"Summerteeth" was released in 1999. It was Wilco's third and I still hadn't been completely sold on the band. I liked the sloppy mess of their debut and I thought what was great on their follow-up "Being There" was great, but what wasn't, really wasn't. There is some clamor over "Summerteeth" and the Beach Boys seem to get name-dropped by more than a few reviewers and fans. So I listen, and of course, I don't hear the Beach Boys, much like I don't hear The Beatles when I listened to Oasis. It takes more than a minor 7th chord to sound like the Fab Four and it takes more than a few harmonies to sound like the Wilsons.
I didn't fall as hard as others, but I did like "Summerteeth" enough to keep it close and to see the band live at the Bowery Ballroom, on a guest ticket from a friend. That show turned me around and I've been a fan, occasionally a fanatic, ever since.
Over the course of however long it took, maybe a few years, songs would pop up randomly on the iPod, some by the Beach Boys and some from "Summerteeth." That's when it would hit me, a song at a time, unexpectedly hitting the right nerve. What I hadn't been hearing on the first pass or two, suddenly became as clear as day, though I was still skeptical over what the critics were hearing in 1999. Nothing specific had ever been mentioned, so it was easy for me to toss it all aside when nothing from Wilco's album sounded like "Don't Worry Baby."
Soon "Summerteeth" will be 20 years old. I don't recall what age it was when it became one of my favorite records of all time. But the more I listen, the more I hear late 60's and early 70's Beach Boys. But more than that, I hear the best Jeff Tweedy songs and band arrangements, all in one place.
77. Traffic- Mr. Fantasy
The 1967 debut from Traffic, aka "Heaven Is In Your Mind," at least for a brief minute in the USA, is many different records. There are US stereo and mono mixes, UK stereo and mono mixes and alternate track lists. For me, the original UK tracklist and mono mix gets to come with me. The psychedelic pop of this debut is a far cry from the soulful, hippie folk jamming of their other masterpiece "John Barleycorn Must Die" released only three later, and it remains another one of the special records that has its own sound. The hook-filled opener, "Heaven Is In Your Mind" is irresistible, the gorgeous "No Face No Name and No Number" is a heartbreaker, and of course "Dear Mr. Fantasy," which has become a jam-band live staple, are just three of the endless highlights of this necessary record.
78. Jules Shear- The Great Puzzle
Jules Shear is by far, one of my favorite songwriters of all time, though I was not on board like so many others, with Jules & The Polar Bears. It was his solo debut produced by Todd Rundgren that caught my ear and sealed my deal as a fan, and it was 1992's "The Great Puzzle," where Jules Shear delivered his masterpiece. Every song is a short story, with turns of phrase that will leave you spellbound. His voice, which admittedly is an acquired taste, has never been better, and Shear's ear for harmony is on display on most of these brilliant tracks. "The Great Puzzle" is perfect, from top to bottom and is the best example of why Jules Shear remains a personal favorite.
79. Bobby Fuller Four- I Fought The Law
One proper record released in 1966 and that was enough. Everything you need is on the BF4's "I Fought The Law." Chugging Buddy Holly guitars, mellifluous harmonies, enough hooks to snag a carp, and an underlying urgency that drives every track, this record is Bobby Fuller's greatest hits, one amazing song after another.
80. The Black Crowes- The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion
In 1990, I saw The Black Crowes open for Aerosmith and they made me laugh. "Is this guy kidding me, with this act?" I asked my friend that question, only peppered it with a few multi-syllabic, dirty "K" words, as I watched this skinny wannabe try desperately to win the crowd, as he fell to his knees, smacking the floor, testifying, or so he thought. I did not like Chris Robinson in 1990. So, how did the Black Crowes become one of my favorite live bands, as well as one of my favorite bands of the last 30 years? It started with their sophomore release, "The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion." Where it might have been easy to toss off their debut as a Rutles-like parody of the Faces, regardless of how good the singles were, it was as if the Brothers Robinson were reborn for the material on their follow-up. Tighter and stronger, full of gospel and soul, rhythm and blues and balls out rock and roll, "Southern Harmony" is the one. It takes their love of southern music, the swagger of Mick & Keith, the carelessness of Rod and Ronnie and Mac and nails it for the 90's. The Black Crowes became a different band with their next record, "Amorica." The vibe turned from playfully drunk to heavy handed and stoned, which is not to say the boys put out inferior music. "Amorica" has moments of brilliance, and though I may be alone with this assessment, their fifth release, 1995's "By Your Side" was back to basics and stands as my second favorite Crowes record. (I don't even think Chris & Rich Robinson like "By Your Side," but what do they know?) Live, they remained one of the greatest acts, thanks to the machine behind the kit, the one and only, Steve Gorman. "The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion" is solid, and would not be out of place on a list with some of the great hard rocking records of all time.