Posted: Jul 25, 2006 8:45 pm
10. Outkast - Speakerboxx/The Love Below
This double-disc, eclectic set of hip-hop and funk gives us some of the best experimentation happening in all of music today. Over the course of Andre 3000's Love Below disc and Big Boi's Speakerboxx, the duo mash together a sampling of dirty funk, techno, psychedelic rhythms, rock and roll and, of course, a spattering of hip-hop with no boundaries in sight. By isolating themselves on separate discs, Boi and Dre allow us a better perspective into the styles they prefer and also to showcase their individual talents with other artists. While Dre has fewer collaborations on his disc, "Take Off Your Cool," which he sings alongside Norah Jones, is a tad sappy but beautiful as well. Boi, on the other hand, gives us more hard-core hip-hop on tracks like "Flip Flop Rock" with Jay-Z. Of course, you can't discuss this album without mentioning what could be considered one of the most important and influential songs to come out in the past twenty years, at least. "Hey Ya" crams so many styles into four minutes you think your head is going to explode. And it's catchy, too.
9. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Wilco's fourth album, released in 2002, reminds us of everything fantastic about college radio. Every track on this album, named after the three-word codes used by short-wave radio operators, shows the eclectic side of Wilco. Everything, from the distorted yet simple tune of "Ashes of American Flags" to the poppy fun of "Heavy Metal Drummer" gives you a new reason to love the band. Before its release, the band's reputation mainly rooted itself in the limited alt-country genre. But now, whether you like whiney or not, Jeff Tweedy and company are pure indie-rock. That's a graduation, of sorts. What makes this album even more fun, though, is the backstory. Originally, Warner label Reprise records was supposed to release the album, but they passed on it claiming it was crap. Without a label, the band released the album on the Internet. Downloads were abundant, to the point at which Nonesuch Records, another Warner label, actually bought the rights to the album at (reportedly) three times the original price. What was that, music industry? Oh, yes, you're right. The Internet is an evil place and there's no place for music on it.
8. U2 - Achtung Baby!
In the midst of the many musical shifts of the early 1990s, U2 was not to be outdone by the likes of Seattle imports. With this 1991 compilation, the band changes gears in a way that set the tone for the rest of their albums in the 1990s (although this clearly stands out as the most accessible and, really, listenable of the decade). Steering away from the anthemic guitar rock that shot the band straight to stadium superstardom in the 1980s, Achtung Baby is chock-full of dance beats, psychedelic-infused guitar riffs, and layers of special vocal effects that sometimes make us forget how amazing Bono's voice actually is in its purest form. In addition to its musical experimentation, U2 also gives us a genuine look inside its sexuality, desperation, and surprising solitude. While almost every track on the album is a genuine hit, the classic pieces here are clearly, "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses," "Mysterious Ways," "Tryin' To Throw Your Arms Around The World," and the heartbreaking ballad "One."
7. Public Enemy - It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
If you ignore for a second that three years after PE released this groundbreaking hip-hop album, they appeared in Dan Aykroyd's "Nothing But Trouble," probably one of the worst movies ever and, really, a big blotchy tarnish on the careers of this group, you can still enjoy It Takes Nation....This, one of the most influential and, frankly, awesome hip hop albums ever made, has Chuck D, Flavor Flav and the rest of the gang giving us thought-provoking lyrics, in the most urgent of ways, about the teachings of Islam and the injustices done to African-Americans. If you don't like angry rap, it's also worth listening to just to hear Flav say, "Yeeeeah Boyeee" and remember that he's not acting on VH1 - he's actually always been that crazy.
6. Tori Amos - Little Earthquakes
With a combination of disturbing lyrical images, progressive piano plunking and roller coaster emotion, Tori Amos gave us Little Earthquakes, the kind of album you want to sit in alone a dark room and simply absorb, but can't, because listening to it alone is just a little too heart-wrenching. While it's not always depressing, such tracks as "Winter" and "Happy Phantom" show you that, the more Amos bares her soul, the more you realize that this is why rock and roll exists. As you progress through the tracks into the cruelty of unrequited crushes in "Precious Things" or fighting to overcome the experiences of an abusive relationship in "Silent All These Years," you can only hope her words can somehow seep themselves into your psyche to ensure you never have to experience such pain. This is topped with the startling, a cappella, "Me And A Gun," in which Amos relies solely on the power of her voice to give us the story of her own real-life rape, lyrics that pound out as she tries to block the experience from her mind as it's actually happening.
5. Green Day - Dookie
If any album came close to the kind of influence brought to bear by Nevermind, Dookie certainly could be it given the number of Green Day impersonators that sprung up post- its release in 1994. Instead of indie rock, Green Day rejuvenated the punk movement with self-hatred and a sound similar to the Buzzcocks and Husker Du, all the while having fun. Contrary to the heavy topics from Kurt Cobain, singer Billie Joe Armstrong adds a little humor into the mix with opening lines like "Do you have time to listen to me whine" or crooning about self-pleasure on "Welcome to Paradise" and the hidden track "All By Myself." The band also shows its mature side on songs like the ballad-esque "When I Come Around" and "Longview," which is about the loneliness and despair Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt experienced while living in a one-room shack.
4. Pearl Jam - Ten
Before they were political junkies battling against The Man (a metaphor for Ticketmaster), Pearl Jam were actual rockers and in 1991 they helped bring the Seattle grunge movement mainstream with this outstanding collection of songs. Where Nirvana was more abstract in their lyrics, Pearl Jam told us stories like that of "Jeremy," the boy who couldn't take it anymore, or of the dark personal incestuous tortures of "Alive" (one of three songs nicknamed the Mama's Son trilogy; the other two are "Once" and "Footsteps," which was released as a B-side). "Once" shows us an even darker side of the band as lead singer Eddie Vedder croons about a man (presumably the same one from "Alive") who goes on a killing spree after his mother's romantic advances on him. The whole album is quite a downer, when you think about it. But if you were a teenager in 1991, it somehow seemed easy to relate to.
3. Dr. Dre - The Chronic
During the summer of 1992, Dr. Dre's "Nuthin' But a G Thang" could be heard thumping out of car stereos from South Central Los Angeles to Greenwich, Connecticut. The good doctor had helped launch gangsta rap and the West Coast sound with N.W.A., but it was this solo effort that brought those two terms into the national lexicon and made everybody sit up and take notice. In addition, The Chronic popularized the trend of sampling from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, which would be done over and over by various rappers throughout the decade. Oh, and it also helped launch the career of one Snoop Doggy Dogg, who has gone on to some small degree of popularity in his own right. All in a day's work for an O.G.
2. Beck - Odelay
While heavy guitar grunge rock was still at its peak, Beck decided to buck the trend and give us something bigger than anything we'd ever heard before. Combining rock with hip hop, country, blues, jazz and any other music style he could think of, he released Odelay in 1996. The first single, "Where It's At," showed us that not only wasn't Beck a one-hit wonder with "Loser," but that he understood what creates a truly musical experience. Mashing up funk, rap, soul and jazz within that one song, he set the tone for everything else we would hear (but not necessarily expect) from him. Listening to the album, we get seemingly simple songs ("Devil's Haircut," "Jack-Ass," "New Pollution") that suddenly twist and turn when you'd least expect, but still remain catchy enough to sing-a-along. Rock and roll was originally the combination of the different popular styles of music back in the fifties (bee-bop, rhythm and blues, jazz, soul, etc), and what Beck is doing here is just progressing that style further with the genres that have developed since them, perhaps creating the next step in rock music, paving the way for groups like Outkast and the Black Eyed Peas. Without Odelay, one has to wonder whether such music would exist today.
1. Nirvana - Nevermind
OK, yes, we know everyone names Nevermind the top album, but there's good reason. Nirvana revolutionized popular music when it released this album in 1991. Before Nevermind we were still headbanging to the glam-rock and Aquanet fumes left over from the 1980s. Before Nevermind, the top songs on the charts were "Ice, Ice, Baby," Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" and Paula Abdul. Instead of songs about sexual metaphors using food or cars, we got poignant, pained, but true lyrics. Instead of spandex and complicated hair, we saw a ripped sweater and a t-shirt. Nirvana came around and pretty much said what a whole generation of teenagers were feeling/thinking, they make it OK not to be perfect, and they made it OK to wear the same flannel shirt every day. Sure, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was overplayed for months (maybe even years) on Top 40 stations, but every single track is astounding. From the haunting rage of "Something In The Way" to the softer "Polly" and even the humorous (well, kind of) "Lithium," Kurt Cobain's lyrics live on as classics over a decade after his death.