Friday, January 20, 2006

Best albums from the last 7 half decades

My blog has been pretty "heavy" recently. Oh, and I haven't posted in a bit, mostly from being stressed out at work and then getting a cold. So, I thought I'd take a different turn this time out.

I originally planned to do regular "living in the CD player" posts, but I haven't done that either. The CD that has lived in the car's CD player from the moment we got it is Green Day's American Idiot. This is an excellent, solid album. While other CDs come and go, this one has remained in the disc changer. I would go so far as to say this is the best album of the last five years.

Of course this is all "in my opinion". I'm sure plenty of other alt-rock fans would disagree, let alone those who prefer other types of music. For me, American Idiot is the first album to come along in a very long time where I didn't want to skip at least one of the tracks.

Of course one could argue that CDs did this. It used to be that a vinyl album lasted no more than about 45 minutes, unless it was a double album. CDs allowed up to 89 minutes. Starting in the 80s, artists started pushing 60+ minutes of material on a CD. Unfortunately, more is not always better. I remember reading about Rush's Signals album. "New World Man" made it to the album in what they called "Operation 3:59". To balance the sides of the album, which was less than 45 minutes long, they needed a song for the second side that was less than four minutes long. They went through their songs and decided on "New World Man". Today, bands can pack more songs, which often means there's more "filler" on the album.

American Idiot doesn't have any filler. The CD wasn't recorded, it was designed, and it shows. I can't get enough of it.

So, this prompted me to think about other albums I loved through the years. For the heck of it, I decided to pick one album every five years. I decided to end the list at 1966 for a couple of reasons. First, I was born in 1962, so 1966 to 1970 marked my first full half-decade on this planet. Second, I don't have any albums earlier than 1966.

Like most such lists, it says more about me (and my taste in music) than about the albums or the artists listed. Here's a brief glimpse at my psyche. Enjoy!
  • 2001 – 2005: American Idiot by Green Day. See above.
  • 1996 – 2000: Silent Radar by The Watchmen. The Watchmen were a band from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Although the band first appeared on Canadian radio in the early 90s, Silent Radar was the first album of theirs that I bought, back in 1999 (it was released in 1998). It's a very solid CD, beginning with their best single, "Stereo", and ending with the haunting "Brighter Hell". It was the first Canadian album I played for Alana, and it has since become "our album". I still tear up at "He's Gone", which is about one of the band members losing their father (I lost my Dad to cancer in 1998). Unfortunately, the Watchmen broke up a couple of years ago.
  • 1991 – 1995: Day For Night by The Tragically Hip. The Tragically Hip is, in my mind, the best rock-and-roll band to come out of Canada. Their sound is unique, which probably contributed to the fact that they never really broke into the U.S. market. That's a terrible shame. 1994's Day For Night is their best album. My two favourite Hip songs ("Grace, Too", which they played on Saturday Night Live, and "Nautical Disaster") are on the record.
  • 1986 – 1990: Hold Your Fire by Rush. Yep, another Canadian album. Rush is an interesting band in that they regularly changed their sound and style. Many die hard Rush fans don't like their stuff from the mid to late 80s, as they went more synthesizer and lost some of their hard rock edge. You'll quite often see Hold Your Fire on a list of "most hated" Rush albums. Tough, I love it. The music is layered and complex without being overpowering. More importantly, the lyrics just call to me. "Time Stand Still" is a song you really only get after you turn 30, and it makes more sense the older you get. "Second Nature" is as apt today as when the album came out in 1987. "High Tide" is the only rock song I know dealing with evolution.

    (A very close second is Life's Rich Pageant by REM. I listen to Hold Your Fire more often than Life's Rich Pageant, but on any given day I'd swap places between Rush's album and the REM CD.)
  • 1981 – 1985: Avalon by Roxy Music. This album is one of the most haunting, beautiful, and romantic albums ever made. Roxy Music, known for art-rock beginning in the 70s, peaked with Avalon, their most successful album (released in 1982). This isn't an album you can easily describe. You just have to listen to it, preferably with your significant other.

    (Another hard choice. I almost picked Let's Dance by David Bowie. This 1983 album was Bowie's biggest success, bringing him into the mainstream. It's his most commercial album, but it's also his most consistent. I can still listen to the whole thing without cringing, which isn't an easy thing to say when you talk about albums from the early 80s. While I love "Cat People", I wish I had the version from the film of the same name, which is markedly different from the version on Let's Dance.)
  • 1976 – 1980: The Wall by Pink Floyd. This is my favourite album of all time. It was a significant reason for me failing first year calculus in university (I learned, to my dismay, that I can't study while listening to The Wall). I really disliked the album when I first heard it. I bought it for "Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2", after all. Having sunk $13 in the thing, I decided I'd best listen to it at least another time. It was on this second listening that I recognized the musical themes and began figuring out the album's story. By the third listening, I was hooked. This is the only album I've purchased more than two times (in this case, 5: the original on vinyl; a replacement for the original after I wore the first one out; the soundtrack from the film, also on vinyl; the two disc CD; and the live version of the album, also on CD).
  • 1971 – 1975: Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Dark Side of the Moon holds the record for the number of weeks on Billboard's album chart (741, 591 of which were consecutive). Some have suggested that it is the second best selling album of all time (worldwide; 17th in the U.S.), and an estimated one in 14 residents of the U.S. under the age of 50 owns the album (I have two copies of it on CD, and I think I still have it on vinyl). Technically it's the best album Pink Floyd ever did, but I still give a slight edge to The Wall just out of personal preference.
  • 1966 – 1970: Abbey Road by The Beatles. The first song I ever "got into" was "She Loves You" by The Beatles, when I was incredibly young. My Mom finally broke the record just to saver her sanity (I would cry as it ended, forcing her to play it again). So, which of the last half of The Beatles' career do you pick for this time period? Some would say The White Album, but there are several tracks I just can't listen to. ("Number nine, number nine, number nine..."). Others would say that it would have to be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and that was my second choice. Magically Mystery Tour is surprisingly relevant for today. In the end, I have a slight preference for Abbey Road.


Winter said...

I can't believe Blondie was no where to be found on this said list... I might have to boycott..
Change my name to

Allan Goodall said...

Now, now, don't be harsh! There are plenty of great albums that I didn't mention.

I seem to remember buying the first Blondie album on vinyl, but I don't know if I still have it. I need to get a sound card for the computer that will let me record vinyl albums onto CD before a) the stereo gives out and I can't find a receiver that can accept inputs from a turntable, and b) the RIAA stop electronic companies from creating devices that can record analog signals.

Winter said...

Wow, I remeber my parents vinyl albums.. Allan, you're old. Oh wait you didn't mention New Order either!

Allan Goodall said...

*sigh* I'm old...

Actually, I prefer to think of it as being born at a slightly more comfortable distance from the apocalypse.

CDs first came out when I was in college. I remember going to a stereo store in 1982 or 1983 with some friends and having a salesman try to sell us a CD player by comparing the "harmonic distortion" between turntables and CD players.

And, sorry, no New Order. At the time, I was listening to Q107 out of Toronto (CILQ 107.1). They played album rock (The Who, The Stones, Pink Floyd, etc., at a time when they were still making new albums). They didn't play any new wave stuff (with the exception of singles like "Whip It" by Devo, and "Cars" by Gary Neuman).

New Order was played on CFNY 102.1. This is the station Rush sings about in "Spirit of Radio". There was a big rivalry between CFNY and Q107, though at the time CFNY had a miniscule audience in comparison. They two stations had very little in common, playlist wise. Since I was a big Who and Pink Floyd fan, I stayed with Q107 and missed most of the new wave stuff.

I switched to CFNY (now called 102.1, the Edge, with studios in Toronto instead of Brampton) in the early 90s. Q107 was morphing into what is now called a "classic rock" station. I was getting tired of hearing the same stuff all the time. I knew of the grunge movement, but Q107 barely played any of it. I switched to CFNY and started to hear a whole spectrum of new music. This was the point where it was starting to be called "alternative rock", or "alt-rock". I stuck with CFNY until I left Toronto.

Even though I still love Pink Floyd and the rock groups I grew up with, I have a hard time listening to classic rock stations, except for short periods of time (like when I'm in a different city and that's all that's worth listening to). Almost everything I listen to is alt-rock now. I mostly listen to 91.1, Monroe's college station, which alt-rock almost exclusively.

Two anecdotes:

1) My brother stopped listening to Q107 after that station sponsored Green Day's first or second concert tour date in Toronto. He overheard one of the DJs saying to another, "These guys suck."

2) Because CFNY doesn't play classic rock or rock from groups known to be classic rock groups, Rush isn't on their play list. When DJ Alan Cross left CFNY a few years ago (I think he's back; he has a syndicated radio show called, "The Ongoing History of New Music" which is worth listening to over the Internet), he played "Spirit of Radio" as his parting song. However, he played The Catherine Wheel's version, not Rush's version. The Catherine Wheel is considered alt-rock while Rush isn't, even though The Catherine Wheel's cover of the Rush song is fairly true to the original.