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Ten Top Albums

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Eric Olsen asked people to post “Top Ten” lists of some sort this week. Having posted a list of “Perfect Albums” a while back, I’m half tempted to just beg off. I like listening to myself type, though, so I’ll post a slightly different list. Not a “top ten albums” list, but something like a “ten top albums” list– top albums in various (mostly flippant) categories from my collection of CD’s.

  • Top Album That Should’ve Sold a Billion Copies, But Didn’t No question here, it’s 1965 by the Afghan Whigs. This is the only overlap with the “Perfect Album” list. Featuring their trademark mix of blue-eyed soul crooning and alternarock skronk, with the angst turned down from 11, this is the Afghan Whigs party album, if you can believe such a thing. Greg Dulli’s got a little wine, some Marvin Gaye, and a kick-ass backing band– buy the album, enjoy the party.

  • Top Album That I Was Faintly Embarrassed to Buy in a Store. Take Off Your Pants and Jacket by Blink-182. I’m over thirty, and never did own a skateboard, which puts me outside this band’s demographic by about fifteen years, but for some reason, I really enjoy a lot of the pop-punk bands that I end up associating with annoying skateboarders (an association that’s also probably five years out of date. Whatever.). These guys are really good at what they do– “Rock Show” is pure pop gold– but they always throw one cringe-worthy song on for the amusement of their fourteen-year-old core audience (“Happy Holidays, You Bastard,” which appears to exist solely for the amusement value of saying “I’ll never talk to you again,/ Unless your dad will suck me off”), and I hate the “So, you’re buying this for… your kids?” look from the tattooed high-schooler at the record store. I’ll order the next one of these I buy on-line.

  • Top Obscure Album Bought Due to Vague Personal Connections. This one’s a tie, between an Acoustic Junction album that appears to be titled Acoustic Junction (which I can’t find on Amazon), and Play Each Morning Wild Queen by the Flash Girls. The former I bought in a Borders in DC, having seen the band play a couple of times back when I was in college, once in an art museum (one of the band members was also a cousin of somebody I played rugby with). The second Kate bought after we saw the Flash Girls perform at Boskone, and is notable for featuring a couple of funny songs written by Neil Gaiman. Also, noted fantasy author Emma Bull is one-half of the Flash Girls…

  • Top Album Bought Because of an In-Store Performance. Awake by John Wesley Harding. I wandered into Borders looking for something else, and John Wesley Harding was playing in the record section, down in the basement. I was curious to see what sort of music you’d get from a guy who named himself after a Dylan album, so I went and listened. He was a very funny guy, and didn’t seem at all distressed by the fact that he was playing to a crowd of about fifteen people in the basement of a bookstore in Gaithersburg. It’s a good album, too, but I would’ve bought it just for the show, and the rant about how Titanic is the dumbest movie ever.

  • Top Obscure Album Bought on the Strength of One Song and an Interesting Band Name. A very competitive category, this– Fountains of Wayne are strong contenders (though I was tipped into buying that one by the song titles “Leave the Biker” and “Please Don’t Rock Me Tonight”)– but I’ll give the nod to Mono by the German band Fury in the Slaughterhouse (which is probably all one big word in German), because I can also give them Worst Follow-Up to an Obscure Album I Liked for The Hearing and the Sense of Balance. The former, I bought because WHFS was playing the single “Every Generation Got Its Own Disease” quite a bit, and it was a nicely moody generic-alternative song that fit my mood well at the time. The rest of the record turned out to be pretty good, so I bought the follow-up, which was really dire (or at least I remember it that way– I haven’t listened to it since just after I bought it).

  • Top Album Bought on the Strength of One Song That Sounded Nothing Like the Rest of the Album, Damnit. In the same vein, this award goes to Rocket by a guy who billed himself as “Primitive Radio Gods.” You know the song I mean– that one with the B.B. King sample (“I been downhearted, baby/ Ever since the day we met”) and the faintly dream-like lyrics. The rest of the album is nothing like that, and is, in fact, amazingly awful. The “Parental Warning– Explicit Lyrics” sticker should’ve been a tip-off. Buying this was a huge mistake, but still, the one song is really good…

  • Top Album Bought On the Strength of a Recommendation in the Back of a Book. Shoot Out the Lights by Richard and Linda Thompson. At the end of my copy of War for the Oaks by the aforementioned Emma Bull, there’s a list of albums that she listened to while writing the book (which is about a rock band’s battle with Faerie). I liked the book, and it had some great bits about music in it, so I looked for some of the items on the list the next time I was in a record store. This was the only one I found, but it’s very good indeed. Weirdly, I still haven’t bought any other albums by the two of them. I really ought to. (OBHookForComments: Which one?)

  • Top Fifty-Dollar Box Set. Hitsville U.S.A.: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971. OK, this is cheating a bit, as I don’t own a lot of box sets, but I really ought to have one vaguely serious category on the list. Plus, I’ve been listening to some of it in the car for the last few days, in an effort to improve my mood (Animals, exam grading, and electoral politics had increased my normal level of bitter cynicism to dangerous levels). And really, sometimes a little Motown is just what you need– a flash back to a time when pop music was just pop music, a celebration of (mostly teenage) love (requited and otherwise), without the need to make an Important Statement in every song. And there aren’t many people who can raise dippy pop songcraft to the level of Art the way Motown’s team of writers and performers could.

And that’s probably enough albums, Amazon links, and weird personal confessions to make a point of some sort, so I’ll stop there.

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About Chad Orzel

  • Shoot Out the Lights is my favorite Linda and Richard album, though all of ’em have their pleasures. Richard followed Lights up with perhaps his greatest solo album, Hand of Kindness, which is also worth tracking down.

  • The Theory

    “I hate the “So, you’re buying this for… your kids?” look from the tattooed high-schooler at the record store. I’ll order the next one of these I buy on-line.”

    Eh, don’t worry about what tattooed highschoolers think. Their opinion shouldn’t matter to you. Do what you like. It’s the joy of being human.


  • The only Richard and Linda Thompson album I have is “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” but I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.