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Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Top Pop

I recently ran across an interesting list of the top 100 albums of the 1970s. It prompted me to think about my own pop favorites. As a result, I offer an albun list of my own -- a dozen or so, not one hundred, and from any decade, not just the 70s.

My list may be missing one of my favorites right now, simply because the album didn't occur to me. And, I must admit, my knowledge pop before the 1960s and after about 1990 is scant. But hey, it's my list. I haven't commented on some of the albums named below as much as I'd like to do -- on a couple I haven't commented at all -- and I intend to add more remarks. But here is what I have so far:

Stop Making Sense, The Talking Heads
I knew nothing about The Talking Heads when I went to see Prince's film Purple Rain. The movie Stop Making Sense happened to be showing with it. I immediately fell in love with the band. I actually prefer the film to the album, both because of how entertaining David Byrne is on stage and because the song "Heaven," perhaps my favorite in the movie, is not on the album. Still, the songs that made it are all performed flawlessly and with great energy.

Uprising, Bob Marley
I believe this is the last album Marley recorded before his death. He was on the verge of achieving a new style of music built on reggae but going beyond it -- listen to "Could You Be Loved," with its dazzling rhythm tracks. "We'll Be Forever Loving Jah" is a beautiful spiritual statement, "Redemption Song" is a classic, and all of the other songs are strong.

Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
"Idiot Wind" is the greatest trashing of a former lover ever written. How did he ever come up with the opening lines:


Someone's got it in for me, they're planting stories in the press
Whoever it is I wish they'd cut it out but when they will I can only guess.
They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy,
She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me.
I can't help it if I'm lucky.


"Tangled Up in Blue," "Simple Twist of Fate," and "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" are also among my Dylan favorites. My one complaint is that "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," while a solid tune, goes on a little long for my taste.

Joshua Tree, U2
Besides the three big hits -- "Where the Streets Have No Name," "With or Without You," and "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- this album also has gems like "Red Hill Mining Town" and "In God's Country."

Royal Scam, Steely Dan
I first heard this album echoing out of dorm rooms when I arrived for my freshmen year at UConn. I had no idea who the band was -- in fact, after I found out, I still had no clue that it was the same band that had performed "Ricki Don't Lose That Number" and "Reeling in the Years," both of which I had heard quite often -- but I remember being captivated by the haunting sound achieved on this album. "Kid Charlemagne" cooks, as well as poignantly capturing the passage of a cultural episode. "Hatian Divorce" is a great story, and one of the best reggae songs by a rock band. However, my favorite is "The Caves of Altimira," another great tale from Fagen and Becker.

Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
OK, I know, this is a trite pick, but it's not my fault that this album stayed in the Billboard top 200 for like 80 years.

Live at the Filmore East, Allman Brothers
The album that introduced me to jamming.

After the Gold Rush, Neil Young
"Don't Let It Bring You Down" is perhaps my favorite Neil Young song. The album ranges across a variety of styles of music, yet the whole has an impressively unified feel to it.

Who's Next, The Who
This is probably my pick for the second best pop album that I can think of. The collection of songs is just fantastic: "Won't Get Fooled Again" -- the best debunking of the promises of political revolutionaries ever set to music -- "Behind Blue Eyes," "The Song Is Over," "Baba O'Riley," "Gettin' in Tune," and "Bargain." I can't think of another album with so many great songs on it.

Abbey Road, The Beatles
This is my pick for the best pop album of all time. The first side is not as strong as some of their other work, but the magnificent second side more than compensates. Lennon and McCartney turn the personal drama of the band's breakup into great art. I've always loved:

One sweet dream
Pick up the bags and get in the limousine
Soon we'll be away from here
Step on the gas and wipe that tear away


McCartney's bass work is stunning, creating little melodic masterpieces hiding underneath the main melody.

It is always striking to me that this album was recorded in 1969. Unlike other bands efforts from that time, some of which I like very much, there is nothing about Abbey Road that sounds "sixties." It could have been made last year.



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