Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Best of the Best (Part 1)

I remember going into Tower Records when I was sixteen and purchasing a copy of The Soft Parade by the Doors. I was in the midst of a Jim Morrison fascination after reading "No One Here Gets Out Alive" and was slowly making my way through the bands collection. The clerk complimented me on my choice and said it was his favorite Doors album. To this day, I don’t know if he was putting me on.

The Soft Parade is my least favorite Doors album. It was critically reviled in its day and has not redeemed itself in over thirty years. It has a few moments such as Morrison proclaiming lustily, "You cannot petition the Lord with prayer," and a few songs such as "Touch Me" and "Wild Child." And I like the cover shot of the band. But overall, if I had to throw out one Doors album, I would not hesitate to jettison this release.

But was that record clerk kidding me or was this really his favorite Doors album? I know for a fact, the more you get into a band, the more appealing the deep catalog becomes as the hits become too familiar, boring and, often times, annoying. If you love a band, your favorite song is often the song on the album no casual fan has ever paid attention to or even heard.

Once I became a recordjerk (get it? I worked in a record store?), I was always confronted with the dilemma of being asked to recommend music. Do you go with the most easily digestible or the best release by an artist? Part of the thinking was "Anyone can like a hit. But if you don’t like this record, you are missing the whole point." Maybe it is elitist, but it could be simple honesty. It kind of requires a delicate balance and an ability to read the customer.

Record store employees used to spend hours discussing the merits of certain albums over other albums, and artist’s creative arcs, and how much crap populated the Top 40. I don’t know how much time is spent discussing music anymore since most current record store employees don’t know any more about music than your average fast food worker. I dare you, go into a record store and ask for Pink Floyd. After the initial blank stare, see how many record store employees lead you to the "F" section. (See, I can still be a jerk.)

So long story short, I am going to start detailing my recommendations for music. What albums do I recommend. Simple enough. And, I admit, some of the stuff will be my personal favorites. I’m not going to sugar coat these suggestions. I’m not trying to sell you anything, but, as far as I am concerned, these are the albums by these artists that matter. If you are curious, these would be the places to start.

Guided By Voices – Start with Bee Thousand, and then pick up Alien Lanes and Under The Bushes, Under The Stars. The bulk of GBV material can be daunting but the majority of it is very enjoyable, however you cannot go wrong with these three releases. If you enjoy these, try Mag Earwhig! and Do The Collapse.

The Beatles – Okay, the Beatles are a bit complicated because where you start can only be rewarding. I came to the Beatles in my early-mid twenties. Maybe it was the punk in me, but I thought they were trite and boring. And even once I got it, had an epiphany, I still avoided what I called their "Yeah, yeah" period. But over the years I have come to embrace all they have done. But where to start? I would recommend Rubber Soul and Beatles For Sale. I know, I know, Beatles For Sale was kind of a rushed effort bloated with covers, but it has the triple threat of "No Reply," "I’m a Loser" and "Baby’s In Black." The best thing about For Sale is that the band was exhausted, cranky and irritable. Look at those sunken eyes on the cover. And Rubber Soul is just a wonderful album full of great songs. Of course, like I said, no matter where you start, you cannot really go wrong.

The Clash – As I’ve said before, London Calling is my all-time favorite album, so that is a given. I would then also throw in Give ‘Em Enough Rope, often over looked and under appreciated. But for all of it’s flaws it is the second best Clash release.

The Cure – God, the Cure. They are one of those bands where I feel a couple of key releases determine whether you get the band or not. Basically, if you don’t like Pornography and The Top, I can’t help you. Dementia, depression and drugs. Additionally, I would recommend the singles collection Japanese Whispers and the overplayed Head on the Door. Do we ever need to hear "Close To Me" again? According to my fifteen-year-old stepdaughter: yes. After Head on the Door, the Cure have really become increasingly irrelevant, despite their continued success, releasing bad album after bad album. Kiss Me could have been pared down to a solid single album (maybe).

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin produced five really solid albums, one good album, one mediocre album and two almost unlistenable albums. But I would recommend their third album and Physical Graffitti. Obviously, everyone wants "Stairway to Heaven" so I would grudgingly support their fourth album, but then I wouldn’t be challenging you and how will you grow? But please, avoid In Through The Outdoor and Coda. Coda’s not a real album anyway, and In Through The Out Door sucks.

There is more where this came from, but I think we all need to come up for air.

Until next time, these are the recommendations from my iPod:

1. "Problem Child" by AC/DC
2. "1970" by the Stooges
3. "Forever For Her" by the White Stripes
4. "Peaceful Valley" by Ryan Adams
5. "I Drove a Tank" by Robert Pollard
6. "Saturday Sun" by Nick Drake
7. "Higher Hell" by Echo & the Bunnymen
8. "Our Way" by the Germs
9. "Kind of Madness" by Jay Farrar
10. "Into Your Arms" by the Lemonheads


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