Three Relatively Obvious and Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing Right Now

As I mentioned in Testing, Testing…Is This Thing On? I have a lot of material that I wrote with the intention of submitting somewhere, but never did. This is one of those articles.

Ironically, it’s also probably one of the few pieces that certain Web sites would have eagerly accepted – if I had stuck with the initial plan. Indeed, I started off with a common SEO key phrase – in the original title – but quickly went astray. What’s somewhat interesting about this article is the discussion (and inclusion) of the first chapter of an ill-fated audiobook which I recorded at home (including the opening theme music) and you can hear by scrolling down and clicking on the MP3.

Three Relatively Obvious and Simple Ways to Improve Your Writing Right Now

The following three ways of improving your writing are obvious and simple yet seldom discussed in the writing forums because they’re obvious and simple. But it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to revisit them right now.


RYSOL is by far the most effective and efficient method of proofreading; and the most legitimate way to evaluate the clarity of your writing.

Reading your shit out loud might not be fun at first, but it will improve your writing. To keep it interesting, you might consider recording yourself.

Allow me to tell you a short story about a short story that perfectly exemplifies the importance of RYSOL.

Several years ago, I pitched an autobiographical short story and the publisher asked me to narrate an audiobook version. Having a fair amount of experience in audio production, professional voice-overs, and extensive experience in home and commercial recording studios, I said OK.

The publisher asked for a price: How much to do the whole thing?

That, I replied, I didn’t know, because I had never recorded an audiobook. However, I have all the necessary professional sound recording equipment at home and it might save him a few bucks if I did it myself, rather than going into a commercial studio. *

* I have done shitloads of flat hourly-rate voice-over work for this publisher, and he has a preferred studio, let’s call it Champion Audio, owned and operated by his friend. All of the publishing company’s in-house audio materials get recorded at Champion. So I had a good idea of how much it would cost at Champion vs. on my own, but I didn’t know how long it would take. If I had to quote him a flat-rate for an entire audiobook, I might have screwed myself to the wall. I’m glad I didn’t do that.

The 15,000-word short story is spread out over 10 chapters. Each 1,500-word chapter equals roughly 4 minutes of recorded audio. Intro and outro sections are 15 seconds each. Although I routinely bang out the voice-over shit in record time, this is “voice talent” work, which is completely different.

The bulk of voice-over work is:

Woman UK: Hi, Greg. How are you today?
Man US: I’m OK, Marsha. How about you? Had enough of this rainy weather?
Woman UK: Yeah. It sucks. My roommate killed herself the other night.
Man US: Really? That’s too bad. How?
Woman UK: She slit her wrists and bled out in the bathtub.
Man US: Oh, that’s a common way people do it.
Woman UK: So true. She was nothing special. An under-achiever, that one.
Man US: So I guess you’re looking for a new roommate?

In light of the ambiguities both stated and implied, I offered to record just the first chapter in order to formulate an estimate. The logic being: However long it took me to do the first chapter would be multiplied by 10 = The Price.

We agreed on a fair hourly rate, shook hands, and I went to work.

I’m going to skip most of the technical pre- and post-production related issues involved in recording an audiobook. I’m also going to skip the formatting details and the differences between a manuscript and a transcript. At this point, I’m just going to assume you’ve heard an audiobook and you know there’s more to it than Stephen King starts talking: “Hi, I’m Steve. This is my book. It’s called Shawshank Redemption.”

Once I started recording, I hadn’t made it through the second paragraph before I had to stop and edit a line. Although it looked fine on the page and read well in my mind, it sounded weird.

That’s OK, isn’t it? Change it. Right?

Not so fast.

The publisher had already accepted the final draft and I was told the manuscript had been through the complete food chain of editing, formatting, and proofing. I had to stop what I was doing, call the guy, and ask if the story had gone to the printer.

Fortunately, it hadn’t. I was able to continue working. But FAR MORE IMPORTANTLY, I was able to prevent an inferior draft of my story from being published. All told, I wound up making a dozen changes to the first chapter of the story in question.

Eventually, even though the audiobook deal didn’t happen – I went ahead and recorded the entire story and made dozens of changes. The act of telling the story made my lips turn numb. Hearing the story brought my language to life and tears to my eyes. The print version was published and I guess everybody liked it. I dunno. The publisher didn’t ask me for an original piece of writing for at least a year after that.

Obviously, I had not practiced what I’m preaching about here – RYSOL – because if I had, I would have made those changes long before I sat down to record an audiobook, and certainly saved everybody down-line a lot of heartache and my pet peeve: having to do shit twice.

Moreover, when was the last time you recorded yourself talking for five minutes at a time? When was the last time you spoke non-stop for five minutes? When was the last time you read a 10-minute speech out loud? Something to think about, kids.

Nowadays, I’m reading emails out loud before I send them.


It may seem counter-intuitive in terms of improving your writing right now, but there’s no easier method to improve your writing right now than SOS. Write it, polish it, file it away, and come back another day.

Unless a piece of writing is on a deadline, it will go through an extended process of intensive engagement followed by at least a week of complete neglect. The better I think it is the longer I’m going to sit on it. This is why it’s important for a writer to have many different works in-progress.

The first way SOS improves your writing is the implied perspective. Perhaps at the time of writing you were particularly aroused or impassioned about the subject. Or maybe vice versa. Whatever words are on the page will not change in the interim. However, you are a changeable human being. You might be a thousand different people on any given day.

Coming back to a solid piece of writing after a break gives you fresh insight. And if the writing is good, you’ll be excited about finding ways of making it even better. If it sucks, you either salvage or jettison the wreckage.

The second way SOS improves your writing is related to the first in as much as we change as human beings on a daily basis, we also learn shit, too.

Many years ago I wrote for several obscure music magazines and I was pretty much able to write whatever the fuck I wanted and they’d print it. At some point, I pitched and wrote an article about how I believed two rock stars in particular “ruined it for everyone.”

The publisher jumped out of his skin: “Yes! Yes! Write it now!”

And so I wrote the piece, which was full of snarky, bitter rancor, and yet managed to present an argument, back it up, and ultimately make the reader decide: Do I agree with this guy or not?

The first draft came back from the publisher with a few notes about “toning down” some of my rhetoric and whatnot. In those days, I wouldn’t say I was terribly sensitive to criticism, but the fastest way to alienate me [from writing for you] would be to ask me to “tone something down.”

And so I said, “Listen, I gave you that other piece about dive bars ’30 Days in the Hole’ – it’s ready to go and you already said you like it. Just run that one this month, huh?”

Humble 1

The publisher, who had forgotten about the dive bar piece, immediately agreed to run “30 Days in the Hole”. It was a relative hit as far as the magazine was concerned. The “ruined it for everyone” essay got filed away and forgotten about.

Until a decade later, I was waiting tables in a fancy restaurant in a major city and guess who I had the honor of waiting on? One of the two rock stars I’d previously accused (and convicted) or “ruining it for everyone”.

You can read about it here (“Robert Plant Didn’t Ruin It For Anybody” ), but the TL:DR version is: He was an amazing human being and he absolutely didn’t ruin anything for anyone. He made it possible for thousands of people to do what they do.

I was incredibly humbled and I made a point of going home and reading a draft of that unpublished 10-year-old article. My only thought was: “Jesus, I was such an asshole in 1995.”


Little_BrownDo you have a copy of this (or any other style manual) within arms’ reach at this moment? No? Tsk-tsk. Bad writer. You’re not interested in simple ways to improve your writing, are you?

Look, I’m not some wise old geyser who thinks he knows everything. Hell, I’m not even that old. But even at this stage of my career, if I’m writing, one of two books is with me:

A Writer’s Reference by Diane Hacker (Third Edition); and/or

The Little, Brown Handbook (Thirteenth Edition)

The Internet puts reference at your fingertips. You don’t necessarily need hard copies of The Chicago Manual of Style or The Book of Lists on your desk (or preferred writing station), unless you enjoy reading those books in your spare time, which I do. For instance, the other day I had a poignant semi-colon dilemma and reached for The Little, Brown to resolve it. Once I started reading about semi-colons, it led to colons, and I wound up re-reading the entire section on punctuation – for about the 100th time in my life.

Writers-RefBecause you’re clearly online, you should have already bookmarked myriad word, grammar, reference, and writing-themed sites. You should visit those sites on a daily basis. You should visit Fairlex Free Dictionary just to see what their word of the day is. You should visit Wikipedia to see what their page of the day is. You should read your horoscope and check the weather forecast. You should do all of this before you think about writing.

You can never know enough about writing and language itself to venture out into the world of words without some kind of beacon, no more than an experienced camper would enter the wilderness without a light source.


Writing High Vs. Not High – Greasy Roy’s Emporium of Arcane Knowledge & Recondite Wisdom

Fascinating look into the world of a professional chemical recreationist. “Writing High Vs. High” is the inaugural post from the indomitable Greasy Roy.

Source: Writing High Vs. Not High – Greasy Roy’s Emporium of Arcane Knowledge & Recondite Wisdom

Testing, Testing…Is This Thing On?

It’s been seven months since the last post and I have a fairly decent explanation for my absence: I’ve been busy.

I’ve been busy with work, family, travel, music, and of course, writing, since that’s what I do for a living. And I’m fortunate to have this life.

Work-wise, I’m still doing 9-to-5 at a publishing company in Taipei, and freelancing on the side, which makes it possible for me to do everything else.

My son Henry is now five and a half years old and in kindergarten. My wife Janice recently started a new, hopefully much better job.

Rev-Now_01Musically, I’ve become as active as I’ve been in at least 10 years, and two months ago began playing a weekly solo gig at a cool joint in Taipei.

Writing…yeah, I’ve been writing every day. The freelance situation has been hit-or-miss; mostly miss. It’s not for a lack of effort though.

The problem with me and writing is simple. I’m only interested in writing about what I’m interested in writing about. Unless there’s cash involved.

Even when money is the motivation, the material has to be within a certain set of parameters. If nothing else, I know myself.

Anyway, I have a backlog of stuff that was written for other publications and for whatever reason – like the previous post – didn’t get accepted.

In some cases, I wrote something and then decided not to send it to anybody. Christ, you have no idea how often that happens.

Additionally, I’ve been sitting on a small mountain of (recorded) original music and want to get that out for the few people who might want to hear it.

I feel like I’ve fallen into a nasty habit of letting stuff sit “in the can” for too long, and it’s now time to make some room in the ole storage space.

So the next few posts – might be more than a few, actually – will consist of material that needs to be set free, for lack of a better term.

At some point, I’ll get around to talking about the solo gig and what that’s all about. It’s been…interesting.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Freelancer’s Delight: Top 10 Questions You’ll Be Asked in China, and How to Respond in Mandarin

Freelance writing is by far the most variable, infuriating, and futile work I’ve done in my life…so far. Have you seen my resume of dead-end jobs? It’s pretty impressive.

Barback, barista, bartender, busboy, carpenter’s apprentice, delivery driver, doorman, dishwasher, entertainer, ESL teacher, file clerk, food runner, garde manger, general construction laborer, general manager of small Italian bistro, grocery clerk, guitar teacher, fry cook, hardware salesman, house-sitter, janitor, landscaper, landscape designer, maintenance man, office temp, manager of a coffee shop, parking lot attendant, personal assistant, phone clerk (Chicago Board of Trade), prep cook, publisher’s intern, retail clerk, runner (Commodities Trading Floor, CBOT), quasi-sommelier, sound engineer, substitute high school English teacher, telemarketer/recruiter, tour guide, valet, waiter, and last but not least, window washer.


I’m forgetting a couple of truly hellish gigs, but that window-washing job was the worst: Winter in suburban Chicago. Exposed to the elements all day everyday, frequently 20-50 feet off the ground in windy conditions, perpetually wet, wearing a tool belt of specialized squeegees, and the boss is a total dick who doesn’t care what happens, those fucking windows are gonna be washed.

Even though I desperately needed that approximately $12 an hour gig, I finally quit after two months of torture. Today, there are times when I would gladly trade this freelance writing nonsense for a squeegee and a bucket, strap on the safety harness and eagerly mount the scaffold, thrilled to be washing the windows of a four-story medical clinic in Lemont, Illinois, on the most raw, abusive December day in recorded history.

So why do it? To be honest, the only reason I’m still in the freelance writing game is for the sport: the occasional but massive rush of satisfaction when a payment for services rendered finally comes down the pipe. And I like writing; it’s nice to get paid doing what you like.

However, because I’m not interested in content farming, listicles, product descriptions, trending subjects and categories, mobile tech, K-pop, or SEO bullshit, I’m basically ankle-deep in a kiddie pool of potential clients. Overall, outlier writing gigs for guys like me are few and far between, and the competition is infinite.


Typical job listing board

Editing and writing are two separate aspects of the same discipline, and I’m good at both – I’ll edit the shit out of the average screenplay – but creative writing is what I think I do best.

As a writer-for-hire, I’m accommodating only up to a certain point, i.e. admittedly not the easiest and most flexible guy to work with. And that’s cost me more gigs than I can count. But the one thing I have never compromised is my writing style. This is how I write and if it appeals to the client, we can do business. If it doesn’t, we can’t. No hard feelings.

And even though I consciously maintain a strict policy to never write anything for free, the fact is I write a lot of shit for free.

Thus, part of the freelance game is writing stuff in lieu of an interview – a sort of test. The client says, “Hey, write me something and let’s see how it goes.” And so, I spend anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours working on the article or whatever, and send it off.

Before I click SEND, I remind myself that I’ll never hear from one out of every three potential clients. Another third will write back to say no thanks. And the final third will write back enthusiastically, “That’s great! Can you do ten of those a day for three dollars each?”

I could, but I’m not going to.

Every so often there’s a stitch in the fabric of the universe and you come across a great gig where the client is legitimate; meaning, they pay; and you like the work – or at least, don’t mind the work. Even better if it’s an on-going project.

Freelance writers have to be sharks in that we can never stop looking for gigs; you’ve always got to be swimming, metaphorically. Even though I have three on-going gigs with work on the table, plus my regular job, I’m always on the prowl for new shit. So the other day I came across a job listing for the rare gig that seemed to be right up my alley: Blog writer to share their experience in China.


Oh, hello. Did you mention “experience in China”?

After going through the application process, I was contacted by a rep for the company, who complemented some of my previous work (from The Lazy Bastard Guide to Mandarin), and offered me an interview-by-example.

After accepting, I spent the next 10 hours crafting a piece on the topic of their choice (a topic I had suggested during the application process). When the article was finished, I sent it off to the rep and for the first time in a very long while, I thought to myself, “I think they’re going to dig that.”

Silly freelance writer…

The next morning I received an email from the rep saying thanks and we’ll look it over and get back to you soon. A few hours later, I received a BCC email informing “us” that due to personnel issues at the company, they have suspended the hiring process until further notice.

Normally, I would have simply chalked it up as par for the course. Oh well. At least I enjoyed writing the piece.

And then I thought, well, why not just publish it myself? Isn’t that what I’ve been doing for the last however many years?

At the same time, writing the article revived my interest in the second edition of The Lazy Bastard Guide to Mandarin, which has been sitting in cold storage for over a year.

So here is what might have been a paid blog post for a potential client.

A couple of things to note: First, the assignment required Simplified Chinese characters, while I’ve generally used the Traditional characters – this is the main difference between Mandarin in China and Taiwan. Second, because I used a series of translation devices, some of the characters may appear kind of funky – bolded out n’ shit – in different browsers. Sorry about that. Finally, the potential client was a website that caters to people currently learning Mandarin, from beginners to high-intermediate students. Were this genuinely a Lazy Bastard piece, I’m sure some things would be different. Wink, nudge.

10 Common Questions You’ll Probably Be Asked in China – and How To Respond in Mandarin

A Theory of People

Inspired by eight-plus years of living and working in Taiwan and China, my Theory of People formulates that there are only three main types of human beings in the world: The Curious, The Indifferent, and The Afraid.

  • The Curious are always asking questions. They want to know all the basics of a story: Who, how, what, where, when, and why? They’re far from innocent; but as a rule, decent people with a genuine sense of wonder.
  • The Indifferent couldn’t care less who you are or what you’re doing in their part of town as long as you don’t cause trouble. Mind your own business: 管好你自己的事 (guǎn hǎo nǐ zì jǐ de shì), or 少管闲事 (shǎo guǎn xián shì). Sure, they notice you’re not from around here, but whatever. The Indifferent have better things to do.
  • The Afraid are suspicious, resentful, self–destructive, and often times hostile toward anything or anyone who doesn’t fit into their personal game of Global Jenga, i.e. 外国人 (wài guó rén) – Foreigners. The Afraid fear change and progress, but you can’t blame them; you don’t know their lives. And vice versa.

Sometimes when you have more than two of anything that multiplies, they’re going to intermix: What is the color orange but a combination of red and yellow? What is a mule but half–horse half–donkey?

Extra–extra generally speaking, you’re going to encounter all three types of people in China, plus the hybrids; for instance, Curiorents and Infraids.

  • Curiorents are those guys who come up to you at a party and say, “Hey, whatcha drinking? Smirnoff Ice? Coooolll….” And that’s basically the end of the conversation. Their curiosity has been satisfied and you are dismissed, 老外 (lǎo wài).
  • Infraids accidentally bump into you at the same party, causing you to drop the bottle, and the first words out of their mouths are: “What was that, Smirnoff Ice? Yeah, I thought so… foreign scum.”

The Curious Way

The Chinese are curious for one obvious and simple reason: Outside of the major cities, the majority of Chinese don’t see a lot of people like you and me on a daily basis, let alone an uncensored basis, except in Hollywood films and on TV; the latter being far more evil and misleading than the former, but herein is the point. The media is not reality.

So when a real–live westerner bearing a teeny–tiny slight resemblance to Moby on the worst day of his life rolls through a remote tourist village in Fujian Province, a shitload of people are going to stop and take notice, and they might want to take a picture with you – get used to it. That’s human nature and the backbone of The Curious Way.

Above all, both The Curious and The Indifferent mean absolutely no harm.


Making some new friends at 武夷山 (wǔ yí shān), 2008

Essential Fact(s) and Impressions Before We Proceed

According to the Sixth National Population Census of the People’s Republic of China (2010), there are approximately 600,000 foreigners in China on a semi–permanent basis, making up 0.04% of the population. That means, and I’m sorry for the math, a ratio of approximately 1/23,000.

For every Hong Kong Disneyland full of Cantonese pop stars, there’s one of you.

To be frank, I was prepared to draw limited yet entertaining but unnecessary attention everywhere I went in China based on my appearance – I own a mirror. But I may have misinterpreted the overall intention of the general public. And I hadn’t yet formulated my Theory of People.

At the time of my first visit it seemed like people judged me [with a sly grin], “Well, well, well, what do we have here?” And to a certain extent, I was right.

Except most people were actually thinking: “Shit! A foreigner! [Pause] Goofy lookin’ bastard, innit he? The hell is he doin’ ere?”

Elevator Mandarin: Keeping It Short and Simple

All in all, these questions form the backbone of what I call Elevator Mandarin, arising in a wide variety of settings, from a bus station in Guangzhou to the executive lounge at the top of Jin Mao Tower, and mostly based upon random interactions with complete strangers. In other words, small talk.

[In more formal contexts, it’s common for the host to introduce the foreigner by name and home country, and so, several questions will be already answered.]

Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai, China. Photo credit: Bamboo Compass

Nearly every single question has been asked of me in the elevator of my apartment building in Taipei, Taiwan, and asked by neighboring residents – Curiorents who’ve seen me coming and going for the last eight years but never gave me as much as a 你好 (nǐ hǎo). Some already know the answers (thanks to local gossip) and others are genuinely in the dark, and thus, curious. All of a sudden, they find themselves stuck in the elevator with me, going up. It’s actually pretty funny.

No matter what the situation, be polite and keep it short and simple.

The Questions and Responses

1a. Where are you from? / Where do you come from?

从你在哪里? (cóng nǐ zài nǎlǐ?) – From where you are?

你来自哪里? (nǐ lái zì nǎlǐ?) – Where you come from?

The number one question you will be asked, everywhere, almost guaranteed, if it were possible to guarantee anything: The Origin Question.

Unfortunately, The Origin Question takes at least two different forms as seen above. Thanks to countless regional dialects and myriad accents, there are more. And worse, the grammar is unique and odd to the western ear. That’s why we have…

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: nǐ, cóng, nǎlǐ (you, from, where)

Listening and understanding is more important than responding. You’re free to challenge me on this; however, in my experience, comprehension is the egg before the chicken.

Graciously, sometimes elegantly, less is almost always more in Mandarin Chinese. And therefore, this question is extremely easy to answer – if you know where you’re from and how to say the name in Mandarin. But it is that simple. Because I’m from the U.S., my answer is one word, two syllables: 美国 (měi guó).

Now, I don’t want to get into the nuts and bolts of language and semantics, but listen for the keywords and know that if you’re from France, the answer is: 法国 (fà guó).

Of course, you could get fancy and say: I’m from the U.S., or I’m French: 我是法国人(wǒ shì fà guó rén), but it’s completely unnecessary. Skip the , shì, and rén.

EXTRA LEARNING SECTION: List of the most common foreign nationalities in China (other than American and French, which you’ve already got).


韩国 hán guó – Korea

日本 rì běn – Japan

缅甸 miǎn diàn – Myanmar (Burma)

越南 yuè nán – Vietnam

加拿大 jiā ná dà – Canada

印度 yìn dù – India

德国 dé guó – Germany

澳大利亚 ao dà lì yǎ – Australia

1b. Where in U.S.?

The more ambitious folks could take this a couple of steps further and explain exactly where they’re from, especially in the U.S., where according to U.N. statistics, a quarter of all Chinese immigrants wind up. Odds are good whoever you’re talking to has family in California. [It’s very common to hear, 我的儿子是在斯坦福大学的学生(wǒ de ér zi shì zài sī tǎn fú dà xué de xué shēng) – My son is a student at Stanford.]

Plus, the Chinese are crazy about traveling abroad; they may have already visited your home country, so they want to know if they’ve been to your hometown – or within a 500–mile radius. To have something in common helps the conversation continue, for better or for worse.

2. How long have you been in Shanghai?

多久你在上海 (duō jiǔ nǐ zài shàng hǎi?)

I’ve never set foot in a Mandarin class, so I’m assuming that some of the first stuff they teach you is the numbers, days, dates, times, etc. At least, that’s what I learned at the beginning of my on-going crash course in Survival Mandarin, emphasis on the word crash, and to this day I still count with my fingers.

Anyway, you’re 死定 (sǐ dìng) – screwed without knowing numbers 1 through 10 and the difference between days, months, and years.

Let’s say six months. “I’ve been in Shanghai for six months.” All you need to say is: 六个月 (liù gè yuè). There is absolutely no need to complicate things. Just answer the question like you were on a gameshow.

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: duōjiǔ, nǐ, zài (how long, you, here)

Honestly, sometimes people ask this in ways I’m not even capable of explaining or translating. They use duōjiǔ in Taiwan, where I spend the bulk of my time, so it might be a little different in China.

3. How long are you planning to stay? / How long you will stay in China?

多久你会在中国留下来吗? (duō jiǔ nǐ huì zài zhōng guó liú xià lái ma?)

Man, I hate this question because it’s very easy to confuse with #2, but at the same time, I love it because it taught me the proper way to say 我不知道 (wǒ bù zhī dào)I don’t know to just about everything under the sun. What I do know is that liú means “stay”, and that implies the future. I think. Don’t quote me on that.

我不知道 (wǒ bù zhī dào), to put it bluntly, is awesome. It’s my second favorite Mandarin phrase after 我不在乎 (wǒ bù zài hū) – I don’t care.

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: duō jiǔ nǐ huì zài zhōng guó liú xià lái ma

Yeah, I know, that’s all of the words. You really need to anticipate the question and memorize the pattern.

You know what’s weird? Here we are a couple of sentences into a relationship and we already know where you’re from and how long you’ve been here, but we don’t know your name. In fact, 你叫什么名字? (nǐ jiào shén me míng zì?) – What’s your name? isn’t even in the top 10 of questions you’ll be asked. I can’t remember the last time someone asked my name in Mandarin.

4. Do you speak Mandarin? / How’s your Mandarin?

你会说普通话吗? (nǐ huì shuō pǔ tōng huà ma?) – Do you speak Mandarin?

你会说国语 (nǐ huì shuō guó yǔ?) – Do you speak Chinese?

如何是你的普通话 (rúhé shì nǐ de pǔ tōng huà?) – How’s your Mandarin?

I’ve heard it phrased a bunch of different ways, but the gist is really, “Can we have a conversation in Chinese, or is this going be a pain in the ass? Cuz my English sucks.”

First of all, in a non-scientific estimation, there are three main ways to interpret Mandarin. There’s 普通话 (pǔ tōng huà), the official form of Chinese based on the Beijing dialect; 国语 (guó yǔ), the “national language” taught in schools; and 中文 (zhōng wén), which refers more or less to the written forms.  And sometimes, I hear 中国话 (zhōng guó huà), which literally means “spoken Chinese”, but my listening skills are questionable.

如何是你的 普通话 (rúhé shì nǐ de pǔ tōng huà?) – How’s your Mandarin? is probably the most common way I’ve been asked, mainly because I’ve already demonstrated the most basic linguistic skills by answering Questions 1 through 3.

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: huì shuō (speak)

Not to be a wise guy, but consider the context; they’re never going to ask if you can speak Arabic, right? All you need to hear is 会说 (huì shuō).

How you respond is going to depend on your level of skill and motivation to continue the conversation. Since I’m a jaded and cynical old bastard, even though I’m capable of some decent Mandarin, I always, always say: 我讲一点点 (wǒ jiǎng yī diǎn diǎn) – I speak a little, mainly because I know what’s coming next.

5. Are you an English Teacher? / What do you do? / What’s your gig?

你是英语老师? (nǐ shì yīngy ǔ lǎo shī?) – You’re an English teacher, I assume.

你做什么工作 (nǐ zuò shén me gōng zuò?) – You do what work?


Taipei Cram School Graduation Day, 2008. The kid is probably running his father’s factory in Dongguan, I dunno.

I’m only half–joking when I say that the Chinese see a foreigner and assume you’re an English teacher. This applies mainly to Caucasians. Couldn’t tell you how many hundreds of times I’ve been jammed with the 老师 (lǎoshī) question. And to be fair, I’ve briefly taught English in both Taiwan and the U.S. And I look like somebody who’s read a few books and written a few pointless 10,000–word essays on Chaucer.

If you’re a teacher, you say, “我是一名英语教师” (wǒ shì yī bǔxí bān jiàoshī) – Yes, I am an English (cram school) teacher. To keep it real simple and stupid, just say, “对” (duì) – Correct.

If you’re not a teacher, you’re about to enter a whole new world of complications. 我是一个作家 (wǒ shì yīgè zuòjiā) – I’m a writer, so that leads to questions like, “What kind of writer?” or “What do you write?” and honestly, it’s almost easier to say I’m a teacher and let it go at that.

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: shì, yīngyǔ, lǎoshī, gōngzuò (are, English, teacher, work)

At this point, I hope I’ve established a routine of common sense. But 补习班 (bǔxí bān) – Cram school.

6. Do you like it here? / How do you like it here?

你喜欢它在中国 (nǐ xǐhuān tā zài zhōngguó) – Do you like being in China?

你喜欢住在台湾?(nǐ xǐhuān zhù zài táiwān?) – Do you like living in Taiwan?

It’s not terribly surprising that it seems important to the Chinese that you like being in their country. They want to know that you’re happy. Now, I’m not telling you how to live your life, but I will advise you that there’s really only one response to this question.

我喜欢中国非常 (wǒ xǐhuān zhōngguó fēicháng) – I like China very much. If no one has mentioned this before, nobody, nowhere, wants to hear you talking shit about their country, especially when you’re in it. I don’t care if you’re ready to slash your wrists – lengthwise for results. You like China. End of.

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: xǐhuān, zhōngguó (like, China)

7. Where are you staying? Where do you live?

你住在哪里? (nǐ zhù zài nǎlǐ?) – You stay where?

你在哪里居住在厦门 (nǐ zài nǎlǐ jūzhù zài xiàmén) You live where in Xiamen?

Of all the questions, this one leads to the most advanced vocabulary contingencies. Here’s what I say:

我 住在大安区,信义上道 (wǒ zhù zài dà’ān qū, xìnyì shàng dào) – I live in the Da’an District, on Xinyi Road. I don’t know if I’m right, but everybody seems to get the idea.

Now, in the elevator of my building, they usually say, 你住在四楼,对不对? (nǐ zhù zài sì lóu, duì bùduì?) – You live on the fourth floor, right?

foreigner-4Semi-well known Chinese superstition: the word for “four” 四 (sì) sounds like the word for “dead” 死 (sǐ), so people don’t like to live on the fourth floor of buildings, which is why a lot of foreigners live on the fourth floor. Personally, four is my favorite number, and I don’t care what floor I live on as long as it’s above ground.

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: zhù, zài, nǎlǐ (stay/live, where)

8. What do you want? / What do you need?

你想要什么 (nǐ xiǎng yào shén me) – You want what?

你需要什么 (nǐ xū yào shén me?) – You need what?

This is somewhat specific to shopping and other service-related transactions. It’s pretty uncommon to hear, “我怎么帮你 (wǒ zěnme bāng nǐ) – How can I help you? Which is what we’re used to the West. The problem is how they ask: in one breath, so it’s all jammed up and sounds like “xiàoshénme”. Walk up to any convenience store counter and the kid will say, “xūyào shénme?” And you better be ready to tell him.

给我一个打火机 (gěi wǒ yīgè dǎhuǒjī) – Give me a (cigarette) lighter.

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: yào, shén me (want, what)

9. For here or to go?

在这里吃还是带走? (zài zhèlǐ hái shì dài zǒu?) – For here or to go?

外带? (wài dài) – For take away?

带走 (dài zǒu)? – To go?

McDonald’s. 麦当劳 (mài dāng láo). The Golden Arches. 麦当劳叔叔 (mài dāng láo shū shu) – Ronald McDonald kept me alive during my first few months in Asia. No matter how I butchered the Mandarin: “我要两个起司汉堡” (wǒ yào liǎng gè qǐsī hàn bǎo), I got my two cheeseburgers. Oh, and, 带走 (dài zǒu).


You could say, “这里” (zhèlǐ) – For here, but I wouldn’t, even if I’m planning on eating it right there at the counter.

Also Good To Know:

可乐 (kělè) – Coca-cola

炸薯条 (zhà shǔ tiáo) – French fries

KEY WORDS TO LISTEN FOR: wài dài, dài zǒu

10. Where do you want to go?

你想去哪里 (nǐ xiǎng qù nǎlǐ)

I thought it would be nice to close the segment with something simple but useful. Even the most hardcore, tree-hugging environmentalist is going to use some form of motorized transportation.

In light of the possibilities, I’m not going to suggest a spoken response to the question. No, I highly recommend that you have your destination printed out in Chinese; whether you ask someone to do it for you, or use Google Maps and do it yourself – get that shit in writing, so the ticket agent or taxi driver can read it. This is also why I always, always take a business card of an establishment, if it’s offered. I have shoe boxes full of business cards. You never know when you might be coming back, or, you never know when you might need to visit a place that’s just down the street from said venue.


Of course, you could be adventurous and rely on your Mandarin skills.

Robert Plant Didn’t Ruin It For Anybody

I used to think that Robert Plant ruined it for everybody.
One could argue that rock music does not have a single, universally-beloved figure, for lack of a better term. Nobody can agree on The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones; some people never liked Elvis or Bob Dylan; Nickelback may be the most hated band to have been certified platinum. The rock niche of music appreciation may forever lack consensus, but, there is one near-to-universal-as-possible truth. You may not like them, but you can’t deny Led Zeppelin.


I’ve asked random strangers, “Hey, do you like Led Zeppelin?” and the responses have run the gamut from:

“They’re the greatest rock band of all-time!”

To my personal favorite: “Yeah, he’s OK.”

Only on the rare occasion have I heard someone say, “They suck and I despise them.” Keith Richards and Pete Townshend have both said they hated Led Zeppelin’s music – but liked and respected them as individuals. According to Townshend, that bias is based at partially on competition; The Stones, The Who, and Led Zeppelin were each at one time the biggest band in the world.

Fair enough. But if you like rock music, at the very least, you appreciate Led Zeppelin. To deny them is saying you don’t appreciate the taste of fresh, clean water. They are rock music, more so than any other band before or after them; they defined what we all know today as Rock Music.

Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s sweet; sometimes it’s tender, sometimes it’s tuff. The Velvet Underground may have released their “Rock n’ Roll” before Led Zeppelin IV, but the two were light-years apart. At that point, there was rock n’ rol; and there was rock.

Rock. No rolling. Well, maybe every now and then. But Rock.

Zeppelin arguably consisted of three of the world’s finest rock musicians…and Robert Plant.

Jimmy Page, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones were among the best at what they did, no question. Plant, on the other hand, was certainly one of the best rock front men of the era; but sometimes he… “Does anybody remember the laughter?”

For a long time, this put me in a catch-22 situation, viz a viz dive bar conversations about music. You can still love the band and have grumbles about Robert Plant. Not his talent, maybe his voice, sometimes—but it’s him: Robert Plant the Golden God rock star; the guy every rock singer from 1969-forward wanted to be.

Robert Plant Didn't Ruin It For Anyone

At some point in my life, I could no longer listen to Zeppelin without thinking about the concert film The Song Remains the Same (1973), which is not quite as bad as Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Opera (1979) – more cringing, fewer chuckles.

As a true Zeppelin fan, I’m an odd ball; my favorite album, Presence (1976), is their least popular in terms of everything—sales, criticism, airplay. Ask an Average Joe to name a song off Presence and he pulls “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” out of thin air? We will be fast friends, guaranteed.

In the end, Robert Plant is an inimical performer, but that didn’t stop a phalanx of next-generation front men from aping his routine.

This why for the longest time I believed that Robert Plant ruined it for everyone—everyone being front men of rock bands – which by the way, is not nearly as easy as Plant made it look. And I was the front man of a series of bands from 1989-2006.

If he hadn’t have come along and created the Golden God character, perhaps we would not have seen questionably embarrassing lead singers like Jim “Dandy” Mangrum, David Lee Roth, David Coverdale, Bret Michaels, Vince Neil, Axl Rose, Jani Lane, E-T-C. Honestly, I like music by all of those guys, that’s just me; I’m into transsexual birthday party clowns – none of whom could actually sing, by the way.

Poison rose

And it all started with Plant.


From 1999 to 2008, I worked at a few upscale restaurants in San Francisco.

Wait tables in any big city for nine years and you’ll probably meet some famous people.

By far, the best thing about waiting on famous people is when they surprise you. Sometimes it’s in a good way; when [famous actor] leaves a $200 tip on a $300 tab.

Sometimes it’s not so good; when [notorious infomercial salesman] turns out to be an even bigger douche than he appears to be on TV. You get a story out of it, at the very least.

Years earlier in Chicago, I once valet-parked [superstar athlete’s] car, which was the first and only time I ever drove a Lamborghini—never been so scared to get behind the wheel of a vehicle in my whole life; and also, waited on some pro baseball players.

Playing in a band, I got close to some relatively famous people, but the highlight of my life was meeting Cheap Trick and getting their autographs on my 30th birthday.


In S.F., I started as a food runner at fancy place in the Financial District. As a lowly food runner, I didn’t actually take [A-list comedic actor’s] order, but he seemed to be slightly more comfortable talking to me as opposed to his server. After the shift, I told my friend, “They must beat [Hollywood actors] within an inch of their lives on those movie sets, because [famous actor] had less on the ball than Muhammad Ali.” It was my first week; I was still green.

Not long thereafter, I brought Neil Young‘s entree to his table. “Mr. Young, it’s a pleasure to serve you this Chilean sea bass in a shitake mushroom bisque.”

While training to be a lunch server, I was nearly fired after an experience with [big rock star and his drummer]. In general, the biggest sin you could possibly commit is to forget that you are a food runner in a ridiculously over-priced and over-rated eatery, and they are big stars. Don’t do that.

Meanwhile, I moved to a different restaurant frequented by the rich and famous. I met dozens of household names, and for the most part, everyone was nice, or nice enough. Only on the rare occasion was somebody a dick, so it was cool to be in their rarified presence. And then after so many years, we became jaded.

“Oh, you waited on [A-list actress] last night? She’s either borderline retarded, or really, really high, isn’t she?”

One Tuesday night in July 2005, it was getting close to closing time and I was working a section that was more or less the dumping ground for people without reservations. This was the kind of joint that didn’t say “No” to anyone or anything, period. My section was essentially one super-long picnic table, however, cut from one massive piece of exotic hardwood, and one of the coolest tables I’ve ever seen. Anyway, my diners had cleared out and I was idling in back near the dish room, arguing with one of the bussers.

As I was headed to the bar to cash out, the on-duty manager walked past me and said “Set the family table for 12, now. Thank me later.”

I spun around and said, “What?”

“Just do it.”

This manager wasn’t the power-tripping type. He never stuck me with late night scraps if he could avoid it. He had my respect, as did almost every manager we ever had there. So I grumbled under my breath and caught my busser by the scruff of the neck.

“Para los doce.”

“Ay mamon!”

Ten minutes later, Robert Plant, followed by ten members of his band and crew, walked into the dining room and sat down. They had arrived via limo following their sold-out performance at Oakland’s Paramount Theater. Plant was touring in support of his latest release, Mighty ReArranger, with his backing band, Strange Sensations.

Robert Plant Didn't Ruin It For Anyone

My first thought: Man, he’s taller than I thought he would be.

Plant is listed at 6 ft. in cowboy boots, which he was wearing. His ensemble was very very suburban rock star dad mixed with Nashville songwriter. No kidding, he was wearing a gray t-shirt with some wolf or bear face, tucked into his tight jeans. Also, turquoise belt buckle? Check. There was something very angular and asymmetrical about his posture, as if he’d had a bad automobile accident (or several) and will never walk completely straight or upright for the rest of his life. Hair? Grayer but still there, all of it. Plus two or three day goatee—how would I know the last time he shaved? He had a light beard.

Robert Plant Didn't Ruin It For Anyone

Fortunately, I didn’t drop to my knees and bow at Plant’s feet. This is what being professional is all about, haha. You never let any of your personal anxieties get in the way of getting the job done.

Plant took a seat at the head of the table and got my immediate attention. The next 15 minutes were a blur; I remember making eye contact as he told me how to run the table (in terms of ordering and whatnot), and I felt as if I was looking into the eyes of a wise yet familiar magus from ancient times.

Seriously, I have never experienced that before.

“Holy Christ! All that nonsense about Golem and the Evil One was actually true!”

This guy isn’t old; he’s ancient, possibly prehistoric. From another planet. He had the most knowing expression I’ve ever encountered.

At the 15-minute mark, with food coming to the table and wine in every glass, I walked away and posted up at the barista station to resume my observation. A few minutes later, my presence was requested at the bar. I was gone for maybe a minute.

In that time, Plant took a bite of food and immediately winced while raising a hand to his jaw. He then sort of masticated a bit and casually removed the food from his mouth, setting it on a small plate. He examined the food for a few seconds, returned his hand to his jaw, and then, as if he heard something, stood up, pulled out his chair, got down on his knees, and went under the table. That’s when I came around the corner and saw him on all fours.

My immediate reaction was to scream “No! What are you doing!” but what I did was get down on the floor next to him, pull a lighter from my apron, click it, and say, “Did you lose something?”

Robert Plant Didn't Ruin It For AnyoneAt that point, one of the crew members came over and got down on his knees and R. Plant said, “I’ve lost a crown.” Not more that two seconds after he said that, I felt a small piece of metal under my hand. “I think I found it.” I don’t remember exactly what R. Plant said but it was something along the lines of: Great, now I know where it is. While I was horrified and concerned that we, meaning the restaurant, might be fucking destroyed for causing Robert Plant to lose a tooth, he was actually kind of happy-go-lucky about it all. Like, yeah, crown came out!

Meanwhile, my manager heard about the commotion but he didn’t need to find me, I was already looking for him.

“What happened?” the manager said, bracing himself.

“He bit into something and one of his crowns fell out,” I replied. “Landed on the floor. We found the crown. He’s cool.”

“British dentistry,” the manager quipped. Pause. “You’re sure he’s cool?”


The manager adjusted his glasses and lowered his head. “You know, I gotta call [the General Manager, the big boss].”

“I would assume so.”

It wasn’t long before I was on the phone with the G.M., retelling the story without contradiction. [The G.M.] paused for a moment and said, “Dr. Larry [one of the owners] is a dentist.”

Right, I’m gonna go get Robert Plant and put him on the phone.

As it got near midnight, most of the other diners had cleared out, not without a few gawkers to come by and ask for photo ops and autographs, which Plant handled with ease, grace, and I might even say a certain amount of enjoyment. He seemed to light up when someone approached. By now, the band and crew were all jawing in their British accents and they had spread out down the table.

Plant got up, asked for a toothpick, and then took a seat at the far end of the table and put his legs up on an empty chair. I walked up and said, “Mr. Plant, is there anything I can get for you?”

“Oh bollocks [or rubbish], call me Robert.”

“OK. How about another drink?”

“No, thank you. M’ leg up here on this chair and give my back a rest.”

“Is that a result of the 1975 crash in Greece?”

He sat up a little bit, shook his head, and made eye contact. “Right, it was Rhodes, actually. Tiny island.”

“There’s one thing I’ve read a lot about but never quite understood.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, all the music guides say you recorded the vocals to Presence—which is my favorite album by the way—in a wheelchair, as a result of an accident you had in Greece.”[2]

“Sit down, what was your name?”

Despite the fact that we [employees] really weren’t supposed to sit down on the job, what transpired was a 10-minute conversation which started with several additional questions about Presence (he was genuinely surprised it was my favorite. Quote: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that!”) and ended with him saying (paraphrased):

The whole [music business] is completely rigged and if I were you [independent musician], I would just do whatever the fuck I wanted, and completely ignore everything and everybody else. If your work has some sort of marketable value, something the suits think they can make money from, they will let you know. 

You bet I took that home with me.

As a coda, the next morning, Dr. Larry fixed up R. Plant’s dental situation and I’m told everyone was happy.

When it was all over and I had time to reflect, I felt ashamed and humbled for ever having any qualms with Robert Plant. He was and still is, the coolest rock musician I have ever met and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for the music he has so willingly given us.

And I admit I was wrong, Robert Plant really didn’t ruin it for anybody.

He made it possible.


[1] It was (to the best of my knowledge, still is) almost mandatory for American rock radio stations to have a certain time of day set aside to play a block of Led Zeppelin songs, almost always called “Get the Led Out.” Live 105 in S.F. used to get the Led out at 7:00 p.m. sharp, Monday thru Friday. Meanwhile, and I’m a slacker for not seeing this one coming, there is a Zeppelin tribute band (audaciously self-described “The American Led Zeppelin”) with the same name. Click on this link and thank me later. You know, God bless anyone in tribute bands giving it their all and following their dreams but look, fellas, this is Led Zeppelin’s dream. Get your own gig.

[2] Despite what it says on the Wikipedia page, Robert cleared up this bit of disinformation. He was in fact confined to a wheelchair for the majority of the sessions, however the wheelchair didn’t fit through the door into the vocal booth, so he said, right, get me a crutch. So his assistant would wheel him up to the vocal booth and he would then limp over to the microphone and prop himself on the crutch. That’s how he recorded all of his tracks, the performance of which he described to me as “a desperate cry for help.” He also talked about the disparity between the previous record, Physical Graffiti (1974) and Presence, describing the former as having a “celebratory mood” while the latter was “dark and twisted and not at all a pleasant record to make or listen to at the time,” although conceding that it has aged quite well. A lot of the stuff he told me about making the record I already knew from my own independent study but you really cannot put a price on hearing it directly from the source.

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1991 – 1992

There was one morning I woke up in 1992 and I felt like I’d been asleep for a couple of years.

1001_cover_Right here, right now, at this very moment, I think the 1001 Albums list should end and start over. The book and list should be split into two volumes. It’s got nothing to do with me being a lazy dirt bag, which is also debatable.

This is the end of 1001 Albums Released Between 1956-1992 That You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not.

Clearly, it’s a cumbersome title and a moot observation, but my point is very simple. We are leaving (and in some ways, have already left) the analog era of popular music. That’s incredibly important, in two somewhat related ways.

First, without dumbing it down too much, computer technology had been used in music as soon as it could be developed. Early digital recording in the 1970s and 80s was hella expensive and super inconvenient. In 1978, Soundstream built what could be considered the first digital audio workstation (DAW) using some of the most current computer hardware of the time.

1001_soundstreamBy the late 1980s, a number of consumer level computers such as the Apple Macintosh began to have enough power to handle digital audio editing. Engineers used Macromedia’s Soundedit, with Microdeal’s Replay Professional and Digidesign’s Sound Tools and Sound Designer to edit audio samples for sampling keyboards like the E-mu Emulator II and the Akai S900. Soon, people began to use these tools for simple two-track audio editing and CD mastering.

In the early to mid 90s, many major recording studios went digital after Digidesign introduced its Pro Tools software, modeled after the traditional method and signal flow in most analog recording devices. At this time, most DAWs were Apple Mac based. Around 1992, the first Windows based DAWs started to emerge.

The prominent debate over analog versus digital recording centers on sound quality, which, beyond a certain threshold of scientific measurement, every argument from every angle becomes subjective. How does it sound? I don’t know.

1001_Chips-AhoyIf you’re eating a Chips Ahoy chocolate chip cookie and I ask, “How does it taste?” You could use several hundred adjectives to describe your experience of the cookie. “Is it good?” I persist.

“Yes, it is good,” you say.

1001_ Pepperidge-Farm“Is it better than a similar Pepperidge Farm Sausalito chocolate chunk macadamia nut cookie?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know. I like it. I think Chips Ahoy has a better texture than Pepperidge Farm.”

The argument won’t ever be settled over this matter, mainly because it’s impossible.

1001_DAWOn top of DAWs, you have MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) which simulates a wide variety of electronic musical instruments, at the same time, allowing computers and other related devices to connect and communicate with one another. MIDI carries event messages that specify notation, pitch and velocity, control signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato, audio panning, cues, and clock signals that set and synchronize tempo between multiple devices. These messages are sent via a MIDI cable to other devices where they control sound generation and other features. This data can also be recorded into a hardware or software device called a sequencer, which can be used to edit the data and to play it back at a later time.

In a nutshell, digital recording made it possible for anybody to create music using a cut and paste formula. Now you have guys who never even learned how to play an instrument sitting behind a console, composing mediocre symphonic ambient trance music with an eight-key MIDI controller and a wireless mouse.

Look, if I haven’t made sense yet, keep reading.

When the actual musician part is taken out of the musical equation, you get bullshit. You get freshly manicured electronic noise. You get techno music by some guy who’s really good at programming and playing a computer, and isn’t shy about being seen in public wearing giant earmuffs and some kind of silly suit. Hand that guy a Gibson Les Paul and he’d start looking for a suitable place to put it down. By the way, DJ Clown Shoes, it’s called a guitar stand.

1001_ProTools_3Moreover, digital recording enables even the most ham-fisted musician to sound competent on their instrument. We’ve been overdubbing since the beginning of recorded sound, and the old “punch-in/punch-out” routine has saved many recordings from being trashed. Digital takes overdubbing and turns it inside out. Is the guitar player incapable of playing a jam all the way through without fucking up? Get the riff right one time and loop that shit, brother. Can’t get the drummer to stay consistent with the click track? That’s OK, we can chop it up and move it around a little bit, make that shit tight, son.

Now you can modify waveforms with unlimited precision. Cut, copy, paste, sync, loop, import, export, align, trim, sample rate, plot spectrum, file size, hardware buffer, and zero crossings are computer terms that generally have nothing to do with music. And now, with less computer aptitude than a toddler, you could open the music editing software that’s most likely on your computer, and record a song without ever getting up from your seat.

1001_Tim-Berners-LeePerhaps my argument tends toward elitism on some level, but music needs to be exceedingly discerning. And so, this is where the Internet plays an important role in the big picture. Consider this: In August 1991, Tim Berners-Lee published a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the newsgroup alt.hypertext. This date also marked the debut of the Web as a publicly available service on the Internet, and for this reason August 23 is considered Internaut’s Day, i.e. the birthday of the Internet.

Now, take that song you just recorded on your computer, rip it to MP3, and send it off into the world. Put it on MySpace, YouTube, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Jango, and promote the shit out of it on Facebook. Congratulations, you have just released your first single! But think for a moment if art museums started opening their doors to unsolicited submissions, and upheld a promise to exhibit any and all works of fine art, just imagine what kind of thrift store menagerie you’d be walking into.

I have never believed that music is for everyone, nor is painting for everyone. Learning an instrument, playing in a band, facing and accepting failure time and time again are trials and tribulations that are part of the natural selective process. That’s why there are so few half-assed trumpet players in music. You gotta be committed to playing that horn.

1001_ProTools_1Though I don’t believe in it, I understand the idea that music can and should be for everyone, and the point of making music is not to make money, but to express something through the music, and that’s fine. Artists are free to express themselves in the digital format; it’s just that the bulk of it isn’t music. It’s something else now.

1001_Brian-Wilson_StudioYou can say such-and-such contemporary pop record is a great work of art, but it cannot be compared to a pop record made in 1966. Indeed, this has less to do with the music of the era than the way music will be made from here on out. And this is the first reason I think the list should stop and start over here.

I’m not saying that digital music doesn’t sound great – it does. If I’ve missed anything, I certainly don’t know about it. And this is not to say that great music hasn’t been made since 1992 – it has. I can think of at least a dozen post-analog albums that are very near and dear to my heart. Many of those albums were recorded on analog tape, but somewhere along the way, in order to get them on to CD, they had to go through some sort of digital manipulation. In conclusion, I may never come around to the idea of computer music, and that’s also fine. I’m content to chill out in my cave of analog rock antiquity, mainly because I’ve given up on my own aspirations.


1001_Hip-hopA recent article on (Is rap the most important music since 1960? Scientists say they have proof by Jethro Mullen) described a study published recently in the journal Royal Society Open Science, which says the most important development in pop music in the past 50 years is hip-hop.

In the study, the researchers employed scientific severity and discounted “musical lore and aesthetic judgment”, citing a lack of empirical evidence in discussion of popular music. Using music recognition technology – similar to the apps SoundHound and Shazam – they analyzed more than 17,000 songs; 86% of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and 2010.

Taking 30-second clips of each song, researchers further categorized these samples into topics relating to harmony and timbre, like “major chords without changes” and “guitar, loud, energetic.” Teaming up with the Internet music site, the researchers then studied how the different topics fit into different genres and styles, and how their popularity rose and fell over the decades.



Here are some of the most interesting findings of the study:

  • The rise of rap music and related genres appears to be “the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts” in the period the research covered.
  • Despite talk of a “British invasion,” bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones didn’t set off the revolution in American music in 1964. But they did benefit from it and “fanned its flames.”
  • Although many people complain that pop music has gotten more and more samey, diversity actually increased in the ’80s and ’90s as hip-hop emerged and flourished. The researchers said they found “no evidence for the progressive homogenization of music in the charts.”
  • The low point for variety was in the early 1980s, when genres like new wave, disco and hard rock dominated.

The impact of hip-hop cannot be under-estimated, said music journalist Dorian Lynskey. “It redefines what counts as a pop song and what elements you can use: the rapping on one level takes you away from the need for vocal melodies, while the production on the other is more about loops than chords and sampling.

“Hip-hop us a realization of how James Brown saw music, which is that it’s about the beats and grooves rather than chords and harmonies. It’s the realization of the innovations of funk.”

1001_U2_AchtungThe study by the researchers also identified three key years in which music evolved the most: 1964, 1983 and 1991. Lynskey said that for him, the last of these three years was the most exciting. “I think 1991 was such a diverse year for albums: You have Achtung Baby by U2, which is the sound of a big mainstream stadium act radically overhauling its sound, you’ve got Nevermind by Nirvana which sees alternative underground music suddenly becoming a big seller, continuing to this day.

“Then there are these genre-mixing albums, Screamadelica (Primal Scream), Foxbase Alpha (St. Etienne) and Blue Lines (Massive Attack) which are all empowered by sampling and new technology, and the idea that your record collection can be edited and merged to form something new. Along with Loveless by My Bloody Valentine – these albums are not just collections of classic songs, they’re about experiments and expanding the parameters – those records spawned so much.”


The mainstream success of alternative rock was a decade in the making and should not have taken anyone by surprise, but nobody really saw the hip-hop revolution coming except for the artists themselves.


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

  1. 1001_ATCQ_LowA Tribe Called Quest – Low End Theory (1991)

The hardest thing in writing about music is that often times you’re trying to write about something that can’t be put into words.

  1. Crowded House – Woodface (1991)

On the other hand, some artists make it real easy for you, especially when they put out innocuous, middle of the road albums consisting entirely of borderline adult contemporary rock.

  1. Cypress Hill – Cypress Hill (1991)

1001_Cypress-HillAt no point in my years of music appreciationism have I been more impressed by a new artist than Cypress Hill and “How I Could Just Kill a Man”.

  1. Gang Starr – Step In The Arena (1991)

I’m not sold on these cats. They were influential on the East Coast rap scene, and in some ways, directly responsible for Wu-Tang Clan. There is a hardcore thread running through this record that definitely shows up in future artists. They had some sick rhymes with lyrical substance, but it never really gets cooking on Step. It’s reminiscent of ATCQ, but with none of the excitement or verve. It’s just kind of…there.

Suggested Alternative:
Ice Cube – Death Certificate

1001_Ice-Cube_DeathWhile Fear of a Black Planet may be the best hip-hop record ever made, Death Certificate is by far my favorite hip-hop record, and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my brother Ronnie Kwasman of Bob and Ron’s Record Club for turning me on to this, and a shit load of other records that I probably wouldn’t have heard if not for him.

  1. Ice T – OG: Original Gangster (1991)

You could have knocked me over with a wave of your hand the first time I heard this record.

  1. Jah Wobble & The Invaders Of The Heart – Rising Above Bedlam (1991)

1001_Jah-WobbleYou seriously do not need to hear any more of this world music stuff than necessary. The application of “world music” heard here on Rising Above Bedlam is false. World music is bastardized, adulterated ethnic music under a convenient, marketable name. And so I bristle at the idea of taking, for instance, Senegalese folk music, and trying to dress it up in Western clothing. There’s a big difference between appreciation and Cosplay, and that’s one of the main reasons that Japanese noise punk bands are not considered world music, even though the genre is specific and endemic to Japan, and not a Western country.

The term world music arrived in the 80s as a marketing category for non-Western traditional music, and has grown to include hybrid subgenres such as world fusion, global fusion, ethnic fusion and worldbeat. Anything with the word “fusion” that doesn’t involve Miles Davis is not going on my turntable. End of.

Here’s what you need to know about Jah Wooble: He was in Public Image Ltd., thus, you’ve heard most of his good ideas.

Suggested Alternative:
Fishbone – The Reality of My Surroundings

1001_Fishbone_RelaityThese cats knew how to put on A SHOW. After seeing them on this tour, I thought to myself, “How could our measly suburban rock outfit even share the same stage with those guys?” Google it. Anyway, I was so impressed by The Reality of My Surroundings that my abovementioned rock band immediately starting covering “Sunless Saturday”, and would continue to play it for the duration of the band’s existence.

  1. Julian Cope – Peggy Suicide (1991)

Unhappy with the over-produced My Nation Underground (1990) Cope changed directions, and unfortunately, headed for double LP territory. Seventy-five minutes of post-punk Julian Cope is completely unnecessary. One critic described this album as Iggy Pop doing Syd Barrett. I’d be into hearing that – if it were actually Iggy Pop doing Syd Barrett covers. I don’t know about Julian Cope’s talent for impressionism. How’s his Bill Cosby? Can he do the “Jell-O Pudding Pops” routine? “Froofie the Dog” is a classic hit, too.

1001_Julian-Cope-Peggy-Suicide-1991-frontBut you gotta give J-Co credit for trying to keep Peggy Suicide interesting. We’ll hear about his hatred of organized religion and his interest in women’s rights, the occult, alternative spirituality (including paganism and Goddess worship), animal rights, and ecology. Halfway through the record, he sits down for an interview on NPR with Terri Gross, and he talks about John Sinclair and the White Panther Party. Riveting stuff.

Julian Cope is most definitely a best-of collection artist. He’s got a single LP’s worth of tasty cuts. A couple of them are on Peggy Suicide.

Suggested Alternative:
1001_Mercury-RevMercury Rev – Yerself is Steam

Experimental neo-psych noise pop at its finest.

  1. Koffi Olomide – Haut De Gamme: Koweit, Rive Gauche (1991)

Congolese soukous singer, dancer, producer, and composer, also known by a multitude of other names and aliases. Soukous is a genre of dance music that originated from Cuban Rumba music in the Belgian Congo and French Congo during the 1940s and gained popularity throughout Africa.

I didn’t like it as much as I thought I wouldn’t. Rumba is bossa nova’s next door neighbor. Tango lives down the street.

  1. Massive Attack – Blue Lines (1991)

1001_MassiveAttackBlueLinesHoly fucking shit! How lucky am I to have never heard “Teardrop” before today? I swear to God that I have never, ever, not once ever listened to Massive Attack on purpose. If I am ever in a joint that starts playing music even slightly similar to this, I will leave. Period. Seriously, I’m listening to this shit and it’s UNBELIEVABLE you would consider this music. Two DJs and a graffiti artist, for shit’s sake.

Fuck. You know what? For two years right after I moved to Asia, I spent a lot of time in bars, dance clubs, and KTVs. There’s a fairly good chance that I have shaken my ass to Massive Attack at some point. But look, I wasn’t there to dance; I was there to meet women. Where’s the number one place to meet women? On the dance floor. And it worked, man. It fucking worked. Still, this is not music.

  1. Metallica – Metallica (1991)

I can’t say I was disappointed when Metallica jumped the shark on this record aka The Black Album. To be honest, I was in the mood to see Fonzie on the water again.

Despite the weak effort of …And Justice For All (1988), there was still a glimmer of hope for these guys. As a huge fan of Master of Puppets (1986) and to a lesser degree, Ride the Lightning (1985), seeing and hearing the arguably best thrash metal band of the 80s put out a radio-oriented mainstream rock album was like watching Michael Jordan play baseball a few years later.

1001_Michael-Jordan-BaseballI mean, come on, Mike. You’ve already conquered one sport. We want to see you play basketball – NOT baseball. We don’t give a rat’s ass if you strike out and/or ground out to second base 8 out 10 times you step up to the plate in Triple-A ball. And I don’t think you have the wheels to play any infield position, so…that means you’re playing right field. Just stand out there, try to pay attention to the strike count and the number of outs, and hope nobody hits anything your way. If they do, go toward the vicinity of where you think the ball might wind up, and…never mind. Here’s your glove.

Metallica is a classic mainstream hard rock album and you are going to hear it whether you like it or not. To be honest with you, I’ve sat all the way through it once, which was one time too many. “Enter Sandman”? Exit, this guy.

Suggested Alternative:
1001_Ween-ThePodWeen – The Pod

This record was a personal affirmation of sorts, in that, it really was possible, in some alternate universe, for a couple of stoners to sit around with a bong, a can of Scotchguard, and a four-track, and write utterly delightful rock songs that not only thought outside the box, they took the box outside and set it on fire.

  1. Mudhoney – Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge (1991)

Say hello to Seattle grunge. Good noisy sloppy rockin’, and I guess you should give it a spin, but be forewarned; it ain’t Nevermind.

  1. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

1001_MBV_lovelessBy far – light years – the most original, unique, and spellbinding alternative guitar record since, well, ever. People may never stop trying to figure out Kevin Shields’ guitar sound.

  1. Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)
  2. Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)

Honestly, I’ve never owned a recording by either artist, and I’m completely content to be familiar with their radio hits and maybe a deep cut or two. Now that I’ve actually sat through both of these albums, here are my thoughts.

If you own one of these records, there is a 76% chance you own both of these records.

1001_Pearl-Jam_TenTen is arguably as important if not slightly more important than Nevermind. It has sold more copies in the U.S., [Ten is certified platinum 13x by the RIAA; Nevermind 10x] and everybody wanted to be Eddie Vedder. Nobody wanted to be Kurt Cobain. Most of us were alternate reality versions of K. Cobain. So we knew what to expect.

To date, Pearl Jam has sold nearly 32 million records in the U.S. and an estimated 60 million worldwide – and counting. They’ve outlasted and outsold all of their contemporaries from the alternative rock breakthrough of the early 1990s, and considered one of the most influential bands of that decade. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic referred to Pearl Jam as “the most popular American rock & roll band of the ’90s.”

1001_Eddie-V_2To put a finer point on it, Ten hit the G-spot for traditional mainstream hard rock fans, some of whom, as I recall, didn’t like the “grunge shit” and “alternative faggot stuff”, i.e. the Pixies, Jane’s Addiction, and Sonic Youth were far too edgy for rednecks and whatnot. Metal was over, Freddie Mercury was dead, and by this time, it was clear that Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion wasn’t the answer to the question: What does the hillbilly redneck white trash world need right now?

In the grand scheme of things, PJ turned out to be a new classic rock band. You could like GN’R and PJ without losing a lot of sleep at night, or selling your Ford F-150 to buy a Vespa scooter. And they had “jam” in their name, which fans of the Grateful Dead and Ted Nugent could relate.

Musically, Ten has eleven songs plus a hidden track that I wasn’t happy about being arsed to find. Fuck you, by the way, if you put hidden tracks on your album for any other reason except to avoid copyright infringement. Otherwise, Ten contains at least three mainstream classic rock grand slams in “Even Flow”, “Alive”, and “Jeremy”. And “Black” was a huge radio hit, but I’d change the station if that shit came on.

1001_Eddie_ClimbingThe most recent Longest Nine Minutes of My Life happened during the listen to Track 11, “Release”. Oh my god. You fucking assholes are not Jane’s Addiction, or King Crimson, for that matter, so knock. It. Off. Already. Though I never saw PJ live, word on the street was they were pretty good. Hmmph.

Whereas these two bands have clearly different record collections – Pearl Jam loved the Who and Led Zeppelin; Nirvana were informed by the Stooges and Creedence Clearwater Revival – the main stylistic difference comes down to Eddie Veddar vs. Kurt Cobain as archetypal rock star, and it can be distilled thusly.

Cobain had a raspy thin voice with two gears: slacker drawl and tortured howl. Vedder had a far more dynamic vocal range and a much more traditional approach to singing – he actually sang, a lot, when he wasn’t shouting “Yeah!” or “Whoo!” or “Uhhhh-nngghh.” And for a while there, Vedder was a dedicated front man sans guitar, so he had the luxury of climbing on the scaffolding and shit.

1001_Nirvana_NevermindIf Nevermind has any glaring weaknesses, they are two-fold. First, it’s slick as hell. That was not the band’s intention, but that’s the final cut. The songs exploded from the speakers like the Kool-Aid Man, and I would be hard pressed to name a record from 1991 with better production values. How is that a weakness? Did you hear their first album Bleach? We’re not on Sub Pop anymore, Dorothy.

This is formulaic radio-friendly quasi-grunge, and there is everything in the world wrong with the first half of this sentence. It’s an exceedingly polished and appealing collection of punk pop songs. Nothing I can say, or do, will ever change that.

1001_Nirvana_BleachSecond, it gets terribly screamy after a while. By the time we get to Track 10 “Stay Away”, I don’t think I need to hear any more screaming vocals for the next couple of days. Overall, it’s a hard-charging record, and I could easily see dialing it in during a cross-country road trip.

I don’t have anything else to say about Nevermind. It is what it is. But please note: Of the 10 million people who bought this album, yours truly is not one of them. And by “bought” I mean both purchased and fully appreciated.

  1. Primal Scream – Screamadelica (1991)

1001_Primal-CreamI’m giving scientist Dorian Lynskey and 1001 AYMHBYD the benefit of the doubt here.

  1. Public Enemy – Apocalypse ‘91…The Enemy Strikes Back (1991)

Only the true greats have been able to follow up a masterpiece with something equally worthy of best-ever status. The Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, the Who, etc. Add Public Enemy to the list. The collaboration with Anthrax (“Bring the Noize”) might be the hottest rock jam ever. E-V-E-R.

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991)

1001_RHCP_BloodThis album is probably more responsible for fraternity rape culture than beer.

  1. Saint Etienne – Foxbase Alpha (1991)

Sophisti-pop. No dice. See Cocteau Twins and Everything About the Girl.

  1. Sepultura – Arise (1991)

1001_Sepultura__AriseArise is the first truly worthwhile metal album in at least two years, if you don’t count GWAR’s Scumdogs of the Universe.

  1. Slint – Spiderland (1991)

I used to hang out with this cat who loved Spiderland, in fact, on several occasions he called it the best album ever made. And that really didn’t bother me, since we usually hung out at my joint after the pub had closed, and I didn’t have Spiderland in stock. What used to piss me off was his attitude toward my not having the record.

1001_Slint_Spider“Dude, seriously,” he’d say. “You don’t have Slint’s Spiderland.”

“Eh,” I would shrug, “they’re not my thing.”

He would sneer dismissively, “You’re a moron.”

Now, we were good enough pals that we could call each other a moron with impunity. But it rubbed me the wrong way because his attitude symbolized the exact type of elitist, art school snobbery that just about everybody who likes this record is guilty of exhibiting at one time or another. Of course, I’m not above calling someone a moron for liking an album, but in this situation, I would take a different approach.

“Look,” I’d counter, “the fact that you call me a moron for not liking Slint doesn’t change the fact that I think it’s mediocre American shoegazing with very little substance.”

“It’s one of the most influential guitar albums ever, and probably the first post-rock album.” My friend knew his stuff.

“My point exactly. All of the succeeding bands who went on to make their own Spiderland are bands I can’t be bothered with.”

  1. Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque (1991)

1001_Teenage_BandDo you remember back in 1974-75, I was going on and on about how Big Star was going to be a massive influence on a new wave of bands at some indeterminate time in the future? Well, I probably should have included Badfinger and 10cc in the discussion. But the point is, have a listen to this.

Bandwagonesque is the ambition of almost every alternative rock band on the planet in 1991. Sonic Youth meets Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello at Big Star’s house. They play foosball in the basement and… Pffft. Can I say something? The majority of alternative rock bands suck balls. They put the balls in their mouths and they suck ‘em. For no good reason.

Suggested Alternative:
Sloan – Peppermint EP (1992)

What do you get when you cross Sonic Youth with nothing more than the Beatles? Genius! “Underwhelmed” is one of the best solid rock songs of the 90s, and Sloan might be one of the greatest Canadian rock bands ever.

  1. U2 – Achtung Baby (1991)

If Metallica jumped the shark, U2 tried to jump the fountain at Caesar’s Palace ala Evel Knievel, and we all know how that ill-advised stunt ended. Not well.

When your lead singer starts wearing sunglasses on stage, he’s either Ray Charles or he’s a fucking dick. I got news for you, Daddy-O. That guy has to go…to the beach!

Why couldn’t Boner and the lads ‘ve simply called this record Your Attention, Please? Or Ahem, a Bit of Phlegm. Back in the day, somebody in our crew bought this album and from the opening guitar crunch of “Zoo Station”, instinctively, I knew this was the worst rock record since Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms (1985).

And I sometimes think Achtung Baby might be worse, and by worse, I mean, top to bottom sad. It’s a past-their-prime, let’s reinvent ourselves, rock band identity crisis collage of stupid shit. Dance music? Why? What was wrong with the post-punk alternative stadium rock format? You were the Irish Bon Jovi. Now you want to be played in the clubs? Hey, maybe Aphex Twin can do a remix! You want to hang with those tweakers in Primal Scream? Are you going to start rapping over 808 beats? Dope. You can’t front on that.

1001_U2-BBSeriously, Achtung Baby is bullshit more egregious than trotting out B.B. King for Rattle and Hum (1987), and directly responsible for Coldplay. And “One” is the most tepid, meandering power ballad since R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, meaning last week.

Boner called Achtung: “U2 at our funkiest… Sly and the Family Stone meets Madchester baggy.” The one thing everybody liked about U2 in the first place is that they had very little “funk” in ‘em. They made white people rock music, which is generally what white people do when they are given an option. Gang of Four was not funk. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are not funk. You must be joking.

1001_MDMAIf U2 was your favorite band in 1991, they just spit in your stupid, MDMA smiley face. And I don’t have a hanky.

  1. Alice In Chains – Dirt (1992)

Alice In Chains were a marginal influence on the future of alternative metal, but…no. It’s a super-druggy record and not in a good way. Everybody involved in the making of this record had big problems. And it sounds like it. But overall, a fine piece of hard rockery.

Suggested Alternative:
Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (1991)

1001_Soundgarden_BadPeople forget that Soundgarden was relatively popular as early as 1989 with Louder Than Love, and predate some of the bigger names were destined to encounter in the very near future. Plus, this is a delicious serving of alternative metal, and snuffs out Alice in Chains like a cigarette.

  1. Aphex Twin – Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992)

I like it – no, I appreciate when artists use the title to warn me of what’s actually on an album. Bands don’t “name the genre” like they used to in the old days, and I suppose they really can’t. What would a band Soundgarden call their third album? 15 Alternative Prog Rock Jams? Too clunky.

1001_AphexAphex Twin is one of the first “rock star” DJs – guys who spin dance records at dumbshit parties and call themselves artists – to emerge from the rave scene, which is now in full effect. In those days, kids who dressed in rave culture fashions are today’s equivalent to kids who wear Ed Hardy. Thank you for the advance warning.

Must Hear Suggested Alternative:
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head

1001_Beastie_CheckWe’re too far down the rabbit hole to keep complaining about obvious and egregious 1001 Albums oversights, but this one… Christ Almighty. Check Your Head is easily one of the ten best records of the 90s, if not the last 25 years, in any genre.

  1. Arrested Development – 3 Years, 5 Months And 2 Days In The Life Of Arrested Development (1992)

And one hit single. Don’t forget to mention that, while you’re at it. But, kudos.

Suggested Alternative:
Ween – Pure Guava

1001_Ween_PureWeen was our little secret for a couple of years, weren’t they? And then, ka-boom, “Push th’ Little Daisies” and MTV, here we come. Pure Guava is their third full-length album and first on a major label (Elektra), and considerably more polished though no less inventive than their previous work. Although “Daises” was good fun, the rest of this album is Pure Genius. But you had to be in on the joke. Things don’t get cooking until Track 3 “The Stallion, Pt.3”.

  1. Baaba Maal – Lam Toro (1992)

Which is the better? This, or Djam Leelii? Dunno.

  1. Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy – Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury (1992)

I don’t want to hate on these cats too hard, but that’s a fucking terrible band name. Inventing your own word is gauche. Just ask Kajagoogoo, Hoobastank, and Chumbawumba. I mean, it’s clever, but clever only goes so far.

  1. KD Lang – Ingenue (1992)

1001_KD-LangYeah, OK. Get your butch on. It’s about as classy as it gets.

  1. Lemonheads – It’s a Shame About Ray (1992)

Despite my tireless and striving efforts, I can’t seem to find a reason why this album should be a Must Hear.

You’re welcome to do the same.

Ray was mildly popular at the time it came out, but when the Lemonheads eventually faded back into obscurity, nobody missed them. Thanks to his good looks and boyish charm (People named him one of the “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1993), Evan Dando became something of a curiosity, particularly as he slid into drug addiction and who knows what.

1001_LemonheadsBut back to the album, there are maybe a couple of toe-tappers on It’s a Shame, and that’s it. Do you want me to name them? Sssssh. The cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” which brought the Lemonheads to the mainstream was not included on the original release, but eventually tacked on the re-issue. That would make a total of four toe-tappers on here, max.

Meanwhile, I can’t find one band that names the Lemonheads as a primary influence, and I suspect that’s because nobody found this throwaway pastiche of punkish indie pop, country and metal to be substantial enough to copy. I could always be wrong and Green Day doesn’t exist without the Lemonheads. Pretty sure I’m right though.

Not a Suggested Alternative But Generally More Important as an Artifact:
Soul Asylum – Grave Dancers Union

1001_Soul-AsylumThree big cuts on this album, including Dave Pirner’s first power ballad, the Grammy-winning “Runaway Train”, which is important because a bunch of bands are immediately going to start writing and recording “Runaway Train, Part 2”, ad infinitum. On the other hand, “Somebody to Shove” and “Black Gold” received substantial modern and mainstream rock radio airplay. All told, Grave has sold in excess of three million copies in the U.S. alone.

  1. Ministry – Psalm 69 (1992)

More industrial metal from Uncle Al. Would it have killed him to give us a scrap of melody here and there? Anyway, this is probably the most relentless record of the last three years or so. I don’t know of another industrial record that reeks of amphetamine sweat like Psalm 69. Tell you what. You go on without me.

Suggested Alternative:
Nine Inch Nails – Pretty Hate Machine (1989)

1001_NIN_PrettyNIN released Broken in 1992, but it’s only marginally better than Psalm 69, in the sense that punching a shark in the snout is marginally as effective as gouging it in the eye socket. The band – Trent Reznor and Friends – make a Must Hear record in 1994 (The Downward Spiral), but I think we probably should give Pretty Hate Machine (1989) a spin, that is, if we’re determined to get a bellyful of is alternative industrial rock kibble.

  1. Morrissey – Your Arsenal (1992)

Given the vaguely homoerotic nature of his previous work (and album covers, natch), how could you not read the title of this record as some kind of gay/butt/arse innuendo? Poor old sad sack Morrissey. The one thing you could count on with this cat was at least one clever or slightly amusing song title per album, in this case, “You’re the One for Me, Fatty”.

1001_Morrissey_YourOn a positive note, critics say Your Arsenal is his hardest rocking album to date. Let’s get one thing straight. Morrissey may have crooned, swooned, posed and preened, but never, not once, ever rocked. He co-wrote some top-notch songs in the alternative rock genre, but he never once sounded happy about it. So Moz doesn’t “rock.” Not in the traditional sense of rocking. He’d have looked silly jumping up on stage during an Aerosmith encore.

Suggested Alternative:
The Flaming Lips – Hit to Death in the Future Head

1001_Flaming-Lips_HitNot the go-to album from this band, but it’s their breakthrough hit, and it doesn’t sound like Morrissey.

  1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Henry’s Dream (1992)

Like Dire Straits, if you like Nick Cave, you’re going to listen to his music no matter what I think, and you are right to believe that my opinion should be punched in the spleen. If you are undecided about Nick Cave, this record just might change your mind either way. If you are unaware of Nick Cave, then you haven’t been paying attention; we have already heard the Birthday Party. If you don’t like Nick Cave, then you don’t like Nick Cave and that’s the end of that.

Suggested Alternative:
Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion

Sweet Oblivion is one of those records I revisit every so often and think, “Man, why wasn’t this a massive hit? Why were the airwaves clogged with Mary J. Bilge?” But I know the answers to both questions.

  1. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Devotional Songs (1992)

This is not world music; it’s Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis. And it’s incredible.

  1. Pantera – Vulgar Display Of Power (1992)

Ladies and gentlemen of metal, I have bad news for you. This is nowhere near as good as you think it is, but then again, Metallica hasn’t touched this shit in six years. The truth is these cats have the weight of the metal world on their shoulders.

Suggested Alternative:
1001_Rollins-BandRollins Band – The End of Silence

Probably the best thing Henry Rollins ever did. Shrug. Not sure what those guys in Pantera are talking about, but I’m guessing it’s along the lines of “Low Self Opinion”.

  1. P.J. Harvey – Dry (1992)

You must hear this album before you die because if you don’t, you’re going to die thinking that Chrissie Hynde and Wendy O. Williams were the end-all-be-all of women in rock.

  1. R.E.M. – Automatic For The People (1992)

Hey, bet you didn’t notice that R.E.M.’s attempt to jump the Grand Canyon, 1991’s Out of Time, didn’t make the official 1001 Albums list. That’s too bad. It also means I have to take time to talk about the full smorgasbord of complete bullshit they foisted upon the general public.

1001_R.E.M._OutHonestly, we’re not getting out of here without a jawbone about the travesty that is now R.E.M. and the record that redefined the meaning of shitball, Out of Time. You’re free to skip this part and get to the actual discussion about Automatic For the People, but you never know. You might get a chuckle or two out of this.

Up until very recently, the gold standard for shitball pop songs had to be Starship’s “We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)”, but let’s not forget Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and basically every power metal ballad this side of Night Ranger. So, we’re dodging shitballs every time we turn on the radio in 1991-92.

R.E.M. showed flashes of fraudulence on their previous record Green (1988), notably on their first top 10 hit, “Stand”. Had anyone suspected they would allow this treachery to dominate their music, I’d like to think that someone might have tried to stop them. Out of Time opens with our first serving of shitball, “Radio Song” featuring KRS-One, which not only contains a freestyle rap section, but Michael Stipe’s first-ever recorded “Hey hey hey!” Oh, and a string section. Pffftt. Fuckin’ assholes.

1001_StipeTrack 2 is the big smash hit, “Losing My Religion”, a maudlin power ballad reeking of homoerotica and self-loathing. I don’t know why those two go together so well, but as Morrissey can tell you, it’s like peanut butter and jelly. But instead of a glass of milk to wash it down, you get served a shitball smoothie. Holy Christ, was this a major disappointment. R.E.M. finally gets played on mainstream radio with disturbing regularity, and it’s not just probably the worst song they’ve ever done – it’s by far the worst. But wait. There’s 11 tracks on Out of Time.

Tracks 3-5 are an unremarkable slog through mediocre Beach Boy-isms, conga drums, and acoustic guitars. Shitball, for sure, but innocuously unpleasant at worst. And then we get to Track 6, “Shiny Happy People”, our new champion of Shitball – the worst song in the history of popular music. Think of all the years that we bowed and scraped before the altar of Michael Stipe, and trust that he will find the delete button of your memory.

I really don’t have to do very much here. The first time I heard this song I said, “You have got to be kidding me, R.E.M.” They weren’t. Well, not exactly, see, this is what they called an “ironic pop song”. You were supposed to think it was tongue and cheek; that they set out to write the most shitball pop song of all-time. That was the idea, the ruse, the conceit. Hearing this song on the radio or your own stereo, you might think R.E.M. had succeeded in their quest for irony. Until you saw the video.

Not a fucking whisper of irony in the video, folks. Did you see any? I saw shameless promotion of an album that will sell 18 million copies worldwide. I saw Michael Stipe wearing a stupid beanie. I saw the entire band genuinely smiling, knowing that they are about to become filthy rich.

1001_shiny_happy_peeps-1316794893No, if R.E.M. wanted to make the perfect video for an ironic pop song, they should have had ME direct it, cuz I’m telling you, it would have been four minutes of human sacrifice, disembowlments, decapitations, immolations, and tattoo removals gone horribly wrong. You want shiny happy people? How about if we actually coat a bunch of children in latex, surgically repair their faces to a permanent smile, and one by one, throw them from the roof of the Ed Sullivan Theater like David Letterman’s watermelon, each with a GoPro strapped to their heads.

As for the Must Hear album in question, Automatic For the People, it picks up where “Losing My Religion” left off.

Suggested Alternative:
1001_Jesus-LizardThe Jesus Lizard – Liar

And the Jesus Lizard picked up where Public Image Ltd. left off, and took it way way way beyond the threshold of pleasure. Heavens! These cats are fuckin’ top notch.

  1. Sonic Youth – Dirty (1992)
  2. Spiritualized – Lazer Guided Melodies (1992)

Both of these albums are OK. There’s always the off-chance that one of ‘em may have changed some kid’s life. It’s possible.

  1. Stereo MCs – Connected (1992)


  1. Sugar – Copper Blue (1992)

Massive, enormous, staggering props to Bob Mould for being the first guy to name a band Sugar.

Wait. Was he?

It started with watching Evel Knievel, and then Robbie Knievel, and next thing I knew, I was watching compilations of motorcycle stunts gone wrong. Look, riding a motorcycle is a personal choice. Watching video after video clip of motorcyclists making bad decisions and/or being in the wrong place at the wrong time is also a choice. Being entertained by it, I suspect, is universal. Except for motorcycle enthusiasts. And to them, I would say, “Stop trying to jump over shit and I’ll stop laughing when you fail. For real.”

1001_SugarOne of the brilliant things about Husker Du is they had two songwriters in Bob Mould and Grant Hart, and for the most part, their records are split 50/50. Starting with his 1989 solo debut Workbook, Bob Mould stagnated as a solo artist. Workbook is a great and under-rated affair, but he wouldn’t make another influential record, ever.

Sugar is the closest thing to a hypothetical question of “What If Husker Du Had Survived?” It’s been five years though. And you can hear traces of Husker Du in Sugar, mainly because of Mould’s voice, but it’s a slower, radio-friendly mix of mid-tempo 4/4 tap-a-longs. Halfway through Copper Blue, there are no “hits.”

How many bands have a tambourine player? Then why would you feature tambourine on every track? Listen to “Helpless”, which would have been the best track on the LP if the lead instrument were something other than tambourine.

  1. The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)

Eh…this is a stretch.

Maybe, Just Maybe, Suggested Alternative:
Primus – Sailing the Seas of Cheese

We might have slept on Frizzle Fry (1990). The jury is out, indefinitely.

  1. Tom Waits – Bone Machine (1992)

Enough already, Tom.

Suggested Alternative:
1001_KyussKyuss – Blues for the Red Sun

Stoner rock, baby, makes real good drinkin’ music. Ho-lee-shit. This is seriously heavy rock, but I don’t know that I’d want to hear Blues when I’m sober.

  1. Tori Amos – Little Earthquakes (1992)

No dice. You’ll hear her next record. Maybe.


And that’s it, folks. I haven’t decided whether or not to pursue 1001 Albums Released Between 1993-2015 You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not. If more than one person shoots me an email and says, “Hey, you should keep going,” then I might entertain the idea. Anyway, let this stand as a shining example of biting off far more than you could possibly chew in one sitting.

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1989 – 1990

1001_Jane's-Addiction_RitualComparatively 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

  1. 808 State – 808:90 (1989)

1001_808-StateManchester 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.

  1. 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.

1001_Aerosmith_PumpPump contains a trio of legitimately classic jams in “Love in an Elevator”, “Janie’s Got a Gun”, and “The Other Side”. The rest of the LP is pretty tight, too.

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

1001_Motley-Crue_Dr-Feelgood-frontNow 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

1001_Barry-Adamson_MossI’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.

  1. Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (1989)

1001_Beastie-Boys_Paul'sBoutiqueOne of the most entertaining records ever made, regardless of genre. The Beastie Boys never once stopped being funny and sincere, and hence, relevant.

  1. 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.

Suggested Alternative:
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.

1001_Fanny_First-albumFanny 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.

1001_Fanny_Band-2Perry 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.

1001_Fanny_Fanny-HillIn a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, David Bowie said:
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.

  1. 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.

  1. De La Soul – 3 Feet High And Rising (1989)

1001_De-La-Soul_3FeetComparing 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.

  1. Faith No More – The Real Thing (1989)

1001_Faith-No-More_RealIt’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.

  1. fIREHOSE – Fromohio (1989)

1001_fIREHOSE_fromohioDespite 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.

  1. 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.

1001_Janet-Jacson_Rhythm-NationOrdinarily, 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.

  1. 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!

1001_John-Lee-Hooker_HealerTo 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.

1001_John-Lee-Hooker_Folk-BluesSuggested Alternative:
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.

  1. 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.

1001_Jungle-BrosThe 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.[13][14] It has also been described by critics as an “underrated classic”.[13][15] 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”.[16] The Chicago Tribune‍ ’​s Rick Reger called it a “masterpiece … one of hip-hop’s most imaginative, engaging records”.[17]

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.”[18] 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”.[6] Rolling Stone placed it thirty-seventh on its list of the 50 Coolest Records of All Time.[19] In 1998, Done by the Forces of Nature was selected as one of The Source‍ ’​s 100 Best Rap Albums.[20]

  1. Kate Bush – Sensual World (1989)

1001_Kate-Bush_SensualThere 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.


(fā) adj.

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.

  1. Lenny Kravitz – Let Love Rule (1989)

1001_Lenny-Kravitz_LetStevie 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.

  1. 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.

1001_Madonna_PrayerDespite 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.

  1. Neneh Cherry – Raw Like Sushi (1989)

Madonna Jr. with a singular fun jam “Buffalo Stance”. The rest is nonsense.

  1. 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.

  1. Pixies – Doolittle (1989)

1001_Pixies_DoolittleEverybody’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.

  1. 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.

  1. R.E.M. – Green (1989)

1001_R.E.M._GreenNever 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Spacemen 3 – Playing With Fire (1989)

1001_Spacemen-3_PlayingProto-shoegazing and brilliant minimalist psych-pop that gets better with each listen. Loads and loads of bands were influenced by this group. Mogwai doesn’t exist without Spacemen 3.

  1. 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.

1001_The-Cure_DisintegrationDisintegration 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.

  1. The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (1989)

1001_The-Stone-Roses“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.

  1. The Young Gods – L’Eau Rouge (1989)

Post-industrial snoozing from Switzerland.

  1. A Tribe Called Quest – People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm (1990)

1001_ATCQ_PeopleI don’t even know what to say about this record except there has never been anything like it. ATCQ is next-level shit.

  1. Cocteau Twins – Heaven Or Las Vegas (1990)

Eh. Sophsti-pop. See Everything But the Girl (1988).

  1. 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.

1001_Dee-liteDeee-Lite’s best-known single “Groove Is in the Heart” is on World Clique, and notably features funk n’ roll godfather, Bootsy Collins on bass and spoken word. That’s it. The rest is rubbish.

Suggested Alternative:
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.

  1. 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.

  1. Digital Underground – Sex Packets (1990)

Hip-hop could be corny, too. It wasn’t all gun battles and baby mama drama.

  1. Fugazi – Repeater (1990)

1001_Fugazi_RepeaterChampions of indie rock.

  1. 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?

Suggested Alternative:
1001_Ween_GodWeenSatanWeen – GodWeenSatan: The Oneness
  1. 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.

  1. Ice Cube – AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted (1990)
  2. Jane’s Addiction – Ritual De Lo Habitual (1990)

1001_Ice-Cube_KKKYes and yes. Obviously, for very different reasons.

  1. LL Cool J – Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)

You should hear the title track, and that’s plenty.

  1. 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.

Suggested Alternative:
1001_Gwar_ScumGWAR – Scumdogs of the Universe

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.”

  1. Neil Young With Crazy Horse – Ragged Glory (1990)

1001_Neil-Young_RaggedThere’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.

Suggested Alternative:
“Delirious” by Luka Bloom

This is what one guy with a guitar should sound like in 1990.

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour (1990)

Wow. Our first red double strikethrough. Even Frankie Goes to Hollywood didn’t get dissed that hard.

  1. Pixies – Bossanova (1990)

Doolittle II, and sometimes that’s a really good thing. Sometimes, bands should make the same records twice.

  1. 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.

  1. Ride – Nowhere (1990)

1001_Ride_NowhereThis 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.

  1. Sinead O’Connor – I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990)

1001_SineadOK, 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.

  1. 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.

1001_Sonic-Youth_GooSometime 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.

  1. The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (1990)

1001_Black-Crowes_ShakeFucking finally! Someone picked up the rock n’ roll scepter where Rod Stewart and the Faces fucked off to make disco records and sad adult contemporary infomercials.

  1. 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.

1001_The-KLF_WhiteThe 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.
1001_Rave_aerobics-raveThe 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.
  1. 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.

  1. The Shamen – En-Tact (1990)

I don’t have anything cute or clever to say about this bullshit, sorry.

Suggested Alternative:
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

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1987 – 1988

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.

1001_Bruce-WillisHow 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

1001_Tawny-WhitesnakeBut 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

  1. Anthrax – Among The Living (1987)

1001_Anthrax_AmongWe 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.

Suggested Alternative:
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
King Diamond – Abigail

juke 4-Abigail_(King_Diamond_album)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.

  1. Astor Piazzolla & Gary Burton – The New Tango (1987)

1001_Gary-BurtonThink 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.”

Suggested Alternative:
Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics – Maggots: The Record

1001_Plasmatics_MaggotsEasily 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.

  1. Butthole Surfers – Locust Abortion Technician (1987)

1001_Butthole-Surfers_LocustBrace 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.

  1. Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)

1001_Def-Leppard_HysteriaThe 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.”

  1. Depeche Mode – Music For The Masses (1987)

1001_Depeche-Mode_Music-for-the-MassesThe pinnacle of curiously over-emotive yet brooding synth pop. It doesn’t get any better, but it certainly gets a lot worse. Dial up this LP and you never need to hear another note of the stuff.

  1. 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.

1001_Dinosaur-Jr_LivingMy 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.

  1. 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.

1001_Dolly_TrioLook, 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!

  1. 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.

1001_Flintstones_VitaHow 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?

Suggested Alternative:
Minutemen – 3-Way Tie For Last
  1. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction (1987)
  2. Hüsker Dü – Warehouse: Songs And Stories (1987)

1001_Husker-Du_WarehousePlease 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.

  1. 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.

1001_John-Zorn_GundownAt 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.

  1. Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Shaka Zulu (1987)

1001_Ladysmith_ShakaThere isn’t going to be another Must Hear a cappella record, and these guys nail it.

  1. 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?

Suggested Alternatives:
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’.

  1. 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.

1001_Michael-Jackson_BadI 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.

Suggested Alternatives:
Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing

1001_Suzanne-Vega_SolitudeMaking 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.

  1. Napalm Death – Scum (1987)

1001_Napalm-DeathBefore 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.

  1. Pet Shop Boys – Actually (1987)

1001_Pet-Shop-Boys_ActuallyLook, 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.

Suggested Alternative:

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.

  1. Prince – Sign ‘O’ The Times (1987)

1001_Prince_SignOTheTimesThere’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.

  1. 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.

1001_REM_DocumentR.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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Terence Trent D’Arby – Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby (1987)

1001_D'Arby_Introducing-HardlineThis is a very insubstantial and polished soul pop record from one of the more narcissistic artists to make the list. You should hear “Wishing Well” and “Sign Your Name” and that’s it.

  1. The Cult – Electric (1987)

1001_The-Cult_ElectricNot 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.”

  1. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Darklands (1987)

Nope. Nuh-uh, no way. I gave you Psychocandy last year. That’s plenty.

  1. 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.

  1. The Smiths – Strangeways, Here We Come (1987)

1001_Smiths_StrangewaysNope. I love the Smiths and fanatics will huff and puff and threaten to blow the house down, but my gut tells me that we’ve heard enough of this band.

  1. The Triffids – Calenture (1987)

1001_Triffids_calentureAt 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.

Suggested Alternative:
Midnight Oil – Diesel and Dust

1001_Midnight-Oil_DieselThis 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.

  1. U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)

Enjoy it while you can.

  1. 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.

1001_AMC_californiaAfter 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.

  1. Cowboy Junkies – Trinity Session (1988)

1001_Cowboy-Junkies_TrinityThis 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.

  1. 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.

1001_Dagmar_TankOK, 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.

  1. Dinosaur Jr – Bug (1988)

1001_Dinosaur-Jr_BugGoddammit. [Sigh] To my shock, awe, disdain and frustration, these kids made another great record.

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
  1. 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.”

  1. Everything But The Girl – Idlewild (1988)

1001_Everything-BTG_IdlewildSophisti-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.

Completely irrelevant.

  1. Fishbone – Truth And Soul (1988)

1001_Fishbone_TruthUpon 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.

  1. Happy Mondays – Bummed (1988)

1001_Happy-Mondays_BummedAnother 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.

  1. Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking (1988)

1001_Janes_Nothings-ShockingThis was Appetite For Destruction for the alternative crowd.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. Living Colour – Vivid (1988)

1001_Living-Colour_VividNot 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.

  1. Metallica – … And Justice For All (1988)

1001_Metallica_JusticeMan, 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.

  1. Morrissey – Viva Hate (1988)

1001_Morrissey_Viva-HateNuh-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.

  1. Mudhoney – Superfuzz Bigmuff (1988)

Keep your eyes on Seattle, let us not forget, home of the Sonics.

  1. My Bloody Valentine – Isn’t Anything (1988)

1001_My-Bloody-Valentine_AnythingThis 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.

  1. NWA – Straight Outta Compton (1988)
  2. 1001_Pixies_SurferPixies – Surfer Rosa (1988)
  3. Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
  4. Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation (1988)

Of course, all four are Must Hear. End of.

  1. 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.

Suggested Alternative:
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”.

  1. 1001_Sugarcubes_LifeThe Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace With God (1988)
  2. The Sugarcubes – Life’s Too Good (1988)
  3. The Waterboys – Fisherman’s Blues (1988)
  4. Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman (1988)

You could totally cherry pick an album’s worth of Must Hear jams from these four records.

Net Reduction of Albums from the Period: 19
Suggested Alternatives: 9
Running AYMHBYD Total: 823

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1985 – 1986

Dedicated to my brother, Bobby Camp (1969-2015) who introduced me to more bands than I can count.

Frank Zappa (among others) once said something along the lines of writing about music is like dancing about architecture.

1001_Jerry-Shatzberg-Frank-Zappa-HimselfThat’s wrong. If listening to music is an experience, then writing about said experience is just as valid as writing about a trip to India. You can write about anything you want.

More to the point, Zappa was responding to criticism of his own work, and the real gist of what he said is that music critics just don’t get it –“it” being his latest album of guitar solos and nothing but guitar solos.

On a certain level, the incongruity of dancing about architecture may be relevant in this context. There are dozens if not hundreds of records on the 1001 Albums list that I just don’t get, and thus, there is very little I can write except to acknowledge the fact that their essence escapes me, very much like the appeal of every boy band since Menudo.

However, on an artistic level, the only thing I enjoy as much as making music, is listening to music, reading and/or writing about music. It’s impossible to estimate how many of my favorite artists were discovered by first reading about them. There are several records from 1985-86 that I never would have heard if not for reading an album review in Rolling Stone.

That said, 1985-86 is a minefield for Albums You Should Never Hear Before You Die…For Real. As I perused the extraneous lists of albums released during this period, half the time I was thinking, “Christ, nobody should have to listen to that.” Allow me to toss out a few zero-star examples.

Albums You Should Never Hear Before You Die…For Real: 1985-86


1001_Phil_Collins_-_No_Jacket_RequiredPhil Collins – No Jacket Required

Screw death metal, man. This is the most hurtful, sinister, malicious, hostile, bitter, pernicious, malevolent, spiteful, baleful, injurious, cancerous, virulent, metastatic, and irremediable quasi-rock album ever released…

David Hasselhoff – Night Rocker

…except for this one.

1001_HasselholfYou know where Hasselhoff was popular? Germany – the Japan of Europe. Night Rocker went to #1 in Austria and #30 on the German charts. Der Hoff’s fourth album Looking For Freedom (1989) was his first #1 in Germany. It’s really no fun hating on this guy because he is what he is: Der Hoff. And I bet he’s a great guy and very charming in person. He had that pathetic drunken YouTube clip incident back in 2006, but he’s reprising his role in Sharknado 3, coming soon to a theater near you. Raise your hands if you saw either Sharknados 1 or 2. And you know what, I dug Knight Rider. The talking car satisfied my appreciation for animatronics on television, which is also why I loved ALF. Anyway, der Hoff’s music is Scheiße.

Mick Jagger – She’s the Boss
USA For Africa – We Are the World

1001_USA-forAfrica_we-are-the-worldEverybody involved with the making of these two albums deserves at the very least to have their car towed from the studio parking lot. Or have their luggage lost at LAX. Or have their smart phone slip down through the grating of a storm drain. Some kind of material misfortune that isn’t going to cause any physical harm per se, just a taste of heartache.

How many people are we talking here? Not including record company wonks, the following:

She’s the Boss

1001_Mick-JaggerMick Jagger, Wally Badarou, Jeff Beck, John “Rabbit” Bundrick, Ray Cooper, Aïyb Dieng, Sly Dunbar, Bernard Edwards, Steve Ferrone, Anton Fier, Anton Fig, Guy Fletcher, Bernard Fowler, Jan Hammer, Herbie Hancock, Colin Hodgkinson, Bill Laswell, Chuck Leavell, Ron Magness, Eddie Martinez, Alfa Pickett, Lenny Pickett, Daniel Ponce, Nile Rodgers, Robert Sabino, Robbie Shakespeare, Michael Shrieve, G. E. Smith, Tony Thompson, Fonzi Thornton, and Pete Townshend

We Are the World

Dan Aykroyd, Harry Belafonte, Lindsey Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac), Kim Carnes, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Sheila E., Bob Geldof, Hall & Oates, James Ingram, Jackie Jackson, La Toya Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Michael Jackson, Randy Jackson, Tito Jackson, Al Jarreau, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis and the News, Kenny Loggins, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson, Jeffrey Osborne, Steve Perry, The Pointer Sisters, Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder

1001_The-Clash-cut-the-crapDead or Alive – Youthquake
Heart – Heart
Starship – Knee Deep in the Hoopla
Mike + the Mechanics – Mike + the Mechanics
The Clash – Cut the Crap
Aerosmith – Done With Mirrors

Six of the worst records ever made. It’s also ironic because the one thing Joe Strummer and the Clash sans Mick Jones didn’t cut was the crap. They left the whole log in the bowl, for all of us to enjoy.


1001_Black-Sabbath-seventh-starBlack Sabbath – Seventh Star

This is a Tony Iommi solo record with Glenn Hughes on vocals, and it’s peerlessly awful. Who the fuck is Glenn Hughes? Good question. Iommi is a Greatest of the Great Ones, which makes an album like this even more hurtful and disappointing.

Van Halen – 5150

You’d call them Van Hagar either dismissively or lovingly, and as Sammy Hagar points out in his book, Red: My Uncensored Life In Rock, Warner Bros. asked them to consider renaming the band in like manner.

1001_Sammy-Hagar-Red_book_coverMy general beef with Sammy preceded his tenure in Van Halen, and I don’t hold him responsible for records like 5150, the first in a long line of heart-breakingly terrible Van Halen records. But I have a fair question: Would the bulk of 5150 sound as bloated, slick and phony with David Lee Roth on vocals? Probably. Maybe. I don’t doubt it, and it’s possible.

For my listening dollar, it’s not really about Hagar vs. Roth, though I’m clearly on Team DLR. This record blows for several other reasons; most importantly, it marks the spot where the band began to take itself seriously. Won’t you tell me, where have all the good times gone? Love him or hate him, Roth didn’t just show up to party; he was the party. Hagar showed up and invited a bunch of meatheads out to the parking lot to goon over his ’67 Mustang.

Van Halen were inherently cornball, which, including EVH’s smug fretboard showboating, was clear from the get-go. Dave did the shuck n’ jive with his tongue in cheek, and it was good, cornball fun. The minute you take the humor out of their music, it becomes a stale confection. At the same time, maybe the reason you didn’t like Van Halen before 5150 is precisely because DLR pushed the envelope on the Jim Dandy routine. Moreover, you liked Sammy’s solo work. “I Can’t Drive 55” was your hot jam. Then this record would have given you legitimate reason to like it.

1001_VanHalen_5150_fcoverAbove all, 5150 features not one but two cringe-worthy power ballads that most likely would not exist if DLR was still in the band: “Love Walks In” and “Dreams”.

Finally, aside from the title track, the forgettable riffs and ho-hum hooks are few and far between. Eddie Van Halen may have officially run out of ideas on guitar. He’s still flying up and down the neck and being silly with the whammy bar, but the underlying rhythms are predictable, plodding and unremarkable. That’s where Sammy, a respectable but choogle-driven guitar player in his own right, stepped in. How many of these songs were partially composed by Hagar is anybody’s guess, but with its new pop sensibility, 5150 went straight to the top of the charts. And they’d make three more records in the vein of 5151, 5152, 5153, before Sammy’s wheels came completely off the Van Halen bus.

And more than any rock record of the period, 5150 is the most polished turd you’ll ever encounter.

New Kids on the Block – New Kids on the Block
Europe – The Final Countdown
Journey – Raised on Radio
1001_Genesis_InvisibleGenesis – Invisible Touch

Other than Jefferson Airplane-Starship, it’s hard to name a band that over the course of its lifespan went from heroes to zeroes like Genesis. In other words, very few bands evolved from specialized, exquisite art-prog to peddling satanic adult contemporary in less than a decade. Plenty of other bands went down the tubes and wound up in places they later regretted. Invisible Touch is the first (but not last) Genesis record with zero redeeming qualities, i.e. traces of when they were good, and the core trio of Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins remain unrepentant millionaires and quite proud of their achievements in banality. Fuck them. Zero stars forever.

Steve Winwood – Back in the High Life
Poison – Look What the Cat Dragged In
Boston – Third Stage
Toto – Fahrenheit
Elton John – Leather Jackets
Cheap Trick – The Doctor

1001_Cheap-Ttrick_The_DoctorYikes, what happened to Cheap Trick?

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic stated “If any one record sums up all the ludicrous indulgence of ’80s record-making it’s The Doctor. Cluttered with cacophonic electronic drums and clanking with cheap overdriven synths, the record is cavernous and hollow, every instrument echoing endlessly in a fathomless digital stage. As sonic archaeology, this holds some interest, as it contains every bad record production idea of the mid-’80s – it’s as garish as its record cover.”

Allmusic gave The Doctor 1 of 5 possible stars, and as a lifelong fan who has actually sat through this record, I’m thinking that Allmusic was being too generous, and I’m taking that one star back, making The Doctor a true zero-star effort.

We now resume regularly scheduled programming.

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1985-1986


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

  1. Abdullah Ibrahim – Water From An Ancient Well (1985)

1001_Abdullah-Ibrahim_Water-From-an-Ancient-Well-1985-FLACI can’t be the only one who’d never heard of this South African pianist and composer until today. His music reflects influences ranging from traditional African songs to gospel, ragas, modern jazz and other Western styles. Maybe we need some of that right now.

  1. A-Ha – Hunting High And Low (1985)
  2. Dexys Midnight Runners – Don’t Stand Me Down (1985)

You have a finite amount of time in this life. Remember that. And seriously, this is like the third or fourth Dexy’s Midnight Runners album to make the book, and it’s absolute nonsense to say that anything other than their smash hit single “Come On Eileen” is Must Hear music.

Suggested Alternatives:
1001_Husker-Du_New-Day-RisingHüsker Dü – New Day Rising
Meat Puppets – Up on the Sun

I’m not even going to get started on the riff about “How could they leave these two albums off the list and yet, recommend a band like A-Ha in good faith?”

  1. Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (1985)

No matter what I have to say about this album, if you like Dire Straits, you’re gonna keep listening to them, come hell or high water. And I can take my snotty opinion and stuff it. Well, that’s fine. But let’s get something straight.

1001_Dire-Straits_Brothers_in_ArmsMark Knopfler did not write a song that name-checks MTV, released it on a major label, and thought nobody would notice. The wonks at MTV went bananas when they heard “Money For Nothing”, especially when it featured a cameo from Sting, who just so happens to be reciting the MTV slogan (“I want my MTV”) to the tune of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” That sound you hear is money being printed with several snaps of several fingers.

And I couldn’t care less about the video, but according to various sources, Knopfler was “anti-video” and thought that “videos would destroy the purity of songwriters and performers.” And yet, what happened? They made a video. And it was a huge success. If you didn’t have a reason to dislike Sting, you did now.

1001_MTVWhen an artist essentially writes a jingle for the very same company that’s going to help sell 15 million copies of their latest album, it should be released with a disclaimer on the cover. Sponsored by MTV, Coca-Cola, Nike, etc. Make musicians wear NASCAR jumpsuits with the logo patches of every sponsor. You can talk about songwriting and musicianship all you want. There’s selling out and then there’s what Dire Straits did with “Money For Nothing”.

Now, the rest of Brothers In Arms exemplifies and contains everything I hate about modern rock-based choogle in four-minute servings. Dire Straits are everything that sucks about music and the music industry. Brothers in Arms is the most generic, banal, zero-sum, ambitionless, disposable product since rock music had a name.

Suggested Alternatives:
Celtic Frost – To Mega Therion

1001_Celtic-FrostHaving shared practice spaces with death metal bands, I’ve often wondered what kind of nut you could crack by playing in a death metal band. It’s exhaustive shit. On one hand, it’s nice that these Swiss kids in Celtic Frost took a serious interest in what they were doing and weren’t fucking around. Kudos. On the other hand, there’s not much you can do with it.


If you’ve ever played in a band with a practice space, odds are pretty good that you’ve had a death metal band in the building. I’ve had them as upstairs, downstairs, next door, and across-the-hall neighbors, and those downstairs cats generally played at jet engine levels and rarely took breaks. It was an incredibly unpleasant tsunami of sound. There were times when we couldn’t hear ourselves with everybody’s amps on 11 and the drummer using the butt end of his sticks. Eventually, we figured out their practice schedule and stopped coming in on Tuesday nights. It just wasn’t worth effort to battle against them. And what’s funny is that we talked to other bands in the building and they did the same thing. From that point forward, I always assumed that the main ambition of the average death metal band is to play so unbearably loud that you get the whole building to yourself.

  1. 1001_DFW_Everything_and_More_coverKate Bush – Hounds Of Love (1985)

I have long suspected that I’m wired to dislike things that I don’t understand. For instance, I detest all things mathematic because I never got around to understanding algebra, algorithms, calculus, or trigonometry, or even why those applications might be useful later in life. They haven’t been useful or necessary by any stretch of imagination, but it’d be nice to have a decent grasp of Set Theory if you were desperately trying to get through Everything and More: A Concise History of by David Foster Wallace. Which I’ve been doing for five, seven years now? I hate math and I just don’t get it, so I cannot have an opinion about it.

1001_Kate-Bush-Hounds-of-LoveOnly when I understand something can I have an opinion. When Kate Bush is considered “art rock, experimental pop”, I’m dumbstruck.

Moreover, it’s not like I go out of my way to badmouth clearly photogenic women like Kate Bush; on the other hand, I will go out of my way to avoid her music. I hear it and I think, “Oh Christ, it’s Enya”, even though she’s ahead of Enya on the time table, and doesn’t really sound like Enya, or vice versa. There’s a quality of emotion in her music that I just. Don’t. Get.

Some people have a fantastical musical repartee with the Grateful Dead. Not me. But I understand that people find something remarkable about Kate Bush, and you could literally hit me over the head with it and I still wouldn’t hear it. I dunno. I feel like I’m defending myself.

Hounds of Love contains Bush’s signature cut, “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)” which may or may not be the gist of my problem with this music. Perhaps it contains a smidgen of art rock in the sense that it doesn’t exactly follow a traditional song pattern. And Bush sings like a bird, too. But this is adult contemporary music with a new wave edge, and I object to lumping this type of beautifully-tortured-soul music into the same genre as King Crimson, Genesis and Yes. Let’s call this what it is: Soccer Mom Boogie.

Suggested Alternatives:
The Cult – Love
Prince and the Revolution – Around the World in a Day

1001_Breakfast-ClubI was tempted to suggest The Breakfast Club soundtrack. Just for snicks. But seriously, Love is a solid hard rock recording and IMHO more of a Must Hear than their next album (Electric, 1987). The Cult deserve props for finding their groove and sticking to it.

1001_Prince_AroundAround the World in a Day is my second favorite Prince record, (Purple Rain is not my favorite, by a long shot), and probably the Purple One’s only foray into deep psychedelic rock. Anyway, the big hit from this record is the 60s psych-pop gem “Raspberry Beret” but “Pop Life” is the true hot jam. “Condition of the Heart” is very Bitches Brew meets Pet Sounds with Sherman Hemsley and Peabo Bryson, if you’re into that kind of thing.

  1. Mekons – Fear And Whiskey (1985)
  2. New Order – Low-Life (1985)
  3. Prefab Sprout – Steve McQueen (1985)

1001_New-Order_LowAll three of these records have potentially redeeming qualities. Fear and Whiskey is considered one of the first alternative country albums. Meanwhile, Low-Life is considered one of the first post-punk alternative dance albums. And finally, Steve McQueen is considered the second Prefab Spout album. And all three sound like 1985 is jumping out of the speakers.

Suggested Alternatives:
Run-DMC – King of Rock

Articulation is saying what’s necessary to connect a couple of unrelated dots.

More Suggested Alternatives:
R.E.M. – Fables of the Reconstruction
The Dukes of Stratosphear – 25 O’Clock

1001_Dukes_25oclockBoth of these records serve as potent reminders that not every band was rocking the sequencers and pastel neon jumpsuits.

  1. Scritti Politti – Cupid And Psyche 85 (1985)
  2. Simply Red – Picture Book (1985)
  3. Suzanne Vega – Suzanne Vega (1985)

Hell no. Scritti Politti is negligible synth-pop at best. AT BEST! Simply Red is adult contemporary easy listening rubbish. And Suzanne Vega, well, Joan Baez, here you go. OK, Suzie V. does make a decent or album or two in her time. Her debut isn’t it. Besides, it doesn’t contain her two signature songs, “Tom’s Diner” and “Luka”, both of which are on a record that came out in 1987 and we’ll get to it in due time. This one? No. Nope.

Suggested Alternative:
1001_The-Cure_The-HeadDoorThe Cure – The Head on the Door

By far the most influential pop rock record of 1985.

  1. Tears For Fears – Songs From The Big Chair (1985)

Shout, let it all out. These are the things I can do without. Come on, I’m talking to you. Come on.

I loved The Hurting, but I choked on this record. “Shout” was OK, but “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Head Over Heels” both crossed the fruity line for me.

  1. The Fall – This Nation’s Saving Grace (1985)

Eh, shit. I listen to it every so often. I like some of it. Mostly, I feel obligated to listen.

  1. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)
  2. The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy And The Lash (1985)
  3. The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)
  4. Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)

1001_JAMC_PsychocandyStraight-up, I can’t stand the Jesus & Mary Chain, but… Psychocandy is exceedingly capable. You should hear some of it. The Pogues are also not my bag, but Rum is a good place to drop a dime. I have serious reservations about Meat is Murder being Must Hear unless…you’re talking about the American version that contains “How Soon is Now?” which appeared as a B-side to “William, Was It Really Nothing?” If that jam is on the record, then yes, full speed ahead. And finally, if I could only recommend one Tom Waits record, Rain Dogs would be a nice choice.

  1. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force – Planet Rock: The Album (1986)

Extremely influential record in hip-hop. In case there’s ever a time in your life when you wonder, “What are some of the most influential albums in hip-hop?”

  1. Anita Baker – Rapture (1986)

Dear Wikipedia:

Might you explain “quiet storm”?

1001_Quiet-Storm-Web-ModuleQuiet storm is a radio format, musical style, and subgenre of R&B, featuring soulful slow jams, pioneered in the mid-1970s by then-station-intern Melvin Lindsey at WHUR-FM, in Washington, D.C. Smokey Robinson’s like-titled hit single, “A Quiet Storm”, released in 1975 as the title track to his third solo album, lent its name to the format and to the radio program that introduced it to the public. Encompassing a mix of African-American music genres, quiet storm music is distinguished by understated, mellow dynamics and relaxed tempos and rhythms. It can be soothingly pensive, or express romantic sentiment. Quiet storm music is similar to soft rock and adult contemporary styles, but it is more closely and unmistakably rooted in R&B and soul music, often with jazz extensions.

Today, quiet storm is a broad term given to an array of mellow, slow-groove contemporary R&B, soul and smooth jazz offerings of the type featured on Melvin Lindsey’s WHUR program, and on myriad other stations that followed his lead—most notably KBLX-FM in San Francisco, which in 1979 became the first radio station in the U.S. to present a 24-hour quiet storm format (which lasted 32 years, until the station was acquired in April 2011 by Entercom Broadcasting and converted to straight-ahead Urban AC format).

According to music journalist Jason King, quiet storm developed as a subgenre analogous to soft rock because it emphasized the more tender qualities of R&B:

“Sensuous and pensive, quiet storm is seductive R&B, marked by jazz flourishes, ‘smooth grooves,’ and tasteful lyrics about intimate subjects. As disco gave way to the ‘urban contemporary’ format at the outset of the 1980s, quiet storm expanded beyond radio to emerge as a broad catchall super-genre.”

Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone called the genre a “blend of pop, jazz fusion, and R&B ballads – all elegant and easy-flowing, like a flute of Veuve Clicquot champagne”. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t need that kind of aggravation.

  1. 1001_Bad-Brains_I-againstBad Brains – I Against I (1986)
  2. Beastie Boys – Licensed To Ill (1986)
  3. Big Black – Atomizer (1986)

You’ve been on the Bad Brains tip since Rock for Light (1982) so you might sleep on I Against I. Don’t do that.

Most aficionados will pooh-pooh Licensed to Ill, but you cannot underestimate its cultural influence and role in hip-hop’s crossover to white, middle class America.

1001_Big_Black_AtomizerBig Black is one of the seminal post-punk noise rock bands, and Atomizer is probably their most “fun” record. It’s too bad that I didn’t get turned on to this record when it came out. I suppose it was too indie or hipster or underground or arty for my crew. Anyway, it will be one of the most influential albums of the decade. Ever heard of the Pixies? Nirvana? And speaking of writing about music, Steve Albini is infamous for more than his fair share of literal spew.

  1. Billy Bragg – Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (1986)
  2. Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet (1986)

There is no Must Hear Album with “poetry” in the title. Period. End of.

Bon Jovi is just one more reason to avoid mainstream hard-ish rock in this era. They were merely a symptom of a much larger problem in rock: aiming for the lowest common denominator. However, to paraphrase Rob Tyner of the MC5, you’re either part of the problem, or part of the solution.

Suggested Alternative:
David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile

The irony of praising Big Black while also suggesting a David Lee Roth album is not lost on me. However…

1001_DLR_Eat_Em_And_Smile_CoverAfter releasing the surprise hit EP Crazy from the Heat in early 1985, and subsequently parting ways with Van Halen, Roth recruited a new backing band: bassist Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big); drummer Gregg Bissonette (Ringo Starr and Elton John, among others); and guitarist Steve Vai, who had worked previously with Frank Zappa, PiL and Alcatrazz. Basically the hottest players at their chosen instrument in the business. The ultimate hired guns.

Eat ‘Em and Smile featured a hard rock sound, comparable with that of early Van Halen, albeit featuring eclectic forays into lounge, jazz, and speed metal. It was pure DLR. Both a critical and commercial success, Rolling Stone wrote that no song on Eat ‘Em and Smile was “as slick as any of the singles from Van Halen’s 5150 album,” and also avered that Eat ‘Em and Smile was much more “trashy fun”. Indeed, many of the reviews of Eat ‘Em And Smile compared it favorably to Van Halen’s synth-heavy 5150.

  1. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Blood And Chocolate (1986)

I dunno. I don’t feel like I needed to hear this. I’ll tune in when he does that record with Paul McCartney. I’m thinking that might be a good time.

Suggested Alternatives:
Love & Rockets – Express
They Might Be Giants – They Might Be Giants

Two of the THE cool kid college dormitory records in 1986.

  1. Megadeth – Peace Sells … But Who’s Buying? (1986)
  2. Metallica – Master Of Puppets (1986)

1001_Metallica-Master-of-Puppets_coverUm. OK. Metal. Wow. Um. Gosh. Like. Riffs. Riffage. Violence. Death. We are a long way from “All I Wanted Was a Pepsi, and She Wouldn’t Give it to Me.” But… Yeah. Rockin’. Um. Fast. Juhga-hugga-hugga-juhga-jigga-jugh-jugha. Yeah. Screaming. Sounds like shit went in sour in your life, son. Changes. Changes. Three note riffs. Capital R riffs. Abundant. Solos. Modes. Um. OK. Both. Records. Yikes. Yeah. Metal, man. Metal as fuck.

Master of Puppets is the superior record, but don’t snooze on Megadeth. Peace Sells has several redeeming qualities, most notably a lead guitar player (Dave Mustaine) who could fly. Kirk Hammett used to operate a rickshaw service out of Carlos Santana’s auto body repair shop.

  1. Nanci Griffith – The Last Of The True Believers (1986)

Sure, why not?

  1. Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)
  2. Peter Gabriel – So (1986)
  3. Run-DMC – Raising Hell (1986)
  4. Slayer – Reign In Blood (1986)
  5. Sonic Youth – Evol (1986)

1001_Slayer_ReignAll six of the above records are Must Hear and if you need qualification, I suggest you do your homework and stop depending on me to sort things out. Just kidding. I’m hesitant to pull the trigger on Sonic Youth here because they have a couple of great records coming up.

  1. Steve Earle – Guitar Town (1986)

Hmm. Guitar Town. I wonder what kind of activities take place in Guitar Town? A lot of zzzz’s and hammer-downs? It only figures that the sheriff and his deputy are going to be involved. We’ve reached the Can You Blame Him? stage of singer-songwriters. Dude puts the cunt in country music, while taking the ock out of rock.

Suggested Alternative:
R.E.M. – Life’s Rich Pageant

1001_R.E.M_Lifes-RichNot getting enough fiber in your diet? The whole grain of Steve Earle isn’t producing solid results? R.E.M. has your heartland colon blow right here, recorded at John Cougar’s studio in Belmont, Indiana. By far my least favorite of their pre-Out of Time (1990) work, there are a couple of sweet cuts here, and a couple of clunkers that sound thrown together, exposing their songwriting limitations. “What If We Give It Away?” being the prime example. On the other hand, “Fall On Me” set a course for the Top 40. The guitars are big and tuff. The drums are bombastic. Michael Stipe’s voice is noticeably prominent in the mix for the first time in their discography. It’s the polar opposite of their previous record. While the success of Life’s Rich Pageant cleared their path to alternative rock dominance, it came at the expense of the R.E.M. mystique. No more making up your own words to songs. No more guessing at cryptic meanings. No more fun, basically. Here’s where R.E.M. starts to take themselves seriously.

  1. The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead (1986)

The debut album and The Queen Is Dead are the Smiths’ bookends on a brief but magical career. Yes, I know there’s another record coming (Strangeways, Here We Come, 1987), and it might even be a Must Hear. This is a slam dunk. The title track contains some of the best lyrics I’ve ever seen or heard.

Farewell to this land’s cheerless marches
Hemmed in like a boar between arches
Her very Lowness with her head in a sling
I’m truly sorry but it sounds like a wonderful thing
I say Charles don’t you ever crave
To appear on the front of the Daily Mail
Dressed in your Mother’s bridal veil?
So I checked all the registered historical facts
And I was shocked into shame to discover
How I’m the 18th pale descendent
Of some old queen or other
Oh has the world changed, or have I changed?
Oh has the world changed, or have I changed?
Some nine year old tough who peddles drugs on the street
I swear to God, I swear I never even knew what drugs were
So I broke into the Palace
With a sponge and a rusty spanner
She said, “Eh, I know you, and you cannot sing”
I said, That’s nothing – you should hear me play piano”
We can go for a walk where it’s quiet and dry
And talk about precious things
But when you are tied to your mother’s apron
No-one talks about castration
We can go for a walk where it’s quiet and dry
And talk about precious things
Like love and law and poverty
These are the things that kill me
We can go for a walk where it’s quiet and dry
And talk about precious things
But the rain that flattens my hair
These are the things that kill me
Pass the pub that saps your body
And the church who’ll snatch your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb
Pass the pub that wrecks your body
And the church, all they want is your money
The Queen is dead, boys
And it’s so lonely on a limb
Life is very long, when you’re lonely
Life is very long, when you’re lonely
Life is very long, when you’re lonely
Life is very long, when you’re lonely
  1. The The – Infected (1986)

1001_XTC_SkylarkingConsidering the impending AIDS epidemic, this is an unfortunate album title, don’t you think?

  1. Throwing Muses – Throwing Muses (1986)

Not yet with these kids.

  1. XTC – Skylarking (1986)

Another gorgeous, simply phenomenal record You Must Hear Before You Die…Produced by Todd Rundgren.

Net Reduction of Albums from the Period: 13
Suggested Alternatives: A bunch of ’em
Running AYMHBYD Total: 842