Underated and sometimes forgotten
Perhaps you didn’t know, but a few weeks ago I resigned my full time position as Casa JLo’s writer-in-residence and dipped a toe back in the world of the employed. So far things are going well. I do enjoy actually getting paid for my labors, even if that means my ability to write here is drastically curtailed and my contentious relationship with East Orlando’s Lululemom community has been effectively ended. It was a good run; no regrets.
One of the things I’ve had to readjust to is office life, namely how do I get the music that I need to get through my day piped into my headphones? Internet access and software downloads are pretty tightly controlled, so that means no Spotify on my laptop, and I don’t feel like burning my entire data allotment running the mobile app each day. This means that my old ipod, Jolene (yes, I name my ipods – shut up), was called out of retirement after a lengthy update and refurbishing a few Sundays ago. One benefit of this has been renewed mobile access to one of my favorite albums, Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which isn’t available on the streaming service.
It dawned on me while I was listening to it that it had been far too long since I had listened this really exceptional album, and that it seems like that more people know of or associate In Rainbows with the surprise announcement and unique “pay what you want” distribution scheme that accompanied its release than with the actual music. (It’s easily one of the three best Radiohead albums ever, and, I’d argue that with the inclusion of one or two tracks from the bonus disc that was eventually released, you could make the case for it being their best.) That got me thinking about other albums that are under-appreciated for one reason or another, and a top ten list quickly began to take shape. Some of these are records by classic artists that simply were overshadowed or unfairly maligned, while others are albums from, hmm…let’s call them lesser regarded acts, that were really well received at the time but their reputation has faded a bit over the years.
Here’s what came to mind, in no particular order, other than that which I thought of them.
Radiohead – In Rainbows: Well, obviously. See above. Essential track: All I Need, but really, any of them.
Pete Yorn – Musicforthemorningafter: This was a really big record when it came out both commercially and critically, and it is stacked with really solid power pop songs that all hold up well today. A lot was expected from Yorn after that, and though he’s had a fairly interesting career since then, nothing he’s released has matched this debut, which has caused it to fade from the collective consciousness. Essential track: For Nancy (‘Cos It Already Is)
R.E.M. – Up: Yes, it is too long and could stand to lose a track or two, but in retrospect this is turning out the be the standout record of the R.E.M.’s post Bill Berry output. If you know me at all, have read this space long or recognize the origins of this title of this blog you know my passion for this band, so for me to call this the 8th best of their albums is high praise. Essential track: Falls to Climb
Pink Floyd – Piper at the Gates of Dawn: Ok, I’m one of the 6 people in the world that prefers Syd Barrrett-era Floyd to just about everything that came after it. What can i say? I dig the psychedelic weirdness more than the Prog rock pomposity, though I’ve made my peace somewhat with Floyd in recent years and no longer reflexively throw their music out of the car window when people try to put it on (and, for the 1000th time, sorry to Mrs. Lo for what happened to your tape copy of Dark Side and thank you for viewing my younger terminal intensity when it came to music as an endearing quirk rather than the obnoxious jackassery that it truly was). Essential track: Interstellar Overdrive
Counting Crows – August & Everything After: Steve Hyden did a much better job explaining this in a Grantland piece that I ever could, so I’ll just simply remind you how huge this record once was and how many decent to really good singles it has and you know you tap your feet and sing along when Mr. Jones come on and nobody is looking and holy crap this record is 20 years old! Essential track: Mr. Jones
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline: It seems like every Bob has gotten his due except Country Bob, but dangit, he’s one of my favorites, even with the creepy, where-the-heck-did-that-come-from-lounge-singer-voice on Lay Lady Lay. It’s not as if this one has been ignored at all, it’s critically well received and one Dylan’s best selling records, but it seems too often overlooked these days when discussing Dylan’s essential work. It’s got a duet with Johnny Freaking Cash, people! That alone makes it worth more than your average record. Essential track: Girl From the North Country
Men at Work – Business As Usual: When frequent reader and commenter Parker offhandedly dissed Men at Work in a comment on my Hoodoo Gurus post a few weeks ago, I was prepared to react in my usual fashion and fire off several thousand words of righteous indignation defending them, but alas, this will have to suffice. This records holds a solid place on my vinyl shelf and I will not stand to hear a word against it! (how’s that for a reason?) Essential Track: Overkill (yes, I know it’s not on this album, but I just really like that song)
Michael Jackson – Off the Wall: I’ve said this many times before – I know that everybody’s favorite pop album is Thriller, but Off the Wall takes it behind the woodshed and gives it an old fashioned whoopin’. Plus, it’s the last MJ record before he started to descend into one sequin glove weirdness. Essential track: The opening Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough/Rock With You/Workin’ Day an Night salvo on side 1 is as good as any pop music ever produced.
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience: Yeah I know this won Grammys and sold a bunch and we’re all getting kind of sick and tired of seeing JT literally every time we turn on a TV, but I still feel like this record isn’t getting the love it deserves. Some of it is a total hot mess – thanks for playing Spaceship Coupe – but any record that has songs as good as Pusher Love Girl, Suit and Tie, and Mirrors (I used an Oxford comma there because it was needed for clarity, but most of the time it IS NOT NEEDED. The key is to know when. Whew, sorry about that, but I needed to get that out. End of strange parenthetical rant but Oxford commas are the devil) deserves all the love we can give it. I have the feeling if JT had backed off on all of the extended outros (it’s cool one and a while, but for EVERY SONG? Sometimes brevity is a good thing) and hadn’t rushed out the egocentric 20/20 Part II so quickly that what he accomplished with the first record wouldn’t be overlooked the way it has. Essential track: Pusher Love Girl is the Sexual Healing for the new millennium.
Lou Reed – New York: With all of the praise rightly making the rounds after Lou’s recent passing, I feel like this stellar record has been overlooked a bit. Lyrically it’s just immense and probably the equal of anything Dylan has ever done. I played this record relentlessly when it came out in the late 80s (was it 1989?) and continue to do so frequently today and I never tire of it. Essential track: Dirty Blvd.
A few more records sprang to mind while I was writing this, but I’m satisfied with this list. What did I get completely wrong? What would you add or subtract?
Posted on February 9, 2014, in Music and tagged Bob Dylan, Counting Crows, Justin Timberlake, Lou Reed, Men at Work, Michael Jackson, Pete Yorn, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., Radiohead, Syd Barrett, underated albums. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.