The Florida Project: A Sad and Beautiful Slice of My Home

I’ve finally been able to see Sean Baker’s 2017 film The Florida Project, and wow, what a thumbnail_26723great film it is. The trailer caught my eye last year not only for its glorious use of color, but its nearness to my life in Orlando for over a decade. The film is set on that stretch of highway in Kissimmee that any Central Floridian knows as the brightly colored area with all sorts of road side kitsch, dive gift shops, and motels. The film showcases many of the most memorable locations: Orange World, the wizard gift shop, the mermaid gift shop, one of O-Town’s many Twistee Treats, and its setting at the very-purple (and real) Magic Castle Inn.

My childhood in Florida did not involve 1-star tourist hotel living or the moral squalor that the children have to battle with their imagination, but it did involve times of financial struggle throughout. We were blessed with the ability to frequent many of the major theme parks in better times, but we also had moments where we had to find the absolute cheapest food options in town and seek fun in other ways. While Disney provided some of the most exhilarating good times and joy I’ve had in my life, other attractions and cheap eats provided the backdrop to some of my many fond memories there (including Kissimmee’s Old Town, on the same road but not in the film).

The road the film is set on was one of my earliest memories of Florida. We visited Disney before we moved there when I was six years old, and I remember being wowed by some of the garish storefronts then. I thought of them again when I was told we were moving there. I was going to be living near the store with the giant wizard on it?

Fortunately, we didn’t live on that stretch and my life was much better than what’s depicted here. Still, the film is familiar in a way that feels nearly documentary-like if not for the artistry of its cinematography and acting. There’s many little moments in the film that sound that elusive ring of truth. One of my favorites is when Willem Dafoe shoos off a few ibis birds in the middle of the road. If that’s not a true Florida problem I don’t know what is.

The film wonders, does poverty fuel the imagination? What do we do in a society where a seven year old child is trying to take swimsuit picture selfies and twerking in accordance to the cultural norm? What is the fuel in her imagination, the activities of her destitute mother, or the wonder of the competition between the natural world and the cartoon tourist landscape that she lives in?

This is simply one of the most beautiful and compelling films I’ve seen in a while, one that balances the line between the soft glow of a childhood lived with verve and the harsh realities that threaten the kingdom of the mind. My idea of a film that looks at a realistic slice of life successfully is that it is full of sympathy and love for its subject, but is not without strong constructive criticism.

We could all use a reminder on what makes the true happiest place on earth.

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Why Can’t We Remember God’s Power?

I was just reading the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s state of humility in the book of Daniel and wanted to write some brief thoughts about his remarkable arch of pride, humility, and restored exaltation.

To recap the story of Daniel prior to my thoughts; when Babylon besieged Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and exiled the Jews to Babylon he took several young men of good learning to be trained in Babylonian culture. Daniel was one of these chosen few. God gave Daniel favor in the sight of the Babylonians and he was able to interpret the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar when none of the king’s magicians and enchanters was able to. Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to ruler over the whole province of Babylon and he was made chief prefect over all the wise men (D. 2:48). Daniel then requested that Nebuchadnezzar promote his three friends Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego over the affairs of the province of Babylon as well.

Here’s where Nebuchadnezzar’s life-arch starts to get crazy. After he’s promoted Daniel & Co. he decides that he’s going to create an image of gold (or a colossal chocolate bunny for us VeggieTales fans) that everybody must bow down and worship. As many of you are familiar with, the fab three Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego refuse to do this and Nebuchadnezzar throws them into the fiery furnace that he’s turned up extra high for them (so high it killed the people he sent to toss them in!). After standing strong against idol worship their lives are spared and they are seen alive in the furnace with a fourth figure (thought to be either an appearance of Christ pre-incarnation or an angel), and so they walk out completely unscathed. What does Nebuchadnezzar say about this?
He says:

Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
 Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” – Daniel 3:28-29

After this he promoted the trio again in the province of Babylon.

So it sure seems like at this point that Nebuchadnezzar should know how awesomely powerful and in control of all things God is. After all, at this point in his life he has seen many miraculous things that he credited correctly to the God of the Hebrews and acknowledged His majesty verbally. Sounds good right? He even proclaims the “signs and wonders” God has performed for him by saying: “How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation.” – D. 4:3

After this, Nebuchadnezzar had a second dream which struck fear in his heart. Instead of going to Daniel first (I imagine Daniel stroking his cat and saying “Why didn’t you come to me first? I can’t remember the last time that you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee..”), he went back to his gaggle of charlatans and didn’t get an answer. He finally went back to Daniel and Daniel was not happy to tell him the interpretation. The dream basically says that Nebuchadnezzar will be cut down and lose his kingdom and his sanity if he continues to sin and oppress people. The dream is a big “if,” in which if Nebuchadnezzar refuses to rule in the way that God is instructing him to that his kingdom will be taken away and if not then God will not have to teach him humility in that way.

Unfortunately, Nebuchadnezzar did not listen and a year later goes out one night on his roof and was feeling prideful of all his accomplishments. He said “Is this not great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” Way to word your sentence to be extra-prideful and dishonoring to God! Daniel says that while the words were still in Nebuchadnezzar’s mouth the kingdom had been taken away from him and he had been driven insane. He was driven away from civilization and ate grass, and let his hair and nails grow crazy long. That must have been quite the sight for all the mocking school kids!

After God’s appointed time had ended Nebuchadnezzar looked up to the sky and his reason was restored, and along with it his kingdom. He praised God whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” and says that “now I praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.” (D – 4:37)

Now to the question of the title: why can’t we remember God’s power? Why is this so difficult for us to keep in mind? Nebuchadnezzar clearly struggled to keep God at the center of his life and work and God tore down everything he had to make him realize who was really in control.

Many of us are like Nebuchadnezzar even though we don’t rule the predominant kingdom in the whole world. “We have seen his glory” as John 1:14 says, and we do know Him and are without excuse (Romans 1:20). Nebuchadnezzar was certainly without excuse as he saw sign and wonders beyond what many of us have ever seen. He surrounded himself with believers who knew the truth in top positions, but that didn’t make his own ways righteous. God called him out specifically for sinning and not showing mercy to the oppressed. God gave him a warning and a chance to turn his life around, but he refused and instead touted himself as responsible for all his accomplishments.

When we do not acknowledge God as the author of all good and the sole author of the story of our lives and humanity and give ourselves credit, we are forgetting who’s really in charge; who is really king over the everlasting kingdom. We want to be the accomplished king of our lives, but if we do not practice righteousness and humility in keeping what God has allowed us to steward, then He will have to humble us and return us to Him as He did with the most important ruler of that time.

Let us not be like Nebuchadnezzar and clearly perceive the glory and power that God has, the control that He has over the world, and give ourselves more credit than Him. Remember these words of Nebuchadnezzar’s, lest God need to bring you down to humility as well:

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and His kingdom is from generation to generation.
All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and He does what He wants with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can hold back His hand
or say to Him, “What have You done?” – Daniel 4:35

God’s Love is NOT Reckless

My wife wrote this post on Facebook and I wanted to share it with everyone following my blog because I think this is an exceedingly important issue. Here’s what she had to say:

“God’s love is NOT reckless. Let me explain why.

First, I want to preface this by saying that I do not normally attack worship songs and I tend to give a lot of popular songs poetic license because I like the way they sound and they have meaning for me. The song “reckless love” IS a really good song and I like it…except for the title and intended takeaway message of it. Poetic license is one thing, lying about the character of God is another.

Cory Asbury, the writer of the song “Reckless Love” states that God’s love is reckless because “He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return.”

The definition of reckless that most people use to argue for this song is from the Oxford dictionary which defines reckless as “(of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action.”

First of all, God does not have “off chance” in His vocabulary. Before we take a step, God knows it. Psalm 139:4 states, “even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Even the hairs on our head are numbered (Luke 12:7). God knows everything we have done and will ever do and He has ALWAYS known it. God doesn’t give Himself away hoping to change our minds or our path in life; God already knows our path. Claiming that God does anything on a whim, not knowing the actions or hoping for a different result is like a writer writing a book and not knowing what he’s written down. It’s impossible. But that’s the BEAUTY of our relationship with God. He knows every single sin we have committed and will commit. He knows our hearts, He knows how broken we are. Before we were even in the womb, God knew us (Jeremiah 1:5). But He still made us. He still chose us. He still wants us. He still loves us. When you act or claim that you can surprise God by your actions, you’re promoting your status as a human and demoting His status as God and therefore undermining what Jesus did on the cross. Which is my second point.

God thinks and cares about the consequences of all His actions. Do you think God didn’t care about the consequence of sending His one and only Son to die on the cross? Do you think Jesus didn’t care about the consequence of being crucified? Jesus understood and cared about the consequences very well. He cared so much that right before they came for Him, He prayed for God to take it from Him if possible, but Thy will be done (Matthew 26:39). Jesus KNEW what it would cost for Him to save us. Jesus cared and frankly, He didn’t want to do it if He didn’t have to. But Jesus also knew the consequence of NOT going to the cross. He knew the consequences of all of our sins. He knew that without His death, we would never find life. And so knowing ALL the options and ALL the consequences, Jesus CHOSE to die for us. It wasn’t on the off chance that it would save us. It wasn’t on the off chance that people would come to Him. He knew. When you use this definition and claim that Jesus didn’t care about going to the cross you’re truly missing out on the pain and torture of being crucified and missing out on the gravity and the heaviness of what He did for you.

Furthermore, God is a perfect God. He is Prince of Peace. He is Sovereign. When I think of reckless love, I honestly picture Liam Neeson in “Taken”. Liam Neeson’s character is a trained killer, a trained security guard, a trained protector. When his daughter gets taken, he basically flips over all of Paris to find her. He doesn’t care who he has to kill in the process or who he has to beat up or the bridges he has to jump off of or how much money it costs. He just DOES it. Now some of you might be thinking, well yes Aly, this is a beautiful picture of the love of God. But it’s not. God does not kill other people to get to you. God does not mistreat nature, people, or any of His creation just to get to you. Why? Because we are ALL equal in God’s eyes. God is so careful with all of our hearts and He would never kill or mistreat another person just to get to you because He wants you, He wants the people “standing in His way”, He wants the people watching, He wants it ALL. There is no collateral damage when it comes to the love of God because the love of God is PERFECT. Sure, God can use the death of someone or the pain of someone to get to you. God will USE the trouble in your life to get your attention but He would never hurt or punish someone else just to teach you a lesson. The enemy, however, is like Liam Neeson. The enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). The more people he can take down in the process, the better. The enemy wants to kill other people and hurt other people in order to kill and hurt you. The enemy is reckless. The enemy is chaos. God is perfect. God is peace.

I considered not writing this because of the command in 2 Timothy 2:16 “avoid irreverent babble for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness”. But the reason I still chose to post this is because our talk and our vocabulary as Christians effects nonbelievers. In my life, I have had trouble. I have given my heart and my time and my body to people who have been reckless to me. What did I receive in return? Pain, heartbreak, and betrayal. There’s nothing positive about being reckless. I am very careful about who I trust my heart with because most people will be reckless with it and not take proper care of it. Now if I were a nonbeliever and I heard that Christians were calling God’s love reckless, and then telling me to give my LIFE, my EVERYTHING, to Him, I would not do it. I would not want to entrust everything I am to another “person” who is reckless and careless with it. I would run the other way. I don’t need someone else to hurt me, I don’t need to give someone else that kind of control if they’re not going to take care of it. I’ll live life on my own, thanks. But that’s not God. Jesus says, those who die for me will find life. God is a “Good Good Father.” He will not let me down. He will not hurt me. He will heal me. The use of the phrase “Reckless Love” I fear is confusing and deterring nonbelievers.

That being said, I like the rest of the song. I like acknowledging that God is so good and so kind to me. I know I could never deserve or earn His love. And I know He will not stop pursuing me. But you wanna know what that is? It’s RELENTLESS. Perfectly planned, perfectly unstoppable. So if you’re sitting here thinking, well gee thanks Aly, NOW what am I going to listen to? Check out this song.”

What we sing in worship to God is going to have an affect on on how we view God Himself. This song could have the potential to infect believer’s understanding of who God is for several generations if it keeps getting passed down, as many worship standards do. Distortions of God’s character and gospel are evil and those who who preach a different gospel are “accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9).

This is serious, deadly business. 

bethel-music-worshipThe song “Reckless Love” comes from Bethel, which is a heretical church that teaches the gospel as being empowerment to perform miracles, and that Jesus was not God in His time on earth but God becoming fully and only human to model a Christian life of miracle performing for us. This is false teaching and not in accord with a Scriptural understanding of the gospel or who Christ is.

Bill Johnson, Bethel’s lead pastor, is not preaching the gospel or even Christ as God in the flesh. In fact, he has said that if Christ had been God in the flesh that he would not be compelled to follow Him. Are you kidding me? As I said, this is serious business and it’s not just the unbiblical things they do, like grave sucking, fake “glory clouds,” and numerous false prophecies. This is attacking the very nature of Christ and the gospel itself. Johnson is telling his followers they are now perfectly holy and there is no need for sanctification, but the Bible says that if you tell yourself you are without sin that you are deceiving yourself and the truth is not in you (1 John 1:8). He is teaching that Jesus was not completely good since He was not God (Jesus says there is no one good but God alone – Mark 10:18). Which means that Jesus’s death wouldn’t have been the spotless sacrificial death of the Lamb needed to atone for sins, so under Bethel theology Christ’s death doesn’t really atone for anything.

Pastor Gabriel Hughes says this (emphasis by me):

When you hear the word “gospel” mentioned at Bethel Church, know that it is a different gospel they’re talking about. This filters into all of their ministries. The “Jesus” in the name “Jesus Culture” is not the Jesus of the Bible. When you listen to their worship songs, you might hear all the right Christian words, but you are not praising God with them because they are writing and singing about a different Jesus.”

Using terms that are without Scriptural basis to describe God’s love like “reckless” are par for the course for the accursed church of Bethel. This should have been a warning to those in the church who understand God’s character and love that something was amiss. Instead we sing the new song with zeal and even begin describing God’s love in normal conversation as “reckless.” What Bethel is singing about is not God and is not Christianity, even though it sounds nice.

I encourage everyone reading this to talk to your pastors and express your concern about letting the heretical Bethel continue to poison the understanding people have of God and the gospel and to speak out against this false teaching. The Bereans checked what Paul told them against Scripture and are called noble for doing so, and many of them came to Christ (Acts 17:11-12 NIV). We need to be careful to check that what we are singing or teaching does not twist or distort God because this is a thing of the enemy.

“But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” – Matthew 24:43-44

You can read more about Bethel’s heretical teachings here.

 

Listening to and Reviewing Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums: #101-200

Welcome back to my series of listening to and reviewing every single album on Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums list. If you didn’t read the first installment where I review every album in the top 100 and explain my view of the list you can read that here.

The next 200 albums feature many records that have meant a lot to me and many that I only just heard for the first time. So let’s take a look at all of them together!

#101 In the Wee Small Hours – Frank Sinatra (1955)inthewee
I’m kind of proud of Rolling Stone putting this on the list at all considering that traditional pop seems to either be disregarded or considered anathema to them. I’m a huge Sinatra fan and this is one of his most iconic and influential LP’s. I may not play it often since its somber tone is too potent, but it is doubtless a chilling record. I played it one time after what I thought was hurtful breakup and decided after hearing this record that I wasn’t that bad off. -10
#102 Fresh Cream – Cream (1966)
Released in the first year of psychedelia’s outbreak, Cream’s debut deserved the label of fresh. It has an well balanced sound between blues rock and psychedelic pop that not many other bands were able to blend as well. -9
#103 Giant Steps – John Coltrane (1959)
My favorite Coltrane album other than A Love Supreme. Can’t really say much about it since I’m no jazz critic, but I do enjoy playing it while I’m cooking if that helps. -9
#104 Sweet Baby James – James Taylor (1970)
The best James Taylor LP I’ve heard, it features the title track and my favorite JT song “Fire and Rain.” It’s one of the most melodically memorable and laid back albums of the 70’s singer-songwriter movement. -8
#105 Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music – Ray Charles (1962)
The historical significance of this record would have to garner it a place on the list alone, seeing that it broke down black and white barriers right in the midst of the Civil Rights era. The record itself is a masterpiece of interpretation, with Charles making the songs sound like his own. It sounds a bit dated now with its sort of MOR sound, and it’s sad that Charles never really recovered from this album being such a hit and trying to repeat it. -7
#106 Rocket to Russia – The Ramones (1977)
The Ramones’s finest hour, and one of the top three or so greatest punk records ever made. I’ve probably sunk more listens into this album than anything not made by The Beatles. Taking the fun-in-the-sun enthusiasm of The Beach Boys and injecting it with the world of fringe guys from Queens made for their most fun and thorough expression of their ethos. -10
#107 Portrait of a Legend: 1951-1964 – Sam Cooke (2003)
Sam Cooke is of the top five or so greatest recorded singers ever in my opinion, and he was a phenomenal songwriter in a time where it wasn’t necessary to write your own hits. This collection is the best comp of his works I’ve ever heard. It captures what made him perhaps the greatest soul singer ever by covering the bases of his hits and most exemplary tracks in a concise time-frame. A must own for any music fan. -10
#108 Hunky Dory – David Bowie (1971)
A favorite for many Bowie fans. This record has some glam pizzazz without being quite as out there as some of his other records. “Life on Mars?” is one of the best songs he ever wrote and neophytes will recognize “Changes” (a common comment is that they didn’t know it was a Bowie song). “Queen Bitch” and “Oh! You Pretty Things” are excellent album tracks. Not as unified a collection as he would do later, but this is some of his best work regardless. -9
aftermath#109 Aftermath – The Rolling Stones (1966)
The Stones’s first album where they had written all the songs. It always makes me think of how ahead of them The Beatles were considering that The Stones had barely cobbled together this album of all originals while The Beatles were soaring on Revolver. Despite the inconsistencies, I do like this record. I could do without poorly written tracks like “Stupid Girl” or the pretty empty jam on “Goin’ Home,” but then you have truly great ones like “I Am Waiting,” “It’s Not Easy,” and all the singles. With The Stones you would expect something incredible which is why this record suffers a little, but for any other band this would be the best thing they ever did. -8
#110 Loaded – The Velvet Underground (1970)
Why was this record called Loaded? Because the record label wanted an album “loaded” with hits! After a few albums of true outsider music, Lou Reed delivered on the promise and put out the most accessible record the VU ever did. There are hits galore and songs that shoulda been. It doesn’t sacrifice Reed’s distinctive songwriting sound or vocals and it also adds in the excellent contributions of Doug Yule. -10
#111 The Bends – Radiohead (1995)
Listened to this album once several years ago and liked it well enough. It sounded a little more 90’s R.E.M. than their other works. I remember thinking that I had just discovered where alternative music really went downhill. This is the start of the abstract alternative sound mixes with the high vocals that sort of typifies everything I don’t like about modern alt music. This isn’t a horrible record from what I remember though despite its negative impact. -4
#112 If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears – The Mama’s and the Papa’s (1966)
I’m a fan of the M&P’s in general, but I find this record sort of forgettable overall besides its epochal singles and a few interesting covers. This is the start of the sound that morphed into sunshine pop. -6
#113 Court and Spark – Joni Mitchell (1974)
This album was interesting because it combined some of the folk-pop work of Mitchell’s that I was familiar with with some shades of jazz. I really enjoyed the famous single “Help Me” the most. I’ll definitely have to return to it when I’m in a Joni mood. -8
#114 Disraeli Gears – Cream (1967)disraeli
My favorite Cream album. They knew how to really add umph to the psych pop/rock sound in a way comparable to Hendrix. The record combines songs that are typical Cream like “Strange Brew” with other influences like music hall in the last track. A musically varied listen that will satisfy a desire for some prime ’67 psych that the cover promises. -9
#115 The Who Sell Out – The Who (1967)
More prime ’67 psych! As I mentioned in my last post, this is my favorite Who album and I think they went downhill after this in the studio. There’s not a bad track or performance on this album and the concept is both funny and thought provoking. -10
#116 Out of Our Heads – The Rolling Stones (1965)
I actually think this album and its American counterpart are more consistent/better albums than Aftermath. There’s so many great tracks on both versions that exemplify the mid-60’s Stones sound better than anything. The American one has more originals while the UK has more soul/RnB covers. This is the culmination of their early RnB period. -9
#117 Derek and the Dominoes – Derek and the Dominoes (1970)
Considered by many to be Clapton’s magnum opus, this sprawling double LP has some of the best blues rock playing on it ever recorded. Duane Allman shows up for every track after “Bell Bottom Blues” which in of itself insured this to be historic moment. You know from my last post that I have a harder time with long jam music but this records avoids it for the most part with superb songwriting craft and the solos not going too long. -9
#118 Late Registration – Kanye West (2005)
Well, if you know me you know I hadn’t heard this one before I went through this list! Just like any person that finds pride to be seriously off-putting I think nothing but dismissive things when West’s name comes up. This record did surprise me, after listening to a lot more hip hop lately it is noticeably accomplished in a way many others are not. West’s musical sensibilities might be the only thing to recommend of him but this is actually a solid album. I’ll have to go back to it and get to know it better. I could do without the skits, but this seems to be a hip hop album trope. What’s up with that? -6
#119 At Last! – Etta James (1960)
Etta James’s most famous album thanks to its title track and well designed cover. James serves up an excellent variety of songs that will appeal to any R&B and traditional pop or blues fans. Her performances and the Chess Records production sound is glorious. -8
sweetheart#120 Sweetheart of the Rodeo – The Byrds (1968)
This is one of my favorite and most influential albums personally. This record turned me onto Gram Parsons, the country rock “cosmic American” that has been a major influence on me since. This is the most purely country record he or The Byrds as a whole ever worked on, and it’s a beautiful expression of the genre from guys who weren’t a part of the country world but had a seriously passion for the music. A must-own and great introduction to how incredible country music is for people who are yet unaware. -10
#121 Stand! – Sly and the Family Stone (1969)
All killer no filler indeed, this was the first perfect LP Sly and his band had put out. Fans of the band’s biggest hits will find plenty of those with awesome album tracks like “Sex Machine” and “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey.” For those who like their psych to have some funk and vice versa this is the ultimate album for that. -9
#122 The Harder They Come  – Various Artists (1972)
Of all the albums I discovered in 2017, this was one of the handful I fell the hardest for (ba bum tish). I saw the movie and wasn’t incredibly impressed, but the soundtrack was awesome and I went to listen to the record of it and got into it even more. All the tracks are good fun, well produced, and expertly performed. Jimmy Cliff’s tracks stand out while other like Toots and the Maytals also have excellent contributions. I would think this could turn anyone into a reggae fan. -10
#123 Raising Hell – Run D.M.C. (1986)
The album that broke hip hop into the mainstream! Run D.M.C. set the style and look for hip hop right from the start and perfected their formula on this Rubin/Simmons produced album. Most probably know the “Walk This Way” single that crossed over onto the rock chart. My favorite track is the humorous “You Be Illin’.” -8
#124 Moby Grape – Moby Grape (1967)
One of the best bands and albums that came out of the San Francisco psych scene in 1967. Moby Grape fit more in the mold of Jefferson Airplane for pure psych rock than the other more blues based bands of the time. The various songwriters make for a diverse listen that stays tight and interesting the whole way through. -8
#125 Pearl – Janis Joplin (1971)
I absolutely cannot stand Janis Joplin’s voice. She’s so obnoxious and I try to see what the appeal is but her voice is like hearing a nasty smoker lady try to sing in a bar. Do people only like her because she died young and was a symbol of the counterculture? I would venture to guess most people who buy Janis Joplin posters don’t really listen her records. “Mercedes Benz” sounds like a drunk woman that makes everybody cringe the moment she starts trying to sputter out some notes. There’s a moment where she says “everybody now!” and nobody joins in..that says it all. I give it 1 point for the instrumental she’s not on. -1
#126 Catch a Fire – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1973)
I don’t remember a lot of specifics on this album, but I do remember thinking this was some of his best songs with more variety than one would usually expect on a reggae album. I’ll have to hear it again. -7
#127 Younger Than Yesterday – The Byrds (1967)
It’s basically impossible to choose a favorite Byrds album because they’re all so good and interesting in their own way, but their entry into the 1967 musical landscape is a contender for that title. Featuring excellent proto country rock contributions from Chris Hillman, swirly David Crosby songs, and Roger McGuinn’s predictably unpredictable interests, this album did suffer a little from them losing their best songwriter (Gene Clark) but when you have guys like this picking up the slack it doesn’t matter. Some of Crosby’s tunes meander as they do, but even that meandering sound timely here. -10
#128 Raw Power – Iggy and the Stooges (1973)
I love The Stooges and I love this record, I just hate the mix! Why is there no good mix at all of this album? Iggy’s and Bowie’s BOTH sound thin and disappointing. Maybe I’ve never heard it on the right speakers or something but it just seems strange that “the loudest album ever recorded” sounds so weak. The songs and performances are great, though. -9
#129 Remain In Light – Talking Heads (1980) remain.jpg
One of my desert island discs for a while, I may have overplayed it now but this album was truly an eye opener for me when it comes to layering sounds. It sounds so intricate and yet so free. “The Great Curve” is one of their greatest unheralded songs. Extra credit for making me actually enjoy African music, which I had been skeptical of before. -10
#130 Marquee Moon – Television (1977)
I had always heard of Television as being one of the seminal CBGB New York punk bands, but I was surprised when I listened to this album how post punk it is in the year punk exploded! This is the album that set the template for guitar playing in the majority of art and new wave/post punk bands to follow them. The Edge has said everyone studied this record. There’s not really another album that sounds like it, and they only made one other (slightly lesser) album before calling it quits. -10
#131 Paranoid – Black Sabbath (1971)
Everyone reading this list probably knows this record better than I do. I’ve always been a fan of Black Sabbath as far as their singles go but have never felt to compelled to hear their albums all the time. I remember really enjoying the non-hits on this one in particular but it’s been a while. – 9
#132 Saturday Night Fever – The Bee Gees (1977)
Disco. The same year punk is making music great again (Trump meets punk, hmm) disco is all the rage. Is most of it absolute dreck that should be forgotten? Yes. But The Bee Gee’s were not dreck-makers. They had been writing great pop music for a decade by the time this album came out and they made a second wave of fans in the new fad. Since becoming a fan of their earlier works, I’ve come to appreciate their efforts here and even enjoy it despite my general distaste for the genre. You can’t deny how good songs like “Stayin’ Alive” and “How Deep Is Your Love?” are. -8
#133 The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle – Bruce Springsteen (1973)
Of all the Springsteen albums I’ve heard on the list this is the one that did the least for me. I’m not wild about his first two albums, but there were songs on this I really enjoyed like “Rosalita” and “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy).” Maybe I need to go back and read the lyrics and listen more, but this one just didn’t grab me like his others right off. -7
#134 Ready to Die – Notorious B.I.G. (1994)
I gotta say, of all the hip hop albums I’ve heard for this list I’ve ended up generally enjoying every one of them.. except this one. The album starts off super strong with “Things Done Changed” which is a masterful piece of poetry bemoaning the way the ghettos have gotten worse over time and where African Americans find themselves socially (if you can’t sell crack rock you gotta have a wicked jump shot, he says). Unfortunately the album seriously goes downhill from there. The rest is basically in line with Ice Cube’s “Life ain’t nothin’ but bitches and money” ethos. Biggie tells stories of committing crimes, getting arrested, and boasting in his sexual prowess. The whole concept seems immature, and to top it off a whole track is devoted to nothing but hearing a couple have sex and one track ends with the sounds of Biggie getting a blow job. Naughty fun for a teenager maybe, but obnoxious to everyone else. -2
#135 Slanted and Enchanted – Pavement (1992)
What would it sound like if Jonathan Richman of The Modern Lovers had a 90’s indie band? Something like this I’m sure! It seems a lot of folks worship the ground this band and album walk on, but I only found it mildly interesting as much as I would enjoy something I happened to hear on a Paste list this year. Excellent indie rock? Sure. Incredibly special or memorable? Didn’t seem so. -6
#136 Greatest Hits – Elton John (1974)
One of the best selling albums ever from an artist at his peak already releasing a greatest hits. How can you review a collection of Elton John’s biggest songs? They put the “great” in greatest hits, and that’s that basically. -9
replacements-tim#137 Tim – The Replacements (1985)
Of all the records that I’ve heard that were new to me in this listening experience, this one was by far one of the best. It’s like Big Star picked up where they left off on this one. I was a fan of Pleased to Meet Me but didn’t like their early hardcore stuff. This album has it all, memorable melodies with sharp writing and a deeply satisfying production. You have songs that crank the rock up, some that anticipate 90’s alt country, and some that are quiet acoustic affairs. It’s everything I wish more albums were: not afraid to show emotion while being smart, not afraid to change up styles between songs while still having a sound, and not afraid to shoot for being transcendent. -10
#138 The Chronic – Dr. Dre (1992)
Dr. Dre’s first solo album from N.W.A. is most famous for virtually inventing the sound that came to define the 90’s LA rap sound: G-funk. Dre used only a few samples per song and rerecorded the sampled tracks himself for a stronger sound. The beats and music itself is some of the most accomplished work in the hip hop, sounding just as intensely funky as a Parliament song while having the hard hitting edge of rap at the time. The unfortunate aspect of the record is the immaturity in trumpeting violence and misogyny which plagued N.W.A. and other gangsta rap (“Bitches Ain’t Shit” anyone?). I appreciated it for its influence and sound, but not something I’ll be returning to much. -4
#139 Rejuvenation – The Meters (1974)
I had only ever heard The Meter’s instrumental albums before this one so this album was a very pleasant surprise. The singing is excellent and the songs are awesome. The 11 minute funk workout “It Ain’t No Use” is as good as it gets. It’s one I plan on going back to! -8
#140 Parallel Lines – Blondie (1978)
A pure pop album for now people. Blondie was known as a definitive new wave/power pop group and while they did fit that they were much more than that narrow classification. This is a pop album through and through and it’s great for that. The songs that don’t sound like major hits at least sound like they would have been welcome on a pop nuggets collection. -9
#141 Live at the Regal – B.B. King (1965)
B.B. King’s most enduring works are in live settings, and this is his most legendary live record. I’ve only heard it once or twice many years ago and I enjoyed it, but it didn’t knock me out then. If you know King’s sound you can pretty much know what to expect. Extra credit for not having the overplayed “The Thrill Is Gone.” -7
#142 A Christmas Gift For You  – Phil Spector (1963)
1963 was Spector’s peak year as the prince of pop production, and this LP was the culminating masterpiece of all he had been working toward. More than half of this album can be heard on muzaks everywhere around Christmastime because Spector’s interpretations are the pinnacle of the early pop-rock sound that has a magic that goes beyond nostalgia and reaches the kid in everyone’s heart. Brian Wilson’s all time favorite album. Ring a linga linga ding dong ding!  -10
#143 Gris-Gris – Dr. John (1968)
The first time I heard his album at around age 13-14 was a major revelation. I had never heard something that has such a unique combination of psychedelic mania and New Orleans R&B. It sounded like what grungy streets in N’awlins ought to sound like at night. It’s not a record I remember songs from specifically, but the way it impacts me when I hear it and the visual picture it makes in my head is incredible. -9
#144 Straight Outta Compton – N.W.A. (1988)
This uber-famous gangsta rap album has gotten a new lease on fame thanks to the film of the same name from a few years ago about N.W.A. that I unexpectedly enjoyed. I didn’t get to hear the whole album itself until last week though, and I was expecting the worst after my experience with Ready to Die. This record definitely has all the gangsta rap tropes of protesting the police, boasting in your violence and sexual prowess, and strong language, but the whole thing is still much more thoughtful than I had expected. Ice Cube’s tracks were especially well performed and lyrically intriguing. On a whole better than what I expected but still not music I would listen to frequently or encourage impressionable people to hear. -4
#145 Aja – Steely Dan (1977)
I’ve tried out a few of their album listening to this list but I still can’t get on the Steely Dan cult train. Yes, they were phenomenal musicians that were able to tread the waters of jazz and rock but it just ends up sounding like 70’s yacht rock too much of the time for me. This is the best of the three or so I’ve heard recently. -4
#146 Surrealistic Pillow – Jefferson Airplane (1967)
This is one of my favorite psych-folk albums of the era, and I never walk away from hearing it not thinking even more highly of it. The songs in particular are beautiful and well-written. – 10
#147 Deja Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young (1970)
The most famous album by the supergroup folk-rock quartet, Deja Vu is their strongest set of generation defining songs that tackle everything from the hippie movement to domesticity. This album plus the four solo releases around the same time from the members ensured that this would be their golden era. While I don’t love this record as much as the trio’s debut this is still a phenomenal album, and I particularly have a soft spot in my heart for Nash’s baroque classic “Our House.” -8
#148 Houses of the Holy – Led Zeppelin (1973) zeppelin
The first Zeppelin song I ever heard was “The Ocean” and I couldn’t tell if Plant was a girl or not. It knocked me out and it wasn’t too long after I had to hear everything they did and this record got a lot of play. I love all the songs on the album and I think “Over the Hills and Far Away” may be the best acoustic ballad they did. -10
#149 Santana – Santana (1969)
This debut album by Latin rock’s crown jewel band Santana has a Woodstock jam vibe mixed with pop like “Evil Ways” that make for an interesting mix of musical modes. -7
#150 Darkness on the Edge of Town – Bruce Springsteen (1978)
Listening to every record on this list takes you through every album Springsteen released until 1987, and I’m glad it did because I might have never gotten around to hearing this incredible album for a long time. Springsteen’s themes and stories that he had been perfecting were taken for a darker turn in this album that was a working class existential cry. “You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come” is sad reality for many dreamers in the troubled heartland. May we always have Bruce to keep reminding us to have faith to rise above the badlands. -10
#151 Funeral – Arcade Fire (2004)
I generally like Arcade Fire, but this is the one album of theirs that I can’t really get into. This is strange because this is by far their most critically acclaimed album but I think albums like The Suburbs and Neon Bible are so much better, so I haven’t listened to this in a while. -3
#152 The B-52’s – The B-52’s (1979)
This is one of my favorite and most influential albums. The B-52’s perfected their formula right out of the gate and never bettered it. They sounded like a twisted version of the party band in a 50’s sci -fi/horror beach film. “Rock Lobster” is one of the greatest achievements of pop art ever made. It took the kitsch novelty of surf stompers and crafted it into a surreal explosion of energy and word pictures. -10
#153 The Low End Theory – A Tribe Called Quest (1991)
Hip hop’s intellectuals outdid themselves on this genre-defining album that combined rap and jazz to the surprise of many. The wordplay and lyrical dexterity is mind boggling and the use of the double bass was inspired. -8
#154 Moanin’ In the Moonlight – Howlin’ Wolf (1959)
“Smokestack Lightnin'” is on it and the other songs sound similar to it. Good enough for me! -9
#155 Pretenders – The Pretenders (1980)
The debut album of one of punk/new wave/rock’s most respected acts. I bought it one time and listened to it a couple of times and just couldn’t like it no matter how I tried. Chrissie Hynde’s repetitively strange delivery wears out quickly. -2
#156 Paul’s Boutique – Beastie Boys (1989)
This was the first hip hop album I ever heard when I decided to give the genre a chance, and it was a good choice. On the downside I didn’t realize that this album uses an insane amount of samples compared to everyone else, which I now appreciate more hearing other records. The Dust Brother’s layering of the samples reaches sublime heights and the lyrics are exceedingly witty. -9
closer#157 Closer – Joy Division (1980)
Joy Division’s swansong after lead singer Ian Curtis’s suicide is as downbeat as you might expect, but it is also more accomplished musically than their debut. Curtis’s lyrics are even stronger and the band that would become New Order play some of their best performances ever. -9
#158 Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy – Elton John (1975)
John and Taupin tell the story of their rise to fame in this ambitious concept album. On a first listen, I thought all the songs were well written and produced but the only one that I strongly remembered after was “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” I’m planning on going back to it sometime. -7
#159 Alive – KISS (1975)
Let me try to put this as kindly as possible. This album is AWFUL AWFUL AWFUL AWFUUUUUUUUUUUUL. GARBAGE. ROCK N ROLL SEWAGE. MCDONALD’S OF ROCK.
If I had to hear Gene Simmons saying “Does anybody out there like *fill in the blank here* one more time I think I would reach into the vinyl and strangle him. Avoid at all costs for your health and sanity. -0
#160 Electric Warrior – T. Rex (1971)
T. Rex’s most iconic cover and album lives up to the hype. Bolan’s bizarre lyrics and pre-punk glam grooving have to be heard. It’s like a hubcap diamond starred halo, you know? -9
#161 The Dock of the Bay – Otis Redding (1968)
Redding’s first posthumous LP featured his last and biggest hit alongside some B sides and singles going back a couple of years. It makes it where the sound is a bit inconsistent (the title track in particular is an odd man out), but the tracks are all great so it’s still a strong LP for being cobbled together as it is around a single going in a new direction. -9
#162 Ok Computer – Radiohead (1997)
You know the drill with Radiohead now. Cold, no sense of melody, people like them for being different but I blame them for alternative going wrong. Applies heavily to this. -1
#163 1999 – Prince (1982)
Prince’s breakout album is one of his best. The album is a lot longer than you probably remember it (70 minutes!) but it’s almost all good stuff. Prince really defined the sound of pop in the 80’s with this release, and then beat himself at his own game with Purple Rain two years later. It might be a bit much for people who aren’t Princeaholics like I am with even the singles running much longer than their radio versions, but it leaves me delirious every time. -9
#164 The Very Best of Linda Ronstadt – Linda Ronstadt (2002)
This collection was sort of an interesting problem for me, I loved Ronstadt’s performances and the sound of the early 70’s stuff especially but almost all the material is covers of artists like Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, etc. While I love those songs deeply it makes me feel like I’m listening to a covers record rather than an album proper, and I do recognize that Ronstadt was singing these songs when a whole new generation were essentially unaware of them so I give her credit for putting them back in the light in a unique way. For someone like me who knows the originals though, it doesn’t make me want to just reach for this compilation all the time. -7
#165 Let’s Get it On – Marvin Gaye (1973)
It’s sexy time! I had high hopes for this album because the title track is easily one of the best soul/funk tracks of the era. Unfortunately the record is really pretty underwhelming in delivering on more full bodied (so to say) songs. The other two singles are the most realized songs on the album whereas everything else sounds like a fragmented retread of what the title track already did. The sound of the record defined the rest of 70’s soul/rnb for better or for worse. -5
#166 Imperial Bedroom – Elvis Costello (1982) imperialbedroom
I’m a big Costello fan and this was one of his albums I was waiting for the right time to hear so I could really take it in. It blew me away when I heard it a couple weeks ago. The album was produced by Beatle engineer Geoff Emerick rather than Costello regular Nick Lowe, and the album sounds much more stately and opulent in its writing and production than anything he had done before. It’s a beautiful album and one I’m excited to hear again. -9
#167 Master of Puppets – Metallica (1986)
The most influential and famous album by the kings of thrash. It’s everything you would hope for listening to perhaps the most iconic metal album out there besides Paranoid. Not much to say about it other than that. Love the songwriting and bass playing. -7
#168 My Aim Is True – Elvis Costello (1977)
This was my favorite Costello for a while. It’s frenetic and laced with all sorts of snarky genius throughout. He was a singular, influential artist from the get-go. -10
#169 Exodus – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1977)
Of all the Bob Marley LP’s I’ve heard this one is my favorite. It has big hits on side two that you’ll recognize and great album tracks on side one like “Natural Mystic.” -9
#170 Live at Leeds – The Who (1970)
Considered by many to be the greatest live rock album ever. I’m not very biased towards that due to my lack of Who-mania, but this is a pretty ridiculously good live album that rocks out on some of their best songs from their early days. I’m not a big fan of “Magic Bus” but everything else is excellent. -8
#171 The Notorious Byrd Brothers – The Byrds (1968)
I think this is the strongest overall Byrds album, which is saying a lot. It has the pop earworms you would want from them, proto-country rock, psychedelic jams, loping folk, great production from Gary Usher, and even Crosby’s songs are actually good. -10
#172 Every Picture Tells a Story – Rod Stewart (1971)
I don’t really like Rod Stewart but this is a well played and arranged album that I actually somewhat enjoyed, which is a credit to its quality if you’re a Stewart fan. I enjoyed the roots rock feel it had with simple yet superb instrumentation. -6
#173 Something/Anything?  – Todd Rundgren (1972)
Rundgren’s double LP magnum opus is longer than anyone could usually take all at once at 90 minutes, but it is teeming with soaring pop moments mixed with rock experimentalism that must be heard. “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” is one of the best power pop songs ever written. -9
#174 Desire – Bob Dylan (1976)
I lovingly refer to this as Dylan’s “violin and Emmylou” record due to Scarlet Rivera’s album defining violin playing and Harris’s background vocals that dominant the proceedings. The set of songs contain many of Dylan’s finest writing and performances with an extremely satisfying musical sound that he never replicated. Essential -10
#175 Close to You – The Carpenters (1970)
The Carpenters set the quality standard for adult pop for many years to come after their reign over the charts in the early 70’s. With some of the very best pop songwriters ever crafting their tunes, some fine originals and brilliant arranging by Richard Carpenter, and the instantly recognizable vocals of Karen Carpenter they had a formula that worked many times over. -9
#176 Rocks – Aerosmith (1976)
My favorite Aerosmith album and my favorite hard rock album not by Led Zeppelin. The band never sounded more raw, aggressive, sexy, and virtuosic than they did here. This was the record that became a touchstone for future hard rockers and heavy metal players everywhere. You can never go wrong by going to it to “get the lead out.” -10
#177 One Nation Under a Groove – Funkadelic (1978)
I’ve only gotten to hear this once recently, but even that one time was a real knock-out. It makes other 70’s funk records sound droopy in comparison. The funk is strong with this one! -9
#178 The Anthology: 1961-1977 – Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions (1992)
I love Curtis Mayfield and his work with The Impressions, so I knew I was going to enjoy this massive two disc boxset of his work. I listened to it all through in one go and discovered that Mayfield’s distinctive falsetto, while one of his best features, gets wearisome after over two hours of it. He was one of the best songwriters and performers ever as this collection makes clear, but it was tough to make it through due to length. -8
#179 The Definitive Collection – ABBA (2001)
Speaking of over two hour long collections, this pop behemoth gives you so much Swedish pop that your brain may get confused by all the melodies it has stuck in its head and involuntarily explode. Joking aside, this is some of the most influential and memorable pop music ever made and I was much more impressed by it than I thought I would be. I would like to listen to a lot of these songs again outside of having them shoved into my brain in such dangerous quantities so quickly. -9
#180 The Rolling Stones, Now! – The Rolling Stones (1965)
This 1965 American collection is probably the strongest LP they put out of their early R&B cover days. It features some of their best work from their swampy cover of Bo Diddley’s “Mona” to their original single “Heart of Stone.” For those wanting a good idea of what the first few Stones albums sounded like this is a great mix. -10
#181 Natty Dread – Bob Marley and the Wailers (1974)
Another Bob Marley record I enjoyed when I heard but don’t remember many specifics on. It grooved as well as anything he did! -6
220px-Fleetwood_Mac_-_Fleetwood_Mac_(1975)#182 Fleetwood Mac – Fleetwood Mac (1975)
The first Fleetwood Mac album to feature Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks is almost as delightfully well written and produced as the follow-up Rumours, which is saying quite a lot. Many of my favorite Mac songs are on here and I’m discovering new things from it every time I get to spin it. -8
#183 Red Headed Stranger – Willie Nelson (1975)
Stunned record company execs heard this starkly minimalist album and thought it was a demo tape, not the final record. This is Nelson’s magnum opus and arguably the finest single studio album released by a country musician in my opinion. Using both originals and reworked country classics Nelson crafted a story about a cowboy discovering his wife’s infidelity and committing a double murder that takes on epic proportions in a decidedly quiet musical backdrop. -10
#184 The Immaculate Collection – Madonna (1990)
Capping off Madonna’s astonishing run in the 1980’s is this collection of all her greatest hits from that decade. Her multi-talented strengths shine through even on some of the less memorable tracks over a span of 73 minutes. Pop music aficionado essential -8
#185 The Stooges – The Stooges (1969)
Roughly seven years before punk music exploded across the US and UK, The Stooges were sneering their way through some of the punkiest songs ever recorded like “No Fun” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Most of the record is garage proto-punk at its finest, but “We Will Fall” is an embarrassing “of the times” dirge that should be skipped. -8
#186 Fresh – Sly and the Family Stone (1973)
“Fresh” off of the brilliant There’s a Riot Going On, Sly Stone crafted this slightly more upbeat and accessible work that still retained the elements of Riot that made that record so enthralling and spooky. Miles Davis was so taken with the song “In Time” that he made his band hear it for 30 minutes straight, and Brian Eno considers this record to be where records made the shift to being rhythm section focused. It’s one of Stone’s greatest works and therefore some of the best music of the era. -9
#187 So – Peter Gabriel (1986)
For many years one of the biggest cult figures in music, Gabriel released this album and became a household name after multiple singles took off in a big way. I don’t have much to compare it to since I haven’t heard much of his works otherwise, but this was always on rotation in my house thanks to my parents. For a while the 80’s “worldbeat” genre sounded a bit cheesy and of the times to me but I appreciate it more now. -8
#188 Buffalo Springfield Again – Buffalo Springfield (1967)
I’ve listened to this record many times and I enjoy it when I do, but I have to dock it some points for being difficult to remember even when I’ve heard it as much as I have. Besides the obviously excellent Young songs here I also really like “A Child’s Claim to Fame.” -6
#189 Happy Trails – Quicksilver Messenger Service (1969)
How do I hate this album? Let me count the ways. First, you have an incredibly pretentious and obnoxious 25 MINUTE jam on Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” which stops sounding anything like Diddley 2 minutes into its absurd runtime when it should have stopped, then you have them picking on Diddley AGAIN when you flip to side 2 which believe it or not was the most interesting part of side 2. The album is a perfect example of the totally nauseating jamming that made people sick of San Francisco hippies. Avoid at all costs. -1
#190 From Elvis in Memphis – Elvis Presley (1969)
The album everyone was waiting for Elvis to release in the 60’s. His voice sounds grittier and more soulful on this record than his late 50’s material, but it fits the music perfectly. He did not go slack on any song. The production has a perfect southern soul feel to it that really does sound like it came out of Memphis. If you’re an Elvis fan this is an indescribable delight, and if you’re not it has the power to convert you. -10
#191 Fun House – The Stooges (1970) funhouse
Described by Jack White as the greatest rock album ever, The Stooges took the sound they started on their debut and turned it into a sludgy whack in the face that sounds like it was recorded in an opium den. They make aggressive rock bands sound like cute kittens. As much as I love parts of this record, some of it is pretty challenging to listen to due to its avant nature and sometimes thin mix. -8
#192 The Gilded Palace of Sin – The Flying Burrito Brothers (1969)
One of my personal favorite records of all time. This was the peak of co-frontman Gram Parsons’s career long obsession with a concept called “Cosmic American Music.” The idea that you could mix country, gospel, folk, and psychedelic rock into a bag and get some great music. Parsons took fellow ex-Byrd Chris Hillman with him and together they wrote standards of country-rock that continue to be the benchmark of quality in the genre. -10
#193 Dookie – Green Day (1994)
For many people (myself included) this was one of the touchstone punk albums in your teens that got played a whole lot. I can’t say I remember it too well since it’s been a long time since I’ve played it, but it is without a doubt one of the best pop punk albums ever made. I’ll have to listen to it again soon. -8
#194 Transformer – Lou Reed (1972)
Lou Reed’s headfirst jump into the glam movement is a mixed bag for me. Some tracks are classic, brilliant Reed songs while some sound like a glam songwriter trying to write like Reed. It sounds like a poor man’s Bowie or Mott record in too many places. It’s not a consistent record, but its highs are some of the best songs Reed ever did. -6
#195 Blues Breakers – John Mayall with Eric Clapton (1966)
One of the best and most enjoyable albums coming out of the blue rock band craze in the mid 60’s. Clapton’s playing here set the sound and mood for most “classic rock” guitar playing after it, and for the first time through the now stereotypical combo of a Les Paul through a Marshall amp. -8
#196 Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968 – Various Artists (1972)
This album is one of my biggest musical touchstones, as it is for many who are obsessed with obscure psych and garage records of the 60’s. While many of the songs aren’t so obscure anymore after the exposure they got here, it’s still a phenomenal compilation of almost all brilliant songs that never made it huge the way other songs of the time did. It’s always a fun listen, and even more importantly it opened up the doors for many compilation records of its kind like Pebbles that allowed many even more obscure songs to finally be heard. -10
rem.jpg#197 Murmur – R.E.M. (1983)
One of the most perfect debut albums ever released in my opinion. R.E.M. came busting out of the gate with their brilliant EP Chronic Town and this LP and for a while they were THE great new band that you had to hear if you were in the underground. It has beautiful slow songs and genre-defining jangly college rock all through Peter Buck’s signature Rickenbacker 12-string sound that he took from The Byrds and Michael Stipe’s ominously obscure lyrics and vocals. If all you know is latter-day R.E.M. and you aren’t to excited about it you have to hear this record. Alternative doesn’t get better. -10
#198 The Best of Little Walter – Little Walter (1958)
Chess Records bluesman Little Walter was a major influence on 60’s British bands, and this little compilation from 1958 showcases the excellence of his songs and especially his harmonica prowess. I’m excited to hear more of his material. -8
#199 Is This It? – The Strokes (2001)
After listening to this record I couldn’t help but ask myself: is this it?
Kidding aside, I listened to this record based on its acclaim many years ago and felt significantly underwhelmed by it. Perhaps I should give it another chance. Any fans of it out there? -3
#200 Highway to Hell – AC/DC (1979)
Bon Scott’s last album as AC/DC’s lead singer before his tragic death. The hard rocking ought to please fans of the tight and meaty sound AC/DC is known for and Scott’s vocals were perfect for the band. Unfortunately the record as a whole betrays some of the more embarrassing elements of “classic rock,” namely the objectification of women as merely sexual. Scott sings: ” I’ve been around the world, I’ve seen a million girls. Ain’t one of them got, what my lady she’s got.” What does she have? Tight dresses, backseat love power, and enough energy to wipe you out. A love song for the lusty? And then there’s a whole song about slipping into your girlfriend’s room in the dead of night that sounds intentionally creepy. As much as I may appreciate their sound I just don’t like the trashy sexuality of this stuff. At least the old bluesmen had witty ways of wording it. -3

Whew! Part two is done, and in the next installment I’ll be exploring even more music I’m unfamiliar with and some favorites. What did you agree with on me here and where do you think I had it wrong? Leave some comments and follow my blog to continue with me on this series of listening to the top 500 albums of all time according to Rolling Stone!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of tracks that I think are highlights from these records.

Love and mercy,
GC

 

Listening to and Reviewing Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums: #1-#100

One of the first things I decided to look up on the internet when I started surfing it back500albums in ’06/’07 was what critics thought were the greatest artistic works of all time. I wanted to know what the best films were, the best albums, the best books, paintings, etc. I was determined from the get-go to make my diet the very best of what humanity had to offer rather than hoping I could randomly stumble on it. The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums list was one of the earliest and most influential on me since I figured it would be a solid source. I also appreciated that they put my favorite album of all time at number one. I’ve since seen just how biased and befuddling many of the choices they make are, and the list is far from definitive. Apart from the nitpicking of what they put ahead of something else, if you view the list as a jumping off point for discovering music that is generally acclaimed and influential it can be seriously educational. I discovered many of my favorite albums of all time through the list. Without it I wouldn’t have discovered albums that shaped me like Pet Sounds, The Velvet Underground and NicoExile on Main Street, Dusty in Memphis, and many others. I felt like I had fallen into a treasure trove!

So while many forums deride the list as being rock-centrist and all (which is true), it doesn’t mean there aren’t great records in here that music fans ought to know. I’ve been meaning to listen to all 500 albums for a long time, and now that I’m working at a record store I’ve been feeling encouraged to finally fill the gaps in my knowledge by finishing this one up before moving onto the 1001 Albums to Hear Before You Die list.

I just finished the last few records that I had on the top 100 list, so this is my concise (or trying to be concise) review of every single album on the list, which I will do for the next 100 soon. I’m listening on average of 2 records off of the list per day right now and I have 130 left so I should be done within roughly a couple months.

Without further ado: here’s my review of the top 100 albums according to Rolling Stone. Maybe you’ll find something that piques your interest! I rate them from 0-10

#1 Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967)
This is my favorite record of all time. I consider it a masterpiece of sonic textures and imagery, lyrically delicious, and near perfect in its culmination of the greatest talents the rock world ever saw. The Beatles’s pinnacle. – 10
PetSoundsCover#2 Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys (1966)
This is never outside of my top 5 records ever made, and it only usually gets edged out of the top three by SMiLE. Brian Wilson’s genius was never more finely focused than on this piece of pop perfection. You’re not musically educated until you’ve heard it, so says Paul McCartney. A huge inspiration on my life and art, I would never want to be without it. -10
#3 Revolver – The Beatles (1966)
The only serious competitor out there that gets close to Pepper, but not quite there. Some of the best songs they ever wrote with some of the most hard hitting and delightful production ever laid to wax. Essential -10
#4 Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan (1965)
I’m one of those hardcore Bob Dylan fans that likes virtually anything he did, and this album was the first LP of his I ever checked out. It was just overwhelmingly good to me, and the more I hear it and listen to his other works the better it gets. This was during the height of his stream-of-consciousness mid-60’s era of writing, but it was more focused than Blonde on Blonde and more unified than Bringing it all Back Home. -10
#5 Rubber Soul – The Beatles (1965)
Many people’s favorite Beatles album since it has the mastery of their golden period without the more surreal elements, it’s not in my top 4 Beatles records but it’s still better than virtually any other band’s stuff. I especially enjoy the folk rock tracks like “I’m Looking Through You.” -10
#6 What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye (1971)
This is the record in the top ten I’m the least familiar with, I listened to it a couple of times in my early high school days and wasn’t super drawn to it. Important for being a politically charged concept album when there weren’t many. I just went back to reevaluate it and still don’t find it too compelling. -4
#7 Exile on Main Street – The Rolling Stones (1972)
The album that turned me into a later Rolling Stones fan. Before I had only been familiar with radio hits like “Miss You” and “I Know It’s Only Rock and Roll” and didn’t really get the big deal other than their early singles. This album blew me away – the grittiness and swagger of the rock tracks with the ragged brilliance of the roots stuff set me on a whole new musical odyssey. I played it for my family after I heard it and turned them all into Stones fans too. Essential. -10
#8 London Calling – The Clash (1979)
During my initial punk phase I loved the sophisticated ferocity of the first Clash record and appreciated the singles off of this one, but it took further appreciation of a wide range of musical palates to see just how forward thinking and genius this double album was. Punk and alternative have arguably never been bettered. -10
#9 Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan (1966)Bob_Dylan_-_Blonde_on_Blonde
“Don’t tell anyone you don’t own Blonde on Blonde.” – Barry (Jack Black), High Fidelity
Blonde on Blonde is not just a masterwork of rock music, it’s a poetic milestone. Sprawling and free flowing – it’s like the rock equivalent of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. A genius poet at the height of his power bending and playing with his language in ways that will leave the world guessing for hundreds of years to come. I wouldn’t cut a track or a word. -10
#10 The Beatles (The White Album) – The Beatles (1968)
I’ve always had a ambivalent relationship with this album. About 3/4 of it is unparalleled brilliance while the other quarter is seriously questionable. We’re talking about an album that has tracks ranging from “Dear Prudence” to “Revolution #9.” As I’ve listened to more avant garde and double albums though I’ve come to appreciate the idea of a record having highs and lows as an artistic statement. As Paul says, the White Album wouldn’t be the White Album without those tracks. It would be something else. So even though I may not listen to it all the way through a lot it’s still one of the best records ever made on any scale. -10
#11 The Sun Sessions – Elvis Presley (1954-1955)
Over the course of a year, Elvis recorded what we know to be the “rock” that a genre was founded upon. These recordings are not just historically vital, they are some of the best performances and songs in the canon. Elvis never sounded quite like this again, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but he never reproduced the early youthful rockabilly majesty of a song like “Mystery Train” like he could here. Essential for any music lover -10
#12 Kind of Blue – Miles Davis (1959)
The jazz Citizen Kane. I’m not full-on jazz expert, but there was without a doubt something special about Davis. He had several periods of experimentation that produced masterpieces and this is considered the pinnacle. I would call it his most immediately arresting, and typically “jazz” work. -9
#13 The Velvet Underground and Nico – The Velvet Underground (1967)
One of the most influential albums ever recorded on me and everybody else, I was absolutely floored the first time I heard this. It sounded like an 80’s alt record had accidentally been recorded in the 60’s. Reed’s streetwise poetry with Cale’s drone music and Nico’s sweetly accented singing was a mix that worked much better than one could have ever thought. Thanks, Andy Warhol. -10
#14 Abbey Road – The Beatles (1969)
The Beatles get bumped up to 16 track recording! The swan song of the greatest band of all time does not disappoint. Musically different than anything they did and just as thrillingly perfect. -10
#15 Are You Experienced? – The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1967)
The guitar shot heard round the world, this is simply one of the best rock trio albums of all time. The songwriting was some of Hendrix’s best work. the drums and bass were powerful, and the guitar playing redefined what the instrument could do. My favorite Hendrix record by far -10
#16 Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan (1975)
“It’s his best album since Blood on the Tracks!” – so says every review of a new Dylan album. This is without a doubt one of his best, most impressive records. After hearing it I couldn’t help going back to it again and again. Beyond the most famous tracks like “Shelter from the Storm” and “Tangled Up In Blue” the album tells many stories of love gone wrong and heartache. Some of the strongest melodies and most searing lyrics Dylan ever wrote are all in here. -10
#17 Nevermind – Nirvana (1991)
As much as the first side of the record has some of Cobain’s most memorable, melodic songwriting I find side two to be underwhelming and forgettable in comparison. -7
#18 Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (1975)
The record that saved Springsteen’s career, this massive sounding album is easily the best record to combine earnest poetry with Spector-esque producing. The lyrical pattern that Springsteen followed through the best records of his career began here, and in some ways was never bested. -10
vanmorrison#19 Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (1968)
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this album just landed on Earth after being flung from some far celestial body. The primal power of this album that touches our innermost spiritual longings has never been replicated anywhere. It wasn’t ahead of its time, it’s out of time completely. -10
#20 Thriller – Michael Jackson (1982)
The album that haunted a decade of pop music, it’s a masterwork of the genre that is still impressive if you can get past the sheer familiarity of most of the songs. I’m not a huge fan of the more cheesy 80’s sounding ballads that are on it. -7
#21 The Great Twenty-Eight – Chuck Berry (1982)
My father owned a copy of this album on CD that became one of my favorite albums to listen to over and over again in my formative years of musical discovery. Berry was the clear predecessor of all the 60’s bands that I loved, and his wit and virtuosity kept me delighted every time it came through the car stereo. -10
#22 The Complete Recordings – Robert Johnson (1990)
I would vote for this to be an album representative of human achievements. Otherworldly and yet firmly rooted in all the joys and lows of life, Johnson is the pinnacle of the blues. -10
#23 Plastic Ono Band – John Lennon (1970)
Free of what he felt were the shackles of The Beatles, John let loose on this first solo venture to air his dirty laundry out before the world. It’s startlingly personal and a difficult listen, but it contains some of the most passionate and therapeutic work he ever made. -8
#24 Innervisions – Stevie Wonder (1973)
A child of what What’s Going On started, Wonder took a look at a wide range of problems plaguing American society and black culture from drugs to inequality in this masterful soul record from his peak era. “Living in the City” is the highlight from what I remember. -8
#25 Live at the Apollo – James Brown (1963)
If you could start sweating just from listening to a record this would probably do the trick. Brown puts on the kind of performance that would define his live career, full of exuberance and lots of screamin’, children! Oww! -9
#26 Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
A record like Thriller that people know half of from the radio alone, Rumours is an undeniable pop masterpiece that will leave anyone impressed who hears it. Even the non-hits sound like hits. -10
#27 The Joshua Tree – U2 (1987) u2
The album that made U2 the biggest band in the world and the band of the 80’s. This paean to God and America made every other band look like they weren’t even trying. The poetic passion and distinctive musical landscape that painted a broken but beautiful America remains one of the finest pieces of art through rock. -10
#28 Who’s Next – The Who (1971)
I’ll frequently say that I lose interest in The Who after The Who Sell Out which is generally true, but I do think this is the best studio album they did after that. It’s not as pretentious and eye-roll inducing as most of their stuff in this period and does pack a healthy amount of their famous rock n’ roll oomph. Not a masterpiece, but a good rock record. -6
#29 Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)
Led Zeppelin came out of the gates as one of the best bands in rock music with tracks like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown.” Not as strong as their subsequent works but still an incredibly impressive debut that only meanders around a wee bit. -8
#30 Blue – Joni Mitchell (1971)
The album that got me into Joni, this bright and personal little record is one of the best ever made in my opinion. Her voice was never more captivating and the musical accompaniment is different than most singer-songwriter records of the era. -10
#31 Bringing it All Back Home – Bob Dylan (1965)
The Dylan record I have gone back to more than any other and would consider most days to be my favorite, his stream-of-consciousness period never got more witty or entertaining. Every track is one of my favorites of his. It never gets old. -10
#32 Let it Bleed – The Rolling Stones (1969)
The Stones continued in the new/old vain of roots music they started back on in Beggar’s Banquet. While some tracks are a bit overcooked to me (namely “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”) there’s a lot of blues/country gems on here that are essential Stones at their best. -9
#33 Ramones – The Ramones (1976)
The Ramones opened up the world of punk for me and the greater music community with this masterpiece of goofy angst. Songs about beating kids with baseball bats, sniffing glue, Havana, scary basements, and dancing are all as fresh today as they were when long winded prog-rock dominated music. -10
#34 Music From Big Pink – The Band (1968)
One of the earliest and best records in the Americana/roots canon. The songs kind of run together for me every time I hear it, but boy are they played well. -8
#35 The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars – David Bowie (1972) Bowie’s best glam record, this album defined the sci-fi glitz of the early 70’s by mixing 50’s rock n rollin with the buzzsaw guitars and obscure lyrics that glammers loved. A teenage opera from space. -8
#36 Tapestry – Carole King (1971)
One of pop music’s best songwriters releases one of pop music’s greatest albums. Another record that people know several songs off of, but the whole thing is incredibly good. Don’t pass over it for familiarity or prejudging the style. The woman could sing and write like nobody’s business. -10
#37 Hotel California – The Eagles (1976)
Yet another record that suffers from everybody knowing half of it instinctively. The rest of it is pretty good, but I don’t remember much of it at this point. Might have to reevaluate sometime soon. -6
#38 The Anthology – Muddy Waters (2001)
Even though listening to two and a half hours of Muddy Waters straight through starts to make it sound the same at a point, it’s so well played and sung that you start to not care anymore. This is the bedrock for so much music that it would be a tragedy to not know it and enjoy it. -9
#39 Please Please Me – The Beatles (1963)
Featuring the early exuberance of a band playing girl group/rnb covers and fabulous new originals like their life depended on it, the album is still arresting and fresh even in light of what they went on to achieve. -10
loveforever#40 Forever Changes – Love (1967)
A massively adored cult album that I didn’t really get until recently. Arthur Lee doesn’t add much psych to his folk sonically, but makes up for it in his strange titles and paranoid view of hippie culture. A beautiful record about darkness and confusion in a time everyone thought was full of hope and enlightenment. -9
#41 Nevermind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols – The Sex Pistols (1977)
The seriously snot-infused punk debut and swan song for the band that provided a musical awakening for many of the best burgeoning bands that were being formed in the late 70’s. It is a punk masterpiece of course, but what I appreciate specifically about this record in comparison to other releases by major punk groups was how significant it was for post-punk bands. You can hear the sound of groups like Joy Division being formed more from this sound than others. -9
#42 The Doors – The Doors (1967)
I’m no Jim Morrison cult worshipper, but I have always enjoyed The Doors’s music from when I first got into rock. This debut features some of their best (and most iconic) songwriting and performances. -8
#43 Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd (1973)
One of my all time favorites and an album I know every note on. You probably know a good deal of it too. The music on the album conjures up so many images and memories for me. Some of these are from, yes, The Wizard of Oz. -10
#44 Horses – Patti Smith (1975)
I’m not really a fan of beat poetry type stuff so maybe I was destined to not like this, and Smith’s voice and worldview isn’t my cup of tea either. I’m willing to take another look at it someday though. -3
#45 The Band – The Band (1969)
This record did a better job of not sounding as samey as Music From Big Pink, but it doesn’t fail to have the same magic of old world America mixed with 60’s idealism. -8
#46 Legend – Bob Marley (1984)
For curious neophytes interested in hearing Marley’s best known singles, this is the best place to start. The songs tend to lean towards the more pop/romantic side of his catalog rather than the political/spiritual that took up much of his LP’s, but this will be better suited for the casual listener. -9
#47 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane (1965)
What can one say of A Love Supreme succinctly? It’s the ultimate jazz hymn, the masterpiece of a master. You have to be in the right mood, but when you are it’s powerful stuff. -10
#48 It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – Public Enemy (1988)
Considered by many to be hip hop’s finest moment, Public Enemy’s distinctive chemistry mixed with their passion for social and political change made for a landmark record in the genre’s development. On a first listen I enjoyed it greatly, I’ll definitely be returning to it. -8
#49 At Fillmore East – The Allman Brothers Band (1971)
I’ve tried to get into this album a few times and I just can’t. I’m not fond of the endless noodling and jamming that define it despite however technically impressive it is. I’ll go back to it soon for another take since I’ve tolerating more jamming since then, I just don’t have much love for that kind of thing. -3
#50 Here’s Little Richard – Little Richard (1957)littlerichard
I’ll never forget when I first heard “Tutti Frutti” in the otherwise mostly freaky 80’s Disney film The Brave Little Toaster. His voice and enthusiasm captured me right from the start and I sought his other music out fairly early. The album plays like a greatest hits record, and is a touchstone of pure rock n’ roll that is still exhilarating. -10
#51 Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon and Garfunkel (1970)
I was a fan of Simon and Garfunkel’s singles on Greatest Hits for a while before I discovered their LP’s, and this was my gateway to their greater work. I still think this is the finest single work they did. It has legendary classics like the title track and “The Boxer,” but I love the album cuts even more. If I listed out all my favorites it would basically be the whole record. I hold this album and S&G in high esteem in general. -10
#52 Greatest Hits – Al Green (1975)
Al Green, baby. Most artists would kill for a greatest hits like this. I actually didn’t like him or this album the first time I heard it. I like my soul artists to be a little more harder edged than Green is and it took me some getting used to his super-smooth style. I’m more down with his groove now. A masterful singer. -8
#53 Meet the Beatles! – The Beatles (1964)
The record that introduced many Americans to the newest sensations from England. I’m more familiar with its U.K. counterpart With The Beatles, which is a phenomenal record. The additions here are the U.S. singles and a track from Please Please Me. 26 minutes of brilliant early originals and covers for the new Beatlemania. -10
#54 The Birth of Soul: The Complete Atlantic Rhythm and Blues Recordings 1952-1959 – Ray Charles (1991)
I feel like I cheated myself on this one. I saw “Complete Atlantic Recordings” and just went straight to listen to the “Pure Genius” boxset of 155 songs that are truly the complete recordings Charles did for that label. This set on the list only has 53 songs as representative of his best work at that time, which is much more digestible and enjoyable I’m sure. So I’ve heard all the songs on this, but I’d like to back and hear this set for more of the r&b I was looking for and less jazz material. -8
#55 Electric Ladyland – Jimi Hendrix (1968)
I don’t remember much about this record because it’s been a while, but I do remember how stunning the guitar work is on it in particular. What else do you want from Jimi? -8
#56 Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
1956, the year of Elvis’s breakout. By extension, it was rock’s breakout too. This was rock’s first great LP. A masterpiece despite RCA struggling to recreate Sam Phillips’s recording magic. Some Sun recordings are here, but this marks the beginning of Elvis’s RCA career with dynamite. -10
#57 Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder (1976)
Frequently called the soul equivalent of the White Album, Wonder’s career peak apexed in this impressive song cycle that covered diverse thematic and sonic ground. Essential -9
#58 Beggar’s Banquet – The Rolling Stones (1968)
The beginning of The Stones’s classic period starts with this record, where they threw off their psychedelic aspirations for what they did best: roots rock. Their performances here are some of the best of their career, but I find the songs a bit forgettable even right after you play it. “Stray Cat Blues” is memorable because it’s so revolting and uncomfortably perverse. “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Street Fighting Man” were the great singles. Everything else is blues/country Stones finally being themselves again. -8
#59 Chronicle Vol. 1 – Creedence Clearwater Revival (1976)
CCR was one of the best bands that ever walked the earth and this 20 Greatest Hits comp is a real stunner because as stuffed full of classics as it is, you could have stuffed it further if you wanted. I grew up listening to it and it was a formative collection. -10
#60 Trout Mask Replica – Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band (1969)
“Fast and bulbous!” This amelodic and polyrhythmic work of dadaist art probably won’t have anybody scrambling for the repeat button on their ipod, but the story behind its creation, meticulously rehearsed polyrhythms, humor, and importance in experimental music warrant it attention for serious fans of the art (it’s a challenging experience, be warned). -4
#61 Greatest Hits – Sly and the Family Stone (1970)
Sly Stone and his band weren’t great at making consistent albums until Stand!, but these singles are absolutely essential for funk and soul fans as some of the best tracks the genre has produced. Psych fans should explore them too for their unique psych-funk concoctions. -10
#62 Appetite for Destruction – Guns N Roses (1987)
Guns N Roses helped steer the hard rock ship back on course after several years full of music that didn’t make heads bang as much as eyes roll. A rock household standard that still makes an impression. -9
#63 Achtung Baby – U2 (1991)
U2 decided to turn around from their American roots obsession to a European alternative one in this masterpiece. A favorite of mine, there’s not a weak track. Beyond the ones everyone knows, I really love “Until the End of the World” and “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” -10
#64 Sticky Fingers – The Rolling Stones (1971)
My second-favorite Stones classic period album after Exile. In this album there are no ridiculous tracks like “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” It’s all hard edged music, even when they sing country music it mixes macabre imagery with heroin addiction and sex as coping mechanisms. This is their best blues playing ever paired with some of their most sophisticated songwriting. -10
spector#65 Back to Mono: 1958-1969 – Phil Spector (1991)
This boxset is at the foundations of one of my central musical obsessions. Girl group music, brill building pop, and especially Spector productions are a main interest of mine that led to many students of that sound (Brian Wilson especially). A desert island set for me. -10
#66 Moondance – Van Morrison (1970)
Morrison backed off from the minimalistic poetic mode of Astral Weeks for this more immediate soul masterwork. Gone are the 8 minute journeys into the ether and in are the 3 minutes songs that knock you out in a moment with their beauty and melodic strength. A record for a quiet night. -10
#67 Kid A – Radiohead (2000)
Radiohead? Still don’t get the hype. Don’t remember a note or anything from this album, like any of their records. -2
#68 Off the Wall – Michael Jackson (1979)
I actually go for this record before Thriller for a Jackson fix because I think the music is just as good or better, and the music is less overly familiar. The funk is high on this album and everything that made Jackson a great popster is here in force. -9
#69 Led Zeppelin IV (Zoso) – Led Zeppelin (1971)
It’s the most famous Zeppelin album, but it has no real title. Almost every track is one of the band’s most iconic songs with good reason. They made more sprawling and musically diverse albums, but nothing this, well, Zeppelin. -10
#70 The Stranger – Billy Joel (1977)
The cool thing now is to rag on Billy Joel, but I see no reason to except for his massive popularity. This album has the kind of breezily effortless songwriting that characterizes Joel’s best material to me. It’s a fun and catchy listen with plenty of interesting characters, why complain? -9
#71 Graceland – Paul Simon (1986)
The first and only time I remember listening to this album I was mainly hearing it to try to understand the 80’s world music phenomena that I had trouble getting into, but since then I’ve gotten much more into both African music (mostly via Talking Heads) and Paul Simon. So I should probably revisit this album soon, I remembered enjoying it and I still sing along when all the singles come on. -7
#72 Superfly – Curtis Mayfield (1972)
Probably my favorite pop soundtrack composed for a film ever, this is just one of the best funk/soul records period. The album is littered with exceedingly memorable classics like “Freddie’s Dead,” “Pusherman,” and the title track. Mayfield’s songwriting genius and production skills hit their apex here. -10
#73 Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin (1975)
What a truly great rock band without a sprawling double LP that challenges the average listener? Zeppelin was one of the few bands that could do an album this long in this style and actually have the whole thing be breathtaking. -10
#74 After the Gold Rush – Neil Young (1969)
My favorite Neil Young record most days. This brief record has his strongest set of songs with his breeziest laid-back country rock sound ever. -10
#75 Star Time – James Brown (1991)
Ain’t it funky?? This box set will make you feel a massive compulsion to get your groove on, so do not turn on in situations where you need to be static. Brown was without a doubt one of music’s greatest figures, but he make a heck of a lot of music and his LP’s weren’t usually strong. The set cuts to the stuff that made Brown such a powerhouse and it’s still a massive amount of material. One of the best box sets ever. -10
#76 Purple Rain – Prince (1984)
The ultimate Prince album. When I first heard it I liked it but didn’t fully get it. It took diving in other areas of Prince’s catalog to realize what a brilliant achievement this record was. You probably know half the songs already, and the other half are great too. A masterpiece of commercial pop without artistic restraint. -10
#77 Back In Black – AC/DC (1980)
The second best selling album of all time behind Thriller, this album defined the hard rock genre for many. Stock-full with classics, the album has never disappointed. It makes every other AC/DC album sound like they’re trying to do this one but not quite as well. -9
#78 Otis Blue – Otis Redding (1965)
Otis Redding made several incredible Memphis soul classics before his untimely demise, but this one has ended up being the most legendary. For those only familiar with Dock of the Bay, this album defines perfectly what made Redding the ultimate king of soul before his untimely death. -10
#79 Led Zeppelin II – Led Zeppelin (1969)
There have been many times that I’ve considered this my favorite Led Zeppelin record, and it does continue to hold a special place for me. There’s not a bad song on it and many of them are my favorites that the band ever did. -10
#80 Imagine – John Lennon (1971)
Terrible title track aside, this is my favorite Lennon solo album. Crippled Inside, Jealous Guy, Gimme Some Truth, and Oh Yoko are my favorites off of it. His best collection of songs before he seemed to drop off a bit. -8
#81 The Clash –  The Clash (1977) clash
My favorite punk album proper besides Ramones, The Clash came out of the gates with fury.  Every track on this is a classic of the genre. -10
#82 Harvest – Neil Young (1972)
Perhaps Young’s most famous album with his most defining song “Heart of Gold,” the material here that’s good is incredible and the stuff that isn’t is really disappointing. As much as I like Jack Nitzsche usually his string contributions on this sound overwrought and the songs in general aren’t as good as on his other records. -7
#83 Axis Bold as Love – Jimi Hendrix (1967)
A bit more mystical and less definable than his debut but just as virtuosic. -9
#84 I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You – Aretha Franklin (1967)
Featuring some of her defining songs, this collection doesn’t disappoint in excellent song choices or Franklin’s performances. -8
#85 Lady Soul – Aretha Franklin (1968)
My favorite Aretha record, it builds on the strengths of I Never Loved a Man and makes it all even more exciting. -8
#86 Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen (1984)
Much like Prince’s Purple Rain, Springsteen’s poppiest album yet dominated the airwaves in 1984. The synth-heavy 80’s production may be a turn off for a lot of fans of the Boss’s other work, but it was massively popular for a good reason. The songs spoke to people in a way that most pop music never meet people at and the melodies were his most memorable yet. A juggernaut that deserves its sales. -9
#87 The Wall  – Pink Floyd (1979)
For many years I would have placed this in my top 5 or so albums ever made, and I still think it would have to be in the top ten. Roger Waters’s personality crisis led to the best rock opera ever made, and it never stops being relevant. -10
#88 At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash (1968)
The live record that captured everything that made Cash great and revived his career. It features the mournful country songs that seem to have swept in from a wild mountainside, humorous songs that are actually funny, violent songs that are still kind of shocking, and the voice that no one could hate. -10
#89 Dusty In Memphis – Dusty Springfield (1969)
This album was one of the real surprises for me of the top 100. I had never really listened to any of Springfield’s music but this album blew me away. The allure of her voice singing these magnificent pop songs from the best of the 60’s writers like Goffin/King, Bacharach/David, Mann/Weil, and Randy Newman is perfection. I haven’t felt an intense urge to revisit some of the records I’ve listened to on this list quite like this one drew me back. -10
#90 Talking Book – Stevie Wonder (1972)
A breezier pop album than Wonder’s more socially conscious work during his peak, this hit album has some of his best songs and is a touchstone of 70’s soul pop. -7
#91 Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John (1973)
Are you noticing the trend of big albums that everyone knows all the songs off of yet? That’s this record for Elton John, a double album extravaganza with some of his best songwriting with Bernie Taupin. -8
#92 20 Golden Greats – Buddy Holly (1978)
Buddy Holly’s catalog is one of the central foundations of my musical journey and heart. I know all of his songs deeply and I take more pleasure and joy from them than most any other music ever recorded. -10
#93 Sign O’ The Times – Prince (1987)
Prince’s masterpiece album in my opinion. It takes everything he had done up until that point and does it more and better. -10
#94 40 Greatest Hits – Hank Williams (1978)
Country music’s most important and influential singer/songwriter’s greatest songs. Need I say more? -10
#95 Bitches Brew – Miles Davis (1970)
Fusion isn’t exactly my bag, and while there are tracks I really enjoy on this out of context, hearing it all together is just too much of a chore for me. -6
#96 Tommy – The Who (1969)
Here’s a controversial opinion, I really don’t like Tommy much. There are some tracks I like but most of the albums songs are seriously irritating and juvenile lyrically to my ears. I prefer The Who Sell Out by far. -3
bobdylan#97 The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan (1963)
Dylan’s strongest album before his electric period is one of the finest written albums of all time. His first record that featured his material blew everyone away at the time and is still chilling. -10
#98 This Year’s Mode– Elvis Costello (1978)
Costello’s second album builds on what made his debut so exciting and makes it even more stupendous. A perfect album in the new wave/power pop canon. -10

#99 There’s a Riot Goin’ on – Sly and the Family Stone (1971)
Perhaps the greatest funk record ever. Stone’s magnum opus is no easy listen, however. The production is muddy and the songs are menacing in their cocaine haze. It’s worth making it through though, the last song’s bass line might be my favorite ever. -9
#100 Odessey and Oracle – The Zombies (1968)
One of my top 10 albums of all time, The Zombies made a respectable musical mark with their excellent singles before this LP, but Odessey and Oracle showed them to be musical geniuses of the highest caliber. Every single song is beautiful, wistful, perfectly produced, and epic. It’s a crime that this was shelved until “Time of the Season” became a sleeper hit, and by then the band had broken up. The members worked together on records over the years, but none matched the striking autumnal beauty of this quintessential album. -10

There you have it, a review of all the top 100 albums on Rolling Stones’s list! The task turned out to be greater than I anticipated, and my memory was fuzzier on more records than I thought, but I did it and will continue to review the rest of the list over four more parts! I only have 3 albums left to hear of the next two hundred so you should be seeing that list in a couple of weeks too (with a lot more albums I was unfamiliar with in that) I hope you discovered something new from this like I did and that we can continue spreading great music!

Love and mercy to you all!

C.S. Lewis on the Right Way to Read Classics

You probably know C.S. Lewis for his imaginative Narnia fiction or perhaps for his non-fiction works on Christianity, but many are unaware of the groundbreaking and brilliant work he did within his scholarly field. Lewis was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford and the premier professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Cambridge, so his knowledge of greater literature itself was deep and profound. His students and colleagues were frequently amazed by his astonishing recall of minute detail in obscure works. He would play a game with you when you came to his office where he would have you pull down any book off his shelf and read a random passage out of it. He would tell you the work, author, and quote the surrounding context. Suffice it to say, the man knew his stuff.

CS-Lewis-on-the-Reading-of-Old-BooksBeing that Lewis had his ears to the ground with his students and was unusually fresh with his perspectives, his approaches to teaching literature would be a welcome and exciting change for many students weary of their dull college courses. Since many students just began their spring semesters, I think these thoughts of Lewis’s on understanding the classics would be pertinent at this time.

In his improperly titled A Preface to Paradise Lost, Lewis writes on multiple topics ranging from the genre of epic poetry to John Milton’s theology. In chapter IX, he tackles a method of reading classics that is still prevalent to this day (perhaps more so now I think) dubbed the method of “The Unchanging Human Heart.” Lewis describes it thus:

“According to this method the things which separate one age from another are superficial. Just as, if we stripped the armour off a medieval knight or the lace off a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical with our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism, from Sidney his code of honour, from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate.”

Lewis continues to say the he held to this method for many years, but that he has since abandoned it. I’m sure most people have naturally utilized this method in their readings, self-centered as we humans are. We look for ourselves in what we see. I’ve been guilty of it for years. We look for signs of familiarity in a foreign land. Shouldn’t we be appreciating what is new and foreign to us if we are to not be shallow tourists?

If we only look for this Unchanging Heart in everything we read, there is also the problem of imbalance in our understanding of the work. Lewis opines: “Our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it, to make him use the loud pedal where he really used the soft, to force into false prominence what he took in his stride, and to slur over what he actually threw into bold relief.”

Worse still, Lewis also points out that under the Unchanging Heart method that what we cslewismay wish to think is a facet of the unchanging nature of humanity, is actually just something we fancy because we like it now in the “modern mood”! This is egregious beyond making the author into ourself, because we are then morphing them into our culture as well.

Lewis wraps up the thought in a passage worth quoting at length:

“Fortunately there is a better way. Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself; instead of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can try to see how you would feel with his lace ; that is, with his honour, his wit, his royalism, and his gallantries out of the Grand Cyrus. I had much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them. The possible Lucretius in myself interests me more than the possible C. S. Lewis in Lucretius.
[..]      To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed. You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a medieval knight while reading Malory, and an eighteenth century Londoner while reading Johnson. Only thus will you be able to judge the work ‘in the same spirit that its author writ’ and to avoid chimerical criticism. It is better to study the changes in which the being of the Human Heart largely consists than to amuse ourselves with fictions about its immutability. For the truth is that when you have stripped off what the human heart actually was in this or that culture, you are left with a miserable abstraction totally unlike the life really lived by any human being.”

With this far more balanced and informative view, we can better understand the actual meaning being presented in the work regardless of our modern approval of it. Lewis quotes scholar Denis Saurat as saying that one should “study what there is of lasting originality in Milton’s thought and especially to disentangle from theological rubbish the permanent and human interest.” This is beyond misguided, it is an influence of the darkness of this present age that desires to purge man of God and refuse to bother with the real meaning of texts that do not adhere to contemporary skepticism. Lewis points out that this is like saying that one should study Hamlet without the rubbish of revenge or Gothic architecture without spires. Without its most essential elements, these things do not exist. This should be widely recognized as insane critical methodology, and yet it persists.

Lewis says that “our plan must be very different – to plunge right into the ‘rubbish’, to see the world as if we believed it, and then, while we still hold that position in our imagination, to see what sort of a poem results.”

So the next time you pick up a book that wasn’t written in the last two hundred years (which Lewis recommended doing between every new book you read) approach it not with the desire to dig for nuggets of modernity or yourself. Listen to the author, and treat all his or her thoughts with the respect of attempting to truly understand them. You may find some things admirable, grotesque, beautiful, mistaken, complex, honorable, hopeful, and more.. but do please find them!

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass 

 

 

 

 

Life in the Face of Mystery: An Interview with Todd Olsen (The Waiting, Oats)

Todd Olsen is a founding member of legendary Christian alternative rock band The Waiting, and also performs solo as Oats.

In a basic sense, how would you describe your faith?


Todd Olsen: I would say the sort of basic “orthodox” things that most Christians adhere to; the basic tenets. I don’t really go for division and all that. I did walk into a Presbyterian church at one point and I was looking at what they believed about the end times, Revelation and all that, their view was basically “we don’t know exactly what it means” which really spoke to me because I like when people are honest like that. I don’t know what’s going on with all that stuff. I don’t wanna be like some people that act like they know when they don’t- I keep it simple. I think it’s far more important to live the faith than to have a particular denominational stance.

You once said that “I think people can be brought closer to God if you simply tell them what the Lord is doing in your life.” Would you say this still holds true?

Absolutely, and I would take it even further at this point and say that is really how to speak to others in my opinion. I believe in living the faith. I play in a lot of bars, but I’m not doing the same things many others do because that’s me. I’m not getting drunk, chasing women, etc, and I don’t go around preaching why but everybody knows it. I used to not do so well with that, to confess, I used to be a real flirt. I would chase girls and disappear on them! I’d be kissing on them and saying “bye!” right after! It wasn’t good. But the Lord really worked on me, changing my heart and making me realize that i was hurting myself and others. I didn’t flirt or touch another woman (that wasn’t a loved one) for 11 years after that. Didn’t even talk to them because if you talk to someone long enough
that’s flirting too! So what I’m saying is that the Lord has really changed my heart and my desires. I just abhor stuff I used to be caught up in. It’s not that I just don’t want to do it, but seeing other people do things I used to do, chase women and all that, it makes me sick. I really hate it. And it’s not just women or anything, there’s always stuff people get into. Now I’m not trying to do a holier-than-thou thing and look down on people, we’re all messed up in different ways. Joe Christian no matter how good he looks has got problems, but that doesn’t mean that God isn’t working on him to get him ready for the afterlife. I’m glad to be able to gig a lot doing these cover shows at bars and all, but it’s just a negative environment a lot of the time. It’s not easy to do, but it makes me happy to play and offer a little hope by good conduct…when people ask why I don’t do the things they do I tell them.

You’ve expressed dissatisfaction with the focus placed on conversion stories, but how did you come to Christ?

Yeah, I’ve never felt that was the super important thing it’s made out to be. Sure, some people have some crazy good stories. Like a guy gets out of prison and the moment he goes to the bus stop there’s a guy with a tract that shares Christ with him and his life is never the same from there. That’s all fine and good, but Christianity is a journey and not just a beginning. I grew up in the church and surrounded by all that, so I never really was without Christianity in my life. But when we were younger we were just kind of wild and doing crazy things around the church we shouldn’t have done. It was when I was 20 that I prayed. I don’t see it as being that exciting, I still had a long way to go and I still do to this day. My trouble with women was after that, it’s not like I became a saint with one prayer. I had to work through things and God had to put me through things for me to grow spiritually. That’s the thing I think needs to be focused on more.

What led you to pursue the arts?

I was five years old and my dad said I had to learn an instrument, so we walked into a shop and I picked out a trumpet. I started to learn how to play it and it wasn’t long before I wanted to quit. I told my dad I was intending to quit and he said “You can quit… as soon as you learn how to play it!” (laughs). So that’s what I did, I stuck with it till I was in my 20s because that’s when I really felt I had “learned” it. I was ready to move on to guitar though because it afforded more opportunity for musical things I wanted to do like writing, playing chords, singing along, and all that.

Who were some of your primary artistic influences growing up?

Well like many the first experience I had was with The Beatles. My dad had these sealed vinyl LP’s of their greatest hits that he wanted to keep pristine so he could transfer them to reel to reel. I busted them out and played them anyway (laughs) so that was really the first thing I latched onto, and you can of course hear that melodic influence in The Waiting. I’ve always been a melody guy. I learned a lot of classical music on trumpet, and classical is all about melody. Rock is about the rhythm, so I liked things that combined those two things, pretty much what you would call power pop now is what I enjoyed. When I got older I started listening to stuff that was unique, I always liked things that sounded different. That’s still really important to me. I don’t like hearing bands aping other bands. When The Beatles played a song that sounded like The Beach Boys [Back in the U.S.S. R.] it sounded cool because it still sounded like them and that was more of a tribute to how good the Beach Boys’s sound was. But there has always been way too many bands that just completely steal another band’s identity. I’m not naming names but I’ve seen way too many acts doing that. That’s something I’m proud of with The Waiting. We had our influences but nobody sounded like us. And we had our critics, I’m thinking of one in particular (laughs), who said we were too bright and poppy and not “cool” enough as an alternative band, but we didn’t care because it’s what we liked. I’ve always been a naturally optimistic person and I don’t want people to think there isn’t a struggle. But there is always hope with God and that may be reflected in my musical preference toward the melodic.

You once said The Waiting was influenced by Keith Green. Since you grew up in the church, were there any Christian artists like him in that stage that meant something to you?

Yeah, my mom was someone who didn’t appreciate me listening to Jimi Hendrix records on my turntable, she didn’t like the idea of a 14 year old tripping out to that stuff.. So I had to find Christian music that wouldn’t upset her that I could actually enjoy. This was at the time that Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith hit it really big, and I listened to them.

When The Waiting began, did you begin by deliberately writing about religious topics?

We did because it was what would make our parents happiest, honestly. That’s not the most artistic way to start by any means, but that’s what happened. We began doing it from that place and as we grew the meaning behind what we were doing grew and became more real to us.

Why did The Waiting wear 1940’s era clothes during the Blue Belly Sky era?

bluebellyskyOur manager wanted us to have a “look” and I’ll admit, I was the one responsible for that idea (laughs). Is it embarrassing now? Nah- I thought it was cool and I still do!

How did being a believer affect your career as an artist?

It affected it greatly! It was always the struggle of us trying to write stuff we thought people wanted to hear so we could get bigger, things that we might not have been so terribly interested in ourselves. “Hands in the Air,” pretty much everyone’s favorite song that we did, was one where we just let go and did what we wanted to do without worrying what people wanted to hear. We worried too much what people thought of what we wanted to do. I don’t want to rag on the Christian audience, because they’re the people who have supported us, but they make it hard on you sometimes when you maybe just want to write a song about your girlfriend or something. You put that on a record and it’s “Hey, I thought you guys were supposed to be Christians!” Yeah, well that’s a part of my Christian life! So we felt kind of constrained by that. Also, the industry was of course just a mess to work with. It’s different now. There’s really no such thing as a Christian music industry for stuff that isn’t worship music anymore. If you’re a Christian making music you’re either worship or secular. Which you know, I’m not really too sad about. The Christian music industry was a noble experiment, but it just got too big for its britches too quickly. There were way too many bands out there that just outright took the identities of other bands to the point that you could draw clear lines between every Christian band and a secular band, which is just terrible. It was like Christians were making their own bad copies of secular music so you could enjoy the sound without the sin. Now if you’re a Christian wanting to make music you play worship music and that’s that. I don’t hate worship music but it just isn’t my style and doesn’t do much for me. The problem for me is that with some notable exceptions I feel it’s too repetitive and sounds too much the same. So it’s not something I’m into musically, but I’m glad the Christian world has found some family friendly fare. There’s just still the problem of there being no place for artists who are Christians to flourish in making music that doesn’t fit into that category.

What were some of the struggles you faced that tested your ability to continue?

Oh man, well, I’ve already gone over some. But really the main thing that really crushed me? The death of a dream. I can’t tell you how much it broke me in 2002 when I had to decide to take The Waiting off the road. This may not sound good, but my dream was just to have a really successful rock band. To play big shows and have great sales on our singles and records. We really fought hard for that. We had the dream start that every band hopes for. We got discovered at a festival, we took the stage and did our set, started walking down the steps and there was a PACK of record executives wanting to sign us to their labels immediately. Things seemed like they were going to go really well. We toured relentlessly, we made good records. But it was never really enough. It supported a bunch of single guys for a long time, but then people started getting married and having families. Suddenly what we were doing just didn’t cut it anymore. We all had to go separate ways and take jobs that could actually provide for us. It was just a huge blow that took me a long time to recover from. You pour so much of your life into this band. For about a decade we worked our asses off trying to make it big.. to achieve that dream. Then you hit the moment where you realize it’s just not going to happen. That was really painful. I made the decision that it just wasn’t in our best interest to be on the road anymore even though it was going to be hardest on me. I was single and I loved playing shows, but I recognized that I couldn’t be the one driving everyone into the ground. I had to cut it off when the time was right. I went on to do freelance producing work from there, which didn’t make me all that happy, but I learned how to record. I went through a time of great grief which led to the Oats album a tear and a sneer, which is really about the five stages of grief that I went through when my father died, who was so important in my life and in supporting us. Eventually Tom Hill invited me to play with his covers band, which brought me back to playing gigs. That reignited my love for playing and sparked the idea of having Oats shows. I had to fight through a period where I was really uncomfortable with being a frontman though. That was always my brother Brad’s place. toddolsenBrad is a great frontman, and he feeds off the energy of being in the spotlight like that. I do not at all! I’m introverted, and I was always happy not being the center of attention playing guitar with The Waiting. I had to learn how to sing lead and be a frontman, which was not easy at all for me. I was terrified every time I did it for years. I had played for tens of thousands of people with The Waiting no problem, but I would freak out singing lead for twenty people! It took me years to not be afraid anymore, and it was just like one day *snap* it wasn’t there anymore. No more fear at all! God just completely took it away and I’ve never been the same since. Now I’m confident, which is so important for being a frontman. And now the Oats band is rehearsing, and that’s been years in the making. I’m ready to do it now!

But that was the hard thing for me. The death of the dream. Dreams can die hard, especially for me. I’m an extremely tenacious and persistent person, so that dying dream is all over the Oats record. The record is written about a relationship, but there’s a whole lot on the record behind that about other griefs.
It’s written that way because it was just kind of my introverted way of expressing other griefs that were too painful to address directly, one was my father’s passing and the other the death of that dream.
And now it’s kind of come full circle because getting the Oats thing going shows me how it’s not going to be the way it was and I don’t necessarily want it to be the way it was.
I don’t want to be full time on the road. I wouldn’t say no if there was a great need but in truth I’m kind of a home body. But going out to do Oats shows on weekend trips will be a lot of fun and it will be nice for fans of The Waiting because since there is only one Oats record we plan to round out the show with our versions of Waiting songs.

What are some Biblical verses, passages, or books that mean a great deal to you personally?

I always love Ecclesiastes, I just love that. I guess that’s the one most akin to the Oats experience (laughs). It’s just my personality. I like the Psalms too, things that are more uplifting or considered more uplifting. I like the overall, because The Bible really captures the overall experience of life. If you think you’re facing something that no one has ever faced, you haven’t read the whole thing because you’d see that’s just not true. The people in those stories faced a helluva lot more than any of us have. That is comforting to me, and those books are especially comforting to me. And I like Proverbs too because I aspire toward wisdom. It says a lot of good things that, taken at face value, will just make you happier. I’m just a rubber to the road, practical guy in that way. I don’t care about anyone’s theories and interpretations. It’s real simple for me to just take something like Proverbs at face value and not have to go through a ton of interpretation. Just “do this, and you will be wiser and happier.” It’s not necessarily that it will make you “happy,” but if you attain that wisdom and make decisions that are better for you – that goes toward making your life happier.

Something a lot of people are clamoring to hear more about is The Waiting’s new album Mysteriet that has been in the works for many years. You’ve said the album is about the “mystery and majesty of the Trinity.” What is your view of the Trinity?

I have no idea. That’s why it’s a mystery. I think that it’s probably put best the Irish way mysterietof talking about it, like a three leaf clover that has three leaves but is all one thing. That comes as close as anything because I don’t think it’s something that can be explained. I don’t expect to understand it while I’m here (laughs). In the next life I’m sure I will know fully, but I just take it on faith at this point.

You said that the topic is “literally the Mount Everest of Christian music”

Gosh, how presumptuous were we trying to do a record about the Trinity? (laughs) I liked the idea because it’s a concept album and we’re doing a few of the songs about the Father, a few about the Son, and a few about the Spirit, and a couple overall about all of them. But it’s all about God. So I like the idea, but dude, in practice it has been a nightmare. Because think about it, how do you put that into a record? How do you put God into music? What words do you write that are going to be fitting, suitable, that would be anywhere close to what has already been said? Or at least, able to be in the same room with the Scriptures, the same ballpark, planet? So that’s been a heck of a thing. But most of the songs have been written, so that was the hardest part. We’ve had some problems and troubles I won’t go into… just life stuff. The computer everything was on was disassembled for a long time and now it’s reassembled. It’s working and the files are still there. We’re in the process of getting those in a form where I can send those to Brad because the next step is for him to put his vocals down in a finished form. We already have vocals down but they need to be touched up and finished. From there it’ll be time for it to go to Ricky Rodriguez who’s the mix engineer, he’s also mixing the Oats record. He’s a guy in North Carolina, a buddy of mine. He has a place called Bomb House Studios with great music up there. So it’s one step at a time, but for a long time it was not in motion because we were kind of stuck on writing and even me. I was stuck on music, writing the right music. And Brad was stuck on writing the right words because it was such a hard thing to do. But I got a couple of things I like, and a couple of things I really like, so I’m very much looking forward to it. But it was inactive for a long time. Anyone can relate to that who has done any kind of writing.

In a 2001 interview you said that “The talk around the camp here is that our next record will be The Waiting’s Sgt. Pepper, which was a total left turn for The Beatles. Right now we’re reserving any nutty, crazy, out-there thing we want to do for the next record.”
Does this still apply to the musical direction of Mysteriet?

Ab-sol-ut-ely. There is nothing we have done that’s anything like this. Absolutely nothing. I’ll give you an example, we don’t go into any Rush territory per se but the first song on the album is in 5/4 time. We got a couple of mixed meter songs in there. We’re just kind of stretching. That’s what I was talking about when we were trying to write the music. We were trying to come up with something different we’ve never done. It’s a cool sound, kind of a hard sound more akin to what I did on the Oats record. That’s just where I’ve been lately, but it’s interesting technically from a musical point of view. It’s not just stuff with the same old 4/4 beat, we’re stretching. You could relate it, not in the ballpark genius-wise of Sgt. Pepper, but in that direction in the sense of it being just experimental. We’re just doing whatever we want to do. We have literally nothing to lose. Some people? They’re not going to like it, well fine. But some people are going to really love it, and think it’s our best work since “Hands in the Air.” And that has been our inspiration. Just that song. Not even a whole album! I took that song as the best thing we’ve ever done, which is what me and all the guys think, and I said “what did we do on this song?” What we did was just whatever we wanted. We didn’t think about the end, who was going to hear it, the radio. We just did what we were inspired to do by our creativity, our Creator, our God, and had no fear whatsoever. That’s the difference on this record. No $70,000 budget to worry about or paying a record company back to worry about. So it’s just what we think is good and that is what we did on Mysteriet.

Where did Mysteriet’s Norwegian name come from?

It’s a Norwegian word that means “The Mystery.” We chose the Norwegian word because that’s mine and Brad’s ancestry on my father’s side. My grandparents were from Norway.

You seem to be quite a reader, at one point saying you read two versions of Les Miserables!

Yes, I read two versions because I love that work. I just love Hugo’s style because it’s bombastic and he’s always asking a lot of questions. Victor Hugo is always like “How do you think he felt?? What could he do with all these feelings??” etc and I just love that. He’s just so over the top and it brought me into the story and made me feel what the character was feeling. But my favorite book by Hugo is Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame).

Are there any books or authors that have particularly influenced you?

hobbit.jpgOh gosh, I could go on forever. One of my favorite ever books was The Hobbit and I was really glad they made the movies because the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings were really great. I don’t know if that’s considered in our community to be popcorn fare but I don’t care I just like it you know? I just like the stories. I like how Tolkien creates a whole world. He made up a freaking language! We tried to make up a language on the road with The Waiting. My brother was the spearhead of this, we made up this language because he used to say all of these nonsense words and we started writing them down and tried making a whole language out of it.
But the point being that Tolkien created a whole immersive world and I think that’s wonderful and very human. If there’s anything that can separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom maybe it’s that we can invent an entire universe. It makes us a little like God in that way. That nature. I really love The Hobbit. I love Watership Down too, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that one.

I’m very familiar with it!

I love it. I’ve never seen the movie, I’ve never been interested in seeing it really. I might be interested when somebody like Peter Jackson does it. At any rate I love that book and when I was on the road with The Waiting I would be reading up to seven books at a time! I would read philosophy, historical fiction, straight history, numerous topics. Soaking it all in. That’s something being on the road is great for. Plenty of time to read and soak up knowledge on the bus. But being home three days a month wasn’t great for me. You start thinking you’re going crazy! Anyway, those are a few I like. I love sci-fi too.

What is the most rewarding aspect of creating art that speaks to Christian truth?

The most rewarding aspect of creating art is the work. After the fact when people see the olsenguitarwork or hear it, pile money on you, pile adulation on you, give you attaboys. That’s all great, but for me the accomplishment is in the creation. When I get the idea. One example is when I was at Beaker’s house getting ready for a show, and we were making an arrangement we were working on of John Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane.” We were trying to come up with an arrangement for two guitars  and what we were going to do, because obviously we don’t have the big drum bit happening for the solo. I was working on it and there was a moment where it finally clicked and I was like “That’s it!” We rehearsed it in front of Beaker’s wife and she said the same thing.
It’s an arrangement like we would do with The Waiting, something that will entertain that people will go crazy for. Keeping showmanship in mind. It’s a creative moment. That’s what I’m going for. I’m lying in bed watching Murdock Mysteries on BBC on my laptop, everytime there’s a break I mute it and think of how we’re going to do this arrangement. It’s the same kind of thing we’d do for a Waiting show. We learned from Tom Jackson, who was one of the best entertainment consultants in the business. We learned how to do The Waiting thing a lot from him, and now he consults people like Taylor Swift. So that was me taking what I learned from him and working it out from The Waiting. Using those creative moments.
The payout for me these days is getting the right idea. How do we get from here to there? On The Waiting album. How do I represent the awe of the Trinity in sound?
Part of my inspiration for Mysteriet was the beginning of Genesis where it says that the Spirit of the Lord was hovering on the water. In my mind that’s the mystery right there. Realizing that’s where I wanted the vibe of Mysteriet to come from, that was the payout.
As a creative person I know God felt this way when He created the earth, in whatever way He did it, He had to have gotten a charge out of it. I get a huge charge out of the smallest things.
When I’m creating it makes me happy. Even just to be primed to be creative. Seven failed attempts makes me happier than not trying.
As far as the Christian aspect? It depends on your calling, but the thing I like is for my life to be all one. The thing I like about having Christian content is for it to come out of my work that is not on a Christian label or record. But the fact is that there’s a way it is a Christian record because I am a Christian. I can’t escape my point of view! I can’t write like I’m a hedonist or something. The way I’m going to write it is going to be from my point of view. Everything on the Oats record is consistent with my Christianity and my life. I like that better than some of the divisions I’ve seen through growing up in church. Divisions in people’s lives are not good or helpful. In short, I feel like you shouldn’t be a Christian on Sunday and something else at other times. And church shouldn’t be a gathering of people painting smiles on their pained faces, it should be all the ups and downs. It says somewhere in the Bible that you have to laugh with those who laugh and cry with those who cry [Romans 12:15]. Have some compassion on the other guy, he’s a human being! Be real in church and I don’t mean rude, I just mean honest. Not just painting a smile on something when it hurts, but saying it damn hurts! We are all called to be honest. It’s every bit a part of being a Christian and your failures mean as much as your successes, and I don’t mean to dwell on the negative. But if you’re hurting there’s nothing wrong with talking about it! That’s what those other people are there for! It’s not like they have never grieved, we all have. I feel it’s important to not have a compartmentalized life, to have it all of life be one. That’s integrity. The same guy everywhere I go- all one. That’s what I aspire to.

I would encourage all the believers out there to do likewise. Be who you are all the time. Let the chips fall from there. If someone doesn’t want to be my friend because I’m honest about problems, well goodbye sir! God will be proud if I’m the real deal, I think. Your opinion does not matter as much to me as what God thinks. So I have to go by that. I’m not trying to say “yay sin!” or anything like that, but I just think people should be honest about struggles as well as successes. I encourage everyone to just be a faithful reporter. Whatever your calling may be, be faithful in that!

I’m just trying to practice what I preach.