:: Friday, September 01, 2006 ::
100 albums that changed my life: Nos. 30-21
Welcome back my friends to the countdown that never ends.

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30. Catholic Boy, The Jim Carroll Band (1980)
Earlier this week I posted a tribute to Jim Carroll over at 100 Records. That post says just about everything I could say about this album, so you should read it. Catholic Boy turned me on to the fact that punk was more than noise and anger. It could also be poetry and spiritually significant.

29. War, U2 (1983)
U2 Bloody U2. We're so tired of U2 nowadays, aren't we. But remember when they were fresh and exciting? This, the third album, was a messy mix of protest music, with just a hint of punk, and a Psalm at the end.

28. Van Halen, Van Halen (1978)
Van Halen's ferocious first album was the party album of the summer of 1978, the wish-it-would-never-end summer between high school and college. Eddie Van Halen's guitar scorched through "Running with the Devil," "Eruption," "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love" and of course that amazing cover of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me." Van Halen was never better than on this debut album.

27. Deja Vu, Crosby, Still, Nash and Young (1970)
Six and thirty years ago, Crosby, Stills and Nash were a folk-rock powerhouse. Then they invited the volatile Neil Young into the mix. Who knew what would happen? Young and Stephen Stills clashed when they were together in Buffalo Springfield. But sometimes those clashes can spark great creativity. That's what happened with Deja Vu. Young's songwriting and off-kilter vocals infused the group with new energy. From Young's beautifully written "Helpless" to the protest anthem "Almost Cut My Hair" to the folksy moral vision of "Teach Your Children," CSN&Y brought it all together.

26. At Budokan, Cheap Trick (1979)
Hello there ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock? Who wasn't ready to rock whenever "Surrender" or "I Want You to Want Me" came on the radio in '79 and '80? Straight out of the heartland, the hard-working, hard-rocking quartet Cheap Trick was just gaining some well-deserved acclaim with the release of Heaven Tonight when they headed to Japan and recorded this live album. The band's clown prince, guitarist Rick Neilsen, was the perfect foil for pretty boy lead singer Robin Zander, and drummer Bun E. Carlos (best drummer name ever?) looked like a sloppy accountant but pounded the drums like mad. The soundtrack captures the live feel, the frenzy of all these Japanese kids screaming as though the Beatles had come to town. Top tracks: "Hello There," the cover of "Ain't That A Shame" and of course "Surrender," which rates high on my list of best live jam song ever.

25. Zenyatta Mendatta, The Police (1980)
What the heck did Zenyatta Mendatta mean, anyway? And what's the symbolism of that pyramid with the prismic colors around it? An obvious ripoff (or nod to) Dark Side of the Moon? The music on this, the Police's third album, was a stark break from the heavy ska and reggae influences of their first two records. Experimenting with new world rhythms as well as jazz and new wave stylings, this album also highlighted some of Sting's best writing. ("Don't Stand So Close to Me" wasn't just a great hit record; it was well written, almost poetic.) And with songs like "Driven to Tears," the band showed they had a social consciousness that wasn't so obvious in their earlier work. The Police peaked with this record. It was all downhill from there. And then Sting went solo, and entered the abyss of popdom.

24. Revolver, The Beatles (1966)
Another one of those Beatles records that I heard around the house when I was growing up. (There were some benefits to growing up in the '60s as the youngest of five children.) The thing I most remember about this album was not the music, but the album art. I was intrigued by the intricacies of the pen-and-ink drawing of the Fab Four's faces. Throughout grade school, I tried to imitate that style, eventually melding into a Peter Max approach. Of course, the music on this album is fantastic. It captures the Beatles' shift from a group of pop stylists to true artists who weren't afraid to experiment and take chances with their music. It also features some of George Harrison's best guitarwork.

23. The Wall, Pink Floyd (1979)
We don't need no education/We don't need no thought control. The robotic chants of the children in "Another Brick in the Wall" was my introduction to the music of this album. I never owned the album, just a recorded tape. (Please don't tell the RIAA.) I've never even seen the movie. I never felt I needed to. The album itself was a sonic trip into some other realm. The music carried along the story. It was enough.

22. My Aim Is True, Elvis Costello (1977)
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture - it's a really stupid thing to want to do." So said Elvis Costello in 1983 (source). Easy for you to say, Elvis. You're only a genius when it comes to songwriting. Each song on this debut album -- one of the great records of '77, the year of the punk -- was a story captured in a catchy, jangly pop tune. Not just a story, but a vivid, literary story. "You match a cigarette" and "she's filing her nails while they're dragging the lake" -- two memorable lines from "Watching the Detectives." Hell, "Less Than Zero" inspired an entire novel. Elvis, if only all of us could write songs like you, we wouldn't have to write about music.

21. Night Moves, Bob Seger (1976)
Everyman Bob Seger struck the right chords with Night Moves. The title song was a massive hit, but the entire album resonated with the everyperson of our Bicentennial Year. Even now, a little bit older and a lot less bolder, I am still struck by the passion in Seger's rough vocals and the foot-stomping power of "Rock and Roll Never Forgets," the stories of the working girls in "Fire Down Below" and the tragic homewreck of "Sunspot Baby."



Jim Carroll Band, "Three Sisters" (from Catholic Boy)

U2, "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (from War)

Van Halen, "You Really Got Me" (from Van Halen)

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, "Carry On" (from Deja Vu)

Cheap Trick, "Surrender" (from At Budokan)

The Police, "Driven to Tears" (from Zenyatta Mendatta)

The Beatles, "And Your Bird Can Sing" (from Revolver)

Pink Floyd, "Young Lust" (from The Wall)

Elvis Costello, "Less Than Zero" (from My Aim Is True)

Bob Seger, "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" (from Night Moves)

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:: Andrew 11:08 + ::

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