What are some of my favorite rock and pop albums? Here’s a sample:
Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town – Columbia 35318. This is an amazing masterpiece. Certainly it is dark and desperate. To me it is a picture of the man inside every male aged 18-60 – the man that stays hidden because life is generally good. How many of us really walk streets of fire? I don’t, but I think I understand what it’s like because of this record. And that’s what Bruce Springsteen is about to me. He doesn’t sing about things I have literally experienced. He sings about people and places that could be real, and could be me. And that’s what makes it scary and profound.
Jackson Browne – For Everyman – Elektra/Asylum 5067. A perfect record. Completely introspective and private, it still says something to the listener who feels disillusioned by an impersonal world – a theme that became even more apparent on The Pretender. If Springsteen writes about inner turmoil coming out (as in “Darkness on the Edge of Town”), Browne takes the opposite approach, and keeps it in (as in “These Days”). Partly about being free, partly about settling down, it is all about insecurity.
Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle – Columbia 32432. His second record is where Bruce began to sound like Bruce. Greetings from Asbury Park, (“Spirit in the Night” and maybe “Lost in the Flood” aside), was more abstract: less about telling stories and more about spinning Bob Dylan-esque lines of rhyme. This album is fun, vivid, young, and, unique among Springsteen’s output, whimsical. It’s full of characters and pictures as different as those in “Wild Billy’s Circus Story” and “New York City Serenade”. “Kitty’s Back” is funky and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” is the best eight minute rock song ever written about your girlfriend’s parents hating you.
Karla Bonoff – Restless Nights – Sony 35799. Sure, this record might qualify as “easy listening” to some people, but I think it’s much more than that. It doesn’t really have a particular theme that I can identify. The title track doesn’t really represent the attitude of the bulk of the other songs. Really, each song is different, and that’s what makes it good. Plus, the female perspective lends poignancy to songs like “The Letter”. “Trouble Again” wouldn’t work sung by a guy. “Only a Fool” is beautiful in every respect, and sad. It’s nice to hear the old song “When You Walk in the Room”, and there’s even a folk song: “The Water Is Wide”. As if Bonoff’s singing weren’t easy enough on the ear, the uncredited presence of James Taylor is obvious, and many of the songs have wonderful harmonies. If you can tolerate the dated sound and want to hear what good female singer-songwriters can do, purchase this album.
The Beatles – Help! – Capitol 46439. Let me first say that the worst Beatles album would be better than 99.9% of all other rock albums. Help! probably doesn’t top most people’s short lists of Beatles favorites, and I think I know why. It’s not a album that really stands out as a radical departure, or signals any major artistic developments. The early albums were noteworthy for their energy, and they were a new kind of rock at that time. The later albums, even beginning with Rubber Soul and continuing on through Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, etc., were experimental and changed the direction of pop music again. Help! probably falls into neither category, as it is situated right in the middle of their catalog. Are these songs the best Beatles songs? Maybe not, but they are still excellent, and this list isn’t just about what’s best, but what I like. Nevertheless, with songs like “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away”, “Tell Me What You See”, “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, “Another Girl” and “It’s Only Love”, it does include many of my favorite Beatles songs, or just songs, period. Oh, yeah, it also has the title track, “Yesterday”, “Ticket to Ride”, “The Night Before”, etc.
They Might Be Giants – Then: The Earlier Years – Restless Records 72931. This is sort of a cheat, as it is a two disc compilation of a couple early albums and EPs, but these two discs include such a quantity of TMBG goodness that it is worth its cost. Yes, it’s early TMBG with drum machines aplenty, and most of the songs are nonsensical. But it’s so fun. Once you get to know this set these songs will seldom leave your head for too long. I can’t tell you how often I will be out, minding my own business and into my head pop lines like these: “Memo to myself: Do the dumb things I gotta do – touch the puppet head”; “Volunteers, we need volunteers, soldiers to greet them / Have no fear, have no fear; you will be killed right away”; “He ended up sad”; “People should get beat up for stating their beliefs”; and countless others. It’s catchy, sing-a-long kind of music, and not easily forgotten.
James Iha – Let It Come Down – Virgin 45411. This is a curious choice for me, I know. I am far from a fan of Iha’s other work with a certain group whom I shan’t mention except to say that I hate them. But this CD is so different, and so like what I would do if I were to create an album. First and foremost, every song is a love song. Second, the vocal melodies go way beyond Iha’s ability to sing them (a characteristic of my own music), yet that doesn’t stop him from using the gentlest falsetto to convey the arching lines. I saw him on TV at some point singing live, and he was awful, but they did a good job of keeping him in tune on this disc. The vocal harmonies here are exactly how I would have done them. I know it doesn’t do you any good reading this, but I guess my favorite part of this album that it is the album I wish I could have made. But if you like sad, pretty love songs with shameless I-iii chord progressions and ample vocal harmonization, this might be what you are looking for.