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 this leg, I'm knocking on the door of the top 100, and I already checked and there was no Bono to be seen...
125 Janis Joplin – Pearl: Holy shit, that’s how you open an album. Stop reading this right now and listen to the song Cry Baby, you’ll see what I mean. Actually, wait, don't go, I've only just started. This is brilliant, the kind of music that puts hair where there needs to be hair, courage in your heart and misplaced self-belief in your own abilities in your head. I actually think my bald spot may have just receded.
124 Moby Grape – Moby Grape: This has 1960’s flower power written all over it, but plays firmly at the more commercial end of that spectrum, with none of the creeping menace of Jefferson Airplane. It’s all floaty and nice pop hooks and gentle free love loveliness, which makes it a nice enough listen but slightly inconsequential.
123 Run-D.M.C. – Raising Hell: This is so endearingly un-gangsta that despite its obvious age it’s like a wonderful pallet cleanser, a reminder of a time before hip-hop was taken over by the bad boys. RUN and DMC may not be the most vocally dextrous rappers who ever lived, but there’s so much charm in their delivery that it’s easy to see why they maintain so much goodwill all these years later. The playful, good natured, hip pop, continues until the final song, Proud to be Black, a searing polemic about being black in Reagan’s America that’s as unexpected as it is welcome, and raises the album from good to great.
122 Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come: This soundtrack to a film I’ve never seen is chuck full of songs I’ve learnt every word to without even trying, from the title track to You Can Get It If You Really Want and a dozen others. It’s incredibly upbeat, a little ray of sunshine that can’t help but brighten your mood, even if you’re a miserable bastard like I am. Maybe if I listened to more music that made me happy I wouldn’t be so bloody miserable, but then I think I’d eventually become even more miserable, because there’s only so much of this shit you can take, surely? It’s a vicious cycle, and I should probably just stick to gloomy music made by overweight bearded men like myself.
121 Sly & The Family Stone – Stand!: Somewhere between the murky worlds of funk and disco, this has moments of sublime groove that generate quite a lot of goodwill, only to see it frittered away on boring, directionless disco bollocks. It’s good, it’s not great.
120 The Byrds – Sweetheart of the Rodeo: I’m still not entirely sold on The Byrds, but I am warming to them. This is perfectly acceptable backing music to whatever generic life task you might need to do, but if you’re looking for something to blow the cobwebs away then you’d be better off looking elsewhere.
119 Etta James – At Last!: My God this is glorious. Music to wrap yourself up in like a blanket, so that you can hide under your desk in the foetal position, knees under your chin, eyes clenched shut to block out the rest of the world; a world that doesn’t make you feel like Etta does. Probably my favourite discovery so far on the list.
118 Kanye West – Late Registration: I guess my opinion of Kanye is slightly coloured by my intense dislike for the modern-day iteration, but I was actually surprised by how much I liked this, mainly because it doesn’t at any point include his rapping about how hard his life is over a backdrop of Nina Simone’sStrange Fruit whilst adopting a Jesus Christ pose, or have him insulting other artists for having the gall not to be Beyonce. There’s no doubting the man’s talent; refreshingly this comes from a point at which his ego was small enough that it didn’t have its own geo-synchronous orbit. It does go on for at least three hours too long though.
117 Derek and the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs: No matter how good the ingredients are, sometimes a soup just ends up being bland. A great guitarist, bluesy Americana rock and crowd pleasing melodies should equal something brilliant, but this is Eric Clapton we’re talking about, so it doesn’t. There’s a few interesting bits sprinkled about, but mostly it’s so infuriatingly dull and tepid that I just find myself staring at my generic music delivery system and willing it to just fucking end.
116 The Rolling Stones – Out of Our Heads: Well, it was brief at least. Yet more badly translated American classics by the kings of cultural appropriation.
115 The Who – The Who Sell Out: Another album that whizzes by, this time a curious collection of radio commercial parodies and knowing humour from The Who, wrapped around psychedelic sixties pop. Its position so high up the list seems a bit odd given that the songs are purposefully throwaway, but it passes 38 minutes fairly well.
114 Cream – Disraeli Gears: More Clapton, but this time of the ‘actually worth listening to’ variety. It’s a great album, but I have to admit I kind of drifted off, and can’t really remember listening to it, which is weird since I only just stopped listening a few minutes ago.
113 Joni Mitchell – Court and Spark: I was so convinced that I’d already done a Joni Mitchell album that I waded through every post trying to find out what I’d said about it. I didn’t find one but now I feel acutely apologetic for subjecting you all to endless torrents of my ill-informed judgement. I really am very sorry. This is nice though, easy listening 70’s stuff but interesting enough to not just be musical valium.
112 The Mamas & The Papas– If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears: True fact: I used to be friends with someone who won Stars in their Eyes as the lead singer of The Mamas & The Papas. That fact may not be interesting, but it has livened up what would otherwise be me yet again yammering on about pleasant enough but generic 60’s pop.
111 Radiohead – The Bends: This is more like it. I’ve more or less written this album off as being a bit too old school in the wake of the brilliance of the post-OK Computer stuff, but that was clearly an idiotic move, because this remains a stunning piece of angsty Brit Rock, perhaps the perfect blend of the burgeoning British indie scene and the nascent grunge scene coming out of Seattle. Every song on here is, quite frankly, bloody marvellous.
110 The Velvet Underground – Loaded: This is pretty excellent; somewhat less remarkable than some of their more out-there moments, but to be honest you can make almost anything 75% cooler by having Lou Reed on it. And before you go mentioning Metallica, they were only 0.6% cool to begin with, so their 75% increase in cool on the Lulu project still only puts them at a barely perceptible 1.05% cool factor overall. Maths, yo.
109 The Rolling Stones – Aftermath: Another day, another Rolling Stones album, and I’m really starting to run out of ways to adequately explain just how boring and tedious I find them.
108 David Bowie – Hunky Dory: While my appreciation for McJagger and his merry band of geriatrics diminishes with every passing long player, the opposite is true for Bowie. I’d never really got him before, while enjoying the odd song, but in album form you really get an appreciation for what an innovative, brilliant songwriter he is. This is wall-to-wall killer tunes.
107 Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964: This is amazing. Sam Cooke is another one of those voices that’s like just unfeasibly good, so imbued with soul and heart and tonal brilliance that you can totally understand why people still insist on trying to match him on the likes of X Factor, because if they could just grasp half of what he could do, surely they could make it. Alas, like Icarus, they fly too high, and end up face-planting into the rocks, their shattered corpses covered in wax and feathers.
106 Ramones – Rocket to Russia: As much as I love the ethos, most punk music (proper punk, anyway) leaves me pretty cold, it being a movement more notable for its impact than its musical legacy, so I’ve never paid much attention to the Ramones. Again, this makes me an idiot. Maybe it’s the fact that the sun is finally shining, but this is a brilliant burst of classic pop welded to buzzing guitars, and by the time their version of Surfin’ Bird rolls around I have a great big smile on my face.
105 Ray Charles – Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music: Again, it could be that the sun continues to shine but this is glorious. One of the greatest soul voices of all time totally switching direction, grabbing a big band and doing a load of old country classics, this is quite simply bloody gorgeous.
104 James Taylor – Sweet Baby James: Okay maybe the sunshine is bleaching my brain because despite how much as I was dreading this, it’s actually really lovely. Mawkish laid back seventies country folk pop it might be, but there are some great songs on here and the vibe is really chilled. I think I need a lie down.
103 John Coltrane – Giant Steps: I think the general rule on this list is that the less a genre is represented, the better the chosen albums tend to be. There’s not much Jazz on here, really, but what there is tends to be mind-blowingly good, and this is no exception. Ranging from frenetic jazz odysseys to smoky laid-back bar-room jazz, it’s totally captivating from start to finish.
102 Cream – Fresh Cream: This leg of The Rolling Stone Challenge is brought to you by the overinflated reputation of Eric Clapton. To be fair this is the best thing I’ve heard with his name on it, with large parts of it going as far as being actually interesting. It’s not just the tremendous drumming of Ginger Baker and the bass of Jack Bruce either; some of the guitar work here is excellent. The production does let it down a bit at times, and it’s a bit flabby in places, but then aren’t we all?
101 Frank Sinatra – In the Wee Small Hours: There's been some great laid back albums on this leg, from Etta to Sam Cooke and James Taylor, but this really does top all of them for sheer effortless laid back cool. You can say what you like about the man, but you can't deny that his voice was simply staggering, reaching ranges most could only dream about and making it sound like nothing more difficult than opening a can of generic cola drink. Put this up against any of the output of his modern worshippers and you can see just how magnificent he really was in his prime, and this really was his prime. Fantastic stuff.
And would you look at that; I'm 4/5ths of the way through. Only 100 more albums to go, and I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that it's going to be non-stop brilliance from here on in. I've done the hard work, it's going to be plain sailing the rest of the way.....
Two more Bono-rific albums, four more McJagger albums... Is it too late to turn back?