Monday, November 15, 2010

My Essential Classic Albums

There's a lot of talk right now about the future of music. More and more releases are going digital. Some through Radiohead-style self-releases, some through digital-only labels like Quote Unquote or Death To False Hope, some through DIY sites like Bandcamp, some from labels trying to cut costs. But even as these releases go digital, more and more releases are also going vinyl. As we take steps forward, we also take steps back in some ways.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and so I decided to look some albums from years past for today's blog. Here is a non-hierarchical list of my essential classic releases. For the purposes of this post, "classic" is used to mean before 1985, the year I was born.

Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run (Columbia, 1975)
There's a reason Bruce Springsteen is referred to as The Boss, and Born To Run is a prime example of his musical abilities. He may have fallen in recent years (seriously, have you listened to Magic?), but back in 1975 he was king of Americana Rock. Rolling Stone listed the album as their 18th greatest album of all time, and it deserves it. My favorite song is the title track, but the album also contains classic cuts like "Thunder Road" and "Backstreets."

Black Flag - Nervous Breakdown (SST, 1978)
In 1978, Black Flag stormed out of the suburbs of Los Angeles with their debut EP, Nervous Breakdown. Much like the Ramones sparked the American punk revolution a few short years before, Black Flag's touring inspired a firestorm of imitators across the country, making hardcore a solid statement within the punk scene. Kicking off with the title track, an ode to reaching the breaking point, the EP packs a lifetime of punk agression into just over 5 minutes. Later releases are alright, but for me nothing compares to this.

The Clash - London Calling (UK-CBS, 1979, US-Epic, 1980)
Compared to Nervous Breakdown, London Calling hardly sounds like an album that could be called punk. But The Clash were among the first to merge punk's aggression with other styles, in this case rockabilly, jazz, ska and reggae. A true pillar of punk history, Rolling Stone ranked London Calling 10 spots higher than Born To Run, at number eight. The album is also one of the best examples of blending punk and politics, covering topics such as commercialism and consumerism ("Lost In The Supermarket"), government oppression ("Clampdown") and social unrest ("The Guns Of Brixton," which some claim predicted the race riots of Brixton in the 1980's). The  title track also cites concerns over nuclear incidents (such as Three Mile Island) and the potential flooding of London. 

The Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies (RCA, 1971)
The Kinks are more well known for earlier protopunk tracks "You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All Night," as well as "Lola," about accidentally falling for a crossdresser in a bar. But Muswell Hillbillies is the album that makes them my favorite band of the British Invasion. The album blends the British small-town idealism they perfected on The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society with Americana influences. The album covers paranoia, shady fad diets, poverty, the growing concern of alcoholism, and dreaming of living in America. The album also features "Have A Cuppa Tea," a fun tribute to the British cure-all, a good cup of tea.

Various Artists - This Is Boston, Not L.A. (Modern Method, 1982)
Remember when I said earlier that Black Flag sparked hardcore throughout the country? That's a bit misleading. Punk rock was a pretty general movement, but hardcore developed in pockets. No two scenes sounded the same. NYC, L.A. and Chicago have long flourished as hardcore hotspots, but other pockets started up as their own scenes. In the early 80's, some members of the Boston scene were considered that local hardcore kids were taking too much of an interest in L.A. hardcore, ignoring their rich local scene. The response was This Is Boston, Not L.A., a compilation comprised of 30 tracks from Boston bands Jerry's Kids, The Proletariat, Groinoids, The F.U.'s, Gang Green, Decadence and The Freeze. There are countless compilations dedicated to documenting local scenes, but This Is Boston, Not L.A. stands as one of the best.

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