Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tick Tock, the List Don't Stop: 70-66

This week's batch is stuffed with guilty pleasures, arena riffs, and unearned teardrops, guaranteed to offend everyone in some way or other. Enjoy:

70. Journey -- Greatest Hits (1988)

There aren’t many hits compilations on this list, but for me, Journey exists as a compilation of hits. The idea that they even put out individual albums seems strange to me, despite the fact that I once owned the LP of Frontiers. Though the band formed in the early 1970s, and continues to this day with some kind of Steve Perry vocal doppelgänger they found online, they will always be associated with the 1980s, and how could they not be? For God's sake, the band’s music appeared in Caddyshack, The Last American Virgin, Vision Quest, and . . . TRON. Beat that superfecta.

Some might define Journey as a guilty pleasure, but those people have too strong a sense of shame. There’s nothing guilty about loving Steve Perry’s histrionics -- the man is a power ballad with legs. He even strikes stadium poses while barbecuing zucchini:

I’m not crazy about “Wheel in the Sky,” and I could do without the endless fadeout on “Lights,” but otherwise this collection is gold. “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Separate Ways” are two of the great radio singles of all time (and if you’re not entertained by the video for the latter -- if you don’t like air keyboards -- then I don’t want to know you). Plus, “Faithfully” and “Open Arms” are jackhammer ballads. They will not be denied. Another of my favorites is the under-appreciated “Be Good to Yourself,” which closes the collection with Perry belting out the earnest plea of the title. I think I’ll go listen to it now...

69. Indigo Girls -- Indigo Girls (1989)

If you’re not an admirer, and you think I should be embarrassed to have this duo on my list, then please know that there were two additional albums of theirs in competition for a spot. I know, I know. From a fairly young age, I was a fan of (not exclusively) female singers, folk-influenced rock, and earnestness. So even though I’m less earnest now (I think), and even though I don’t have the love for this band that I did when I was 18, I do believe they get a bum rap. Sure, the worst of their songs (this is in the earlier years; I’m not familiar with their stuff after 1994) veer toward melodramatic confession or simplified social conscience. But the best of them benefit from smart guitar playing, the simultaneously gruff and plaintive harmonies, and the kind of mawkish (but sometimes pleasurable) passion that kids nowadays get from Fall Out Boy. I’ll make that trade.

And they get points for longevity. They met when they were in elementary school, they’re still making music together, and in between they lost to Milli Vanilli for the Best New Artist Grammy. This may not be their best record, but it gets the nod because it was the first I knew, and because R.E.M. provides energetic support on two songs.

68. Built to Spill -- There's Nothing Wrong with Love (1994)

More garage-y sounding and less epically structured than some of the band’s later work, this record is full of peppy guitar and funny lyrics like, “he thought he’d have a beer / he thought he was alone / he thought an Albertson’s stir-fry dinner would make his apartment a home.”

But the band’s sense of humor, also apparent in an album-closing track of song-parody snippets, isn’t its only strength. The slower stuff works, too, as it usually does for them. “Fling” is a beautiful, cello-accompanied song that reads, in its entirety, “since my fling with you / time went from popping off three times a day / to popping off three times a week / and it takes me a long time to come to the memory of us / one week later there’s melody / doing what I always waited for / and I didn’t stop her / but I didn’t lead her on.” Nothing Wrong has competition for my second-favorite record of theirs, but their best is a masterpiece that will appear much higher on the list.

67. Pearl Jam - Vs. (1993)

The only record Pearl Jam released before this one was Ten, which you can deny you loved at the time, but there’s a 90% chance you’re lying if you’re 35 or younger. Listening to it now, it still has a few strong songs, but the ones that were played a billion times -- “Alive,” “Even Flow,” “Black,” “Jeremy” -- ain’t them. After Vs., the band released the alternately very good and bratty/difficult Vitalogy, and after that they purposefully took themselves off the fast track and reduced their fan base to just the hardcore believers. There’s something admirable about the way they’ve managed their career, but Vs. seems to be the music’s peak. Tighter than the debut, and less self-conscious than everything that followed it, it shows off the band’s best sides: Fierce, brief workouts (“Go,” “Animal”), strummier radio hits (“Daughter”), pseudo-power-balladry (“Dissident”) and what I can only call Pearl Jam Songs (“Rearview Mirror”), which must mean something about the band’s singularity. And love or hate him, Eddie Vedder has rock n’ roll pipes, plain and simple, and he uses them to great effect throughout this record.

66. Bob Dylan -- Blonde on Blonde (1966)

My friend Brad coined a term many years ago: Nolan Ryan Syndrome. Ryan was pitching for the Texas Rangers at the time, and the area fans loved him beyond measure. So NRS refers to any athlete/musician/writer who is observably, even Hall-of-Fame-level great, but who still receives an irrational amount of love and respect. We’ve had many a discussion about whether or not someone qualifies. We’re nerds.

I don’t know if Brad would agree, but I think Dylan qualifies. He can be absurd (not in a good way), faux-deep, and when he’s those things, it suddenly matters that he can’t sing. But he’s also written a lot of great songs, and he was a compelling shape-shifter in the way that people wrongly applaud Madonna for (wearing and playing whatever’s fashionable at a given time, over and over, is not shape-shifting; it’s conformism). Blonde on Blonde is mostly Dylan at his best. My favorites here are “Visions of Johanna,” “One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)” and “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again.”



Blogger Dezmond said...

I was wondering when you were going to pick up the list again.

I can't argue with Journey, obviously. Since my own list does not allow for compilations, I had to delve into the actual albums, and 'Frontiers' made mine (although companion-piece 'Escape' could have as well). Great, great photo of Perry grilling zuchini.

Never got into The Indigo Girls, but I don't really object to them either. They are talented. Although I always got annoyed with how much people liked their cover of Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet," when the Straits version was so clearly superior. It was especially annoying when people don't even know it was not originally an Indigo Girls song. People need to be properly educated.

You have been singing the praises of Built to Spill for almost as long as I've known you (I think), and I just don't hear it. At all.

Pearl Jam's 'Vs.' was on my list as well. Their best album.

I do not think Dylan really qualifies under your Nolan Ryan Syndrome. He really is about as great as people say he is. Although I have never fully connected with 'Blonde on Blonde.' There are about 5 Dylan records I like more.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on your unconflicted feelings about Journey. I wouldn't be able to say such things without the help of a therapist. Journey was my first concert, and the opening band was -- wait for it -- Loverboy. I didn't know how good I had it. It was grade school -- how could I know? Some experiences come to us before we're ready to understand them.

11:28 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

Dylan is great, Dez, but that's kind of the point of NRS; you have to be great to qualify for it. Nolan Ryan was great. Also, I love how you say "my own list does not allow," like the list is some kind of sentient overlord. It's you that doesn't allow for compilations. Also-also, I like Dire Straits. I had the Girls' version of "Romeo and Juliet" before DS', and though I think the Girls' version is strong, DS' is better.

PF, I'll try to find a therapist who can help you with your Journey denial. That's no way to live.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

But I understood your NRS to be "great, but still overrated." I don't think you can say Dylan is overrated.

10:55 PM  
Blogger Mrs. White said...

I think Journey is the guilty pleasure of nearly anyone who has ever listened to music. I sincerely love every song on that album, even "Wheel in the Sky."

8:51 PM  

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