Friday, January 24, 2014

BAB Classic: 5 Perfect Albums to Love

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 27 January 2010.

Karen:  In the days of vinyl, and even when CDs were the newest format for music recordings, the concept of the album meant much more than it does today. Now music can be bought and sold ala carte; songs can be purchased and downloaded separately. You can make playlists that conveniently omit songs that are less worthy. But there was a time when you really had to take a chance and plop down your hard-earned bucks on a whole album. Oh sure, you might be able to buy a single off the album, but in general you were stuck buying the whole thing, mostly sight unseen. If you were lucky, you might have heard two, maybe even three, songs off of said album. Hopefully they were representative of the entire work. But often, this would not be the case. I don’t know how many times I got burned by purchasing an album after only hearing one or two tracks. I’d get home only to discover that those were the only songs I liked off the whole thing! Most of the time, an album might have three really good songs, then maybe another 3 that were ok, and the rest would be filler or stinkers. I would estimate that the vast majority of albums I have bought have had about 33% junk.
But then every once in awhile, the stars align, and you get that rarest of things: the perfect album. This is an album with no filler, no garbage – an album that hangs together and is worth playing all the way through. Sure, some songs are better than others, but even your least favorite ones are still very listenable. I’d like to share below five of my favorite perfect albums.

1. Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. Like a strange, scary butterfly bursting from his mouldering cocoon, Iggy re-invents himself on this album and creates a classic. Many will point to the involvement of David Bowie on the album and claim that this is the reason for such a brilliant work, but let’s give the Ig some credit too. Although I am annoyed with the cruise line commercials that utilize the title song (how come they never play the part that talks about “of course I’ve had it in the ear before” ?), this album is as fresh as ever, alive and vibrant. Songs like Lust for Life, The Passenger, Some Weird Sin, and Neighborhood Threat all have an aura of genuineness. Iggy’s emotional ups and downs are spread for all to see. The band features the Sales brothers as the rhythm section (who would go on to work again with Bowie as Tin Machine) and the sound is full and bouncy. Iggy’s lyrics are probably the most inspired of his career.

      2. Back in Black by AC/DC. Of course, anyone with any rock acumen knows that this was the first AC/DC album produced after the death of original frontman Bon Scott. Thank god the boys did not decide to pack it in with his death! Back in Black is a monster of an album, all meat, no filler. Brian Johnson stepped into the "singer" role -hey, so he can't sing, who cares, neither could Scott - and the band created some of their best songs, including Back In Black, You Shook Me All Night Long, Have A Drink on Me, and Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution. After many years this album is like that really comfortable pair of old worn jeans that you love to pull out of the closet and put on. It may not look pretty but damn it feels good.

3. Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet. "Who?" you are probably asking. I'll admit that Matthew Sweet is a more obscure artist, but that doesn't diminish his gift for crafting perfect power-pop songs. Girlfriend, with its Tuesday Weld album cover, was his big break back in 1991. It was also helped by an early anime video on MTV. But the music on this album is what's important, and every song on this album is just perfect. From rockers like Girlfriend to melancholy beauties like Winona, there's just not a wrong step on this album. The musicians, particularly guitarists Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd, are superb. Sweet's voice is, well, sweet - haunting, angry, mournful - a very expressive instrument. I can't recommend this album enough.

4. Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses. I don't think I'm the only person who thought, upon first hearing this album, that these guys were the next great rock and roll band. I still think they could have been, if drugs and personalities hadn't gotten in the way. This is just a tour de force album; it grabs you by the throat with the opening track, Welcome to the Jungle, and never lets go. Personally, I always liked that track, as well as Mr. Brownstone and It's So Easy, best of all. Because of the massive airplay of both Paradise City and Sweet Child O' Mine, I was sick of them for a number of years, but have recently begun to enjoy them again. I just still shake my head in disbelief over how the band disintegrated -and how ugly it was- whenever I hear their music. But this album just sounds better and better as time goes on, and makes one wonder, "what if?"

5. IV by Led Zeppelin. I refuse to call this 'Zoso'! This fourth album by what I personally consider the greatest rock band of all time only has eight songs, but what an amazing set of songs they are. The song I would consider the weakest, The Battle of Evermore, is still a fine tune, if a bit airy-fairy for me. But this is the album that gave us such monsters as Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Misty Mountain Hop - I used to play this disc over and over. And all these years later, I still love it. It's Zeppelin showcasing all their skills; they can rock with the best of them (Rock and Roll, Black Dog), get bluesy (When the Levee Breaks), and do sweet ballads (Going to California) all on one album, and do them better than anyone else. Zeppelin at the peak of their powers -nuff said.


Edo Bosnar said...

Yay, more lists! Interesting choices. As to AC/DC, since I'm one of those who thinks they actually should have thrown in the towel after Bon Scott's untimely demise, I'll refrain from making any further comments.
Led Zeppelin IV would be one my picks, too, but then again so could any of the first four albums, and Physical Graffiti and ..., aw hell, all of them. Given all of the excessive airplay Zep got at the time and later, and all of the often crappy copycat bands that followed, I think people forget just how incredibly solid and powerful their individual albums were. My personal favorite is actually one that even a lot of fans claim is the "weakest" - In Through the Out Door...

Karen said...

Edo, I don't believe there really is a 'bad' Zeppelin album. I think you make a good point about excessive airplay, which can take a brilliant song and make you loathe it in no time (as I mentioned regarding Guns N Roses). But if I could only pick one Zeppelin album to take to a desert island, IV would be it.

Glad you enjoy the lists! They are a lot of fun to do.


jim kosmicki said...

I love that you have an Iggy album on there, but the most consistent Iggy album for me has always been "New Values." It was my introduction to Iggy Pop, and I loved every track. I still listen to this album on a regular basis. Arista at this time had some great artists that they simply didn't know how to market or sell - this could have been a huge break-through album for Iggy.

Karen said...

Howdy Jim, I think Iggy is very under-appreciated as an artist. I include his Stooges work in that as well. I was quite pleased the other night when watching Lost to hear "Search and Destroy" playing quite prominently!

Edo Bosnar said...

Upon re-reading this post from almost exactly four years ago, a few more thoughts came to mind; first, since the Sales brothers came up, for some reason I always found it amusing that they're the sons of the once popular but now virtually forgotten comedian Soupy Sales.

As to Zep IV, given how many times I've listened to that album over the course of my life, I find it interesting that at different times I liked different songs on it more. Like most youngsters, I first had to get the album because it's the one that had "Stairway to Heaven." Then my favorite songs on it were rockers like "Black Dog" and "Rock and Roll," later I liked "Four Sticks" and "Misty Mountain Hop" the best, and currently I think "When the Levee Breaks" is sheer genius.

Doug said...

Edo --

Just a last "thank you" for the suggestion to re-run some of our other low-comment posts in addition to the older comic book reviews. It's been fun to see 4-5 of these "oldies" get some fair play with our larger and updated audience.

Today's the last of those, however, as next M-W-F we'll finish the Kree/Skrull War, and then a week from tomorrow... we're back!


Anonymous said...

I'm tired of the first side of Led Zeppelin IV. Side 2 though still does it for me - esp. Misty Mountain Hop.

Except for Iggy Pop, none of the rest of this does it for me.

Then again, I am not sure if there is such a thing as a "perfect album" for me, even the albums I consider the best of all time usually have at least one mediocre song on them - like a strange birth mark that reinforcing a woman's beauty.

Anonymous said...

Karen, you've made some bold choices here!
Back in Black was definitely the sonic bible to those of us who grew up in the empty wastelands of the Midwest in the early '80's.
It was our version of punk!
Iggy is a different deal, however, more of a cultivated taste. I spent years overseas in the Army introducing Iggy, Lou Reed, Kate Bush, and other artists to my less than enlightened comrades.
Hmm. I would put in an honorable mention for Iggy's Brick by Brick, Lou Reed's New York, Blue Oyster Cult's Spectres, Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, and Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic. Oh, and Cheap Trick's Dream Police.

Fred W. Hill said...

Great selections, Karen. I somehow never got into buying singles, preferring to spend my mullah on albums, but when money was tight I was cautious -- only buying studio lps that I already knew had a lot of songs I liked, such as pretty much anything by the Beatles or Fleetwood Mac's Rumours; or getting greatest hits collections. Eventually I did take greater chances, sometimes winding up with duds, with maybe only one or two really good songs, and other times finding a collection of great songs, most of which I'd never heard before. XTC's Skylarking is one I bought and initially only liked about two songs on it, but now I regard it as one of my favorites. But trying to whittle a list of my all time favorites down to just five would be difficult for me and whatever I come up with today may be different a month from now. Today's list, just off the top of my head: 1. Revolver by the Beatles; 2. Who's Next; 3. After the Gold Rush by Neil Young; 4. Armed Forces by Elvis Costello; 5. The Bends by Radiohead.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to mention the Who! Who's Next. That's gotta be in the top five somewhere.

david_b said...

On a lark purely as a hip-shoot list, I'll provide my perfect albums for an extended island stay..:

1) Traveling Wilburys Vol 1
2) Sticky Fingers by the Stones
3) White Album by the Fabs
4) Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd by the Monkees
5) Revolver by the Fabs

And I'll throw in Exile on Main Street in case there's more space on my iPod.

Edo Bosnar said...

Ah, quit it, Doug! You're makin' me blush again...

Another thing I thought of as well: Karen's caveat emptor point about albums also reminded me that one of the first albums I bought with my own money was Billy Squier's Don't Say No. I got pretty sick of the two hit songs on that album ("In the Dark" and "The Stroke") pretty soon afterward, and the rest of that album was really ... well, I'll be polite and say unmemorable. Anyway, the 13 year-old me learned a valuable lesson about buying albums after that.

And since everybody else seems to be chiming in with their own top 5 lists, here's mine (and like Karen, and to counter Osvaldo's observation, I don't think there's even one remotely mediocre track on any of these):
Santana - Abraxas (really any of his first four albums, but this one is particularly perfect to me)
Buzzcocks - A Different Kind of Tension
Joan Armatrading - The Key
Yes - Fragile
Robbie Robertson - his untitled debut solo album.
(And because I find a top 5 list a bit limiting, I'll add that pretty much any of those, except Abraxas, can be replaced with either Television - Marquee Moon or Billy Joel's 52nd Street.)

david_b said...

Actually listening to 'Emotional Rescue' (full album) on youtube now. Granted it's hit-miss left-overs sandwiched between 'Some Girls' and 'Tattoo You' but hey, even on those 'not-quite-memorable' albums, you find some real gems.

'She's So Cold' was the FIRST song and video from the Stones I fell in love with.., just an awesome cut.

Seriously, tt's those 'Not-a-classic-album-so-I'll-play-it-sparingly' albums that'll surprise you and provide the most entertainment sometimes.

Doug said...

U2's The Joshua Tree is solid throughout, with stand-outs for me being Bullet the Blue Sky and Running to Stand Still.

Nice mention of Cheap Trick's Dream Police -- I played that one often, along with REO Speedwagon's You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish and Rush's Permanent Waves. I don't know that they'd completely hold up now, but for adolescent Doug in the late '70's they were about worn out.

A few years earlier, it was Rock 'n' Roll Over by KISS that seemed glued to my turntable. As a young member of the KISS Army, there wasn't a bad track on that one.

Edo, my sister had Billy Joel's The Stranger; I don't think I've ever heard 52nd Street all the way through, but I'd definitely give a nod toward The Stranger.


Anonymous said...

My list would be something like:

Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder
OK Computer - Radiohead
Remain in the Light - The Talking Heads
Sign o' the Times - Prince
Blue - Joni Mitchell

Jeez, I didn't even put any Beatles on there. This is hard. None of those records are "pefect" though - maybe OK Computer comes closest, but it would not be my favorite of these five.

david_b said...

Doug, we may have to do a Cheap Trick column. I've never been a big fan, but I do have their hits on my iPod.

I really enjoy their cover of 'Magical Mystery Tour' along their other gems.

I'm currently looking for 'Heaven Tonight' or 'Budokan' album covers in nice condition to frame up in my man-cave.

Just for 'pure musical attitude' sake, along with my Ramones and 'Hard Days Night' covers and bluesman posters.

Anonymous said...

Of course then I want to add other (near) perfect albums like:

By All Means Necessary - Boogie Down Productions
Fear of a Black Planet - Public Enemy
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots - The Flaming Lips
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
Joshua Judges Ruth - Lyle Lovett

Steve Does Comics said...

Let's see...

The ones that first leap to mind are:

Get Happy by Elvis Costello.

Venus and Mars by Wings.

Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross by PM Dawn.

El Camino by the Black Keys.

Kim Wilde by Kim Wilde.

Doc Savage said...

Forever Changes by Love

Revolver by Beatles

Pet Sounds by Beach Boys

Mr. Tambourine Man by Byrds

Blonde on Blonde by Dylan

some of the very few LPs where I don't skip any tracks

Karen said...

Yay! Comments!

This post fared much better four years later. And it's fun to see Edo back again.

I would also include Revolver as a perfect album, as some of you did. I also think Sticky Fingers is a good choice, although you might make a case for any Stones album from 1968-1972. Sign o' the Times was an album I used to play a lot years ago and another good choice. Certainly my favorite of Prince's. How about the Ramones' first album, The Ramones?

Anonymous said...

Some good stuff mentioned here; the ones that immediately come to mind for me are Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust..." and "Germ Free Adolescents" by X-Ray Spex...there's not a bad song on either album!

Mike W.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yay, I'm back again! Wait, where was I?

Doug, The Stranger is a solid album, but if you like Joel, you should really give 52nd Street a listen (which is pretty easy, since I just checked and found that the entire album is posted on YouTube). I just love the jazzy sound of most of the tracks, and like I said, there's not a dud in the lot.
And I agree with pretty much everyone else here: Revolver is truly a perfect album; it's my favorite by the Beatles, followed very, very closely by Rubber Soul.

Anonymous said...

Revolver is basically a perfect album. I will give you that.

It it is almost like it is not fair to include the Beatles b/c they are just in another category. :)

But I don't think Rubber Soul is nearly as good. I always skip the simultaneously saccharine and maudlin "In My Life," and I am not a fan of "Nowhere Man" or "Michelle." I do love a lot of singles from that era that didn't end up on albums like "Rain" and "The Inner Light"

Anonymous said...

I think Karen's point about albums, vinyl albums, is very valid. During the 60s to mid 70s it was almost unheard of to have 40 minutes of music. Everybody knew if you tried, the sound quality would just go down the crappy. You could pull albums from the 60 that had 10 to 12 songs but they would all be 2:58 and less, a three minute song, get out of here with that crazy talk. Then came improvements and the now standard 20 minutes to a side that we grew up with. But that's not why I called.....

My perfect 5, in no particular order, would be U2 October, Toni Childs Stop Your Sobbing, Prince Purple Rain, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Hard Promises, and Queen A Night At The Opera.

Edo, that's what you gotta love about youtube. With some of the albums that people suggest, you can now click on over and give them a listen.

Matt, I listened to Her Satanic Majesty's Request at work. I didn't hate it, it's staying on my iPod but I'm not sure when I'll listen to it again.

Leroy Jenkins, what might make a good topic someday is debut albums. If I had to start listing top 5 debut albums: The Cars, The Pretenders, Boston, Chicago Sade all started with some really strong offerings.

Singles: I will say this about that, I loved when a band would put a song on the B side that was not on the album. U2, especially with their 12 inch offerings, and Tom Petty would often do that. Heartbreakers Beach Party anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

The Prowler (still using headphones, ear buds don't work with a cowl).

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it's in my top five, but David's right about that Travelling Willbury's album. Boy howdy, that was a great record! Got heavy play in my car.
"Margarita..." sublime! I might have to dig that out tonight. Also, Heart, Dreamboat Annie. Yep.

Anonymous said...

Also, Queen, The Game!

Doc Savage said...

Crosby Stills & Nash is another I can listen all the way through. Also transports the listener to a very particular era.

Redartz said...

Late to the party but still want to toss a few `requests`at the DJ.
Duran Duran:Rio
Kraftwerk: Computer World
Joni Mitchell: The Hissing of Summer Lawns
Steely Dan: The Royal Scam
Beatles: Help!

All the above were greivously worn down on my turntable over the years. That was one big draw to cd.`s at the time: no deterioration!

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