Tag Archives: Album Recommendations

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 30

Public Enemy – It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back


If you’ve been following this series at all, it will hopefully be clear to you that there are certain traits and characteristics I really admire in music. Among them: lyrical precision, vocal authenticity, and conceptual aspiration.

In addition, I admire those artists who are able to balance and reconcile the raw and the sophisticated. Who are able to be both incredible improvisers, and incredible craftspeople. I like rule-breakers with one foot in the past, and one in the future. I like music that’s a little bit scary, and a little bit smart.

When it comes to specific albums, I really prize completed circles; albums that are an entire world unto themselves, that are fully realized. I like artists who make actual albums, who understand narrative continuity, who think big and work small.

I like artists who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Who aren’t afraid to go deep within themselves, even if they risk overt melodrama to do so. I like artists who take being funny as seriously as they do being serious. I like artists who respect the right things, and disrespect the right things.

This album by Public Enemy achieves everything I’ve described above, and more.

From the moment Chuck D. said “Bass,” the world was no longer the same. This album is that profound, that powerful. Nothing has matched it. Not even “Fear of a Black Planet,” which is in some ways an ever more perfectly realized album. But nothing has the fire in its belly like this album has.

The album will be 30 years old next year. Very few albums age as well as this one has, particularly when the content is topical. But this is still as fresh and as powerful and as relevant today as it was when it was released. That may be sad commentary on our world today, but it’s also testament to just what an extraordinary achievement this album represents.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 29

Motorhead – No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith


I’ve often heard it claimed that “Live at Leeds” by The Who is the greatest live album of all time.



365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 28

Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (Rock n’ Roll)


While I first SAW Elvis via the ’68 comeback special, I first HEARD Elvis via the songs on this album. And while that part of the ’68 special where they just sit down in the round and pick on some old blues could likely be marked as the origin story of my entire carer, it’s the on this album that hooked me on Elvis in my early years.

And by early years, mind you, I mean from the time I was about 3, up until the moment I discovered The Clash.

You can look at school photos from my elementary school years, and in every one, you’ll see me trying to do the Elvis lip curl.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times I got in trouble for slicking up my hair with vaseline to try and get my Elvis hair going.

And if there is one song I sang as a child more than Heartbreak Hotel, I don’t know what it is.

We all know early Elvis is the best Elvis—at least we SHOULD know it—and these songs are the proof. The kid could sing. That’s just all there is to it.

I realize there is a complicated storyline when it comes to Elvis. But just take a moment, and just forget about all of that, and just listen to the music. It’s just SO alive. It just bounces, and jumps, and pops. It’s buoyant, it’s percolating, it rocks, and it rolls. It’s sweet, and it’s innocent, and it’s sexy, and it’s mischievous. There’s just nothing else quite like it, and we owe too much to what’s good and fine about this music to lose it to the complications of history and context.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 27

The Bar-Kays – Soul Finger


Some of the most gleefully funky recordings ever made, bar none.

Sadly, the backstory isn’t so gleeful. This was the only album released by the original Bar-Kays line-up, prior to four of the original members being killed in the same plane clash that took Otis Redding away from us—he’d chosen them as his backing band, and they were all en route to a concert in Madison, WI when the plane went down.

The Bar-Kays were, like Booker T. & The M.G.s, essentially a session group, and also like Booker T. and co., they were part of the whole Stax thing in the 60s.

This album was in fact recorded at the Stax studios in Memphis, and as noted, it is indeed gleefully funky, with the title track being one of the great old-school funk instrumentals of all time. If you haven’t yet dug it, dig it.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 26

Neil Young – After The Gold Rush


In the boundaried ecosystem that is my music collection, this one gets filed as “the other Neil Young masterpiece.” Which is the same distinction afforded “Harvest,” making these two releases sort of the Cain and Abel of Young’s Old Testament.

It’s tempting to say that Harvest distinguishes itself within this duality on the strength of its songwriting, whereas After The Gold Rush rises above on sonic merits, but that’s too simplistic to really capture the respective achievements these albums ascend to.

Admittedly, other than Southern Man, there is no one song on After The Gold Rush that can really go toe-to-toe with the best tracks on Harvest, but it’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges paradigm, to play that kind of game, because the After the Gold Rush tracks just aren’t the same kind of creations.

It’s sort of like trying to compare Van Gosh and Pollock. There is tremendous energy in the works of both—rich colors, striking forms, a certain angry garishness balanced against an indescribable sentimentality, but whereas in Van Gogh the stories are on the surface, the characters clearly defined, the elements simple and straightforward, the narratives of Pollock are submerged, open to interpretation, fractured, operating by implication, and depending on engagement from the viewer to detangle the thick webs of pastiche and collage.

The inscrutability of verses like these …

Blind man running through the light of the night
With an answer in his hand
Come on down to the river of sight
And you can really understand


Well, I dreamed I saw the silver
Space ships flying
In the yellow haze of the sun
There were children crying
And colors flying
All around the chosen ones


When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over

… leave one blurrily reeling in the wake of an elegy for something lost we didn’t know we had, while simultaneously celebrating the achievement of something holy we didn’t know we were pursuing.

The album’s sonics support this daggered ambiguity perfectly, offering a consistently roiling tension between the sweet and the bitter. We’ve grown so familiar with this album over time, that it’s become easy to forget just how genuinely weird this record really is.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 25 [Christmas Edition]

Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song


My preferred Christmas singer.


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 24

Chet Baker – Chet Baker Sings


I, for one, love early Chet Baker vocals, and every single track on the original version of this debut is gorgeous. Really and truly gorgeous.

Side one:

“But Not for Me” 
“Time After Time” 
“My Funny Valentine” 
“I Fall in Love Too Easily” 

Side two:

“There Will Never Be Another You” 
“I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)” 
“The Thrill is Gone” 
“Look for the Silver Lining” 


365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 22

Stevie Wonder – Talking Book


Of all the albums considered to be part of Wonder’s “classic period” (which I think you can safely define as post-Motown, pre-80s), this one is probably my favorite.

Obviously Superstition is one of the baddest tunes ever, and You Are The Sunshine Of My Love is one of the sweetest, and the whole collection is just rich, and soulful, and funky, and bluesy, and organic, and ambitious, and legendary for all the right reasons.

There are just SO many great moments on here. The opening of Maybe Your Baby. The vocals sweeps in the back half of You and I atop that gospel piano. Those horns on Tuesday heartbreak. The folksong simplicity of the final track.

Here’s a great little factoid about this album worth knowin’ if you don’t know it:

The  original pressings had Braille lettering on it, spelling Stevie Wonder’s name, and the album title. It also had a short message:

“Here is my music. It is all I have to tell you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong.”

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 21

Townes Van Zandt – Live at the Old Quarter


Townes Van Zandt wrote songs that were so painfully beautiful it hurts to listen to them.

His great songs—of which there are SO many—present a body of work that is so real, so powerful, so poetic, and so gorgeous, he simply has to be ranked as one of the most gifted troubadours history has ever produced.

Townes’ songs could also be funny, silly, lighthearted, obscene, ribald, rakish, and mundane. In short, his songs were the equal of the people whose stories he told.

Townes was a mythology of his own devising, but one which has antecedents going back thousands of years. He is a Texan Li Po, a hippy Dylan Thomas, a hobo Bacchus.

Here, on this album, he is simply a man, with a guitar, in a small Houston room, surrounded by friends and fans, playing a collection of songs that are delivered in so down-to-earthedly straightforward a fashion  it’s almost easy to miss their full import.

One after another, the effect of these songs on your spirit intensifies in ways you don’t even notice. So much so, that by the time you’ve listened to the last song trail away, you’ll wonder why you’re exhausted.

You’ll be exhausted because Townes will have crawled into your soul and felt every emotion for you, and then held himself up to you like a truth mirror.

By too many accounts to discount, these live, intimate, solo acoustic recordings definitively recreate what it was actually like to hear Townes Van Zandt do what he did best—which was to a) sing great songs and pick great guitar, and b) walk right into your spirit house, sit down on your chair, and commence to breaking and repairing and breaking your heart.

365 Days of Album Recommendations – Dec 20

The Stone Poneys – Evergreen, Vol. 2


So, yes, of COURSE the reason to include this is to hear Linda Ronstadt sing Different Drum. It’s just an exquisite song, with a great backstory. A quasi-feminist anthem written by a male quasi-legit musician, taken over completely by a quasi-feminist artist, and delivered like a great big cannon salvo from the heart of quasi-hip Laurel Canyon aimed quasi-squarely at the quasi-prepared ears of quasi-mainstream American.

Put another way, it’s West Coast folk-rock perfection, carried on the wings of one of history’s great voices.

“I ain’t sayin’ you ain’t pretty
All I’m sayin’s I’m not ready
for any person, place, or thing
to try and pull the reins in on me”

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