Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Top 100 Albums of the Last 20 Years -
An Introduction

“And here’s a funky introduction of how nice I am…”
-Phife (A Tribe Called Quest), “Check The Rhime”

It seemed apropos to begin this event with a quote from The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest, my favorite album of all time and also one of the 100 entries on this list. I’ve made many music-related lists over the years, playing into the nerd stereotype immortalized in Nick Hornby’s classic High Fidelity, but this is the first time I’ve undertaken a task of this magnitude. And of course, like most bad decisions, it’s all due to alcohol.

Some friends and I were out to dinner one night, and the booze was flowing. The Ladies had their red wine and the guys had their lagers. We got to talking about the stuffy lists proclaiming the greatest albums of all time, and how year after year, thousands of albums are released but the upper echelon of these lists always remain the same. There was a general confusion over why an album like Pet Sounds is so amazing that it's too good to rub elbows with modern classics like Loveless or Illmatic or Kid A. We all agreed that there was a sort of ageism going on; I’ve always held the position that there are just as many classic albums during my generation as there were during my parents’. Theirs just happened to be on the top of the charts. I would also add that Hip-Hop is still criminally underappreciated, especially considering it’s now one of the biggest and most influential industries in entertainment; I’ve heard people still dismiss it as if it was a fad, despite it being on the radio and charts for 28 years. Do you know anyone who was trying to dismiss Rock & Roll in 1984? No, you don’t. Anyway, I left dinner that night with a challenge, to make my own list of the greatest albums ever made, but when I sat down to do it, I found it was very difficult. I had a massive list of classics to play with and nothing to say that hadn’t already been said. What could I possibly offer up on Led Zeppelin or Van Morrison that would be relevant to you forming your opinion of their music? Shit, how many people at this point in history have never gotten the Led out? I don’t think grade school kids are reading this blog (Although if they are, that’s fucking awesome, and I hope this is the first time you’ve ever seen the words ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’; I treasure my memories of learning curse words).

Stuck with my dilemma, I scaled my start point back to 1976, the birth of Punk and Hip-Hop, but still I had the same problem. Albums like London Calling or Purple Rain or Bowie’s Low were still these museum exhibits that I wasn’t allowed to touch, just before my time and too big for me to handle honestly and with heart. Sure, I lived with Purple Rain, and Thriller and Born In The U.S.A. too, but I probably liked them because they were music on the radio and MTV, not because it was Prince or Michael Jackson or Bruce Springsteen. If I was going to be comfortable with my picks and write genuine tributes to these classic pieces of art, then I needed to work in a timeframe I was familiar with, when I not only knew the artists, but I cared about the artists and what they were (or weren’t) about. I could tell you how awesome The Beatles’ Revolver is, but it would be hollow cuz I didn’t live through it; I didn’t experience the earthshaking shock of hearing “Tomorrow Never Knows” for the first time when the rest of the world did. My parents played it for me twenty years after the fact. It’s like I know that Television’s 1977 debut Marquee Moon is one of the greatest albums ever; I own it. But I’ll never know exactly how mindblowing it was when it came out, and more importantly, why. Not really. On the other hand, with Radiohead’s The Bends or Wu-Tang’s 36 Chambers, I can talk your ear off.

I picked 1987 for a couple reasons; first off, it was the year I started buying music on my own, with my own money. That’s a tremendous moment in a person’s life. Unfortunately, my first album, Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet is ineligible, having been released in 1986. Secondly, it was a time of great change in music, as heroes of the underground got signed to major labels and started to break through to the mainstream. They shared airtime with the giants of Pop, thriving in the heyday of MTV, and with the emerging artists of Hip-Hop, which had just broken through on the backs of Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys.

So this is the unveiling of the fruits of my labor - one hundred albums that I have found to be classic for one reason or another. They have to be much more than “really good”. They need to be great or excellent or brilliant, inspiring or life-changing; they can be universally loved by millions or the treasured secret of a lucky ten thousand. They usually have meant something to the scene or genre which they are a part of. They could have taken something old and refurbished it for a new generation of ears. They may have changed and/or revolutionized an element of recorded music, from the introduction of a certain talented artist, to a guitarist’s new arsenal of sound, to a rapper’s use of words, elocution, or “flow”. These are the albums you’ve loved for years, or maybe they’re the ones you’ve been looking for and have just found. Enjoy.

Guidlines and other things to know:
- The time period covered is January 1987 to December 2006. As far as official release dates go, I'm going by the earliest availability, which usually means the US or UK release date. There are a couple exceptions, which will be noted.

- There are no anthologies or hits collections. Straight up albums, the way they were released...Well, there is one sorta exception, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

- Expect that the posts will be Not Safe For Work. There won't be any truly naughty pictures (unless you count the original cover of The Strokes' Is This It), but I routinely use bad language, and if I'm adding music videos from YouTube, I'll be looking for them to be have headphones.

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