Gimmie Your Candidates

No, this post is not about politics. Not this week. This post is about something much more important: Perfect Albums.

Along with my good friend in NYC, I have an on-going project that we work on whenever we are together and sometimes over e-mail. Its the Perfect Album List. Albums that are great from start to finish. Every song is necessary, there is no filler and the tracks work together as a whole to create a perfect listening experience.

This is not an easy list to get on and the two of us have to agree before an album makes the cut. (We do keep seperate lists as well, as our tastes wander off in different directions. I’m pretty sure I could never convince him that anything by the Grateful Dead belongs on our list). Think of an album you like a bunch and believe might belong on the list. Go through it in your head, song by song. I bet there is at least one track that you skip or tune out as it plays. Perfect Albums are hard to come by.

As an example, here is an album that many would say is a no-brainer for the list: Dark Side of Moon. Great album, but perfect? Not quite. “The Great Gig in the Sky”, while musically fitting with the rest of the songs, seems to just take up time before “Money” (or before flipping the record, if you listen to it on vinyl). Honestly, after you sing along to the “ahhhhs” for a second in your broken falsetto, the song becomes background noise.

So the album is close, but doesn’t quite make the cut. This is all subjective, of course, but that’s the fun. What I want to know is, what albums would be on your list? Here are five  that are on my list to get you started. (These are not in any order. How can you rank perfection against itself? Really?)

1. Revolver– The Beatles

2. London Calling- The Clash (A stunning achievment,  since it is a double album)

3. Utopia Parkway- Fountains of Wayne

4. Remain In Light- Talking Heads

5. Life’s Rich Pageant-REM

Have at and choose wisely.

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21 Responses to Gimmie Your Candidates

  1. Tom_B says:

    All right, Eric; I’ll play your little game:

    If I Should Fall from Grace with God, the Pogues: This, my friend is how you rank perfection against itself. Sure and I’ll take a whiskey bottle to anyone argues with me. Yeh bollocks.

    From here on, I agree that rankings are irrelevant, so I’ll go in alphabetical order:

    1) The Trinity Session, Cowboy Junkies

    2) Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan: I’ll cop to this being a subjective choice*, and I’m more than willing to entertain arguments from those who prefer Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks, but for me this is gold standard Dylan.

    3) Ella in Rome: The Birthday Concert, Ella Fitzgerald: I hesitate slightly to include a live album, but damn if this isn’t Ella at her absolute best.

    4) Lyle Lovett, Lyle Lovett

    5) Mule Variations, Tom Waits: It’s funny, and sad, and true. It’s clever without artifice. I’ll admit that maybe one time in twenty, I have to skip past “Georgia Lee,” but that has nothing to do with quality, and everything to do with my not wanting to bear the weight of that track’s sorrow.

    *much as I would place Fables of the Reconstruction ahead of Life’s Rich Pageant, but can’t argue with Eric going the other way.

  2. Hmmm…

    In no order:

    (1) Joe’s Garage, Frank Zappa. Phenomenal guitar work, some of the most innovative rock writing ever, and the eternal question “Why does it hurt when I pee?”

    (2) Symphony No. 8, Gustav Mahler – Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Shaw, conductor. Yes, I’m kind of cheating here as it’s just one piece. Still, metaphysical perfection. (Some prefer Mahler’s 9th, with its final chord that seems to resolve only after you’ve passed through to the other side. Me, I like the whole redemption-by-love thing of the 8th.)

    (3) Birth of the Cool, Miles Davis. While I like Miles Ahead almost as much, the smaller, more eclectic ensemble of BotC (check out the phenomenal tuba playing) is as good as anything you’ll hear. And Tom, if I’m going with Ella Fitzgerald, the Berlin 1960 concert is even better than Rome in my opinion.

    (4) 69 Love Songs, The Magnetic Fields. Stephin Merritt’s main project’s magnum opus from 1999. Not every song is perfection by any means, but in this case the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re not gently weeping at the end of “Papa Was A Rodeo,” you’re not human.

    (5) The Blues Brothers, original soundtrack. “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman” – I don’t think I have to say any more.

    WF

  3. Amy says:

    Damn you – now I’ve got to go download both Life’s Rich Pageant and Fables, because I can’t remember which was better.

    I had totally forgotten about Joe’s Garage, excellent choice Wes, and I agree with Tom on the Trinity Sessions.

    I’m going to add Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska – each song stands on its own, but the combination is a harrowing snapshot of a certain place and time.

  4. DWPittelli says:

    Once in the 11th grade (1982, give or take a year) someone asked me, “what do you think is the greatest album?”

    And I responded, “you mean other than Led Zeppelin II, right?”

    And he gave me this look like I just said something rather stupid. Because of course he meant other than Led Zeppelin II. He wanted to know what was the next-greatest album.

    Of course, I am less frequently in the mental state for this album than I was as a 16-year-old.

    “Whole Lotta Love”
    “What Is and What Should Never Be”
    “The Lemon Song”
    “Thank You”
    “Heartbreaker”
    “Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”
    “Ramble On”
    “Moby Dick”
    “Bring It on Home”

  5. Eric says:

    Yeah, Zep II is a killer, but “Moby Dick” keeps it off the list for me. (never been a big fan of drum solos). I think I’d go with Houses of the Holy as my Zep pick.
    And Wes, Joe’s Garage over Overnight Sensation? That’s a judgement call, for sure, but “I’m the Slime” wins in my book.
    A few more to keep the ball rolling:

    1. Born to Run-Springsteen. Amy, I agree on Nebraska and it’s on the list as well. But Born to Run is the perfect over the-top, bambastic, too-much-is-never-enough Springsteen album.

    2. Gordon-Barenaked Ladies. There first and most fun. Every song a geeky, Canadian gem.

    3. Sellng England by the Pound-Genesis. Peter Gabriel era at it’s best. If you like pretentious prog-rock it gets no better.

    4. The Number of the Beast-Iron Maiden. Had to get to some metal. This is the apex of British Invasion Metal from the 80’s. Sorry, Lemmy.

    5. Tumbleweed Connection-Elton John. After listening to this excellent collection of Western-themed music, it’s hard to believe this is the same guy that recorded all that crap in the 80’s.

  6. Tom_B says:

    At the risk of formulating a pop music koan, Gordon raises an philosophical question: is it possible that a perfect album may not represent the best album released by a particular artist or group?

    In the case of Barenaked Ladies, I agree that Gordon is perfect. However, I would argue — drawing upon my admittedly weak and puny musicological intelligence — that Maybe You Should Drive is technically superior to Gordon. The difference is one of time, experience, and arguably, stronger producing. The result is an album that is tighter than their debut, but which falls short of the perfection Barenaked Ladies achieved the first time out.

    So, if Maybe You Should Drive is imperfect, can Gordon still be perfect? i would say yes. Anyone else care to weigh in?

  7. greg says:

    OK, wordpress ate my list. Here is the short version without comments

    U2- Joshua Tree

    Academy of St. Martin in the Fields – Bach’s brandenburg concertos 1 – 6, (199_?)

    A Boy Named Charlie Brown – Vince Guaraldi

    Prince – Controversy

    Tie – Passion – Peter Gabriel; West Side Story – Original Movie Soundtrack

    Honorable Mention – The Secret Policemen’s Other Ball

  8. Amy says:

    Greg – Firefox ate mine as well, if Live at Red Rocks doesn’t count, then Joshua Tree may be subsituted.

    I wish I could speak to either of the BNL albums, but my only exposure to them was Stunt – although they put on a hell of a concert.

    It may be a chick thing, but I’d put the Indigo Girl’s first album up against any of those on this list (and no, Zepplin would never have occured to me.)

  9. Eric says:

    Tom-
    For me, it is the unbridled energy and amateur quality of Gordon that helps to make it perfect. I agree that Maybe You Should Drive is a more polished effort with some incredible songs, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark all the way through.

    Amy-I think the Indigo Girls debut is a strong contender for the list, as well.

    The Wife reminded me that I forgot to put the two albums that sparked this ongoing waste of time so many years ago:

    Graceland-Paul Simon
    and
    So-Peter Gabriel

  10. Tom_B says:

    Yeah, I agree, Eric. I just kinda got hung up on a pointless philodophical question. All in all, though, you’re right to point out that perfection doesn’t require polish, nor does polish imply perfection.

  11. Tom_B says:

    And since you brought Barenaked Ladies into the conversation, I’ll see you Gordon, and raise you Flood, They Might Be Giants.

    Wasn’t going to go there. Felt I was being too predictable. But The Kid and I have been listening to a lot of TMBG lately, and, while your mileage may vary, I have to give it a place of pride on my personal perfection podium.

  12. Matto says:

    Hmmm… as far as TMBG goes, I’d give the nod to Lincoln (if I had to pick one of their albums, and I suppose I don’t). To me, Flood starts strong but starts to sag somewhere after “Someone Keeps Moving My Chair.” And Gordon is a far superior record over Maybe You Should Drive. The latter has a few good tracks (a few classic tracks actually), but the whole thing comes off as being pretty soulless. Unlike Gordon, which is bursting with excitement and discovery.

    Anyway (and Eric, after all the times we’ve talked about this, how come I can’t remember any of my choices), here’s one: Randy Newman’s Sail Away. I’d also give the nod to Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model. What’s the public opinion of Talking Heads Remain In Light? Yea or Nay? I say Yea.

    And of course, who can forget the Pussycat Dolls seminal PCD? Perfect.

  13. Matto says:

    Oh, and I’d put REM Automatic for the People on the list too.

  14. Eric says:

    Matthew-
    I remember having the conversation about “Automatic….” and I agree right up until the last track, “Find the River”. It just seems sub-par when put next to the rest of the line-up.
    And a big Yea on Remain in Light. I cited it in the post.
    I’d forgotten about Sail Away. How do you feel about Good Ole Boys?

  15. Matto says:

    Oh, yeah, duh. I didn’t see Remain in Light up there. I haven’t listened to Automatic.. in a while. It’s possible that I stop just before Find the River. I just have a strong impression of the SOUND of that record, and that it all seems “of a piece.” Meaning that it’s not just a collection of songs, but not quite a “theme album.” Good Ole Boys is a fine selection. It’s a lot more pointed that Sail Away and I can’t think of any missteps off the top of my head. If I had to select just ONE Newman record (and nobody’s saying I do), I ‘d still have to give the nod to Sail Away. From the seductive first track (wait, that’s about a slave trader?? Damn you, Newman!!!), to the heartbreakingly sweet (sweetly heartbreaking?) Simon Smith…, the creepy “Leave Your Hat On” and the stinging Political Science and God’s Song, it’s just pure gold.

    Good Ole Boys has a meanness to it, which as you know always appeals to me, and to Newman’s credit, he’s pretty evenhanded with his meanness (at least on this record). I suppose Sail Away is a great record to just fall into, while Good Ole Boys is a little more confrontational.

  16. greg says:

    Original Valley Girl Soundtrack which was never released in the US because of copyright disputes.

    Side A contains:

    1. I Melt With You – Modern English
    2. Girls LIke Me – Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo
    3. Love My Way – The Psychedelic Furs
    4. School Is In – Jose Cotton
    5. Everywhere At Once – The Plimsouls

    Side B Contains:

    1. Who Can It Be Now? – Men At Work
    2. Shelley’s Boyfriend – Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo
    3. She Talks To Me In Stereo – Gary Myrick
    4. Johnny Are you Queer? – Josie Cotton.

    Those of us who were new-wave geeks never had it better.

  17. Matto says:

    How about Floyd’s Animals?

  18. Tom_B says:

    Matt:

    re: Lincoln, which has many tracks I like, I will offer three little words (or, if you prefer, four little syllables) that keep it from utter perfection:

    “Snowball in Hell.”

    That said, with Flood, I will concede — and I think this is true of many of my picks, and, I suspect, some of the picks on each of our lists — that my rating is both subjective and situational. Not to get all @#$% Proust here, but I can’t separate hearing the album now from memories of how I first encountered it, you know?

    And, yeah, just to come back around to Gordon, I think I danced around the point way too much, so let me clarify my opinion once and for all: Strand me on a desert island, and offer me a choice between Gordon and Maybe You Should Drive, and I take Gordon every single time.

  19. Amy says:

    Greg – that was an excellent recommendation and now I’ll have “Love My Way” in my head all day.

    Bands who I thought should be on the list, but can’t name an album worthy of nominations: Lou Reed &/or The Velvet Underground, David Bowie, Michael Jackson (Off The Wall anyone?), The Sex Pistols, Elvis, Bob Marley.

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  21. […] Some of you (if anybody is still paying attention after my months-long hiatus) may remember a post I wrote eleventy-billion months ago on the ongoing list I keep with my friend Matthew of albums we consider perfect. That is, albums […]

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