60. BAD BRAINS- BAD BRAINS (1982)
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Washington D.C.’s Bad Brains were simply one of a kind. An African-American hardcore group who alternated between punk songs and reggae songs- and I don’t mean reggae-inflected punk songs- I’m talking true reggae songs. And unlike the majority of their peers in the punk world at the time, Bad Brains were expert musicians. Their self-titled debut album is both their best and their most raw. The punk songs are played at blinding speed in one to two minute spurts. Their debut single, the classic “Pay to Cum” is included as well as other hardcore classics like “Banned in D.C.”, “Sailing On”, and “The Big Takeover”, which any fan of the Beastie Boy’s “Check Your Head” will surely recognize. The reggae songs are chilled out without a hint of punk aggression- it’s like two different bands play on this album. “Bad Brains” is often dubbed the best East-coast 1st wave hardcore album of all time and I’m not one to disagree.
59. THE REPLACEMENTS- PLEASED TO MEET ME (1987)
Buy Pleased to Meet Me (Expanded Edition) – The Replacements
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“Pleased to Meet Me” is the fifth full-length and last absolute classic album that the quartet of gifted wastrels from Minneapolis released . It was the Mats’ second major label release. Their major label debut, 1985’s “Tim” had raised the band’s profile considerably giving them more toys at their disposal in the studio. Though I don’t think “Pleased” hold up quite as well as “Tim” or its preceding album “Let it Be”, it still offers its share of musical delights- while moving more toward a pop friendly sound “Pleased” manages maintains the Mats’ ramshackle vibe. “Can’t Hardly Wait” was their most pop offering yet it neither charted nor sold them out- the fact that singer-songwriter/frontman Paul Westerberg could write such a concise pop song while keeping the quality level as high as any of his best work shows exemplifies his huge songwriting talent. If a song this good and this accessible couldn’t break the band big in the mainstream then they were obviously just way ahead of their time. Other disc favorites include “Alex Chilton”, Westerberg’s fan letter to the Big Star frontman and major Mats’ influence, the beautiful “Skyway”, one of their loveliest ballads, and lesser known but still stellar tracks like “The Ledge” and “Nevermind”.
The Fall have about a million albums and their track highlights are spread out all over the place. I’m resigned to the likelihood that I’ll never hear all of their albums but from what I’ve heard so far “This Nation’s Saving Grace” is the very best album is their discography. It was recorded during the third major phase of the band, after their initial pure punk early singles, and the still furious ‘Step Forward’ years in the early 80’s. It was the third straight album with Mark E. Smith love interest Brix Smith who had a very notable impact on the band- she made them much more synth-driven and accessible. Important Fall tracks like “Bombast”, “I Am Damo Suzuki” and “Spoilt Victorian Child” are here but buyers please note- only the American release includes the two best tracks on the album- the U.K. ’85 singles “Cruiser’s Creek”, and “Couldn’t Get Ahead” (a perfect song to play after the onset of parenthood!). Again The Fall’s discography can be quite intimidating. Besides a worthy best of, “This Nation’s Saving Grace” is the best place to start.
“Shoot Out the Lights” is one of the classic break-up albums of all time. Richard & Linda were like an underground version of “Rumours”-era a couple falling apart at the seems creating a document of their crumbling marriage. This is a late night record- please don’t play at the park on a sunny day- every song on it wreaks of sadness, anger and desperation. But behind all of the morbidity you can also find much truth, beauty and understanding. For such a downer of an album it was ironic that it gave the couple their breakthrough and greatest fame in America- while not selling in huge numbers, it topped many critic’s lists in 1982 and gave Richard Thompson, in particular, a cult following that he still enjoys to this day. Like Neil Young, he is both capable of beautiful acoustic guitar playing as well as incendiary soloing- though he is a far more proficient technician on the instrument than Young. Richard & Linda’s swan-song as a couple and as a musical pair is a fantastic place to check him out.
56. R.E.M.- LIFE’S RICH PAGEANT (1986)
Buy Lifes Rich Pageant – R.E.M.
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In R.E.M.’s great and vast discography “Life’s Rich Pageant” is often overlooked. It was not part of their classic and hugely influential early jangle pop releases like “Chronic Town EP”, “Murmur” and “Reckoning”, nor was it part of their commercial ascendancy, which happened with albums like “Document”, “Green” and especially “Out of Time”. Strangely enough in the late 80’s when I was first getting into R.E.M., “Pageant” was the first album I had heard by them & I loved it. I was annoyed at the hit singles like “The One I Love”, “Orange Crush” and “Stand” and not yet heard anything from those brilliant early releases, but I was lucky enough to have a friend to me on them. The opening four songs- “Begin the Begin”, “These Days”, the beautiful “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoga” are pound for pound as good a lineup as any other in R.E.M.’s discography and while the album is unable to maintain that pace or quality there are other highlights to be had as well. “Hyena”, “I Believe” and eccentric ballad “Swan Swan H” may not be upper echelon R.E.M. tracks but they fill out the album nicely. Last track (the Mike Mills sung) “Superman” is a standout and has always been a fan favorite. Only a few filler tracks keeps “Life’s Rich Pageant” from being as classic as R.E.M.’s very best albums but it still stands out as a great introduction to one of my very favorite bands of all time.
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55. METALLICA- MASTER OF PUPPETS (1986)
Buy Master of Puppets – Metallica
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Though it wouldn’t be until the next album that Metallica scored their first top 40 and MTV video hit, and the album after that before they achieved worldwide commercial domination, Metallica’s third album, “Master of Puppets”, was the album that really put the band on the map outside the insular thrash metal circle. “Puppets” set a new standard in Heavy Metal, bringing speed/thrash metal to the metal mainstream while that same mainstream was in many ways trending toward the softer, more commercial sound of hairbands like Poison, Whitesnake, Dokken & Bon Jovi. Though the album did prove to be their most commercially successful album to date, and received critical props unheard of for any other metal records at the time, it relied on no big singles or any videos at all and most of the tracks on the album were upwards of five minutes. Metallica was able to reach this kind of popularity without compromise. I wish they would have minded those lessons better on their later releases. While every track on the album is worthwhile, Metallica classics like the opener “Battery”, the 8 ½ minute title track and the slower “(Welcome Home) Sanitarium” stand out above the rest and are three of the band’s very best songs.
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54. METALLICA- RIDE THE LIGHTNING (1984)
Buy Ride the Lightning – Metallica
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The best Metallica album is a really tough call. The first three albums are all classics and the fourth offers its share of triumphs as well. But I put “Ride the Lightning”, the band’s second album, at the top by a nose. The band showed major growth between “Kill ‘Em All” and “Ride the Lightning”, particularly in the songwriting department. Though the band pretty much invented the thrash metal genre with “Kill ‘Em All”, and the instrumentation and riffing on that album was stellar, the lyrics were mostly one note- lacking any deep meaning. “Ride the Lightning” is a concept album about different fears and phobias- all involving eventual death- by electrocution, suicide, war, disease, asphyxiation, and the grim reaper himself. Now what’s more ‘Metal!’ than that! Metallica also took their ambition to another level on “Lightning”, crafting major epics out of over half of the songs. “Kill ‘Em All” did have some lengthy tracks but there was far less musical sophistication and the tracks frankly felt less epic. “Fade to Black”, the band’s first ballad, was perhaps their first major musical achievement- it’s still my favorite Metallica track. They showed that slowing a track down, and using some acoustic guitar didn’t lessen the music’s power one bit. Again, I wish they would have thought of that while recording “Nothing Else Matters”.
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53. LUCINDA WILLIAMS- LUCINDA WILLIAMS (1988)
*Album not available via iTunes or Amazon
After two failed albums in the early eighties, country-rock singer songwriter took a full eight years to produce her third self-titled album. Though the album was not a commercial success, it was an immediate critical success and influenced many of her musician peers. Lucinda herself is influenced by female early alt-country pioneers like Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash. She was born and bred in the rural deep south and sings in a heavy southern twang, but she bring just as much rock n’ roll to the table as she does country. Her attention to detail as a writer is almost without peer and while she doesn’t have a traditional pretty singing voice the listener hangs on her every note- she is an expert at expressing emotion through her voice, particularly longing and pain. Two of the best tracks on this album were covered by more famous musicians- “Passionate Kisses” by Mary Chapin Carpenter and “Changed the Locks” by Tom Petty, which raised Williams’ profile considerably though it would be another 4 years before she, an infamous perfectionist, would release another album with 1992’s nearly as good “Sweet Old World”.
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*Not available via iTunes
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52. THE MINUTEMEN- DOUBLE NICKELS ON THE DIME (1984)
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“Double Nickels On the Dime” is an anomaly not only in the genre of punk but in rock music overall. It is a double album- nearly 80 minutes long, made up of 44 songs (43 on the cd), nearly all under 2 minutes. But these songs aren’t your typical one note hardcore- these guys could really play. Guitarist D. Boon was one of the best shredders in indie rock outside of Dr. Know of Bad Brains and perhaps Bob Mould of Husker Du- the Minutemen’s main competition. Bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley were also both expert players on their instruments enabling the band to blend elements of other genres into their punk rock screeds. Despite the band’s songwriting and musicality they were recording extremely lo-fi with almost no budget and very limited distribution so anyone into the Minutemen had to be very in the know. They wore their political idealism on their sleeves doing everything themselves- the epitome of truly living the punk rock lifestyle. Almost 30 years later this album continues to influence though it still only appeals to a small cult of people. “Nickels” is still the band’s definitive statement and actually the only album by them that I have ever heard- most of their catalog remains hard to obtain.
*any fan of the show “Jackass” will surely recognize their track “Corona” as it’s the theme song. Cool points for Johnny Knoxville I guess…
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51. EPMD- STRICTLY BUSINESS (1988)
Buy Strictly Business – EPMD
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Long Island’s EPMD were the unsung heroes of rap’s class of ’88. They were neither political like Public Enemy or BDP nor lyrically groundbreaking like Slick Rick, N.W.A. or Eric B & Rakim. In fact rap duo Erick Sermon and Parrish Smith each rapped in a monotone style, trading rhymes essentially about being better than other rappers and bragging about their own sexual conquests. But with EPMD the whole was more than equal to the sum of its parts. Rather than rapping over the skeletal drum beats like Run-DMC or LL Cool J, or the James Brown samples all over rap during that time, EPMD focused on bass heavy funk & soul music from the 1970’s laying the way for Dr. Dre’s mellow G-Funk rap sound so dominant in the early 90’s. Their debut album “Strictly Business” was devoid of filler unlike so many rap releases at the time- even many of the classics. You can put the album on from start to finish- perfect for a party or just groovin’. It remains a very underrated rap classic to this day. EPMD stayed a model of consistency- releasing four more very good albums in the late eighties and early nineties, even achieving a few commercial successes. Nothing would come close to equaling the quality or impact of their debut however.
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