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Top CD List

Ok, here's the long-awaited list. It is not the most accurate; the positions are subject to change daily. This has evolved as a document over quite a period of time, not only the couple of months it took to write it, but the years it took to accumulate it. Revisiting old friends on vinyl, friends from almost 15 years back....

I wish I would have written more about some titles. In salute to old albums, which I still call cds, it is a top 33 list, because I couldn't cut things down without banishing them to the "others" list (which is still pretty impressive).

(Note to readers: This document is about two years old. Proceed with caution, realizing that much may have changed since then).


Those that didn't make this list, but are worthy of consideration (in no particular order): U2: Tree, Achtung Baby, Zooropa; 10,000 Maniacs: Unplugged; Pat Metheney: Secret Story; Prince: Sign of the Times; REM: Green, Out of Time; Pretenders: The Singles; They Might Be Giants: Apollo 18, Flood; Beastie Boys: Check Your Head; The Clash: The Story of the Clash Volume 1; Steve Earle: Essential Steve Earle; Billie Holiday: Complete Decca Recordings; Elvis Presley: The King of Rock and Roll; Kraftwerk: The Mix, Computerwelt; Living Colour: Stain, Dread; Los Lobos: Just Another Band From East LA; The JudyBats: Full-Empty, Pain Makes You Beautiful; The Mambo Kings: Original Soundtrack; Rush: Permanent Waves, Counterparts, Power Windows, Exit...Stage Left, Presto; Paul Simon: The Rhythm of the Saints; Bruce Hornsby: Harbor Lights

33. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon

I believe this was meant to be listened to in one sitting, as one long song (much like Lovesexy, except this is better). I wasn't aware this was hashed out live for quite some time before being recorded (thanks to Mr. Stanley for the education, and thanks for the gold cd!).

32. Suzanne Vega: 99.9F

This beats out her previous album Days of Open Hand, which was a little more pretentious and poetic (in a bad sort of way). She dumped some of the folk feel and added electronics. Sorry, no searing guitar solos. Dreamlike, in a hallucinatory way. A couple of themes appear throughout the album: blood, medicine, doctors, upsets (Goliath, heroes), and especially AIDS (although usually metaphorically). Plus, the added bonus of David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on electric guitar on almost every track. Best song: Rock in This Pocket

31. Sting: Dream of the Blue Turtles

I got to Cornell, and what happened to the Police? Now there was a Sting solo album? How good could it be? To me, the Police seemed a little popish, and solo albums after a band breaks up tend to be either lousy (mostly) or great (rarely). I think I taped Steve Szpytek's copy (which I still have) and we listened to this most of first semester. Now the live album is certainly good, and Nothing Like The Sun has great songs too (almost as good overall, some better) but this one came out first. Best song: Fortress Around Your Heart.

30. Pete Townsend: White City: A Novel

The only Townsend solo album that I own (yes, I know I should get All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes). Who is this David Gilmour guy on guitar? So many good songs. Why did the Who break up? Why do this solo albums after this suck? I want a sequel to this album!. Make it a double! Truly one of the few nonfavorite artist albums I can listen to all the way through. Best Song: This is a difficult one....even though there's only nine tracks here...Ok, Crashing By Design (just beating out Come to Mama, Brilliant Blues, and Hiding Out).

29. Pet Shop Boys: Behavior

PSB went from being a dance music duo to amazing songwriters, progressing perfectly after Introspective. When they toss a real guitar into the mix, it sounds great. Nobody writes up-tempo songs about depressing things like they do. Less perky and peppy than other albums. Is How Can You Expect to be Taken Seriously really about Sting, or just rock stars in general? To Face the Truth, Only the Wind, The End of the World, and Nervously are no doubt overlooked gems. The songs did especially well live (Earl: rent Performance!). Best: My October Symphony.

28. Yes: Fragile

This makes the list for the songs you didn't hear on classic rock radio: South Side of the Sky and Heart of the Sunrise. Yes' greatest strength was (to me) is that they weren't afraid to play (often to the limit of their abilities) what sounded good to them, using whatever influences they had. Truly progressive music. Sure, it could be bombastic, or conceptually overwrought (can you say Tales from Topographic Oceans?) but they took chances (for the time) by showing off their skills and creating unique music. Best song: South Side of The Sky.

27. Paul Simon: Graceland

Going to Africa and bringing back their best musicians brought Paul Simon his best album, and one of the top ten of the College Years. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, for example. Fun songs, serious songs, songs for Arnold to sing in his native Swahili. Rhythm of the Saints, the album after this, is moodier and darker, but isn't as accessible as Graceland is. Special guests galore: Adrian Bellew, the Everly brothers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bakithi Khumalo, Ray Phiri, Los Lobos, Youssou N'dour, and Linda Ronstadt. Best song: Graceland, of course!

26. Sade: Promise/Stronger than Pride

OK, I'm cheating a little here, but as an editor, it's my job to make things better. Combine the strongest songs from these two albums, and you'll have a disc with a dozen or so songs about the big L. Prefect music for listening to on a lonely night all by your lonesome. Songs about longing (Is it a Crime, The Sweetest Taboo, Nothing Can Come Between Us, Paradise), being wronged (Is it a Crime), and hoping you can put it back together (War of the Hearts, Love is Stronger than Pride). Clean, jazz-like playing, perfect production, perfect mood, perfect voice. Best song: Is it a Crime, from Promise. Recent revision. The Best of Sade came out, and will most certainly replace this entry.

25. Cray, Collins and Copeland: Showdown!

A great all-purpose blues album. If you only plan to get one, this is it. I like it especially because it doesn't have any of the usual "standards" you usually see. Only drawback-not enough Cray. I've always hoped there'd be a sequel, but with Albert Collins dead, its probably not going to happen, although Buddy Guy would certainly be a good choice. Best: The Dream, because I like Bob and it would fit on any of his albums.

24. Yes: Close to the Edge

I was amazed when I first heard this album. I'm a big fan of longer songs, and that's all that this album has. Once again, an album of talented playing. Intense playing that was truly unique in style for its time. The last album with their best drummer, Bill Bruford. His replacement, Alan White, was competent, but had no discernible style. Once again, chock full of weird lyrical concepts, but hey, it's an early 70's Yes album. I read in an interview with Bill Bruford that Close to the Edge was written and recorded in segments, then edited into the finished version. They then had to figure out how to play in all the way through live. Best song: Close to the Edge.

23. Sonic Youth: Dirty

The ultimate in low-fi. All-analog recording, with crappy amps and cheap guitars. The best mix is said to be the double vinyl album one. It almost sounds like an album you would make if you taught yourself guitar without listening to other music. Almost as good as Goo. Its only shortcoming is that a couple of songs are too preachy or political. Best song: A tie between Theresa's Sound-World and Wish Fulfillment

22. REM: Life's Rich Pageant

It was hard to pick an REM album, but one had to go on here. This is the one I've listened to the most over the many years. I'm not sure what the best one is, but this one has lasted the longest for me. Plus, I can sing all the songs in the shower and I sound almost as good as Michael Stipe. Reconstruction of the Fables, this album, and Document are certainly college soundtrack material. On MTV's unplugged, Stipe, before singing Fall on Me, said it was his favorite of all the REM songs, and probably their best. I can see what he means. Best songs: These Days (because I can sing it) and Fall on Me.

21. Various Artists: Deadicated

All the Dead songs you like, without the lame original versions. I never really heard much Dead besides these songs and the stuff I heard I didn't like. Then I learned they couldn't make a studio album to save their lives. Probably the perfect tribute album. Burning Spear doing Estimated Prophet is worth the price of admission alone. So is Los Lobos doing Bertha. Best: Jack Straw, by Bruce Hornsby and the Range.

20. Sonic Youth: Goo

I bought this on a whim, and can't remember why. I guess I was looking for something new, and heard they liked distortion. Actually, I heard Disappearer on 'XRT, and the lead-in to the last verse was just amazing, chiming guitars rising up from the crashing distortion leading into the riff and the slightly distorted, muffled vocals was amazing. Plus, it's got Kool Thing, with Chuck D! Not a bad song on the disc, regardless of what they say. And hey, we got to see them at the Aragon (the last PE show!). Probably the best of their last three albums. Not too arty or weird or distorted, a nice balance of structured songs and distorted sounds. Best song: Disappearer.

19. The Pursuit of Happiness: One-Sided Story

By the makers of I'm an Adult Now. Snotty, funny, yet often touching songs about life, all in a hard pop-rock vein. Great girl back-up vocals. The up-tempo Canadian version of the JudyBats? Why don't they put out more albums. I've heard they're without a record label. All I Want would probably get anyone laid, even Rick! Two Girls in One is about AP, methinks. New Language even contains "efficacious" and "innocuous" in the lyrics. Best song: All I Want.

18. Yes: The Yes Album

The beginning of the best period for this band. Heck, half of this album would make he list. One the albums I listened to to death in high school, along with the other two Yes albums on the list. Seeing Yours is no Disgrace performed live back in 91 in an extended version was amazing. Starship Trooper, like half of Yes' music, makes little sense to me lyrically, but that's not what I listen to the band for. It's simply the playing. Perpetual change has it too. Best song: Perpetual Change.

17. Beastie Boys: Paul's Boutique

Hey Ladies! It was a hard decision between this and Check Your head. The playing on Head is harder, but Paul's is so crazy, especially compared to their first. A quantum leap forward. With Shake Your Rump, Egg Man, Science, Hey Ladies, and Shadrach to choose from, how can I pick a fave, especially since Shadrach isn't available on CD single (as much of a travesty as Funny Vibe not being on CD single). Best: Shadrach

16. Big Audio Dynamite: This is Big Audio Dynamite

This is the album that told me times were changing, and college was a going to be a weird trip indeed. Probably the best use of sampling apart from the better Public Enemy discs. Still an important band. Nothing ever sounded like it, and nothing will probably ever be so unique. The best elements of the Clash taken a step into the future. Best song: E=MC2.

15. Living Colour: Time's Up

Now if Vivid wasn't cool enough, out came Time's Up. Definitely Living Colour's best. Not as heavy as Stain, more complex and experimental than Vivid. Saw them twice, once at Metro with Earl. Probably the most intense live show I've seen. Passionate songs of all sorts. Last Muzz sighting. Best: A split decision between Pride (more political) and Type (which should have been a bigger hit for them).

14. Yes: Going For The One

The 1976 album where they got back on track. They had probably confused their audience senseless with Tales From Topographic Oceans a couple of years previously and tried to recover with Relayer. Then the band took a couple of years off and everyone made a solo album. Reunited with their most successful lineup (Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, White) they reinvented themselves.

13. Rush: 2112

Now for me, the gold disc is amazing. As usual, though, I could drop side two in an instant. Tears? Forget about it! A Passage to Bangkok? Puhleeze! A record made by an angry bunch of guys. Caress of Steel pretty much tanked, they were a quarter of a million in debt, the record company wasn't happy, their last tour they nicknamed the "Down the Tubes" tour. Rush seems to do their best work when they're angry or secure and introspective. Furious ending, Alex tosses in a tiny snip of the 1812 overture in Grand Finale before the freakout and the voice-over begins. Did they return? Is my boy dead? From the tour book: "Father Brown was the last to die. 'Rush. The must have been one hell of a band.'" Best song: Duh. The title track. Best part: Soliloquy/Grand Finale.

12. The JudyBats: Down in the Shacks Where the Satellite Dishes Grow

I bought this on a whim, after hearing "Saturday" on the radio. What a surprise. Usually when you buy a disc on a whim, you really don't get much. Perfect relationship songs for me at the time (1992). Ends perfectly with When Things Get Slow Around Here. Why are there birds on every album of theirs? Jeff, their lyricist, has a talent for capturing the small defining moments of life and love gone slightly sour. The newest album, Full-Empty, is pretty close to this one, but only time will tell which one wins. Best: A tie between the title track and Our Story, a story about my last relationship.

11. REM: Automatic For The People

The best REM album (past, present, and future. I'll put money on this). A meditation on death and loss. Their first truly mature, adult album. With the release of Monster they have take a step back a couple of albums in terms of sound (much like Document and Green) and the song writing really ain't up to par on the whole. Where Out of Time (the previous album) was mostly upbeat, but never really slow or moody (eg, Shiny Happy People, Texarkana, Me In Honey) except for Loosing My Religion, Automatic starts out with Drive, where they presumably address their fans and young genXers directly ("Hey kids, rock and roll, nobody tells you where to go"). Try Not To Breathe is a song about wanting to die. Ignoreland is about 12 years of Republican administrations. Everybody Hurts is about loss, as is Sweetness Follows. Man On The Moon, Nightswimming, and Find The River are all about the past. A "down" album, yet still inspiring and uplifting. I fear it will be the best REM album of their career. Best Song: Sweetness Follows.

10. Laurie Anderson: Strange Angels

The best so far of all of her work. Sure, there's some weirdness, but she both talks and sings. Guest stars abound: Bakithi Khumalo (bass player on Paul Simon's Graceland), Bobby McFerrin, Tony Levin, and the Roches. Mellow, dreamlike and smart. If there would only be an official live video released from this amazing tour (it rivals PSB's Performance). Best lyrics: Best song: The last three songs (The Dream Before/My Eyes/Hiawatha), which blend together like the first side of B.A.D.'s No 10, Upping Street.

9. Pet Shop Boys: Very

The best PSB so far. The neatest jewel box I've seen in years. Quite up-tempo at times, with lush arrangements and sounds (hard to believe it is one guy who sings and one who programs. To me, Can You Forgive Her doesn't quite fit. Essentially the album takes the best of their sound and expands on it. Too bad almost all the remixes on the cd singles are horrible. Bummer. Why won't they tour the US behind this album, which would probably be stronger live than the Behavior stuff (which was still quite good). Seven or eight of these 12 (or 13) songs could qualify as best-of-album. I know Adam will pick Yesterday, When I Was Mad. Best song: A tie between Young Offender, Liberation and A Different Point of View.

8. Atlantic Rhythm & Blues: Volume 6, 1966-1969

The Ultimate Oldies Album for me. All originals. Too bad they had to cut a handful of songs from the double album to make the single CD. Who can argue with a CD which starts with Land of 100 Dances, Knock on Wood, Try a Little Tenderness, Mustang Sally, When Something is Wrong with My Baby, Sweet Soul Music (Spotlight on Lou Rawls, y'all! Don't he look boss now), and Soul Man. There's 18 more songs, too. All the Aretha you'll ever need. An essential cd for anyone. What is most amazing about this disc is that these songs are the real thing. I can't imagine how any of these songs could be changed to improve them. Best: For me, it's gotta be one of the best songs of all time, Knock on Wood.

7. Robbie Robertson: Storyville

If I could be as cool as Robbie Robertson, I'd be one cool dude. Plus, I'd have a great voice. The album is a concept album much in the same way White City is. The story follows a mysterious relationship over an unknown amount of time. Told from the guy's point of view, involving a raven-haired girl, the seedy part of town. Beautiful singing, sad yet uplifting hopeful songs. This is an album that must be heard to be understood. Best song: A tie between Hold Back the Dawn and Sign of the Rainbow.

6. Prince: The Black Album

Gee, what can be said about the best album of 1987. It wasn't even released. (OK, there are rumors, but I won't believe them until I hold an official Black Album in my hand). (Ok, now it has been released officially, and is even more amazing. Clear sounds, the right speed. All the nuances of the instruments and backing vocals). It was the top Critics' Choice in the Village Voice and other hip publications. Should have been the follow-up to Crystal Ball. I've got the hard-to-find Neutral Zone version, the counterpart to the White Album (live 88 stuff), which includes some of the live stuff. Only drawback: When 2 R in Love shows up here too. Wow. Bob George, Le Grind, Cindy C, Rock Hard in a Funky Place, and Superfunkicalifragisexy. Please don't make me pick a best song off this one.

5. Los Lobos: Kiko

If I can only get Adam to buy this. Talked Earl into the tiny box (2-cd set) of theirs, which almost made the list. Spooky songs that rise out of weird dreams, like Kiko, Wake up Dolores, and When the Circus Comes. Probably one of the best rock-n-roll bands playing in America today, if not the best American band (Aerosmith? Give me a friggin' break!). David Hidalgo's voice is amazing (like he's singing the words straight into your brain), every song is a little mysterious story. One of the best albums of 1992 by far. Best song: Kiko and the Lavender Moon, with Dream in Blue a close second (because of the guitar solo).

4. Rush: Signals

Ties for the most influential album for me in high school, along with Grace Under Pressure. The last Broon-produced album. The keyboard album. Where did Alex's guitar go? Stop over-reacting, its still there. The album could certainly be better produced, which is one reason they stopped working with Broon. Subdivisions is the perfect song about teenage awkwardness and isolation, growing up in the burbs, trying to be unique without being "different". The Analog kid perfectly complements it, a trip inside your head at that age, hoping for that perfect girl. The Weapon, the middle part of the Fear trilogy, was originally based on a drum pattern that Ged came up with on a drum machine, and it took Neil weeks to figure out how to play it. Countdown (which had a great video) is a great song about an actual event (a rare song category for any band). My ticket for their show at the Horizon (my first concert ever, I believe) was $12.50. Now it is a gold disc (fantastic)! Best song: Analog Kid.

3. Rush: Grace Under Pressure

A difficult album for a difficult time for the band, and the difficult part of my high school years. The band was close to breaking up. Too much time away from families, Ged's solo album stripped for songs, the accidental death of one of their close friends, the parting of ways with Terry Brown (their producer for 10 years), the bailing out at the last minute of Steve Lillywhite as producer (the hot producer of the time), made for a passionate, angry (for Rush) album. The stark, unretouched portrait by Yousuf Karsh and the logo of the egg in the iron c-clamp hammers home the title and theme of the album. Afterimage, the song about the death of a friend, was too emotionally draining to play live, and was dropped from the setlist after only a handful of shows. Alex's guitar roars back with a vengeance, slashing and crashing. The debut of the spinning drum kit, the introduction of electronic drums (heresy?). An album of warnings, worrying, anger, and rebellion that challenges the listener with a "how can you just sit there when everything is falling apart or already gone" feeling. Often draining to listen to. "I'm not giving in to security under pressure......And you-revolution or just resistance, is it living or just resistance? Best song: Sorry, I can't decide.

2. Rush: Moving Pictures

Stand back! This is the album that really introduced me to the band, and may be their best ever. Certainly their most popular. In retrospect, an album that seemed to be a study in contradictions for them. How to top this? Change everything with Signals. Perfect production, and the second-to-last album Terry Brown produced. Geddy's bass honks away, the Oberheim OBX sounds perfect (love those analog synths), Lerxt's guitar roars, slices, strums, and chimes. Neil pounds away precisely, never overplaying, and does the amazing and impossible on a regular basis. For the beginner, Limelight is a four-and-a-half introduction to the band. Red Barchetta is truly amazing, starting quietly, zooming past you, and fades into the distance. Vital Signs is the first real bit of their reggae feel stuff that would show up on a couple of Signals tracks. True art. Their most dramatic change from one album to another. As a teen, I'd take my little record changer out in the back yard when it was nice out, stack up six records, clamp on the headphones, and sit under the old elm tree. Now it is a gold disc (fantastic)! Best song: The Camera Eye.

1. Rush: Hold Your Fire

Now bear with me, I didn't see this tour, and didn't really get into this album for years. The mix reminds me of Signals (but not as dark). The lyrics are certainly some of Neil's best. The songs are personal, making it the most "human" of their recent releases. This thread continues to some extent on Presto (in songs like Chain Lightning and Available Light), but is full force here (Force 10?). Each Rush album traditionally starts out with a bang, a song that catches you right away. Here it's the chorus and the jackhammer drums, and then ending with a marching snare part and Ged's pulsing bass. Time Stand Still is a Rush song anyone would like, and one of their top ten ever (why wasn't it bigger?). The first song that really stood out to me about growing older (The line in Analog Kid [on Signals] "When I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find/and when I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind" is more about growing out of your teen years and going off to college, as far as I'm concerned). Stopping and taking an inventory of what you are and where you are (I'm not looking back/but I want to look around me now). Life gets busy. We tend to get a little jaded as we get older, especially if our lives aren't changing as our friends are (the innocence slips away....). I'm not married, nor do I have kids. But friends do. My feeling is that this is a much more mature, introspective, 'adult' album, dealing with motivation, passion, and the passage of time. The best lines on the album may be from this song (Summer's going fast/nights growing colder/children growing up/old friends growing older). Hey, we're all in this for the long haul, something that we weren't really thinking about in college. Open Secrets contains more powerful images. How we became set in our ways in our youth, and how it causes us problems in the present when we deal with differences with others (You could try to understand me/I could try to understand you). Some amazing playing from all involved, playing above and beyond the normal level from time to time. Some of the best playing is hidden in the background, waiting to be found (Alex's ticking guitar on Lock and Key, Neil's playing on the last minute of Lock and Key as well). The only problems is that Neil has written so much lyrically for this album that the focus on playing is on the music in the background. There aren't any long instrumental breaks on this album, but fantastic playing still abounds. It's hidden below the surface ticking and throbbing away. Geddy won't play Turn the Page anymore in concert because the bass part is just too demanding. Mission deals with motivation and passion; some people need to express themselves (artists, writers, musicians). They live to create, an uncontrollable drive pushes them. Schumann went crazy because he had music in his head that he couldn't get out. Tchiakovsky was the same as a child: he heard music that no one else could. It deals with how we feel when we see the greatness of others creations (I wish I had that instinct/I wish I had that drive). It deals with how their talents have made their lives difficult (It's cold comfort/to the ones without it/to see how they struggled/how they suffered about it/if their lives were exotic and strange/they would have likely have gladly exchanged them/for something a little more plain, maybe something a little more sane). This is an album I could go on and on about! Best song: A tie between Open Secrets and Time Stand Still, with Mission coming in a close second. Each of these songs gives you the theme of the album in a nutshell, each with a slightly different perspective.


Well, that's it. Questions and comments are welcome.

Last modified sometime in 1995