My task here is to ferret out the 100 greatest albums of this generation, operationally defined as including everything released from 1985 to 2005 – the present.
Let’s narrow it down some. This does not mean the most popular albums.
It also does not mean the most influential. That’s ultimately judging based on someone else’s opinions of what was good. Besides, being influential isn’t automatically good. Madonna’s influential- but her influence is the creation of Britney Spears and such.
Nor is it a democratic or egalitarian undertaking. I didn’t care about making sure that I represented this or that genre, or that I got stuff from all different people.
I wanted the 100 best albums, the ones most worth listening to again and again on their own weight. Mostly that means songwriting, stuff with actual worthwhile melodies under it. Lyrics and rhythm and harmonies and fancy guitarists are great, and they count. But they’re all a waste if there’s no song under it. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, and it also don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got a frickin’ T-U-N-E. Thus, you might frame this as the best collections of songs.
Also, you might notice multiple entries by several artists. This is not some egalitarian exercise, where we divide up the awards to make sure everybody gets a slice. Let the big dog eat, I say. Looking back to compile this listing, on the song merits it is clear that Prince and Elvis Costello are rock ruling. That is, they have written a BUNCH of classic songs over the last two decades.
Since we’re looking at albums here, I resisted including records based just on one song. Otherwise, Universal Mother would be here for just the sake of the awesome power of “Fire on Babylon.” I enjoyed excluding the extremely overrated REM, but if it were just for a song at a time, Out of Time would be here for the sake of “Losing My Religion,” which even an REM skeptic such as myself must admit rules.
As to being “true and objective”: The title here is partly a joke. Obviously there are a lot of subjective values of taste. There are plenty of good acts whose quality I recognize, but just don’t turn me on. Pink Floyd comes to mind.
But this title is only partly a joke, because there are some identifiable truths. There are quantifiable examinations of skill and technique. For example, I’d say it is not merely opinion but fact that Jackie Wilson was a much better singer than, say, Kris Kristofferson.
The saying goes, “There’s no accounting for taste.” Well, that is precisely the job of a critic. I struggle not just to say that I like or don’t like something, but to try to explain what I see in it- to give an account for my taste.
Here then are the 100 greatest collections of songs of the last 20 years:
1. The Lion and the Cobra Sinead O’Connor
Sinead has managed to make a lot of people hate her. OK fine, but she’s been a visionary artist. There’s no denying the skill of the crafting of these songs, nor the passion that illuminates them. Every single song from her debut album is a classic, and you’ve never heard another production sound like this. Personal awe inspiring favorite: “Just Like U Said It Would B.” This will go head to head with any album in the rock era.
2. Around the World in a Day Prince
As a whole, this collection might be described as psychedelic pop soul. You’ve got your Hendrix-y guitars in “America” and the classic “Temptation” where Prince talks to God and wrestles the death angel. What more could you want? Well, also this has the absolute top textbook example of a Prince pop song- “Raspberry Beret” of course.
3. Graceland Paul Simon
This has not only Simon’s classic tunewriting, but beautiful rich arrangements with the South African musicians, most notably the unique choral tones of Ladysmith Black Mambaza. The title song is my personal all time favorite secular hymn.
4. The Delivery Man Elvis Costello
The country side of his musical personality brings forth Elvis’ most straightforward and emotionally direct songs. Not that you’d mistake this for a Merle Haggard record, but the country influence brings forth some of his best songs here. Particularly, this includes the direct emotions of “Either Side of the Same Town” and the chilling cold of “The Name of This Thing Is Not Love.” He also gets a couple of really exceptional rock grooves on “Button My Lip” and “Bedlam.”
5. The Man with the Blue Post Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar Peter Case
This is just a heller collection of songs, starting with the dangerous romantic gallop of “Put Down the Gun.” Also, if I ever wanted to become a hobo, “Travellin’ Light” would be the first thing I put on my iPod before I hit the door. David Hidalgo of Los Lobos added some tasty guitar textures to what was already going to be a really hot album.
6. American Recordings Johnny Cash
Late in the game, Johnny Cash recorded the greatest one album of his whole career in his living room. Thank heavens that Rick Rubin had the good sense to just sit Johnny down at home with a guitar, and turn on a tape recorder. The murder ballad “Delia” may be the most popular song here, but this also includes the definitive recording of the country standard “Tennessee Stud.” Personally, I’d say that “The Man Who Couldn’t Cry” at the end of this record may be the finest one moment of his whole career.
7. Bad Michael Jackson
Inverting the Stones classic, it’s the song not the singer. Forget all his personal crap, and just listen to this amazing record. The basic songs are outstanding, but he makes arrangements and production sounds that will knock you out if you can listen to them with fresh ears. If you can make a record like this, I will then acquiesce when you declare yourself to be the King of Pop. Plus, if you listen closely now, you can really hear the danger signals flashing in the emotional depths of “Dirty Diana” and “Leave Me Alone” and especially the really freakish “Another Part of Me.”
8. Little Earthquakes Tori Amos
Tori came out with her conservatory musical training and a taste for Led Zeppelin, which coupled with all kind of freak personal demons inspired a beautifully harrowing musical vision. From the compelling bumble bee piano riff of “Silent All These Years” to the masochistic bloodletting of “Crucify,” this album rules.
9. Get Behind Me Satan The White Stripes
I’m writing this barely a month after the initial album release, so perhaps I’ll look back on this rating next year and shake my head- but I don’t think so. This record has the kind of real musical values, the real songs and playing that will bear the hundred or so listenings I’ve already given it, and still sells. I’m still getting new things out of the record every time I hear it, which is still daily. From the acoustic drive and odd philosophical pondering of the “Little Ghost” to the gospel piano of “I’m Lonely,” this record rocks most righteously.
10. Rumor and Sigh Richard Thompson
For starters, the driving English folk song “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” has become a bluegrass standard. Indeed, it may be the best one song of Richard Thompson’s career. Then there’s the literate and exhilirating rock of “Feel So Good.” My favorite polka song ever is “Don’t Sit On My Jimmy Shands.” Of course, I personally identify with the twisted Mr Roger’s neighborhood theme of driving down “Psycho Street.” Is this Richard Thompson’s best album ever?
11. Sign O the Times Prince
This album could just as easy as not be crowned best album of this or any generation. Song for song, this album gives the whole Prince picture spread across two albums, no filler. From the Future News Network bass pulse of the title song, to underappreciated slow jams like “Slow Love,” Prince is the Jack of all trades- and the master of them all. Can’t get enough of the hallucinatory Christian zealotry of “The Cross.” You ain’t heard anything like “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker.” Also, “Starfish and Coffee” is one of the best children’s songs ever.
12. On How Life Is Macy Gray
You can sort of hear the basic sounds of Motown and other classic r&b, but Macy has the unique voice, the strong force of personality, and the compositional skills to create a record like no other. From the seductive balladry of “I Try” to the Santanic pulse of the unapologetically homicidal “I’ve Commited Murder,” she’s a force to be reckoned with.
13. Uh Huh John Mellencamp
With due respect to John Fogerty, I’ll take Mellencamp over Creedence. He rocks just a little harder, got a sharper band, and a tougher emotional edge. Plus, the Little Bastard had a white hot pen at this point. Get past the multiple immortal big fat hits at the front of the record, and you get nearly as good a songs on the back side. “Lovin’ Mother for Ya” remains a personal fave.
14. Appetite for Destruction Guns n Roses
Has any band ever laid out a more compelling statement of purpose than the first song of the first GnR record? “Welcome to the Jungle” isn’t even the best song on the album. For a hard rock record, I’ll take this even over the classic Zoso album. Specifically, I’d put “Paradise City” head to head with even “Stairway to Heaven.” Yes, they were just that good.
15. Southern Accents Tom Petty
This may be the best collection of songs Petty ever came up with, and it’s certainly the richest and most varied sonic palette. Of course, he gets a good head start on that with the unique Southern psychedelia of “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” But nearly as impressive, where’d he come up with the flava of “It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me”?
16. Solitude Standing Suzanne Vega
Ms Vega slipped us one of the most compelling singer-songwriter collections ever. Even besides the hit “Luka” there was a peculiar power behind these songs such that even the minor acapella “Tom’s Diner” motif years later provided the soul for a surprisingly good hip hop remix. Also haunting, the fancy poultry parks climactic chorus, “backs are cheap and wings are nearly free.”
17. Faith George Michael
Pop music just doesn’t get much better than this. Before he started lingering in bathrooms, Monsieur Michael was a great pop song craftsman. There’s no denying the popabilly perfection of the title track, nor especially the dramatic pulse of “Father Figure.” Classic after classic.
18. King of America Elvis Costello
This usually gets described as Elvis’ “country” album. Some kind of English folk album would be closer, Fairport Convention or something. It certainly doesn’t sound like Hank Williams or Merle Haggard. Anyway, it’s a heller batch of acoustic songs. The mundane child abuse of “Little Palaces” drives one of the most compelling songs of his career, and then there’s the Johnny Cash worthy rockabilly of “The Big Light.” Somedays, this is considered Elvis’ best album.
19. Rhythm of the Saints Paul Simon
As the follow up to Graceland, his focused world music approach lacked the novelty. Plus, it lacked all the interesting political drama. But it’s nearly as good a batch of songs, and the South Ameican musicians give this a unique flavor. I dare you to resist the drum solo that opens the lead single, “The Obvious Child.” The voluptuous nightmare of “Can’t Run But” may haunt you for life.
20. TTD’s Vibrator Terence Trent D’Arby
The floor fell out of the TTD market after his first album, but for the life of me I can’t understand why. The distinct rock voice of the title track should have been accepted as a modern AOR classic. Also, if Otis Redding had lived to hear “Holding On To You” he might have died of jealousy. Then there’s the peculiar musical wit of “CYFMLAY.”
21. Parade Prince
Senor Nelson whipped up a totally killer set of songs which are all different, yet go together to make a whole even greater than the sum of the parts. Even the sequencing works. The flow of the first three songs in particular creates a great effect. He never wrote a tighter set of songs, particularly including “Kiss.”
22. Like a Prayer Madonna
This was the best album she ever created. It has stronger tunes and more breadth of style than any other. This was the height of her development as a writer, shortly before she decided she didn’t need to bother, and rapidly devolved into nonsense like “Justify My Love.” The gospel beauty of the title song transcends the ginned up video controversy. “Oh Father” and “Keep It Together” are really about something emotionally. Plus, you have to love the guitar psychedlia Prince adds to the concluding “Act of Contrition.”
23. Lovesexy Prince
Where does he come up with this stuff? This sounds like nothing else ever, features some of his most experimental song structures and production sounds, and still works as catchy pop music. “Alphabet Street” totally rules, and “Anna Stasia” may be his best dark night of the soul. This record has been often described as “pastel,” partly because of the album cover. Mmm, delicious pastels.
24. Cutting Their Own Groove Big Daddy
In theory, this was something of a joke band, covering modern pop songs in vintage 50s styles. However, they could really sing and play, and the recombinations open up the songs in unimagined ways. For one thing, it turns out that “Ice Ice Baby” is perfectly good Chuck Berry car song. You have to hear this thing to believe it.
25. Whatever and Ever Amen Ben Folds Five
“Brick” is the only major hit song I know of about an abortion. But if the dad felt this bad about it, imagine how the “choice” must have felt. I’m just saying. Ben Folds fans also really enjoy the self-consciously childish vitriol of “Song for the Dumped.”
26. Crowded House Crowded House
Neil Finn isn’t a particular compelling rock and roll personality, but there’s no arguing with the album that included both “Something So Strong” and perhaps the greatest pop song EVER, “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
27. Scarecrow John Mellencamp
As a right wingnut, I never bought Mellencamp’s politics, the “blood on the plow” and such. Yeah, but I’ll listen to your silly politics if it comes wraped in songs as hot as “Rain on the Scarecrow.” Plus, people will still be playing “Small Town” on the computer chips planted in their heads to take the place of iPods 100 years from now.
28. Press On June Carter Cash
June Carter Cash was the real deal right to the end. There’s a memorable earthy tune anchoring the recriminations of “Losing You.” The freakiest thing, though, was “Tiffany Anastasia Lowe,” written for her granddaughter. It’s a classic Carter family song, complete with autoharp- about Quentin Tarantino. What a joker she was, among many other things.
29. Team America World Police Original Soundtrack
These are satirical songs written for a puppet movie- but this was in fact one of the strongest couple of collections of original songs to come out the whole year. Plus, if you pay attention, you’d be surprised how much emotional depth and ambivalent nuance is buried in stuff like “Freedom Isn’t Free” and even the Team America theme song.
30. Achtung Baby U2
Some days this seems like their best album. The hard funk of “Mysterious Ways” never fails to satisfy, and even Johnny Cash could only marginally improve on Bono’s rebuking “One.”
31. Fear of a Black Planet Public Enemy
Cheesy faux-Panthers posturing aside, PE and the bomb squad conjured up an albums worth of real songs. A few dated lyrical references will need re-written, but people will be covering “Fight the Power” years from now. “911 Is a Joke” is a real, legitimate pop song- and a very memorable one. And folks are STILL talking about “Welcome to the Terrordome.”
32. Storms of Life Randy Travis
Randy Travis has a really beautiful baritone vocal instrument, and he knows how to play it. I’d put him head to head as a vocalist even with the Possum. “Diggin’ Up Bones” in particular is just a classic piece of modern country songwriting.
33. Graffiti Bridge Original Soundtrack (Prince)
This may be Prince’s most criminally underappreciated album. “Joy in Repetition” is as good a slow jam as the man ever did. The voices of other performers in the movie to sing some of these songs broadened his palette nicely. Dig big momma singing “Melody Cool.” Sweet. There’s at least a half dozen stone classics on this, including “Tick Tick Bang” and “Thieves in the Temple.”
34. Copperhead Road Steve Earle
Before he became an icon of radical chic, Steve Earle used to be a really good songwriter and country singer. This title song was the dangerous backroads jam of the year, and “Nothing But a Child” could bring you to tears with simple beauty.
35. Whitey Ford Sings the Blues Everlast
He got to working in some acoustic instruments and real songwriting and singing, to the extent that I didn’t realize it was a hip hop act when he played Saturday Night Live. “What It’s Like” and “Ends” are both highly memorable songs, with hooks to draw you into some tough emotional territory. The whole album is well written.
36. Raw Like Sushi Neneh Cherry
Don Cherry’s girl came busting out with a beautiful hip hoppin’ pop record with some good jazzy playing. “Kisses on the Wind” is one of the most beautiful, wistful coming of age songs in pop music, with a kickass Latin groove. The whole album is outstanding, song for song.
37. Flood They Might Be Giants
TMBG had a real sharp Jonathan Richman thing going at their height, and this was it. “Birdhouse in Your Soul” has just that spiritual openess that was the point of classic Jonathan. Then there’s just the pure childish singalong joy of the unforgettable “Instanbul” and the struggles of the “Particle Man.”
38. Elephant The White Stripes
Heller rock and roll album, particularly the anguished Queen inflected raw but baroque blues of “There’s No Home for You Here Girl.” That “Bohemian Rhapsody” inspired bridge is just breath taking. Also, take the time to parse out the folksy campfire closing song with drummer/ex Meg playing referee between Jack and his new English girlfriend, “Holly Golightly.”
39. Van Lear Rose Loretta Lynn
The tough blues stylings of producer and duet partner Jack White make this the jammingest jammin’ Loretta Lynn record ever. Stories like the Van Lear Rose are what country music is all about. The Grammy winning “Portland Oregon” really sounds good driving down the back roads. High point of inspired freaky deakiness of her whole career: check out her “Little Red Shoes.” It’s practically psychedelic.
40. Vivid Living Colour
I don’t even care about the guitar heroics, but you can’t deny the force of “The Cult of Personality.” That just works on every level, and most of the album’s nearly as good.
41. Junior High Junior Brown
This is just a five song EP, but it’s all killer, no filler. This’ll set you on the right Junior Brown path. “Highway Patrol” rocks in a righteous honky tonkin’ way, as does the witty “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead.” Plus he’s got the weepy ballad to show off his baritone, a good instrumental showcase, and even a bit of island flavor.
42. Dream of the Blue Turtles Sting
Sting grows wearisome as a personality, but this record has a lot of great songs. “Fortress Around Your Heart” rates pretty high, as does the “Moon Over Bourbon Street.” You can’t very well discount “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.”
43. Use Your Illusion I Guns n Roses
You have to love a great GnR ballad like “Dust n Bones,” but this has all kinds of great songs. Even prime time Mick and Keef would have been proud to claim the honky-tonkin’ classic kiss off of “You Ain’t the First.” And that’s even before you get to the big epic hits “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain.”
44. Little Sparrow Dolly Parton
Dolly fills out some of her best songwriting and fanciest picking with the spine tingling vocal harmonies of, among others, Alison Kraus. The title cut is as good as anything the woman ever made. “I Get a Kick Out of You” also makes surprisingly effective bluegrass.
45. A Mighty Wind Original Soundtrack
Perhaps partly from knowing the context of it in the movie, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” still breaks my heart every time I hear it- and that must be often. “The Good Book Song” really blows my mind. It’s really catchy and clever. I could almost imagine that song showing up at some nice Protestant vacation bible school setting. These are some excellent songs.
46. Transverse City Warren Zevon
This was something of a sci-fi concept album- though he didn’t run the idea into the ground as some would do. The title song in particular has a unique sound and texture that makes it special. Also, dig the underappreciated classic “The Long Arm of the Law.” That’s just compulsively singable.
47. The Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby Terence Trent D’Arby
TTD, now known as Sananda Matreiya turned in a classic soul/pop debut album. Every single song here is unique and truly outstanding. The novelty of the arrangement of “Wishing Well” only highlights what was already a breakthrough song. “Sign Your Name” was the slow jam of the year- give or take some Prince, anyway. Underappreciated track: Dig the soul psychedelia of “Rain.”
48. Brian Wilson Brian Wilson
One might reasonably argue that the performance and production of Brian Wilson’s long awaited solo debut album was a bit stiff. But you couldn’t argue that the songs weren’t memorable or that they were bloodless. This is easily the best Beach Boys album since Pet Sounds. “Love and Mercy” is a major classic song with healing powers. Dig also the extended experimental Western psychedelia of “Rio Grande.” Coo-ool!
49. Under the Pink Tori Amos
About every single song on this album is a unique sound achievement. She had some sharp songwriting, and inventive playing. The screeching heresy of the atonal guitar makes the feminist teasing of “God” into one of the top jams of the year. “Cornflake Girl” also kicks a particularly strong groove, sounding like a worthy companion piece to play alongside Elton’s classic “Burn Down the Mission.” They somehow belong together. Bonus points for the psychodrama of “The Waitress.”
50. Metallica Metallica
Heavy metal values don’t mostly appeal to me. I’m not particularly a Metallica fan. But there’s no denying this major album. The hard romanticism of “Nothing Else Matters” rates it as my favorite song here, but it’s an inspired record overall.
51. O Brother Where Art Thou Original Soundtrack
The heightened interest in “mountain music” in recent years is a sign of hope for our sick culture. These folks are all about keeping it real. Real singing and playing of instruments. I’ll note that some of the contents were recorded prior to the time frame of this list, but Ralph Stanley singing “O Death” is as real as it gets. Alison Kraus et al did some real worthwhile singing and picking.
52. The Trouble with Being Myself Macy Gray
For starters, “When I See You” is a better Motown song than anybody at Motown has made in twenty years. “It Ain’t the Money” makes a pretty funky little trick bag, or is that a tricky little funk bag? Special unheralded stone gem: you really must listen repeatedly and closely to the junkie bliss out of “Happiness.”
53. Absolute Torch and Twang KD Lang
For one thing, KD is a better singer than Patsy Cline- and that’s pretty good. Besides which she is more country than Patsy. KD and Ben Mink also did some outstanding songwriting. There’s a lot of good hooks and compelling emotional openess to stuff like “Pulling Back the Reins” and “Nowhere to Stand.” Those are both modern classics.
54. Peter Case Peter Case
Barger chillen grow up embroiled in the mystery of the disappearing lovers who took a fateful “Walk in the Woods.” Then there’s the cold requiem for the death of friend’s soul in a “Small Town Spree.” I”m sure that when the lost one gets to hell, he’ll want some cold rockin’ “Icewater.”
55. I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got Sinead O’Connor
Obviously Sinead made the best slow jam of the year with “Nothing Compares 2U.” It’s also the only time I’ve ever heard anyone outsing Prince on his own song. The whole album is great. Dig on the blisfully driving bloody date theme “Jump in the River.” But don’t overlook the freaky graveyard hip hop of “I Am Stretched on Your Grave.”
56. Paul’s Boutique Beastie Boys
For starters, this represents a pretty complete artistic re-creation from the sound of their classic debut. I personally most favor the grinding descent of the karmic riff of “Car Thief.” Of course, “Shake Your Rump” rates pretty high as well, especially when you have fever, the kind where the only medicine is more cowbell.
57. Naked Talking Heads
As to melodies and songs, I’d rate this album second only maybe to Fear of Music in the Heads catalog. This might be their very best record, though, factoring in bonus points for the emotional directness. Rather than the abstract genteel fantasy of “Don’t Worry About the Government,” Byrne is more directly wringing his hands, denouncing the “Blind” sheep following some demagogue. “Nothing But Flowers” makes an especially pretty lament, and astutely exploits a note of internal intellectual discord to great artistic end.
58. The Joshua Tree U2
This got run into the ground at radio, but the better tracks just soar into the stratosphere. “Where the Streets Have No Name” truly is heavenly. This was a megahit album that actually deserved the status.
59. Flowers in the Dirt Paul McCartney
This album got the best picks from the songwriting partnership of Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello. “That Day Is Done” and “Don’t Be Careless Love” especially rate as odd, uniquely memorable songs.
60. Lies Guns n Roses
“Nice Boys” is fine, but this is here mostly for the newer acoustic material, particularly “Patience,” which is pure beauty. “One in a Million” was the rare controversial song that was actually worth the bother. Then there’s the happy singalong of “I Used to Love Her (But I Had to Kill Her).” C’mon everybody, sing along!
61. Black Album Prince
This whole album is superfunkycalifragisexi, particularly the concluding slinky sexy jam “Rock Hard in a Funky Place.” Duke Ellington would have been proud of them horns. Then there’s rap satire “Dead On It” and the infamous “Bob George.”
62. Acoustic Soul India.Arie
“Video” was an excellent single, but “Promises” definitely means the most to me. She’s real.
63. Mock Tudor Richard Thompson
As something broadly akin to classic 50s rock style, “Cooksferry Queen” and “Crawl Back” might be a good, easily digestible entry point for casual Thompson fans. Come for the simple rock, stay for the quiet psychodrama of “Hope You Like the New Me.”
64. Spike Elvis Costello
Folks have been heard bad mouthing this record in particular. But as Elvis says in the opening track, you’re nobody till everybody thinks you’re a bastard. Song for song, this thing rocks. The lynch mob thrill of “Let Him Dangle” really does it. Papa’s got a brand new tuba on “Chewing Gum.” Surely “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” ranks one of Elvis’ finest slow jams.
65. The Lonesome Jubilee John Mellencamp
John gets all backwoods and Old Testament on “Paper in Fire,” probably his best ever record. This was the best and most unique SOUND he ever got, and some of his best songs. Besides the hits, dig the chill out classic “Rooty Toot Toot.”
66. Ill Communication Beastie Boys
Mostly, heavy metal and rap are NOT two great tastes that taste great together, but play to the lesser common denominators of both genres. “Sabotage” is the major exception that proves the rule. This is a real song, hard as a rock and the best thing the Beasties ever did. Also, you can’t miss the funk bliss when you’ve got a “Sure Shot.”
67. I’m So Confused Jonathan Richman
His most, probably mostly only, influential work was in the 70s, but Jonathan has continued to pursue and perfect a unique and compelling personal acoustic rock style. For stuff this simply presented, there’s really quite a lot of nuance to this. “True Love Is Not Nice” belies notions that hes just a mushy head manchild. Most compellingly, the ghosts of hospitals past memorably haunt “I Can Hear Her Fighting With Herself.”
68. Semi-Crazy Junior Brown
Obviously Junior Brown is unfit for country radio. He’s actual country music, for chrissakes. If the “country radio” audience heard “Joe the Singing Janitor” or “Gotta Get Up Every Morning” back to back with Shania Twain or Faith Hill, some fake country artists might end up stood up against a wall and shot.
69. Good News for People Who Like Bad News Modest Mouse
At their most distinctive, the singer reflects Talking Heads melodic phrasing and David Byrne type vocal styles combined with Edge-y guitars. There’s some kind of odd optimistic nihilism (reflected nicely by the album title) that illuminates the stylistic mash, and gives it all a unique flavor. “The World at Large” has a special beauty, but dig also the theological speculation of “Bukowski”: “If God takes life, he’s an Indian giver. Who would want to be such a control freak?”
70. Blood and Chocolate Elvis Costello
The original studio performance here of “I Want You” is but the blueprint for the exorcism it becomes live, but also note the criminally under appreciated “Battered Old Bird.”
71. The Marshall Mathers LP Eminem
Most hip hop is tuneless crap, and even Eminem at his best is a mixed bag. But there’s no denying the pure vitriolic hooks of “Kill You” or the unique psychotic drama of “Kim.” Plus, resistance to the schoolyard kiddie pop of “The Real Slim Shady” is simply futile. Give in. Don’t make him kill you.
72. Songs from the Capeman Paul Simon
His big Broadway show was a flop, but it wasn’t because he didn’t write worthy songs. Plus, the whole approach and style of this material was unique for Simon or anyone else. “Adios Hermanos” makes a particularly compelling sad doo wop lament, as the Capeman heads off to death row.
73. Tunnel of Love Bruce Springsteen
In retrospect, this was the last really worthwhile Springsteen album before he devolved into tuneless tired and predictable neo-Guthrie schtick. But he had a great last shot in him. “Spare Parts” in particular still knocks me out. I’ll take this over Born in the USA anyday.
74. When I Was Cruel Elvis Costello
The title track may be the most compelling trip hop record ever, and a broader sign of Elvis continuing to push his creative boundaries well into middle age. Then there’s the freaky noir rap of “Episode of Blonde.”
75. Missundaztood Pink
These songs are really catchy, and she’s got just a sconce of punk aggression in these outstanding pop compositions. Also, she’s got the actual emotional involvement that really makes the stuff memorable, particularly on “Don’t Let Me Get Me.” Whaddya want, a rubber biscuit?
76. Sex Packets The Digital Underground
“The Humpty Dance” was just a heller P-Funk inspired goofy party groove, but these are better actual songs than anything George Clinton ever did. Clinton’s a much bigger legendary name, but I’ll take songwriting over iconhood anytime.
77. Use Your Illusion II Guns n Roses
Among other epics, this last blast of classic GnR contains their best hard song, “You Could Be Mine.” Axl’s chastising his ho for her “cocaine tongue,” but listen to his climactic coke rap. “Don’t forget to call my lawyer…” Plus, of course this features the infamous Spin magazine callout on “Get In the Ring.”
78. The Id Macy Gray
She’s got this Ray Charles thing going on with her voice that. as Eminem would say it, makes my pee-pee go da-doing-doing-doing. If she rasp/purred “Sweet Baby” in my ear, I’d be had. She wouldn’t even need the comic terror of “Gimme All Your Love or I Will Kill You.”
79. Symbol Prince
This was the last album under his Christian name before the bottom dropped out on his art and mental balance, symbolized by the symbol name and a bunch of suddenly crappy records. But here, we get “Sexy MF,” the hardest and fullest Prince jam ever. That Charlie Christian style jazz guitar solo really tops it off. Then there’s incredible apocalyptic pop of “7.”
80. Symphony or Damn Terence Trent D’Arby
It’s been at least 30 years since James Brown wrote a song as compelling or hard funkin’ as “Do You Love Me Like You Say You Do?” Lenny Kravitz would give his left nut for the rock groove as tough as “She Kissed Me.” Heck, Prince Himself would be proud to claim the tender closing ballad “Let Her Down Easy.”
81. Proxima Estacion: Esperanza Manu Chao
Except for one song, the whole album is in Spanish, thus I understand not a word. I have no clue what “Homens” is about for one, yet I don’t much care, cause this has some catchy tunes and gently charging beats that speak in a universal language. This guy is apparently actually French by birth with Spanish parents, and some kind of globe trotting political activist. Whatever. The reggae and Mexican flavors come together with the pop songcraft to make a unique confection. Perhaps because it’s the only English song, I gravitate toward the irresistable “Merry Blues.”
82. The Wind Warren Zevon
Perhaps the best song Zevon ever wrote was what he knew would be the last track on his last album. “Keep Me In Your Heart for Awhile” has a really strong effect for being so gentle and peaceful. It was good that he got chance to properly sum up and close out his “Dirty Life and Times.”
83. Loc’d After Dark Tone Loc
Apparently, Tone Loc was not a very credible rapper, in that he was not much of a violent thug. However, he has a really unique vocal instrument, and people in the back room (the future Young MC) writing him some actual memorable songs. He may not have street cred, but he made one of the most listenable pop albums in hip hop history. Besides the obvious hits, “Cheeba Cheeba” is a stoner classic. Heck, even “The Homies” comes out pretty sweet.
84. Listen Without Prejudice, Vol 1 George Michael
Unfortunate and unnecessarily defensive title aside, this was a fine batch of pop songs, and probably his very best vocal performances. Listen to his version of “They Won’t Go.” I can’t get enough of “Freedom 90” or “Soul Free.”
85. Ten Summoner’s Tales Sting
Besides some outstanding songs, he gets some of the tastiest juicy grooves. Dig the organ, for example, on “St Augustine in Hell.” I particularly appreciate the craftsmanship of writing to order for the Lethal Weapon movie. They needed a “reluctant buddy” song, so he conjured up “It’s Probably Me.”
86. Batman Prince
I gots to give mad love to Prince for the pure experimental freakishness of his “Batdance.” Plus, where did that “Lemon Crush” come from? The corporate nature of the whole Batman thing might understandably make some folks skeptical, but this was 1980s Prince, at which point he could do absolutely no wrong- at least musically speaking.
87. Mighty Like a Rose Elvis Costello
This does not usually rate at the top of Elvis fanboy lists, but song by song it’ll hold up well. As a crazed Kentuckian, I dig the apocalyptic country psychedelia of “Hurry Down Doomsday.” The personal doomsday of the Alison character in “So Like Candy” may haunt your dreams.
88. Neither Fish Nor Flesh Terence Trent D’Arby
They couldn’t give this album away, but it’s nearly as good as the classic debut that preceded it. “You Will Pay Tomorrow” has an ultra funk groove that will more than go head to head with James Brown’s similarly themed “The Payback.” Also, check out the sideways wit of “I Don’t Want to Bring Your Gods Down.” Writing this on the day of big terror attacks in London, I’m particularly taking comfort from the tender spiritual strains of “I Have Faith in These Desolate Times.”
89. I’m Breathless Madonna
Yup, these songs were written in character for a marginal comic book movie. Nonetheless, these are some of the best compositions of her career. A significant part of the success of this stems from the constraints of the 1940s time frame. Except for the excellent but unrelated hit “Vogue,” these are (very broadly) jazz vocal songs. That is, they rely on actual songs, and not modern studio production gimmicks. “He’s a Man” in particular really swings most righteously.
90. Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots The Flaming Lips
“Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” floats along like the prettiest cloud in the sky. They ended up having to share songwriting credits with Cat Stevens for some similarity to an old song, but their “Fight Test” was a lot better. That shoulda been a big hit single.
91. A Date With Elvis The Cramps
They came out as punk rock, but they obviously got Elvis and- Lord knows- Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. They were marginal instrumentalists and singers, but there was plenty of classic rock and roll abandon, plus hooks and good wit behind stuff like “What’s Inside a Girl?” That in particular was a good take on classic early rock songwriting motifs. Compare to Chuck pushing his grudge to the United Nations. Plus, there’s an especially delicious wrongness to the children’s choir joining in to sing “People Ain’t No Good.”
92. 69 Love Songs Magnetic Fields
Yup, in fact 69 songs. This was released as a boxed set, and also as three separate albums. Obviously, some of these are going to be better than others. Prince and Elvis Costello together couldn’t come up with that many great songs at once. However, this album has among other things, “All My Little Words,” which is one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written.
93. Nevermind Nirvana
This may be the least interesting band on this list, in terms of their technical capacity in playing their instruments. But leaving that and Cobain’s sad story aside, there’s some pretty strong tunes running under all that cheap grunge.
94. Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman
Of course, “Fast Car” is a great driving song, but dig the interestingly expressed imaginary revolutionary sentiments of “Talkin’ About a Revolution” and “Mountains o Things.” Plus, she’s got a great voice. The psychodrama of “For My Lover” particularly haunts.
95. Full Moon Fever Tom Petty
“Free Fallin'” may be the most beautiful song he’s written. “Runnin’ Down a Dream” runs one of the most compelling rock grooves of his career. “I Won’t Back Down” gives his best rebel stance, and even Johnny Cash Himself couldn’t really cut this original performance.
96. White Blood Cells The White Stripes
Among other highlights, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” is the most compelling romantic song in the White Stripes catalog. Also, if “We Are Going To Be Friends” doesn’t melt your heart, then there’s something wrong with you.
97. Licensed to Ill Beastie Boys
I resisted this album and group for years, but there’s no denying the songs. Rick Rubin and the Beasties mashed Zeppelin into the hip-hop mix, and used it very creatively to give you something that you never heard.
98. Songs From the Big Chair Tears for Fears
There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this recording, but “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” has an unforgettable melody, and even a memorable lyric. Plus, “Shout” really does have some primal power under that slow pounding beat.
99. The Juliet Letters Elvis Costello
Some fans poo-poo Elvis’ more classical music type turns. Hey, I dig rock and roll as much as the next fanboy, but you can’t deny the wit and even the rockin’ grooves he gets in conjunction with the Brodsky string quartet. To that end, check out the maniacal chain letter “This Offer Is Unrepeatable” or even the funky old crusty aunty of “I Almost Had a Weakness.”
100. Mud Pies for Mommy Steve Barger and the Altruists
What, you’ve never heard of my brother Steve? Well, it’s not my fault. I would tell you that he’s a kickass songwriter with a wicked wit and sharp hooks, but you wouldn’t believe me. I had at one point intended on putting REM’s Out of Time album here, but screw it. Steven’s 1998 MP3.COM album was better. I’d take the Pepsi taste challenge between them anytime. Don’t take my word for it though, dig for yourself on
FLUFFY AND THE SPOOK TREE,
THE BALLAD OF FRED SANDERS (COPKILLER MIX),
BEAUTIFUL CORPSE and the galloping
JUST LIKE A KID. Even if I didn’t know him, I’d take these songs over anything by REM or, Rand knows, the Smiths. Am I right, or am I right?
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