Archive for January, 2013


#30: “Blue” by Joni Mitchell

Blue

So the first female artist on the list comes in at #30.  To be honest, I wasn’t very familiar with Joni Mitchell when I ordered this album for $6.97 from Amazon, and as I listened to it, I kept racking my brain thinking that it sounded like something else.  And then about 7 songs in (“This Flight Tonight”), it finally dawned on me that she sounds like pretty much all the female artists that I listen to…the high, flexible voice of Sarah McLachlan, the sultry, jazzy sound of Fiona Apple, the jangly yowl of Alanis Morissette, the soothing richness of Natalie Merchant, and especially the free-form artistry of Tori Amos…Joni Mitchell influenced them all.  So once I realized that, listening to this album became another fun exploration of the roots of the artists that I have listened to so extensively, especially during my college years.  It reminded me of seeing a young and inexperienced Alanis Morissette play her hit-single “You Oughta Know” on the main stage at WMMS Buzzardfest in 1995 (mmm…texas tacos), of scoring third row seats to Tori Amos at the Cleveland State Convocation Center in 1998 (“I think I just hooked you up!”), and of Natalie Merchant apologizing to a disappointed Lilith Fair crowd at Germain Ampitheater in 1998 when she announced that Sarah McLachlan had gotten food-poisoning from the catering service and would be unable to play.  Each of those concerts was a great experience (I might have been the only person at Lilith Fair that year that was more excited for Natalie Merchant than for Sarah McLachlan, and I’m pretty sure Natalie got to play a little longer when Sarah couldn’t go) and I’m glad that each of those women took a little piece of Joni Mitchell’s voice and made it their own.

So I guess I expected Joni Mitchell to be folky, but this record definitely has a strong jazz influence.  Joni’s piano work evokes images of dimly lit jazz cafes and evenings alone with a bottle of wine.  Despite the title, it’s not all sad.  James Taylor adds some rhythmic folk guitar to “All I Want” and “California” that makes the songs come alive and seems to spark a playful spirit in Joni’s voice.  I also like the fact that most of these songs do not follow typical pop song form (i.e. verse-chorus-verse).  Joni Mitchell seems to add verses and bridges wherever she wants, minimizing the importance of the choruses and only returning to them when she feels like it.  Overall, this album feels very artistic, and since Joni Mitchell is also a painter, I’m guessing that many of the free-form expressive qualities in her music come from her artistic background.  Oh, and the cover is an homage to Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” (#12 on this list)…very cool.

Other lists: Joni Mitchell is #42 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Singers, is #75 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists,  and is #62 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists.

My favorite track: “River” (I think the jazz allusion to “Jingle Bells” is so cool)

Honorable mention: “Carey”

Quote: “Everybody’s saying that hell’s the hippest way to go.  Well, I don’t think so, but I’m gonna take a look around it though.”

#29: “Led Zeppelin” by Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin

 

So yeah, Led Zeppelin.  The original gods of rock.  The innovators of heavy metal.  The band that influenced just about every band I ever listened to.  And somehow I never actually got into them.  Not sure how I missed that boat…I remember buying Zep IV off of Lord Bacchus back in college (because I liked “Black Dog”, not “Stairway”!) when he got some sort of Zeppelin box set and was getting rid of his regular copies, but up until now that was the only Zeppelin album I ever owned, which is kind of a shame because this stuff really rocks.  I mean really rocks.  Oh well, better late than never.

I got this album off Amazon for $7.73, and I’ve been listening to it pretty much non-stop for the past few days.  The first thing that jumped out at me was that this is actually a blues record, albeit a very experimental one with lots of distortion.  In addition to the 3 actual blues covers on the album (“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”, “You Shook Me”, and “I Can’t Quit You Baby”), all of the other songs have a very strong blues influence as well.  Obviously, one of the things that made this band special was the interplay between Jimmy Page’s guitar and Robert Plant’s vocals, and this dynamic is showcased in amazing fashion at the end of “You Shook Me” when Page and Plant trade licks back and forth in a call-and-response style that is usually reserved for gospel choirs.  Amazing stuff.

The originals on this record are great too.  And as I listen to it, I can’t help but realize the incredible influence these guys had on so many other bands.  Practically every hard rock and heavy metal act of the 70s, 80s, and 90s owes some little bit to Led Zeppelin.  I can now hear Robert Plant in Axl Rose’s wail and Chris Cornell’s yowl, and Jimmy Page in Mike McCready’s leads and Jerry Cantrell’s riffs.  And to think that it all started here.  Pretty cool.  Absolutely nothing political at all on this record either…just songs about chicks.  But that’s okay…it’s still awesome.  And well, rock gods don’t need to save the world…they just need girls, right?

Other lists: Led Zeppelin is #14 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Robert Plant is #15 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and Jimmy Page is #3 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists (only Hendrix and Clapton rank higher).

My favourite track: “Dazed and Confused”

Honourable mention: “Communication Breakdown”

Quote: “In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man.  Now I’ve reached that age, I’ve tried to do all those things the best I can.”

#28: “Who’s Next” by The Who

Who's Next

 

I picked this up at the Half-Price Books in Mentor, Ohio for $6.99 (minus my 10% teacher discount) this past September when the Princess and I were on the way back from the Geneva Grape JAMboree.  They had two editions available: this and a newer remastered version with additional tracks.  But I generally hate post-2000 remasters (the loudness war ushered in by the mp3 era makes things sound worse, not better) so I went with the older copy.  I was kind of surprised I didn’t own this already, as I do consider myself a fan of the Who, but then I realized that the only Who albums I actually own are “Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy” and “Tommy”, both of which I picked up in college.  I just thought I owned a lot of Who albums because I know a lot of Who songs.  And the reason I know a lot of Who songs is because I listen to a lot of Pearl Jam.

In fact, it was Edward Louis Severson III who introduced me to the Who back in the early 90s.  Edward credits the Who’s “Quadrophenia” with having changed and possibly saved his life when he was a teenager.  Because of this, Edward would often cover Who songs during Pearl Jam concerts, especially “Baba O’Riley” and “The Kids Are Alright”.  Actually, I was lucky enough to hear PJ play “Baba O’Riley” twice live…the first time at Blossom Music Center on August 26th, 1998 and the second time in Cincinnati on June 24th, 2006.  Both times I was with Lord Bacchus (who is still the biggest PJ fan I know), but the first time was especially memorable because he was on crutches after breaking his leg in three places during an intense game of tackle basketball with Black Cloud.  We drove up from Columbus in the Blue Lagoon, and somehow I had a ticket to the show (lawn seat) but he didn’t.  So I went on a mission to scalp a ticket for him while he waited in the car, and when I came back with his ticket he had already bought one. So then I went on another mission to sell the extra seat (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t hard…the concert was beyond sold out as it was the first time they had played in Ohio since their war with Ticketmaster).  However, there had been quite a bit of rain that week, and the lawn at Blossom was more like a mud pit, which made it really difficult for Lord Bacchus to stand on his crutches for the entire show.  But like a true disciple of Pearl Jam (again, Eddie admitted it was a religion here in Cbus) he soldiered through without a single complaint.  I did feel bad for him when the rubber tip of his crutch fell off in the mud in front of a port-o-potty though…that was pretty gross.

So yeah, I’ve known the song “Baba O’Riley” for a long time, as well as the other two big songs from this album “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (featured in the original Rock Band) and “Behind Blue Eyes”.  I really wasn’t familiar with the rest of the songs on this album, and honestly, most of them are pretty average at best.  But the Big 3 are amazing enough to carry this album and make it memorable.  Actually, sometimes I think the Who sort of get lost in the shuffle of all the great British rock bands from the 60s and 70s, but they truly were one of the most creative and they were definitely light years ahead of most of their American hard rock contemporaries.  Being the primary songwriter, Pete Townshend deservedly gets most of the credit for their sound, but truthfully, Roger Daltrey’s voice is pure rock and roll and I can’t imagine the Who with any other singer.

Other lists: “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is #134 and “Baba O’Riley” is #349 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.  The Who is #29 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Roger Daltrey is #61 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers (under-rated in my opinion), and Pete Townshend is #10 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.

My favourite track: “Baba O’Riley”

Honourable mention: “Won’t Get Fooled Again”

Quote 1: “I don’t need to fight to prove I’m right”

Quote 2: “Meet the new boss…same as the old boss”

#27: “The Joshua Tree” by U2

The Johsua Tree

I would classify myself as a U2 fan, but unlike most of the U2 Nation, it wasn’t this album that got me into them, and actually, for a very long time I never really cared for U2 in their 80s incarnation.  But someone, I think it may have been ma soeur, gave me a copy of “Achtung Baby” on cassette back in the early 90s and after that I was hooked…at least on their 90s sound.  Soon I upgraded “Achtung” to the new fangled Compact Disc format, and when “Zooropa” came out I got that too.  And although I didn’t love their 80s sound, I picked up “The Joshua Tree” in one of those big CD orders when we were all scamming BMG for free CDs.  See you couldn’t scam Columbia House…they wanted you to buy about 12 overpriced albums to justify the 8 freebies they gave you up front.  But bless the folks at BMG…they only required you to buy 4 overpriced albums and they still gave you a bunch of freebies.  So that is how I originally got “The Joshua Tree” way back in the day.

Then came college and the “Pop” album, which was mostly forgettable, but did give rise to the PopMart Tour, which was a sight to behold.  And it came to the mecca of Ohio football, the Olde Horseshoe on the banks of the Olentangy River.  My good friend, Disco Bitch, was a huge U2 fan, and he convinced me to go to the show, even at the absolutely ridiculous price of $55 (it seemed exorbitant to pay that much for a concert back in 1997, but it was cheap compared to the $110 I paid to see U2 in 2001).  The concert was Memorial Day weekend, and we decided to throw a party at the house on Neil Avenue I was living in at the time.  Disco didn’t drink at all (he was a good Irish Catholic Boy), and actually he really didn’t have any vices or decadent desires, and he really wasn’t the Disco Bitch yet.  But he chipped in to buy one of the three kegs, and when it came time to tap the first keg, he decided to try a sip…and then a cup…and then several cups…and the Disco Bitch was born and a decade of decadence began.  As for the show the next day, it was pretty spectacular.  Bono flew in on a giant lemon.  ‘Nuff said.

So “The Joshua Tree” is my third favorite U2 album (after “Achtung Baby” and “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”).  To me (and likely most everyone else) it is the pinnacle it is the pinnacle of their 80s work, back when they were still a young and earnest band and before they transformed themselves into the multi-media spectacle of the 90s.  The Big 3 on this album (“Where the Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and “With or Without You”) have taken on an anthemic quality, and even though they still tend to be a bit overplayed on alternative rock radio, they still have an unmistakable power.  However, I think it is the smaller songs where this album really stands out….songs like “Running to Stand Still” and “One Tree Hill” are beautiful and moving while “Red Hill Mining Town” and “Mothers of the Disappeared” make poignant social statements.  I have no complaints about the music (Bono sings like Bono, the Edge plays the way only he plays, and Adam and Larry lay down some solid rhythm tracks), but I do have a minor complaint about the CD.  On the copy I have, the last 40 seconds of “One Tree Hill” are actually on the beginning of the track for “Exit”.  I guess this is a common error on all early pressings of the CD, but it bugs me just a bit.

Other lists: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is #93 and “With or Without You” is #132 on the Rolling Stone list of the Top 500 Songs of all time.  U2 is #22 on the list of the 100 Greatest Artists, Bono is #32 on the list of the 100 Greatest Singers, and the Edge is #38 on the list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists.  Rolling Stone also ranks “The Joshua Tree” as the third best album of the 80s.

Ch-ch-changes: This is the final album to be bumped down a spot by Robert Johnson’s “The Complete Recordings”.

My favourite track: “Running to Stand Still” (why are there so many great songs about heroin?)

Honourable mention: “Red Hill Mining Town”

Quote: “You’ve got to cry without weeping, talk without speaking, scream without raising your voice…”