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.

1. READ YOUR SHIT OUT LOUD (RYSOL)

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.

2. SIT ON STUFF (SOS)

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.”

3. THE LITTLE, BROWN HANDBOOK

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.

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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.

window-this-winter

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.

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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.

Lazy-BASTARD_book-cover_Final_2-

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.

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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.]
jim-mao1000x400

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).

mainland_china_foreign_nationals_by_country_of_origin_2010

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?

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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).

ronald-mcd

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.

taxi

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.

1001_Zeppelin_Houses-of-the-Holy-Album-cover

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.

1001_Cheap-Trick

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?”

“Yes.”

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.

Next.

1001_Hip-hopA recent article on CNN.com (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 Last.fm, the researchers then studied how the different topics fit into different genres and styles, and how their popularity rose and fell over the decades.

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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.


Key:

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)

Rrrrrrrrruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuubbbbbbbbbbbbbiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiisssssshhhhh.

  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.


Key:

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.

fey

(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!
[Chorus:]
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.


Key:

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:
fIREHOSE – If’n

We’re gonna get at least two records from these guys, but this may be the best one. Punk, funk, and free jazz, all in one place.

  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

1985

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.

1986

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


Key:

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.

1-2-3-4! ARRRGAGGEGGGUUUUSHSHHHSHHHSHHHUUFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUAAAAAAAAAHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHGG.

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

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1983 – 1984

https://blacksunshinemedia.comTo be honest, I didn’t know what the hell was going on in 1983-84, and I was hoping that 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die was going to bring some clarity to my confusion.

Generally speaking, the self-awareness of a 16-year-old boy is limited to his immediate sight and grasp. At least, that’s how it was for me.

What I do know about the period is that music was as much a part of my life as it was my identity. All groups form on a certain commonality, and high school is nothing but a laboratory experiment in social stratification. My school had maybe six main social groups based on music (more or less, for the purpose and definition of this essay).

Gatekeepers – Basically the bulk of the student population, most of whom showed zero inclination toward music, didn’t wear concert t-shirts or claim a strong affiliation with a band, genre, or social clique, and never missed the honor roll. They were heavily involved in academics, sports, clubs, and student government, though you might spot one or two at a weekend party.

1001_fleetwood-mac-01Generally speaking, Gatekeepers were all very nice kids who never caused any trouble and got into the college of their choice and went on to be successful in whatever it is they did. I would imagine they are now the same people who pony-up tall cash for special VIP passes to see Fleetwood Mac (which includes a Meet n’ Greet with the band).

1001_Party-MonsterParty Monsters aka Jocks – The upper echelon of the high school caste system, these kids were generally but not always from well-to-do families whose parents were out of town all the time and didn’t care if their son threw a keg party or two. Many of these kids were also star athletes and top students. They rocked the mainstream buzz bands: Styx, R.E.O. Speedwagon, Van Halen, the Who, the Police, or just about any rock band in the Top 10 of the album charts; and they went to all the big shows. Music was more part of an event than the event itself, which meant there was a time and place for Kool and the Gang, too. Sporting events, for example. Anyway, PMs were a vain, capricious and selective bunch of characters, but you’d be a fool to bail on an invitation to one of their swingers.

1001_StonersStoners – These stereotypically peaceful cats had several different but interchangeable factions, depending upon who had the weed. Other than being high 95% of the time, they had a tendency to look down on “the straights,” but didn’t cause much trouble. Generally speaking, these kids were also on the cutting edge of music, because what else was there to do during a Thursday night bong session except listen to the new Grateful Dead bootleg? They also attended shitloads of concerts and concert tees made up a third of their wardrobe. The rest of it was denim – jackets and jeans, sometimes with patches sewn into the pockets. Stoners were notorious for blowing off class and getting high in the parking lot, or walking off campus to someone’s house nearby. They tended toward Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Pink Floyd, but also had a working knowledge of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart.

1001_Judd-NelsonBurnouts – The bad-ass Stoner contingent who had parental permission to puff cigarettes between classes in the outdoor smoking area, also known as “The Cage”, which is partially where the “burnout” reference came from. Many Stoners had this privilege as well, but managed to avoid Burnout status. Anyway, some of these cats were literally scripted from the 1970s, with long hair, driving muscle cars, carrying chain wallets in the back pockets of their bell bottoms, and steel toe boots that would kick your ass all over 75th Street if you crossed them. A whole bunch of these dudes and chicks wound up being incarcerated at some point in their lives. Several while still in high school. Musically, they rep’d for bands like Rainbow, Dio, Krokus, Dokken, and Motorhead, but really, any hard rock would do for them.

1001_PunksPunks – This group encompassed several scenes, particularly the theater kids (read: gays), the art nerds, and the super-genius students who were either having difficulty at home, or came from a broken family. These were generally speaking the bravest kids in school, and they took a lot of shit for showing up with a blue Mohawk or wearing a Dead Kennedys t-shirt. Many of the Punks didn’t actually wear punk fashions or get pummeled in the mosh pit. They lurked on the periphery, but identified nonetheless. Many of them became the original 90s hipsters, and I hope they’re proud of that.

1001_HS-BandBand Guys – Anyone who was part of the school’s music program. These kids were fiercely loyal to their band associates, but also free to mingle in other groups. Generally straight-laced, a small percentage of Band Guys were also Gatekeepers, Party Monsters, Punks, and Stoners. They could also talk at length about the stylistic differences between Pat Metheny records, as well as the current line-up of Manhattan Transfer.

1001_OutsiderOutliers – These cats could be part of any one of the above groups at any time, often simultaneously, but never claiming affiliation. Often times, a group of outliers would form and create a sub-clique. Generally speaking, these kids were on par with Stoners in terms of knowledge and appreciation of music. They loved everything from the Stray Cats to Springsteen, and everything in between, including punk, new wave and metal. Most outliers were fairly responsible cats who managed to keep their academics in line, but many were ne’er-do-well, under-achieving potheads who started bands and later dropped out of college to pursue a career in music.

As an outlier who mixed with all of the above groups, even friendly with some of the Burnouts, I belonged to a very small but changeable clique of like-minded dudes who were into two, call it three things: Music, partying, and chicks. That’s all 1983-84 means to me, mostly the chicks. And if I had to spike my hair, pierce my left ear, and do my best Billy Idol impression in order to make something happen, then so be it.


Key:

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. Culture Club – Colour By Numbers (1983)

1001_Culture-ClubThis is one of those albums you can absolutely judge from its cover. You don’t need to hear Culture Club’s lightweight drag queen pseudo-soul bullshit any longer than absolutely necessary, meaning the six minutes it will take to suffer through their two really big cuts “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” and “Karma Chameleon” while sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. God help you. Capital T-trust me. Or better yet, trust your eyes. Look at that album cover again. If that’s not enough, trust science. Studies have shown that anything beyond the Culture Club two-song threshold may increase your risk of everything bad in the world happening to you and you alone.

Suggested Alternative:
Billy Idol – Rebel Yell

1001_Billy-Idol_rebelyellalbumRight here is the heartbeat of the average American teenage male. The chicks dug him, too. Everybody wins. What’s more, Rebel Yell is actually a decent new wave hard rock record with a couple of infectious jams; of course, the title track, and the surprisingly tender-turns-tuff “Eyes Without a Face”; both of which were MTV staples.

At the same time, Rebel Yell marks the spot where “punk” became accessible to the mainstream. Billy Idol made it cool for dudes to rock that certain “punky” look, whereas a couple of years ago, you’d have gotten your ass beat for showing up to school looking like this cat on the cover. I’m telling you right now that yours truly got some Scooby Snacks as a direct result of this record.

  1. Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

1001_Def_Leppard_-_PyromaniaThe term “heavy metal” (also stylized as metal) has been around for well over a decade at this point, and up until recently, metal has been nothing more than very hard rock.

The old folks considered Scorpions, Zeppelin and Sabbath to be heavy metal, but anyone under the age of 30 knew better. Motörhead was the first band to bridge the straits of hard rock, punk and metal. In the late 70s, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest led the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), which included relatively unsung groups like Saxon, Tank, Diamond Head, Magnum, Venom, and believe it or not, Def Leppard.

1001_Def_Leppard_-_High_'n'_DryPyromania was THE hard rock-slash-heavy metal album of 1983, and stands the test of time…kind of, in a way. We’ll get deeper into the question of whether or not this is really a heavy metal record – it’s not – but it’s distinction as the best-selling hard rock record of the year means one thing: MTV had a lot to do with Def Leppard’s success. Honestly, their previous album High n’ Dry (1981) is what I’d be reaching for if someone ever came over and said, “Hey, ya got any Def Leppard?” That has never, not once, ever happened, but I believe I’ve called Pyromania the best AC/DC record since Back in Black (1980). Something like that. Above all, it’s really good at what it does, and contains a couple of sweet cowbell riffs.

1001_Mutt-LangeI’m not really in the mood to wax poetic about producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, except to say that the man knew how to make a rock n’ roll record, he really did. As I’m scrolling through the 1001 Albums list, it occurs to me that Pyromania is one of two Must Hear hard rock records from the 1983-84 period. Two? That number seems low, because I was there, and I remember several great records, some of which might even be Must Hear. Didn’t anybody else make a killer hard rock/heavy metal record in 1983? Maybe they did. Let’s take a closer look.

Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Albums Released in 1983*

*None of these albums are Must Hear unless otherwise indicated in blue bold italic (for Must Hear) and bold underline (for Maybe Must Hear)
Quiet Riot – Metal Health

1001_MetalHealth_Quiet-RiotThe “other” big hard rock/metal record of 1983; unfortunately, Metal Health has NOT stood the test of time. Party Monsters loved this album for a couple of months, and then it was on to better things. The cover of Slade’s “Cum On Feel the Noize” was pretty infectious though, and MTV stuffed Quiet Riot down the gullet of American youth like they were farming us for foie gras.

Dio – Holy Diver

1001_Dio_Holy-DiverYou know, Ronnie James Dio seemed like a straight-up cat, and he gets credit for popularizing the now ubiquitous “Devil horns,” but only Burnouts and Stoners got Holy Diver. The rest of us were like, “Huh?”

Metallica – Kill ’em All

1001_Metallica_killemall_lgHere’s the first of the Probable Must Hear Albums that didn’t get any love from the coffee table book, and by far the most accessible progressive-thrash metal album of the year. Kill ‘em All had a few of the standard hard rock trappings (long hair, guitar solos, shouted and growled vocals) but Metallica was the first great metal band since Motörhead that doesn’t have a dedicated front man who did nothing but preen, prance and sing. And that’s one of the nicest things I have to say about them.

Meanwhile, they were the Led Zeppelin of metal. Whereas Zeppelin flat-out poached riffs from blues cats and gave them a hard rock spin, Metallica stole riffs from proto-metal bands and gave them a punky twist.

Loudness – The Law of Devil’s Land

1001_LoudnessThey were loud, for sure, and almost every song contains the phrases “rock n’ roll”, “go crazy” and “evil in the night.” Honestly, I’ve no fucking clue what these cats were on about – it’s mostly in Japanese. But I’ve grown to like them a whole bunch. The Law is not a solid Must Hear, but it is light years ahead of most metal records from the period.

Triumph – Never Surrender
Streetheart – Dancing With Danger

Oh Canada. Sigh.

UFO – Making Contact
Thin Lizzy – Thunder and Lightning
1001_Krokus_HeadEurope – Europe
Marillion – Script for a Jester’s Tear
Saxon – Power & the Glory
Molly Hatchet – No Guts…No Glory
Krokus – Headhunter
Fastway – Fastway
Foghat – Zig-Zag Walk
Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
Kix – Cool Kids
Magnum – The Eleventh Hour

The only album of this bunch that even comes close to a Must Hear is Peace of Mind, but it’s not. On the other hand, Magnum is funny as shit.

Uriah Heep – Head First
Blackfoot – Siogo
Motörhead – Another Perfect Day
Tank – This Means War

Tank was formed in 1980 by bassist Algy Ward, formerly of The Damned. The band’s jumbly, punk-ish metal was often compared to Motörhead. This Means War is pretty funny, too, but unlike Magnum, in a good way.

Twisted Sister – You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll
Nazareth – Sound Elixir
Kansas – Drastic Measures
1001_Black-Sabbath_born_againBlack Sabbath – Born Again

Another Perfect Day more or less marks the spot where Motörhead crossed over into speed metal. Born Again is Sabbath’s only album with Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) on vocals, and an Album I Wish I’d Never Heard Before I Died.

Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche
AC/DC – Flick of the Switch
Ratt – Ratt
Rainbow – Bent Out of Shape
Raven – All for One
Saga – Heads or Tales
Dokken – Breaking the Chains
Kiss – Lick It Up
1001_Motely-Crue_ShoutMötley Crüe – Shout at the Devil

Shout at the Devil has a couple of fun jams. Those guys make me laugh, though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t their objective. If there is a Must Hear album in the Mötley Crüe catalog, this might be it. As for the rest of these albums, I’m not telling you how to live your life, but if you’re looking for listening magic, you aren’t going to find any here.

Brian May + Friends – Star Fleet Project

If I can’t find anything nice to say about a record that features Brian May and Eddie Van Halen exchanging guitar solos for half of the total time, then it’s got to be an exceptional record. This joins the list of Albums I Wish I’d Never Heard Before I Died.

Michael Schenker Group – Built to Destroy
Diamond Head – Canterbury
Y & T – Mean Streak
The Joe Perry Project – Once a Rocker, Always a Rocker
Aldo Nova – Subject: Aldo Nova

It’s always a challenge to find new ways of saying these records suck. The title of the Joe Perry LP is awful on its own; you don’t even need to see the track list. I mean, I want to be nice here. Diamond Head? If you’re curious, sure, go ahead, knock yourself out. Might as well give ‘em all a quick spin. But be forewarned, Subject: Aldo Nova does not contain “Fantasy”.

1001_Mercyful-Fate_Melissa_albumMercyful Fate – Melissa

Probably Most Definitely a Must Hear…maybe…I dunno. This is heavy metal music. And they’re upstaging Metallica, I’ll tell you what. King Diamond wasn’t messing around. At the very least, if you were browsing in a record store and picked up Melissa, flipped it over and read the track list, there would not be a single DOUBT in your mind that this was a metal record.

Side one

  1. “Evil”
  2. “Curse of the Pharaohs”
  3. “Into the Coven”
  4. “At the Sound of the Demon Bell”

Side two

  1. “Black Funeral”
  2. “Satan’s Fall”
  3. “Melissa”
Alcatrazz – No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll
Girlschool – Play Dirty
Blue Öyster Cult – The Revölution by Night
Hawkwind – Zones
Loverboy – Keep it Up

Haha, Loverboy was never anything more than third-rate Canadian rock, but they did give us “Workin’ For the Weekend.” Just wanted to remind everybody to say, “Thanks, Canada.” Otherwise, the Alcatrazz LP features Yngwie Malmsteen on guitar, and if light-speed guitar solos are your thing, here ya go.

Status Quo – Back to Back
1001_Ozzy_Bark_at_the_moonOzzy Osbourne – Bark at the Moon

Unfortunately, Jake E. Lee could never fill the shoes of Randy Rhodes, and thus, Bark at the Moon is yet another Album I Wish I’d Never Heard Before I Died.

Witchfynde – Cloak and Dagger
Night Ranger – Midnight Madness
Slade – The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome
1001_Slayer_MercySlayer – Show No Mercy
Accept – Balls to the Wall

Witchfynde is considered one of the pioneers of NWOBHM. I made it about two minutes into the first track of Cloak and Dagger before bailing out. Night Ranger? Fuck off. I like Slade a whole bunch but there’s nothing about The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome that makes me want to hear it again. Slayer is just getting started on their debut album, and thus, Show No Mercy is amateur night. Balls to the Wall is straight-up AC/DC. But let’s get one thing straight: AC/DC was never heavy metal music.

***

Pyromania marks the spot where the concept of heavy metal went mainstream, but the music didn’t necessarily follow. Metal splintered in several different directions: progressive, thrash, and hair metal to name a few. That’s right, hair metal. Def Leppard signaled the arrival of a potentially toxic type of pop metal, which is a nice way of saying hair metal (also known as glam metal, but I think that’s giving bands like Poison and Warrant far too much credit).

I’m actually listening to Pyromania for the first time in probably 25 years or more, and I’m dumbstruck by how “poppy” it is, meaning, the sophistication of the songwriting and production is off the charts. And it instantly brings me back to 1983, when this album specifically turned me against mainstream hard rock.

  1. Duran Duran – Rio (1983)

1001_Duran-Duran_RioThis is mainstream new wave; nothing more than well-crafted pop music with a beat and a saxophone solo here and there to remind you where you are. It’s 1983. What Duran Duran looked like was as important as what they sounded like, which was post-modern pop. Without the videos in heavy rotation on MTV, nobody would have cared, and by nobody I mean all the chicks, cuz these cats were as big back then as One Direction is now. These dudes soiled panties at the drop of their name. The jams are negligible new wave exercises in writing a pop song. Sometimes it works.

Suggested Alternative:
Bad Brains – Rock for Light

https://blacksunshinemedia.com

Produced by Rick Ocasek (the Cars), Rock for Light is an incomparable smorgasbord of reggae jazz punk metal. DO NOT sleep on Bad Brains.

  1. Echo & The Bunnymen – Porcupine (1983)

Some people think this is an influential record. On the other hand, I think.

Suggested Alternative:
Tears For Fears – The Hurting

It boggles my mind that the genius team behind 1001 Albums would leave The Hurting off the list while jamming us with another LP from a band that was simply Not. That. Influential. The Hurting is by far the best new wave album released in 1983, and reached number one on the UK Albums Charts.

1001_Tears-for-Fears_The_HurtingDrum machines and MIDI sequencers were two big things that happened to music in the early 1980s. Otherwise known as rhythm programming, all of a sudden you didn’t necessarily need a drummer in the studio, and if you were a songwriter, drummers tended to be the bane of your existence. Plus, MIDI allowed for a baffling amount of complexity within song structure and instrumentation.

I hate programmed music in general, but The Hurting is one of maybe a dozen “drum machine” records that I can love without prejudice. Furthermore, Roland Orzabal is terribly under-rated as a songwriter and guitar player.

  1. Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)

Sigh. I’m not happy about it for a couple of reasons, even though once upon a time ten years ago, I recorded a home demo version of “Here Comes the Rain Again”. But man, I was fucking full-time sky high. This record reminds me of being a sophomore in high school, which probably says more about me than Sweet Dreams, but wouldn’t you expect something better than that? You should.

  1. Hanoi Rocks – Back To Mystery City (1983)
  2. Malcolm McLaren – Duck Rock (1983)

Neither of these two records deserves an explanation for why they are not Must Hear albums. Plus, I detailed my views on Hanoi Rocks during the introduction.

Suggested Alternative:
Shonen Knife – Burning Farm

1001_Shonen-Knife_FarmChrist, I didn’t stumble upon this record until 30 years after its release, and now I’m really kicking myself for snoozing on Shonen Knife and Cibo Matto for all these years. I adore this album and if you were to check my browser history, you would find that I have listened to this record more than any other in the last 12 months. Whenever I find myself between artists and albums, for instance, having ripped through all those metal records, and I need something to refresh my ears, I click over to Burning Farm. It never fails to reset my listening parameters and at the same time, put me in a good mood.

  1. Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets II (1983)
  2. Minor Threat – Out Of Step (1983)

1001_Meat-Puppets_IIWell, hello there! I do believe we’ve met the future of indie rock.

  1. Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Architecture And Morality (1983)
  2. Paul Simon – Hearts and Bones (1983)

Another surprising but welcome relief is that the 1001 Albums list so far hasn’t included any Paul Simon records except for his first eponymous solo album (1972). This means Dimery & Co. agree that you don’t need to hear There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973), Still Crazy After All These Years (1975), or One Trick Pony (1980).

1001_Paul-Simon_hearts_and_bonesEven though some of Simon’s solo work tasted the rainbow of critical praise, it’s still not Must Hear stuff. You’ve heard Simon & Garfunkel. Look, Paul Simon is a fantastic songwriter and a monster on finger-picked acoustic guitar. But his post S&Garf work is soft, shitty, soft rock. To spare you the clicking and searching, here’s what I said about Paul Simon’s solo work (from 1972-1974):

I think you’ll find that I’m going to be exceedingly harsh on Paul Simon’s solo career, not only because I have always been an Artie vs. Paul guy. In my mind, for a big chunk of Simon’s post-Garfunkel career, up to One Trick Pony or so, he wasn’t doing anything he couldn’t have done with S&Garf. When they spilt, Simon took the songs and Garfunkel left with the heavenly voice and redeeming qualities.

That said, Hearts and Bones has an interesting back story. The album was written and recorded following the S&G Concert in Central Park in 1981, and the world tour of 1982-83. Some of the songs to be included on Hearts and Bones were previewed on tour, and Garfunkel worked on some of the songs with Simon in the studio. The finished product was intended to be a S&G album. Ultimately, Garfunkel left the project, and none of his contributions were included in the final mix.

So Hearts and Bones was supposed to be my personal dream record: the S&G studio album that never happened.

Suggested Alternative:
Blue Sunshine 1The Glove – Blue Sunshine
The Cure – Japanese Whispers

Why the hell not? And I’m speaking more toward Architecture And Morality. If you really want to hear some freaky fucking new wave music, Blue Sunshine will deliver the goods. If you want to hear some pissy, inconsequential techno, then you reach for OMD. Besides, pretty much anything with Robert Smith in 1983 is going to be listenable.

  1. R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)

As mentioned in 1981-82, I didn’t dig this record the first few times I heard it, mainly because I never liked the opening track “Radio Free Europe” until maybe two or three years ago when I sat down and dissected the song. Hearing and seeing them play it live was different story. R.E.M. was one of the most believable live rock bands I’ve ever seen. Their lack of pretense was refreshing and unquestioned. Anyway, eventually I came around to Murmur, and even though I tend to skip the first track, this album is, as many critics have said, timeless. You would have no idea it was recorded in 1982-83 unless you read the liner notes.

  1. The Police – Synchronicity (1983)

1001_Police_SyncTHIS is their darkest album if you ask me.

  1. The The – Soul Mining (1983)

Why do you need to hear The The? I dunno. Maybe you’re not sure what post-punk new wave synth-pop is supposed to sound like. Soul Mining contains a track that more or less sums up the disposable state of alternative music, “This Is the Day”.

  1. Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones (1983)

If I was a deckhand on a clipper ship captained by Tom Waits in the late 19th century, I’m pretty sure that the last thing I’d want to hear is a bunch of sea shanties. Most of all, I’d get real tired of Tom Waits’ voice, which is good-to-awesome for one or two jams in a row, and then I need to hear somebody who can sing. Spoken word is great, but I don’t want a short story on Track 2. Hasn’t anybody heard of Jim Carroll? Tom Waits has.

Besides, you’ve already heard two Tom Waits records and you’re gonna hear one more. Chill out.

Suggested Alternatives:
1001_Stray-Cats_RantTalking Heads – Speaking in Tongues
The Fixx – Reach the Beach
The Stray Cats – Rant N’ Rave with the Stray Cats
John Cougar Mellencamp – Uh-Huh

All four of these records deserved consideration for Must Hear status. And all four were on the turntable (or in the cassette deck) at my crib in 1983. Rant N’ Rave is probably my pick of the litter.

  1. U2 – War (1983)

1001_U2_WarFinally, a band that brings an infectious broth of self-important, preachy, post-punk, new wave, and over-the-top rock histrionics to the mainstream. War redesigned the rock n’ roll landscape. Everybody get down on your knees and worship the cult of U2.

I haven’t heard this album in at least 25 years and I’m cool with that.

  1. ZZ Top – Eliminator (1983)

ZZ Top went from heroes to zeroes within the first four bars of the drum intro to “Gimme All Your Lovin’”. It always bothered me, why would these guys resort to using drum machines and sequencers when they had a perfectly rock-solid drummer in Frank Beard? Sure, they used synths on El Loco (1981), but this…this is just…

And then…the Internet. Now I can tell you why. They wanted to make the most radio and consumer-friendly album possible, which is why ALMOST EVERY SONG’S TEMPO IS SET AT 120 BPM (beats per minute). Meanwhile, they made a series of cartoonish videos for MTV and the story is over. Goodbye, ZZ Top, we hardly knew ye.

Suggested Alternative:
The Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now (1982)

1001_Forever_Now_(the_Psychedelic_Furs_album_-_cover_art,_1982_US_release)OK, I admit it; I missed this one. For whatever reason, maybe because I didn’t own this record until 1983, I didn’t bother to check its release date. Sucks to be me. Seriously, that’s like the worst feeling, when I’ve spent more than a hundred words bitching about the exact same issue with the official 1001 Albums list. And so when it comes time to puff up this album, bam! I check the details, and guess what, fucker? You’re wrong.

Anyway, Forever Now is IMHO (in my humble opinion) the best Furs record and one of the best new wave albums ever made. Produced by Todd Rundgren, featuring background vocals from Flo & Eddie (The Turtles, Frank Zappa), Forever Now is the rare top-to-bottom listening experience. There isn’t a stinker on either side of this disc. Every song is a keeper, including one of if not their biggest hit(s): “Love My Way”, which I can still hear today and think, “Man, that’s really good.”

Extra Credit:
Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan)

1001_History_flo_eddie_turtlesIf these guys are guest starring on your album, the chances of it being a decent album just tipped in your favor. In addition to Zappa and the Turtles, they appeared on records for an impressive roster of artists including John Lennon, T.Rex, Roger McGuinn, Hoyt Axton, Ray Manzarek, Stephen Stills, Keith Moon, David Cassidy, Alice Cooper, Blondie, Bruce Springsteen, The Knack, The Psychedelic Furs, Sammy Hagar, Burton Cummings, Paul Kantner, Duran Duran, and the Ramones.

The History of Flo & Eddie and the Turtles (1983) is a Must Hear only for serious students, aficionados and so forth, mainly because the three-LP box set has never been reissued on CD, thus, it’s only available on vinyl ($33.99) from Amazon. It’s not on iTunes.


UNSCHEDULED PIT STOP

Before we even get started on 1984, there are three major, critical rock albums that you Must Hear Before You Die that didn’t make the book, and I’m here to tell you that any discussion of 1984 in music has to include these three records.

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire

1001_U2_The_Unforgettable_FireComing off the breakthrough success of War, the band could have made More War, or try something new, go forward, expand their horizons, E-T-C. They chose the latter, and what you’re hearing is probably the best record the band ever made.

At the same time, The Unforgettable Fire is the record that pushed them over the edge of commercial success. At this point in time, they were the biggest band on the planet, and this was the most anticipated record of the year. And because it defied a lot of expectations, a lot of people panned The Unforgettable Fire; they didn’t get it. “Too experimental. Unfocused.” People can be wrong sometimes.

Hüsker Dü – Zen Arcade

If you’ve never wondered what an album might sound like if it was made by a formerly hardcore punk band under the influence of LSD, you haven’t been pondering the greater questions of life. What do you get when you cross the Monkees with Motörhead? Hüsker Dü, that’s what.

I’m going to let Wikipedia take over for a second.

“Originally released as a double album on two vinyl LPs, Zen Arcade tells the story of a young boy who runs away from an unfulfilling home life, only to find the world outside is even worse. The album incorporates elements of jazz, psychedelia, acoustic folk, pop, and piano interludes, concepts rarely touched on in the world of hardcore punk.

Zen Arcade and subsequent Hüsker Dü albums were instrumental in the creation of the alternative rock genre; the band would later abandon the hardcore aesthetic entirely in favor of a post-hardcore style of melodic, guitar-driven alternative rock. While not commercially successful, the influence of Zen Arcade has stretched beyond the underground music sphere. It is frequently included on lists of the all-time best rock and roll albums and it continues to have a cult following.”

1001_Husker-Du_ZenCouldn’t and wouldn’t have said it better myself. Go on, please.

“The band began rehearsing in preparation for the album during the summer of 1983, in a church-turned-punk squat in St. Paul, Minnesota. The band entered the Total Access studio in Redondo Beach, California to record with SST producer Spot. The band recorded 25 tracks, with all but two songs (“Something I Learned Today” and “Newest Industry”) being first takes, in 40 hours. The entire album was then mixed in one 40-hour session; the entire album took 85 hours to record and produce and cost $3,200. The band collaborated with underground contemporaries during recording; “What’s Going On” contains guest vocals from ex-Black Flag vocalist Dez Cadena.”

Now, about the urban legends that this record was recorded in one 40-hour session, and under the influence of LSD and amphetamines… Unfortunately, both turn out to be myths. First, they recorded in two 24-hour sessions. Second, Grant Hart has repeatedly dispelled the rumor that LSD was involved, telling a writer from Gadfly Magazine that he’d never known Bob Mould to admit taking hallucinogens. “So that’s obviously a myth,” Hart said. But it sure as hell sounds like they’re tripping, that’s for sure.

R.E.M. – Reckoning

1001_R.E.M._-_ReckoningReckoning is the second of what will turn out to be a total of six fantastic records from a group that will eventually be America’s best rock band prior to 1988-89-ish. For my money, Reckoning is a much more enjoyable record than Murmur, and even though it didn’t top the charts or get played anywhere but on college radio and a few alternative stations, it was probably the most listened-to record at home.


 

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1983-84 Resumed

  1. Blue Nile – A Walk Across the Rooftops (1984)

Haha, Blue Nile. Too little, too late, fuckers. Your brand of post-Bowie spacey lounge jazz-wave didn’t cut it in the marketplace, and it won’t stand the test of time, either. You want to know why? Your bass player was a funky slapper, and your singer had too much of an ego to double-track his vocals.

Suggested Alternative:
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense

You know, I almost included Stop Making Sense as the fourth big record of 1984 that has to be part of any topical discussion. In the end, I decided against it on the strength of the concert film this album was based on, making it somewhat more of a total audio/visual experience than strictly musical, which is what 1001 Albums is all about. We’ve got to stay true to our roots. That said, it’s a great semi-live album.

  1. Bruce Springsteen – Born In The USA (1984)

beldone-2-born-in-the-usaMy absolute favorite thing about this record is that the majority of “people” bought into the reverse jingoism of the title track, i.e. they thought it was a strong patriotic statement. My absolute least favorite thing about this record is also its biggest hit, “Dancing In the Dark.”

My good pal Cheech Beldone summed it up quite nicely during one of our 20 Question sessions.

I spent many many years worshipping at the Altar of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. There was a while where I would have told you in dead seriousness that if I couldn’t be Springsteen, I didn’t want to be anything. Along came Born in the U.S.A. And, specifically, “Dancing in the Dark.”

In Canada, the song was premiered on MTV with the video, on a Friday night. Watching that abomination unfold before my eyes, it was like walking into the skankiest, grottiest, most depraved snakepit of a club in an alley off Patpong, and seeing your little sister up on the stage juggling ping pong balls with her hoo-haa.

The worst part was that the Boss’ People mobilized such a pervasive campaign to convince the world that the new record was The Best Work He’s Ever Done.

A guy like me felt like it was my fault; that the revulsion and horror I felt was the result of something lacking in my perception or appreciation.

  1. Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual (1984)
  2. Cocteau Twins – Treasure (1984)

Fuck Cyndi Lauper and her one-hit-wonder.

Cocteau Twins are the Siouxsie Lite Presidential Package. You know that fucking massive hit song “Zombie” by the Cranberries? It’s on here! It’s called “Every Song on the Album.” This band made interesting records that I have no interest in ever hearing again. Your mileage may vary.

Big Country, Steeltown (1984)

Suggested Alternatives:
Simple Minds – Sparkle in the Rain
Big Country – Steeltown

Slow down there, Speed Racer. We’re not getting out of here without a jawbone about Simple Minds and Big Country. I’m going to keep it as brief as possible. How about in bullet format? A lil sumthin diff’nt:

  • Both records were produced by Steve Lilywhite, who produced a staggering number of great records. He’s on par with Roy Thomas Baker and Mutt Lange.
  • Sparkle in the Rain is one major stepping stone between alternative and stadium rock.
  • Steeltown may be the most under-rated guitar record of the era, and the songwriting is pretty damn good, too.
  1. Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984)
  2. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome (1984)
  3. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions – Rattlesnakes (1984)

My vocabulary may be too limited to accurately describe the pure quality of contempt that I have for Frankie Goes to Hollywood and everything they stand for. First, the band is named after Frank Sinatra, the anti-Christ. Next, disco has been dead for at least five years, but these people either didn’t get the message, or they figured now was as good a time as any for a disco revival. You couldn’t pay me to sit through Welcome to the Pleasuredome, but I am now accepting bids.

Lloyd Cole is the Aussie version of John Cougar, who made far better records.

1001_The-SmithsSuggested Alternative:
The Smiths – The Smiths

Once again, I’m shocked that The Smiths doesn’t rate as Must Hear but Lloyd fucking Cole does? Frankie Goes to Hollywood!?!?! There really shouldn’t be a need for me to argue this one. Anybody in their right mind knows the Smiths are at the pinnacle of mid 80s alternative music, and this album is as good if not better than Murmur, or any other record of the genre.

  1. Minutemen – Double Nickels On The Dime (1984)

1001_Minutemen_doublenickelsonthedimeI don’t know of a band to which the term “independent” or “indie” ever applied with more veracity than the Minutemen.

  1. Prince & The Revolution – Purple Rain (1984)
  2. Run-DMC – Run-DMC (1984)
  3. Sade – Diamond Life (1984)
  4. The Replacements – Let It Be (1984)

I don’t have anything to say about Purple Rain except you must purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, and that ain’t Lake Minnetonka.

1001_Prince_Purple_Lake-11001_Prince_Purple_Lake-2Run-DMC brought rap to the mainstream rock and pop market, i.e. white people. They made hip-hop just white enough while maintaining its integrity. You can’t go wrong with their debut album.

If you’re asking me personally if you need to hear Shar-day’s Diamond Life, I’m gonna say no fucking way, man. Tell you what, have a listen to “Smooth Operator” and tell me whether or not it’s Must Hear material.

1001_The_Replacements_Let_It_Be_coverLet It Be is by far my favorite Replacements record and contains three of my all-time favorite songs from the period, “I Will Dare”, “Androgynous” and “Sixteen Blue”. Their version of Kiss’ “Black Diamond” is probably the Number One Rock n’ Roll Cover Version That Crushes the Original Like a Grape. If that wasn’t enough, it contains my favorite broken-hearted-boy lyric of the era: “How do you say goodnight to an answering machine?” Let’s hear it for Paul Westerburg, ladies and gentlemen!

  1. The Style Council – Café Bleu (1984)
  2. Tina Turner – Private Dancer (1984)

You’ve already heard the Jam, so you’ve already heard the best of what Paul Weller has to offer. Besides, this isn’t even the Style Council record You Might Want to Hear.

I’ve got nothing but love for Tina Turner, and I’m glad she finally got away from Ike and found success on her own. But this is capital P-pussy adult contemporary soft rock bullshit.

Suggested Alternatives:
1001_The_Cure_-_The_TopThe Cure – The Top
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Hyæna

Robert Smith is the Cure, and he deserves every bit of credit he gets for defining certain aspects of alternative rock, and transcending those aspects at a later date. The Top is my favorite album recorded under the documented influence of LSD, my favorite Cure album, and a complete turnaround from the synth-pop new wave of Japanese Whispers (1983), which was another 180 from Pornography (1982).

When John McGeoch left Siouxsie and the Banshees, they asked Robert Smith to take over on guitar. Hyæna is one of two Siouxsie recordings with Smith in the band which are as close to Must Hear as anything else.

  1. Van Halen – 1984 (1984)

1001_Van_Halen_-_1984Let’s say this about Van Halen albums; they never lingered. Their longest LP since the debut happens to be 1984, which clocks in at 33:17, about 10 minutes shorter than the average album of the day, and only 2 minutes short of Van Halen I’s running time. To be fair, they pack a lot of fucking jams into a half hour of music. Very little VH time is wasted.

Drummer Alex Van Halen doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a “guitar drummer” and I’ve put the phrase in quotations because I’ve never heard it before. Alex VH plays drums to whatever his brother is playing. It’s clear that he’s not setting the tone or the tempo. He’s listening to what EVH is doing, and everything is based off that. Most drummers in rock should be listening to the bass player, I mean, that’s the rhythm section, right? Those two should be in sync. Not so with VH. I’m guessing that AVH didn’t even have Michael Anthony in his monitor mix.

Anyway, other than the only number one single of the DLR era (“Jump”), 1984 is hard rock ambrosia, and made last year’s top-selling LP, Pyromania, obsolete.

  1. Youssou N’Dour – Immigres (1984)
1001_Wham_Make-it-bigSuggested Alternative:
Wham! – Make It Big

Yeah, I said it. Make It Big is easily more of a Must Hear before Youssou N’Dour, and not because it’s good. No, this record is a far more accurate representation of pop music in 1984 than any of the above records. This is the shit you heard everywhere you went; it was inescapable. You couldn’t turn on MTV without these two cats prancing and mincing across the screen like it was one long chewing gum commercial. So I reckon that if I had to sit through this entire album more times than I can count, you should, too. Feel my pain, kids. Feel it.


 

Net Reduction of Albums From the Period: 17
Suggested Alternatives: 20
Running AYMHBYD Total: 855

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not: 1981 – 1982

Every so often, it’s important to stop, take a look around, stare out the window for a while, change the channel, get up and stretch your legs. The last four years in popular music have witnessed a series of sea changes, which ultimately sank a bunch of ships.

https://blacksunshinemedia.comThe disco backlash has reached critical mass, and the genre is now relegated to the adult contemporary and gay hemispheres, respectively; disco belonged to your parents and real-life Village People, or Village Dudes. People still wanted to dance, just in a different way. Less John Travolta and more Jello Biafra, I reckon. Now we’re talking the Pogo vs. the Hustle. Spoiler alert: Pogo wins!

In 1981, glam, folk, psychedelic, jazz-fusion and art rock are now relatively passé. Hard rock and metal have been forced to re-think their strategies. Southern rock is literally dead. Punk and new wave have (or soon will have) spawned a series of sub-genres including synth-pop, electronic, ambient, industrial, and hardcore, pop, and post-punk; all of which will at some time be considered alternative rock. And look out, people! Hip-hop and rap are on the loose, and they’re headed for radio stations and dance clubs near you.

1001_80s-fashion22Most of all, everybody is sporting an updated look; no more bell bottom jeans. Dudes cut their hair, started using gels and sprays to make weird shapes; suddenly, eyeliner on a dude is not just tolerated, it’s expected on some scenes; album covers start to look like they were designed by some kid in high school who just discovered Dadaist art. It was called “modern” at the time. Perhaps the story of popular music in the early 80s is a tale better told by the dry fart of synthesizer.

John Lennon1980 ended in the worst way possible with the senseless murder of John Lennon. For a lot of kids at the time, this was our JFK moment. This is the one time I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Lennon had been killed.

With the earlier deaths of Keith Moon and John Bonham, I personally felt like a certain part of rock music was dead – forever. Now, it’s important to consider that the vast majority of popular musicians at the time were also fans of John Lennon; thus, they too felt the impact. More and more, we are going to see extraordinary social situations and circumstances become part of the popular lexicon, which essentially started with the Vietnam War.

Anyway, it’s important to look beyond the charts and radio station play lists. What was really happening in 1981? What were the movers and shakers up to?

Here’s a sample of music headlines from the first quarter of 1981.

January 10 – A revival of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance opens at Broadway’s Uris Theatre, starring Linda Ronstadt and Rex Smith.

1001_pirates-rex-smithDid your high school theater department stage at least one production of The Pirates of Penzance? Because I know mine did.

Some years back, I was jawboning with an old friend and somehow we got on the subject of Keith Richards, which led to Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp, and I mentioned that I remember seeing my sister perform in a high school theater department production of The Pirates of the Carribean, and my friend said “that’s impossible” because The Pirates of the Carribean wasn’t even a movie in the early 1980s. In fact, it was a theme park ride attraction at Disneyland from 1967 to 1983. “You’re thinking of The Pirates of Penzance.”

Indeed.

January 18 – Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics is arrested in Milwaukee for simulating masturbation with a sledgehammer on stage. In a scuffle with the police, Williams was wrestled and pinned to the ground, receiving a cut above the eye requiring twelve stitches.

1001_wendy-o-mug-shot-368x414Sounds about right. Wendy O was my kind of front woman, tell you what. Meanwhile, it was pretty hard for a white woman of any persuasion to get arrested in Milwaukee in 1981, unless you were masturbating with a sledgehammer in public.

January 24 – Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler is injured in a motorcycle crash that leaves him hospitalized for two months.

Is there anything Steven Tyler can’t do? Apparently. But anyway, I just saw this video of him and Joe Perry doing “Dream On” and I have to say, much respect.

February 9 – Phil Collins releases his first solo album.

Some may see this as a sign of the anti-Christ. Others may see this as an opportunity to hear Another Side of Phil. The soft side. The truly insidious side.

February 14 – Billy Idol leaves the band Generation X to begin a solo career.

1001_Gen-x-album-coverToo bad. Gen X had some poppy-punky moments. But this is great news for 50% of American high school students who are trying to figure out how to be punk, yet still play football and get good grades. Billy’s going to make it OK to wear eyeliner, parachute pants and wrestling shoes.

March 14 – Suffering from bleeding ulcers, Eric Clapton is admitted to United Hospital in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Clapton’s 60-city tour of the U.S. is cancelled, and he remains in hospital for a month.

Bad news for concert promoters and Clapton fans; shrug-worthy news for the rest of us. I’ll give you one guess what’s the leading cause of stomach ulcers. Funny, but it’s also the same day Steven Tyler was released from the hospital.

March 27 – Ozzy Osbourne bites the head off a dove at a CBS record label gathering in Los Angeles.

1001_Ozzy_DoveFrom the day this story broke, and this shit made more than just the newspaper, my reaction has been, “Of course he did. He’s fuckin’ Ozzy Osbourne. I would have accepted nothing less.”

April 1 – The Go-Go’s sign to IRS Records.

One of many landmarks for women in rock. The Go-Go’s would be the biggest girl band yet. You also gotta hand it to IRS Records. They picked a couple of winning horses in the 80s.

April 4 – British pop group Bucks Fizz wins the 26th Eurovision Song Contest, held at the RDS Simmonscourt Pavilion, Dublin, with the song “Making Your Mind Up”.

1001_Bucks_Fizz_1981Hmm. Fascinating. Have you ever heard Bucks Fizz? I hadn’t until a few minutes ago. Let’s just set this on the table, slice it up, and serve it as is. The Eurovision Song Contest is a fucking joke. You know who else has won? ABBA, Celine Dion, and Katrina and the Waves. Which is convenient since Bucks Fizz was Britain’s answer to ABBA.

April 11 – Van Halen’s lead guitarist Eddie Van Halen marries actress Valerie Bertinelli.

1001_valerie-eddieI wasn’t sure how to feel about this. On one hand, EVH was the greatest guitar player on the planet. Did that mean he’s entitled to the hottest actress on prime-time television? I guess so. And to me, that was a spoil of riches. My favorite guitar player marrying one of the few non-Playboy centerfolds I’d ever masturbated to? That ain’t fair. But you know, that’s life.

April 18 – Yes announce that they are breaking up.

Liars! It’s about fuckin’ time, but it’s a bald-faced lie. Just another fake retirement announcement. Yes will be back, sadly.

April 20 – The Mamas & the Papas’ John Phillips is sentenced to five years in jail after pleading guilty to drug possession charges. Phillips’ sentence would be suspended after thirty days in exchange for 250 hours of community service.

1001_John-PhillipsEven though I’ve absolutely nothing invested in John Phillips or his music, there was a time when I was keen to write for a website that specializes in the obscure and relatively unknown elements of popular arts and culture. One of the first things I considered sending them was the John Phillips solo LP Pay Pack and Follow (2002), produced by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Outside of John Phillips’ family, friends and diehard fans, and super-core Stones fans, nobody has heard this record. And it’s one of the more atrocious records I’ve ever heard from a so-called “superstar.”

April 22 – Eric Clapton is taken to the hospital suffering from bruised ribs and a lacerated shin, following a car accident in Seattle, Washington.

The fuck is this cat doing out of the hospital?

April 27– Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach marry, in London, England.

1001_ringo-starrIf it weren’t for the sex, I’d have married Ringo. He seemed like a fun guy. Always happy, chipper, and quick with the wit. Dude knows everybody. He was Ringo. The fuck did he care? No matter what he did for the rest of his life, he had it made. The Beatles money may never run out. Meanwhile, Barbara Bach may have been insanely good-looking, but she was no dummy.

***

1001_MTVAnyway, there was one other major, enormous, gigantic development in popular music in 1981-82. It was called MTV (Music Television) and it changed the way we perceived, reacted to, and ultimately purchased popular music. That really doesn’t have anything to do with 1001 Albums, except that almost every successful band from 1981 to 1996-ish(?) had videos in Heavy Rotation on MTV. Or they weren’t successful. Nowadays, MTV is Jersey Shore, I dunno. No clue. The point is, I’m not going to spend a lot of time carping about music videos and whatnot, except when we get to Michael Jackson – Thriller. Stay tuned.


Key:
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. ABBA – The Visitors (1981)

1001_Dorothy-HamillABBA did for popular music what U.S. Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill did for women’s hairstyles in the late 1970s. Do I mean they made every woman look like a teenaged boy you wouldn’t want to fuck? Maybe.

Suggested Alternatives:
Duran Duran – Duran Duran
The Plasmatics – Beyond the Valley of 1984
The Police – Ghost in the Machine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m not gonna lie to you people. I owned all three of these records at some point within a year of their release. In fact, I think the Duran Duran record is the best thing they ever did. I still put it on every now and again, especially after I’ve been listening to Wesley Willis. “Girls on Film” hits a soft spot with me, I dunno. Side one is great.

I’ll never forget the day. The same kid Robert who traded me his relatively rare Japanese import of Cheap Trick – At Budokan for my entire collection of Kiss albums and memorabilia, came over for another record swap. He had the swindler’s look in his eye, but I was way ahead of him on this one. It turned out that in return for my entire collection of Ted Nugent albums, (a total of six LPs) which I really wasn’t listening to any more, Robert matched it with his entire collection of punk and new wave records. I got four albums out of the deal, most notably Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks, but also the Damned, the Romantics, and the Plasmatics. Score!

1001_Police_Ghost_In_The_Machine_coverGhost in the Machine has been mistakenly described as the “darkest” Police album, and I think that if it’d been released with say, a pale green cover, instead of the now iconic black cover, this wouldn’t be the case. Sure, there is one really dark jam (“Invisible Sun”) and one genius Steward Copeland track (“Darkness”), but generally speaking, there are more good vibes than anything else. At any rate, Ghost is easily more of a Must Hear than anything ABBA ever did.

  1. Bauhaus – Mask (1981)
  2. Black Flag – Damaged (1981)

1001_Black-Flag-Damaged-LPI don’t even like Bauhaus or goth rock in general, but Mask is great. Besides, this might also qualify as Love & Rockets, Tones On Tail, plus Peter Murphy, so we’re killing multiple birds with one stone. Kind of like brushing more than one tooth at a time. These kids aren’t shoegazing or hiding behind black bridal veils. Whenever I hear someone say “[somewhere] is an oppressive, grim, dull grey place to be,” I always think, “Sounds like Bauhaus.”

Damaged is Black Flag’s first studio album with Henry Rollins on vocals, and it’s quite impressive. One listen to this record and you’ll never wish for a mosh pit. One will appear magically in your mind. Humor is fairly important in punk, but sing-a-longs, audience participation, and the Monkees, are generally not the first things that come to mind. Except whenever I listen to Damaged, that’s what I’m feeling.

  1. Bobby Womack – The Poet (1981)

1001_Bobby-WomackThis is a phenomenal record if Stevie Wonder didn’t exist. He does.

OK, so maybe you’re thinking, “Man, the R&B charts are severely under-represented on this list. You don’t have Teddy Pendergrast, Lou Rawls, or Bobby Womack.”

This is very true on several accounts.

  1. Contemporary R&B in 1981 was the following artists (reasons for exclusion from the list in ALL CAPS):
1001_LakesideEarth, Wind & Fire – DISCO
The Four Tops – CONFUSED, SAD
The Gap Band – DISCO
Rick James – FONK
Chaka Khan – DISCO FONK
Evelyn King – NO IDEA
Kool & The Gang – DISCO
Lakeside – AIN’T TAKING ME ON A FANTASTIC VOYAGE
Ray Parker Jr. & Raydio – SEE LAKESIDE
Smokey Robinson – SOFT SOUL EASY LISTENING
1001_Yarbrough-and-PeoplesRoger – NO CLUE
Diana Ross and Lionel Richie – DEATH
Frankie Smith – NEVER HEARD OF HIM
A Taste Of Honey – A TASTE OF DISCO
Luther Vandross – HE A’IGHT
Yarbrough & Peoples – PROBABLY NOT A LAW FIRM

Funk = James Brown, The Meters, Parliament, Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder, Prince

Fonk = Rick James, Chaka Khan, Labelle, Brides of Funkenstein, Klymaxx

  1. The only exciting artist in the world of R&B, funk and soul, is Prince, and trust me, you’re gonna be fucking capital D-done with Prince after Sign O’ the Times (1987). It’s just the way it is. Lovesexy (1988) is a personal favorite, but by the time you get to Graffiti Bridge (1990) you’re gonna be saying, “All right, dude. We get it.”
  1. 1001_Rick_James_-_Street_SongsRick James, bitch! To be honest with you, Street Songs (1981) is a notable record, and not a Must Hear. Plus, he’s an unsavory character now immortalized by Dave Chappelle. Look at those fuckin’ boots. I’m not having it. I wasn’t having it in 1981, and I’m not having it now. Plus, have you ever actually listened to the lyrics of “Give It to Me, Baby”? Uhhhhh. To be frank, Rick James and Prince were essentially making the same music in 1981. Prince just had a better way of phrasing things. And he didn’t have that stupid weave.
  1. Bobby Womack? You can’t be serious. Yes, he was Sam Cooke’s guitar player, and yes, a sideman for the Rolling Stones; and he had a couple of hit records on the charts, none of them memorable. Film buffs will know that his 1972 jam “Across 110th Street” is featured in a Quentin Tarantino movie, Jackie Brown. Never saw it. Can’t be sure.

Having listened to The Poet start to finish, I have one recommendation. If you really want to know about Bobby Womack, I highly recommend his memoir, Midnight Mover (2006; John Blake Publishing. ISBN 978-1844541485). Tons more juicy, salacious druggy fun than what’s going on here.

Suggested Alternatives:
The Rolling Stones – Tattoo You
The Stray Cats – Gonna Ball
Prince – Controversy

Hey hey! The Stones made an OK album in 1981. I thought we’d lost them to disco on Emotional Rescue (1980).

1001_Stray-Cats_Gonna_Ball_coverThe Stray Cats are one of the few throwback revivalist groups I can stomach, and new wave rockabilly sounds really fucking sweet when the guitar player is Brian Setzer. Holy Christ, can that guy play!

Prince Rogers Nelson may have been one of the few black dudes on the planet who had a hard-on for Todd Rundgren, and I don’t mean that in a sexual way. At least, I don’t think I do. Anyway, Prince is a direct descendant of the mighty Runt, who himself was influenced by Philadelphia soul. So there’s kind of a Human Centipede thing going on. Must Hear? Nah. See Prince live in 1981-82? I’ve seen video. My God! Screw his albums. Live was the way to get your Prince on.

1001_Prince_ControversyOf course, we’re going to get at least two Must Hear albums from Prince, in addition to the three I’ve already suggested as alternatives. So this is kind of a push. It’s just here to reinforce the Bobby Womack strikethrough. Don’t get me wrong; I like Controversy and its questionable, frothy mix of funk, soul and new wave. Oh, and sex. Lots of sex. I think it’s the only album in history that contains the lyric: “Come down to my neighborhood / I’ll jack you off.” But for that reason, Controversy is pretty far down on my list of albums I want to hear.

  1. Brian Eno & David Byrne – My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981)

1001_My_Life_in_the_Bush_of_GhostsIt’s not very often that a record exudes pretension before you get it out of the wrapper. Titled after Amos Tutuola’s 1954 novel of the same name, of which neither Eno or Byrne had read, My Life was critically regarded as a “pioneering work for countless styles connected to electronics, ambiance, and Third World music.” The extensive use of drum loops, samples and soundscapes are stuff that we really take for granted now, but which was unheard of in all but the most progressive musical circles at the time.

Therefore, if you’re familiar with a current “artist” like for instance, Four Tet, you absolutely Must Hear this LP, cuz Four Tet ain’t happening unless Eno & Byrne make My Life. I fucking hate it, and refuse to even review it for the purpose of this entry, but I have heard it start to finish at least three times.

  1. Einsturzende Neubauten – Kollaps (1981)

1001_Einstuerzende_Neubauten-KollapsAfter sitting through Kollaps for the second time ever this evening, I had to constantly remind myself that this is important music for a couple of reasons. Whether I like it or not, industrial music is a thing, and these cats are incomparably influential on a disturbing wave of bands that are going to flood the airwaves in 5-7 years, such as Ministry and Nine Inch Nails. Additionally, bands like My Life With the Thrill Kill Cult, Skinny Puppy, and Marilyn Manson, as well as groups like Slipknot, probably wouldn’t exist if not for this album. That’s just a guess. We’ll never know.

At any rate, if you’re game for 39 minutes of avant-garde industrial noise rock, Kollaps has you covered.

Fun Fact: Sometime in the 2000s, I waited on a table of four that included Einsturzende Neubauten vocalist Blixa Bargeld (who maintains a residence in S.F.). He was a super nice guy and talked about some project he was currently involved with. I’d heard of him (as a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) but didn’t recognize him except for the fact that he oozed rock star (of some sort). It was actually kind of fun to hear this record after the fact, and I can see why it was so critically influential. Nobody else was making records like this, except…

1001_PIL-Flowers-Of-Romanc-440976Suggested Alternative:
Public Image Ltd. – Flowers of Romance
  1. Heaven 17 – Penthouse And Pavement (1981)
  2. Motorhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith (1981)

Heaven 17 was something special for maybe one year and one hit single? You never saw anybody wearing a Heaven 17 t-shirt. I don’t even know how to categorize their sound. Affected plastic depression? Synthesizer cosmetics? It sounded incredibly “gay” to me at a time when I was trying to figure out which side of the sexual fence I was on. This type of music became an aversion. Heaven 17? Nope, no thanks. Not this time.

1001_Heaven-17_penthouse-and-pavementMotorhead didn’t ever go through stylistic changes – they went through drummers. Their music varied slightly depending upon the recording budget, I reckon.

Suggested Alternative:
Van Halen – Fair Warning

Despite being the band’s slowest-selling album to date, among aficionados, Fair Warning is generally regarded as the Holy Grail of the David Lee Roth era. Dark, mean and nasty, there are few “fun” moments on the record, and a total absence of the pop element found on their previous three records. At the same time, it does contain “Unchained”, selected the number one favorite VH song (by Rolling Stone readers) and a jam I wouldn’t argue with. In fact, it got me to thinking. What are my 10 favorite VH cuts? (parent album in parenthesis):

  1. 1001_Van_Halen-Fair_WarningBeautiful Girls (Van Halen II)
  2. Runnin’ With the Devil (Van Halen I)
  3. Unchained (Fair Warning)
  4. Secrets (Diver Down)
  5. Drop Dead Legs (1984)
  6. Hot For Teacher (1984)
  7. Little Guitars (Diver Down)
  8. Dirty Movies (Fair Warning)
  9. And the Cradle Will Rock (Women and Children First)
  10. Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love (Van Halen I)

Fair Warning probably isn’t a Must Hear, but it is a worthwhile listen, and recommended for any fan of hard rock music, even if you think DLR was a dick. I know you’re out there. And I can see your point.

  1. 1001_Rush_Moving_PicturesRush – Moving Pictures (1981)
  2. Siouxsie & The Banshees – Juju (1981)

Moving Pictures would probably get my vote for best hard rock album of 1981.

1001_Siouxsie_JujuIn case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been jamming you with Siouxsie records in the Suggested Alternative category, for a couple of reasons, but reason numero uno is guitarist John McGeoch, one of the most under-rated guitarists in rock, who influenced nearly every post-punk, alternative and indie rock guitar player from this point on out. Ask Johnny Marr, Peter Buck, Robert Smith, Dave Navarro, John Frusciante, and Johnny Greenwood. [Note: McGeoch played in Magazine (see 1977-78) during their “classic” line-up years, and is really the only great thing about that band.]

Juju also happens to be my favorite non-live Siouxsie record, and contains my favorite Siouxsie track, “Monitor”. Seriously, I just listened to the entire album, nodding my head, tapping my toes, and singing along the whole time.

  1. Soft Cell – Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (1981)

Two classic, fruity alternative radio hits on this record, and the rest of it stinks.

“Whoa, that’s a hasty generalization, isn’t it?” you say. Trust me on this one.

Suggested Alternative:
Adam and the Ants – Prince Charming

1001_Adam_and_the_Ants_Prince_CharmingHere’s a dude/band that probably had a double LP worth of songs, but chose to go with the single disc. Kudos. If only they had re-thought the album cover.

If Dirk Wears White Sox (1979) is their best, most vital work, and if Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980) is their most accessible and significant, then Prince Charming is by far, their most over-the-top, ambitious and delightful. Delightfully.

  1. The Go-Gos – Beauty And The Beat (1981)
  2. The Gun Club – Fire Of Love (1981)
  3. The Human League – Dare (1981)
  4. The Psychedelic Furs – Talk, Talk, Talk (1981)

1001_gun-club-fire-of-love-album-cover-artTo be honest, this four-album set is going to start out all girlish good-vibes with the Go-Go’s, and by the time the Gun Club is finished with you, the last thing you’re gonna wanna hear is the fucking Human League. But you gotta do it. Dare is an important landmark. Talk, Talk, Talk isn’t going to change your life, but it is the Furs’ best album, almost. That’s coming in 1983, so proceed with caution.

  1. Tom Tom Club – Tom Tom Club (1981)

1001_Tom-Tom-ClubNonsense. This record has one jam, one groove, one idea, and it’s called “Genius of Love”, which has been used in Kia car commercials and a boatload of movies including Pie in the Sky (1996), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), Towelhead (2007), You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008), Tower Heist (2011), Shame (2011), The Family (2013) and Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013). You’re gonna hear this song whether you like it or not.

  1. X – Wild Gift (1981)
  2. ABC – The Lexicon Of Love (1982)

1001_ABC-The_Lexicon_of_LoveBrian Ferry and Roxy Music really fucked everybody in terms of bringing Scott Miller and lounge-lizard faux glam soul to the alternative party. ABC and Spandau Ballet are two great examples of shit bands that wouldn’t have existed without Brian Ferry and his increasingly greasy croon. Or Scott Miller for that matter.

Suggested Alternative:
XTC – English Settlement
  1. Associates – Sulk (1982)

1001_Associates_SULKI wanted to love this band. I just don’t think the world was ready for Yamaha synthesizers, lead bass guitar and Rob Halford’s boyfriend in the same band. And apparently, the record-buying public in 1982 agreed with me.

  1. Birthday Party – Junkyard (1982)

Honest, this is the first time I’ve ever sat through this record. We’re going to do it together. At some point in life, you’ve been appointed to a task and you say, “I know this is gonna suck,” and then it’s even worse than you imagined. Like, ten times worse than you could have possibly imagined, while on crack, even though you’ve done things similar to this before. I feel like that’s about to happen to me right now.

1001_BirthdayPartyJunkyardHoly shit, this Nick Cave dude really, really takes himself seriously. I was thinking, “He’s very Shakespearian” and then I look at the play list and track 4 is “Hamlet”. OK, that makes sense. Meanwhile, I’m hearing Captain Beefheart all over the place, and that’s great, cuz I love Beefheart, but this is not Beefy. It’s more jerky than beef. At any rate, at least there was a band out there who was following in the great Captain’s footsteps, I reckon. Whatever this second track is called is fucking killing me. I hate this.

To be frank, I’m not surprised that I’d never heard this entire record before. It’s goth plus rockabilly? Gothabilly? The Cramps did that way better than anyone ever will. Who the fuck does this guy think he is, Jim Morrison? Fair enough, he’s good-looking and whatnot. Jesus, the guitar players ought to have stayed in the jazz-fusion band they quit in high school. I would love nothing more than to skip through the rest of this. Oh, OK, here we are at track 4, “Hamlet”.

1001-birthday-party-nice-caveYes, they’ve obviously heard the first two Public Image Ltd. records. I have to keep reminding myself that Nick Cave is a novelist. Unfortunately, there’s nothing remotely Shakespearian about “Hamlet”. I was in the mood for a soliloquy. Where is Rush when you need them?

We’re at the 17-minute mark and I’m getting antsy. It’s not like I ever wondered where Jesus Lizard came from, but now I’m convinced. The Butthole Surfers probably loved this band. Track 5 confirms what I thought before: these dudes listened to a lot of Doors records. And apparently, Adam and the Ants. At the 23-minute mark now. He’s howling at us. Couldn’t care less what he’s going on about. I wish he’d stop.

OK, here’s what seems like it might be a toe-tapper, “Kiss Me Black”? I was just thinking about the time my…never mind. This record would make good Musak for a BDS&M club. It sounds like walking into the Smart Bar on a Saturday night in 1990. What the fuck is that smell? It’s like rubber cement and feces. Where are we? Minute 32 of 39.

So I’ve never done ecstasy the drug, folks. At least not that I’m aware of. I think someone spiked me one time, but I was so fucking drunk that it either didn’t take or I didn’t notice, until the next day when I was pissing burnt copper. From what you tell me, ecstasy is a “love drug.” You want disco, glow rings, and lots of hugging. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted any of those things, especially disco and glow rings. Now that I’m a husband and father, I want to be a hug machine. But that’s me under the influence of love.

1001_nick-cave-235815This record sounds like it’s under the influence of whatever is the opposite of ecstasy. It’s not hate. I believe these to be non-linear emotions. Ecstasy by definition is an outpouring of an ecstatic emotional energy. This shit sounds like a kid is being impregnated with bad vibes. Injected with a dose of despair. He’s clearly raging against a machine, but I think the machine might have been his dad?

Over now. Sheesh. Fucking Nick Cave. I should read one of his novels and see what his problem is.

Speaking of which, I recently came across a BBC documentary about one the pervy-est Russian novelists of all-time, Vladimir Nabokov, who turns out to be nowhere in the vicinity of perversion. He was a straight-up lunatic, and forget his books, listen to some of the things he has to say about life in general. (From the opening montage, in case you miss it.)

“I loathe such things as jazz…I don’t belong to any club or group. Progressive schools. I don’t fish, cook. I especially loathe the vulgar moolies, homosexuals. I don’t get drunk, go to church. Brutes, bores, swimming pools. I don’t go to analysts. Music in supermarkets. I don’t endorse books, sign books. Fake thinkers, puffed-up poets. Freud, Marx. Frauds and charlatans.”

Suggested Alternative:
The Clash – Combat Rock

1001_Clash_Combat-RockSure, it was not well-received in critical circles, but Combat Rock was a step back toward London Calling while maintaining an element of Sandinista! All in all, I’m disappointed its not a Must Hear.

  1. Bruce Springsteen – Nebraska (1982)

1001_SPRINGSTEEN_NEBRASKAOften times, the stories that accompany the actual making of an album become part of the album’s mythology. We’ll talk more about that when we get to Husker Du – Zen Arcade.

I know I can’t be the only dude on the planet with a personal vendetta against anyone who blows into a harmonica. But clearly, Bruce the Boss is making a statement. “I can write songs without an E Street Band.” Or is he? I dunno, and I don’t care. Nebraska is a great time-killer, especially if you’re on a long flight or drive. Put it on; forget it’s there.

  1. Dexys Midnight Runners – Too-Rye-Ay (1982)
  2. Donald Fagen – The Nightfly (1982)
  3. Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Imperial Bedroom (1982)

1001_Costello_BedroomImperial Bedroom is kind of important, isn’t it? Christ, I have to look it up. I think this is the one of his “piano” albums? He isn’t rocking very hard at this point, that’s for sure. Goddamnit. This is NOT the same cat who made This Year’s Model.

You should probably hear this for reference. About 50% of indie rock bands in existence dreamed of losing their virginity to this album. Death Cab For Cutie based their whole shtick on “Beyond Belief”. I don’t like it, but you might.

Suggested Alternatives:
Blue Oyster Cult – Extraterrestrial Live
Oingo Boingo – Nothing to Fear

1001_BOC_ExtraWhaaat!?! A double LP B.O.C. record? Hey, it’s got all the hits such as “Godzilla”, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and “Burnin’ For You”, plus all the deeper cuts. Why not? If you’re 15 years old, this is fucking Valhalla.

  1. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – The Message (1982)

Is this the first hip-hop record? I dunno. What I remember is that the cool clique of rich girls in my school we’re all over this shit. There was this pack of chicks that all lived in Burr Ridge and our junior high school revolved around them. They essentially set the trends. They loved the Go-Go’s and the B-52s. They wore Topsiders, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Mother Kerens jackets. The Preppy Handbook was required reading if you wanted a shot at these girls.

1001_GrandmasterAt some point, we were hanging out at this one girl’s house and someone put on The Message. Me and my best friend Kevin, the only two dudes present, were absolutely horrified, but what could we say? What could we do? You know what we were there for. The chicks were shaking it, and we were hoping for a little nookie to fall off the truck. It didn’t, but we sat there and listened to this record for what seemed like a week. Later, as we rode our bikes back to my house, Kevin said, “I don’t know about you, but I think that Grandmaster Flash stuff is a load of bullshit.” And I said, “I’m with you, brother.”

Suggested Alternative:
The Sugar Hill Gang – Sugar Hill Gang

1001_Sugar-HillThe rich girls were HUGE into the Sugar Hill Gang. There were a couple of them in particular who championed this record, and everyone at Gower Middle School had at least heard this fucker all the way through whether they liked it or not. There are some parts of “Rapper’s Delight” that are still with me to this day. “Hotel, motel, Holiday Inn.” I’ll never be clear of that shit.

  1. Haircut One Hundred – Pelican West (1982)

Why not Roman Holiday?

  1. Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast (1982)

1001_Iron-Maiden_the-number-of-the-beastThis is really it for Iron Maiden. They may have put out a dozen more records, but this is the apogee of their career, and one of the keystones of 80s metal.

  1. Kate Bush – The Dreaming (1982)

For the life of me, I cannot understand why people rave and gush about Kate Bush. Her work strikes me as lackluster and mundane.

Suggested Alternative:
Adam Ant – Friend or Foe

This is basically it for one of our favorite cats. The Allmusic Guide says it better than my lazy ass ever could.

Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

1001_Adam_Ant_-_Friend_Or_FoeAdam Ant and Marco Pirroni ditched the rest of the Ants not long after the release of the widely derided Prince Charming [Edit: WHAT!?!?!], which provided them with the perfect opportunity for a new statement of purpose in the first Ant-less album, 1982’s Friend or Foe. They had already begun moving away from Burundi beats and Indians on Prince Charming, but here they ditch any pretense at the underground, favoring big, glitzy glam pop. There’s still residual artiness, of course, since Adam and Marco are post-modernists that love to paste together seemingly incongruous strands of pop culture in an attempt to craft something new. The difference is, they’ve wrapped this instinct in big, big production and cheerful, unabashed pop hooks, best heard on “Place in the Country” and the hits “Friend or Foe,” “Desperate But Not Serious,” and “Goody Two Shoes,” the latter becoming Adam’s biggest hit in the U.S. Since these are deliberate pop trifles, several critics laughed off Ant as a silly lightweight, but that’s missing the point — these are intentionally tongue-in-cheek tunes, delivered with an excess of flair and good humor. Though Friend or Foe does lose momentum on the second side and the cover of the Doors’ “Hello, I Love You” falls a little flat, this is good, giddy fun, one of Ant’s best records and one of the best new wave albums.

This may be my favorite song on the record, “Here Comes the Grump”.

  1. Madness – The Rise And Fall (1982)

1001_Madness“Our House” is on here. These kids were MASSIVE in Britain and Europe. It’s cool, fun music.

  1. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)

You don’t need to hear Thriller. I’m fucking dead serious. If there’s ever been an album that should have been titled The Emperor’s New Clothes, this is it. There are two timeless jams on this record (“Billie Jean” and “Beat It”), two mediocre rump-shakers (“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and the title track) and the rest is the R&B equivalent of choogle, sung by a cartoon character, and I’m sorry, but that’s exactly what this kid turned out to be. It’s sad, but I don’t know his life.

juke 7Michael_Jackson_-_ThrillerThis is not me being a dick and hating on the best-selling album of all-time. This is me being reasonable and saying if you do sit through Thriller from start to finish, you clearly have nothing better to do, and in which case, a drug habit isn’t nearly as expensive as you might think.

MTV sold Thriller, as in door-to-door, like a magazine subscription. But if you had never seen the video, you’d dismiss this record for what it is, over-produced bullshit. If the goons who managed Michael Jackson were smart, he should have done an MTV Unplugged record at this point. Instead, he went Hollywood. The songs and the videos were so tailored together, that I’m fucking serious, neither could have existed without the other.

All that said, you will or have already heard most of this album, regardless.

Suggested Alternative:
Van Halen – Diver Down

1001_Van_Halen_-_Diver_DownIf Fair Warning is the Holy Grail of DLR era VH LPs, then Diver Down is the viper that bit Cleopatra. This is the only record of the period of which people said, “Nuh-uh. This shit doesn’t fly.” This shit they’re referring to is the cover of Martha and the Vandellas “Dancin’ in the Streets”, by far the most danceable VH jam since “Dance the Night Away” and a perfect example of what many of us considered to be DLR’s disco influence, since we all knew Eddie Van Halen hated the disco shit. Diamond Dave, on the other hand, had no qualms about doing the hustle. I’ve read his autobiography. Zero qualms.

Anyway, all that said, Diver Down remains one of my favorite VH records for all the jams that aren’t “Dancin’ in the Streets.” Hell, I don’t even mind that song. I was excited when it came out. It was like, whoa, didn’t see that coming, at all!

  1. Orange Juice – Rip It Up (1982)

No.

1001_R.E.M._-_Chronic_TownSuggested Alternative:
R.E.M. – Chronic Town
  1. Prince – 1999 (1982)

Yes.

  1. Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) (1982)

Aaaaannnnnnnd…we have a first of its kind – a strikethrough underline.

It’s a Must Hear because it’s pretty good for what they were doing, which is what half of rock bands in 1982 were trying to do – get comfortable with a synthesizer. Forget about that “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” crap. They were good before that.

It’s not a Must Hear because these cats shouldn’t have more than one record on a Must Hear list, and Sparkle in the Rain is coming out next year. Now, if U2 had released an LP in 1982, it would have been easy-squeezy. We’d go with the Irish kids for anthemic post-punk new wavey type rock that takes itself quite seriously.

guilty-2-U2 - OctoberSuggested Alternative:
U2- October (1981)

Going out of sequence for a suggested alternative is allowed as long as it’s noted and explained. For whatever reason, I really like this album, which doesn’t get the respect it deserves (as far as early U2 records are concerned). This is another one of those records with a good back-story.

  1. The Cure – Pornography (1982)

The Cure is credited with helping to establish goth rock, which is somewhat misleading. On the surface, the band certainly looked the part. Every goth kid wanted to look like Robert Smith. But the Cure, above everything else, was a pop band. Er, maybe pop-post-punk-rock band. They’re actually very hard to pin down, because their first six albums are markedly different, both from each other, and from record to record. The only constant was Robert Smith’s oddly appealing warble – some called it ‘sad, morose whining.’

pornographyThe group that made Three Imaginary Boys is hardly the same bunch of lads who made Pornography, which is unquestionably one of the most dark, tormented, existential and challenging albums ever made in the rock genre. It’s almost impossible to imagine this same band would make The Head on the Door. In between all that, you have flirtations with synthy-dance rock (“Let’s Go to Bed”) and fluffy, throwaway pop (“The Lovecats”).

Pornography is almost the anti-thesis of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper in terms of a psychedelic experience. Whereas Pepper was decidedly a positive, carefree trip, Pornography was a nightmare batch of tainted acid. Having been on a bad trip or two in my day, Pornography is exactly what it sounds like. And what I like most about the album is its relentlessness. It starts off in a shitty mood and it never, ever lightens up. It’s nothing but funhouse mirrors and creepy shadows from start to finish.

  1. Venom – Black Metal (1982)

I’m still laughing at this one. Venom. But then I took into consideration what’s lurking around the corner, i.e. Metallica, etc. These Venom cats were way ahead of the curve on all things metal. I gave it a spin.

guilty-1-Judas_Priest_Screaming_for_VengeanceSuggested Alternatives:
Scorpions – Blackout
Judas Priest – Screaming for Vengeance
More Suggested Alternatives:
Billy Squier – Don’t Say No
Devo – New Traditionalist
Robert Plant – Pictures at Eleven
Bad Brains – Bad Brains
Flipper – Album: Generic

EDITOR’S NOTE: Release dates get spaced in the surf from time to time on the official 1001 Albums list, which I’ve occasionally bitched about and tried to set straight, but I’m human, too. Sometimes I don’t catch mis-dated records, or I forget to mention an essential Suggested Alternative; neither of which I believe you care about. What difference does it make if the release date is off by a year? Very little. A precedent was set with the Tom Petty record, where I didn’t realize it had been mis-categorized in 1977, and I suggested it as an alternative in 1976, because I knew it was fucking released in 1976. This means two things. First, I’m writing these one at a time. I’m not looking forward to see what’s next. I’m staying in the now. Second, a mistake confessed is half redressed. Therefore, when these discrepancies occur, I will not go back and edt; they will simply be recognized post-publish. This situation is applicable to the next entry, which was released in 1983, a fact that doesn’t change anything about the album or my comments withstanding.

  1. Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes (1982)

1001_Violent-FemmesOf all the big albums that influenced my growth as a musician, Violent Femmes probably had the greatest impact upon my vision of making a band happen. I looked at them as a perfect example of how anyone could pick up a guitar, roust a couple of his buddies to play along, write some catchy tunes, and by the sheer dint of verve and good fortune, basically make it happen, from nothing.

The story goes that the Femmes were discovered by the Pretenders’ guitarist James Honeyman-Scott when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre, the Milwaukee venue that the Pretenders would be playing later that night. They so impressed Chrissie Hynde that she invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.

1001_violent femmes 650Meanwhile, this album marked another milestone in my musical education. It was the first “alternative rock” album I ever discovered on my own. The vast majority of my musical influences were handed down from the older kids or shared by friends. In fact, I was in a record store right after Violent Femmes came out, and the store was playing it on the PA. So I went over to the clerk and said, “What the fuck is this?” and he told me. I bought the cassette on the spot. Nobody in my social circle had heard of it, and a couple of knuckleheads who shall remain anonymous actually teased and taunted me about the blatantly “gay” name of the band. And so, it was the first time I ever had a scuffle with someone over music and perceived sexual orientation.

I’m telling you, there isn’t a bad spot on Violent Femmes. It remains one of the most thoroughly engaging and entertaining albums from start to finish. Even though it bears no audible resemblance to John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, it shared one incredibly brilliant quality: Simplicity. It’s three dudes in a half circle around one microphone, singing these catchy little tunes.


Net Reduction of Albums From the Period: 12
Suggested Alternatives: 10
Running AYMHBYD Total: 872