Friday, January 29, 2016

Best Albums of the Decades lists Part I

So we survived the big snowstorm last weekend. I spent most of the week running around like a chicken with its head cut off with my kids, so this is my first chance to get back to my music blog.

I'm still finishing my exploration of those last few CDs for 2015, but I'm getting close. The Candice Night CD is a disappointment. As always, she has a beautiful voice. But it turns out to be an album of lullabies and children's songs, not exactly my thing. She does do a beautiful cover of John Denver's "Annie's Song,"though, so that's at least one point in its favor.

I'm not really caring much for the new Squeeze CD either. The title of the album, and I guess the unifying theme is From the Cradle to the Grave, but the album seems to hover for awhile in songs about the teen years. And let's face it, these guys are working from really long-term memory here. I just have a hard time taking it seriously when a middle-aged guy sings from the viewpoint of a 15-year-old.

I do like the new Coldplay CD. It's the only one of this last group that has even a shot to make my Top 10 for the year. I need to get more used to it, though.

So as I work towards my Best of 2015 lists, I'm going to delve into the "dim and distant past," as Ian Anderson would call it, with some of my choices for the Best Album of the Decade for each of the decades in which I've been a music lover. (The present decade is excluded, of course -- hopefully, there's some great music still to come). Some are considered by a wide consensus of music lovers to be among the best albums ever; others are pretty obscure. I'm not claiming any were necessarily the most popular, etc. They're purely my own favorites.

First, though, I should just say something about the way I hear music. I'm not a musician. I can play a (very) little guitar, but that's about it. So I hear music from the front back instead of the way a musician would hear it. What I mean by this is I hear the vocals first, then I hear that things like the guitars and the keyboards. As important as they are, I only really hear the bass and drums if I really focus on them. (Unless they're screwed up, in which case I notice them in a bad way).

Also, I'm way more about the songwriting than I am about the musicianship. So a band like The Allman Brothers, for example, who are loved by musicians, as often than not bore me to tears. I'd much rather hear a band with great songs and relatively simple music than I would a band that can make their instruments speak, but have nothing to say songwise. (I'm not talking about lyrics here, just about hooks and the overall sound. Sometimes I care about lyrics, sometimes I love a song even if I don't know what the hell they're singing about).

I also have a theory that there are really two basic dimensions for music, power and beauty. Someone like, say, Janis Joplin, scores high on the power scale, but not necessarily great on the beauty scale. This isn't to diminish Joplin -- the power and the raw pain she sings with make her music totally worthwhile. But I mentioned Candice Night earlier. Listen to the sheer beauty of her voice. Her albums with Blackmore's Night are exquisite.

The same dimensions, power and beauty, also apply to instrumentation.  An artist who scores high on either dimension is an artist worth listening to. But it's really special when a band like The Who can do both. And while I value both, I tend to favor beauty a little.

So usually, I most enjoy bands with strong vocals (and good harmonies are a real plus). I also favor artists that employ keyboards and/or synthesizers at least some of the time. I love rhythm and acoustic guitar. And as far as electric guitars go, I'm usually only impressed by guitarists that have something distinctive about their style, like a Hendrix or a David Gilmour.

There are exceptions, of course. From what I wrote above, you think I'd hate somebody like Bob Dylan. As it turns out, he's not one of my favorites, but I like him enough to own five or six of his albums. And it's not just because of his lyrics, which I think are a little overrated. I can hear why some people think he's a terrible singer. His voice certainly doesn't have the classic beauty of a Joan Baez or a James Taylor. But raspy as it is, his singing is unique, and he makes it work for him.

So if you've stuck with me so far, all of the above should help explain my Favorites lists, whether it's my Top Ten lists for 2015, or my Best Albums of the Decade listings, below.

So without further ado, here are my Best Albums of the previous 5 decades.


Best Album: Tommy -- The Who
Runner-up: Are You Experienced -- The Jimi Hendrix Experience


Best Album: Wish You Were Here -- Pink Floyd
Runner-up: Quadrophenia -- The Who


Best Album: Talk Show -- The Go-Go's
Runner-up: Synchronicity -- The Police


Best Album: Memories of Love -- Future Bible Heroes
Runner-up: Nevermind -- Nirvana


Best Album: Riot! -- Paramore
Runner-up: Employment -- Kaiser Chiefs

Best Album of All Time:
Wish You Were Here -- Pink Floyd

That's all I have time for tonight. Next post, I'll talk more in depth about these choices, give a few honorable mentions, and talk at length about my choice for Best Album of All Time.