If you’re new to this, you might want to go visit the ‘What is this?’ tab at the top for more details. Can’t be bothered? Fair enough. The short version is that I’m listening to all the albums of the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums of All Time list, for reasons surpassing understanding at this point.In today's installment, I'm creeping up on the final 150 albums.
175 Carpenters – Close To You: Chintzy enough to kit out an entire old people’s home, this is utterly bland and generic 70’s anti-music, designed to go down with a valium. You have to wonder how much of the reputation of the Carpenters lies in the tragedy of Karen Carpenter, rather than the merit of the music, of which I can find no discernable trace over the course of the hour or so I waste on it.
174 Bob Dylan – Desire: This is much better, opening with Hurricane, which is one of my all-time favourite Dylan songs, this is wall to wall Dylan magic. Mixing the folk song protest shtick he made his name with and a more robust, beefy sound, it’s pretty much perfect from start to finish.
173 Todd Rundgren – Something/Anything?: This is a really strange one, a double album of mostly forgettable 70’s pop rock ballads sprinkled intermittently with truly awful bits and pieces of studio mucking about and half recorded bits of shit that would normally end up on the cutting room of any sane person’s studio floor. There are a few half decent tracks here but mostly it’s just bafflingly bad, and seemingly endless.
172 Rod Stewart – Every Picture Tells a Story: If Barry White was the Walrus of Love, what is Rod Stewart? The broken foghorn? The gravel driveway? This is halfway between his Faces period and the shit-on-a-stick dreadful later solo stuff, and passes the time easily enough without leaving much of an impression.
171 The Byrds – The Notorious Byrd Brothers: Oooh, it’s kooky sixties pop time. This is pretty excellent, with the off kilter hippie vibe nestling very well alongside melodies that wouldn’t be hugely out of place on a Beach Boys album.
170 The Who – Live At Leeds: I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of live albums, and I have only a passing interest in The Who, so colour me reasonably surprised to find that this is actually pretty good. The production is tight, there’s a good sense of added vitality to the live performance and the set list is uniformly excellent. Maybe these Rolling Stone chaps know their onions after all.
169 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Exodus: Despite being both desperately Caucasian and inescapably middle class, I never really had a ‘Bob Marley’ phase, so this veers between ‘stuff I’ve never heard of’ and ‘stuff I’m bored to tears of’. The former is enjoyable enough, while the latter makes me want to walk round Camden chopping the dreads off pasty hippies.
168 Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True: There’s no doubting that Elvis Costello is a fine craftsman of quirky pop, whose ear for a melody, knack for an interesting lyrical twist and penchant for melding different musical styles makes him akin to a national treasure. It’s also true that his voice increasingly makes me want to start swallowing lego pieces.
167 Metallica – Master of Puppets: While nowhere near as dire as the bilge they’ve been churning out for the past quarter of a century, it’s clear that the so-called ‘good’ back catalogue of Metal’s biggest band is really starting to show its age, much like its creators. Battery aside, this actually really isn’t that good an album. Now if you'll excuse me, I just have to go and change my name and go into hiding for daring to say that on the internet.
166 Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom: I refer the right honourable lady/gentleman to my earlier response.
165 Marvin Gaye – Let's Get It On: This is more like it. Yes it’s cheesy as all hell but there’s something about the groove of the Motown production and the earnestness of Mr Gaye that transforms his ‘for-the-love-of-God-let-me-in-your-knickers’ shtick into something endearing, sultry and goshdarn sexy.
164 Linda Ronstadt – The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt: Oh look it’s another 70’s pop compilation album. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that Rolling Stone journalists were completely devoid of creativity and kept falling back to the default of their own personal musical backstory. This ranges from country pop to generic pop, pop rock to ballad pop and veers between occasionally good pop songs and boring stuff that’s about as pleasant company as a political leaders debate.
163 Prince – 1999: I’ve spent most of my life being told that Prince is a genius of some kind, and I’ve never really understood why. This is all fine, albeit the kind of fine drenched in the production style of the 1980’s that sounds like someone jackhammering directly into your brainpan. Despite the aforementioned Genius tag, this sounds like it was recorded on a Casio Keyboard. Yay, fun. Quite possibly I’m far too miserable a bastard for this kind of music.
162 Radiohead – OK Computer: I’m really surprised to see this so far down the list, given that if I were idiotic enough to try and curate my own version of this list, it’d be nestled right at the very top. Personally I think this is a masterpiece, my generation’s Sgt Pepper, except miserable and better. The creeping paranoia of the late 90’s seems even more vital and compelling today and there’s not a single song here that doesn’t drip with brilliance. But according to this it’s not as good as Kiss Alive. More on that shortly.
161 Otis Redding – The Dock of the Bay: Redding’s voice is, let’s face it, staggeringly good. Like honey wrapped in broken glass, it’s sweet and tough and really gets to you. So much in fact that I almost didn’t realise how many of the songs on this album are really a bit domestic-violence-y. Songs like Let Me Come On Home and Open the Door (sample lyric: 'I ain't lyin', and I ain't smilin' 'bout it, baby, open the door or I'm bustin' in') look really quite fucked up over the distance of time, but, god damn, that voice.
160 T. Rex – Electric Warrior: Fun fact – when I met my (incredibly patient) partner she had a portrait of Marc Bolan in her house, so enamoured was she of the dead glam man. I thought it was a picture of Alien-era Sigourney Weaver, however, and proceeded to call it Sigourney so often over the next few years that she ended up throwing it out just to shut me up. I sure am a swell guy. Anyway, this is fantastic, all glam swagger mixed with menacing groove and Bolan’s ever so sad voice.
159 Kiss – Alive: If you needed proof of the unerring stupidity of our American cousins, you need look no further than the inexplicable popularity of Kiss. This, their breakout live album, is as insipid and bland as skimmed milk, a seemingly endless of hook-free pop music played to a crowd of braying idiots by barely competent musicians. Status Quo had better riffs than this. Hell, S Club 7 had better riffs than this.
158 Elton John – Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy: Given my love of the early, Americana-tinged Elton, I was looking forward to this, seeing as it’s one of his seventies classics. I’m a bit disappointed to report then, that this fuses together the early vibe of, say, Madman Across the Water, with the rubbishy pop nonsense for which he got so famous. What’s left is a listenable enough but wholly unremarkable seventies pop album.
157 Joy Division – Closer: If you look in the dictionary under ‘good idea poorly executed’ then you won’t find anything, because that’s four words and the dictionary only does definitions of single words, stupid. If you type it into google you get a Times Higher Education article about a virtual Think Tank called Nexus from December 2009. If you ask me, though, I’d just say Joy Division. I mean, the songs are great and Ian Curtis was a massively weird and compelling frontman, but this just sounds like it was recorded through a tin of baked beans, which somewhat detracts from the first two points.
156 Beastie Boys – Paul's Boutique: This is such a dramatic improvement on Licensed to Ill that it’s no wonder they ended up distancing themselves from their debut. Whereas that was an infantile and poorly executed hip hop comedy album, this is inventive, cool, unique and shows a prodigious step up in skills by all three Beasties. Personally I think they got better after this, but you can hardly argue over the impact this album had.
155 The Pretenders – Pretenders: My main memory of The Pretenders is of my Dad having a crush on Chrissie Hynde, and a few of their bigger songs here and there. My ignorance made this quite the pleasant surprise. Post punk early 80’s pop with a good groove, great lyrics and a damn fine production. Really good.
154 Howlin' Wolf – Moanin' in the Moonlight: This is, quite frankly, brilliant. If you want mood, the off kilter rhythms and literal howl of Howlin’ Wolf are probably yet to be surpassed, remaining up the with the greatest Miles Davis works as paragons of effortless moody cool.
153 A Tribe Called Quest – The Low End Theory: When it comes to hip-hop, Tribe Called Quest dovetail pretty much perfectly with my own taste, so naturally I love this. Laid back beats, intelligent lyrics, what’s not to like? In fact, this might be my favourite discovery so far. Excellent.
152 The B-52's – The B-52's: Um, what? This is… um. So this is a joke, right? The band responsible for Rock Lobster, and, well that’s about it. But their album is the 152nd greatest album of all time? I’m seriously confused. There’s little here to explain this decision further. It is a mystery. An awful, awful mystery that means I have to listen to this dreadful album. Did someone lean on their keyboard when typing this list up and accidentally hit B, 5 and 2, twice? Was it only noticed once it’d already gone to the printers and they bluffed their way through it? I bet someone was fired. Maybe they don’t know. Should we tell them? Someone call Rolling Stone. How has this happened? It’s so dreadful. Make it stop. Send help.
151 Arcade Fire – Funeral: Arcade Fire may share the B52’s (*shudder*) predilection for oddity and theatrical weirdness, but they at least have the decency to marry that to song writing prowess and talent. This album may well be ground zero for the hipster blight on the western world, but you can’t really blame this band of plucky Canadians for that. This is a fine album, odd as all hell but an enjoyable ride, albeit perhaps not a particularly exciting one.
That's it for now. Tune in soon for some more of this shit.