Well, here's the top five list of my top ten albums of all time, with commentary. Lots of commentary. And so, let us begin...
1. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Yes, I know, this is pretty much everyone's greatest album of all time, but that's totally not the point. The point is that it deserves it and anyone who doesn't give it to them is a dirty liar. They're pretty much the greatest band of all time and this is they're best work. And it is the best thing ever. There really is nothing else that can seriously be considered.
I think it's also important to point out that there is a significant number of people who haven't listened to this CD and have no idea what they've missed out on. I mean, hardly any radio stations actually play music off this CD, since it really doesn't have any of their famous songs on it (their greatest hits collection, "1" doesn't have a single track off this CD). The result is that unless someone forces other people to listen to the album, it's easy to completely pass it by. And, well, that's kind of depressing, really.
This album captures so much of what is right about music. Many of the songs are about such simple topics as growing old or leaving home and other aspects of life, but it really captures the core of those experiences. It's really not about drugs, even though it has Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds on it. This is a beautiful, touching CD. And it really is the best CD of all time, and I sincerely doubt anything will ever dethrone it. I'm not even sure how something would go about doing so...
2. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Did I mention I'm a huge Wilco fan? Oh, I did. Good, that makes this choice a lot more obvious. I was actually tempted to make the top slot a tie between The Beatles and Wilco, but then I would be a dirty liar, and I decided I didn't really want that. Anyways, YHF.
I remember the first time I heard a track off this CD. I was driving home and the radio played "Heavy Metal Drummer". I swear I almost died, I was so in love with the song. Somehow, I found out the name of the band, went to Tower Records and bought the CD (it was even on sale as a recommended album). At that time, I listened to it, thought it was brilliant and moved on (I was in high school and there was lots of great music to be discovering). A couple years later I bought more Wilco CDs and fell in love with those too. They inspired me to listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot again, but this time I had been prepared for it.
It totally blew me away. It captured everything, ever. I love melancholic music and YHF literally is melancholy. Every track contains beautiful explorations of hopelessness and powerlessness and longing, but also love and faith and hope. Once again, there can be no standout track on this album, simply because this album stands out. That's all there is to it, but it won't stop me from trying.
The opening track, "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" tells a story of the end of a relationship and captures the feelings involved, all through the drunken voice of the protagonist after spending one last evening with her. I'll skip to track three, "Radio Cure" which is should basically be the anthem for all long distance relationships for all time. The take home line is, "Distance has no way of making love understandable". Jeff Tweedy's delivery is perfect, as he is just barely even capable of completing the line, collapsing from the sadness of the song on the word making.
"Jesus, etc." presents an uncertain future and it's only answer is love. It's memorable melancholic line is, "You were right about the stars, every one is a setting sun". The last song I'll bring up is "Ashes of American Flags". This song captures the hopelessness and uncertainty of the artist in full form. It is easily the most beautiful song on the CD. It is also one entire melancholic line, which can be read here.
3. Nirvana - Nevermind
This CD defined the expectations for angry, grungy, punk music forever. Unlike the above CDs, you can actually still hear tracks from this CD on the radio. In fact, you can hear nearly every song on this CD on the radio (although you'll certainly hear some songs more than others). This CD and their Unplugged in New York CD are the only releases that are still heard regularly on the radio, and it's almost entirely because they're the most approachable (okay, you can hear a couple In Utero songs too, and the occasional song from Bleach). This does not make them bad. Of the two, though, only Nevermind is great (and not a live performance).
It's hard to talk about Nirvana without talking about Kurt's suicide, but there's another theme that gets regularly commented on about Nirvana: the fact that young people don't know anything about Nirvana anymore. Somehow Nirvana has become irrelevant to teenagers today, which simply boggles my mind. I can't even imagine my high school years without Nirvana.
All I can really say about this astounding CD is that my favorite track off it, for a long time, has actually been Lounge Act. Even though it's not really a radio track, it's just such a fun song through the voice of a controlling, paranoid freak, that I can't help but love it.
4. Neil Young - Harvest
Whoo! Hopefully this counts as the first thing even remotely like a surprising pick. Or maybe it's not, since the last pick was Nirvana and Neil Young is like the uncle of grunge or maybe the godfather or, well, something like that. You know what I mean, hopefully.
Anyways, this CD is amazing. I don't actually know all the much about Neil Young, but I know this CD has some sort of crazy story behind it. Interestingly, that's actually completely irrelevant to what makes this one of my top five greatest albums of all time. This choice is entirely about the music. And, wow, the music on this CD...
At this point, I would like to state that, in no way, shape or form, am I a fan of country music. But, I am a fan of amazingly great music, and that's what this album is. The fact that it pulled a lot of country artists in is irrelevant. Obviously, "Old Man" is a stunning song. So is "Alabama". And "A Man Needs a Maid".
But, the song that will remain stuck in my mind for all time is "The Needle and the Damage Done". I think that will remain as one of the most powerful songs ever written about any topic. I can barely even imagine what it would be like to write a song like that. If you want to hear the story behind the song, you can find it on wikipedia.
5. Radiohead - Kid A
This one was hard. I mean, how do you pick between OK Computer and Kid A? Seriously, it's like impossible. They're both amazing CDs, and in all honesty, OK Computer was probably more influential. But, there's just something about Kid A. Something intangible. Maybe it's the fact the it's more than a little scary to just listen to it.
One of Radiohead's big themes has always been about conforming and much of their most interesting music is a response to society's pressure on people to conform. My favorite song of theirs is actually from the album, "The Bends" and it's called "Fake Plastic Trees", and it really hits the ball out of the park in describing the frustrations of the pressure to conform. OK Computer explores those themes throughout the CD, especially in "Fitter, Happier", "No Surprises", and, well, much of the rest of the CD.
But, to be honest, the simple presentation of the songs on Kid A manage to capture that same feeling, just better, really. The title track makes "Fitter, Happier" sound silly and overbearing, while the entire CD is simply haunting. This CD doesn't question the idea of trying to conform, it simply ignores anything that might be like conforming and builds an entirely unique and incredible experience out of it.
While listening to this CD, you really can't help but question the world around you, because this album presents a completely different world. There is nothing like listening to this CD.
Alright, I'll try to get the bottom five up soon. This takes awhile since I'm listening to the music while typing this stuff, so give me a break.
That is all.