30. THE JESUS & MARY CHAIN- PSYCHOCANDY (1985)
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The Jesus & Mary Chain’s hook was to combine early sixties vocal harmonies (think Beach Boys and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound) with the fuzz and feedback of late sixties psychedelia and underground rock groups like the Velvet Underground. You would think this trick wouldn’t work so well over the course of a whole album but the band was able to make an entire career out this “gimmick” with just some minor tweaks from album to album. Their debut “Psychocandy” was an instant underground rock classic and was responsible more than anything else for inspiring the ‘shoegaze’ movement in late 80’s/early 90’s England, showcasing bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive & Ride. Though they toned down their shriek factor and widened their appeal a bit on their later albums the debut remains by far the best and most important of their career. The production is extremely lo-fi- the feedback can be earsplitting. A friend of mine once called the album the ultimate party clearer. It may not be for everyone but every track on the album is stellar- with the singles “Just Like Honey”, “Never Understand”, and “You Trip Me Up” being three of the biggest standouts. Anytime you hear modern noise-pop like Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls or Times New Viking!, they are indebted to Jesus & Mary Chain more than any other band.
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29. X- WILD GIFT (1981)
Buy Wild Gift – X
Buy Wild Gift [Explicit]Amazon
The first two X albums were a ferocious one two punch to the L.A. punk scene in 1980 & 1981.“Wild Gift” is part 2 of that one two punch. X were the biggest names in the late seventies/early eighties L.A. punk scene and brought more musicality and arguably more songwriting skills than any other band in that scene. Though they never broke big nationally they were huge local stars and each member of the band stood out individually. Singer/songwriter/bassist John Doe led the way with his distinct baritone. His clever wordplay and insightful cultural commentary were welcome in a scene not prone for nuance. Doe’s love interest Exene Cervenka was also a co-vocalist- their off the rails harmonizing gave the band its unique sound. Guitarist Billy Zoom stood motionless furiously strumming rockabilly punk leads. DJ Bonebrake (his real name!) bashed away at the drums harder and more skillfully than his fellow punk peers. X could also write mean hooks though their iconoclastc style and attitude left them nowhere near the mainstream. Check out “White Girl” for a look at the very best of L.A. punk music.
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28. THE BEASTIE BOYS- LICENSE TO ILL (1986)
Buy Licensed to Ill – Beastie Boys
Buy Licensed To IllAmazon
I was in 8th grade, Junior High, and every kid I knew was blasting this album- most knew the lyrics by heart and most still had never listened to rap music before. It had more impact than any other album where I was from since “Thriller. At the time many people thought that of The Beastie Boys- three white rappers from the NYC area as a novelty act- there had never been white kids doing rap music prior to them, at least in any broad cultural sense. But “License to Ill” was no Vanilla Ice-style one hit wonder. The big single that everyone knew on the album was “Fight for Your Right” thanks mostly to the ubiquity of the hysterical low budget video on MTV but that song was not even close to one of the best tracks on the album- it’s actually one of my least favorite. To this day you can still find “Fight for Your Right”, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn”, “Girls”, “Brass Monkey” and “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” on the radio dial and other tracks like “The New Style”, “Hold It Now, Hit It” and “Paul Revere” are all considered early rap classics. “License to Ill” main subjects are chicks, drugs, beer, partying and overall gross-out humor played over Rick Rubin produced Led Zeppelin guitar and drum samples with a hilarious and sneaky-good vocal interplay between the three rappers- MCA, Ad-Rock & Mike D. The Beastie’s would go on to greater artistic heights later with the revolutionary sample-fest “Paul’s Boutique”, and the hardcore punk & old-school funk dominated “Check Your Head”, but none of course would be possible without “Ill” paving the way. it was a perfect album for the mid eighties, a time when the fresh rush of early 80’s New Wave had worn off and most of alternative and rap music had not yet reached the mainstream. It cleared the air of the stench given off by the increasingly awful hair metal and treacly pop music then dominating the pop music landscape.
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27. MISSION OF BURMA- VS. (1982)
Buy Vs. (Remastered) [Bonus Track Version] – Mission of Burma
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I had not heard a note by Mission Of Burma before they unexpectedly reunited in 2002. Several friends of mine, notably from Boston begged me to go see them live, one friend even burning me the entire setlist from a previous show as incentive. Luckily I listened to my friends and checked out the show. Afterwards I was inspired to collect everything the band had ever recorded. My friends knew what they were talking about- Burma are legends in Boston, but are not very well known elsewhere. They broke up right after the release of their one full-length album “Vs.”- just as they were beginning to break big in college radio due to the lead singer, Roger Miller, developing tinnitus in his ears. The rest of Burma’s pre-reunion output consists of some 7” singles, a live album, a posthumous compilation of b-sides and an EP called “Signals, Calls & Marches”- all are worthwhile, particularly “Marches”, but “Vs.” is pretty much perfect. Burma blend the power of punk rock with experimental music and collegiate smarts. Like other underground bands before them such as Velvet Underground & Big Star, the band was so good that its popularity actually heightened after their breakup sowing the seeds for the reunion almost twenty years later.. Their reunion proved successful and their three (so far) post-millenium albums are all a worthwhile listen even if none quite match the quality of “Vs.”
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26. N.W.A.- STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (1988)
Buy ‘Straight Outta Compton’ – N.W.A.
Yet another revolutionary 1988 rap record, “Straight Outta Compton” may have actually been the most influential of them all- for better and for worse. Though released in ’88, “Compton” didn’t reach my suburban ears until well into ’89. Neither radio nor MTV (at the time) would touch the group, but this album was so immediate and different that the word spread anyway. It spread quickly through my circle of friends and the same was no doubt happening throughout the country. The negative press that the group received only heightened public awareness of the album and group. Although 2 Live Crew with its sexist, gross out raps was out at the same time and Oakland’s filth rapper Too Short was hardly a choir boy himself, I had never heard anything so sexually or violently explicit in my life as N.W.A. Their lyrics could be incendiary or just lat out nihilistic- they exposed the harsh truths of ghetto life while at times seeming incredibly numb to the violence and sexism they were practically promoting. But teenager, a rebellious bunch at large, ate it up. The group featured three main rappers including future solo star Ice Cube (also the group’s main writer), M.C. Ren, and the devilish Eazy E. Most of the production was handled by Dr. Dre, using an early prototype of the G-Funk sound he would perfect on 1992’s “The Chronic”, which would become one of the dominant sounds in nineties rap. N.W.A.’s sound was hard hitting and funky. The opening trio of songs- mission statement “Straight Outta Compton”, the notorious “F**k the Police”, and “Gangsta Gangsta” could be the best three openings tracks ever on a rap album. The rest of the album does not quite hold up in quality but does offer some other classics like “”Dopeman”, “I Ain’t Than 1” and especially the Dr. Dre solo rap “Express Yourself” (where he ironically brags about not smoking weed!. I mean his next album was named “The Chronic”…) alongside the other filler tracks.
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25. X- LOS ANGELES (1980)
Buy Los Angeles – X
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X’s debut, along with the nearly as good follow-up “Wild Gift” are in my opinion, and with apologies to Black Flag, the best two albums in the history of the L.A. punk scene. Song for song “Los Angeles” just offers up a few more classics- starting with the title cut- my favorite X songs and one of my favorite punk songs ever. You can tell this album is cool before even hearing a note- check the song titles: “Sex and Dying in High Society”, “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline”, “The World’s A Mess, It’s In My Kiss” and the mighty “The Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not”. Doe offers up real poetry in his lyrics- a cut above his peers- a punk rock Chuck Berry. Though the album (and band) can certainly be placed under the ‘Punk Rock’ banner their sound offers up much more variety than just ‘Punk’. Roots rock, Rockabilly & ballads are all part of X’s musical mix. If you don’t like this album you likely have no use for punk rock at all.
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24. THE PRETENDERS- THE PRETENDERS (1980)
Buy Pretenders (Remastered) – Pretenders
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Although later incarnations of the Pretenders were seen mainly as a vehicle for lead singer Chrissy Hynde, the original band was much more than a female singer with faceless back-up musicians. Lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott is incredibly underrated and still relatively unknown. He is one of New Wave’s best and most inventive guitarists- laying down effects that were as integral to the Pretenders sound as Chrissy’s singing and writing. Unfortunately both Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon died of drug overdoses after the band’s second album release and the band was, of course, never the same again. But damn what a debut album- certainly one of the best debuts in all of rock history. It contains beautiful ballads like the Kinks cover “Stob Your Sobbing” and minor hit ballad “Kid”, along with FM radio staple “Brass in Pocket”, perhaps the Pretender’s most famous song. But for me the less known, more aggressive songs push the album over the top. One of the ultimate F You songs “Precious” leads the album off and “Tatooed Love Boys”, “Up the Neck”, “The Wait”, and closer “Mystery Achievement” are some of the Pretenders represent the best that New Wave punk has to offer. “The Pretenders” sits alongside “The Cars” and “My Aim is True” by Elvis Costello as picture perfect debut albums of the New Wave era.
Buy Precious (2006 Remastered LP Version) Amazon
23. U2- WAR (1983)
Buy War (Deluxe Edition) [Remastered] – U2
Though believe it or not neither “Sunday Bloody Sunday” nor “New Year’s Day”- Modern/Classic Rock Radio staples both- were top 40 hits, “War” was really the first time U2 became more than just an underground band and began to enter mainstream rock. Your grandmother may not have known them 1983 but every kid between the ages of ten to college knew them though they were certainly only half way up the ladder to being the world dominating stars they would become- heroes to baby boomers everywhere. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a protest, a call to arms, taking its cues from both the rock anthems of the late 60’s and from punk rock, but with a radio friendly accessible quality. As many times as I’ve heard both “Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” both are still two of the bands best songs- particularly the latter. But “War” also contains other amazing tracks like “Seconds” and “Two Hearts Beat As One”- both also still heard (though infrequently) on rock radio today. The desperate “Drowning Man”, the beautiful “Surrender” and their former concert closer “40” are other top notch tracks. Though it’s not quite my favorite U2 album “War” comes pretty close.
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22. THE PIXIES- SURFER ROSA (1988)
Buy Surfer Rosa – Pixies
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Though the Pixies, from Amherst, MA., had released a more the exciting “Come On Pilgrim” EP a year earlier, 1988’s “Surfer Rosa” was their full-length album debut and what a way to start! Opening track “Bone Machine” announces the Pixies presence with authority and then the band leaps straight into “Break My Body” and then terrorizes you with “Something Against You” and “Broken Face”. It was quite clear to me that this was a band that was both really weird and really great. Like many of the oddball bands before them it would take time for most of the listening public to catch up to their greatness. The Pixies now enjoy a reputation far greater than what they had during the lifespan of the band. In my opinion, the only rock bands that compete with them in the late 80’s/early 90’s are Sonic Youth and Nirvana and I am give the Pixies a slight edge over both. Two of the bands most beloved compositions are found smack dab in the middle of the album- the Kim Deal sung “Gigantic” and the beautiful and haunting ballad “Where is My Mind?”, which non-Pixies acolytes will recognize as the song in the closing scene to “Fight Club”. The latter part of “Surfer Rosa” dips slightly in quality and producer Steve Albini’s production is a bit thin & tin-sounding throughout the album, which saves “Rosa” from being my favorite Pixies album- but it’s still a fantastic album and a great debut- a must-have in any rock collection.
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21. THE POGUES- RUN, SODOMY & THE LASH (1985)
Buy Rum S****y & the Lash [Expanded] – The Pogues
Best album title of all time? Well it certainly is up there at least. The Pogues Elvis Costello produced second album is where the band really began firing on all cylinders. Though the band has several other worthwhile albums and a handful of classic tracks not found here, “Rum, Sodomy & the Lash” is their one, true stone cold classic album. And the best album I can possibly think of to play on St. Patty’s Day. The band combines the fury of punk with the beauty of traditional Irish music. The debaucherous yet lyrically gifted sloppy drunk singer/main writer Shane MacGowan manages to keep ihis wits enough to deliver his best set of songs. The guy looks and sounds like he could fall on his face at any moment, but the band is lost without his exceptional songwriting and storytelling. Every track on the album is good to great but I must list the absolute classics- as there are certainly more than two. Album opener “Sick Bed of Cuchulainn”, “The Old Main Drag”, the beautiful ballad “I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day” (sung by bassist Cait O’ Riordan), “Sally Maclennane” and the anthemic “Dirty Old Town”. All some of the best Pogues songs ever, all distinctly Irish. No band has ever been ben able to blend the sounds of punk and traditional Irish music like the Pogues.
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