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

 

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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!

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.

My Two Favorite Beatles Songs: Celebrating 50 Years of Sgt. Pepper

It was 50 years ago today…. Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. sgtpeppersessions

I couldn’t avoid it guys, had to say it.

Yes, the Citizen Kane of all rock albums was released exactly fifty years ago today. 01 June 1967. In honor of the great album’s milestone anniversary, there is a truly amazing remix of the album by Giles Martin that was just released, a documentary film airing on PBS tomorrow, and celebrations the world over for “Sgt. Pepper Day.”

The album has been examined, celebrated, critically lauded, listened to, written on, and debated about by thousands of people fifty years since it came out. Just how great is Sgt. Pepper? As objectively as possible in art, pretty phenomenally great. It’s a high mark of the entire enterprise of rock and pop music. If a few albums were placed in a capsule for aliens to hear, it would be there.

With that being said, it is my personal favorite album of all time. I’ve listened to it countless times, been thrilled with every listen, and read all those things about it and pored over every detail and word. It is a true tragedy to me that a camera wasn’t running to capture some of the studio performances. I try to transport my mind to that little room in 1967 where Paul chants some background vocals fifty times into the mike while Ringo plays chess and John asks Geoff Emerick and George Martin to do impossible sonic stunts.

So I would love to write a full appreciation of just how much this album has influenced me, how much it means to my life, how I think it is the most consummately perfect statement a rock album can achieve. The problem? Time. I would love to do a track by track dissection of it, maybe some other time. You can always go and read the literature about why this album is so culturally important, musically genius, full of great stories in every track, etc. I just want to talk a little about my two favorite Beatles songs that are on the album.

I mean, the statement is kind of ludicrous to start. My two favorite Beatles songs? What are you thinking? How could I possibly choose such a thing? Strawberry Fields Forever may be one of my top three tracks they did, but some days I’m just madly in love with a scratchy early recording they did that is nowhere near such a pinnacle sonic production/songwriting masterpiece. Something like In Spite of all the Danger or Hello Little Girl.

Anyway, these are two tracks I always go back to and that speak a lot to me.

Doing the Best That I Can:

sgtpepper2Getting better all the time. Is there nothing so without doubt a Paul McCartney composition? Is there nothing so clearly a collaboration that benefited from John Lennon’s presence? Just one line by John gives the song a whole new flavour. Paul says it’s getting better all the time. John says it can’t get no worse. Beatle magic right there my friends. I’ll never forget being first aware of this song, even though I may have forgotten hearing Sgt. Pepper for the first time.
I was still quite young, and to hear that tug of war within such an upbeat song’s psychology was incredible to me. The song was so jubilant and sounded like happiness got put on wax. It had a surprisingly dark side to it though. “I used to be cruel to my woman I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved. Man, I was mean but I’m changing my scene and I’m doing the best that I can.” That’s a bold line for anybody to put on a song, let alone the kings of the music world.

That’s part of what I love about Pepper. It’s got a lot of pomp and flair that is exhilarating to listen to; a visual feast in decibels. It’s not just showbiz though. That’s part of the theme of the album. The Beatles had been wearing masks for too long, and now they had donned the mask of another band as a sort of meta-joke, but it gave them the first complete freedom they ever had. John had never been shy opening up his heart to people even if they didn’t know it, but to hear Paul talking about abusive tendencies in a song that sounded like a sure-fire pop hit is just incredible in any era of music.

The song means a great deal to me because it sort of captures the dual personalities at play in my own heart. My general state is that of joy, optimism, and acknowledgement of past mistakes with a repentant intention to push forward into a better future. Also at play is the John side. The fear of knowing that you’re capable of ruining yourself. That you can frolic around in tulips and say things are getting better but you know you’re down as you can get. Not to insult John, but John’s voice is the devil in Getting Better. Yeah, you think things are alright but you know you’re trash and this is going nowhere.

The recording is just astonishing too. The background vocals, the tone on George’s guitar, Paul’s elastic Pepper-era bass playing, that weird keyboard sounding thing that closes the song out. It’s prime pop music production craft.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. It’s a mantra I would rather live by than a lot of people’s favorite Beatle slogan songs. In my mind, it is getting better all the time.

Hey, it can’t get no worse right?

Woke Up, Fell Out of Bed:

It’s been my consistent answer to the ever asked rubbish question “What’s your favorite johnpepperBeatles song?” “A Day in the Life” I always say. I know what you’re thinking. Pepper, Day in the Life. I’m way too predictable and sound like Rolling Stone magazine right? But I’m not kidding. It was my “favorite” Beatles song before I ever read Rolling Stones’ equally rubbish rankings. Why is it my favorite? Well first of all it’s obviously a grand experiment, and there’s nothing that excites me like a risky experiment that pays off better than you could have ever imagined. A Day In the Life didn’t seem to have a lot going for it, I bet. John had a song singing a newspaper and Paul had a song about his dull sounding day.  Neither one enough to stand on its own. Together? There’s an idea.

Much like Getting Better, the reason why I really love A Day In the Life is contained in the contrast that it provides. John begins singing in a voice that made the hairs on George Martin’s arm stand on end about some things he probably read in the Evening Standard or something (I forget which paper it really was, where’s my Steve Turner book??), and reports the lives and deaths of people as if he were a disenchanted witness of all the events himself. The stories range from tragic to what would be the equivalent to Buzzfeed headlines now. How many holes does it take to fill the Albert Hall??? You won’t believe the answer!!

This section sort of represents a greater whole of London, or life as a whole. The grand scheme of things through a floating newsreel camera. John drifts through it like none of it touches him, but happens all around him. He wishes he could turn everyone on to what he sees. Many took this as a drug reference, which it probably is in a way. But I think of it more as being turned on to a new way of viewing life.

An avant-garde orchestra bit leads to Paul’s section. The staccato piano suggests a busy morning while Paul’s alarm rings. He goes about his normal existence on his way to work and has an epiphany as he smokes and somebody speaks. He goes into a dream, and seems to fly away into the distance. This section is about the mundane side of life, and escaping it even as you partake in repetitious activities like smoking and hearing someone speak.

The song briefly flies back to John’s Albert Hall bit, before ending in the orchestral freak out and most famous ending chord in all of musical history. It’s the longest sustained sound on record. You can even hear the AC unit if you listen close enough because the mikes are turned up so loud!

So there you have it. The song that challenged a whole generation of music fans and pushed the art form into another dimension. There’s a lot of little things to appreciate about it too. Ringo’s drumming is perfect, John’s vocal is transcendental, the mix is flawless to my ears, the piano licks are spot on. My favorite little bit is Paul’s soaring wordless vocal that closes out his section. Many assumed that was John because it does sound like him, but it was definitely Paul (according to the man himself). John couldn’t have hit those notes either. It is the sound of drifting into one’s mind, looking inward. The sound that is in your mind as you hop the Trafalgar Square bus and look out the window at all the people rushing by in yet another day in the life.

I wish I could write so much more on this record. It brings unspeakable joy to my life and even thinking of it makes me happy. It was the perfect time, perfect place, and perfect band to make such a crowning achievement.

Cheers to Sgt. Pepper on its 50th birthday. It gets better all the time.

sgtpepperparty

*Massive E chord*

Hung Up On A Dream: Remembering The Forgotten Optimism of 1967

The world was a different place in 1967.
The social revolution had been building swiftly for the past three or four years after a cycle of flowergirlturbulence rocked the culture of the western world in an unprecedented way.
The JFK assassination, Vietnam, swinging London, rock music, drugs, free love, all of these elements were pieces of an enormous board of influences that were shifting everything anyone had known for decades. You most likely know this already because you either lived it or read about it in school sometime.

What is often forgotten however, is one of the key ingredients that made the 60’s such a distinctive and exciting time: the overwhelming prevalence of optimism.

Last November, I had the privilege of seeing one of the most powerful temporary museum exhibits I’ve ever seen. It was called “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was an exhilarating experience that I’m truly disappointed was only temporary. What was so unique about the exhibit was not only how brilliantly it was designed, but how incredibly relevant the late 60’s was made to the modern era. It felt like the 60’s was alive and breathing, that it hadn’t receded in the past, but that its vision was so advanced that we were only now catching up with it.

hapshash
Hapshash and the Coloured Coat

The exhibit focused strongly on the music, as one would expect considering the time is considered one of the greatest eras in musical history. Music was not the only field being revolutionized in the late 60’s though. Forward-thinking fashion designed by prominent designers like Mary Quant and Nigel Weymouth were displayed. Psychedelic graphic art like that made by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat was featured along with photographs by swinging epoch-capturing photographers like David Bailey and Terence Donovan.  Everything down to the design of furniture, telephones, magazines, cans, and other basic utilitarian things were being engineered with a whole new enthusiasm. You could smell the coming of a new world all around. On the radio, on television, in the clothes, in the stores, even in the chairs you sat on.

The sudden popularity of LSD had an enormous influence on this new freedom of design and childlike hope for a new world. Within about a three-year span, nearly all of the influential rock musicians of the time had taken trips. Many of them described their trips in terms that made it sound as if they had discovered the key to solving the underlying problems of disharmony in humanity. Steve Turner called LSD the “Damascus Road tablet,” turning hard-nosed materialist rock stars into starry-eyed mystics.

God isn’t in a pill, but LSD explained the mystery of life. It was a religious experience.” – Paul McCartney 

To again quote Turner, “LSD was the perfect religious experience for the consumer-boom 1960’s. It could be bought, it was fun, it required no sacrifice, you made up your own commandments, and it was in color.”
LSD was seen by many rockers as being the key to a new world. The recognition that we are all God coupled with the loss of ego would ultimately destroy alienation and conflict. This idea was taken so seriously at the time that there were suggestions made to spike the water systems of major cities with hallucinogens to spread the message.

Timothy Leary, high priest of acid in 1967, encouraged the view that LSD could allow humanity to make an evolutionary leap to a near-perfect state. The drug was seen as a cleansing agent. It could break down all the junk loaded on your mind by society and modern civilization and bring you back to the innocence of childhood. Being childlike was incredibly hip. Festival goers would blow bubbles and frolic about in painted bodies. Brian Wilson was writing a song utilizing the Wordsworth line that the “child is the father to the man.”

What was the great message that LSD brought which revealed the “answer” to the mystery of beatles-all-you-need-is-lovelife? Love was the answer. Masters and Houston reported one of the effects of LSD was that “this idea emerges… that a universal or brotherly love is possible and constitutes man’s best if not only hope.” Paul McCartney heartily concurred. In 1967 he claimed, “The need today is for people to come to their senses and my point is that LSD can help them. We all know what we would like to see in the world today–peace. We want to be able to get on with each other. I believe the drug could heal the world…. I now believe the answer to everything is love.”

“Love became the buzzword of 1967 rock ‘n’ roll culture. It gave rise to a huge wave of optimism. The Beatles sang, ‘With our love, we could change the world,’ and millions of young people, for a few months, truly believed they were right.”
                                                                                  – Steve Turner

The_Trip
The Trip (1967) A cult classic Roger Corman film that depicts Peter Fonda going on a nightmare LSD trip.

A few months was right. The LSD religion craze came crashing down almost as soon as it started. The idea was destined to be short-lived in reality. Once you saw the possibilities, where would you go from there? A LSD “religious experience” offered no ground to stand upon whatsoever. There was no guiding light, no worship, and no discipline. The central question was “now what?”
To make matters worse, LSD ended up not just being less than what experimenters looked for. It ended up destroying people’s lives and minds. Stories spread of “acid casualties,” people who had gone on trips and whose minds had never returned. There were also some who, truly believing all to be one, saw no harm in jumping out of an upstairs window. Many experienced “bad trips.” Nightmares that made the user feel terror, fear, and loss of control. The Beatles themselves soon abandoned the drug. Lennon called Timothy Leary’s book “stupid” and blamed the drug for harming his confidence. George Harrison had a bad experience with San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury hippies. Thinking the city was going to be a utopian paradise of love and friendliness, he instead found a ghetto of “dirty people” and addicts. Harrison was quickly telling the press that “LSD isn’t a real answer. It doesn’t give you anything.”

“I was experimenting with LSD. I had done some trips and it was terrible. I’d wake up having nightmares…I had ‘Peace’ written on my wall and I went around giving the peace sign, but I didn’t experience peace in my life. I didn’t know what peace really meant; it was just a cliché.” – Phil Keaggy (Glass Harp)

Allen Y. Cohen, one of the original disciples of Timothy Leary, became disenchanted as well. He explained,
“The use of psychedelic chemicals did not lead to a social utopia. Our attempts failed not because of the quality of the people but because these results do not accrue from chemical-induced experiences. You can’t carry over even the most profound experiences you have. You can feel very loving under LSD, but can you exert that love to someone who previously you didn’t like? The long-range answer is no.”

Thus the dream for a new world of peace, love, innocence, and oneness under LSD was recognized to be a sham. If LSD couldn’t make you love your enemies, then it ultimately could change nothing. Rock stars sought more grounded answers in eastern religions and transcendental meditation, but this was quickly dismissed as well. John Lennon claimed that “The dream is over…. We’ve got to get down to so-called reality.” This summed up the closing of the 60’s; the closing of hope for a different, better world.

The utopian vision of the counterculture had good intentions, so where did it go wrong? The hope had permeated all things. It was a time filled with magic. New-comer counterculture films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were getting recognized by Hollywood as having a massive impact, ushering in an era called the “New Hollywood.” Pop music reached artistic heights it had never before achieved. There was an excitement for all that was new and different and better that replaced the stale consumer-driven world that had been long dominant since the end of WWII. It seemed that the world could really continuously involve into a greater place.

It is clear with hindsight that the means of 1967 which were thought to be world-changing ended up being a dream that didn’t reflect reality. War continued because not everyone would take LSD, and even those who did had mixed experiences and disillusion. Drugs, free sex, rock music, Eastern religion, marches, etc. all didn’t have the long-term effect that was hoped for. Despite this, the 60’s has had an undeniable mark on the world at large. We are living in a post-60’s society. Things that were still out of the ordinary at that time have passed into the mainstream. Everything from experimental pop music to conservation efforts and vegetarian eating are products of movements that found their start in the 60’s. While the societal goals envisioned at this time were out of reach, having such lofty visions led to a great deal of change despite the loss of the ultimate “dream” of peace and universal love.

I want to close with a song that I feel like encapsulates the year of 1967 as a whole, and indeed the dream of the 60’s itself.

In 1967, The Zombies went into Abbey Road Studios and recorded an album that is nowodesseyandoracle considered one of the greatest of all time, Odessey and Oracle. The album would mostly not see the light of day until “Time of the Season” became a radio hit two years too late in 1969, but now the album is considered to be a masterpiece. One of the songs on the album is a psychedelic swirl that writer Rod Argent says wasn’t even influenced by drugs, since he had never been interested in them. The song captured the spirit of the times with great poetry in music and words.
You can listen to the song here:  The Zombies – Hung Up On a Dream

Check out these lyrics:

Well I remember yesterday
Just drifting slowly through a crowded street
With neon darkness shimmering through the haze
A sea of faces rippling in the heat

And from that nameless changing crowd
A sweet vibration seemed to fill the air
I stood astounded, staring hard
At men with flowers resting in their hair

A sweet confusion filled my mind
Until I woke up only finding
Everything was just a dream
A dream unusual of its kind
That gave me peace and blew my mind
And now I’m hung up on a dream

They spoke with soft persuading words
About a living creed of gentle love
And turned me on to sounds unheard
And showed me strangest clouded sights above

Which gently touched my aching mind
And soothed the wonderings of my troubled brain
Sometimes I think I’ll never find
Such purity and peace of mind again

“‘Hung Up on a Dream’ is one of my favorite Rod Argent songs. It was written at the time of the Summer of Love. We had great hopes that the movement would develop into something more. It was a time when it was possible to envision that the power of universal love might be extended to all. It wasn’t. It didn’t. It crashed in a fog of drugs and exploitation. Maybe it will happen one day”
 – Chris White (Zombies)

The dream of 1967 may have crashed, but that doesn’t mean hope still can’t be alive fifty years later in 2017. The dream that hope can lead to great change that betters all humanity. Perhaps there is a love that is grounded in truth, that leads one to loving even your enemies, that gives a real answer. A love that leads to you thirsting to really change, to always push towards the new, the better, all in childlike joy.

That’s a love and hope and peace to look for.

Thanks to Steve Turner, whose fantastic book Hungry For Heaven: Rock ‘N’ Roll & the Search for Redemption provided the bulk of information for this piece. For more on these issues of spiritual issues in musical movements I can’t recommend that book enough.

3 Albums You Need to Hear: April 2016

Something I love to do that I don’t ever seem to know a good avenue for is to talk about whatever music I happen to be obsessing over at the moment. Seems I always have something that really knocks me out every month that ends up getting a whole lot of plays. I want to go tell the whole world about these records, but I never thought to say something about it on my blog, so here you go!

1. Doug Sahm and Band  (1973)– Doug Sahm  

Doug_Sahm_and_Band_1973This album has been blowing my mind for the past couple of weeks. Not just the album itself, but Doug Sahm himself has been really interesting to me. I mean, here’s a guy who played with Hank Williams Sr. (on his last show even!) before he was 12 years old. He looked rockabilly in the 50’s, and had an incredible garage band in the 60’s called the Sir Douglas Quintet (that the record company masqueraded as being British). Bob Dylan was a big fan, and so when Doug did his solo album ol’ Zimmy showed up and contributed some super fun vocals, and even a great tune called “Wallflower.” Dr. John and all sorts of other luminaries were present as well, creating what is undeniably a “smile when yah hear it” fun album that is so darn good that you can’t help but feel as good as it is. From the opening fiddles on “Is Anybody Going to San Antone?” you’ll be glued in. The album sounds like half of an insanely great country band’s album accidentally got sequenced with a killer blues band’s album. That just makes the whole thing that much more awesome. This album is a milestone in alt. country, roots rock, and Texas music. It was one of the earliest records to come out of the burgeoning Austin music scene, just a tad before Willie Nelson released Shotgun Willie. Later in his life, Doug went on to making tons more great music with I don’t even know how many bands. Look it up on Wikipedia, it’s ridiculous how many groups this dude played with. But the one I’m really enjoying now is the debut album of a supergroup he had called the Texas Tornadoes. That album is some great bouncy Tex-Mex music that has a song called “Hey Baby Que Paso.” If that ain’t enough to entice you I don’t even know.

Check out this tune, and you can find the album on Spotify!
Is Anybody Going to San Antone?

2. Song For Swingin’ Sellers (1959) – Peter Sellers 

swingin-298x300Despite whatever you might think from the title, this is not a swing music album by Peter Sellers. The swing song that kicks off the album isn’t even sung by Sellers! But what this album most definitely is is hilarious. Sellers was in top form here, from blasting news interviewers, critics, boring British radio programs, boring old gossipy British women, silly musicians, and so many things all in his distinctive use of dead-on accent impersonations and quiet disgust. The album has aged remarkably well, and Sellers is so charismatic. I ended up listening to this record after years of wanting to hear Seller’s LPs. The late great Sir George Martin produced the record, and it ended up greatly influencing Monty Python and The Beatles. Sellers even does a ridiculous cover of “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” with sitars and other Indian instruments, six years before Sir George produced George Harrison playing sitar on Norwegian Wood. While you’re at it, find yourself a copy of Peter Sellers in Blake Edwards’ The Party. It’s a hilarious and experimental comedy film from 1968!
The album can be found on Spotify, or there is a sort of rough vinyl copy ripped onto Youtube.

3. Something New Under the Son (1977, released in 1981) – Larry Norman 

larrynormansomethingI’ve grown up with Larry Norman’s music all around me. My parents have always been mega-fans of the rebel poet, my father even interviewed him in the 1990’s. We own a good amount of his insanely large catalog on CD. I’ve always loved what is normally considered to be his masterpiece from 1972, Only Visiting This Planet. That album’s lyrics feel implanted in my head now after so many years of listening. I love it to death and it influences me so much. For some reason I got this crazy notion in my head over time that Only Visiting was really the only “great” Norman record. Maybe the other ones were pretty good, but not great. Boy, was I wrong. Sooooooooo wrong!!! It was like how all these publications make out Pet Sounds and SMiLE to be the only great Beach Boys albums.

Somehow all the different publications have missed that Larry Norman has so many insanely great records. The first thing I heard recently was So Long Ago the Garden. I thought, holy crap, how have I missed this album?  How many other albums am I missing? The answer? A heck of a lot.
The next thing that was put on was this one. Something New Under the Son. This album has become a life changer for me. I’ve always been a fan of some good hardcore blues music.
Turns out Larry cranked out a whole album of some killer blues music. I can’t even describe how cool this record is. John J. Thompson called it “one of the roughest, bluesiest, and best rock and roll albums of his career or the whole industry.” Couldn’t say it better myself. Imagine if The Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main St. got mixed with Dylan’s Bringing it All Back Home for one of the best bluesy stomper concept albums you’ve ever heard. And yes, it’s a concept album too. I won’t spoil the story for you.

Norman was so many things. A brilliant songwriter, a true visionary, a game changer, a true rock n’ roller, an outlaw, surrealistic, and a man of incredible faith. His music and story is so inspiring, and this rediscovery of his music has been an incredible blessing to me. So crank this album up and leave the past behind!

There’s nothing wrong with playing blues licks!!

John Lennon: One of Jesus’s “Biggest Fans”?

John-Lennon220813I recently read an article about John Lennon’s bout with the Christian faith, and found this quote from a 1969 interview he did with a Canadian Broadcasting Network.

“I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans. And if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do. If the Beatles get on the side of Christ, which they always were, and let people know that, then maybe the churches won’t be full, but there’ll be a lot of Christians dancing in the dance halls. Whatever they celebrate, God and Christ, I don’t think it matters as long as they’re aware of Him and His message.” – John Lennon (1969)

What a truly baffling statement! As the article points out, John had conflicting emotions about God, Jesus, and the church over his lifetime. But what I’ve been surprised to find is that John always seemed to really respect Jesus and agree with His “teachings.” Now, this is where I think John’s confusion could possibly be. John probably agreed with Jesus’s actions and lifestyle teachings (loving all people, giving to the poor, etc.), but he didn’t understand that Jesus’s central message was that of redemption from sin. It’s difficult to discern exactly what John knew or thought, since he would apparently have a good grasp on some Biblical passages, but next to no knowledge of basic theological truth at other times.

Somewhat paradoxically, John seemed to be closer to the truth of Christ than the other three. He became a Christian for a brief period in around 1977, but after a few months Yoko tried dissuading him from it by sticking the point of Jesus’s deity to him. John was skeptical throughout his life of Jesus’s divine nature, thinking that it was an attribute thrust upon Him by His followers. Unfortunately, John apparently never took the time to look into the historical manuscript evidence to see that Jesus claimed to be God several ways and numerous times in our earliest manuscripts. As has also been pointed out, why would He be crucified if He didn’t claim to be God?

It’s hard for me to say what John’s standing would be before God since I am not God and I don’t really know what ultimately counts before Him in these situations, but I do hope that despite the fact that John was not dedicated to Christ or the Gospel for the majority of his life that he was somehow able to be reconciled with Him.

What’s important to remember though, is that Jesus’s message was not just about love for others. It was also not about telling everyone that there are multiple paths to salvation. Jesus specifically taught that He is the Way, the Truth, the Life, and that there is no other way to God (John 14:6). When Bob Dylan released his Slow Train Coming album, John was dismayed because he saw Dylan (virtually John’s only peer) claiming that Jesus was the only way. John didn’t understand that the truth is by nature exclusive, and that to love Jesus is to love Truth.

Instead, John wanted an easier path for people like himself who simply weren’t willing to give themselves up to Christ. The cost of discipleship to Christ is simply too much, and it’s far easier to say that all roads lead to Him. Christ Himself does not allow for this, and we cannot allow ourselves to wander aimlessly looking for an easy solution that will satisfy us. John quit out on Christ in 1977 because he was still scared and unsure even after trying it, but this was most likely because John still had not fully surrendered himself to Christ. Satisfaction and joy is found in Christ alone, and weak interest that hangs onto your own pride is no better than unbelief.

Ya either got faith or ya got unbelief, and there ain’t no neutral ground. – Bob Dylan

Love and mercy to everyone in Christ!
– Garrett

Further reading:

John Lennon’s Born Again Phase – Steve Turner