Monday, December 10, 2007

Top 5 "Essential Album Artists"

Aha! Not so fast's in quotes, therefore it's a defined term. Here's the definition:
Essential Album Artist -- You have to have every album. Period. There's something on every one of them that's worth owning, and not just easily replicated by buying a greatest hits comp and going to the concerts and singing along with 1/3 of the songs and being pissed they didn't play every hit. They have to have pushed out four albums -- not counting compilations -- and they have to do it with a band with the same name, you can't just declare Ben Folds a winner by counting his three actual albums with the eponymous Five and his two solo albums. Not that you would anyway. This list gives severe glory to those who lived fast. The Sex Pistols didn't last long enough, Bob Dylan lasted far far too long.

Tim's Top 5:
1) The Beatles - This is too easy. Every one of the thirteen albums is essential because they're all good, even if Please Please Me is too teeny-bop and The White Album is too admired by everyone. Best album: Abbey Road; Worst album: probably With The Beatles, but it still has absolute masterpiece songs on it, it's just also got Please Mr. Postman, which makes me weep inside.

2) Elliott Smith - Elliott Smith has a couple of careers, spending his early days with Kill Rock Stars recording quiet and rough albums, but eventually reaching the sprawling orchestral production of Figure 8. Not only are each of Elliott's albums essential, but he also made Good Will Hunting's soundtrack essential just by including an altered version of Between the Bars and Miss Misery. And, just for good measure, his album with Heatmiser -- Mic City Sons -- is even more essential than all the others, even though it doesn't count to the overall album total. Best album: Either/Or, though I love Figure 8; Worst Album: probably Elliott Smith, but it's still a great album.

3) Pearl Jam - If you like Pearl Jam, you understand that every album, every track becomes essential, because even if the album version of Bu$hleaguer sucks, you'll hear it on an official bootleg and realize it's the greatest song you've ever heard. They can release countless compilations, concert albums, and every time one hits my radar, I still consider buying it. I own them all and although I don't listen to them as much as I should, they're all essential. Best album: Yield; Worst album: Binaural was going to get my vote, then I remembered that they recorded Ten. Ten is the winner. It may have performed a great civic duty by bringing Pearl Jam to my 13-year old consciousness, but radio play has ruined its hope of being a respectable album.

4) The Clash - Sandinista! is a mess, but it's a mess that's still got a lot of value, it's just thinly sown among the 36 tracks, and it's being compared to two of the best albums anyone ever recorded. The Clash and London Calling should both be in the top 50 albums of all time, Best album: I'll say London Calling, because I know I'm supposed to, but I really think that The Clash might be the superior album in my own mind. And Give 'Em Enough Rope blows my mind too. Worst album: definitely Sandinista!, but it's well worth it for being the one person you know who owns the album and has actually listened to it.

5) The Old 97's - Helped in no small part by the small number of albums, each one has value. They run a number of genres in the time span, with the first two being definitely more dependent on country influences with the rock sounding more like Buddy Holly than the Beatleish pop influence that overruns Satellite Rides. In between, Wreck Your Life, Too Far to Care, and Fight Songs run the gamut, but each one has at least a half dozen commendable tracks. Worst album: I'm not enamored with Hitchhike to Rhome, which is too lo-fi country for me, but I think Drag It Up is their weakest effort, because it was an all too conscious effort to return to Hitchhike without the sense of youthful reckless innocence that made an innocuous debut acceptable.

Honorable Mention: Oasis - I don't own Standing on The Shoulder of Giants or What's The Story, but I could easily buy both; Bruce Springsteen - warrants serious mention just because he came surprisingly close for someone with a 35 year career, but Devils & Dust is just not a good album (Magic is, however), and I've never felt a need to own Human Touch or Lucky Town. R.E.M. - god, Reveal is awful. Shame on you, Michael Stipe.

Dan's Top 5:
1. Jimi Hendrix - You could argue that he released three albums as the Jimi Hendrix Experience and one with the Band of Gypsys, but really, all that truly changed was the bass player. There's no question where all the talent was. You shouldn't just buy Jimi's albums, you should have every song memorized. Any sort of "greatest hits" collection does not do the man justice, and "Band of Gypsys" is just as good as anything he did with the Experience. Four albums, no dead weight - the epitome of what this list should be.

2. Peter Gabriel - It's interesting to see how Peter's music has evolved from when he started as a solo artist to now. It's vastly different, but there was never any loss of quality. There really aren't any weak albums, unless you count his soundtracks. Assuming not, his second album was only a modest effort, but I'll forgive that since Peter Gabriel III was one of the best (and most underrated) albums ever.

3. The Beatles - I was going to try to come up with a different fifth artist, but I realized that (a) I couldn't think of anyone, and (b) the Beatles were good enough to be repeated in this list. I probably wholeheartedly agree with Tim here, and I'd like to add that it's because of the Fab Four that we have the standard of a band writing its own songs and consisting mainly of guitar, bass, and drums.

4. Radiohead - Not only do I have all albums, but I have all the B-sides as well. Weak albums include Pablo Honey, Kid A, and Amnesiac. Awesome albums include OK Computer, The Bends, and Hail to the Thief. I credit them with having re-established the album as a valid work of art. Now if only more than a handful of artists would put more effort into making complete albums.

5. The Police - Each one of the five studio albums they made has two big hits on it, as well as a handful of other good songs. Apart from Synchronicity, no album is phenomenal, but if you're going to listen to the Police, it's not that hard to just get all the albums.

Honorable Mention - Smashing Pumpkins, Blur. They would have made it were it not for one single album (Zeitgeist, Think Tank) in their catalogue. So much for last hurrahs. (Yes, I do know Blur are back together and recording a new album.) Also, Muse. Their first album - Showbiz - was decent, but not a must-have like their other three.

Ryan's Top Five

1. The Beatles - Best: Sgt. Pepper or Abbey Road. Worst: meh, why try.

2. Badly Drawn Boy - Man, I love Badly Drawn Boy. Best: One Plus One Is One. Worst: probably Born In The UK, though it's still good.

3. The Decemberists - Four studio albums, all excellent. Best: The Crane Wife (is one of the best albums of this decade).

4. John Lennon solo - Wings had a lot of crap. John Lennon did not. Best: Imagine or Plastic Ono Band, but I actually really like Double Fantasy, nuts to everyone else.

5. Harry Nilsson - All right, I don't own all of them, as some are difficult to locate. That said, I've heard tracks from all of them. Did I mention I love Harry Nilsson? Best: The Point!


Roughly Speaking... said...

I really should have mentioned both Muse (since I own all their albums), The Police (since I'm only missing one, but intend to buy Ghost in the Machine shortly), and Pavement (since I own them all).

The Monkey said...

I didn't know you liked Muse (or so I'm assuming, since you own all their albums.)

Roughly Speaking... said...

It's only because of this blog that I own a Muse album, but after I got Black Holes, I then got Absolution, and when I was in the UK I got the others.

The Monkey said...

It's really hard comparing Absolution to Black Holes. I personally prefer the latter, but certain friends prefer the former. We've determined that we tend to like whichever Muse album we've heard first the best.