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 instalment, I’m inside the top 150, so surely despite whatever transgressions have been before, the list is going to be 100 solid gold from here on in, right? Right?
150 Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town: As I move through this list I find the palatability of Springsteen revolves a lot around the coherence of his singing. Here, he sounds like a drunk at a bar recounting the awfulness of every aspect of his life and the shoddiness of his automobile, so it’s excellent.
149 Santana – Santana: I hated the last Santana album on this list because it was just noodling nonsense with no direction. This is more of the same, except this time I actually really enjoyed it. Go figure.
148 Led Zeppelin – Houses Of The Holy: I haven’t listened to this in ages, not since the days when I discovered Zep as a teenager and they blew my mind, like they have blown the minds of so many teenagers before me and after. It’s a remarkably good album still, arguably not quite up there with the big four, but that’s hardly a criticism.
147 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà Vu: More like Crosby, Snooze, Nap and Yawn, am I right?! High five! Guys? Ok, this is fine enough, and when it ventures into the blues on Almost Cut My Hair and Helpless it’s really quite good, but the twee country of Teach Your Children and the hippie pop of Woodstock are a bit tedious, if I’m honest, while Our House makes me want to commit genocide. Uneven, but not entirely without merit.
146 Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow: This is fantastic, the complete embodiment of 60’s psychedelia, wrapped around the brick to the head that is Grace Slick’s thunderous roar. It’s catchy, it’s inventive and it’s got White Rabbit on it. What more do you want from an album?
145 Steely Dan – Aja: Well this is awful, a cheesy slice of 80’s ‘Jazz Rock’ that one can only imagine would make whoever invented Jazz instantly regret having done so. Tepid water is more exciting to listen to than this.
144 N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton: After the blandness of Aja the opening barrage of the title track of NWA’s 'masterpiece' feels like a sudden rush of blood to the head. It’s a weird one to listen to all these decades later; the rage and bravado is so focused and the production a real high point in hip hop’s evolution yet the lyrics are so infantile, misogynistic and homophobic that it’s a bit like if you re-watched the classic sitcom Spaced and discovered that it was all Bernard Manning jokes. Such a shame. Express Yourself and Fuck Tha Police are both still brilliant though.
143 Dr. John – Gris-Gris: Well now isn’t this a treat. A blend of New Orleans jazz, R&B (in the proper sense) and psychedelia, it’s like a sonic Hunter S Thompson tale, bewildering, brilliant and unsettling.
142 Phil Spector – A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector: While we’re on the subject of unsettling, try having to listen to a Christmas album in the second week of February. Feels completely wrong. That's not to say this is a bad album; far from it. As far as Christmas albums goes this is like cranking a needle full of Jesus spirit directly into your joy glands. But it's fucking February.
141 B.B. King – Live at The Regal: Okay, completely forget what I said about live albums before. I never realised they could be this good. Capturing what must have been a blistering set by the legendary bluesman the production here is stunning, and the crowd are every bit as much a part of the experience. This is old school blues with the intensity cranked up a notch, and probably one of my favourite finds so far.
140 Blondie – Parallel Lines: This is a good example of how much better an ‘album’ is than just a bunch of songs. I can’t say I was every hugely won over by the co-called genius of Blondie having heard the obvious singles, but put them into the context of a proper album and they become something just that bit more special. This is pop with layers; intelligent, biting and cool, but with a ridiculous ear for a hook.
139 The Meters – Rejuvenation: This is, in a word, funky. Now considered as important as James Brown in the evolution of funk, you can see why. It’s very very funky, and very good.
138 Dr. Dre – The Chronic: The funniest thing about this album is not the hilariously gangsta lyrics or the fact that within the first few minutes of the album you’ve heard the N word at least eleventy-billion times; it’s the fact that if you look up Dr Dre on Wikipedia it says ‘not to be confused with Dr. Drew.’ Much like Straight Outta Compton, this is equal parts brilliant and embarrassingly dated.
137 The Replacements – Tim: Another band crossed off the list of ‘bands I’ll get around to one day’. Indie legends The Replacements are, predictably enough, clearly a band I should have been listening to for years, and I feel duly ashamed of myself. Somehow blending the best of 80’s indie pop and the grunge ethos that was still half a decade away, this is magnificent.
136 Elton John – Greatest Hits: This is a slightly depressing culling of Elton’s early, good albums, into the more generic and predictable cuts like Your Song and Saturday Night and all the other signs he exhibited early on that he’d become a peddler of lowest common denominator bilge water.
135 Pavement – Slanted and Enchanted: I’m sure I’ll be killing whatever shreds of indie credibility I still cling onto with greasy fingertips by saying this, but this is dreadful. Atonal, out of tune Lou Reed worship, forgetting that Lou could write the hell out of a tune. I never did Pavement at the time, and now I can see that teenage me deserves a pat on the back for that.
134 The Notorious B.I.G. – Ready to Die: Being a middle class white child growing up in leafy London suburbia in the 1980's, I grew up quite into hip-hop, but lost interest around the time of the Biggie/Tupac nonsense, as it seemed to me the whole genre lost whatever credibility it once had in a tidal wave of bling, braggadocio, bland production and misogyny. This isn’t as bad as I remembered it being, but neither is it particularly good, especially once it moves from the vaguely interesting tales of a man pulling himself up by his bootstraps against the odds to the infantile playground mistreatment of women of songs like Me & My Bitch. Seriously. Still, there are flashes of the talent that once so wowed the hip-hop world, here and there.
133 Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle: This is Springsteen’s second album and splits into two parts. The first four songs are pleasant enough Springsteen romps, mixing rock and roll, blues and folk with jazz and pop, whereas the last three songs are the same, but stepped up a notch into a three part narrative of working class troubles. This second half is so far ahead of the first you wonder why this isn't a 3 song EP.
132 Various Artists – Saturday Night Fever: Disco sucks. It’s a vile and wretched pox on the landscape of musical history, a music designed to be stripped of all merit save for its ability to make people shuffle around in darkened rooms trying desperately to blot out the tedium of their existence, so that they’re literally dancing to the beat of their own repression. That’s even before you take into account the squeaky voices.
131 Black Sabbath – Paranoid: This is more like it. Bleakness, doom, misery! Not sure what more can be said about this album, but I remember getting into Sabbath around the time that stupid Osbournes reality show was on and marvelling at how the two could ever be linked, so good was the former and pitiful the latter. IT’S A FUNNY OLD WORLD.
130 Television – Marquee Moon: This is enjoyable enough jingly jangly post punk, remarkable mainly in that invented post-punk in the same year punk actually happened, which is my way of saying that it’s not actually that interesting to listen to.
129 Talking Heads – Remain in Light: As you’d expect for an album that contains the peerless pop oddity Once in a Lifetime, this is glorious; an album of pop with simmering menace, punk with its anger kept under a button down suit, and madness constrained by genius.
128 The Stooges – Raw Power: If the last album was all about constrained power, this is, as its title rightly asserts, all about Raw Power. Bristling guitars wrestle alongside the melodies for control, while Iggy Pop sets out the stall of uncompromising punk spirit that he would one day so completely piss over by advertising car insurance. This album is so good though that you almost forgive him. Almost.
127 The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday: This is, like every Byrds album I’ve encountered on this list so far, the very definition of enjoyably forgettable music. It’s fine, but leaves less impact on my memory than tapioca does on the taste buds.
126 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Catch A Fire: Now this is gorgeous, one of those albums that just grabs a vibe and won’t let go of it. I actually feel immensely happy having just listened to it, which is no mean feat given what a miserable bastard I am.
That's your lot for now. There's no doubting the list is getting better and better, which you'd imagine it would as we reach the top 100, but there's still just enough dreadful awfulness to keep it interesting. Join me next time as I knock on the door of the top 100 begging to be let into its warm confines, only to find Bono inside.