Monday, April 13, 2015

The "Not Terrible" Is The New "Amazing" Challenge

Okay, maybe I am a little obsessed with all of this, but to be fair, it does make for interesting debate.

While I sit and wait, hopes and expectations gradually disappearing for good, for one more brilliant Todd Rundgren record, I'm thinking about how low the bar has dropped. It's pretty obvious, at least to my ears, that almost all of our musical heroes can no longer live up to the highs of their past glories.

I don't believe any Bob Dylan fan is expecting one more "Blood On The Tracks" from the man. But I also don't believe that Dylan is completely incapable of this, just like I don't believe Todd Rundgren or Prince or Neil Young are incapable of one more classic release. Or maybe I should say "won't" believe. Big difference.

You see, if we are going to hold Beach Boys records like "Pet Sounds" and "Today" and "Smile" with such respect, how can we listen to the last 15-20 years of Brian Wilson music and think the same? "Sticky Fingers" or "Undercover?" "Harvest" or "Reactor?" "Sign O' The Times" or "The Rainbow Children?" Again, there's a place for all of it, but let's not kid ourselves. Some of it is great. Some of it is crap. It has to be that way.

But I digress. There is a challenge here, if you are willing to take it on.

I was going to ask that you think of one absolute favorite record and then realized that no one can choose just one. So, the challenge is three. Only three. Choose three of your favorite records of all-time, preferably from before 1990. Then, pick three of your favorite records from the last 25 years.

See if your new three come close to the magic of your old three.

I don't doubt that there has been some fantastic music in the last 25 years. But I do believe our standards have changed. While it may be healthier to just accept and move on, once in awhile we should admit that it just isn't as much fun as putting up a bit of a fight.


William Repsher said...

Last 25 years:

Pulp - This Is Hardcore
The Gourds - Ghosts of Hallelujah
Wilco - Summer Teeth

I could go on -- admittedly, this is 90's music, it's hard for to discern "greatness in the 2000's. It's there, but it usually will not occur to me until a decade or so later, much as those 70's bands we were raised with, they were considered "good" at the time then later attained the status of greatness, looking back.

Before that?

The Beatles - Abbey Road
The Kinks - Kronikles (a collection, but representative of their overall "greatness")
David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust

Something you have to take into consideration: by the time those 90's albums rolled around, I'd already heard dozens of great albums -- not "great" in quotes, legitimately great albums. That thrill of discovering a great album wears off after awhile, or at least becomes more of a pleasant surprise than that over-powering thunderbolt of recognition a fan first feels when hearing a legitimately great album and recognizing it. Like any other type of experience. It becomes harder to acknowledge and accept greatness over the course of decades. Partly because of experience, but partly because there is now a standard in place, this long list of great albums over the course of decades. Which must seem daunting to newer bands -- how could they ever match this? The thing is, it's not a monolith and not a unified front of greatness. It took decades to build that sense of greatness, an album here, an album there, the same band putting out a great album one year, a mediocre one a year later. (Most grest bands have that legendary three-album, at a minimum, run of greatness in their prime.)

So I'm willing to acknowledge my mind frame might not be completely acceptable to recognizing greatness right now when it's right in front of me -- it might take me a few years to absorb that. But I probably will, sooner or later.

That said, there's no excuse for Beach Boys fans not recognizing the new Brian Wilson album as utter crap, something that makes those bland, relatively inoffensive mid-70's albums that went straight to the bargain bins at the time sound like works of art. I don't understand things like this at all, save to recognize them as mild forms of mental illness.

Shriner said...

OK, I'll jump on this and will probably ramble...

With 25 years making 1990 the cut line:

Before 25 years -- these are my all-time 5 favorite records. Albums I know every note, squeak, cough, scratch, missed drum beat, etc. They all happen to be released before 1990:

The Monkees -- Headquarters
Alice Cooper -- Goes To Hell
The Knack -- Get The Knack
The Beatles -- Abbey Road
Jesus Christ Superstar -- the original album (not the movie soundtrack)

I can not limit this list to 3 albums. I could expand this list beyond 5 (it was hard to leave "English Settlement" off this list), but cutting down any two of the above would be impossible. Each of the above 5 has reasons they are on the list and I'm sure at least 2 -- if not three -- would probably never show up on anybody else's list of top 100 albums if it came down to it. These 5 records are in my DNA.

5 (of many) Favorite Records of the last 25 years that meet the exact same criteria as the above:

Fountains of Wayne -- Utopia Parkway (though Welcome Interstate Managers would beat this if the last 4 songs were "bonus tracks" -- Utopia has not a duff track on it, though.)

Sloan -- Twice Removed

Wondermints -- Mind If We Make Love To You

Sufjan Stevens -- Come On Feel The Illinoise

The Pipettes -- We Are The Pipettes (one and done!)

I'll stop there as it would not be hard to add "Spilt Milk", "Become What You Are", "Exile In Guyville", "Bachelor No 2", "Automatic For The People", any of the first 3 New Pornographers albums and I could keep going...

I think where this becomes *tricky* is to change your limit to the last 5-10 years and would agree with the above that greatness will not be determined until another decade or so has gone by.

The last 5 years has been tricky for me, though. Through blogs (such as BW), I've discovered a lot of truly awesome music from the last 25 years, so that gets blended in with new releases.

But, I would be hard-pressed to say any of the albums I've committed to keeping in my library released in the last 5 years will be "recognized classics". Albums released in the last 5 years have I played the most since their release:

Van Halen -- A Different Kind of Truth
Redd Kross -- Researching The Blues (OMG -- this album just kicks so much ass over and over...)
Nada Surf -- The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy (this is a band that should've been huge.)
Rumer -- everything. Really.

Will any of the above make any list of easily recognized "classics" at any point in any future? No. But they are some of my favorites that I've gone back to many times. They are all awesome.

I actually do think there are a lot of "amazing" albums out there from the last 10 years The *problem* is that very few of them are from the long-time recognized musical heroes of the masses (McCartney, Dylan, Young, Townshend, Morrison, Rundgren, Bowie, Wilson, Jagger/Richards etc...) I've stopped pretending that anybody who was a monster in the 60's and 70's -- with the possible exception of Neil Young -- will generate one last "amazing" album. "Not Terrible" -- sure. "Amazing" -- no. (Why do I continue to hold out hope for Neil Young? I don't know, but I do...)

Many of the following artists/bands over the last decade have released albums that are beyond "not terrible" and more closer to "amazing" than not, but who would know? Linus of Hollywood, Bleu, The Autumn Defense, Throwback Suburbia, Brendan Benson, The Well Wishers, etc?

I think it's time we stopped over-analyzing releases from our heroes and just accept them for what they are -- something their muse told them they had to get out of their system for better or worse, but we probably won't love all of it and can only hope that half of it is "pretty good".

As the saying goes: I've upped my standards, now up yours! ;-)

Charlie Carr said...

Last 25:
Harbor Lights / Hot House - Bruce Hornsby
Jerry Garcia Band (live 2 cd)
City That Care Forgot / Locked Down - Doctor John

Pre 1990: (could have been 300)

The Band (brown cover)
After the Goldrush - Neil Young
American Beauty - Grateful Dead

Funny - I think I got your point clearer before I made mt list . . . Maybe a cutoff of 15 years might have made it airtight. But - the new three came a bit closer than I thought.
For me - it's all a question of perception. Remember the first time you kissed your wife? What about last night's good-night peck? Anyway - music was the soundtrack of a dozen other things that were happening both inside and outside of me. Of course everything was better then! Before the "quiet desperation" settled in . . .
Berkeley Free Speech or Occupy Wall Street? Acoustic Research 12" woofers or a new set of ear buds? Sunshine of Your Love broadcast on something called FM or Apple's Eric Clapton Radio on iTunes?
Have my standards changed? Absolutely. But I think they were destined to. They probably had to or I would have ended up like Jim Ignatowski looking for that lost Donovan album!

Jobe said...

OK, Let's see past 25 years, right on the timeline

1. The Replacements-Don't Tell A Soul
2. Steve Earle-The Revolution Starts Now
3. David Bowie-Reality
There are more but I'm limited to 3. Past that

1. The Beatles-White Album
2. The Clash-Sandinista (There is a lot of filler on this record but the cuts that aren't are great)
3. Bob Dylan-Highway 61
This is just off the top of my head. In a day or two I'm sure I would change them when given enough thought. But these are 6 that I do still listen to today.

Jobe said...

It would be easier to pick 6 worst LP's in the last 25 years

Sal Nunziato said...

"Anyway - music was the soundtrack of a dozen other things that were happening both inside and outside of me. Of course everything was better then! Before the "quiet desperation" settled in . . ."

I have a vivid memory, one of my fondest memories, of hearing LZ's "In Through The Out Door" for the first time. I can tell you where, who I was with, what we were wearing and things said while listening. I will never lose that moment. But that doesn't make "In Through The Outdoor" my fave LZ record. It's actually my least fave. Conversely, I have no idea when I first heard Wilco's "Summerteeth," though I know I wasn't a fan of the band prior to that record. Now, I adore Wilco and, like William Repsher, I place it in my top three of the last 25 years

I can also recognize that not every Wilco is as equally amazing.

So far, three terrific comments with a lot of great points. But my thick head will stick with my original thought.

Yes, so many great artists of the past have set really high standards that it is unlikely we will ever truly find the "new" (insert icon.)

But this doesn't mean we should take something average and just slap the word "great" on it out of desperation.

William Repsher said...

Another thing to keep in mind: the concept of rock "greatness" changed in the 80's. I guess with the introduction of punk in the 70's, too. But in the 80's, for the most part, I spent at least 80% of my listening time on alternative music (Replacements, early R.E.M., Camper Van Beethoven, etc.) The whole idea from that point forward was NOT to be great or strive for that sort of recognition. Bands traveled around in vans, playing to smaller audiences, releasing their music on indie labels ... and the concept became just to make a living at music with "being in a band" (and all the coolness that implied) as a main goal. The Replacements took that sense of anti-greatness to a pretty high level, as did most punk bands. Very few of the indie-leaning bands of that era ascribed to that sense of rock greatness laid out in the 60's and 70's.

Thus, I don't think Abbey Road and say, Murmur, or Tim, or Doolittle. I love all those albums, but I also have a different sense of appreciation for what the Beatles did and what these newer bands were shooting towards.

Flash-forward 30 years and that anti-greatness is now part-and-parcel of so many rock bands. It's not that they assume they're incapable of greatness, it's just that they don't understand what it means anymore. Very few artists make big stabs at greatness -- 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields struck me as a short of half-assed stab at that level of ambition.

Bands who do still move in that direction, think Coldplay or U2, are often chided, scolded or looked down on for being so unashamedly ambitious and willing to be considered "great" in some sense.

And I think we're entering a new phase of enlightenment: the social-media lack of sincerity. Where things that are sort of OK are now great, and anything remotely interesting is awesome. There's a shallowness to praise now that renders it almost meaningless, at least to any sane person. And it now applies to most of the arts, including pop music. Hype and insincerity ... which have always been present with rock and roll ... but now take on EPIC proportions. And I mean epic as in "large" and not as in "bro, chill."

Anonymous said...

Hello all…no, please remain seated,

All-time fave albums from the time in my life when I had hair? Ok, let’s see…Off the top of my head (sometimes I just crack myself up):
• Exile on Main Street
• Blood on the Tracks
• Harvest

Classics, all and deserving all the praise heaped upon them. For me, Neil Young’s Harvest is colored by the fact that in 1972 a classmate taught me the real way to play Needle and Old Man on the guitar. For a teen-aged high school pimpled pip-squeak like me, that was pretty powerful stuff. Gave me some cred, some mojo, and proved to some girls that I wasn’t a complete yutz Thank you, Neil).

Don’t laugh, but a close 4th on my list might be Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman. Why? Because knowing how to play Moonshadow pretty much sealed the deal on getting my first real girlfriend (not to come off un-gentlemanly, but, Yussuf? I owe you big-time, buddy).

So, why share stupid personal tid-bits like that? Because, what albums released in my adulthood could possibly compete with those? Mind you, your question asked about “favorite” albums, not necessarily “best” albums. Those of us “my age” were pretty lucky to have the soundtrack that we did in our youth. But youth is great no matter what music is playing.

BTW…I think William Repsher brings up an interesting point about music greatness losing some degree of urgency after awhile. Must ponder that….

Here are the three albums released in the last 25 years that I’ve probably listened to the most:
• Sympathique - Pink Martini
• Central Reservation – Beth Orton
• Welcome Interstate Managers – Fountains of Wayne

More interesting to me is the question: what are my favorite albums that I’ve discovered since 1990?
• Mel Torme – Swings Shubert Alley
• Ellington & Armstrong – The Great Summit
• Ivan Moravec – Chopin Nocturnes

BTW…I turned the Mrs onto the Chopin album. (not to come off un-gentlemanly, but, Ivan? I owe you big-time, buddy).

steve simels said...

The Beach Boys Today
The Byrds -- Mr Tambourine Man
Who's Next

The Loud Family -- Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things
Marah -- Kids in Philly
Richard X. Heyman -- Actual Sighs
Willie Nile -- House of a Thousand Guitars

The Heyman's technically a cheat, so sue me.

In any case, do I think the newer albums are as brilliant as the older ones?

Close enough.

Sal Nunziato said...

"Close enough" is the new "not really"- :)

Dave said...

My all0time top 3 hasn't changed in 40 years. They are:

Pet Sounds -- Beach Boys
Eli & the 13th Confession -- Laura Nyro
What's Going On -- Marvin Gaye

What they all have in common is ambition, cohesiveness, passion, magnificent production, great vocals, and craftsmanship in songwriting.

I had a really hard time coming up with my Top 3 in the last 25 years. Some peaks by Belle & Sebastian and Nirvana almost made it, but then I thought long and hard about how often I really listen to them. So here are my faves from the last 25 years.

Come On, Come On -- Mary Chapin Carpenter
Painted By Memory -- Burt Bacharach & Elvis Costello
Lovers Leap -- Dan Bryk

These three share many of the attributes of the "oldies," especially the songwriting and passion.

But it's hard not argue with your point, Sal. A few years ago, Spin Magazine put out a Top 25 of the last 25 years list. I don't think their top 2 (Achtung Baby and Sign o' the Times) would make the two 100 albums just of the sixties, let alone the first 25 years of rock albums.

Dave F.

Anonymous said...

The albums I am fondest of are all post-90's, I think because that's when I became really sure about my tastes, rather than trying to cover the waterfront of everything happening and important.

pre-1990: Prince - Sign O the Times, Talk Talk - Laughingstock, Ride - Nowhere

post - 1990: Cheri Knight - The Northern Kingdom, John Doe - Freedom Is, Marty Stuart - The Pilgrim

Shriner said...

I would argue that "close enough" is better than "not really".

While I listed my top 5 albums of all time -- right now, if I were to go to play an entire album, I'd likely be more inclined to play one from the post-90 top 5.

I've played Utopia Parkway and the Wondermints albums more recently than the others. They are that strong to me. I must have played The Pipettes album about 3 times a week when I got it and it was the last album I can remember doing that with...

(Well, full disclosure, I listened to the new remaster of JCS recently too because it was Easter...)

But, your definition of "average" might be my definition of "great" (and vice versa -- I keep trying "Summerteeth" and it does nothing for me, for example...)

As far as the Spin "top 25" goes -- I could argue that many of those *are* great. Achtung Baby is great. The Queen Is Dead, Appetite For Destruction (probably the best rock album of the last 25 years -- another album that I must have played 3 times a week when I got it), Tim, Loveless -- all *fantastic* albums that stand up to multiple repeats even now. And I have not even heard many of the others in the top 20 (some I have and they didn't speak to me...) I said I could keep going if I didn't stop myself...

If I want some memories, I'll put on Abbey Road.

If I want to break out the guitar to play along with a record -- "Get The Knack" is my go-to (followed immediately be "Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo" -- a surprisingly brilliant guitar record when you listen to it...)

If I want to listen to something more modern, I reach for FOW (almost always).

If I want to listen to something amazing (and challenging), I listen to something by Sufjan Stevens.

GnR self-destructed. Are FoW "the next Beatles"? No, probably not. Are they as memorable and enjoyable as the Beatles -- damn, it they are "close enough" to me.

Sufjan, though, is in a world of his own. Right up there with Prince and maybe Beck for originality, IMO.

Argh -- rambling again.

For all I know, the only universally-recognized classic (20 years from now) will be "1989" by Taylor Swift...

rick said...

White Album
Workingman's Dead
(though I'd like to see some forensic work done on the grooves of Layla, Allman Bros Live at the Fillmore East, Jethro Tull's Benefit, Moondance, and Let It Bleed because I might've worn them down just as much as the three listed above. And I just as easily could've Charlie's list)

In past 25 years:
OK, Computer
Dylan's Time Out of Mind (it's just about the most sorrowful thing ever)
Neko Case's Middle Cyclone

My 26 yr old daughter listens to The Who, Blind Faith, The Rolling Stones; the young woman who works in my office is a huge Beatles fan; etc etc

I've been feeling for a long time like an old codger in terms of musical taste, shaking my figurative fist at 'the kids these days', but I've been trying to keep that cantankerousness to myself. And then along comes this opportunity to let it out a little...

Sal Nunziato said...

To me, Guns & Roses are simply terrible, a lucky band with the worst voice in rock and roll history, the most-overrated guitar player in rock and roll history and one of the most overrated singles in rock and roll history in "Sweet Child O'Mine."

NOW...before we go any further, one of my fave bands of all time is Motorhead, so this isn't about a cranky old guy who doesn't understand hard rock or metal. Just illustrating Shriner's point about one man's gold...blah blah.

Still, I would never try to pass Motorhead off as anything but a loud rock and roll band. Nothing more, nothing less.

Sal Nunziato said...

Oh, I am well aware of the fact that Sweet Child O'Mine sold 11 bazillion copies, so maybe overrated was the wrong word to use. But I still think the Interpol siren guitar riff on the intro and Axl doing his best Edward G. Robinson on "Where do we go?" at the end are the two most annoying sounds ever committed to wax.

Jobe said...

Shriner, I'm hearing "Utopia Parkway" for the first time. I can see how these songs could grow on me. I do here Squeeze, and sometimes the singer reminds me of Pat Dinizio. Thanks for the heads up on these guys

Shriner said...

OK, Sal -- can we agree on "Permission To Land" by The Darkness as the best hard rock album of the last 15 years at least?

Maybe? Maybe not? ;-)

Sal Nunziato said...

I do like The Darkness, Shriner. But I LOVE "Hot Cakes" more than "Permission."

rick said...

It took me a little while to find it, but Nick Hornby wrote a great article for The New Yorker in August of 2001, touching on this very topic:
In it, he points out that the Billboard charts of top LPs for July 1971 included 'Sticky Fingers', 'What's Goin On', '4 way Street', and 'Aretha Franklin live at Fillmore West'; while July 2001's chart included “Songs in A Minor,” by Alicia Keys; “The Saga Continues . . . ,” by P. Diddy & the Bad Boy Family; “Devils Night,” by D12; “Break the Cycle,” by Staind; “Survivor,” by Destiny's Child; “Jagged Little Thrill,” by Jagged Edge; “Take Off Your Pants and Jacket,” by Blink 182; “Lil' Romeo,” by Lil' Romeo; “Skin,” by Melissa Etheridge; and “Hybrid Theory,” by Linkin Park.

With regard to the Blink 182 CD, Hornby quips: "My copy of the album came with four exclusive bonus tracks, one of which is called 'Fuck a Dog,' but maybe I was just lucky."

44 years later, most of us would be happy to be listening to any of those 1971 LPs, but I'm not sure how many people will be listening to the ones listed from 2001. Time will tell of course; but I've already formed an educated guess.

Dave said...

Just as a reality check, here is the survey from 50 years ago from KRLA in Los Angeles:

Dave F.

Matthew Goldberg said...

This is a bit of shooting fish in a barrel, no? I'm guessing most of your readers are "of a certain age," and that age would equate with growing up - musically - in the 60's and 70's.
That was our moment in the sun.
I'm not saying the last 25 years have been in the shade but rather that we just don't connect with the music the way we did in our teens or twenties.
And the music has moved in a direction away from us all.
That said
From the old days...
Moby Grape
Heat Treatment - Graham Parker & The Rumour

From these days...
Paul Kelly - pick one, okay, Ways and Means
My Morning Jacket - It Still Moves
Ashes of American Flags - Wilco

I'm sure a neuroscientist and a psychologist could explain it.
OR maybe the digital transformation has led to a movement away from creating albums and more attention to the song....

Sal Nunziato said...

"I'm guessing most of your readers are "of a certain age," and that age would equate with growing up - musically - in the 60's and 70's.
... we just don't connect with the music the way we did in our teens or twenties."

I'm sorry Matthew, but I just don't buy that. Good music connects. Period. I certainly don't hold back because I'm listening to the Alabama Shakes with a pipe and slippers as opposed to smoking pot in a van. I would love to love them. I don't believe any of my friends, some in their mid to late 60s, feel that way either.

cmealha said...

I can't believe how tough this was. How could I leave out the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Elvis Costello, Hall & Oates, Prince, etc from my old list. How cloud I ignore Mike Viola, Vampire Weekend, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, John Mayer, Sara Bareilles, Nick Lowe, Nine Inch Nails, Pugwash, Rufus Wainwright and so many more from both errors. I could probably list another 10 for each one I already listed that I could;t live with.

I finally decided to select the most influential records for the older group and the ons I perceived to have played the most from the last quarter century. This is what I cam up with, today. Tomorrow may be a different story.

I don;t think any newer music is going to stand up to the older stuff we grew up with because the old stuff was just so new at the time and now we've heard it a before or we just don't like that new-fangled music the young kids a playing nowadays. ;-). There's still enough music to go around and make everyone happy.

The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)
Roy Wood - Mustard (1975)
Todd Rundgren - Something/Anything (1972)

Amy Winehouse - Back to Back (2006)
Chris Cornell - Euphoria Morning (1999)
XTC - Oranges & Lemons (1992)

cmealha said...

To: Mr. Goldberg

I am of a certain age and am still able to get turned on by a lot of good new music that's out there. My son, who's 19, and I have a great musical relationship. I turn him on to Todd, the Zombies, Beach Boys, Stevie Wonder and he turns me on to great stuff like Toro Y Moi, Kali Uchis or Frank Ocean. It's out there. we just need to be open to it. I mean what's wrong with Tyler Swift's "Shake It Off". It's a great pop song. Why not embrace it instead of immediately trying to knock it down cause its not from our era. It doesn't all have to be art. It could be fun too.

Chris Collins said...

Before 1990:

Beatles- Abbey Road
Bruce- Tunnel Of Love
Stones- Exile

That was in random order:


REM- Automatic for the People
Nirvana- Unplugged
Jay-Z- the Blueprint

I totally disagree with you about Gn'R. I love them and think they're one of the best all time rock bands. I could put the Replacements on any list of favorite albums next to the Stones, the Beatles and the Ramones and feel totally comfortable. Same with Prince. They're just not on here.

But have standards changed? Sure. But amazing work happens all the time today. The new Kendrick Lamar album is remarkable. And it's been mentioned here before, but Taylor Swift's "1989" is pretty great pop. I'd put it up against pop music of any other era.

We don't have a Beatles anymore. The Beatles were a miracle. And the 1950's and 60s saw such an unprecedented level of excellence in music that it's tough to expect that to continue.

As much as we all agree that the music business was terrible in many ways, it still provided a system that allowed many artists to grow and change and innovate because they had the structure and financing supporting them. That doesn't really exist to the same degree. Veteran acts still have the backing, but new artists have to tour constantly to simply survive. It's a blow to creativity.

Matthew Goldberg said...

I am not saying that there is no good music anymore. Au contraire. There's plenty of good music. Do you connect with it in the same visceral way you did when you were 23? I don't.
I'm actually agreeing with you Sal. There has been MUCH terrific music released in the past 25 years. I work hard to keep up with it all. I'm just saying a large percentage of it will never mean as much to me as "Walk Away Renee" or "Four in the Morning" by the Youngbloods.

Sal Nunziato said...

I think records disappointed me more when I was younger. I was devastated when I heard Wings At The Speed Of Sound or that first Mott The Hoople record without Ian Hunter. It felt like an eternity in between releases from my fave artists. Now I just expect eveything to be mediocre.

But 30-40 years later, do I connect the same way? I have to say YES, if the music is good enough. Absolutely.

Fountains Of Wayne have been mentioned here a few times. I was blown away by their first three albums because they had it all. Songwriting chops, vocal harmonies. They were smart, funny, full of hooks. I know those records inside and out, the way I know "Revolver." I was way beyond my formative years when I connected with that music. I can't think of the last record I loved that had 10 out of 10 great songs. Now,a record has 4 great songs and it's considered "Blonde On Blonde."

A walk in the woods said...

You’ll be glad to know my favorite album ever is:
“Something/Anything” by Todd Rundgren.
The other two from earlier times are:
#2 - “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” by Paul Simon
#3 – “Astral Weeks” or “Moondance” by Van Morrison

And from the last 25 years:
#1 – “Maybe You’ve Been Brainwashed Too” by New Radicals
#2 – “Jesus Wept” by PM Dawn
#3 – “Under The Skin” by Lindsey Buckingham

Michael Giltz said...


"Moby-Dick, or The Whale" by Herman Melville
"Pride & Prejudice" by Jane Austen
"War & Peace" by Leo Tolstoy
"The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain
"Mrs. Dalloway"by Virginia Woolf

Last 25 years:

"Cloud Atlas" by David Mitchell
"The Savage Detectives" by Roberto Bolano
"This Is How You Lose Her" by Junot Diaz
"Martin Dressler" by Steven Millhauser I on the right blog?

Anonymous said...

Sal, I've got to agree with M. Goldberg. I still connect with music but in a different way than back in the mid-70's. For me a new album back in high school was a more emotional event - it was a bigger deal. There are more memories tied to those records. Sure, I still connect with a new great record, but it's just not as intense.

Used to be my favorite albums were part of a life of chem tests, a few dates, partying with my pals and going to concerts. Now, my music is surrounded by mortgage payments, yard work and an hour or two here and there in my record room jamming out.

So, yeah, I still's just different.

Pre '90

Led Zeppelin IV

Post '90

The Orange Humble Band - Assorted Creams
Myracle Brah - Life On Planet Eartsnop
Frank Bango - Fugitive Girls

By the way, killer topic, Randy

Michael Giltz said...

Sal, I agree with you, especially in terms of pop and rock and roll.

1. The 1950s through 1970s were awesomely fertile, with classic albums coming out every other minute.
2. Coverage of music is breathlessly tiresome -- every new album by anyone, not jus an aging vet, must be a masterpiece, a classic, a ground-shaking landmark. It's exhausting.
3. One Direction is no Take That, though they are cuter.

Part of it is that there is so much MORE in terms of media and bloggers and noise. I'm pretty sure there was breathless, idiotic coverage of the new Hermans Hermits album and each new band was touted as "better than the Beatles." But there simply wasn't as much of it. Every yahoo like me couldn't get a megaphone with their own blog page. I am picturing you reading rock criticism in the 1970s and it probably amounted to Rolling Stone, Village Voice and some specialist fanzines, not ten thousand websites, video snippets, tweets and so on and so on. It's idiocy multiplied by a thousand. Yet we shouldn't confuse coverage of music with the music itself.


Michael Giltz said...

I've just heard three new albums and I've been blown away. One, I want to hold off on praising because it's already been over-hyped. The second is adding to an already terrific body of work. The third is haunting.

I was gonna post something about wondering if I'd lost my critical faculties because my first listens have been so positive. But like you, I don't wanna go ape-shit over something right out of the court. And yet, my three most recent new listens are:

Courtney Barnett -- Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

The Tallest Man On Earth -- Dark Bird Is Home

Sufjan Stevens -- Carrie & Lowell

I'm confident they'll all be on my best of the year list. How will they hold up 30 years from now? I'm not sure. but I know my pleasure was spoiled a tad by glancing in curiosity at the Rolling Stone review of Barnett. After two EPs and this her debut, they christened her as a landmark genius we'd be hearing from decades from now. Over the top? Absolutely. Maybe it's the ONLY time this writer has made such a declaration. But me, I prefer more reserve about crowning genius.

However, The Tallest Man On Earth now has that track record. I'm just crazy about this guy, how he sprang up (building a worldwide audience via a tiny label), his concerts and above all four albums and two eps in seven years and each one is very good to excellent. His newest somehow manages to feel instantly familiar -- like I'm listening to a favorite album -- and yet fresh and new. He's subtly adding more colors to his guy-and-a-guitar aesthetic, but he's not trying to reinvent himself and the songs are just wonderful. I'm trying NOT to listen to it every five minutes. But yes, this guy is a great artist on a terrific run and he hasn't missed a beat yet.

Sufjan Stevens -- like any lazy critic, I'll compare quiet, hushed albums to Nick Drake at the drop of a hat. "Carrie & Lowell" is just mournfully beautiful. "Illinoise" obviously towers over his other work and I feared Sufjan didn't have the discipline to focus and create great work. On the other hand, I was starting to think that one hundred years from now he'd be remembered for his Christmas music, the series of EPs he puts out every year, which were looking more and more like his most consistent and original work. (I love 'em, but then I own two hundred Christmas albums.) I still wish he'd do more State albums. (Where's Florida? Florida would make a great album!) But just when I was worried he was too distracted by all the options available to him (those multi=media projects) out comes "Carrie & Lowell." It's haunted by death in a lovely, disturbing way. Sad? Absolutely. But for me creating a work drenched in sadness is uplifting, because you've already transformed it into art and that alone is a statement of purpose and rebirth (Elliot Smith aside). So it's sad but I don't find it sad. I love the sound which uses hiss and analog in interesting ways. I love the songs and just like they said back in the day I love the entire album, because it's an album, not a collection of tunes.

Michael Giltz said...

Having spent the last two weeks blown away by three albums (two of which I'm very confident about), it's very hard to say, "They don't make 'em like they used to."

I'll ignore the last five years as too recent. (Which is part of why your question is cheating: it takes time to see what endures and grows in stature, so invariably stuff from 50 years ago seems awesomer than stuff from five years ago. It's proven itself. NOT that there aren't peak years for an art form and rock had one in the 1960s-1970s.

But still, I will gladly rank these alongside the many masterpieces we could list as worthy company:

Radiohead: OK Computer

Sufjan Stevens -- Illinoise

Johnny Cash -- American Recordings (one album or the entire run -- score one for the old fogeys!)

Norah Jones -- Come Away With Me (yes, a bit of a one hit wonder but it's still a terrific record, just like Carole King's "Tapestry" was a one-hit wonder from a terrific songwriter)

Manu Chao -- Proxima Estacion: Esperanza

Sharon Jones -- 100 Days/100 Nights

Eminem -- The Marshall Mathers LP

kd lang -- Ingenue

Nirvana -- Nevermind

Cassandra Wilson -- Blue Light Till Dawn

R.E.M. -- Automatic For The People

Those are all stone cold classics in my book. None of them would look out of place or silly alongside albums by the Beatles, the Stones, Aretha, the Band, etc. etc.

And if you'd said the last 30 years, I could throw in

Paul Simon -- Graceland
Beastie Boys -- Paul's Boutique
Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris - Trio

-- Michael G

mauijim said...

Would like to dial the year back since 2015 hasn't been counted, that allows me to include.
Freedom-Neil Young
Ten-Pearl Jam

Apologies to my children's influences(Arcade Fire, Beck, radiohead) these are the 3 I return to most frequently. What is alarming, is lack of Quality in choices after 2000, whats to blame, iTunes ?
The 3 i have played the most remain
Sun Sessions
Sticky Fingers
Blood on the tracks

rick said...

This has been a great back-and-forth discussion. I’ve lately been on a big Radiohead kick and have been listening to them over and over, loving not only ‘OK, Computer’ but ‘In Rainbows’ as well. There’s something very visceral and satisfying when I listen to them. But I do agree with some of the comments about how different things are now. As a teen, I couldn’t wait for the full page display ads in the Arts and Leisure section of the NY Times to see what records were on sale at Sam Goody’s or even at EJ Korvette’s. “American Beauty for $2.99!” Mondays after school, we’d hop on our bikes, ride to the record store, and buy something new. Then tearing off the plastic shrink wrap was almost as rewarding as unbuttoning a girl’s blouse. Reading the liner notes, if any, putting it on the turntable, and letting the new sounds waft over you. It was a pretty cool, pretty heady experience. The opening guitar on ‘Brown Sugar’ on the Sticky Fingers album, or on ‘Layla’ or even on ‘Tell Me Why’ on After the Goldrush: such great moments! I don’t know if the world is bigger now, or smaller, but it’s different. Obviously, being 58 is different than 15. And sometimes looking back at 15 feels like I’m looking through the wrong end of the telescope: everything so small and far away. But, when thinking about music, I can still recall which friends owned which records: I didn’t buy Led Zepellin II because Stephen owned it and I’d listen to it at his house; I didn’t buy Blonde on Blonde because Lenny owned it, etc. My Proustian moments aren’t food-related, they’re music-related.

Sal Nunziato said...

Back in 1996, the four original members of Kiss put their make-up back on and went on tour. They played three nights at Madison Square Garden. I went to Night 2.

While heading to my seat I bumped into a friend I hadn't seen in 20 years. Hugs, blah blah, he said, "I was here last night." "How was it?," I asked. "Oh it's great. saw them back in the day, right?" "Of course," I said. "Oh right. Well then it sucks."

Shriner said...

Oh, fine, I wasn't going to contribute to this again (somebody stop me!), but since it just came up on my iTunes shuffle I can't believe I forgot about it

Big Star -- #1 Record

This is an album I only discovered within the last 25 years, that was (obviously) released much earlier.

This would fall just outside of my "top 5 of all time" (but in my top 10 records), but probably is my *most played* album of the last 15 years (with the 2-fer with Radio City). Everytime I play it I'm dumbstruck with how good that album is.

My point? Classics will be discovered (or rediscovered) when you least expect it...

(Not much of a point, but there you go...) I really just wanted to give a shout-out to #1 Record.

A walk in the woods said...

Michael Giltz - love how you are so caught by The Tallest Man On Earth also. That dude is brilliant! And the music is, in a way, as simple as water in a glass. But he does it in a new, very compelling way.

Great call on mentioning him as an example of great new music.

Anonymous said...

Good God Sal, you've got to listen to The Tallest Man On Earth!!! Thank you, Michael G. This is the best album I've heard in ages. Seriously. Randy

big bad wolf said...

As is so often the case, i adopt and approve William Repsher's comments.


1. Exile on Main Street
2. London Calling
3. Astral Weeks

very, very difficult to leave out a Dylan record but his is as much a body of work as any single album and his peaks are perhaps less than these three albums.


1. The College Dropout-Kanye West
2. The Woods--Sleater-Kinney
3. The Marshall Mathers Album-Eminem

Each of these thrilled me in the same way, though not quite as much, as the great albums we heard for the first time when we were younger. the difference I attribute to me, not the artists. I am, though very, very open to music and thrills still, older and less excitable.

Re: Michael Glitz's list

1. Disgrace--J.M. Coetzee
2. Austerlitz--W.G. Sebald
3. Possession--A.S. Byatt

tinpot said...

Two points no-one's brought up:
Maybe the CD format has ruined the album...they are too damned long!
It's hard to obsessively love/listen to/memorize a 70 minute album compared to a 35/40 minute one. Would Abbey Road be as highly rated with 30 minutes of filler mixed in?
And also (contradicturally) maybe everything WAS better back then. It happens: eg Italian art in the renaissance vs Italian art ever since. Paris in the '20's, etc. Maybe we should just celebrate what was a special time, knowing it may never happen again.

A walk in the woods said...

tinpot - you bring up a great point about the length of most CD's. I hate to admit it - because you'd think we'd always want more music by our favorite artists, even if it's just putting half-baked ideas on a CD because they can - but you're right. (Although, my favorite album is Something/Anything, which is a double LP, so maybe that blows the theory...)

However, I do not agree with the oft-offered theory that "it was better then." I think there is tons of great music being made today.

Sal Nunziato said...

Okay this may be beating a dead horse, but things have been going so well here with so many terrific and passionate thoughts, I don't mind offering this up--

I am surprised that it took three days and 40 comments for someone--tinpot--to at least offer up that "maybe it was better before." Why is there such resistence to that?

On many occasion, on these pages, I have been referred to as "cranky" or suffering from "get off my lawn" syndrome." People, lovingly of course, have implied that maybe I should just have fun once in awhile.

For the record, I do not sit alone in the dark listening to "The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll" all day. I have been known to play air guitar and air drums more than a man of my age should admit.

But is it not possible that all this great music in the last 25 years can be "great" without being better? Because I for one, don't think it is better. 3-5 records every 5 years can maybe sit side by side with the records made in the 60s and 70s.

We can chalk it up to everything mentioned...the times, more critics and more hype....the length of CDs...but we are a very savvy bunch. I'm not sure why it's so difficult to admit music was possibly better.

It doesn't mean we can't LOVE Sufjan or Tallest Man or Alabama Shakes or Todd Rundgren's new lame EDM record.

William Repsher said...

Did people who live in The Dark Age know they were living in The Dark Age? History refers to it as such, but at the time, assuming the plague didn't get you, the lack of great art, the general malaise of life that came to identify that era ... you were probably just trying to get by, same way we all are now.

Not to say we're living in a musical dark age that took root in the 80s and grew through the 90's and 00's, but to say we're not going to be able to get a better grasp on this for another decade or two, at the least.

We live in other ages that define a resistance to admitting something that came before or is in the past was "better" in some sense. It's not just music. Many people will mistake your take on all this as nostalgia (I know it isn't) and downgrade you accordingly. We're going to feel a lot worse things than nostalgia in our lives. Murderous rage. Intense physical and emotional pain. A lot of other bleak feelings. But for some reason, we've come to define people who feel nostalgia as the kings of all assholes. When it's just as assholic to admit that something created recently exists in some kind of vacuum that anyone over a certain age can't possibly understand.

Which is pretty much teenage nostalgia disguised as enlightenment. But, hey, who's keeping score?

Shriner said...

I just fundamentally disagree with the concept -- when aimed at "art" -- that "maybe it was better before".

It's not. Or at least "not always"

It's *different*.

To switch medias -- I could effectively (I believe) posit arguments for the proposition that we are in a *new* "Golden Age of Television". And it's *better* than anything that came before.

That does not denigrate what came before *or* make the statement that, "Well, "The Sopranos" is "pretty good" but it's no "I Love Lucy" or "Hill Street Blues""

There is/was a shit-ton of dreck "art" (including music) from the dawn of time on up through today. That will not stop.

There is also an awesome body of art coming out today that (IMO) rivals -- or surpasses -- previous work. Maybe it's harder to find because there is *so much of it* -- or maybe *too much* of it (one of your points you've made previously that I agree with).

I also agree with what I think is your main concept -- that music -- differently than some other art forms -- may be guilty of excessive hype/overpraise on release day that does not stand the test of time. Rock magazine critics -- especially those at Rolling Stone -- are *beyond* guilty of that.

But I think it's also valid to argue that *consensus* on what is current -- related to music -- might be harder to reach today than before. Unfortunately, there is no "Rotten Tomatoes" web site for albums (hey, Kickstart this project and I'll make one -- or at least donate to it...)

I also disagree with the concept of "Nostalgia" being a bad thing. It probably is if it used as a crutch to not ever accept *anything* new as better. But it's just as bad to be used as a crutch to say "only old things are any good". The whole hipster-vinyl thing, for example -- I just don't get, but, hey, more power to you if that floats your boat.

I'm rambling again.

To summarize: It's possible for some that things may never be *better* -- but they certainly can be *as good*. By definition, *something* always has to be "the best". Records (hah) are made to be broken, though. Keep the faith!

buzzbabyjesus said...

I was out of town in an internet free zone, so I didn't see this right away.

Roxy Music "Stranded"
Kinks "Kronicles"
"The Beatles"

Last 25 years?

Pavement "Crooked Rain"
Los Lobos "Collosal Head"
The Libertines "Up The Bracket"

Anonymous said...

I wrote a much longer response but I think Blogger does not like me so I rethought it again. This is an extremely difficult exercise for me. I could easily do 100 albums before 1990 and probably 50 after. If I do categories that I mostly listen to (rock/jazz/blues), I could do different lists. Not to mention counting all the instrumentalist I enjoy.

Sticking with the parameters of anything is hard for me. But here’s 5 favorites:

Before 1990:
Beatles: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Classic

Derek and the Dominoes: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). Classic Clapton

Robin Trower “Bridge of Sighs” (Capitol, 1974). A recipe for rock immortality.

Roxy Music Avalon (1982). Romance

John Hiatt “Bring the Family” (1987). Stellar work from all involved (Hiatt with Lowe/Cooder/Keltner) and songs that inform and pack a punch about the human condition.

Bill Frisell “Have a Little Faith” (1992). I consider this something of the flipside to Hiatt’s masterwork. Covers Hiatt and Aaron Copland in a fabulous and connected song cycle. Terrific band and Frisell’s most excellent guitarwork.

Steve Forbert “The American in Me” (1992) or “Mission of the Crossroads Palms” (1995). These are two overlooked albums in the Forbert catalog that I think rival the emotional intensity of his early run. The songs are intense, sober reflections on the ying/yang of it all (relationships, family, economic concerns) with some humor thrown in. (Clay Barnes on guitar throughout.)

Shawn Colvin “These Four Walls” (2006). To know her is to love her.

Francis Doughty “Among Trees” (self-release, 1998). Someone I stumbled across and am glad I did. Impressionistic graceful guitar, meditative.

Michael D.

Christine said...

Before 1990:

Queen II


Original Cast Recording of Les Miserable
Original Cast Recording of Spring Awakening
Original Cast Recording of Next to Normal

(see what happened there? hashtag feeling old?)


buzzbabyjesus said...

One thing I keep thinking about is that the "The British Invasion" was made by a generation deeply affected by WWII. The Germans bombed the shit out of England. Paul McCartney was born in 1942.
Mick and Keith were born in 1943.
The music we grew up to came out of circumstances difficult for us to comprehend, and it was being done for the first time.
What's left for the new kids except to rehash, or thrash?
Or for the old timers to tread overly familiar ground? Or new territory that doesn't suit them? Neil's "(Bitter) Psychedelic Pill", or
Todd's "Global" come to mind.
We've already heard it anyway.
I like JD McPherson's 2015 "Let The Good Times Roll" because it sounds like it was recorded in 1957.
The kids are onto other things these days.
YouTube and social media is their Beatles.

Michael Giltz said...

OK, let me try again, but more succinctly.

1. Concerning veteran acts -- it's tiresome when people praise every new album by aging vets as their best since ________. (I read that about Rod Stewart and every album after Every Picture Tells A Story for 30 years. It was never remotely true.) Yes, it's silly to praise every new Springsteen album. (His peak clearly came in the 70s to early 80s.) But it's just as silly to ignore every single album since then and dismiss it with "He hasn't made a good album since "Darkness" or whatever. What can you do? Other than forcing everyone to agree with you, it's an eternal problem.
2. The 60s were better. It's true! Specifically, the Beatles. But reacting to every new band by saying "They're not as good as the Beatles" is no more productive than reacting to every new movie and saying "It's no Citizen Kane. Not even close!" True, but so what? And it doesn't mean they're not brilliant, enduring works of art.
3. The current era is about half as productive when it comes to album masterpieces as that earlier era by your formula? Sounds reasonable to me.

PS WG Sebald is indeed remarkable. "The Rings Of Saturn" or "Austerlitz" should have been included.

rick said...

One album that was extremely influential in my adolescence was Herb Alpert's "Whipped Cream and Other Delights"...but that was because of the cover...

Anonymous said...

Some longish thoughts:

The 1960s were for artistic reasons a very fertile period for any artist to draw from, consider, and to put into their work (whether it be literature/art/theatre/music).

All the social and political upheaval fed into the transitions of early rock to something more reflective of the times. Jazz from the mid-1950s went through audience changes as it moved from the being the popular music of its time to bebop into postbop and the beginnings of the fusion movement and the Avant garde.

Country started to go outlaw.

The blues served as an inspiration to countless rock artists and Muddy Waters, Albert King/BB King/Freddy King all went from inspirations to playing with the kids. R&B/soul reflective the times even more so with countless albums/songs about the civil rights struggle and on and on.

Everything changed and was changing. All of the creative endeavors and fields reflected that.

Think of all the post-war economic changes that were taking place as well as populations moved in and out of the cities.

The suburbs were built. White flight started. Vietnam. The assassinations of JFK/MLK/RFK and others.

Couple that with the record industry itself. The depth of the distribution channels. The A&R people, the super producers, the payola, AM radio, the rise of FM freeform, the single countdowns.

The singer-songwriter as a folk icon comes to age. The rise and fall of disco. The punk rebellion. Heavy metal meets hair metal. The grunge reaction. The 1980s and the music zine. Mixtapes galore.

Frampton Comes Alive.

“Rapper’s Delight” came out in 1979.

Vinyl was king for a long while which meant artwork, lyric sheets, packaging, and liner notes, all reflective of the changes in society. Then we went to 8-tracks to cassettes to CD to digital to?

People with the attention span of a gnat. Tattoos. The death of music as an Art form. The death of commercial music radio, and the rise of satellite and internet alternatives.

Digital music as a quick means of making a buck a song thanks to Steve Jobs. Amazon, eBay, Napster. Various examples of stupidity and incompetence in the record industry. Phil Spector went to prison.

The rise of a sort of celebration of naked materialism in society as reflected through the music industry that I don’t think was as prevalent before.

We seem to use more social/cultural signifiers today than we did back then. That could be because of the rise in social media as a way to connect and celebrate your tribe that wasn’t available back then. I think being a teenager is every different today than the 1970/80s.

We’ve had terrorism, 9/11, country music as a political platform, continuing social and economic upheaval.

Everyone’s exhausted but has access to boner pills. Naughty bits all over the Internet.

Artisanal coffee, beef, cheese, cupcakes, and moustaches. Tattoos too.

Frampton went bald(ish).

The hypoallergenic dog.

Micro brews (thank you dog).

The 200+ dollar concert ticket that gives you a nosebleed.

Arguably, the fragmentation of the music business, which started in the mid to late 1990s, is now pretty much complete, though the larger music companies are still doing relatively well. The fragmentation has led to the rise of artists outside music channels and control.

And, for the all the problems of the music business, the rise of crowd-source funding has the ability to get artists even closer to their fans. As much as I dislike certain aspects of social media (comments), it’s led me to find likeminded people and artists through word of digital mouth.

Meanwhile, vinyl has risen as a niche document. (I’m still not selling mine.)

I no longer listen to music like I used to (can’t rock out unless I’m home alone) but I think I listen to a greater variety than I did. I still buy the CD. I don’t bootleg (much).

And, I’m still hopeful that some of my heroes can still play and record and occasionally get it right. Live music still sounds best in a small(er) room.

Michael D.