that I covered.
BD: “Make a Sound”.
CA: The guitar harmonies were hard to get, but I think I got them.
BD: That song was actually influenced by Richard Thompson.
BD: My guitar part was. That’s a Mike Hueneke song.
CA: I never would have guessed it.
BD: All that stuff in the chorus [hums the melody] that’s Richard Thompson-esque, I guess.
CA: Which Richard Thompson song?
BD: I don’t remember.
CA: I was thinking maybe Jerry Garcia…? I always thought that Hueneke brought kind of a Grateful Dead/Phish vibe to the band. He was into that, wasn’t he?
BD: I don’t know. I don’t remember him ever wearing tie-dye. Anyway, did you find “Static Disco” yet?
CA: I may not have it, Bill. I played everything I have from that record. I never got a copy of the whole thing. What I got was a quick mix from Dale that had six songs, and the last one cuts out with the end of the tape. I didn’t have song titles, either. But I always knew this was like, half the record, but getting the rest of it was out of the question. Dale knew I was really into what you guys were doing, and he was excited, too. Like, ‘Man, you should hear the Five Style stuff—it’s really good.’ One day I was at the studio, and he handed it off to me and said, ‘Don’t let anyone know I gave this to you.’
CA: There’s a lot of chromaticism in your playing. I think guitar theory is something a lot of players overlook. But if you listen to Van Halen, they don’t pay attention to keys.
CA: If I’m writing a song in D major, just because of my education, and maybe my ear, I always feel like it’s gotta come back to D major. Even if it’s in E flat for most of the song, I have to figure out a way to get back.
BD: So you’re saying Van Halen didn’t adhere to that.
CA: No, they do for the most part. Take “Unchained” for instance. Starts in D and ends on D, but it’s all over the map. The third chord is B flat. But I don’t think they really cared about keys—they played in the key of Eddie Van Halen.
CA: All that is for jazzbos.
CA: But if I said to you, ‘Bill, what note you playing right now?’ You might have to look at your fingers and think for a second.
BD: Probably, but what does that mean? What does that have to do with Eddie Van Halen? That doesn’t mean anything.
CA: It means you don’t care what you’re playing, you just play what you want to hear. You don’t really care about notes.
BD: To a certain extent, yes. I would agree with that.
CA: One my favorite licks is from “Summer Salt”, it’s like a double-stop…hang on let me get my guitar.
[Pause while I get my guitar]
BD: You mean this one? [Plays the intro to “Summer Salt”] That last part is just a country bend.
[More redacted guitar talk. I play him a recording of an instrumental I wrote and recorded for the new Aztec Hearts record, “Yeah Right”, which was partially influenced by his playing on Miniature Portraits.]
BD: That sounds cool.
CA: It’s only an outtake. It took me 135 takes to get that one—and it’s still got a couple of clams [mistakes].
BD: Do I have to listen to all 135 takes?
CA: The one comment Ronnie made was: ‘If you can nail this [song], I’ll be impressed.’ I still haven’t nailed it.
BD: Kinda reminiscent of a little Jimmy Page.
CA: Maybe. But I was going for Billy Dolan.
BD: OK, that’s nice. Did you ever see the movie It Might Get Loud? There’s an outtake—just an extra on the DVD of Jimmy Page playing by himself on a 12-string and it sounds a lot like that.
CA: He’s playing “White Sunshine” or like a version of “Black Mountain Side”?
BD: No, it’s not that. It’s a new tune—he says it’s a new song—on 12-string, and there’s a camera shot panning down a long corridor and it’s just him. It’s really cool, you should check it out.
CA: Well, now that you’ve got your guitar there and we’re all about guitar, I’ve got some questions.
BD: Ask me one question.
CA: “The Lost Oar”.
BD: That’s a Jeremy Jacobsen song. You know if you’re in a band, it’s a democratic process. You say do we want to do this song? I’m not saying I didn’t want to do the song. But it’s like OK. So it’s his melody line. I think he started it on the melodica.
CA: I thought it was marimba. I saw a live version of it at Middle East.
BD: Marimba? I don’t remember there ever being a live version on marimba.
CA: Let me see if I can find it.
BD: Well, do you want me to show you the lick? I like doing that.
CA: I think there should be Billy Dolan video lessons. Like a video channel.
BD: It’s not a marimba—it’s a vibraphone.
[Redacted section including my derogatory remarks about Stevie Nicks.]
CA: So what’s cookin’, Bill? Really. What’s happening with Das Boton?
BD: I have plenty of music for a full-length, and I have the guys to do it. We just haven’t nailed down a studio, so I don’t know. And also, I’ve talked to Ryan about maybe going out to L.A. Then I was talking to Ronnie about coming down [to Chicago] to see his place [Astrolab Recording]. That would be fun for us to get out of Rockford, and have someone from outside of our scene, like Ronnie, to give us input. But there is a studio here that me might consider. The thing about Ronnie is that he’s a super cool dude and they’re analog, so that would be cool, too.
CA: What about Five Style? Is there any chance of you guys getting back together? Are you still in touch with all of those cats?
BD: Actually, I have been in touch with all of them over the last five months via email. I just don’t think they have the time right now to do it. I would do another Five Style record, but it doesn’t seem to be happening, so I want to do something that will happen. [Laughs]
CA: How many songs have you got for the new Das Boton?
BD: Easily ten songs that I’m pretty sure about. We could probably do about 18 or 20, some of them I might be on the fence about. I have at least six songs that I know are good to me, maybe four more that are pretty decent, too.
CA: So it’s hypothetical, but if you could get anyone in the world to be the vocalist for Das Boton, who would you pick?
CA: Doesn’t matter. Anyone.
BD: [pause] I don’t know, man.
CA: Do you hear someone singing when you play?
BD: Have you ever heard of Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum?
BD: I think he might be able to find an angle that would be suitable for the music.
CA: I bet you could get Dave Pirner to sing on your record.
BD: Well, then it would be like a studio record for him and then it would be back to I don’t have a band, so it’s kind of, I don’t know. We wouldn’t be touring—which is fine, I’ve got art to do.
CA: Have you ever asked Dave Pirner?
BD: I’ve thought about it. But it’s… I’ve had so many people who’ve auditioned or worked with me, and then it doesn’t work out, so it’s hard for me to have people get behind the singers I’ve picked. It’s not easy. I get a lot of criticism. If I said, ‘Hey Chris, I want you to sing on this’ and then later have to say, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to use this’ or ‘We’re not going in this direction’, I just don’t want to deal with that. But I asked the girl from Royal Trux and RTX, Jennifer Herrema, and I was contacting her, talking on the phone. But she’s got better things to do, plus she lives on the other side of the country. Like I said, Danny Kubinski from Die Kreuzen sang for a while, and we made a record, basically, that still hasn’t been put out.
Die Kreuzen – Think of Me
CA: Is your relationship with Sub Pop [Records] over?
CA: Do they still send you checks?
BD: In fact, I have one right here. It came in the mail yesterday.
[Opens the envelope and shows it on camera.]
BD: A whopping fifty-three dollars.
CA: Fifty-three dollars! Do you get one of those every six months?
BD: If the amount doesn’t exceed forty bucks, they don’t bother.
BD: I’ve gotten checks from ASCAP, and I’ve had a couple of sizeable endorsements. Big chunks of money, but you know that doesn’t last. Life is expensive.
CA: Dude…my money is gone! Poof!
BD: Well, I think that’s something that [controversial inventor] John Hutchison, and all these inventors who tried to tap into free energy, were trying to free people from these dominant forces that we’re enslaved to give money to, like oil companies. I mean, there are technologies that would allow us to not have to worry about those things, but they don’t want us to have them. I believe that. Maybe that’s like a faith kind of thing.
CA: My take on it is that there’s nothing I can do about it, and I have to play the game. Like you, I need to make the nut every month, and I can’t worry about all that other noise. If I have any redeeming quality, it’s that I make the nut doing something that I’m good at.
BD: But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know about alternative energy and free thinking.
CA: Of course I know about all that shit. It’s my job to research and write articles about all that crap. I just wrote this piece about the Segway guy, what’s his name? Dean Kamen. This guy came up with a device that converts any liquid into drinking water. It’s called a Slingshot. I’ve been onboard with a lot of this for a long time.
BD: There’s a guy who promotes this thing called ProPur, which is a similar device.
CA: But the government is not interested in changing their policies.
BD: Right. They don’t want to change the military industrial complex.
CA: Which is one reason why I left the U.S.
BD: Is that the main reason?
CA: No. But once I got over here, I started thinking that maybe I might never want to live there again. Let me ask you something, do you own a gun?
BD: I have access to one.
BD: Because I’m concerned about what might happen if there were a collapse of the global economy—which could happen, soon.
CA: You live in Rockford, home of the greatest rock band of the 70s—Cheap Trick! They’ll form a militia to protect your ass!
BD: What!?! The greatest rock band of the 70s? Cheap Trick?
CA: Yeah! Who was better?
CA: OK, I misspoke.
BD: But I don’t understand where you’re going with this gun thing.
CA: Well…[pause] I think the second amendment should be changed.
BD: Wow. That’s too bad. But that’s OK
CA: I want to live in a society where nobody has guns.
BD: That’s never gonna happen, because somebody is always going to have a gun.
CA: I mean, at least in Taiwan, which is nobody’s paradise, at least the only people with guns are cops, and probably the gangsters—but they don’t fuck with anybody except themselves. There are no drive-by shootings or high school massacres. But in the Philippines, man, everywhere you go, there’s metal detectors and security guards with .44s, and they will shoot you. It’s just fucking madness, and I can’t—I can’t even deal with the thought of my wife and raising my kid in this type of society. America is armed to the point where you have to have a gun just because everybody else has one. I get that. I understand that. But I have chosen not to exist in that place anymore.
BD: I understand your sentiment but…
CA: Let’s just drop the subject altogether.
BD: Hang on for a second.
[Bill goes off camera while I cue up “Mythical Numbers” from Miniature Portraits.]
CA: Man, that is some of the coolest shit ever. Every time I hear it, I think, ‘Why isn’t Bill playing guitar for a living?’
BD: Well, I guess we’ve been talking about that, haven’t we? I mean…
CA: The first time I heard “Summer Salt”, I was like, ‘Nope. That’s it. We’re not making another record.’ Why bother? I didn’t even want to play guitar anymore.
BD: That’s too bad. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way about my playing. But I guess there are some Van Halen things where I think, ‘How does he do that? I can’t do that.’ It’s all relative. There’s always going to be someone that has a different angle or further ahead.
CA: Have you ever heard of this guy John 5? He’s played with a bunch of people, like Marilyn Manson. I think you’d like him. He reminds me a bit of Buckethead.
BD: No, I can’t say that I’ve heard of him.
CA: I’ve seen him do some of this super-fast, crazy country shit, and it made me want to quit.
BD: I don’t think that guy would make me want to quit.
CA: But in the end, you know, Bill, I think I said it in an email, is that once I got over that feeling, you inspired me.
BD: That’s the good part. But how did I inspire you?
CA: First of all, standard tuning. I thought, ‘OK, this guy owns standard tuning.’ So that’s why I switched over to Open G. I mean, I don’t ever try to do what you do. It just pushed me to say, ‘All right, I gotta find something here to make my own.’
BD: That’s cool.
CA: What I’m looking for now, honestly, friend-to-friend, is how you’re going to inspire me in the future. And that’s why I’m—frustrated, I guess—that you are inactive or not as active as you could be. And I guarantee you’re a better guitar player now than you were in 1997.
BD: Possibly, yeah.
CA: “Deep Marsh” is just so cool. It was the opening track for the first album. You knew it was really good, didn’t you?
BD: I was really excited about it. It sounded so…I knew it was good, and it resonated with some of the things I was trying to achieve. The caliber of John Herndon and LeRoy Bach, plus John McIntyre manning the console; those were tools that I didn’t have access to before, so it was going to be that much better.
CA: Do you have any favorite songs of your own? Like, what is your favorite thing to play right now?
BD: Probably any of my new stuff. There’s one called “Timbale Jam”. But I’ve been into John Scofield and Brian Setzer. Those dudes…I don’t know that I’ll ever achieve their level of skill, but I’m in awe of them.
CA: Brian Setzer is by far the best rockabilly guitar player of all-time.
BD: He’s so good.
CA: The Stray Cats records have some of the coolest guitar jams that nobody remembers. Listen to “Stray Cat Strut”. That’s one guitar, one take, and it’s perfect. He’s playing lead and rhythm at the same time. That’s what you do. In fact, there’s really no room for a singer in your music. I don’t know that I even want to hear a singer on your music.
BD: OK, I’ll tell Dave Pirner the audition is off.
[The Skype connection drops. Five minutes pass before we reconnect. Some redacted chatter.]
Das Boton – Felt It
Das Boton – Russian Sages
Das Boton – Wonton Salad
Das Boton – Plotting Insanity
Das Boton – Does the Bat Know Where You Are?
CA: What’s your current bass player’s name?
BD: Karl Ropp.
CA: OK, that’s right. So how do you choose your bass players?
BD: [Laughs] You mean how do I meet the bass players I work with?
CA: How did you meet LeRoy?
BD: He was playing in this band called Bowery Boys that we were playing shows with. It was actually Brad Wood who introduced us, I think. I wound up being roommates with him. A couple of times. He was mainly a guitar player, he didn’t really play bass, but when we were doing the Five Style stuff, he got excited about playing bass. Oh, actually he was playing bass with Liz Phair. So he was playing with her, too.
CA: All those Idful [Music] days.
BD: Those were fun times.
CA: Brian Deck…
BD: That’s how we met.
[Redacted. More connection problems.]
BD: What were you saying about Thailand?
CA: Oh, there’s two things. I’m not sure which I want to tell you about first. OK. There’s like a weird psychedelic rock scene in Thailand, and I can’t pronounce the name of this band, but they’re really really really good. [Khun Narin Phin Sing]
BD: OK. What’s it called? Where can I find it?
CA: There’s a post on BSM. I’ll send you some links. The one band has a Facebook page…but you don’t… Anyway, the other thing is this crazy drummer in Taiwan named Vela Blue, she’s like a cute 19-year-old girl who sets up her drums in Ximendeng, which is like Taipei’s trendy kid hangout. She sets up her kit in a plaza across from an MRT station and plays along to Britney Spears and Lady Gaga songs.
BD: That’s cool.
CA: It’s fuckin’ amazing. I’ll send you that link, too.
BD: But before, you were saying something about being in Thailand.
CA: No, I was saying that I was sitting in a bar in Taiwan and Slint’s Spiderland came on the P.A. and it played in its entirety. I was like, ‘Goddamnit, there’s nowhere in the world that I’m safe from this shit.’
BD: Come to Rockford, Illinois. You won’t hear any of that. [Laughs] They wouldn’t like that kind of music.
CA: You know, it’s a good record, I guess. Now I can say it’s part of an experience. But speaking of Rockford. It’s probably the number one question and I don’t know why I waited this long to ask but, why did you go back to Rockford?
BD: [Pause] Well, I went through some…pretty severe things. My sister is here and parents are here. One of them has passed on, but it was mainly the stability of family. I wasn’t really in a good place starting around 2001, and I wound up back here in 2004, after traveling around for a while. New York, Seattle, and I even wound up in L.A. for a second. Life got really…it happens to everyone, so…
CA: What makes you happy these days?
BD: Learning about… [Pause] A lot of things make me happy. This is making me happy. I’m enjoying it, so thank you for being my friend and talking to me.
CA: Are you kidding me? I know you probably hate it, but I’m bowing down to you right now.
BD: Well, you are supportive of my music and that’s nice. But what makes me happy? I like to paint and make music. I like the process, and getting excited about what I’m doing, that’s when I come across happiness. I get happiness from being with my wife.
CA: Do you credit her with helping you get through some of the dark days?
BD: Absolutely. She was there.
CA: Maybe this is just a personal thing, but it took me the longest time to learn how to accept a compliment. Did you ever have an issue with it?
BD: An issue? No, I don’t think so. If someone is supportive of my music, I appreciate that. It’s nice.
CA: But I would imagine that everywhere you go, people come up to you and say something. I was curious how you might deal with that. You know, ‘I love your music! You changed my life!’ That kind of thing. I mean, are you like Steven Tyler? ‘I did it for you, baby!’ or…
BD: I see what you mean. I’m appreciative, and it’s nice that my art may have had that impact, but I don’t necessarily think about it.
[Long redacted segment]
CA: What are you eating there, chips?
BD: It’s an apple.
CA: So you are completely sober now?
BD: Well, the old days of getting completely drunk and talking like shit without understanding the consequences are over.
CA: Rainbow Club.
BD: Exactly. I never need to revisit that for the rest of my life. It will do me absolutely no good. I’m just not capable of drinking. I just can’t do it.
CA: I never saw you drunk. Not once.
BD: Oh my god. That’s because you were so drunk too that you don’t remember.
CA: That’s true. I was completely hammered.
BD: Yeah, we got trashed a lot, Chris. Back at your old place on Lincoln, we’d go down to the Grizzly Bar for a couple of pints or more. And then – I’d ride my bike home. That was pretty good.
CA: You know, you’re right. I’m flashing back to the interview we did at Big Horse. And the taxi doobie incident, which I absolutely do not remember.
[45 minutes of redacted personal conversation not suitable for the general public. Capital T-trust me.]
CA: Oh, hey. How much would you charge for guitar lessons?
BD: I don’t know. I’d have to get back to you on that.
CA: Would you take anybody, or would they have to be intermediate or advanced players? Or would you take beginners?
BD: I don’t know. Who’s the beginner? I have to know who it is. [Laughs.]
CA: Some kid who wants to learn how to play!
BD: Well, I did have a job at this rock camp where the kids came during the day, and I was an instructor-slash-supervisor.
CA: But that was like babysitting, wasn’t it?
BD: Kind of, but it was fun, and the kids were ages 14-17.
CA: Weren’t they like, ‘Teach me everything you know’?
BD: Not really. They were into whatever was current. I think it was like the Raconteurs.
CA: Have you heard of Maroon 5?
BD: Actually, I know the drummer, this guy named Matt Flynn. When I was out in New York, I was in a band with that dude. Maroon 5 started out with a different drummer, and then [they got Matt Flynn, whoever he is].
CA: Hmm. [Cheerfully] They make horrific music! But it could be worse.
CA: [sighs] Yeah. I bought a copy off iTunes, actually.
BD: Oh, cool. I’m glad you own it. You probably don’t like it, but there’s some good stuff on there, man.
CA: Anything with DLR… You know, anything they do with Dave is going to be fantastic. It’s going to be something I want to hear. Even if I think it’s shit. I’ve never really talked to anyone about this, not even my wife, but I have this problem with Van Halen. I own the record and I’ve listened to it a bunch of times… Do you like Ween?
BD: Ween? Can you tell me what song they sing?
CA: ‘Push th’ little Daisies and Make Them Come Up’. Yeah.
BD: Who sings that song that goes, ‘Ooh we look just like Buddy Holly?’
BD: I know I get those two mixed up – Ween and Weezer.
CA: They are the Boston of the 90s.
BD: Who? Ween or Weezer.
BD: OK. You can see the easy mistake. Ween, Weezer.
CA: Correct. Of course.
BD: So, I’m sorry, I’ve never heard – I’ve heard of Jan and Dean Ween, two brothers or something?
CA: Yes. Haha. I was going to direct you to a super cool website called Ask Deaner. Anyway, I asked you before, what are you listening to these days?
CA: I thought it was spam. I’m on Chico now.
BD: I got turned on to him when I lived with LeRoy, and then I stumbled on to some of his newer stuff with John Scofield, and it’s fucking great. So I said, well, I’m going to check out John Scofield again, and he’s got online lessons, they were videotaped in 1984, but he’s still relevant, his theory on scales and whatnot. So those are two things that I dig. Sometimes when I hear stuff like John Scofield, I’m captivated, and I want to learn how to do that.
CA: What about Scofield that makes you want to learn his riffs?
BD: Check it out. Chico Hamilton “Yeh Yeh” and John Scofield. The solo is really beautiful and interesting. It’s very jazzbo, but it’s cool.
CA: I used to say jazzbo all the time until I got chased out of Chicago.
BD: Oh, I also like the new Prince.
CA: OK, listen, Bill. It’s like almost 3:00 a.m. No, it’s 3:30. I’m done. Is there anything else you might want to talk about.
BD: Um, just wanted to acknowledge Brad Wood‘s part in connecting me with people that were vital to 5ive Style’s inception.
CA: Right on. We’ll make sure to get that in there.
[Wood, who also hails from Rockford, IL, was one of the leading figures of the 90s Chicago music scene, and produced a whole bunch of influential albums from local artists including Liz Phair, the Smashing Pumpkins, Seam, Veruca Salt, Red Red Meat, and Eleventh Dream Day. Surprisingly, he never produced a record for Bill.]
The complete set of essays, more or less in one place.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you wouldn’t mind, take a minute out of your day in remembrance of Wesley Willis, who would have been 52 today, and definitely would have whooped the camel’s ass in celebration. Rock Over London, Rock On Wesley Willis | Black Sunshine Media.
Comparatively speaking, we’re going to breeze through this period. There’s a revolution of sorts on the horizon. At this point, recording artists are either making records that sell, or they aren’t making records.
There will be fewer suggested alternatives simply because 1001 AYMHBYD already named most of the Must Hear records. You could almost skip both 1989 and 1990 and not miss much. Almost.
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated
Also, anything in Red generally indicates hazardous material
808 State – 808:90 (1989)
Manchester acid house music is a perfect example of why I have never taken the drugs ecstasy or MDMA. If this is the kind of music people want to hear when they are “rolling,” count me out. You don’t need to hear 808 State, either, because there will be more acid house coming your way. And you already heard Saturday Night Fever.
Aerosmith – Pump (1989)
To everybody’s surprise, Aerosmith got off drugs and they actually sound better. I’m always partial to messy, fucked-up cocaine records, but it’s nice when a dinosaur from the 70s not only avoids extinction, but makes an exceedingly respectable rock n’ roll record – certainly an album this jaded suburban never-was didn’t see coming.
In contrast, the Rolling Stones released their own dinosaur comeback album, Steel Wheels around the same time, which was good, but not really great. Thus, there’s really nothing of Pump’s kind – mainstream hard rock – that really stands out as the superior alternative. One might argue that Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood is a pound-for-pound contender. I don’t have a dog in that fight.
Half-Hearted Kinda-Sorta Suggested Alternative:
Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood
Now matter how banal, mundane, corn-or-cheese ball, it’s very hard to deny the catchy sing-a-long chorus of a pop metal toe-tapper, which, generally speaking, is Motley Crue’s bread and butter. It may be coincidental, but Dr. Feelgood is also an allegedly “sober” album. There are also three classic jams on here; classic in the sense of age and wonder. “Kickstart My Heart” is probably the best straight ahead “Train Kept a-Rollin’” hard rock jam of the year. Definitely NOT Must Hear, but if you’re in the neighborhood, you’re always welcome to stop by.
Baaba Maal & Mansour Seck – Djam Leelii (1989)
You’d never know it by looking at me, but I’m a huge fan of Senegalese folk music, and it all begins with this bewitchingly spare and magical record from the two most prominent figures on the Senegal music scene.
Barry Adamson – Moss Side Story (1989)
This is one considered one of the quintessential movie soundtracks without a movie, and a perfectly delightful instrumental music listening experience.
I’m told overall style is reminiscent of the work of Angelo Badalamenti who often collaborates with director David Lynch. Furthermore, Adamson has serious credibility as a former member of Magazine and the Buzzcocks. Plus, Moss Side Story contains a couple of Adamson’s signature jams including “The Man With the Golden Arm”.
However. It’s a double album, clocking in around 55 minutes, give or take a few ticks. That’s an hour of your life you’re never gonna get back. This is one of those housecleaning records. Put it on and go do something else.
Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)
Bonnie Raitt – Nick Of Time (1989)
May the rock n’ roll guitar gods forgive me for what I’m about to say, but I’ll take Britney Spears’ slutty cheerleader porn soundtrack over Bonnie Raitt’s bluesy country soccer mom choogle any day of the week. And don’t give me any nonsense about slide guitar being a difficult technique to master. Rubbish. It’s almost easier than opening a door.
Fanny – Fanny (1970)
Here’s another record (and artist) that I completely whiffed on in the early 70s. Never heard of ‘em. Almost everybody swung and missed on these girls. And then a couple of months ago, during the 70s section of 1001 AYMHBYD…ON, I found Fanny and their first three albums, so I added them to the queue of potential alternatives, and promptly spaced them completely. Until today.
Fanny was one of the first American all-female hard rock bands active in the early 1970s, and the first to release an album on a major label (in 1970). They scored two top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and released five albums.
In 1969, Filipino-American sisters June (guitar, vocals) and Jean (bass, vocals) Millington formed a series of all-female bands with Alice de Buhr (drums) in Sacramento, CA, before moving to Los Angeles as Wild Honey, playing mostly Motown covers. Discouraged by the male-dominated rock scene, Wild Honey disbanded in 1969, but not before impressing producer Richard Perry, who had been looking for an all-female rock band to mentor.
Perry arranged for Warner Brothers to sign the band, still known as Wild Honey, to Reprise Records. Before recording their first album, the band changed their name to Fanny, and recruited keyboardist Nickey Barclay, who was also a member of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour band. Perry produced the band’s first three albums: Fanny (1970), Charity Ball (1971), and Fanny Hill (1972). The title track “Charity Ball” from the second album reached #40 on the Billboard Hot 100. The members of the band also worked as session musicians, most notably on Barbra Streisand’s 1971 album Barbra Joan Streisand.
Here they are on Sonny & Cher.
Their fourth album, Mother’s Pride (1973), was produced by Todd Rundgren, and the band toured worldwide, opening for Slade, Jethro Tull and Humble Pie, finding their peak of popularity in the United Kingdom.
After Mother’s Pride, June Millington and Alice de Buhr left the band. Patti Quatro (sister of Suzi Quatro) joined on guitar, and Brie Brandt (who had played with the Millingtons in their early band The Svelts) returned on drums. This lineup signed with Casablanca Records and released the final Fanny album, Rock and Roll Survivors, in 1974. Brandt was briefly replaced by Cam Davis, but the band soon disintegrated even as “Butter Boy” became their biggest single, reaching #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 in April 1975.
One of the most important female bands in American rock has been buried without a trace. And that is Fanny. They were one of the finest… rock bands of their time, in about 1973. They were extraordinary… they’re as important as anybody else who’s ever been, ever; it just wasn’t their time. Revivify Fanny. And I will feel that my work is done.
The debut album is my favorite, but Fanny Hill and Mother’s Pride are just as listenable.
Also, their version of “Ain’t That Peculiar” is Chilly Willy cool, and frankly, crushes Bonnie Raitt like a ginger grape.
Coldcut – What’s That Noise? (1989)
What’s that noise, you ask? Why, that’s the sound of a drum machine and a sampler. And who invited that silly drag queen Lisa Stansfield? You kids have to the count of ten to get your stupid electronic equipment off my property.
De La Soul – 3 Feet High And Rising (1989)
Comparing hip-hop groups to rock bands, Public Enemy is the Clash, and De La Soul is the Cars. Both bands were crucial to the development of the genre, and pretty much the best at what they did. Meanwhile, 3 Feet has been called by at least one reputed source “the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop,” but I think that’s going a little overboard.
Faith No More – The Real Thing (1989)
It’s fairly clear that been I’ve all over the map on this Must Hear gambit. Sometimes I give free passes to questionable albums for one reason or another. Other times, I shit-can major releases of the era, c.g.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983).
Above all, an album has to have had some kind of enduring influence on bands that follow. Here we have arguably the first mainstream blockbuster fusion of hard rock, alternative, metal, funk and rap. And thanks in part to this variety of styles, The Real Thing is a cool record. Very cool for the era.
Mike Patton is one of the most talented rock vocalists of all-time, and certainly the most interesting and unique in rock since Robert Smith. He steals a big part of the show here, especially on “Zombie Eaters” and the cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”. If The Real Thing contained 11 versions of “Epic”, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. However, track 4 “Surprise! You’re Dead!” sounds like a very good quasi-new-metal modern rock band from 1999. This is some serious Back to the Future shit, i.e. name a band that doesn’t have a shtick if not for Faith No More? For example, Linkin Park.
fIREHOSE – Fromohio (1989)
Despite being one of my personal favorite bands, fIREHOSE’s third LP is the one that you Must Hear. The first two records are fantastic works of genius as well, but this one really comes together nicely. In fact, if I were introducing someone to fIREHOSE, I’d drop the dime on Fromohio. No question.
For struggling young musicians, trying to put a band together, and more importantly, making things happen, there was no greater inspiration than Minutemen and fIREHOSE.
Janet Jackson – Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)
I wouldn’t have gone near this album wearing a hazmat suit in 1989, but after hearing it all the way through for the first time 26 years after the fact, I have to say, it’s outstanding for what it is: a slick amalgamation of dance-pop, R&B, funk, lightweight industrial, quiet storm, and adult contemporary styles derived from synthesizers, drums, tape loops, and sampled guitars; also regarded as new jack swing. No wonder it sold 10 million copies. Adolescent females went bananas over this kind of radioactive waste.
Ordinarily, I would dismiss a record like Rhythm Nation based on its concept, which Jackson said “contained my views about what was going on in the world and the problems we have trying to educate kids. The idea was to give them some hope.”
Janet, honey? Come here, sit down, have a cookie and a nice big glass of Shut the Fuck Up.
The hubris, false philanthropy, and audacity of the entire Jackson family continues to amaze me. Don’t think for one minute that there’s any moral high ground for this artist to be standing on. The only thing Janet Jackson and her record company cared about was moving units at Kmart; and on the world tour, putting butts in the seats and selling t-shirts. Simple as that. She saw the “State of the World” from the comfort of a private jet.
On the other hand, the two best jams on the record are the bulky funk-pop workout “Miss You Much”, and the surprisingly solid hard rock jam “Black Cat”; neither of which make any substantial social statement that Janet Jackson has no business yammering about.
John Lee Hooker – The Healer (1989)
Wow. My heart just triple-pumped. We’ve been through 35 years of popular music and we haven’t heard any John Lee Hooker? This is an outrage!
To be fair, we have heard John Lee Hooker, in a way. His songs have been covered by Must Hear artists such as including Cream, AC/DC, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, and the Doors.
I suspect that one of the reasons we haven’t had a Must Hear album from this cat is the sheer number of albums to choose from.
Including compilations, JLH has at least 100 albums spanning his career: the Detroit Years (1948-1955), the Chicago Years (1955-1964), the Folk Years (1959-1963), the ABC Years (1965-1974), and the Rosebud Years (1975-2001).
Unfortunately, The Healer comes very late in Hooker’s career and features collaborations with Bonnie Raitt, Charlie Musselwhite, Los Lobos and Carlos Santana, among others. Fortunately, it peaked at #62 on the Billboard 200 and won a Grammy award, raking in enough cash to allow Hooker to live out the end of his life in comfort. The Los Lobos collaboration (“Think Twice Before You Go”) is pretty solid; the rest is not-so-great. It’s not Must Hear caliber, even if it is John Lee Hooker.
John Lee Hooker – Original Folk Blues
For my listening dollar, Original Folk Blues (released in 1964 or 1967, depends on who you ask) is the Must Hear.
Jungle Brothers – Done By The Forces Of Nature (1989)
All right, for this one, I’ve enlisted some heavyweights. This type of music is not my forte.
The Jungle Brothers pioneered the fusion of jazz and hip-hop and also became the first hip-hop group to use a house music producer. Done By has been considered a classic of hip hop’s golden age and one of the most influential albums in hip hop. It has also been described by critics as an “underrated classic”. Michael Azerrad, writing in Trouser Press, said that it was “largely overlooked,” but is “one of rap’s finest hours” with a “highly musical hip-hop” that “radiates upbeat spirituality”. The Chicago Tribune ’s Rick Reger called it a “masterpiece … one of hip-hop’s most imaginative, engaging records”.
In retrospect, Rolling Stone’s Nathan Brackett wrote “At their prime in the late ’80s, the Jungle Brothers reflected all of hip-hop’s potential – their second album, 1989’s spiritual, street-wise Done by the Forces of Nature, was as conscious as it was funky and stands out as one of the most overlooked rap albums of that decade.” The Rolling Stone Album Guide comments that the “Jungle Brothers were ahead of their time” with the album and cites the track “Doin’ Our Own Dang” as “the definitive Native Tongues posse cut”. Rolling Stone placed it thirty-seventh on its list of the 50 Coolest Records of All Time. In 1998, Done by the Forces of Nature was selected as one of The Source ’s 100 Best Rap Albums.
Kate Bush – Sensual World (1989)
There has to be justification – a standard of influence – and the fact that I hate something with every fiber of being, for whatever arbitrary reason, is simply not a valid reason to scratch an album from a list, especially when nobody asked.
Kate Bush is the partial baroque pop embodiment of fey, and I don’t mean funny like Tina.
1a. Over-refined, exaggerated, or affected: “She said the word in a deliberately fey and pretentious manner, striking a pose” (Jenefer Shute).
1b. Effeminate: “a fey snap of the wrist” (Michael Eric Dyson).
2a. Having or displaying an otherworldly, magical, or fairy like aspect or quality: “She’s got that fey look as though she’s had breakfast with a leprechaun” (Dorothy Burnham).
2b. Having visionary power; clairvoyant.
2c. Appearing touched or crazy, as if under a spell.
Bush knocks it out of the park for both definitions 1a and 1b. She definitely has a certain angelic appearance, so she nails 2a. There is no way of knowing whether or not Bush a gifted medium, so 2b is no dice. And 2c is vague and unclear, quite like the music on The Sensual World.
Lenny Kravitz – Let Love Rule (1989)
Stevie Wonder meets John Lennon. Chocolate and peanut butter. Lenny Kravitz is the Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup of rock. You like it, but it’s not the first candy bar you reach for at 7-11. Reece’s ain’t no Snickers bar, or even Twix. Christ, remember Charleston Chew? Even though 75% of this Let Love Rule is shamelessly derivative – stocked with lifted riffs and poached melodies – you can’t deny Lenny’s soulful croon. He was great for a couple of records.
Madonna – Like A Prayer (1989)
I’m confident that I will be on the right side of history concerning Madonna and her fourth album, Like a Prayer.
Despite a super-cool duet with Prince (“Love Song”), Like a Prayer proves that most of Madonna’s best work is behind her by this point. She’s found a formula, and she’s sticking with it. She’s the Kiss of dance music. She has maybe five songs that she will constantly recycle for the next two decades. Of course, she will go on to sell 20 million copies of Ray of Light, but Like a Prayer is the red-headed stepchild of Like a Virgin (1984).
Was this one of the best-selling records of 1989? Yes.
Did it have some hit singles? A bunch of ‘em.
But we’re approximately six years and four albums into Madonna’s career, and she still hasn’t had a Must Hear. And it’s funny that Robert Dimery and the 1001 list-makers waited this long to include something from her catalog. That alone should tell you something. It should scream: “Best of collection!”
So I’m not saying Madonna isn’t a Must Hear artist, she just never made a Must Hear album.
Neneh Cherry – Raw Like Sushi (1989)
Madonna Jr. with a singular fun jam “Buffalo Stance”. The rest is nonsense.
New Order – Technique (1989)
This band made nine identical albums, Technique being their fifth consecutive serving of tepid alternative dance rock, so I would dare any casual listener to describe any remarkable difference between this and, say, Low-Life (1985), an album which was given a cautious green light. It was yellow-green.
Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
Everybody’s favorite post-punk noise pop alternative indie rock band. And this is not just probably their most influential record, and the album that more or less opened the flood gates of alternative rock. When you started hearing “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” on modern rock radio, you had to know big trouble was a-foot.
Queen Latifah – All Hail The Queen (1989)
Women in hip-hip have been under-represented thus far, and Queen Latifah isn’t fucking around. But the whole album? Jeez…I dunno. Not me.
R.E.M. – Green (1989)
Never mind that Green was released in November 1988, just prior to the U.S. Presidential election, which was no coincidence. Green does not contain anything quite as political as “Exhuming McCarthy” from 1987’s Document, but it gets up on the soapbox in a hurry with “Orange Crush.” You could and very well should listen to this record if you’re a fan. However, for these purposes, it’s not essential because there’s no game-changer on here. And I loved this record when it came out, and it contains a couple of my favorite jams (“Hairshirt” and “Turn You Inside Out”). However, it also contains what I consider the first crack in their armor: an ironic pop song, “Stand”, which became their biggest hit to date (#6 Billboard Hot 100).
For anyone who was paying attention, R.E.M. was headed in an unpleasant direction.
Soul II Soul – Club Classics: Vol. One (1989)
Um…OK. This is some very serious British electronica meets R&B, and like Rhythm Nation, one of the early new jack swing records.
Spacemen 3 – Playing With Fire (1989)
The Cure – Disintegration (1989)
This album represents more than its music. In terms of the alternative genre, we are now knee-deep in the mainstream, where several unlikely bands made albums that sold five million copies worldwide, and produced a string of Top 40 hits still on permanent rotation. Like R.E.M., the Cure was destined for multi-platinum records, stadium tours, and international super-stardom.
Disintegration announced Robert Smith’s arrival as a cultural icon, and as somewhat of a triumphant and thematic return to the black and maudlin aesthetic that he’d explored in the early 1980s, the culmination of nearly every musical direction the Cure had ever explored. Consequently, this is it for the Cure. They don’t make another Must Hear record.
The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)
“Madchester” developed in England towards the late 1980s and into the early 1990s. The music that emerged from the Manchester music scene mixed alternative rock, psychedelic rock and electronic dance music. Artists associated with the scene included the Happy Mondays, the Stone Roses, the Inspiral Carpets, James, and the Charlatans. At that time, the Haçienda nightclub was a major catalyst for the distinctive musical ethos in the city, lest you’ve forgotten, also the home of the Smiths and Joy Division. The “baggy” scene was characterized by psychedelia and acid house-influenced guitar music, often with a “funky drummer” beat, and the scene itself was named after the loose-fitting clothing worn by the bands and fans.
And now you know.
The Young Gods – L’Eau Rouge (1989)
Post-industrial snoozing from Switzerland.
A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm (1990)
Cocteau Twins – Heaven Or Las Vegas (1990)
Eh. Sophsti-pop. See Everything But the Girl (1988).
Deee-Lite – World Clique (1990)
We are now getting into certain musical genres that distress me to the point of irrational aversion. Writing about my hatred of disco and bossa nova was actually kind of cathartic and fun. But now, as we venture into the clubs, particularly in large cities, we’re going to be hearing house music, which I can’t even bear to talk about. It makes me physically ill.
Betty Davis – They Say I’m Different (1974)
It’s not every day that you stumble upon the third album from one of Miles Davis’ ex-wives, so when you do find yourself nose-to-nose with an artist like Betty Davis (Mabry), you are going to sit up and take notice.
Brace yourself, what you are about to hear is some of the raunchiest, grungiest, nastiest funk ever made. Too Live Crew and Lil Kim got NUTHIN’ on Betty Davis. Check it, and I do mean check it all the way through.
Depeche Mode – Violator (1990)
I told you last time that we are done, capital-D done with synth pop, but I was wrong. This is a Must Hear Album precisely because it transcends ordinary synth-pop, and I don’t even like these cats.
Digital Underground – Sex Packets (1990)
Hip-hop could be corny, too. It wasn’t all gun battles and baby mama drama.
Fugazi – Repeater (1990)
George Michael – Listen Without Prejudice: Vol 1 (1990)
Considering what I had to say about Faith (1988), do you really think I’m going to do a 180 on this cat? Let George Michael blow some cool smoke up my ass and give me a reacharound? Ain’t gonna happen. This joker made Phil Collins seem edgy and dark. And who the fuck’s responsible for the sudden omnipresence of gospel choirs in throwaway pop music?
Happy Mondays – Pills ‘N’ Thrills And Bellyaches (1990)
Musically, the Mondays layered indie pop guitars on top of house, funk and northern soul beats. In terms of style and dress, they updated the hippie look to include ridiculously over-sized hats and pants. Much of their music was remixed by popular DJs, emphasizing the dance influences even further. Culturally, the Mondays started off as a strictly British phenomena. Americans didn’t really “get” them, mainly because MDMA hadn’t reached its apogee of popularity. What we did “get” was a Monday’s knock-off called Jesus Jones, who went to the top of the charts with “Right Here, Right Now.”
Pills N’ Thrills has been the most difficult record to sit through since Nick Cave and the Birthday Party, for different reasons, clearly. Not my cup of tea, guv’ner.
Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)
Jane’s Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual (1990)
LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
You should hear the title track, and that’s plenty.
Megadeth – Rust In Peace (1990)
You’d be hard pressed to find a better straight up metal record released in 1990. Honestly, you really shouldn’t be looking for one at this point, either.
This gets my vote for greatest metal lyric of all-time, from “The Salaminizer”
Here’s a little something from a God to a slave
I never shoulda been let out the fucking microwave!
We’re on this planet and we’re running a-muck
I should give a shit but I don’t give a fuck!
Ever since I was a scumdog, I blew a cum-wad
I need a mother-fucking suckadickalickalong!
Burning a mall or two, blowing the load I spew
You don’t wanna fucking fuck me? I’ll fuck you!
This is your ass, and I’m in it
My man sexy will fuck you up in a minute
With an axe, sword, mace, pike your limbless
Then I’ll fuck your ass till its rimless!
Oh! You humans always screaming!
Oh! As you suckle on my semen!
Oh! And the shit is always steamin’
A drunk, a pervert, a junkie and a sodomizer
But you can call me the Salaminizer
Give unto give unto give unto give unto
My life is a luxury, so filled with hate
I got fifty slaves heaping maggots on my plate
From my fortress in Antarctica I watch the world die
On my Sony Trinitron that’s switched to channel 5.
Back on the road, its no lie….
Stupid fucking humans pay money to die!
Crushed in the pit, nailed to the stage
I only suck the souls that are underage
I need more, I need more
Bleed out, bleed out
This deli tray is unacceptable
I swear to God, stick around to the end of the jam, or just fast forward to the part where Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie) says, “This deli tray is unacceptable.”
Neil Young With Crazy Horse – Ragged Glory (1990)
There’s a song on Ragged Glory called “F*!#in’ Up” in which Neil Young warbles the refrain, “Why am I always fuckin’ up?” And every time I’ve ever heard the song, it triggers an involuntary mental response that goes something like, “I don’t know, Neil. Why are you always fuckin’ up? You’ve got everything. You’re a rock star and a millionaire twenty times over. Why can’t you get your shit together? Meanwhile, lot of good it’s doing ya, askin’ me. The fuck am I, some kind of wizard-genie? No, Neil. Fuck you. I don’t care about your problems. Get it together or get out of here. Why am I always fuckin’ up? Maybe because you’re an untalented hack, who happened to be at the right place at the right time on a couple of occasions.” Meanwhile, as a backing band, Crazy Horse proves the adage that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, which happens to be the main guy.
Something like that.
“Delirious” by Luka Bloom
This is what one guy with a guitar should sound like in 1990.
Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour (1990)
Wow. Our first red double strikethrough. Even Frankie Goes to Hollywood didn’t get dissed that hard.
Pixies – Bossanova (1990)
Doolittle II, and sometimes that’s a really good thing. Sometimes, bands should make the same records twice.
Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet (1990)
For my money, this is the best hip-hop record ever made. Ever. Fear is the London Calling of hip-hop. Twenty-five years later, it’s just as pointed, vital, and engaging. It’s also nice to know that there was a period of time when Flavor Flav actually had something cookin’ that didn’t involve a crack pipe.
Ride – Nowhere (1990)
This is one of those records I hadn’t heard since, gosh, 1990. So, it went on right after Fear of a Black Planet. Probably not my smoothest listening transition. Chuck D had me pretty riled up. Anyway, I specifically remember reading an article or two about Ride’s brilliance, so revisiting Nowhere was certainly if nothing else, a typical nostalgic experience. These cats got lumped in with a bunch of other shoegazing bands, but I think they’ve got a lot more noise going on here. Shades of Syd Barrett, Revolver-era Beatles, and early Who.
Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)
OK, so she had a couple of smash hits. And the girl could sing, no doubt. Is she important though? Her public notoriety has long since eclipsed her talent. Is she the direct ancestor of Ani Difranco and Riot Girls? Probably. She did fuckloads more for women in music than Whitney Houston ever did.
Sonic Youth – Goo (1990)
If it’s my record collection and I’m limited to only one album from each artist, Goo is the Sonic Youth record I would select, not because it’s necessarily their best work – I happen to think that it is, but nevertheless, the album has a nostalgic and emotional stigma that none of their other records have, which is, I was really into Goo when it came out, as in, bought a copy and played it often. Meanwhile, it contains arguably their most accessible-to-the-mainstream song “Kool Thing”, which…is partially based on a back story I’m reluctant to get into, but here goes.
Sometime prior to the recording of Goo, bassist Kim Gordon interviewed rising rap star LL Cool J for Spin. LL was promoting his new album Walk Like a Panther, which is not a terribly remarkable record, and the interview is only a curious read because it’s Kim Gordon interviewing LL Cool JJ – two people on opposite ends of the popular music spectrum. Anyway, LL seems to be cooperating, but he flashes moments of grandeur. If anything, Gordon sets him up to look kind of phony and clueless, and above all, demonstrates that he’s really dedicated to the LL Cool J brand and character. Unfortunately, very early on, when asked a nebulous question about his sex symbol status, LL dropped the ball.
Kim Gordon: What about women who are so into you as a sex object that they take your picture to bed with them and their husbands or boyfriends start freaking out?
LL Cool J: That’s not my problem. A guy has to have control over his woman. She has to have enough respect for you to know not to do those things. It’s how you carry yourself.
That’s…probably…not…really…something… you should say to Kim Gordon. But it gets a little more cringe-worthy. When asked his opinion of rock music, LL says he relates to Bon Jovi for singing about the working man, when just moments earlier he boasts about owning “a Benz, a BMW, an Audi, and a Porsche,” and a mansion that he’s never really lived in.
The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (1990)
The KLF – White Room (1990)
Is a party not technically a party until someone is dancing? I know it’s definitely not a party until someone gets hurt.
The KLF are those ridiculous characters who physically and literally burned a million dollars as a P.R. stunt in 1992. They filmed it, of course. I’ve never seen it. Following a controversial and brief career, these dudes “retired” and burned what was left of their earnings as the KLF. The music is by turns house, techno, acid house, hip hop, alternative dance, ambient house, and avant-garde.
Here’s my brief rant about dance music. Today, dance music is exclusively for dancing, not for listening. You could listen to it, but you won’t hear much. At no time will anyone wonder what key they were in. Of course, this is completely by design. These guys are just an extension of Kraftwerk. However, house music only plays at art; it’s still strictly for dancing. This had not been the case (in popular music) until the advent of the drum machine. Now these kids have MIDI sequencers. At this point it’s no longer music – it consists of sounds that accompany and often compel rhythmic exercise known as dancing.
All that said, because I’ve been yammering about this “standard of influence” bullshit, White Room is a Must Hear album for one reason, and one reason only. This record is directly responsible for the Great Popular Music Garbage Patch.
The Great Popular Music Garbage Patch, also described as the Global Rubbish Vortex, is a gyre of shitty dance music on every sound system located between the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, roughly 66°N and 66°N. The patch extends over an indeterminate area, with estimates ranging very widely depending on the degree of shitty dance music used to define the affected area, which is generally confined to a spontaneous, drug-fueled dance party called a “rave” and contaminated with potentially lethal levels day-glo accessorizing and nitrous oxide. Or, as it is currently known, aerobics class.
The patch is characterized by exceptionally high relative concentrations of trance beats, synthesizer sludge, and other laptop performance artifacts that have been hijacked by the currents of the North Pacific Drum and Bass Gyre. Despite its enormous size and density (4 DJs per cubic meter), the patch is not visible from satellite photography, nor is it necessarily detectable to casual listeners or musicians in the area, as it consists primarily of mindless background noise.
The La’s – The La’s (1990)
Bloody ‘ell, the La’s are doing John Cougar and Neil Diamond covers with Scouse Liverpool accents? Fuck that, mate, it’s daft.
The Shamen – En-Tact (1990)
I don’t have anything cute or clever to say about this bullshit, sorry.
Bungee jumping, rock climbing, reading, sleeping, surfing the internet, posting dank memes to Reddit.
Net reduction of albums from the period: 19
Suggested alternatives: 7
Running AYMHBYD total: 804
If 1985-86 is a dead zone for Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, then 1987-88 is a black hole. Mainstream popular music was more about hairspray and pastel colors than artistic achievement.
How bad was music in 1987? It was Bruce Willis – The Return of Bruno bad. It was Whitesnake and Tawny Kitaen on the hood of a Jaguar dreadful. It was Richard Marx unspeakable. It was Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine doing “Rhythm is Gonna Get You” on a recursive loop. You get the idea, I reckon.
But I know some of you must be perplexed. What’s a Whitesnake? So here’s a quick legend to the map.
Bruce Willis = marginally talented American television and film actor; wise guy David Hasselholf-type with roughly the same lack of musical talent
Whitesnake = unapologetic, derivative hair metal from a guy (David Coverdale) who used to be in Deep Purple
Tawny Kitaen = wildly sexy and provocative model-aspiring-actress type who was banging Coverdale at the time
Richard Marx = the American Phil Collins without an art rock pedigree, but with a full head of hair and a sweet mullet
Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine = the ultimate Latin wedding band
But was it all bad? Didn’t certain alternative and indie bands make fabulous records? Weren’t a select number of rap and hip-hop artists allowed to cross over into the mainstream? Wasn’t the heart of rock n’ roll still beating in Cleveland?
The most successful and important rock record of this era was Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction, but the rock record you couldn’t afford to miss was Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking. Either way, there’s still a lot of good music to hear from this period, just not quite as much as we’re used to.
Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated
Also, anything in Red generally indicates hazardous material
Anthrax – Among The Living (1987)
We take our son to play and socialize at a local park, and there’s a rotating crew of kids and parents that you may or may not see on a regular basis. Anyway, there’s this one father whose uniform consists of t-shirt, shorts, black socks and blue Crocs. My wife Janice cannot fathom why he would wear black socks with shorts and sandals, and it bothers her to the point where she tells me that he looks awful. And these socks aren’t scrunched down at his ankles, either; so my response is, “It’s free comedy.” Like dudes who tuck their shirts into their slacks, which are pulled halfway up their torsos. I call ‘em High Riders. That shit is fucking hilarious.
Anthrax is the black socks and blue Crocs of rock music. They played some of the most fashionably unfashionable thrash metal with the same number of fucks given by the guy at the kid’s park: Zero.
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
King Diamond – Abigail
Death – the metal band from Orlando, and not the protopunk group from Detroit – are a trip, and Scream Bloody Gore is considered one of the first death metal albums, but I’ve nothing but indifference about them. Meanwhile, you either think King Diamond is a genius and you love his whole shtick, or Abigail is going to be some of the most terrible shit you’ve ever heard in your life.
Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton – The New Tango (1987)
Think of one good reason you’re interested in tango music and write it down on a piece of paper. This reason has to be Capital-G good. Like, “I grew up a couple of miles from Ástor Piazzolla International Airport (MDQ) in Mar del Plata, Argentina, a city 200 km south of Buenos Aires. Tango… it is in my blood!”
Or, “I studied vibraphone at Julliard and met Gary Burton on several occasions. I have all his albums.”
Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics – Maggots: The Record
Easily one of the most out-of-its-everlovin’-mind albums I’ve ever heard. Considered the first thrash metal opera, Maggots is a concept album set 25 years in the future, where environmental abuse and the burning of fossil fuels have created a greenhouse effect, leading to an end of the world scenario. The album features various scenes of the White Family over the course of three days. The family is devoured while watching a TV game show. Valerie, the girlfriend of hot-shot television reporter Bruce is devoured by three massive maggots while lying in her boyfriend’s bed. The final scene of the record shows the entire human population is headed for imminent annihilation.
You snooze, you lose on this one, kids.
Butthole Surfers – Locust Abortion Technician (1987)
Brace yourself for probably almost definitely the very first grunge album, which, generally speaking, gets tedious after a while. I wouldn’t blame you for bailing out after 20 minutes or so, precisely because that’s how far I’ve ever gotten.
Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)
The next time your drummer loses his left arm in a self-inflicted auto wreck, and following the accident, declares his intention to return to the drum kit despite his disability, using a combination electronic/acoustic kit with a set of MIDI pedals, DO NOT discourage or dissuade him. Simply hand him a copy of this record and say, “This is what we don’t want to do.”
Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses (1987)
Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me (1987)
One of THE classic alternative rock albums. Post-punk noise pop with gnarly guitars and whining vocals. They sound exactly like the 1987 high school version of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. I don’t know how or why these guys ever became such a big deal, but they did. I like them now more than I did 28 years ago.
My brother Bobby Camp recently passed away, and I cannot forget that it was Bobby who absolutely adored Dinosaur Jr., and dragged me kicking and screaming to Cabaret Metro to see the band on the Bug tour (1989). And it was Bobby who wanted to be right up front, within arms reach of J. Mascis, where the mosh pit was unhinged. It was at the time, the most offensively loud musical performance I had ever attended, and I walked away from it absolutely cursing J. Mascis for his assault on my senses.
Dolly Parton With Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris – Trio (1987)
Are you planning on knitting a sweater for your granddaughter this evening? Maybe light a fire in the hearth, brew a pot of tea, and soak your feet in hot water and Epsom salts? Later, I’ll make some hot cocoa with pillowed marshmallows and we can nibble on butter cookies and snuggle under a quilt.
Look, I have nothing inappropriate to say about these three artists. However, having all three of them on one record is like putting Buffalo chicken wings on a birthday cake, frosted with a salmon icing and sprinkled with Flintstone Chewables. The fuck are you going to do with that?
Nudge. Wink. Flintstone Chewables. Haha. Anything but Wilma!
George Michael – Faith (1987)
Faith won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1989 (that’s not a typo) and sold 11 million copies in the U.S. alone.
How great were the odds against the former lead singer of dry-fart pop duo Wham! making an album anybody Must Hear? There were no odds, but there was a gun to George Michael’s head. He was going to make one of the most successful and enduring pop records of all-time, or he was going the way of Boy George and Adam Ant. And you can’t say the guy got lucky; he knew how to produce an adult contemporary masterpiece. Credit where credit is due, Michael wrote and produced every track and played nearly every instrument on the record.
Faith stayed in the top 10 for 51 weeks, spent 12 weeks at #1, and produced five #1 singles. I feel that recommending this album as a Must Hear is like encouraging someone eat nothing but Hostess Twinkies for a week straight. Why not just start using heroin? Or crack? Or try snorting those bath salts from the Dolly Parton knitting incident?
Minutemen – 3-Way Tie For Last
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs And Stories (1987)
Please refer to this episode of Jukebox Antagonist for my complete thoughts on Appetite.
Warehouse is one of the rare double LPs worth a contiguous listen, i.e. almost every track is killer.
John Zorn – Spy Vs. Spy: The Music Of Ornette Coleman (1987)
You should be acquainted everything this record represents: avant-garde free noise jazz. I don’t know that you’re really going to make it all the way through this album, or even the first two minutes of track 1: “WRU”, but now you know what it is. Your work is done here.
At any rate, John Zorn is someone you should be familiar with, and I suck for not suggesting his The Big Gundown (1985), which featured reworked covers of tracks by the Italian film composer Ennio Morricone. That’s the record you really Should Hear.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Shaka Zulu (1987)
Laibach – Opus Dei (1987)
Martial industrial is a lonely flank of post-industrial noise, dark ambient, neo folk, dark wave and neoclassical orchestrations mixed with military marches, historical speeches and political, apolitical or metapolitical lyrics. Unlike other post-industrial genres, martial industrial is more interested propagandizing a worldview or philosophy than pure experimentalism, i.e. making music. Does that sound like some shit you want to sit through?
Ministry – The Land of Rape and Honey (1988)
Remember Einstürzende Neubauten’s Kollaps from back in 1982? And remember how I said they would spawn a phalanx of industrial bands? This is the fruit of their loins. Former dance party circus chimp Al Jourgensen fell back in love with rock and heavy metal guitar riffage. And “Stigmata” may be the only industrial track that gets my toes-a-tappin’.
Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)
Here’s a whole bunch of no. The biggest no comes in response to the question: “Is this even decent dance pop music?” No, it’s calculated, mechanical, recycled bullshit, and an embarrassing, stale artifact of the time. Just look at the album cover.
I don’t care that Allmusic gives it 4.5 out of 5 stars. It makes no difference whether or not Robert Christgau calls Bad “the strongest and most consistent black pop album in years.” Christgau has never been the final arbiter of good taste, and the answer is still no. It came out in 1987, and frankly, 1987 sucked.
Like Jackson’s previous effort, Thriller, the value of this album has been gauged by record sales instead of artistic merit. And thanks to a relentless promotional media campaign, it wasn’t a record you could choose to ignore. Only the record label wonks know how much money they spent jamming this “Who’s Bad?” nonsense down our throats.
If anybody other than MJ put out Bad, it wouldn’t have made a dent in the charts. Lionel Ritchie makes this record and his career is over. Dude couldn’t dance like Mike.
Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing
Making good on an earlier promise to get some Suzie V. on the turntable, Solitude contains both of her Must Hear hits, “Tom’s Diner” and “Luka”. [Please note that it’s not the DNA remix of “Tom’s Diner” (1990).]
John Cougar Mellencamp – The Lonesome Jubilee
A couple of rock-solid heartland toe-tappers on here. And kudos to the Coog for staying true to his rock n’ roll roots; unlike Springsteen, the Coog avoided the trendy ruts of mainstream modern rock. The Coog blazed his own trail, m’er f’ers. There isn’t a synthesizer within a country mile of this LP.
That said, Lonesome Jubilee deliberately employed traditional folk and country instruments in order to make his audience aware of the “once-familiar social landscape” of folk music. That’s…kind of presumptuous, isn’t it, John? Because I was your audience in 1987, and I wasn’t so fucking clueless that I needed a history lesson. For chrissakes, Bob Dylan, yo. Anyway, The Lonesome Jubilee is a far more genuine example of artistic expression than anything Michael Jackson ever did.
Napalm Death – Scum (1987)
Before you drop the needle on Scum, ask yourself a question. “How interested am I in sub-genres of 80s extreme metal?” Napalm Death is fairly deep down the punk thrash death grindcore metal rabbit hole. And Scum is another one of those albums you can look at and think, “I’ve got a pretty good idea what these cats sound like.”
The really neat thing about Napalm Death is that they didn’t linger over the jam. Half of the 28 tracks on Scum clock in at less than one minute. One minute! That’s insane. The best thing about this record is that as soon as you get bored with a riff, it’s over.
Pet Shop Boys – Actually (1987)
Look, if you’re into the Pet Shop Boys, then you aren’t going to be interested in 98 percent of the albums on this list, and have no intention of joining us on the quest to reveal a definitive catalog of Must Hear Albums. You’re wasting your time here. Go away.
For everybody else, you know what’s up with this crap. It’s disco by another name. Even the guy on the album cover is yawning.
fIREHOSE – If’n
We’re gonna get at least two records from these guys, but this may be the best one. Punk, funk, and free jazz, all in one place.
Prince – Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)
There’s a lot to like about this record because there’s 80 minutes of music, at least half of which is as good as anything Prince ever did. There’s also some stuff not to like. That said, we are forced to threaten to invoke the curse of the Double LP Syndrome on one of my personal favorites, but we’re not actually going to follow through with it. There really is one phenomenal album here. And for the record, “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is by far my all-time favorite Prince jam.
R.E.M. – Document (1987)
Mmmmm. [Pause; slurping sounds] I just made quesadillas and I need to finish this glass of wine before I can continue. Chicken, by the way. Tomato, Monterey Jack cheese, almost El Paso refried beans, avocado, hot sauce, sautéed onion, diced jalepeno-carrot mix, dried garlic, and last but not least, served with a side of sour cream, which is fucking outrageously expensive! Almost $10 for a 16 oz. tub of sour cream. The fuck do you do with 16 oz. of sour cream? I welcome your suggestions.
R.E.M. had a long and illustrious procession to the mainstream – six years or so. Five LPs. And Document is a phenomenal record. “Finest Worksong” might be the culmination of all great R.E.M. songs. Document might be their BEST ALBUM, and as much as I like it, you’ve already heard at least one LP from the list. Nevertheless, you pretty much have to be familiar with “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”. Bonus points if you can recite the lyrics from start to finish.
Sonic Youth – Sister (1987)
Mmmmm. [Chewing noises] Very Joy Division/New Order clatter, slashing, and jumble [swallowing sound] that never really comes together as a transcendent listening experience. God, I can’t tell you how much I missed sour cream. I’m thinking baked potatoes tomorrow night.
Talk Talk – The Colour Of Spring (1987)
Maybe. There’s an underground-type legend that Talk Talk made a couple of the most incredible modern progressive art rock albums of all-time. Is this one of them? You tell me. I dunno.
Terence Trent D’Arby – Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby (1987)
The Cult – Electric (1987)
Not a true Must Hear, but wait. Filling the void created by AC/DC’s inability to make entertaining records, the Cult evolved into a dependably mainstream hard rock outfit. Four on the floor, ham-fisted riffage. Delusional lead vocalist. Songs about women, fire, and smokestack lightning, whatever that is. Nobody saw the irony in this record’s biggest hit: a cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild.”
The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands (1987)
Nope. Nuh-uh, no way. I gave you Psychocandy last year. That’s plenty.
The Sisters Of Mercy – Floodland (1987)
IF you needed to hear one their records it would have been First Last and Always (1985). Floodland is everything mundane about gothic rock: Gregorian choir arrangements and walls of Wagnerian synthesizer. I barely even know what that means.
The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)
The Triffids – Calenture (1987)
At this point in 1987, I was 19 years old. If somebody made a great record, I would have heard about it one way or the other. There are very few hidden gems from the 80s on forward. So it doesn’t matter that the Triffids are one of Australia’s most loved post-punk outfits. Eh, post-punk is taking things a bit too far.
As I listen with my eyes closed to the opening track of Calenture, “Bury Me Deep in Love”, I hear a well-produced alternative Christian jangle pop rock song with a chump-change chorus. The rest of this record is either adult contemporary folk rock for the evangelical set, or very poor imitations of U2 and R.E.M.
Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust
This suggested alternative is something of an apology for what some may perceive as a lack of respect for Aussie rock that isn’t AC/DC. I suppose we could toss a Hoodoo Gurus LP in the shopping cart if we weren’t on such a tight budget.
U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)
Enjoy it while you can.
American Music Club – California (1988)
In the past, I have unfavorably compared AMC to Hootie and the Blowfish, and I think that’s unfair to Hootie.
After several spins of California, I finally found what I had been missing. I get it now. This is American indie slowcore, characterized by bleak lyrics, downbeat melodies, slower tempos and minimalist arrangements. Of the standout moments, “Laughingstock” is sublime elegance and “Bad Liquor” actually threatens to rock. Fans of Galaxie 500, Low, Grandaddy, Iron and Wine, Palace Brothers, Red House Painters, and Sun Kil Moon will love this. But then, you already knew that.
Is California a Must Hear? That’s up to you.
Cowboy Junkies – Trinity Session (1988)
This record is at least remarkable for the fact that it was recorded live in a church with one stereo microphone direct to tape—a single Calrec Ambisonic microphone to 2-track RDAT. That’s bold. The music might crawl at a snail’s pace, and the mood might take you to places you aren’t interested in visiting, but this album has an undeniable character that I believe you Must Hear.
Dagmar Krause – Tank Battles (1988)
I really didn’t know what to expect. I try to do a little bit of homework before I sit down to listen to an artist’s work for the first time. So I knew that Ms. Krause was a prominent figure on the German avant-rock scene, best known for her work with Henry Cow and Slapp Happy. Raise your hand if you’ve heard a note of Henry Cow.
OK, so, Tank Battles is a collection of 26 songs by German composer Hanns Eisler sung by Krause in English. Hanns Eisler (1898 –1962) was an Austrian composer, best known for composing the national anthem of the German Democratic Republic, and also notable for his long artistic association with Bertolt Brecht. To jog your memories, remember what I said about Holger Czukay’s Movies (1979)? Probably not. I said that I had a sweet spot for vocals by non-native English speakers. I think it’s cute. At least, I used to think it was cute. That was before I sat through Tank Battles, and I sat through the whole thing.
As you might imagine, there’s a certain amount of ennui that settles in during my listening and writing processes, which most often but not always run concurrently. If you wanted to cross an aforementioned military march with a Broadway show tune, then Tank Battles is not a bad record at all, but it’s not something the average listener Must Hear.
Dinosaur Jr – Bug (1988)
All told, my brother Bobby made me attend three Dinosaur Jr. shows between now and 1993-ish. It wasn’t that he threatened bodily harm if I refused to go, but he would say, in his infamous and inimitable way, “Come on, chief! You gotta come to the show with us.” While I hated every minute of the band’s set, these concert excursions were always a drug and alcohol-fuelled mating ball of trouble – something crazy went down, guaranteed. Good and bad times were had by some and not by others. At the same time, seeing the band live gave me something to stand on when I would say to people, “I’ve seen Dinosaur Jr. live, and they are legitimately terrible.”
From my best recollection, “The Post” was Bobby’s favorite jam from Bug, and I can see us flying down I-55 with the sunroof open, singing along:
She’s my post to lean on
and I just cut her down
So I’m out to land on somethin’
Hopefully a girl will come between me and the ground
Dwight Yoakam – Buenas Noches From A Lonely Room (1988)
One of my all-time favorite quotes happens to be from actress Sharon Stone, who said, “Even a shit sandwich is better than Dwight Yoakam.”
Everything But The Girl – Idlewild (1988)
Sophisti-pop is a subgenre term retrospectively applied to pop that flourished in the UK between the mid-1980s and early 1990s, incorporating elements of soft rock, jazz, new wave, and blue-eyed soul. Music so-classified often made extensive use of electronic keyboards, synthesizers, and polished arrangements, particularly horn sections. Acts were influenced by the work of Roxy Music and Bryan Ferry’s solo work. According to Allmusic, major artists included Sade, The Style Council, Basia, Swing Out Sister, Prefab Sprout, and the early work of Everything but the Girl.
Fishbone – Truth And Soul (1988)
Upon a cursory look, Truth and Soul, despite being a great record, was not a Must Hear Album, mainly because they have another completely amazing album coming soon. And then I got to thinking and it occurred to me that we haven’t heard the new breed of alternative funk rock yet, c.g. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Theolonius Monster, 24-7 Spys. Fishbone has to be the first.
Happy Mondays – Bummed (1988)
Another record that initially was a no-go but wound up Must Hear. The Mondays might have been massive in the U.K. and Europe, but this stuff wouldn’t find an American audience for a couple of years. In terms of the Manchester sound, the Stone Roses won’t make sense if you haven’t heard Bummed.
Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)
KD Lang – Shadowland (1988)
In full disclosure, I’ve heard this album at least a hundred times. In the mid 90s, I waited tables in a joint that had Shadowland and Harry Connick Jr.’s She on permanent rotation, and at some point, I experienced a Stockholm Syndrome-type of affection for both records. However, this is not the KD Lang album you need to hear.
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man (1988)
Granted, it’s been 20 years since The Songs of Leonard Cohen, and we missed Various Positions (1984) which contains Cohen’s crowning achievement “Hallelujah”, and the album that inspired a quote from Columbia Record boss Walter Yetnikoff, who told Cohen, “Look, Leonard; we know you’re great, but we don’t know if you’re any good.”
There are several best of Leonard Cohen collections. Get one.
Living Colour – Vivid (1988)
Not the first African-American metal band but the first and last African-American metal band to achieve mainstream platinum success. They’re really good, but they don’t really explain why there’s never been another African-American metal band.
Metallica – … And Justice For All (1988)
Man, it must have been tough. They lost Cliff Burton and they had to follow-up Master of Puppets. That’s a tall challenge. And they almost kind of met the challenge, too. But they didn’t. This album is marred by poor production, stale riffs, and predictable songwriting. The trauma of Burton’s loss stunted this band’s growth. They never made another metal record. They did, however, make one more Must Hear Album.
You could live 1,000 lifetimes and never hear …And Justice For All and you will have still lived a full and rewarding life.
Morrissey – Viva Hate (1988)
Nuh-Uh. You’ve heard the Smiths. Morrissey didn’t do anything with his solo career that he didn’t do with the Smiths. Case closed. I’m probably going to be repeating this a few times over the next few years.
Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff (1988)
Keep your eyes on Seattle, let us not forget, home of the Sonics.
My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (1988)
This record literally made people jump out of their skin. In one shot, My Bloody Valentine managed to announce the arrival two new alternative sub-genres: dream pop and shoegazing, while maintaining a solid guitar-driven alternative rock sound.
NWA – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988)
Of course, all four are Must Hear. End of.
The Go-Betweens – 16 Lovers Lane (1988)
If you’re going to get a full bug of jangle pop, it isn’t going to be from these cats.
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians – Globe of Frogs
Nowhere near Robyn Hitchcock’s most popular or acclaimed record, it did have one minor college radio hit with “Balloon Man”.
The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (1988)
The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988)
Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)
You could totally cherry pick an album’s worth of Must Hear jams from these four records.