Rolling Stone Top 500 Challenge VIII
End of the line, folks. This’ll be the last one of these, at least for here and now. I didn’t make it to the peak, where Sgt Peppers resides in all his predictable pomp. I failed. I am a failure.
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: 325-301
325 Eric Clapton – Slowhand: It still baffles me that someone can go from being in The Yardbirds and Cream, both incredibly vital, urgent, excellent bands… to this. Meandering, plodding and pedestrian, this is utterly dull. How anyone can make a song about doing too much cocaine sound like an overdose of cocoa is beyond me.
324 David Bowie – Station to Station: This is full on 80s Bowie, and veers from unlistenable flirtations with disco, to fairly dull Bowie-by-numbers, to a couple of excellent guitar-led numbers. It whistled past me quickly enough.
323 The Police – Ghost in the Machine: Seriously though, fuck off Sting.
322 Randy Newman – Sail Away: I’m beginning to wonder if the rest of this challenge is going to revolve around me having to listen to Sting, then Randy Newman, then Sting again, then maybe some Jackson Browne. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is my third Randy Newman album, and I’ve become increasingly less tolerant of his bullshit with each one. Awful.
321 Nick Drake – Pink Moon: Ahhh, that’s better. Lustrous folk that’s dripping with sadness; after the previous four albums this is like a warm shower after a strenuous workout. I’d imagine, anyway, I don’t do exercise as a rule, because why on earth would you choose to do that?
320 Radiohead – Amnesiac: More loveliness, courtesy of Oxford’s finest. You could argue that an album of offcuts from the Kid A recording sessions shouldn’t warrant inclusion here, but then we would have to stop talking to each other, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?
319 Bob Marley & The Wailers – Burnin’: I’m trying to recall if this is the first reggae album we’ve had on the list so far, but my brain is still a bit burnt out from that Randy Newman album. It all starts to haunts you, eventually. Anyway, this is pretty decent really. Not hugely my cup of tea but it’s got some great songs, good earfeel etc.
318 The O’Jays – Back Stabbers: This is 70s soul at its dullest. It starts brightly enough, with a political protest song, but then gives way to endless generic love songs. When the best song on the album is ‘Love Train’ then you know you have problems.
317 Pixies – Surfer Rosa: It’s amazing how fresh The Pixies sound, even now, when every rock man and his alt dog has spent the subsequent decades copying their blueprint so shamelessly. Anyway, this is brilliant, and has Where Is My Mind on it, which is my favourite Pixies song (wow, controversial choice, not).
316 The Velvet Underground – The Velvet Underground: This is Velvet Underground at their most relaxed, with a distinct lack of the avant-garde oddness that made them so famous—apart from a head meltingly atonal nine-minute song at the end. Other than that it’s rather pleasant.
315 Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers – Damn The Torpedoes: This is unashamedly American blue collar rawwwk, straight from the heartlands of wherever. You can imagine all of the songs being played by a blond haired boy on a tractor in Iowa, but for all that it’s very likeable, the epic hooks and anthemic choruses tempered by downtrodden working class lyrics with their feet in Steinbeck’s America.
314 Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill: This is pretty near perfect. Blending together the best of soul, hip hop, reggae and funk with intelligent, brash and militant lyrics and a strong, powerful woman at the centre of it all. Brilliant.
313 Nirvana – MTV Unplugged in New York: You have to wonder if this album would be quite so revered if it didn’t serve as a kind of epitaph for Kurt, but that’s how it’s ended up so you can’t really separate the two anymore. I remember very clearly seeing this for the first time on the day he died, when MTV UK went into Kurt overload, as I was doing myself. Listening back now you wonder if the scarcity of his own songs reflected his lack of faith in his own repertoire or his boredom with it. Either way, it’s a flawed and compelling album, and the finale of Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night still sends shivers down my spine.
312 Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking: I’ve never quite understood the reverence towards Jane’s, they’re a passably good 90s alternative band whose influence was more to do with their involvement in Lollapalooza than their musical output. This is okay, but nothing more, and Perry Farrell’s voice is one of the more irritating things in this life.
311 Various Artists – The Sun Records Collection: This is the sort of thing that reminds me what I’m doing this challenge for. Three discs of blues, r’n’b, country and rockabilly from the archives of one of the most important studios in history. At three hours it never drags, the more obvious acts like Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis sitting alongside people I’ve never heard of on a fascinating look at the very birth of popular music. Absolutely brilliant.
310 Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik: I loved this album when I was thirteen because it’s exactly the sort of album that appeals to a thirteen-year-old boys, with lyrics straight out of the letters page of a wank mag. But listening back now it’s interesting how much better this sounds than the Chili’s subsequent works, with Flea’s bass much more prominently mixed than Frusciante’s weedy guitar probably being the main reason. It’s infantile whiteboy faux-funk certainly, but it’s a lot more fun than anything else they’ve done.
309 Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy And The Poor Boys: Late 60s politically charged swamp rock from Creedence, another band on the list of bands I’ve always meant to listen to. I don’t know why I like things that are tinged with down-home country music when I hate country so much, but this is excellent, especially Fortunate Son. In fact, I love this so much I’ve already made a playlist of their other albums to listen to after I’m done with this. Yes I am a fucking idiot, what of it?
308 Frank Sinatra – Songs for Swingin’ Lovers: This is actually my dad’s favourite album of all time, so you could say I’m fairly well acquainted with it. There’s been a serious deficit of swing on this list, but this more than makes up for it. It’s really all you’d ever need when it comes to Ol’ Blue Eyes; it has endlessly opulent big band arrangements and Sinatra’s voice is sublime here. An effortless cool envelops the whole thing. Forget the ruinations visited upon this genre by Bublé and his ilk, this is marvellous.
307 The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night: If there’s one thing I’m really starting to appreciate in an album the further I get into this endeavour, it’s brevity. This mop-top era album by the Fab Four is pretty dull really, lacking any really great songs, but it’s only 30 minutes long, so that’s just fine by me.
306 Beck – Odelay: This album is more like a time capsule now, a reminder of a time when you could do some pretty out there stuff and still score a major worldwide smash, so long as you had a handful of good tunes in there and you were ’cool’ enough. It’s not quite as good as I remember it being, but it’s still a good listen.
305 Lucinda Williams – Car Wheels On A Gravel Road: This is very odd. Williams has a very distinctive voice; think Sheryl Crow with an added dash of huskiness. But this album has a very glossy sheen to it which does not suit the oddness of her voice. The few songs where the production does get stripped back work a lot better, but then they aren’t great songs in and of themselves. A very frustrating listen.
304 Jeff Buckley – Grace: I adore this album. Buckley’s voice is simply extraordinary, exceeding the gymnastic dexterity of your general X factor warbling automata and combining it with soul, passion and—ironically—a certain ‘X’ factor, then backing it up with an album of brilliant songs. Not many people could get away with a cover of Corpus Christi Carol on a rock album, but Jeff could. In the pantheon of sad rock stories, the fact that we’ll never hear Grace’s follow up is probably the saddest.
303 Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding: This was Dylan returning to his roots after three electric albums, incorporating a country vibe. It’s fantastic, Dylan’s voice is very strong, with some great songs and some of his better lyrics.
302 Public Enemy – Fear Of A Black Planet: Angry, confrontational, noisy as hell, funny as shit and smarter than you or I. Who in their right mind wouldn’t love this? There are times when their soundclash production gets a bit much, but they are few and far between.
And fanfare please…
301 Dolly Parton – Coat Of Many Colors: Here we are then, the 200th album on this list that I’ve listened to, and the last one I’ll be writing about here. After two solid weeks of listening to nothing else I’m looking forward to choosing my own music for a while, but I’ll get round to finishing the other 300 at some point. I may even write about it if any of you lot seem remotely interested in reading it, who knows! As for this album, well it’s quite good really. I really like Dolly Parton, I think she’s an awesome woman, and while she’s far too straight ahead country for me normally, there’s something very charming about her delivery and lyrics here that win me over.
So that’s that. Bye!