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And Now, For Something Completely Different

August 13th, 2010 by 
PK

... goes the famous Monty Python line, and I hope that this article doesn't disappoint!  Everyone needs an article about music at some point.  Here's rock and roll from an angle you may have never considered.

The Mission: Introduce a friend who’s been living in a cave to rock and roll, three albums at a time.  Even he (she?) couldn’t help but be exposed to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, so you can give him other material.  You have five care packages available, with spots for three albums each.  No greatest hits albums. Also, write your friend a letter telling him what you found hard to leave out and what you had no problem removing.

This article includes controversial opinions from Paul (PK) and Cameron (CD), and more than 2500 words.  Argue with this!

The Mission: Introduce a friend who’s been living in a cave to rock and roll, three albums at a time.  Even he couldn’t help but be exposed to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, so you can give him other material.  You have five care packages available, with spots for three albums each.  No greatest hits albums. Also, write your friend a letter telling him what you found hard to leave out and what you had no problem removing.

Set 1:

PK:

Led Zeppelin IV, Led Zeppelin, 1971
37 million record sales has to mean something, especially when you take a look at the track list.  IV, also commonly referred to as “Zoso” for its mysterious (lack of a) title, is eight tracks without a weak one in the bunch, and includes classic rock staples “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll”, and a little number called “Stairway to Heaven”.  Wow.
The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973
If someone didn’t have any rock albums at this point in time, it would be a crime not to include this in the first set.  Even though Dark Side takes a (hardcore fan) hit for not featuring the singing and songwriting of Syd Barret, the album is still quintessential Floyd, from the track “Time” to the classic humorous song, “Money”.  Definitely deserves an inclusion.
Ten, Pearl Jam, 1991
Although many will point to Vs. as a better example of Pearl Jam’s (nee Mookie Blaylock’s) artistic talents, Ten was the album that launched a thousand voices (possibly quite literally).  When Eddie Vedder brought his “golden baritone” to Pearl Jam’s hard-rocking debut, he helped put ‘grunge’ on the map with his Seattle neighbor Kurt Cobain from Nirvana.  “Once”, “Even Flow”, “Alive”... and that’s just the first three tracks!  Enjoy the grunge, buddy!

CD:

The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973
Easily Pink Floyd’s best album (although some still latch on to The Wall), this album can safely be regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. To me, this would be the best album of the 1970s and spans the great depth of Pink Floyd’s appeal, from the melodic saxophone on “Us and Them” to the guitar solo of “Money” or the vocal solo in “The Great Gig in the Sky”.
Note: The entire song “Money” is written in 7/4 time signature. (Count the beats up to seven). They planned on having the guitar solo maintain the same rhythm, but David Gilmour could not get any of the timings correct; he was too used to playing in 4/4! So, as the drum roll that precedes the solo finishes, the song jumps to 4/4 so Gilmour can play his famous solo.
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, 1975
Bruce Springsteen’s breakout album had two charting singles: “Born to Run” and “Tenth-Avenue Freezeout”. But, it is in the album’s second half where it takes its place as one of the greatest in rock history. Top to bottom, the best album of Bruce Springsteen’s and Clarence Clemons’s careers. Again, a very solid album with saxophone.
Vs., Pearl Jam, 1993
Some would choose Pearl Jam’s debut Ten to be their greatest album, but the Seattle-based band set their act apart with their stellar follow-up. All six of the album’s singles charted top 40 on the Modern Rock chart (which surprisingly did not include one of their better known songs, “Rearview Mirror”). With over 950,000 albums sold in its opening week, Vs. held this record for over five years.

Set 2:

PK:

Hotel California, The Eagles, 1976
Even though the Dude of Big Lebowski fame hates them, the Eagles are a part of the American Music heritage.  This is their first album with (eventual solo success) Joe Walsh, and includes songs like “Life in the Fast Lane” and their most famous song, “Hotel California”.
Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith, 1975
Even though they were formed 3,000 miles or so from the Eagles, I had to stay in America for the second album of this set.  Aerosmith put out tons of good material, but they are best represented by Toys in the Attic.  I’ll listen to “Dream On” over “Sweet Emotion” any day, but “Walk this Way” gets this album extra points due to its later cover by rap group Run-D.M.C.
OK Computer, Radiohead, 1997
While some fans will be angry I picked OK Computer over Kid A, this reviewer is pretty handcuffed here...  Tell me, would “Everything in its Right Place” and “Idioteque” make sense if Radiohead had released them before OK Computer?  I’m going with no, so enjoy “Karma Police” and “Paranoid Android”!  Also, don’t hate me for putting Radiohead before R.E.M.  I owed England an album.

CD:

Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin, 1969
Led Zeppelin’s hardest rocking-album could potentially be their greatest. What better way to introduce a newbie to hard rock than with the originals. This album featured some of their better know hits, such as “Heartbreaker” and “Whole Lotta’ Love”, but also displays some of their blues roots in “Bring it on Home”.
London Calling, The Clash, 1979
The single album that might have broken punk rock into the mainstream consciousness (for all their efforts, The Ramones might not have quite done it) would have to be London Calling. Almost every genre is touched upon in this album, and the cover art is homage to Elvis Presley’s debut album. Cool!
Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1991
Red Hot Chili Peppers had released four albums by this point, but still only managed to garner a regional name recognition. With this album, their blend of funk, rock and elements of rap broke into the mainstream. Most of their best-known earlier hits such as “Under the Bridge”, “Give it Away” and “Breaking the Girl” were on this album. One of the best longer albums as well (over 73 minutes is enough for a double album for some bands).

Set 3:

PK:

Automatic for the People, R.E.M., 1992
I suppose I telegraphed this pick, sorry about that!  I really wanted to make the argument for putting Document over People, but the only other R.E.M. album that can hang is Out of Time.  Find a weak track on Automatic; I dare you.  I can’t think of a better example of alternative rock than the album you are reading about now.  Standouts include “Drive”, “Man on the Moon”, and “Nightswimming”.
Who’s Next, The Who, 1971
An embarrassingly simple pick for what’s been a delightfully controversial topic so far.  As my esteemed colleague Cameron points out, all the biggest Who songs can be found on this record.  I don’t disagree: “Baba O’Riley”, “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.  The Who is also my pick for the ‘band that needed to exist for grunge to happen’ award.  Sidebar: how many instruments do you think were smashed during the making of this album?
Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix, 1968
At this point in my friend’s rock journey, it’s time to introduce the all-time best guitarist.  Ladyland is the last album Hendrix released with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and includes some great examples of guitar playing by the master.  “Voodoo Chile” is a must listen, and of course, the famous cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”.  My apologies to Clapton and SRV, my guitar god is Hendrix.

CD:

Who’s Next?, The Who, 1971
The Who’s best album contains most of their better known songs, such as “Baba O’Riley”, “Bargain”, and “Behind Blue Eyes”. It also contains my favorite Who song “Going Mobile”. This album was the catalyst to establishing The Who as a dominant force in the British Invasion.
Rumours, Fleetwood Mac, 1977
It takes some bands a while to strike gold with their best work, and this was Fleetwood Mac’s 11th album. With “The Chain”, “Don’t Stop”, and “Go Your Own Way”, this album went on to sell over 40 million copies worldwide. Fun fact: “Go Your Own Way” was written by lead singer Lindsey Buckingham (male) about his breakup with the backup singer on the song, Stevie Nicks.
Automatic for the People, R.E.M., 1992
During the early 1990s, alternative and college rock was becoming more mainstream as grunge rock popularized many other unrelated bands. It could be argued that R.E.M. was one such band that capitalized on this opportunity. With their eighth and best studio album, Automatic for the People established R.E.M. as a band with national appeal. Some of their most popular songs are off of this album, including “Man on the Moon” and “Drive”. But, it is in some of their lesser known songs where they truly shine: “Nightswimming”, “Monty Got a Raw Deal” and “The River”.

Set 4:

PK:

Eat a Peach, The Allman Brothers Band, 1972
A tough pick.  I waited until set 4 to give my buddy southern rock, and I can feel some anger that I didn’t include Creedance...  However, this is the Allman Brothers best non-live album, and I got to sneak another double album into the care package!  Eat a Peach was the Allman Brother’s last album with Duane Allman, who died during its recording in a motorcycle accident.  “Mountain Jam” and “Melissa” are the standouts.
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis, 1995
I tried to put Blur in the Britpop spot, but I just couldn’t pull it off.  However, Morning Glory is hard to argue against (and a little boring of a pick!).  So, take “Wonderwall”, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, and “Champagne Supernova” (and the other awesome tracks) and be happy with it!
The Stranger, Billy Joel, 1977
The Piano Man had to make my list in some form - rock and roll with a piano is always a nice twist.  Six weeks at number 2 also backs up the choice... and would you want to live in a world without “Movin’ Out”, “Just the Way You Are”, “Only the Good Die Young”, and “She’s Always a Woman”?  It’s a rhetorical question!

CD:

Boston, Boston, 1976
Boston’s debut album catapulted them into rock stardom. This album is generally regarded as their best (and perhaps only good) album, with the tracklist reading off like a greatest hits album: “Smokin’”, “More Than a Feeling”, “Peace of Mind”, “Foreplay/Long Time”. This album can safely be regarded as one of the defining albums of the 1970s.
Back in Black, AC/DC, 1980
Amongst AC/DC fans, this pick is somewhat controversial. The band’s lead singer Bon Scott died the previous year and they had considered breaking up, but then released their best-selling album with new lead man Brian Johnson. “Back in Black” and “Hell’s Bells” are some of their better known songs, but this album serves as a crash-course in Hard-Rock and an introduction to the subsequent heavy metal offshoot.
(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, Oasis, 1995
The band and the album that catapulted Britpop into the mainstream is perhaps Oasis’s best known works. Highlighted by the title song, “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova”, Oasis became an act that was imitated ad infinitum world wide.

Set 5:

PK:

Back in Black, AC/DC, 1980
Sorry I waited so long to give Australia some props!  Back in Black, now 20 years-young, is certified 22 times platinum and is the highest selling studio album made by a band (Michael Jackson can rest in peace.)  “Hells Bells”, “Back in Black”, “You Shook Me All Night Long” headline an album which has no filler.
Metallica (aka The Black Album), Metallica, 1991
I’m back in Southern California for this pick.  The Black Album happens to be Metallica’s Best Selling album and contains everything you’d like to hear from the band if you were just starting out as a rock listener.  “Enter Sandman”, “Sad But True”, and my favorite Metallica song, “Nothing Else Matters” all are pretty epic singles.
Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen, 1975
I’ve been saving this one as a closer for this list - and you’d have to be a fool not to include it in your own choices.  Would you seriously make an argument for Born in the U.S.A over this gem?  Try me.  “Born to Run”, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, and “Thunder Road” alone make this one of the best rock albums of all time.  If my buddy isn’t happy with this closer, maybe he is better off not even listening to rock?

CD:

Slowhand, Eric Clapton, 1977
I was considering putting Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan here instead, but felt it was more appropriate to get a representation of the British Blues movement. Obviously inspired from American blues artists from Chicago, Eric Clapton established his own style with his opus, Slowhand. Songs such as “Lay Down Sally” and “The Core” were powerhouse concert staples and his cover of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine” remains one of his most popular songs.
The Stranger, Billy Joel, 1977
Before he moved into more pop-based stylings, Billy Joel was the king of popular piano.  The Stranger has a great many of his classics, including “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, “Just the Way You Are” and “She’s Always a Woman”. Joel is the third-best selling solo recording artist in the United States (Garth Brooks, Elvis Presley), and his best album is appropriately excellent.
Note: “Just the Way You Are” is a song describing how Billy Joel’s first wife was beautiful to him just the way she was, flaws and all. This was followed by an acrimonious divorce in the subsequent decade.
Kid A, Radiohead, 2000
Radiohead’s followup to their immensely popular OK Computer may have surpassed it. This album hit platinum within a week in the UK. It displayed Radiohead’s experimentation and talent in such wide genres as jazz, electronic and techno music.

Hard to Leave Out:

PK:

  • Nevermind, Nirvana, 1991
  • A Night at the Opera, Queen, 1975
  • Thriller, Michael Jackson, 1982

CD:

  • Abraxas, Santana, 1970
  • What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye, 1971
  • Eat a Peach, The Allman Brothers Band, 1972

Glad to Leave Out:

PK:

  • Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses, 1987
  • Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan, 1966
  • The Velvet Underground and Nico, The Velvet Underground, 1967

CD:

  • Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys, 1966
  • The Joshua Tree, U2, 1987
  • Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan, 1966

The results: A pretty solid 15-album playlist, although certainly a different list than “What are your 15 favorite albums?” or “What are the Top 15 Albums of All Time?”.    If this cave-dwelling friend shows any interest in something on this list, it's easy to tailor a future care package around any album in the sets.  To boot, in a 15-album jukebox, either lineup would do pretty well by a wide variety of rock fans.  At some level, we would have liked to have been introduced to music in this order... Success!

What would you take out and replace?

Don't Quit Your Day Job...

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