Even though we're still not in the top 20, I think this might be my favorite stretch of ten on the list. It's sort of all over the place...a little of this, a little of that. And they're all freakin' amazing albums (or frakkin', if you're on a battlestar)...
#30 - Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
Rod Stewart is the poster-child for "how the mighty have fallen." He's a complete joke now, especially with those stupid Great American Songbook albums. I really didn't think it could get any worse than "Love Touch," but I was wrong. What people tend to forget, so deafened are they by the loud sucking sound coming from his career, is that he used to be one of the best interpretive singers around, and a damn fine songwriter to boot. Look no further for evidence than this. Yeah, yeah, "Maggie May" and "Reason to Believe" are great songs, but listen to the heartbreak in "Mandolin Wind" and hear him tear up the floor in "(I Know I'm) Losing You." Never a dull moment. Favorite Song = "(I Know I'm) Losing You"
#29 - Paul Simon - Graceland
I was about to start high school when this album came out. I remember being into Duran Duran, Van Halen, the Eurythmics, and everything else Rick Dees or Casey Kasem told me to listen to. This album was nothing like those. I bought it because of the video for "You Can Call Me Al," lip-synced by Chevy Chase, but my half-developed mind sort of knew that what I was listening to was really, really good. Not "Safety Dance" good, but good nonetheless. Twenty years later I still like those other bands, but that's more nostalgic than anything else. My love and respect for this album, however, has grown and grown and grown. It's comfortingly familiar while being enchantingly exotic, an almost impossible combination. I think the reason no one has tried to copy its formula is that everyone knows they'd never, ever get even close to how great this is. Favorite Song = "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"
#28 - Alice in Chains - Jar of Flies
My favorite album to come out of the Seattle grunge scene wasn't from any of the Big Three (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden) but this haunting gem. Alice in Chains toned down their guitar driven attack for more a more accoustic approach. I don't know that I'd call them "ballads"--they're too sorrowful for that label--but they are slower and more thoughtful than the rest of their stuff. And their distinctive minor-key vocal harmonies create a melancholy air while their rock band tendencies keep them from sliding into something too depressing, especially on "Don't Follow" and "I Stay Away." Favorite Song = "No Excuses"
#27 - Semisonic - Great Divide
I was really, really pissed when Semisonic got a hit and a Grammy nomination for "Closing Time." Why? Because the song was stupid and sucked, and I knew that would be what people would remember them for. Before then, I was a borderline fanatic for their music, going back to the days when they were still Trip Shakespeare, and would loyally catch then at First Ave, the 9:30 Club, or at the summer street festivals they'd occasionally show up at. They were a great rock band with a gift for sing-along melodies, and Great Divide didn't come out of my car's CD changer until I sold the car two years later. Favorite Song = "If I Run"
#26 - Link Wray - Link Wray
Music written and performed completely from the gut. It sounds home-made, almost like a jug-band or something. Link's a guitar-legend, but he stipped down his sound and created an album that could be confused for the very roots of rock & roll. And if you look closely at the album cover, it will shed a tear. Because you litter. Shame on you. Favorite Song = "La De Da"
#25 - Mason Jennings - Mason Jennings
I've got an interesting relationship with Mason. My ex-wife introduced me to him, and she learned about him from the guy she would eventually cheat on me with. But I don't hold that against him. Then, my uber-nerd fan-boy love for him actually made me late for work
on 9/11 because I was burning his CD for a friend, so I have him to
thank for avoiding some pretty heavy shit (I worked across the street
from the WTC at the time). So there's that. TMI? Sorry. Really, it's about the music, maaan! He recorded this album in his apartment (by himself) only a few blocks from where I used to live in Uptown Minneapolis, and it literally sounds like he's inviting you in to chill with him while he's playing. It's intimate folk-rock, with irresistable hooks, pithy lyrics, and a sweet-natured goodness that's refreshing and addictive. Dig it. Favorite Song = "Darkness Between the Fireflies"
#24 - Beastie Boys - Paul's Boutique
Hey, hey ladies! Get funky! *cowbell* No song with cowbell has ever been bad. It's a freakin' funhouse! The samples are dense and brilliantly chosen. We'll never hear another album like this--the days of free-wheeling sampling are long gone under piles of litigation. But thank god this is out there. Great jokes, a cornucopia of cultural references (and you know how much I love references), and--most importantly--some tight songs and lyrics that jam and bounce and race and even duel-banjos! Awesome! Favorite Song = "Egg Man" (which brilliantly samples "Superfly")
#23 - Madness - One Step Beyond...
Another album of pure mayhem (I seem to favore those). It's so freakin' nutty and clever, somehow mixing fairground music with classical, ska, Far Eastern intruments and marching bands. The title track is ridiculously fun, and there's crazy instrumentals on "Tarzan's Nuts" and "Swan Lake". And it ends with a song about chipmunks which somehow foreshadows Stripes. But don't get me wrong...if it was just noises and craziness it would be unlistenable. The songs propel you forward with exubarance and a bottomless well of goofy joy. Favorite Song = "Night Boat to Cairo"
#22 - Guns 'n' Roses - Appetite for Destruction
I don't often agree with the preposterously elitist indie-snobs at Pitchfork Media, but when they ranked this among the best albums of the 80s they said: "Two words: no filler" Fuck yeah. I'd never heard anything this sleazy and angry before this album, yet even the good little missionary kid who sat behind me in the back of the room couldn't help banging his head and sticking the devil sign in the air when "Welcome to the Jungle" comes on. These guys put all the evil and mayhem back in rock and roll that Poison and Winger had sucked out of it. Every song kicks ass, takes names, and ravages your limp, lifeless body afterwards. They somehow managed to simultaneously disintegrate and bloat after this album, but this is a ferocious, delicious treat. Favorite Song = "Paradise City"
#21 - Van Morrison - Moondance
If Van Morrison were to sing the phone book I'd probably be mesmerized. How the guy can effortlessly put so much soul into the lyrics is beyond my feeble mortal mind to comprehend. He always seems to be evoking innocent moments, when love and life still seem fresh and exciting. "Into the Mystic" might be one of the five greatest songs ever set to vinyl--I once saw a bar band named Mick Sterling & the Stud-Brothers (that should have been a sign) try to cover it and I wanted to jump across the tables and beat the living crap out of him for even daring to consider it. Beyond that, there's jazzy classics throughout this disk ("And it Stoned Me," "Crazy Love," "Brand New Day") that have a near magical intensity. Favorite Song = "Into the Mystic"