200) Lou Reed, Rock and Roll Animal: Reed hires Alice Cooper's future band, hardens up his sound, and takes the proto-acid folk pop songs of the Velvets mainstream. At times, the band's egocentric playing is a bit overdone but one could make the argument that Sweet Jane, Heroin, and Rock and Roll would never have become what they are without Rock and Roll Animal. This is the cherry-flavored, easier-to-swallow version of The Velvets. Walk on the Wild Side made Lou Reed an AM radio star, but it was this album that provided the wake that would pull the legacy of the Velvets and Reed forever out of the cult ghetto of the margins. And his voice never sounded better.
radio. They were the indie pedestal band back when that still meant something. Their sound bespeaks thrift shop wardrobes and pawn shop guitars and an originality based on suburban arrogance (in a good way) and a disregard for indulgent technique. I'm not a big fan of talk-over songs, generally – most often the effect is like a shovel of pretension to the head with a message from the sponsor. But the riff out of the gate is so seductive, and its cocktail of irreverence and impertinence so in the spot, that whatever they're selling I'm buying.
: She's been maligned as a raider of the troves of blues singers. Hers was a voice that could've been used as a cat scratching post but it's a gift that comes across as wholly unforced and uncontrived. Even the detractors have to admit it was a gift like no other (and, man, those harmonics!). Every song she sang was bloodied with every tear in her heart. The fact that she didn't look like the battalion of cute chick singers now crowding our pop cultural zeitgeist was to her favor. Janis's songs were loaded with authentic hurt that tumble deep into our own resonance fields. Her pain is rich but it doesn't whine. And her Summertime belongs in the gallery with the greats, no small feat for one of the greatest songs ever written.
: Near the end of the first millennium, when harmony begin to evolve in music, certain intervals were considered dark and diabolical, the so called Diabolus in Musica: The Devil in Music. The devil's chord was the augmented fourth (a sound so vital to the blues) and early Western music was designed to avoid such dark harmonies, lest they'd provoke lewd and libidinous thoughts. Flatted seconds were also suspect which lead to certain world musics being considered savage as well as satanic. Gamelan was one (built on a scale similar to E to E on the piano using only the white keys, AKA the Phyrigian mode.) Fortunately, musicians stopped listening to the ravings of the clergy and got with the sounds of the East. Satori in Tangiers is an example of what is possible when East meets West. It was no accident that Hendrix was a big fan of Robert Fripp. Satori in Tangiers presents the kind of territory where only Fripp can go.
A blistering live take:
204) Fleetwood Mac, Oh Well, The Green Mahalishi: Under Peter Green, Mac was the blues band stretched to the future. And as it turned out, they were prescient. They also may well have produced two of the best singles of the late '60s, IMHO. Go here for more on the Mac and Peter Green story.
: Two basses, violin, no guitars, no drums (except for accent on Second Skin), and the voice of the extraordinary Mimi Goese (GAY-see). The Guardian included their first album Drum on a list of 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die. Hugo Largo (1984 - 1991) is somber mood music that drifts and undulates like kelp in a tide. On its surface, it sounds deceptively alpha wave-like but the energy is in its intensity, thanks primarily to Goese. But in a crescendo like on Second Skin their sparse accompaniment proves to be all the orchestra you'll ever need. As rock it's much more cerebral than glandular, better suited to the excitement and refractory cycles rather than the orgasmic one. A good record to put on while you're waiting for the wet spot to dry.
206) Henry Threadgill, Ambient Pressure Theraby: The cool tuba is a possibility not much explored in music history. This song is it's most convincing dissertation. The beat holds this joint together stunningly like rivets on a glimmering fractal. The band spreads like a radioactive flower, going in several syncopated directions but orbiting around a solid center. Threadgrill is the future of jazz, free and more new music than old school and with a generous appreciation of a sexy downbeat pulse.
207) Polyrock, Romantic Me, Your Dragging Feet: The minimalistic arrangements and tightly structured rhythms almost foreshadowed the sounds of Hip Hop in their skeletal sparsity. The choice of Philip Glass as a producer was an ingenious one. The resultant sound was clean without being sterile, building from sharply outlined layers, skin tight rhythms, and lots of space. Within those layers are simple repeated figures that taken altogether form a groove salad with enough urban fidgetiness at the edges to lend the sound some angsty mystery. The sound also remains refreshingly current: Bands like Stereolab, Ladytron, and The Killers owe them an enormous debt.
208) Eyeless in Gaza, Continual: Like songs from a dream – not those of unicorns and dancing vestal virgins but one from a surreal landscape with camels on stilts and midgets speaking backwards where you find yourself at school, naked and having just missed finals. There's a wound-up, ethereal intensity in the performances – two things that aren't usually found traveling together. Continual is from Eyeless in Gaza's first album and there's a sharpness and rawness here that'd be missing from subsequent outings, as is often the case with first albums. There's also a bounty of idiosyncrasy you can take or leave – vocals pushed into mild histrionics, the Outer Limits electronic sounds, the austere percussion, the lack of the usual verse-chorus-verse template, and its oh so Britishness. Taken altogether, it was something special.
: Be-bop Deluxe was too illusuive to categorize: They had proggy elements, heavy chops all around but they didn't swim in them. What they did so adeptly was take technique and proggy layers and squeeze them into more traditional pop song structures. It was obvious from the songs that leader and guitarist Bill Nelson had a garage full of records and he wasn't afraid to crate-dig for influences. Deluxe could channel jazz, caberet, movie soundtracks, MOR, and filter it all through a sometimes heavy, sometimes smooth lead guitar. It's a rare album that lives up to its nudie cover.
210) Steely Dan, Aja: This is one of those rare songs where an instrumentalist is so thunderously good their work jumps to the forefront and steals the whole joint. It's not that there aren't a number of impressive performances here – the orchestrally fat piano chords of Michael Omartain, Donald Fagen's synthesizer, and the rich guitar textures (I don't know who's playing here, there are many guitarists listed on the album), but the spotlight goes to the drums of Steve Gadd. His rolls, breaks, and polyrhythms are so stunningly ingenious and Olympian in their understated power that everything else here is merely secondary. And that tennis-balls-in-a-dryer rhythm he takes on the fade out is a friggin' wonder of nature.