Tag Archives: acclaimed albums

Acclaimed Albums – Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 172/250Title: Nebraska
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Year: 1982
Position: #131

Between the increasingly packed trains cutting down on my reading time and a new subscription to Stitcher Premium (where I have been devouring the archive episodes of Dr Gameshow) there has been little time left for list albums. Doesn’t help that I am very particular about the types of albums that I like to listen to when I work, which is a long way of saying that my album listening has really begun to slow down.

The main thing on the work menu today was writing documentation, which means podcasts are completely out the window and I could pick something bloggy to listen to. Rather than continue my run of listening to the oldest thing left, I thought it would be good to listen to something relatively more recent – and so I’ve ended up with Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen.

This is the third of four Springsteen albums for the Top 250 and I’ll wager it is the most depressing (and possibly most evocative) of the albums. This doesn’t have a big single like ‘Born To Run’ or ‘Dancing In The Dark’, but that’s kinda the point of Nebraska.

This album is predicated on telling the stories of ordinary people who live humdrum lives or are in less than ideal circumstances. Focuses of the songs include a man about to face the electric chair (‘Nebraska’, a man facing 99 years in prison (‘Johnny 99’) and someone driving through the night to see his sweetheart (‘Open All Night’).

The whole album is mostly a sombre affair, even the jaunty tiffs on ‘Johnny 99’ hide something fairly macabre. Considering the music that Springsteen is famous for producing, Nebraska is a pretty severe left turn. It’s also an incredibly admirable one.

I don’t know if it’s my own maturation since starting this blog, my growing familiarity with Springsteen’s music or this album in particular – but I think Nebraska would be my favourite Bruce Springsteen album so far. The change in direction and mood work so well as does the sparseness of the arrangements (which is typically just a vocal track, a guitar and maybe a harmonica). Whilst I do love some lush production values, this album really is an example of how to do more with less.

His final album on the list (Born in the USA) will be back to Springsteen giving me the music that his is most famous for. It’s also the album that I am going into with the most prior knowledge… so it’ll be interesting to see how it stacks up against Nebraska.

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Acclaimed Albums – Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 171/250Title: Cosmo’s Factory
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Year: 1970
Position: #191

With this album not only have I crossed off the last one from 1970, but also listened to the band that Lily Allen makes reference to as being God’s favourite. I guess I’m going to have to disagree on that one as, to be honest, there was nothing in this album that made a lasting impression on me.

It’s incredibly impressive that CCR were able to release five albums in the space of two years and have their fifth be the most critically beloved. It’s equally impressive that on this album they serve a taste of a number of genres. Just to give the first three that come to the top of my head:

  1. There’s an obvious soul inspiration with their cover of Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ which really should not have been over 11 minutes long.
  2. There’s country rock in tracks like ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’
  3. Closing track ‘Long As I See The Light’ really makes me think of the psychedelic rock of Procal Harum.

So what this album actually feels like is an interesting catalogue of the different musical styles that had hit the white mainstream at the end of the 1960s and would still be felt into the early 1970s. However, I heard better versions of all these things as I have been traversing the albums and songs lists.

There is no question that, in making Cosmo’s Factory, Creedence Clearwater Revival really showed their competency in a bunch of genres. However, at least for me, that’s pretty much where it ends. It’s an interesting and varied album, but there isn’t enough to keep me interested enough to go in for multiple listens.

Acclaimed Albums – Abraxas by Santana

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 170/250Title: Abraxas
Artist: Santana
Year: 1970
Position: #209

I really was making some decent progress on this list… and then went on a long podcast catch up binge. On the plus side, I’m nearly completely caught up with You Must Remember This and have made real headway with Doughboys and Radiolab. On the minus side, it’s taken me three weeks to get around to another album.

The first time I’d heard of Abraxas by Santana was during a scene in A Serious Man (one of my favourite films) where the lead character has an angry with the Columbia Record Club because of his son’s subscription. That was nearly 10 years ago and I have finally listened to this album for the first time and then a second time… with a chance that I’ll probably be playing again on the train tomorrow morning as I continue reading Dune.

While I do like Santana’s record-breaking song ‘Smooth’, I think I like the style of music on Abraxas a lot more. This really is unlike anything else on the album list in that it is almost completely instrumental as well as being a cool mix of Latin and psychedelic rock. As a whole it is an interesting experiment in fusing genres and trying out a lot of different styles, but at no point does it lack cohesion.

The guitar work of Carlos Santana is, as always, exceptional and ‘Black Magic Woman’ really is the standout of the bunch. It’s also nice to have an album that I can appreciate for being complex and yet it doesn’t warrant a whole heap of attention to access it. For a bunch of albums on this list it feels like they really need to be listened to in isolation to get what they were going for, but there is so much going on in Abraxas that I can enjoy the many variations as I read science fiction novels. Weird yardstick, yes, but there are multiple ways to get into an album and this is what worked for this particular one.

Acclaimed Albums – Kick Out The Jams by MC5

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 169/250Title: Kick Out The Jams
Artist: MC5
Year: 1969
Position: #215

This is it! The final album from the 1960s that is in the Top 250 albums list. It’s taken me years (and a lot of false starts) to get to this point, but this feels like a real landmark to reach on a list that so heavily features the Beatles, Stones and psychedelic rock albums. I was meant to have listened to this a few days ago, but I became addicted to a track from Mitski’s Be The Cowboy album (and recently discovered the Doughboys podcast)… but that’s how life goes.

Kick Out The Jams is one of those rarities on this list: a live album. Being a live album of some note there is already that sense that this recording is the capturing of lightning in a bottle. This album in particular is a unique document as it really shows a genre of music in development: punk.

In a lot of my music posts I have been charting the path that rock music has taken towards punk, the Ramones and the Sex Pistols – with Kick Out The Jams it feels like I have listened to another really important part of the journey. Since this is live you really get the idea of the sonic anger that punk music would later distil into the genre, but on the whole this is a hard rock album with proto-punk elements.

It’s interesting to listen to as part of my musical education but, on the whole, isn’t one I’ll picking up again for a while. This isn’t my sort of music, but I can at least appreciate how this fits into music history as a whole.

I still have some ways to go before I have completely caught-up to the where I’m currently at with the 1001 songs list, but progress is happening and that’s incredibly gratifying. I guess it’s time to see what things are like with albums from the early seventies.

Acclaimed Albums – Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and The Holding Company

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 168/250Title: Cheap Thrills
Artist: Big Brother and The Holding Company
Year: 1968
Position: #241

When you listen to Cheap Thrills you may, if you’re anything like me, have been tricked into believing this was a live album. It’s not just the audience noise that they put into the mix,  although that does put the thought into your head, but there is also the energy that is injected into many of the songs.

The centrepiece of the album is, undoubtedly, ‘Piece of My Heart‘. Janis Joplin’s amazing set of pipes gives so much emotion and attitude to this song that it forces you to pay attention to it. There’s also a fantastic rocky interpretation of ‘Summertime’ from Porgy and Bess.

I don’t know if it’s Joplin’s raw power or because of her untimely demise at the age of 27, but it really does feel that Cheap Thrills is as good as it is because of her. Sure, it makes for an interesting time capsule of where psychedelic and blues rock was before the heavier stuff started to kick in a few years later – but what carries it up the rankings and keeps it noteworthy is the personality. Also, the excellent (if slightly racist) album artwork helps.

One more album after this and I will be able to (temporarily) say sayonara to the 1960s. Sure, a future update might kick this, and the other remaining album from the sixties, off the list. Then again, I want to extend this list at some point so it’s not as if listening to these albums will go to waste. Especially not when I end up actually enjoying them.

Acclaimed Albums – Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 167/250Title: Déjà Vu
Artist: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Year: 1970
Position: #168

The close male rock harmonies were such a big thing in the 1960s. It’s weird to think that they would be nearly extinct in hugely acclaimed releases within a few years of Déjà Vu being released. Hearing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young singing together on tracks like “Teach Your Children”, “Our House” and “Helpless” just feels, for lack of a better word, comforting. So many other groups from this era did these harmonies, but there is something so incredibly likeable in how they’re done on this album.

When listening to Déjà Vu it is worth remembering that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were a supergroup. Each had a large degree of success in their other endeavours (with Neil Young arguably having the biggest career), but Déjà Vu stands as each of their most successful albums. I mention this as, despite each of them having a strong presence and their own songs, this really does feel like the work of a coherent group.

I know that it is probably because, going into this, “Our House” was the only song I knew – but it might be my favourite song on the album. Sure it doesn’t have the counter-culture snapshot of ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ or the emotional resonance of “Helpless”, but it’s a sunny song that encapsulates all the factors that make Déjà Vu an enjoyable listen.

Having done this and a bunch of Neil Young albums (years ago by now) I am interested in how his later albums shaped up. My interest has also been piqued by what their debut release sounded like. But that’s probably a discussion for another time.

Acclaimed Albums – In The Airplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 166/250Title: In The Airplane Over The Sea
Artist: Neutral Milk Hotel
Year: 1998
Position: #242

Well, so much for mopping up the earlier entries on this list like I planned a few days ago. So much for taking refuge in the higher sections of the list to make sure I didn’t lose another album in a future update (like I did with Kala in the most recent one). The thing is, I had not gambled on In The Airplane Over The Sea ascending into the Top 250. The moment it happened (which was yesterday) I knew that I had to listen to it as soon as possible.

I was probably 5-10 years too young to be part of the generation that revered In The Airplane Over The Sea. By the time I was musically mature enough to listen to this type of music, it was the likes of Arcade Fire that were coming into play… and I really loved Funeral and Neon Bible. So this feels like the ultimate chance to pay homage to one of the big influencers.

On the first listen I was left intrigued by this album. Some tracks, like ‘The King Of Carrot Flowers Pt. One’ and ‘Holland, 1945’ left immediate impacts, even if I was oblivious about the lyrical content. I was left enough intrigued that I listened to the whole album to more times that evening and felt like I was uncovering more and more with every listen.

Listening to this gave me glimpses of not just Arcade Fire, but also some Decemberists, Sufjan Stevens, Father John Misty and (at times) Bon Iver. The fact that this was the band’s second and final album just adds to the cult following and mystique, but there’s no denying the impact. The only other recent album I can think of with a similar level of influence based on a limited discography is Give Up by The Postal Service – although that was more of a side project rather than a singular band.

I can already tell that this will be an album I need to further unpack. Knowing that this album partially inspired by the band lead being emotionally devastated after reading The Diary of Anne Frank just makes it all the more weird. And I love weird.

Acclaimed Albums – Super Fly by Curtis Mayfield

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 165/250Title: Super Fly
Artist: Curtis Mayfield
Year: 1972
Position: #184

Well, I did say in my last post that I was eyeing Super Fly as my next album. The stars aligned a bit on this one as it kept me company in an empty office when I had to pop in a few hours on a Sunday morning to run a few statistics. This isn’t the type of music I usually listen to when running stats (at the moment the music has been a mix of Calexico, U.S. Girls and Cyndi Lauper).

However, the song ‘Super Fly’ really struck me yesterday, so I wanted to hear what the rest of the album was like. Firstly, I think that is definitely worth noting that this is definitely more Marvin Gaye and less Issac Hayes. It’s something that should have been super obvious if I had done even a cursory Google search – but sometimes it’s better to find these things out by yourself.

There are two main things that help this album to excel as a soundtrack and a soul album. The songs are able to tell good stories and the whole thing is incredibly socially conscious. Where Shaft was mostly escapism that ultimately proved damaging as it glorified violence ans drugs, Super Fly is incredibly critical of a Shaft-like lifestyle.

The titular song is an obvious highlight, but there’s more power elsewhere. ‘Pusherman’ draws parallels between drug dealers and the great evil tempters of the world (I see them as a mix of the snake in the Bible and the sirens from Homer’s Odyssey) in a soulful and ultimately creepy way. ‘Freddie’s Dead’ is about a man dying after having to find means to pay for his addiction. Surrounding these are funky instrumentals and other songs that, whilst still good, are not as harrowing.

Now that I have finished listening to all the 1001 song entries from 1972, I am still in a position where I am behind on my albums. Hopefully I will have caught up by the time I finish the songs from 1973… but no promises there.

Acclaimed Albums – The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 164/250Title: The Dark Side of the Moon
Artist: Pink Floyd
Year: 1972
Position: #19

Last week I made a bit of a snarky comment about how I needed to listen to Pink Floyd’s discography before opening the list up to include more female led acts. In the week since I got to thinking that I have been putting off listening to The Dark Side of the Moon for a long time.

Pop culture (especially stoner culture) really grabbed The Dark Side of the Moon by the balls. The stark and beautiful artwork appears on t-shirts around the world and everyone knows a theory about what film this syncs up with, or the messages that are supposedly encoded in the songs when listened to backwards. All this put me off listening to this, as did this being a male-led album from the early days of prog rock and my constant mixing up of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin (my thoughts on Piper At The Gates of Dawn didn’t help either).

As I write this I am a few listens in and I still remain fascinated by what I am listening to. Somehow it feels like my recently finishing reading The Golden Notebook is helping with my appreciation of this. I mean, people have written whole books about this album and it’s easy to see how stoner culture found an album to latch onto.

I’m still not sure what to say, to be honest. It’s incredibly trippy in places thanks to the use of, then advanced, electronic instruments. Thematically the album tackles a lot of heavy and fragmented topics, but it is able to bring it together into two unified record sides. I think I prefer the first side to the second one, but that’s probably because I loved the instrumentals and the abstract vocals on ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’.

Never heard anything like it and I want to keep listening to it. That’s the mark of a truly great album.

Acclaimed Albums – Pretenders by Pretenders

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 163/250Title: Pretenders
Artist: Pretenders
Year: 1980
Position: #159

I have had a bit of a Blondie heavy week in terms of my actual listening. For the first time I actually ventured away from Parallel Lines and tried Eat to the Beat, which resulted in ‘Atomic’ being on repeat for the better part of an hour. This is my roundabout way of saying that I just felt the urge to continue with my rocky female leads of the 1980s and finally give the Pretenders’ debut album a go.

I have had this album for YEARS and I was always put off listening to it because of, for some unknown reason, The Bangles. Way back when I decided to listen to Different Light (the album with ‘Manic Monday’ and ‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ on it) and was so disappointed that the rest of the album couldn’t live up to the singles. So, due to ‘Brass In Pocket’ being such a strong single, it’s taken me a decade to finally get around to listening to Pretenders.

What the hell was I waiting for. Pretenders is excellent and I really have no idea how a bad Bangles experience prevented me from listening to this. Upon its release, Pretenders must have been such an unusual album to hear – hell it’s still pretty unique now. As a whole it really is a blend of rock, pop-rock and new wave, which is right in my wheelhouse.

For me Pretenders feels like an interesting half-way house between the new wave of Parallel Lines and the alternative rock of MurmurThere is something about James Honeyman-Scott’s guitar and the sheer energy coming from Chrissie Hynde’s vocals that makes this an extremely pleasurable listen. No tracks feel the same and yet everything feels cohesive. This really is a great album.

At this point I am really running on empty when it comes to female fronted albums. If the list doesn’t change significantly in the next few years, I only have 4 of these albums left (5 if you count Sonic Youth). All the more reason to blast my way through this list as quickly as I can so I can extend it… once I listen to pretty much the entire Pink Floyd back catalogue that is.