We’re into the so-called “homestretch,” counting the moments until the Yanks are mathematically eliminated, gearing up for two big series against the spirit-crushing Blue Jays (one at Fenway, one in idiot-free Canada), and keeping our calendars cleared for optimal playoff viewing. Even though Thursday was an off-day, I should be keeping it real and thinking about baseball. But, as is typically the case when there are no games or women or all you can eat bratwurst festivals to distract me, my thoughts turn to music–my third most crippling vice.
You see, back before iPods and iTunes and the latest hit singles being magically beamed to your head via two coconuts and a wire, there was something called a “compact disc” (and waaaaay before those, I’m told, there were “records”). These discs usually contained two or three good songs, and a shitload of filler. But among the detritus, there were often a few jewels–the fabled “perfect albums”–on which every single track was superb, and filled your world with so much awesome, you practically needed a cigarette or quick trip to the local after every listen. All killer, no filler. And other cliches as necessary.
In this post, I’d like to celebrate the perfect albums. The discs that I love because every f@#king track is a winner. The only rule: no greatest hits or “best of” collections, since they’re supposed to be good throughout.
As you’ll see, my musical tastes are not all that extravagant–nothing like my man Curtis Interruptus, who can school you on Beethoven or the Butthole Surfers and everything in between. But if you find just one disc here that piques your interest and leads you to a purchase, then I feel I’ve done my job.
Oh, and f@#k Giambi.
Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique: The single most-played disc in my collection. A wall-to-wall smorgasbord of beats, rhymes and samples (released long before lawyers started cracking down on “borrowed” hooks, this disc contains literally thousands of grabs, from the Sugarhill Gang to Johnny Cash to the Ramones), which all adds up to the Sgt. Pepper’s of rap. Light years ahead of its time when it was released almost twenty years ago, and it still sounds better than practically anything else out there–a thumping, throbbing soundtrack to drunk, sweaty nights in the clubs and trains and backroom bars of New York City that could get even the most devout rap-haters moving. If you wrote off the Boys after the frat-stomp of Licensed to Ill, I can only recommend that you strap on the headphones and spin the last track–the 12-minute epic “B-Boy Bouillabaisse.” You will be converted.
The Killers, Sam’s Town: The critics didn’t seem to like it. And most of the people who dug on “Mr. Brightside” didn’t get all hot and bothered for it. But in my fevered brain, this disc does everything Hot Fuss did, but does it better, louder and deeper. If you want just a taste, drop 99 cents on “When You Were Young” or “For Reasons Unknown.” And let the healing begin.
Lyle Lovett, The Road to Ensenada: Don’t like country music? You don’t need to–Lovett’s music transcends practically every genre, from pop to gospel to big band to Americana to cool-ass songs that forge the perfect soundtrack for long, quiet nights on the back porch, nursing a beer and staring out at the sky. From “Her First Mistake,” a rousing ode to the lies men tell to pick up women in bars, to “It Ought to Be Easier,” a staggeringly beautiful ode to knowing when it’s over, to the “bonus” track, “The Girl in the Corner,” (which, once again, explores the fine art of, er, trying to pick up women), there isn’t a bum track on the disc. Brilliant.
U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind: Some of my friends, hardcore U2-ers, get upset with me when I lavish praise on this disc, declaring anything post-Unforgettable Fire is shyte. But while I am a devout U2 fan and do enjoy all of their recordings (at least all of the ones that aren’t called Pop), Behind is the only one I can listen to from start to finish without ever wanting to skip a track. This is the disc on which U2 remembered how to be U2 and we’re all the f@#king better for it.
Weezer, Weezer (The Blue Album): If I have to explain this one… then the terrorists have truly won.
R.E.M., Automatic For The People: Yes, this one’s got plenty of hits–“Drive,” “Nightswimming,” “Everybody Hurts,” and the band’s crowning achievement, “Man on the Moon.” It’s also got the underrated “Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” and the sumptuous “Find the River.” But I love every blessed track. Yeah, that includes “Monty Got a Raw Deal,” “Ignoreland” and “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1.” Dark as all f@#k in places, and absolutely brilliant.
Squeeze, Some Fantastic Place: Squeeze is one of those bands that never really seemed to get its due, churning out gorgeous pop music with hooks sweeter than candy apples for close to 30 years, but with only a couple radio hits — “Tempted” and “Hourglass,” both of which barely grazed the US top 40 — to show for all their skills. This disc, released in 1993, showcased the band at its creative pinnacle–and was promptly lost in the crap parade of Snow, Ace of Base and the god-awful “Rhythm is a Dancer.” But if there’s a tune more beautiful than the title track, I’ve simply never heard it.
Brian Setzer, The Knife Feels Like Justice: Somewhere between the Stray Cats and his swing orchestra, Setzer tried his hand at heartland rockin’, a la John Mellencamp and early Springsteen. An interesting if short-lived career diversion, but it spawned this disc that, surprisingly, rocks. And quite f@#king hard at that.
Was (Not Was), What Up, Dog?: That feeling you get deep in your chest when you first listen to this disc from start to finish? It’s called love.
Buffalo Tom, Let Me Come Over: This is the disc that got me through grad school. And several shit jobs. And torturous commutes to the office. And about a dozen failed relationships. And I’m sure I’ll still be cranking it when they cart my worthless ass off to the nursing home. Just a pristine collection of near-perfect rock tunes that continues to surprise me after what’s gotta be about ten thousand listens. Folks, there’s a reason this band is Peter Gammons’ favorite. Put down the f@#king Franz Ferdinand already and pick up Let Me Come Over.
Tom Waits, Closing Time: Savvy readers of this here blog know that my all-time favorite Waits tune is “Hold On” from Mule Variations. But, damn it, there’s just so much of that disc I can’t force myself through. On the other hand, every track on Closing Time is as inviting as that first cold beer on a Saturday night. The kinda night you know you’re gonna end up getting laid, punched out or arrested. Or perhaps all three (an “Irish Trinity” if you’re keeping score).
The Monkees, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd.: Go ahead and thumb your nose at me. Kick me square in the ass. I’m used to it by now. But I’ll defend Pisces to the hilt. It’s got the perfect balance of hits like “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “Star Collector” and “What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round” and “She Hangs Out” and “Cuddly Toy” (which, despite the candy-coated imagery, is allegedly an ode to a girl at a Hell’s Angels gang-bang) and lesser-known but still madly engaging fare like “The Door Into Summer” and “Daily Nightly” and “Salesman.” Most importantly–surprise, surprise–it holds up better today than a lot of the more so-called “respectable” rock from that era.
That’s all I got for now. You?