We’re now a quarter-way through this list of the supposed greatest albums of all time, as decided by whoever Rolling Stone magazine thought was important enough to ask at the time. Now that we’re clear of the bottom hundred, you’d expect the oddities and scratch-your-head moments to be less frequent; for the list to become a nailed-on cavalcade of brilliance. Right?
Haha. Let’s find out.
The Rules: Try and listen to all the albums on the Rolling Stone top 500 albums of all time. No vetoes. I’m not even allowed to veto things on the grounds that they contain Ian Brown.
My Progress: 399-376
399 Tom Waits – Rain Dogs: Not a bad way to start the fifth leg of this ridiculous enterprise, bar-soaked off-kilter blues-jazz-rock hyphenated-stuff from the man with a voice like a stabbed bear. Brilliant.
398 ZZ Top – Eliminator: Every time I was starting to enjoy this slice of prime ‘Dad Rock’, I was transfixed by a mental image of Jeremy ‘Jeremy’ Clarkson rocking out in his finest shiny leather blouson and tight blue jeans, the lights of an empty dance floor rebounding off his bald spot and his moccasins, and when he turned round to smile at me, it was my face he was wearing.
397 Massive Attack – Blue Lines: For some reason this is preferred over the infinitely better Mezzanine. I understand this lay down the blueprint for all the trip-hop that would follow, but anyone who would argue that it has anything more than a handful of good tunes and one classic scattered across its running time would be lying. To your face.
396 Roxy Music – For Your Pleasure: I fully expected to hate this due to my own shady memories identifying them as some kind of 80s yuppie nonsense, but it’s actually a lot more like sophisticated experimental glam punk than I was expecting. I still don’t particularly like it, though.
395 LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver: As someone who lived most of his formative years above various nightclubs around London and Essex, I have a utter hatred for anything that has a traditional dance beat, soundtracking as it did countless endless nights of broken sleep and tears. As this starts I start finding myself banging my head against the wall in a sudden attack of muscle and sense memory, but across its running time I find myself being quite won over by this album’s charms. What is happening to me?
394 Randy Newman – Good Old Boys: As someone who only really knows Newman from the Toy Story films and that Family Guy skit, I wasn’t really expecting savagely cutting satire, but that’s what this album delivers in spades. Unfortunately it couples this lyrical excellence with a songwriting style that is basically ‘every song sounds like the song from Toy Story.’ Every. Single. Song. What a weird album.
393 M.I.A. – Kala: I don’t really understand what this is, but I think I quite like it. Either that or I utterly detest it. I can’t tell any more. I think it might be the latter. Yes, it’s awful. Unless it’s not. It is though.
392 The Beatles – Let It Be: And so we get to the first of ten Beatles albums on the list. One of their more relaxed efforts, there’s as you would expect some great songs in here, and some overrated self-indulgent dross. Nestled in amongst the other shit on this list it’s a bright little ray of sunshine, even if it’s really not good enough to warrant inclusion on any sane person’s list.
391 Jackson Browne – The Pretender: I’d already done a Jackson Browne album on this list, but couldn’t remember it at all. Now I know why. This is the blandest, most generic dreadfulness. Urgh. There’s another one of his albums in the next leg, and I’ll have probably forgotten what he sounds like again before I get to it.
390 The White Stripes – Elephant: I’m actually rather fond or The White Stripes, who seem to be the only people to have become mainstream rock acts without particularly compromising their integrity in recent years. I love Jack White’s guitar tone, and Meg’s ability to keep the rhythm completely loose. It’s not my favourite album of theirs, but I’d take this over your Kings of Leons and your Killers from here until, well, the end of time.
389 Don Henley – The End of the Innocence: Well now this is just awful. It doesn’t even have American Pie on it. I hate American Pie, but it’d still be preferable to all the other songs on offer on this excremental 80s AOR fare.
388 Various Artists – The Indestructible Beat of Soweto: Listen, if you feel that owning some world music somehow alleviates your white guilt and middle class privilege then go right ahead, but please don’t try and convince me that it’s good, because it’s just not. In fact I think this might be the worst album I’ve heard on this list so far, an unlistenable melange of bad 80s production, weak melodies repeated ad infinitum and absolutely nothing whatsoever to redeem it, save for the aforementioned middle class guilt avoidance hippie bullshit aesthetic. It’s like nails on a blackboard for an hour.
387 Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers): This is more like it. Sublimely ridiculous cartoon gangsta hip hop. I’ve heard this album christ knows how many times and it still makes me giggle every single time.
386 Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic: I’m starting to think that this is Rolling Stone’s top 500 generic AOR albums from the 70s and 80s when its writers were actually young, with a few modern additions to make them seem vaguely hip. This is dull, and I can’t think of anything else to say about it than that.
385 Bob Dylan – Love And Theft: On the one hand it’s great that an artist like Dylan can find the drive to keep going well into his dotage, on the other hand it’s not so good that we actually have to listen to it. This is fairly generic folk rock, delivered with all the grace and poise of a tramp pissing into your mouth.
384 The Who – A Quick One: The Who are one of the bands that I was hoping to get to know a bit better over this exercise, a band I always meant to get around to. On the strength of this, their second album, maybe I should not be so hasty. Mop top brit pop from the 60s, it’s all perfectly fine, but I can’t find anything in this to justify the hype I’ve heard about this band throughout my life. It’s the first of seven Who albums on the list, however, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to change my mind. *loads shotgun*
383 Talking Heads – More Songs About Buildings and Food: There’s a strange disco vibe on this second album by oddball post-punks Talking Heads, which is possibly why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting to. The lyrics and vocals of David Byrne are as enjoyable as you’d expect, but the music just feels flat and tinny and overly repetitive, and the music just feels flat and tinny and overly repetitive.
382 Modern Lovers – Modern Lovers: This is interesting, somewhere between the Velvet Underground and punk, I’d never heard of this before. Hey look, this list accomplished something!
381 The Beach Boys – Smile: This list predates Brian Wilson finishing Smile properly I assume, which is why I have to listen to this mish mash instead, a completely half-baked clump of ideas, occasional moments of genius nestled amongst the detritus of the rest of it. Frustrating.
380 Toots and The Maytals – Funky Kingston: Now this is delightful. Proper Jamaican reggae, this is like swallowing sunshine or taking a bath in happiness. Lovely.
379 TLC – Crazysexycool: Jesus. This is the worst kind of generic 90s R’n’B pop, but it’s sold loads of millions of copies despite it only having a couple of catchy tunes on it and a production so tepid that it would make Michael Bolton weep, so that must make it worthy of inclusion on a list of the so-called greatest albums of all time, right? RIGHT?
378 Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?: This was less of a listening experience, more a traumatic dip into the murky backwater swamp of my own wretched past, an unwelcome reminder of bad times and things best forgotten. Cheers Rolling Stone.
377 John Lee Hooker – The Ultimate Collection (1948-1990): I got the ‘I-really-like-John-Lee-Hooker-but-I-don’t-think-anyone-really-needs-to-ever-sit-through-three-straight-CDs-of-his-back-catalogue-what-with-his-songs-all-being-really-similar-and-that’ blues
376 Björk – Post: You can take your Lady Gagas and your M.I.As and shove them, quite frankly. If you want incredibly innovative, brilliantly written and completely nuts art-pop, then Bjork has been doing it a hell of a lot longer and better than anyone else. This album is dripping with menace, beauty, fragility, power, sexuality and brilliance. And she’s never ruined the Muppets.
Hooray! That’s another 25 albums gobbled up in short order, and to ensure complete digestion I must now sleep them off, otherwise I’ll be bringing them all back up again in a minute. With another leg done, that’s only… 15 to go!