31. Stone Temple Pilots - Core
Seriously, kids, you don’t understand: I fuckin’ adored the Stone Temple Pilots! Back in the day, when I was kid, Weiland and Co. were bigger than Pearl Jam – at least they sounded that way to me, drenched in reverb and power chords and angst, drowning in whatever the hell they were singing. All I fuckin’ knew was they fuckin’ rocked my face off! I bought a guitar, and I learned their songs – sour chords for my sour disposition? – as if their hardness could rock even more. Blistering my fingers, here’s what I learned: Jesus F. Christ, this band fuckin’ rocked!!
32. Fiona Apple - When the Pawn...
Fiona Apple just might be crazy. That’s what I thought when I watched her perform, thrashing and screaming and exorcizing everything, hiding in a ball beneath her piano, singing her ballads so stately and serenely, depending on the mood or a channeled persona, selling her act or her soul or herself. Either the worst or the best concert ever! I wasted a thousand words to review it – almost as many as the album’s full title! – and still I failed to express my... what? Wonder? Gratitude? “Get well soon?” From lips to ears, from melodies to memories... Words have failed me again.
33. A Tribe Called Quest - The Low End Theory
Fun, funny, and, most of all, funky, this is what every rap album should sound like. Smoky, seductive, and smothered in soul, this is what every jazz album should sound like: The sound of college and coming of age, putting the AP Style into rap (by which I mean I listened while writing). Later, the sound of my New York summer, putting the sub-woofer into the subway (by which I mean I listened while riding). A gateway album into the genre. Hip-hop for people who don’t know they like it. Playful, witty, bangin’, etc., this is music to open minds.
34. Beatles - Rubber Soul
I didn’t always love The Beatles. As a kid, I knew them mostly as images: Beatle hair and screaming girls and psychedelic posters. It took me till high school before I knew their songs, before I spent my money on the best bootleg ever – a Japanese import of The Beatles’ early output (“Super Hits,” “Rock’n Rolls,” and “Love Ballades” [sic]) – before my friend Dave loaned me actual Beatles albums, before my friend Chrissy showed me her parents’ Beatles records, before their songs, from Rubber Soul on, themselves became friends and memories to cherish. Everything I love about music starts here.
35. Beatles - Revolver
I play these albums as halves of a whole, as yet another double album, except in my times of acute Beatlemania, when I’m fiending for everything Beatle-esque and sacred, and I play these two albums among all the others, much to the exclusion of everything else. I know I’m not being original here, and you might be immune to critical hyperbole, but I, too, believe The Beatles are the greatest, in terms of how heavily they’ve influenced my tastes and given me reasons to live each day. And this one features “Eleanor Rigby,” their saddest song and thus my favorite.
36. Carole King - Tapestry
Like numerous other classics on this list, I wasn’t alive when this album was released. (And I didn’t even hear it until my mid-twenties.) I’m old enough, though, to remember cassettes – my favorites are the ones in liquidated bins – a fact that amused at least one singer/songwriter. Carole King actually laughed at me! In Kirksville, MO, in 2004, she kindly let this reporter ask her questions, including, “Why are you stumping for Kerry?” and also, "Would you sign my tape?” “A tape?” she said. And then she laughed – totally with me, sharing the moment.
Equally noteworthy, the songcraft is ace.
37. Nirvana - Unplugged in New York
Cobain was not my generation’s voice. After all, the dude was a good decade older, and it’s not like everyone worshiped him or anything. Many of my classmates didn’t even like him, choosing to kneel before other so-called spokesmen: Tupac, Trent Reznor, Alanis Morissette... I even knew a dude who thought Primus was the greatest. But I succumbed, like I was supposed to, to the artist’s deconstruction of popular art, to one man’s attempt to find some redemption. Of course, he failed, himself and his fans – but not MTV, which repeated this eulogy. Then, I watched it. Now, I listen.
38. U2 - The Joshua Tree
U2 believes it’s the world’s biggest band, and that’s how this album sounds to me: BIG. Driving through Kansas has never sounded better, with Bono’s voice echoing over the plain, the Edge’s guitar work ringing out for miles, the other two guys in the band creating thunder... The music crescendoes... The sun or the stars... You wanna get home but you’re already there... Wherever you look, whatever you hear... America the beautiful, how sweet the sound... Except for St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve never felt more Irish... I still get goosebumps every goddamn time, even though I’m not in Kansas anymore.
39. Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
This album, though disjointed, offers everything I’m seeking: beautiful melodies, intricate production, wit and metaphor and numerous excellent band names to steal: Corporation Teashirt, Crabalocker Fishwife, Semolina Pilchard... All that, and more, in “I Am the Walrus!” After this, I promise, I’m done with The Beatles – you’ve already read a million words – so I can write more about music from my lifetime. But this band’s music has soundtracked my life, and inspired my own attempts to make music, more than any other band.
Finally, one last note on Abbey Road: The last twenty minutes are the greatest of all time.
40. Dr. Dre - The Chronic
The beats on this album make it a masterpiece, still sounding fresh a decade-plus later. The lyrics, however, make this old man cringe. Full of misogyny, murder, and more!* I can’t defend their anti-woman stance. Unless, that is, I’m being philosophical, or feeling argumentative, or viewing them historically (most of the disses were aimed at Eazy-E). Here’s an example, quoted from memory, and totally worth a couple dozen words:
Gap teeth in your mouth so my dick’s got to fit
With my nuts on your tonsils, when you’re onstage rapping at your wack-ass concert
Hateful. Repugnant. Guiltily hilarious.
* More misogyny.