Sunday, December 07, 2008

Team-Up #6: Mark & Kyle's Best Albums of Our Lives: Part One, 1979-1989

Intro: As an early Christmas gift to all of our readers, Kyle and I are teaming up not once, not twice, but thrice over the next month. Borrowing a concept from Man vs. Clown (check my blogroll), Kyle and I will be choosing one 'best album' from each year that we've been alive, complete with an explanation and a response from the other. Given the size of this project (Kyle and I are so, so old), we're breaking things up into three parts, starting with the 80's and even a bit of 70's in the case of Methuselah Wasko [Kyle: cheap shot!]. As with anything music-related, expect a lot of sniping, outrage and perhaps even threats of murder. You're free to argue our selections, just as long as you agree to be wrong. Here's a link to a playlist of our favorite tracks from each of our selections. If you're going to add it to iTunes, I'd recommend creating a playlist and sorting the selections by track number, as that should pull them up from earliest ('79) to latest ('89).

Kyle's List

1979: The Wall by Pink Floyd: begrudgingly, I might add. Try as I might, and despite being a big Pink Floyd fan (getting the box set for Christmas in 1994 ranks a close second to getting a Game Boy as the best Xmas gift ever--yes, I will rank anything), I just can't seem to fully get behind this album, in large part because I think it's incredibly pretentious...and because the movie freaked the shit out of me when I watched it in high school (largely, if I recall correctly, because I thought it was terrible, but the people I was watching it with were riveted/incredibly high.) Give me Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, or Meddle any time (fun fact: "Echoes," the final track on Meddle, at 21 minutes and change, synchs up perfectly with the Star Child bit--aka the inscrutable final segment--in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I recommend trying this out...dropping acid optional). Frankly, I'm a bit dismayed that this is the best album from the year I was born. What the hell, mom and dad? Would it have killed you two to get it on Christmas '76 instead of '78? If I'm a '77 baby then Rumours (a fucking masterpiece) would've been my album. Damn.

Oh, right, I'm supposed to say something nice about The Wall. Well, it's certainly ambitious, and definitely contains some solid tracks. Seeing it performed live is also supposed to be a transcendent experience. OK, that's the best I can do. Moving on.

Best song: With apologies to "Another Brick in the Wall (Part Two)," I'll go with "Hey You" (brilliantly used as a plot point in The Squid and the Whale).

Runner up: The Kids are Alright by The Who. Note: if this contained any original material (to the best of my knowledge...and after seconds of research, I've concluded it does not), this would be my pick. Still: it rocks.

Mark: Wow, you're so old! When you hear the Pumpkins' "1979" on the radio, do you get all nostalgic and whatnot? I was just a gleam in my parents' eye at this point.

I echo your thoughts about the Wall. It's a good album, and certainly original, but....I dunno, I rarely find myself jonesing for some Wall when I'm listening to music. Not even a token mention for 'Comfortably Numb' as best song? Unless you just wanted to give Floyd some representation on the list, I don't see why an album you're so lukewarm about should've been the top selection. Blondie's Eat To The Beat, Tom Petty's first album, The Police's Reggatta de Blanc, AC/DC's Highway To Hell, Bowie's Lodger, MJ's Off The Wall, and (one of these would've been my top pick had I been alive) Talking Heads' Fear of Music and the Clash's London Calling. Didn't one of Led Zep's last records come out in 1979 as well?


Kyle: I was about to say "all the albums you mention are good, but, aside from a couple of stand out tracks on each, they aren't remarkable from start to finish"--that is, until I noticed London Calling. Goddammit! How the hell did I miss London Calling? No excuse (and it definitely would've been my pick had I noticed). Re: "Comfortably Numb": one of my least favorite tracks--every time I hear it I have the irresistible urge to lay down and die.

Mark: 1. That's kind of the point of Comfortably Numb. 2. Wow, that song is awesome.

1980: Closer by Joy Division: (Ideally, this album would include "Love Will Tear Us Apart" and since the 2007 re-issue does, I'm going to pretend that it does.) OK, it doesn't exactly get my heart aflutter, but, still, this is quite good. If I recall correctly, you had some issues with Control (specifically: you hated it), so you may not be behind this pick. Because my brain can't seem to process music properly, it took me the better part of an hour to figure out that lead singer Ian Curtis sounds exactly like Tom Smith (or rather: vice versa), the lead singer of Editors.

I remember reading this when back when Bloc Party first drew comparisons to Joy Division (2005ish), but I can't remember if I've ever mentioned it to you (or wrote about it here). Do you know where the name Joy Division comes from? For such a seemingly innocuous name, it's actually incredibly disturbing, as it refers to a prostitution wing in WW2 concentration camps that serviced Nazi officers. How fucked up is that?

Best song: "Love Will Tear Us Apart" if the re-issue is eligible; "Isolation" if it's not.

Runner up: dead heat between The River by Springsteen, Back in Black by AC/DC, and Glass Houses by Billy Joel. I'm giving the slight edge to AC/DC.


Mark: I didn't like Control, but that doesn't mean I'm not a Joy Division supporter. That is a really creepy backstory about the band's name...isn't there a risk in being characterized as a Nazi sympathizer by picking a name like that? That was the reason Buddy Holly changed his backup band's name to the Crickets from their original name, the Holly-caust.

I was coming closer to life in 1980, as my conception day was on (or about) Jan. 24, 1981, so I just missed some sort of presence in the year by a little over three weeks. If I had made it, I would've counted it as another year to comment on --- sorry pro-choicers --- and probably gone with Back In Black, John Lennon's Double Fantasy or (once I actually listened to it) Sound Affects by the Jam. I'm going to pick the Jam as my next band to get into, based on nothing more than a vague recollection of enjoying "That's Entertainment" eight years ago when one of my film profs played it before a lecture. Pump up the Jam!


Kyle: if Back in Black also had "It's a Long Way to the Top (if You Wanna Rock n' Roll)" on it (extremely well covered on the just-released Lucinda Williams CD, btw), I probably would've vaulted it over Closer. Carrie adores the Jam, so you're officially her new favorite person. Don't worry, I'll claw my way back...while, fittingly enough, listening to AC/DC.

1981: Escape by Journey: Jesus God! What the hell happened in 1981? Do you realize that the #1 single was Kim Carnes's "Bette Davis Eyes"? That's even painful to type. This Journey pick is basically by default, though I think it's aurally pleasing enough that its inclusion here isn't indefensible.

Best song: oh, come on! ("Don't Stop Believin'")


Runner up: jeez...I'm tempted to go with Tattoo You by the Stones, but I find "Waiting on a Friend" so grating and because I'm in a petty mood, I'm going to go with 4 by Foreigner--which has "Urgent," "Waiting for a Girl Like You," and "Juke Box Hero"--instead. For the record: if it also had "Hot Blooded" on it, I'd probably bump it ahead of Journey.

Mark: Wow, Vegas had the over-under on 'Foreigner' mentions set at 0.5. Somebody just lost a lot of money. Anyway, I'm alive now! Yay! Journey's record wasn't on my radar screen at all since I don't think I could name you one Journey song aside from DSB. Do they have any other big hits that I'm inexplicably forgetting because I'm dense?


Kyle: "Wheel in the Sky," "Any Way You Want It" (a big Rock Band 2 hit in our apartment), "Open Arms," and "Who's Crying Now," "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'". By the way, I appreciate you not mentioning Randy Jackson at all in the preceding paragraph. I really do.

1982: Thriller by Michael Jackson:
the album to end all albums. Fun fact: released on November 30th, 1982, Thriller was the #1 album (in terms of sales) for 1983 and 1984, which is absolutely astonishing. Can you imagine something like that happening today? Of course not.

Best song: gotta be "Billie Jean" (though Quincy Jones was said to be so dissatisfied with the track that he didn't want it on the album).


Runner up: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen. Treeemendous album. Note: I lobbied hard (and, by that, I mean: "sent Mark an e-mail") to count Thriller as a 1983 album so that this could be my '82 pick, but to no avail (this despite me being totally magnanimous and flexible with regards to the re-issue of Stop Making Sense). Ah, well. "Atlantic City" is one of my five favorite songs ever, so I probably had to mention the album it comes off of in some capacity. Other standouts include the title track and "State Trooper." Listening to it again, I'd forgotten how bleak and unrelenting this album is, with, by my count, at least four of the ten tracks dealing with murder/suggested criminal activity.

Mark: My opinion of Quincy Jones dropped significantly. Didn't want 'Billie Jean' on the album?! What, did he have money on Bobby Riggs and carried a grudge for years? That's just a jaw-droppingly bad production decision, one I'm glad Jackson overruled. Even Starla would've soured on Quincy after that one.

Anyway, we're both pretty much in agreement on these two albums, except I had Nebraska first. What it came down to was the fact that Nebraska didn't have an awful, shitty, syrupy duet between the Boss and Paul McCartney. (btw, how funny would a modern version of "The Girl Is Mine" between Jacko and Macca be? "Is the girl eight years old, Paul?" "Make sure that chick has two legs, Michael.") It's kind of ironic that Nebraska is full of, as you noted, songs about criminal activity, and yet it was Michael Jackson who ended up with the legal problems. Re: my not letting you count Thriller as an '83 album. It came out in November '82! The calendar never lies! The Stop Making Sense case was much more solid, for reasons I'll get to in our next post.

Kyle: wow...a Battle of the Sexes reference and an obscure Arrested Development reference in the span of two sentences. Very impressive! Just to clarify: the tiebreaker you used to choose between two of the best albums of the 80s was "which worst song is worse?" That makes the Big 12 South look downright sensible in comparison.

Mark: I don't think 'The Girl Is Mine' can be overlooked. That would be like judging a beauty contest between two twin stunners, with the only difference being that one of them had a huge goiter on their neck, and then picking the one with the goiter. That just doesn't make any sense. Give Goiter-Girl her $10 for finishing second in the beauty contest and send her on her way.

1983: Synchronicity by The Police: the first of three consecutive extremely easy (I'm resisting the temptation to say "lazy") selections. I've always found the Police fascinating in that, based on everything I've read, they hated each others guts (and, at no time, did they ever feel anything to the contrary). It goes without saying--though this has never stopped me in the past--but this is a great album, with numerous stand-out tracks ("Synchronicity I and II," "Every Breath You Take," "Wrapped Around Your Finger," "King of Pain") and still holds up all these years later. For some reason, I thought "Message in a Bottle" was on this album--it's not; it's actually on Reggatta de Blanc--which would probably vault this album into the rarefied "ten best albums ever" air. As it stands, it's easily one of the five best of the decade, which is certainly good enough.

Best song: in a bit of an upset, I'm going with "King of Pain," partly because it hasn't been played to death like (the arguably slightly better) "Every Breath You Take."

Runner up: Power, Corruption & Lies by New Order. (I'm an unabashed fan, so I won't even pretend to be objective, but the remastered 2008 version is awesome.) Murmur is probably the pick here, but, "Radio Free Europe" aside, I've always found that album to be wildly overrated.


Mark: I had it as #2 behind 'War,' so not a lot of argument about this one from me. I thought the Police's problems were more on the creative side, rather than the personal side; I remember watching a Behind The Music when the three of them played some old songs at Sting's wedding in 1989, so the trio must've been on good enough terms to get invites. The other guests, however, were probably laying 3-to-1 odds on Stewart Copeland making a horribly inappropriate, drunken wedding toast.

Kyle: stupid facts...always getting in the way of a good story.

1984: Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen: Man, oh man do I love this album. (Fun fact: this was the first CD manufactured in the U.S. for commercial release.) Seriously though, how good does your album have to be that "Glory Days" is the sixth single? That's a career for most people. Inexplicably and unforgivably, BITUSA is nowhere to be found on Pitchfork's Top 100 Albums of the 1980s, which, I mean...jesus! There's being a hipster and then there's just being a fucking fool. (Moving on.) Bonus points, too, for the title track (which, amazingly, never got any higher than #9 as a single) being hilariously misappropriated by the Reagan campaign team in 1984 (who either stopped reading the lyrics after they got through the title or lacked even a rudimentary understanding of the Vietnam War; frankly, one is as likely as the other).

Best song: "I'm on Fire," which is as haunting now as it was when it was released nearly twenty-five (!) years ago. Love this song (great video, too--though could the
album cover for the single be any gayer? Probably not...although this runs a close a second.)

Runner up: She's So Unusual by Cindy Lauper. Underrated--most likely because she's so profoundly weird.


Mark: Who still reads Pitchfork? The ratio of snarky jokes to actual criticism is about 9:1. Leaving BITU off a Top 100 Albums Ever list is bad enough, but Top 100 of the 1980's?! That's like leaving Billie Jean off of....okay, I've beaten that dead horse enough. It took us four 'years,' but we finally agreed on a record!

Kyle: Yay, consensus! Was hoping you'd weigh in on the "which is gayer?" question--we'll call it a draw.

1985: Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits: Again, an easy pick. I love how the title track is buried at the end of the album--bands never do cool shit like that anymore. Fun fact: did you know that Sting was given a co-writing credit on "Money for Nothing," solely by virtue of the fact that the melody in "I Want my MTV" is the same as "Don't Stand So Close to Me" (h/t Wikipedia)? As such, it's the only DS song on a studio album not solely written by Mark Knopfler. And you know that's gotta drive him crazy...

Best song: "Brothers in Arms." Unimaginative selection? Sure, but it's the best song, so why get cute with it? It's also roughly 200% cooler as a result of its pitch-perfect use in the S2 finale of The West Wing ("Two Cathedrals")--more or less the best single hour of television ever (but that's a whole 'nother series of posts, isn't it, Mark?) Obscure fun fact: "Brothers in Arms" is written in G-sharp minor, a comparatively rare arrangement (basically: it's the AB negative of scales). The only other song in G-sharp minor I could find is MJ's "Liberian Girl" (whose
video is a veritable who's who of famous people--and Billy Dee Williams-- in 1989).

Runner up: No Jacket Required by Phil Collins. [Insert American Psycho reference here]

Mark: Even better, according to an old Pop-Up Video I watched years ago, Sting received a full half of the royalty payments for the song. I certainly hope he at least bought Knopfler a beer or a castle or something to make up for it. I've never been a huge fan of Dire Straits aside from their major hits, so I'm kind of meh about this record despite its legendary status.

Kyle: intriguing...especially in light of the fact that, prior to 1999, I routinely confused Dire Straits with Talking Heads. But maybe that just because I'm an idiot...

1986: The Queen is Dead by The Smiths: wow...who knew I was such an effete snob? (Shut up.) Admittedly, this isn't a record you're likely to fire up for a pre-drinking session before heading downtown (unless your ultimate downtown destination is the methadone clinic) and there's no song on par with "How Soon is Now?" to knock you flat on your ass, but you really have to admire The Smiths for putting out such an unrelenting bleak album that is, nevertheless, highly listenable and incredibly catchy. Some fun facts: (1) The Smiths only released four studio albums (I thought it was at least twice that); (2) They have an entry in the print version of the Encyclopedia Britannica; (3) This is (British) Conservative Party leader David Cameron's all-time favorite album. Which begs the question (does so!): what is Conservative Party leader (and, as of this writing, still Prime Minister) Stephen Harper's favorite album? According to Wikipedia, he has a huge vinyl collection, and is a big fan of both AC/DC and The Beatles. That said, I can't see him putting a Canadian album at the top of his ticket. I'm going to guess Moving Pictures by Rush. Mark? (Also: is there any conceivable way we could find out the correct answer?)

Best song: "There is a Light that Never Goes Out"

Runner up: The European or Japanese version of Fore! by Huey Lewis and the News (because, in addition to "Hip to be Square" and "Stuck with You"--which are both on the U.S. version--it includes "The Power of Love"--which is not.)


Mark: After the events of the past week, I'd reckon that Harper's favourite album is Chinese Democracy. Btw, I know that this doesn't technically have any relevance to The Queen Is Dead, but since you mentioned the song, It still blows my mind that 'How Soon Is Now' was originally just a throw-away b-side. Between this and the Billie Jean fiasco, do bands need a Bill Simmons-esque VP Of Common Sense to just go into the studio and say, "These 12 songs are the best ones you've got here, so what's the problem?" Then again, Simmons created the VP Of Common Sense character to chastise the Texans for taking Mario Williams over Reggie Bush, so maybe I should just shut up.

Kyle: yeah...weird that he never mentions how good a pro Williams has turned out to be, isn't it? Probably just an oversight...

1987: Appetite for Destruction by Guns n' Roses: Misha will be so happy (or, failing that, at least somewhat mollified). Generally, I'm not much of a hard rock fan (or, specifically, much of a GNR supporter), but I'll give credit where credit's due: this album rocks...really, really hard. It's pretty much impossible to listen to this record, which pounds by '08 standards so it must've been like a nuclear bomb in '87, and not get pumped up. Fun fact: you know, I was 23 before I realized that "Mr. Brownstone" (which, bizarrely, Va Tech mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho apparently used as inspiration for one of the two plays--huh?--he released posthumously) was actually about heroin. Yeah, I'm stupid.

Best song: "Paradise City" (yeah, I know: grow a pair. I don't care. It's my favorite.)

Runner up: The Joshua Tree by U2: as a preemptive strike (or, if Mark goes first, a rebuttal), while I adore the first four songs on the record--"Where the Streets Have No Names," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "With or Without You," "Bullet in the Blue Sky"--I must confess that I had to look up the remaining (seven, it turns out) tracks. And? Not terribly impressive. No doubt this will lead to a 600 word rant from Mark about how I'm underrating "In God's Country" or "Running to Stand Still" (I'm not), so I'll defer to him. Fire away.

Mark: *cracks knuckles* Ok, first of all, Running To Stand Still is a great song and probably the inspiration behind 85 percent of Coldplay's music. If U2 had decided to release it as a single instead of, say, "I Still Haven't Found....", then RTSS probably becomes just as big a hit. "In God's Country" is also a great tune, and it even won me an FM96 'guess that lyric' prize when I called in one morning after the DJ rattled off some of the lyrics. My victory brought mirth and joy to the entire carpool.

It's funny that you cite JT's lack of depth after the singles, since that's my exact criticism of Appetite For Destruction. After Paradise City, Sweet Child O'Mine and Welcome To the Jungle, the rest of that album really falls off for me.

Kyle: for me, AFD only really tails off with the last three tracks, as "Mr. Brownstone," "It's So Easy," "Nightrain," and "My Michelle" do a good job filling the gaps between their huge hits.

Hey, why didn't they release "Running to Stand Still"? Surely it made more sense than "One Tree Hill"--which I'm not familiar with at all, but I assume is responsible for the mediocre WB series of the same name. I'm also marking down The Joshua Tree because now it makes me think of that atrocious episode of Entourage this year where they took shrooms with Gary Busey. There's 24 minutes of my life I'll never get back...


Mark: Yes, blaming the record for a TV series and episode that occurred 18 and 21 years after its release makes a lot of sense. *rolls eyes* And 'One Tree Hill' is a fantastic song. I also don't get why RTSS didn't get a single release, unless U2 thought that it wouldn't be a good move to release another ballad in the wake of 'With Or Without You.'

1988: Isn't Anything by My Bloody Valentine. Truth be told, I was only vaguely aware of their existence until catching a segment about MBV on Alan Cross' The Ongoing History of New Music a few months back. Lending proof to the axiom "no zealot like a convert," I think their work is terrific. Not sure how familiar you are with their discography (which amounts to this album and, three years later, the even better Loveless), Mark, but, if you're not, I urge you to check them out. I think you'll be astounded by how fresh their sound is. IA is a great example, as there are cuts--"No More Sorry" and "All I Need," in particular--that you'd swear were recorded a year ago. There's something about their sound (something along the lines of "alternative meets post-punk") that I can't quite place my finger on, but I know I like it. It should also be noted that their influence on musicians today is undeniable.
This article suggests that they inspired Silversun Pickups, Deerhunter, and M83 (as well as two other bands I've never heard of), which certainly strikes me as true, but I'd also like to add the following: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the New Pornographers, and (at least in terms of the rawness of their sound) Bloc Party (three of my personal favorites). Anyway, all of this feels overwrought, and I'm suddenly reminded why I write about music so infrequently, so I'll move on. (To summarize: they're really fucking good.)

Best song: tough to pick one, since there are several stand-out trakcs, but "Lose My Breath" is beautiful (if not exactly indicative of MBV's typical sound).

Runner up: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back by Public Enemy. Great, great album. Though, if I'm being honest, I rarely say "boy, I'm really in the mood to listen to some good music. Let's fire up It Takes a Nation..." And, yes, I'm aware this makes me racist.


Mark: Ooh, here's the best part of a music project like this: finding out about a band that you barely knew existed. I will definitely be checking out some MBV stuff in the near-future.

Kyle: I'm already taking credit for future you loving them. I won't lie: it feels good.

1989: Disintegration by The Cure: I'm married now, so my days of locking myself in my bedroom, crying, and listening to music over a bad break-up are over (fingers crossed! Uh, I mean: I know of people who did that...). Having said that, Disintegration is the perfect album for said depressing pursuits. Yes, that's a compliment. The album also gets high marks for a great
South Park shout out (Kyle blurting out to Robert Smith: "Disintegration is the best album ever!")

Best song: "Last Dance," which is both gorgeous and chilling.

Runner up: 3 Feet and Rising by De La Soul. As part of my research this week, I listened to this album for the first time in probably five years. Have to say: it really holds up well and is, generally, lots of fun. (You're humming "Me, Myself, and I" right now, aren't you? Good, then--my work is done.)

Mark: Two albums agreed upon! *dusts off hands triumphantly* I just got over my break-ups by hiding behind bitter sarcasm and put-downs, a la Liz Lemon. I give huge points to 30 Rock for managing to put a new twist on the old 'character goes to high school reunion' storyline. (When Kyle and I agree, you see, I don't have anything to argue and must thus resort to discussing sitcoms to fill space.)

Kyle: My two favorite parts of Thursdays episode: (1) everything involving the Vietnamese overruning their Pennsylvania town ("when you pass the lights, you'll see a detour. Don't take it. It's a trap"); and (2) Janel Maloney (Donna!) saying to Jack (who she thinks is some other guy from her past) "tell me what you said to me that one night by the water" and Jack tenderly touching her face and saying "no." It's all about the delivery.

Mark's List (being somewhat younger, this one begins in 1981)

1981: Ghost In The Machine by The Police: Kind of a bittersweet release here for the Police, since this it was apparently during the recording of this album that the creative differences between the band members really began to get out of control. The record's famous cover (a 'digital' rendering of the three guys' heads) came about since they were squabbling like children about which photo to use. Pretty lame, Milhouse. Anyway, argumentative legacy aside, this is a pretty sweet disc. Good stuff from start to finish, including Summers and Copeland carrying their weight with great compositions of their own (Omegaman and Darkness) to match Sting's output.

Best song: Demolition Man, which is also the best Police song that ever became the title of a Sylvester Stallone movie. Murderdeathkill!

Honourable mention for 1981: Hard Promises, by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers


Kyle: Good pick, although, I'll be honest, I only recognize like three tracks on the whole album. Wanna know how dumb I am? For some reason, I thought this album was inspired by the Japanese Manga series Ghost in the Machine...except the series wasn't published until 1989 (i.e. eight years after this album)...and it's called Ghost in the Shell. My bad. Anyway...apparently it's a shout-out to a book by a British philosopher I've never heard of, who smacks down Rene Descartes (whom I have heard of). We should probably move on.

Re: your song pick, all I'll say is, after my friends and I saw Demolition Man (underrated flick, actually), we joked for several days that the lyrics to "Demolition Man" consisted entirely of Sting saying "Demolition, Demolition man" over and over again.
Having just looked them up, I can see that's not (entirely) true. Still, a bit one note for me.

Mark: Sting is the same guy who once wrote 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,' so I'm not exactly expecting lyrical brilliance from ol' Gordie Sumner. I'm more drawn to the great trumpet riff, which live apparently is played just as a great guitar riff by Andy Summers, which is arguably even cooler.

1982: Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen: As I wrote in a post over three years ago (!), Nebraska is "perhaps the best album to have on while driving down a country road late at night, or very early in the morning." I first listened to the record in a hotel room in Montreal and liked it, but after putting it on during a late-night pizza delivery run in Kilworth-Komolka in 2001, I fell in love. It might also be the best record to have on in the background when you've got someone saran-wrapped to a table a la Dexter given that the songs are largely about killers, criminals and other reprobates. The subject matter lends itself nicely to the stark, mostly acoustic arrangements; I don't think a track like 'Highway Patrolman' would carry the same heft with the entire E Street Band behind it.

Best song: Atlantic City, one of Springsteen's best tunes ever. Kyle may try to convince you that the Counting Crows' cover version is better, but he's hopped up on goofballs.

Honourable mention for 1982: Thriller, by Michael Jackson. Surprising entry here because I would've bet my house that Thriller came out in 1983. Hell, it was arguably going to be my entry for 1983; it's Thriller, for god's sakes. Even my mother owns a vinyl copy of it. As a way of fusing the top two records of 1982 together into one, here's a YouTube clip of the Oklahoma* marching band performing 'Thriller' as a halftime show.




* = okay, I know to be appropriate this should've been the Nebraska marching band, but the video of them performing it was scratchy and low-quality. That's okay, they're pretty much the same, it's not like there's a huge rivalry between Oklahoma and Nebraska or anything. Wait....

Kyle: I was going to start with "and now you've started a border war"--except Oklahoma and Nebraska don't seem to share a border. Stupid, geography! I can't really dispute your picks here (though I had them in reverse order--mostly because Thriller, moreso than Nebraska, is a seminal album). Apparently the Boss, after laying down the album's tracks in his bedroom (seriously), did record this album with the E Street band--which I'm sure you knew--before ultimately opting to go with the stripped down version. And, yes, that was a great choice. Nice call with "Atlantic City," one of favorite songs ever. And while I think the Crowes version is slightly superior, Springsteen's version still rocks my world. Doesn't it strike you as odd that it's never played on classic rock radio? I bet I hear "Glory Days" 100 times for every airing of "AC." What's up with that?

Mark: The 30th anniversary of Nebraska is only a few years away (god, we're old), so I wonder if some of the 'electric Nebraska' tracks will be included on the inevitable re-release. The Springsteen song I hear the most on radio is (by far) Hungry Heart. I swear it's playing every time I turn the dial to 103.9.

1983: War by U2: So after spending a paragraph slurping Thriller, uh, congrats to War, the best album of 1983! War can take solace in the fact that it was the album that knocked Thriller out of the #1 spots on the U.K. charts, so suck it, Jacko! (Note: never say this phrase to Michael Jackson if you're under the age of 12). This one is underrated even by U2 fans, in my books. It has some classics --- New Year's Day, 40, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Two Hearts Beat As One --- but the real strength lies in the likes of forgotten gems like Drowning Man, Surrender and Like A Song. Hell, even the Edge turns in a lead vocal performance on Seconds and sounds literally exactly like Bono over the first two verses.

Best song: Like A Song. Whoa, what an upset! Like A Song takes down all of the big-time U2 classics on War! There's a good chance LAS would've been hailed as a classic in its own time had it not had such a difficult vocal part. Bono was unable to sing it live night after night, and thus plans to make it a single were shelved. I think the band only played it live once or twice before Bono realized that it was wrecking his voice for the rest of the concert. (Logic alert: then why didn't they just play it last? Never mind.)

Honourable mention: Synchronicity, by the Police.


Kyle: I like how pumped up you were just then (two exclamation points) about an upset that was entirely of your creation. ("I can't believe my own brain went that way!"). I can't say I'm surprised by this pick, nor do I wholly disagree with it (though I'll admit I was unfamiliar with "Like A Song.") Any now for "the completely unwarranted shot at Mark" section of my response: before we started this, I put the over/under on "Talking Heads + U2 albums on Mark's list" at 4.5 (add Springsteen and it jumps to 7.5). I was definitely wise to take the over. Mark, if I see Zooropa as your pick for 1993, I swear I won't finish this project.

Mark: It was an upset in the sense that after thinking it over again, my reaction was "Wait a second, is Like A Song really the best track on this album? It is! Holy mackinaw!" Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go delete a paragraph about 'Lemon.'

1984: Born in the USA by Bruce Springsteen: It seems almost too simple to say that BITU is Bruce's best album. It's pretty lacking in critical street cred to say that a musician's biggest hit is also his most accomplished piece of work, but even amongst the Boss' sterling discography, BITU stands out. The album spawned seven (!) hit singles, so frankly, even if you haven't heard BITU in its entirety, you've probably heard most of it.

Best song: Give me five minutes and this opinion could change, but I've always had a shine for "No Surrender" amongst all of the classics on this disc. One of the things that John "Buzz Killington" Kerry did right during his campaign was using it as his entrance music.

Honourable mention: The Unforgettable Fire, by U2.


Kyle: you meant to say "the only thing he got right," right? I agree completely with this pick. Quick aside: doesn't it seem almost impossible that Springsteen has never had a #1 song? ("Dancing in the Dark"--peaking at #2--charted the highest.) I think it would've been hilarious if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had LPGA-like admission standards (like, say, "you have to have a #1 hit), thus forcing Springsteen to release a pandering pop album with ten three-minute singles. Kind of like a musical Mr. 3000, except funny.

Mark: If the Rock Hall had a #1 hit policy, they would pretty much have to stop inducting rock acts of the last 20 years given how much the charts are dominated by country, pop, R&B and rap these days. As hard as it is to believe that the Boss never cracked the top spot, Elton John (Mr. Pop Song himself) never had a solo #1 hit in the UK until 1990. In summation, the charts are weird.

1985: Be Yourself Tonight by Eurythmics: One interesting note in going through all of these 80's bands; I seem to be drawn to bands that have a pluralized name but are officially known by the singular tense. For example, it's not THE Eurythmics, but just 'Eurythmics.' The same is technically true of both Talking Heads and Traveling Wilburys (spoiler alert!). I don't think it's a big deal; it's not like Dave Stewart will punch you in the mouth if you say to him, "Hey brother, I loved your stuff in the Eurythmics!" At worst, he might just glare at you in the manner of former Oakland and Toronto pitcher Dave Stewart.

Anyway, the album. People forget how big Eurythmics was (were?) in the 80's. Or, how prolific they were. Be Yourself Tonight was the fourth of seven studio albums released by the band between 1981 and 1989, and they also threw in the '1984' soundtrack into the mix as well. Good lord! It would take Axl Rose about two centuries to create that much music. Be Yourself Tonight is arguably the gem of their careers. Not a weak track to be found and it's got everything from synth rock to a duet with Aretha Franklin. My album pick here is pretty timely given that Annie Lennox is semi-back in the public eye thanks to her recent knockout performance at the American Music Awards. The thing is...Lennox wasn't doing anything special. When you get people with actual talent performing amidst such drivel as Rihanna, the Jonas Brothers, the Pussycat Dolls, etc., the good stuff is bound to stand out.

I'm glad this entry is done because it is a fucking chore to type 'Eurythmics' every time without making a spelling mistake. Damn my non-pop music savvy dictionary!

Best track: I'm not an expert on karaoke club culture, having been to karaoke nights less than a half-dozen times in my life. (In case you're wondering, I'm usually singing U2 or Talking Heads stuff at karaoke, in case you couldn't already tell from this list. One time I attempted 'Dancing in the Dark,' which was so bad that Courteney Cox actually showed up to join me on stage, only to kick me in the groin.) That being said, shouldn't 'Would I Lie To You?' be a karaoke staple for anyone with a decent set of pipes?


Honourable mention for 1985: Little Creatures, by Talking Heads. Also an excellent disc, but severely lacking in duets with Aretha Franklin.

Kyle: So you're the one that watched the AMAs. I think Rihanna probably deserves better than to be lumped in with the Jonas Brothers, but point well taken.

Nice pick, though admittedly not on my radar. I've always been a big Annie Lennox song (I vividly recall being in Welland for a basketball tournament when I was thirteen and listening to "Walking on a Broken Glass" over and over again on a mix tape, but desperately trying to conceal this fact from my teammates--"Oh, man, how did that get in there? I thought that was Warren G!"). Agreed re: the "the" thing. I call for a moratorium on naming things (and I'm including stadiums here) like that. I like Editors about 12% less because of this.

Mark: Pfft, Rihanna's worthless. God help two kids born in 1989 and 1991 who make up a list like this on their blogs (let's call them Lyle and Clark) and argue about whether 'Good Girl Gone Bad' is the best or second-best album of 2007. Those kids don't know what they're missing. The only exception to the 'the' rule would be Dire Straits, as it occurred to me while reading your list. Since the phrase doesn't use a plural ("We're in dire straits!" not "We're in THE dire straits!"), then Knopfler and company are allowed to go without the 'the.'

1986: True Stories by Talking Heads: 1986 is an odd year. It's full of notable albums that I've either never fully listened to (Parade, License To Ill, Graceland), or have been underwhelmed by (i.e. Life's Rich Pageant, Skylarking, The Queen Is Dead). And thus the winner by default is True Stories, which is kind of funny since by all rights there's a better version of True Stories that has yet to be made. The album is a collection of songs from the film of the same name, though the album is comprised solely of the Talking Heads' studio recordings of this material. In the actual film, some of the songs are performed by the actors and are in some cases better than the studio versions. Wouldn't you rather hear 'People Like Us' sung by John Goodman? If he had gotten to be on the album, maybe he would've gotten the music bug out of his system and spared us the spectacle of Blues Brothers 2000. Thanks for nothing, David Byrne!

Best song: Dream Operator. Ironically, this is probably the track that would've improved the most on a true soundtrack, as while the David Byrne version is good, the version sung by actress Annie "Come On, You Can't Be Serious!" McEnroe in the movie is outstanding. The next best song is Radio Head, which is both catchy as hell and historically notable; a certain English alternative band took its name from the title of that track. You guessed it...it was the Spice Girls.

Honourable mention: Raising Hell, by Run DMC. Hey, a rap album made it onto my list! Vegas bookies are currently taking a major hit. Consider it payback for that sketchy Chargers/Steelers game from a few weeks ago in the NFL. I do love the result, since the final 11-10 score made it the only (only!) 11-10 game in NFL history. I think the refs must've been alerted to the historical tidbit and agreed to rig things to keep the score as it was.

Kyle: Hey, I thought Sade sang "Dream Operator"! (Sorry.) And man, how did I miss Graceland? Carrie's going to kill me.

My street cred dropped about fifty, uh, points when I placed Huey Lewis's Fore! at #2 (bumping Raising Hell #3). I blame Patrick Bateman. (And I'm still counting my pick in that game--I switched from SD to Pittsburgh that morning--as a win, because that call was fucking bullshit. It should be noted that my expletive-laden tirade at the time definitely cast a pall on my cousin's second birthday. Sorry, Brody!) You'll notice how I'm not talking about Talking Heads at all. This is because, aside from the fact that you love them and I can sing "Psycho Killer" on hard (barely) in Rock Band 2, I know absolutely nothing about them. I didn't even know True Stories was a movie. Is it any good? It sounds perfectly awful (though, since it involves a city's sesquicentennial, I'm assuming it was the inspiration for Waiting for Guffman and thus deserves some credit.)

Mark: I've never actually seen True Stories the movie, though its critical reception ranges from 'wacky and funny' to 'dumb and self-indulgent.' I highly recommend getting into Talking Heads, they are a delight [/Ferrell as Lipton]. The fact that you can sing Psycho Killer is pretty impressive, since it's hard to mimic David Byrne's half-singing/half-talking vocal style. I meant to mention that Huey Lewis selection....you know, Bateman was an insane serial killer, eh? Maybe not the best guy to trust on musical criticism. Better than a Pitchfork critic, but still.

1987: The Joshua Tree by U2: Biggest no-brainer on the list. Arguably my favourite album of all time, U2's universally acknowledged masterpiece. Ummm....it's odd that I have so little to say about such a major piece of music in my life, but I think the album is just so intrinsically enjoyable to me by this point that it would be like trying to describe why I like the colour green. What makes Joshua Tree stand out historically is that U2 released it right at the point in the 1980's when they had more or less taken the mantle of 'biggest band in the world' from the retired Police, but still needed a superlative record to really prove it. Lo and behold, they made just such a record.

Fun fact: at one point in the recording process, Joshua Tree was going to be a double album that would've included such well-known U2 b-sides as Deep In The Heart, Race Against Time, Walk To The Water and the original version of Sweetest Thing. Had this plan come to fruition, not only would the album have dropped down my ranking of U2 discs, but it's possible it might not have been my favourite 1987 disc altogether. Let's just say there's a reason why a lot of those tunes were b-sides.

Best song: This took some real thinking. Where the Streets Have No Name and With or Without You are both among my top five U2 songs of all time, so with all due respect to Running To Stand Still and One Tree Hill, it comes down to the two big hits. I think I'll give the narrow edge to Streets, just because the album version of WOWY lacks the "we'll shine like stars" verse that Bono often adds in concerts. I actually sat and weighed this decision for 10 minutes, no joke.

Honourable mention: Tunnel of Love, by Bruce Springsteen. I guess in terms of sheer honourable mention for the year, this should be Appetite for Destruction, but screw it, Tunnel of Love was a better album. Someone out there needs to write a compare-and-contrast book detailing the alternating lives of Axl Rose and Bruce Springsteen. Is the title 'Goofus & Gallant' trademarked?


Kyle: to paraphrase George Steinbrenner: "I am blown away, Mark! Bllllllllllloooooowwwwwnnnnn, away!!" I am, of course, being facetious. This is a very good pick. I'm assuming I've already been severely castigated about 3,000 words higher up in this post for ripping the last two-thirds of this album, so I won't say anything else. Re: your runner up (and remembering that I'm totally indifferent to GNR), I have to say: there's simply no way Tunnel of Love--with nary a stand out track--is better than Appetite. Also, can you explain to me why Springsteen appears to be wearing a bolo on the album cover? Did he lose a bet?

Mark: Minor spoiler, but this was the last U2 entry on my list. So after the 80's, it's two U2 albums, one Talking Heads and one Springsteen. Still 3.5 short of your over-under margin, Kyle! Re: Tunnel of Love vs. Appetite For Destruction. If I had to choose between those two albums on seven occasions, Tunnel of Love would win 4-3 or even 5-2. I just prefer the vibe of it. Re: the bolo. Bruce had been through a rough divorce, maybe his fashion sense was a bit off. It's still an upgrade from the cover of the "I'm On Fire" single. Yikes.

Kyle: Wow...last U2 album? Really?? Did The White Album come out in 1991? Seriously, I'm floored by this revelation.

1988: Volume One by Traveling Wilburys: My vote for the best supergroup of all time, although it's admittedly a short list. There's a certain happy poetry to the Wilburys' story; Petty, Dylan, Lynne, Harrison and Orbison all recorded together pretty much as a lark, it worked so well they got two albums of terrific material out of the collaboration, and all five men point to the experience as one of the highlights of their careers. There was a bittersweet tinge that came from the fact that Orbison passed away right in the midst of the band's success, but even then, the Wilburys acted as a final tribute to the great Orbison that in many ways reintroduced him to a new generation. All in all a great collaboration that seemed to be very lacking in egotism, which plagued pretty much every other supergroup ever made. The major irony about the Wilburys is that in many ways, Jeff Lynne was really the driving force behind the project, and yet casual fans today would look at the roster and wonder who the hell Jeff Lynne was amongst these four giants of rock music.

Best song: End of the Line. One of those classic 'oh wow, I didn't know this was one of *their* songs' songs. Also notable for being played at the SkyDome in the early 1990's when the Blue Jays took a pitcher out of the game.

Honourable mention for 1988: Rattle & Hum, by U2. This might have been number one had U2 done a better job of picking live tracks from the R&H movie. Out of all of the red-hot live cuts in the film, they choose a half-assed Pride and their mediocre-to-brutal Helter Skelter and Watchtower covers? For shame.


Kyle: Fantastic pick. I'm seriously annoyed I didn't think to mention them. While I don't disagree that they seem pretty humble, I kind of love that the Wilburys were so awesome (and they knew their record was so good) that they didn't even bother to name it. Suck it, every other band in history aside from Led Zeppelin!

Mark: Their album names were a joke in and of themselves. Their first album was just Volume One, but their second (and final) record was titled Volume Three, just to confuse people. This is the point where I should probably note that George Harrison was also a producer for Monty Python's films; underneath all of the Hare Krishna beliefs and the wife-swapping with Eric Clapton, ol' George had quite a sense of humour.

Kyle: now that is an incredibly loose interpretation of "wife swapping," my friend. I'll admit that I watch the show on occasion (not nearly as bad as you think) and they've yet to feature a story like the following: "Steve and Tim are best friends. Tim is married to Sally. But then Steve writes a hit song confessing his undying love to Sally, at which point Sally and Tim split up and Steve and Sally get married. Steve and Tim remain quite close." There are at least two things seriously wrong with that story.

1989: Disintegration by The Cure: I suspect I'm actually a big Cure fan who just hasn't discovered it yet. I greatly enjoy the two Cure discs I own --- their greatest hits album and Disintegration --- and yet for some reason I've never felt the need to explore more of their work. Maybe it's because as a Green Bay fan, I'm naturally opposed to someone named Robert Smith. (For everyone aside from the, like, six people who will get this reference, Robert Smith was a former star running back for the Minnesota Vikings. He studies medicine, astronomy and by all accounts is a stand-up guy, but, since he played for Minnesota, I'm forced to consider him human trash. Sorry Robert.) Anyway, the Cure might be one of the best pop bands ever who didn't want to be a pop band. Even on their most atmospheric, synth-heavy tracks on the record, there's still a discernible catchy melody that can be distilled from the layers of sounds. This isn't some Massive Attack-esque nonsense that's just a mess of electronica and no actual song.* Robert Smith = great songwriter, heavily underrated. One might even apply a small-g 'genius' label to him, both for his songwriting and his unique half-Goth, half-Harley Quinn look. Look at it this way: Smith can walk around the streets of his hometown without anyone bothering him since without his makeup and styled hair, nobody has a clue about what he looks like. Sheer brilliance.

* = this dig is included solely because I'm pretty sure Kyle will be putting a Massive Attack record somewhere on his list. Battle lines, drawn!
[You shut your goddamn mouth, Mark. To be continued.]

Best song: Depending on my mood it wavers between Lullaby and Pictures Of You, though Homesick and the title track deserve a nomination as well.

Honourable mention: Full Moon Fever, by Tom Petty


Kyle: See, and I always hated Football Smith because he went to Ohio State. The lesson? We're both remarkably petty and capable of carrying grudges with the best of them. Moving on....wow, a match! I wasn't expecting this one, but, it's pretty clear: we're both geniuses. Singer Smith is from Blackpool, so my guess is he hasn't walked down the street of his hometown in a lonnnnnnnnnng time. I probably haven't listened to this album in five or six years, but since we started these lists, it's been in heavy rotation. Great stuff.

Mark: Blackpool is also the home of Frasier's John Mahoney and WWE wrestler William Regal, so bite your tongue! It's also known for its amusement park, since every time the British Open is played at nearby Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club, the ABC broadcast always shows footage of the ferris wheel lit up at night. Now, the real question, do you think we'll have more than two corresponding top albums in the 1990's?

Kyle: prior to just reading your follow-up comments, I would've said two for sure. Now, probably just one (hint: 1997) and maybe not at all (since I'm really on the fence there).

Stay tuned, loyal readers. Part two next week(ish).

3 comments:

Jon Yazer said...

Great, ambitious idea, very much enjoyed reading (and listening) to it and look forward to the next installment.

Being significantly younger than the two of you, I can only offer speculative opinions about the music people in the 80s played on their, um, 8-tracks? With a few notable exceptions, I used to think the 80s were sort of a wasted decade musically speaking, but the more I dig around the more it surprises me. Here are my few humble thoughts:

Don't get me wrong, I'm as big a fan of Joy Division as the next guy, but 1980 belongs to Talking Heads' Remain in Light (runner-up: Pretenders debut). It's one of my favourites of the decade and way better than True Stories. Mark, am I right to think that you know this but were desperate to fit TH on your list, but also weren't about to let War lose out to Speaking in Tongues in '83?

As for 1986, where the fuck is Metallica's Master of Puppets? I'm hardly a 'metal head,' but anyone with an open mind can appreciate this disc as a totally badass expression of musical sublimity. I have to say though, I haven't listened to The Queen is Dead in over five years. I bought it thinking it was going to be an album's worth of How Soon is Now and was disappointed by what I thought at the time was mostly a bunch of depressing crap (unlike HSIN, which is depressing genius). But re-listening to There is a Light just now makes me think I should give the whole thing a second shot.

Kinda surprised there was no mention of Prince. I'm not old enough to remember the 80s, but wasn't he some kind of pop god or something?

Kyle, I'm glad you chose Isn't Anything because I really like Loveless but always forget that MBV have a second acclaimed disc. Maybe I'll get around to listening to it over the Xmas break. Also, good choice taking Hey You over Comfortably Numb.

P.S. Mark, good on you for keeping me on your blog roll despite the last update coming some many weeks ago. I'm definitely going to write another post sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Question Mark said...

Thanks for the great comments, Jono!

1. The 80's are a wholly underrated musical era. I mean, just on the surface of it, the biggest acts throughout the decade were Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince and U2 --- that's a pretty damn solid quintet. And that's not even counting bands like Talking Heads, the Cure, GNR, Metallica, Eurythmics, the Police. Compare this to the biggest acts of the 2000's and it's no contest.

2. Ironically, I wouldn't have picked Remain In Light in 1980 --- that would've been U2's Boy. Remain In Light is a good album, but honestly, I'd rank it pretty low amongst the Talking Heads' records I've listened to.

3. Speaking In Tongues suffers from the fact that all of the great songs on that disc (This Must Be The Place, Girlfriend Is Better, Burning Down The House, etc.) are all 20 times better when performed live. The album versions are almost staid in comparison. Trust me, I was horrified when I realized that I almost went through the whole 80's without picking even one TH disc.

4. Never been a big Metallica fan.

5. Prince is awesome and, given how much attention is paid to his weirdness instead of his music, is actually one of the most underrated musicians of modern years. That said, I've listened to very few of his albums.

Jon Yazer said...

The 80s definitely had more groups that reached superstardom than the 2000s, but maybe that says less about the difference in the quality of music than it first appears. Kids these days just love their singles, playlists, iTunes, and MySpace. Fads like dance punk and garage rock revival pass in and out of favour and public consciousness altogether faster than you can say "the next big thing." There's more choice, more influence on pop music from beyond the shores of Anglo-America, more accessibility to music, and more ways to DIY and mashup now than ever. So it's basically a helluva lot harder to get recognized and achieve stardom now than it was in the 80s. IMHO, for this reason there will never be a band as big as U2 ever again (hard as Coldplay may try), and certainly nothing even remotely close to the Beatles or the Stones.

Speaking of signs of the times, Sign 'O' the Times is the only Prince album I've ever listened to in its entirety, but I can never do it cover to cover -- it's just too damn epic (nearly 1 and a half hours in total). Maybe 80s people had longer attention spans. Track-to-track, though, it's a really worthwhile listen.

Eurythmics is going to be for me what The Jam are to you. It's a shame, I hardly know any of their music, so I'm going to get on that right away. Is Be Yourself Tonight a good place to start?

On a non-music related note, I was about to give up on 30 Rock after it looked like it was going to drift into more cameo mediocrity, but last week's episode was the funniest thing I've watched on TV in a while. All that stuff about the Vietnamese immigrants had me ROFLMAO-ing all over the place.