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My In-No-Way-Definitive Top 5 Records
By Ben Larson
Fort Wayne Reader
For my final article for the Fort Wayne Reader, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you some of my favorite albums, and what it is about them that I find so special.
1) Big Black - Songs About F***ing -- Touch and Go, 1987
Their last studio albums, Big Blacks swan song is great for many reasons. First of all, instead of “1” and “2,” the sides of the album are titled “Happy Otter” and “Sad Otter.” That alone is reason enough to be memorable, but what really makes this album a classic for me are the grinding guitars, misanthropic lyrics, the pounding sound of the drum machine (in lieu of an physical drummer), and all-around aggression that permeates this album. SAF features a young Steve Albini on vocals and guitar, best known to many as a producer, with such classics as Nirvana’s Nevermind, Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, and, most recently, Joanna Newsom’s Ys and Have One on Me on his resume. Since then, Albini has become somewhat of a demigod for audiophiles, and this album is a must have for anyone who loves his work. And I almost forgot to mention — SAF also includes covers of Kraftwerk's "The Model" (from 1978's The Man-Machine), and Cheap Trick's "He's a Whore" (from their 1977 self-titled album). Let me repeat this: the man covered both Cheap Trick and Kraftwerk on the same album. God, I love Steve Albini.
2) The Cure - Disintegration -- Elektra, 1989
This album is almost an instruction manual on how to properly be sad. Everything about it: the melodies, instrumentation, vocal styles, lyrics, and subject matter, positively ooze with melancholy. It’s also one of the most beautiful sounding albums ever made. I’m sure (read: hope) that many of you have sat and listened to “Pictures of You” while lamenting about either a) why your girlfriend/boyfriend just dumped you, or b) why a girl/boy wouldn’t love you. “Disintegration” is catharsis in praxis, and with it, Robert Smith has taught us all that we can be sad, but never as sad as him.
3) Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti -- Atlantic, 1975
First off, Jimmy Page’s guitar solo on “The Rover” is the first reason I ever picked up an electric guitar. While sides three and four aren’t anywhere near as good as one and two (with the exception of “Bron-Yr-Aur,”) the songs on the first two are so good that they almost make one wonder why one even tries to make music. “Custard Pie” and “The Rover” are prime examples of what it means to “rock the hell out,” “Kashmir” and “In My Time of Dying” are so good that they have achieved canonical status at this point. The other reason I chose this album over any other is that it was also Zep’s last great album. After PG, everyone knows they took a sharp turn downwards (whether you choose to admit it or not), and never made another really solid album. It’s as if their greatness went out with a bang, even if the band released four more albums after this one.
4) Run DMC - Raising Hell -- Profile, 1986
“Peter Piper” is arguably the best song in hip-hop history (the only contender being LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali”). From start to finish, this album makes you want to do one thing, and one thing only — have a really, really good time. The first four tracks alone could be put on repeat and played for hours at a party (or, in my case, in my apartment) and no one would complain (and if they did, they would need to be shamed and removed). Seriously RH opens with “Peter Piper”, “It’s Tricky,” “My Adidas,” and “Walk This Way.” You just don’t get any better than that in hip-hop. The rhymes are awesome, clever, and extremely well-executed, and Jam Master J’s DJ abilities make this one of the hookiest albums in history. One of the funny things about this album is that it also has Aerosmith’s best song ever, “Walk This Way.” Raising Hell wins twice.
5) Soul Coughing - Ruby Vroom -- Slash/Warner, 1994
I’ve caught a LOT of flak for my love of Soul Coughing over the years, but the fact is that they were one of the most unique, avant-garde bands of the last twenty years, and RV rivals even Raising Hell in its saturation with awesome hooks. Before his lackluster solo career (thanks(?) to Dave Matthews and his label, ATO), singer/rapper and guitarist M. Doughty used RV to spout some of the most out there lyrics since the Beats. Songs like “Screenwriter’s Blues” and “Blue Eyed Devil” show how great Soul Coughing was at making funky-ass songs with memorable non-sequitur-laced lyrics, while “Bus to Beelzebub” and “Casiotone Nation” stood as examples of how weird they could be. The nontraditional lineup of guitar, drums, upright bass and keyboard sampler (with a lot of production emphasis placed away from the guitar) also made for one of the most timelessly unique sounding albums ever. This album will never sound dated, because there was nothing before or after it that even came close to approaching it’s high-reaching aesthetics.
So that’s it, maybe my all-time top five albums, maybe just the five albums that I currently find most memorable. Anyway, it’s been great writing for you folks. Thanks for reading.