Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yearly Album List

And now... the last of today's cleaning of the Drafts folder...

A while back, a blog-dork exercise made the rounds, in which the author makes a list of great albums from each year of your life.  You're free to decide your own criteria and overarching theme and whatnot... just do it however.

I tried, and failed, to use a consistent metric for each selection.  It's just not possible for a civilian.  I haven't listened to enough music from that pre-2000 period to use quality as the only criterion.  And my listening behavior as a child doesn't lend itself to a list of albums that loomed large in my consciousness... Brothers In Arms and Graceland are the first instances of that.  Where I could tip my cap to what I was listening to, as with 1988, I did.  But until 1989, when I finally acquired the buying power to collect CDs, this wasn't happening.  So these albums are, for the most part, picked retrospectively.  I wasn't listening to Sheik Yerbouti in 1979, Appetite For Destruction in 1987, or Neutral Milk Hotel in 1998.

But that's fine.  This is a fair index of my musical tastes over the years where possible, and a decent reflection of my tastes going backwards.  Discussion to follow...

1979 - Fleetwood Mac - Tusk / Frank Zappa - Sheik Yerbouti (tie)
1980 - Talking Heads - Remain In Light
1981 - The Police - Ghost In The Machine
1982 - Dire Straits - Love Over Gold
1983 - Billy Joel - An Innocent Man
1984 - Weird Al Yankovic - In 3-D
1985 - Dire Straits - Brothers In Arms
1986 - Paul Simon - Graceland
1987 - Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction
1988 - DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince - He's the DJ, I'm The Rapper
1989 - Faith No More - The Real Thing
1990 - They Might Be Giants - Flood
1991 - Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
1992 - Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine
1993 - Pearl Jam - Vs.
1994 - Green Day - Dookie
1995 - Rancid - And Out Come The Wolves
1996 - Weezer - Pinkerton
1997 - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Let's Face It
1998 - Neutral Milk Hotel - In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
1999 - Blink-182 - Enema Of The State
2000 - The New Pornographers - Mass Romantic
2001 - Ben Folds - Rockin' The Suburbs
2002 - Spoon - Kill The Moonlight
2003 - OutKast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
2004 - The Killers - Hot Fuss
2005 - Sufjan Stevens - Come On, Feel The Illinoise!
2006 - The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
2007 - LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
2008 - The Hold Steady - Stay Positive [pending]

What's fascinating to me isn't so much the classic albums I couldn't include (1979's London Calling, for example) but the number of albums by those names that caused drastic alterations in my musical tastes and habits.  Lots of big names are missing.  Where's Nirvana?  Where's Radiohead?  Where's Snow Patrol?  Those bands each changed the way I listen to music, and they're not represented even once.  And I wanted to include Stone Temple Pilots, just as a big fat fuck-you to whoever says they were talentless and unoriginal.  But this is how it has to go.

Nevermind wasn't the only tought cut from 1991.  That year was a near-impossible decision.  Blood Sugar Sex Magik gets the nod over Nevermind and Ten because it showed me that sexuality could be put forward openly and aggressively without it being childish ("Sir Psycho Sexy" notwithstanding).  Since I was just starting to mature, it really affected me... and corrupted my sweet, church-going, innocent mind!  Thank God for that.

1979 was another toughie.  It's the only tie, but I couldn't lose either Tusk or Sheik Yerbouti.  And that meant leaving out London Calling, The Wall, The Specials, Fear Of Music... just far too many crimes against musical list-making.

On the other hand, my unavoidable 1985 selection disappoints me greatly.  Brothers In Arms is possibly my least favorite Dire Straits album, despite the enormous footprint it left on my childhood.  The work they did prior to that album was so far superior that Brothers In Arms really doesn't belong here, especially when I already selected Love Over Gold as my pick for 1982.  However, 1985 is littered with a mix of good albums by great bands whose better work appears elsewhere on the list (this, Little Creatures, Dare To Be Stupid, Life's Rich Pageant) and critical classics I haven't really listened to enough to put on a list like this (The Replacements' Tim, The Smiths' Meat is Murder, Kate Bush's Hounds of Love).  I would have been much happier if I could, in good faith, put Tim in this slot.  It's a fantastic album that I like a lot.  But it has played zero role whatsoever in my life.

1981 is the only de facto choice.  I expected more.  But that's not so bad, because The Police ought to be on here in some form.  But it was one of a whopping five non-Zappa albums from 1981 in my iTunes.  So it was an easy make-up call to give them.  (Other four: The Tom Tom Club, Van Halen's Fair Warning, Guitar Music by Leo Kottke, and The Replacements' Sorry, Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash!)

And speaking of make-up calls, I got to give one to The Killers.  I tore apart Hot Fuss in my review of Sam's Town, and have often referred to The Killers as part of a progressive abstraction away from similar and better bands (i.e. "The Killers ripped off Interpol, Interpol ripped off New Order, New Order owes everything they had to Ian Curtis, Joy Division is overrated," etc), which I may have elucidated on the blog a long while back.  However, after dozens of listens, I have completely changed my mind.  Hot Fuss is one of the great albums of the decade.  When I can't decide what to listen to on my mp3 player as I go out for the evening, I invariably select Hot Fuss.  I can think of no bigger compliment, especially given that it's been out for four years.

2002 is kind of a weird year, too.  Kill The Moonlight is a fantastic album, and the Spoon album most representative of why they're so awesome.  But that gets the pick because of its lasting effect as much as anything else.  There were so many albums from 2002 that I loved at the time, but don't affect me as much anymore... The Postal Service's Give Up, Talib Kweli's Quality, Blackalicious' Blazing Arrow, Jurassic 5's Power In Numbers... the list goes on.  And the others that I do still feel strongly about, like the late-era Bosstones release A Jacknife To A Swan, don't hold up to the true classics from that year, like The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots or Bright Eyes' Lifted...

You know what?  Screw it.  I'm talking too much about stuff I left off.  I should just list the most egregious omissions.

1979 - Pink Floyd - The Wall
1980 - The Clash - London Calling
1987 - R.E.M. - Document
1991 - Nirvana - Nevermind
1991 - Pearl Jam - Ten
1992 - Sublime - 40 Oz. To Freedom
1992 - Stone Temple Pilots - Core
1994 - Weezer - Weezer
1996 - Less Than Jake - Losing Streak
1996 - Dave Matthews Band - Crash
1997 - Foo Fighters - The Colour And The Shape
1997 - Radiohead - OK Computer
1999 - The Roots - Things Fall Apart
2002 - The Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
2003 - Snow Patrol - Final Straw
2003 - Guster - Keep It Together
2003 - The New Pornographers - Electric Version
2004 - Green Day - American Idiot
2004 - Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
2006 - The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls In America
2007 - The National - Boxer

I could have made a whole other list of rejects!  Better stop right there, before I do make another list....


  1. glad you gave the H/M to ok computer, or you'd have lost 100% of your credibility.

    I've written before about what an absurdly great year 1997 was for music (actually, i wrote about the onion's comprehensive piece about the year), but still. The first thing I did in reading your piece was scroll to 1997, and got a big slap in the dick by Bosstones. No OK computer? No Yo La Tengo? Boooooo. But that's what makes this an interesting thought exercise. Cause if your honest with yourself, you'll doubtlessly have some embarrassing omissions on here. I can't wait to tackle this job myself. Ugh. 1980's are gonna be a rough shitshow of crapola.

  2. Well, that's just it. You want it to reflect history as much as quality, within reason (he said, noting the absence of 311). Besides, skewing towards favoritism is much more interesting than picking the best album from all 30 years. It's impossible anyway; I haven't spent all that much time with I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and therefore can't really say it doesn't belong above OKC. How authoritative could it really be? Not very. Then I'd lose my credibility.

    Anyway... I did have OK Computer on there at first, but yanked it. I decided that the absence of Bosstones would leave an entire genre unrepresented. That outweighed giving Radiohead another sorely unneeded shout-out. (As a bonus dig against them, I think the absence of Nevermind, especially in this list's context, is far, far more egregious.)

    But yeah, let's see your list.

  3. I will, however, say that page one of that AV Club article is quite the murderer's row. And a list where Wu-Tang Forever and Life After Death don't get their own items... yeesh.

    BTW here's what you wrote. Think I should check out Spiritualized.

  4. I've been having that conversation since I first moved in with Winslow 11 yrs ago. He remarked one day that I didn't listen to any female musicians at all. Which, save for Fleetwood Mac, was absolutely true. It's somewhat different nowadays, though not at the top end. But I can't and won't deny that my list is almost uniformly male.

    However... I didn't really do anything untrue to myself, either. The only entirely feminine album I came close to putting on the list is The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. I goofed by not putting it in my honorable mentions. Otherwise, it's a fair reflection of my actual musical interests, at least when it comes to more current stuff.

    I will say, though, that I'm not convinced I'm required to remove gender considerations from what I like and what I don't. If music is about connection with an audience, gender is going to play a part in that, one way or another. Not everything is universal, nor is everything meant to be. I have trouble connecting to strongly feminine music, just as I imagine you feel disconnected from the excessively male-oriented content of most music. You could make a similar argument about the harder end of hip-hop... my inability to relate is going to affect my opinion. Besides, we're talking about the extremes of the list, not my library as a whole. It's a fair criticism, but I don't think it's a problem as far as the Best Ever list is concerned.

    Anyhoo... here's Lauryn, as well as the other excellent albums with significant female participation worthy of consideration for my list. Not all of these are feminine in terms of vibe, but in those exceptions there is nevertheless universal involvement.

    Belly - Star
    Sleater-Kinney - Call The Doctor
    Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (D'Arcy!)
    Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup
    Portishead - Dummy
    Garbage - Garbage
    No Doubt - Tragic Kingdom
    Belle & Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
    Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of...
    The Fugees - The Score
    The White Stripes - Elephant
    The Arcade Fire - Funeral
    Feist - The Reminder
    Stars - Set Yourself On Fire
    Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
    The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike

    Finally... Sonic Youth is one of the most overrated bands in Christendom. They're in the Pavement wing of the Influential Bands I Hate Museum.

  5. Are you all fucking kidding me? The emperor has no clothes. It's a truth universally acknowledged that no one has made a great record since 1989 -- "Second Chance" by 38 Special.