Liz Phair's Whip-Smart is a perfect Saturday afternoon album. By happy accident, that's when I'm re-listening to Whip-Smart and writing this post.
Whip-Smart is not a radio-friendly album, unless the radio station is an early 90s alt-rock station with a penchant for pissing off the FCC. Unusual at the time, Phair drops more than a few f-bombs on Whip-Smart, and Phair's songwriting doesn't produce a lot of accessible tunes ready to push out as a single anyway.
Sure, "Supernova," is an exception to this rule. Clocking in at just 2:48, it sports a chunky, fuzzed out guitar hook that makes the song as crowd-pleasing as they come.
Hack may, in fact, be the only album to sample a Walt Disney read-a-long album and James Brown on the same track. The fact that it works is just the icing on the cake.
The follow-up to their self-titled album, Information Society put out Hack in September of 1990. This one Takes on a decidedly harsher and more experimental tone than Information Society and failed to have the same kind of success that the debut album did. But commercial success and successful music aren't always the same thing.
That the band is up to new tricks becomes apparent from the first track, which has a darker sound and a sampled voice (the 'net says from Peter Pan) saying "all of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." There's no band vocals at all, just drum machine, synth, and layers of samples.
XTC's The Big Express pulls into the top 100 station at number 82. Roughly in the middle of the band's discography, The Big Express successfully melds the awkward New Wave-y XTC nicely with the more lush, Beatlesque XTC to come.
Picking my favorite XTC album or albums is sort of like trying to choose my favorite limbs or organs. Yes, when absolutely necessary, I could choose. That's not to say that I'd be happy losing any of them.
Likewise, I had to impose some rules on my top 100 to keep it being absolutely overrun with a few bands. Specifically, no more than three albums by any band or artist, and if I pick more than one, try to encompass as much of the band's career as possible. Or at least as much of their career as I actually enjoy.
Today's pick, Hallucination Engine by Material is a bit of a sharp departure from the likes of The Who, L7, Rollins Band, and the rest of the list so far – excepting, perhaps, Steven Jessie Bernstein.
Where I mostly go for straight-forward classic rock, hard rock, or alternative, Hallucination Engine mostly instrumental, or only features background chants or singing – and much of that not in English, so that the vocals are also treated as another instrument or texture in the fabric of the song.
Hallucination Engine is one of two records on this list that I bought based entirely on the strength of a review. When I got it home, I had little idea what to expect, just that it was highly recommended. Turns out, I really enjoyed it.
If you ever need an album to derive inspiration from at the gym, Weight is your friend. The Rollins Band's 1994 Weight is the Rollins Band at its most accessible, but losing none of its hardness.
"Disconnect" starts relatively placidly, Rollins speak-singing about wanting to get away from the noise of other people before putting the song abruptly into high gear. Rinse, repeat. It's the best anthem for the weary.
If "Disconnect" is for the weary, "Fool" is your song to put on repeat when the relationship fails. "I should be healing myself, instead of hurting myself, I am a fool, I know, I know, I know" Rollins yowls while the rest of the band pushes harder and harder and harder.
The Minus 5 may be one of the best bar bands ever assembled. Made up of a rotating cast of alt-rock heroes like former R.E.M.'er Peter Buck and drummer Bill Rieflin, and headed by Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, the self-titled The Minus 5 is a loose, rollicking set of songs that practically beg to be performed live.
I can thank Robyn Hitchcock for my introduction to The Minus 5. Several members of The Minus 5 (Buck, McCaughey, and Rieflin) backed Hitchcock on his 2006 album Olé! Tarantula as "The Venus 3," and I had the chance to catch the bands in Seattle, playing the Crocodile Cafe in November 2006. So I nabbed The Minus 5 too, to see what they had to offer. Quite a lot, as it turns out. (Spoiler alert, this isn't the only time Hitchcock or Buck will appear in the top 100.)
The Jayhawks are usually categorized as "alternative country" or "country rock," but neither label suffices to describe the band at its full power. Hollywood Town Hall, released in while founding member Mark Olson was still with the band, is definitely a snapshot of The Jayhawks operating on all cylinders.
Like R.E.M., The Jayhawks span multiple genres and audiences. Any cut from Hollywood Town Hall would be equally at home alongside 90s alternative rock, on a classic rock station, and would probably pass just fine on modern country stations as well. (I'm probably a bad judge of what fits on modern country, though.)
Before I owned this album, I'd happily empty my pockets of change – or beg my parents for a quarter – to put "Magic Man" on the jukebox. To this day it feels a little like cheating* that I can just play "Magic Man" any damn time I want.
Turns out, I want to pretty often. I turn to Dreamboat Annie all the time when I'm looking for something to listen to while I read or work on the computer.
What can I say about The Who's Tommy that hasn't already been said? Since its release in 1969, Tommy has been written about nearly as much as Sgt. Pepper. Tommy was a peak moment for a band that has had enormous impact on rock and roll, and broke new ground in several ways.
Arguably the first "rock opera," Tommy spanned two LPs, and takes the unusual approach of telling a single (if somewhat muddled) story over the span of its 24 tracks.
This isn't exactly in the "going uphill to school both ways, in the snow!" territory, but here's something kids today can't relate to: buying an album, cassette, or CD in its entirety without hearing more than one or two cuts.
But that's exactly how I built most of my music collection in the 80s: scraping up enough money for one album at a time, and taking a chance on whether I'd like the entire thing, or just one or two singles. So when a band released an album that was all singles, that was the obvious choice.
And that's exactly what Squeeze's Singles – 45's and Under is, an album of the band's singles from 1978 to 1982. Twelve radio-perfect slices of new wavy goodness.