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.
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.