Tag Archives: Top 75 Studio Albums

1: Rockin’ the Suburbs (Ben Folds)

Album: Rockin’ the Suburbs
Artist: Ben Folds
Year: 2001

1. Annie Waits
2. Zak and Sara
3. Still Fighting It
4. Gone
5. Fred Jones, Part 2
6. The Ascent of Stan
7. Losing Lisa
8. Carrying Cathy
9. Not the Same
10. Rockin’ the Suburbs
11. Fired
12. The Luckiest

So here we are. When I first created my list, I had this album at #8.  But the more I listened to the albums in the top ten, the more I realized that this is the only album in my collection that I am never not in the mood for. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it’s the stripped down sound, with few instruments other than Ben’s piano (or Ben’s guitar, or Ben’s drums). Perhaps it’s because each song is enunciated so well that it makes it easy to sing along to. Or maybe, more than any other album I’ve heard, the songs are about real people in real situations. Just look at those titles. We have songs about Annie, Zak, Sara, Fred Jones, Stan, Lisa, and Cathy. Not the Same is about Robert Sledge. Fired is about Lucretia. I love stories, and these songs tell stories.

More than on any other album he’s released, Ben proves here he’s one of the best songwriters ever. Annie Waits is about a girl struggling through loneliness and bad dates and it has a sweet and sad twist at the end.  Zak and Sara is more about the delicious rhymes. To wit:

Sara spelled without an aitch was getting bored
On a Peavey amp in 1984
While Zak without a cee tried out some new guitars
Playing Sara-with-no-aitch’s favorite song

Still Fighting It is about depression and hope, taking place at an Arby’s.  Gone is the album’s weakest song, a fairly generic story about a guy holding onto a girl who broke up with him a while ago.

Then we get perfection.  Fred Jones is one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard that isn’t about death or suicide. If you’ve never heard it, stop what you’re doing and listen to it now.

Ascent of Stan is a fun song about a hippie who forgot his values.  Losing Lisa is a generic break-up song but has some a pretty fun rhythm.  Things pick back up with Carrying Cathy, an exceptionally written song about a relationship with a girl who is so emotionally exhausting to be around that the guy misses the warning signs for suicide. One line in particular speaks to me:

There were times when I’d find myself saying that:
“Friends, you don’t understand”
And “She’s different when it’s just me and her.”

Not the Same is a true story about a guy who got high at a band mate’s party, climbed into a tree, stayed there overnight, and came down a Born Again Christian. I didn’t like it at first, but it’s grown on me over the years. Rockin’ the Suburbs is the only song on the album that relies heavily on instruments, a jammer that heavily satirizes the music industry. Then we have Fired, about someone at the end of their rope fantasizing about being the boss and firing every last fucker in the office (or in their life, possibly).

The album wraps up with one of Ben’s most revered songs, The Luckiest. It’s the only pure ballad on the album. It’s obviously personal, and very sweet, but it doesn’t hit me as well because we don’t know anything about the woman the song’s about.  Still, it’s better than most ballads on pop radio and a worthy end to an amazing album.

Thanks for sticking with me through the countdown. Talking about music is tough. There’s only so many ways I know how to analyze a song and, unlike say video games, my reasons for enjoying something are less about objective quality and more about emotional resonance.

On Sunday I’ll preview the first of a few short-and-sweet countdowns (i.e., the next one will last two weeks). But before then, I’d like your thoughts on the current one. My hope with this countdown, other than getting to enjoy my collection a bit more, was that you all would find something you liked that you’d never given a listen to. Did you find a hidden gem these past few months? Or was it more like, “Seriously? Fuck country.”

2: When I Woke (Rusted Root)

Album: When I Woke
Artist: Rusted Root
Year: 1994

1. Drum Trip
2. Ecstasy
3. Send Me on My Way
4. Cruel Sun
5. Cat Turned Blue
6. Beautiful People
7. Martyr
8. Rain
9. Food & Creative Love
10. Lost in a Crowd
11. Laugh as the Sun
12. Infinite Tamboura
13. Back to the Earth

If you love jam bands, it doesn’t get much better than When I Woke. Drum Trip is just that, a long drum solo that really gets things off to a flying and energetic start, seamlessly introducing the rest of the album. Send Me on My Way is their one and only top 100 song. I used to be crazy about it, but one too many appearances in advertisements has ruined that. Thankfully, nothing else had a chance to be overplayed.

For the most part, the lyrics are not the appeal, though they are more moving on this album than on any other by the band. Cruel Sun is an epic, powerful, anti-war ballad. Beautiful People is another amazing ballad about self-doubt, addiction, and existentialist angst. The rest of the songs, for the most part, have lyrics that are about as deep as your typical country song and often make even less sense, but the wide array of instruments and vocal harmonies blend together for a wonderful listening experience.

3: The Chase (Garth Brooks)

Album: The Chase
Artist: Garth Brooks
Year: 1992

1. We Shall Be Free
2. Somewhere Other Than the Night
3. Mr. Right
4. Every Now and Then
5. Walkin’ After Midnight
6. Dixie Chicken
7. Learning to Live Again
8. That Summer
9. Night Rider’s Lament
10. Face to Face

In the middle of an amazing run where he had multiple albums on the charts and never stopped touring, Garth Brooks released what is still his best album.  A fairly dark album as far as country music goes, The Chase includes some pretty heavy themes with the exception of Mr. Right, which is a short jingle about Garth professing his undying love for a woman, but is totally okay with just sex if she’s down with that.

We Shall Be Free is an anthem for civil rights, and something rarely heard on country radio. It even implied equal rights for homosexuals. Of course, we’d learn on his next album that his version of equal rights doesn’t extend to poor people, but it’s still a pretty good anthem. Somewhere Other Than the Night is a classic Brooks ballad about specific characters rather than ciphers that anyone can identify with. Every Now and Then is another song about Brooks pining for an old flame despite being married (see: Unanswered Prayers), but this one avoids being preachy and has a very pretty melody.

The next two songs are covers. Garth’s version of Walkin’ After Midnight doesn’t hold a candle to Patsy Cline’s, but it’s nice and inoffensive.  Dixie Chicken is a cover of a 1973 Little Feat song about a guy who meets the woman of his dreams and lavishes her only to find out (in deliciously subtle fashion) that he’s about the hundredth guy who’s fallen for her.

Learning to Live Again is my favorite country song hands down. A touching, painful song about a guy with severe depression trying to force himself to socialize again by going on a double date. It doesn’t tie everything up in a pretty bow and echoes the experiences of many in a similar emotional state.

That Summer is the most popular song from the album, reminiscent of Maggie Mae, but incredibly ham-fisted. It tries to be subtle with all the sexual innuendo but I’d much rather hear a real story about these two people without all the dress-up.

Night Rider’s Lament is a tribute to the cowboy lifestyle where Garth takes his shot at yodeling and does a fine job.  Face to Face wraps things up with the album’s darkest song about bullying, rape, and hate. It’s a cold song, and I’m glad Garth did it, but it feels a bit out of place as the final song on an album.

As Garth’s home life went to hell his songwriting sputtered as well, though it may have been coincidence. Nevertheless, his later albums are mixed with a few brilliant songs and a lot of unimaginative trash. His final album, Scarecrow, released in 2001, was a slight improvement and I’m looking forward to if and when he ever records again. He committed to not recording and touring until he raised his daughters, and his last one is finishing up high school, so maybe soon. Though, I wonder if the second best selling artist of all time has anything left in the tank.

4: Before These Crowded Streets (Dave Matthews Band)

Album: Before These Crowded Streets
Artist: Dave Matthews Band
Year: 1998

1. Pantala Naga Pampa
2. Rapunzel
3. The Last Stop
4. Don’t Drink the Water
5. Stay (Wasting Time)
6. Halloween
7. The Stone
8. Crush
9. The Dreaming Tree
10. Pig
11. Spoon

The final album by Dave Matthews before he decided to try and become pop-friendly, Before These Crowded Streets succeeds brilliantly at being anything but. With the exception of Pantala Naga Pampa, which is a short-intro, every song is at least five minutes long, with five being over seven minutes. Guest musicians abound, including a recently popular one named Alanis Morissette. Many instruments are used to fill out the sound, including trumpets, orchestral strings, an organ, and several types of guitars. And the album is meant to be listened to as an album, as nearly every song has an outro that leads into the next song. Obviously, they were still able to cut a few singles up for the radio, but something got lost on each one in the transition.

Rapunzel is an up-tempo mildly erotic song and provides great energy. The Last Stop is a graphic, angry, anti-war protest song that features Dave Matthews performing an interesting deep growl. Don’t Drink the Water continues the anger, detailing horrific battles to destroy and occupy land taken from Native Americans by Europeans.

Thinks calm down a bit with Stay, but then Halloween is another angry, raw, profane song about Dave’s torment with an ex who turned down his marriage proposals.  The Stone and Crush bring back some simplicity about relationships.. Crush is one of the band’s most popular songs, thanks to a fantastic bass and saxophone opening.  The Dreaming Tree follows on its heels with another easy melody.

The album ends on a really strong note with Pig and Spoon. Alanis provides a pretty solid solo for the latter and is more proof this album wasn’t about Dave Matthews but great music. It’s too bad it couldn’t stay that way.

5: Cosmo’s Factory (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Album: Cosmo’s Factory
Artist: Creedence Clearwater Revival
Year: 1970

1. Ramble Tamble
2. Before You Accuse Me
3. Travelin’ Band
4. Ooby Dooby
5. Lookin’ Out My Back Door
6. Run Through the Jungle
7. Up Around the Bend
8. My Baby Left Me
9. Who’ll Stop the Rain
10. I Heard It Through the Grapevine
11. Long as I Can See the Light

CCR had a very short career, with seven albums in five years. Cosmo’s Factory was unquestionably their peak. Only two mediocre and disappointing albums remained, as tensions grew heavily between John and Tom Fogerty. John was the group’s workhouse, writing every song and playing multiple instruments, but he was also a bit of a control freak. While John’s career continued after the break-up of CCR, he released only two albums over the next thirteen years, thanks in part due to his disgust with his record company. John’s voice was so raw and powerful when he was young; by the time Centerfield was released in 1985, he had lost something.

Up Around the Bend is my second favorite Creedence song after Lodi. The opening guitar riff is also my second favorite of all-time after Chuck Berry’s opening for Johnny B. Goode. It’s also the perfect example of a song John could do in his younger years. I’ve heard him in concert later in life, and while he can still pull off his more low-key folk music with no problem, he cannot hit the high notes any longer. When he does this song now, it’s pretty painful. But oh man do I love to crank up the volume when I listen to it here.

The other major hits from this album are Travelin’ Band, Lookin’ Out My Back Door, and Who’ll Stop the Rain, all reaching number two on the charts.  Most Creedence fans know that the band never had a #1 hit, but had thirteen top-ten hits including seven that reached #2.  I’ve never looked up which songs actually prevented Creedence from reaching #1 and I’m afraid to. While hopefully they lost out to solid competition like The Beatles or The Stones, I’d be willing to bet there’s at least one or two mindless pop jingles in there. If any of my readers have access to the Billboard charts for those weeks, feel free to drop a line in the comments.

The reason the album is considered such a masterpiece is that the non-singles are all good as well. There are three covers here, Before You Accuse Me, My Baby Left Me, and I Heard It Through the Grapevine, and all do the original justice, if not improve them. While I prefer Marvin Gaye’s version of the latter song a bit, I do appreciate the extended guitar solo at the end of CCR’s version. Long as I Can See the Light was the B-side to Lookin’ Out My Back Door, and might be CCR’s slowest song. It’s not an emotional ballad, but it’s very relaxing and a solid end.  Ooby Dooby is a silly song reminiscent of 50’s pop music, but it’s short and sweet.  Run Through the Jungle (B-side to Up Around the Bend) is one of three songs taking place in the jungles of Vietnam that would make one believe Fogerty spent time there while in the Army. But, much like all of his songs about New Orleans and living in bayou country, he never spent a day in Vietnam. The guy’s just a fantastic songwriter.

The one song I think gets ignored and makes this album upper-echelon for me is the opener, Ramble Tamble. It’s seven minutes of mostly guitar and drum solos and it’s one my favorite driving songs. It’s almost impossible to start this album and not want to put the pedal to the floor and beat on the steering wheel. There’s an awkward break in the middle where John plays a slower-tempo solo that some complain about, but I think it’s a fine interlude before he goes on and rocks it out for the last two minutes.

Nine of these eleven songs are on the Chronicle albums, the only two being left out were Ramble Tamble and Ooby Dooby. So most casual CCR fans know this album well. If you haven’t listened to this all the way through, though, you’re missing out one of rock and roll’s greatest experience.

6: The Initial Friend (Rilo Kiley)

Album: The Initial Friend
Artist: Rilo Kiley
Year: 1999

1. The Frug
2. Papillon
3. Always
4. 85
5. Glendora
6. Teenage Love Song
7. Sword
8. Asshole
9. Gravity

B: Steve
B: Troubadors
B: Annoying Noise of Death

I’m not exactly sure what happened, but Rilo Kiley decided this EP was never quite perfect so they released three different pressings, all with a slightly different song set. Some songs were on all three pressings, some on two, and some just on one. The nine songs listed here are from the second pressing, with the three extra being from the other two.

The Frug is actually what turned me onto the band, ten years after it was released. The next song I heard was Papillon, and I was hooked. They’re still my favorite two songs from the band (indeed, Papillon is a top ten song for me), both very silly but sung with earnestness.  “Oh my god, Blake!” is a fantastically sung line by Jenny.

Amazingly, their debut album just keeps bringing the awesome. Their second album, Take-Offs and Landings, had an updated version of the song Always that is way overproduced. This version is the one you want to listen to. 85 is played with adagio speed but has a consistent rhythm that makes it feel faster than it is.  And then Glendora is a great sing-along about submissiveness and self-hatred.

Teenage Love Song is decent, and then it heats back right up again with the next two songs. They must have been in a classic-movie binge when writing this album as Laurence of Arabia  makes an appearance in Sword (with Papillon being the other mention).  Asshole is sung by the whole group for the most part, and while I don’t really care for Blake’s singing, he does harmonize very well with Jenny.

I thought Gravity was decent at first, but the more I listen to it, the more it grates on me. Like I Never, it’s very repetitive, but Jenny’s voice has this warble I can’t take. As for the rest of the songs, I usually include Steve and Troubadors when I listen to the album.  Steve is one of Blake’s best songs, just him fantasizing about killing his mom’s boyfriend. And Troubadors makes for a much better album ending than Gravity, as it has a simple, fading sound much like It Just Is.  Annoying Noise of Death is just a long gimmick of a hidden track that doesn’t need more than one listen ever.

While More Adventurous is probably a better introduction to the band as it’s better produced, better polished, and is more pop-friendly, The Initial Friend is Rilo Kiley’s masterpiece.

See everyone next week for the final five albums!

7: Warning (Green Day)

Album: Warning
Artist: Green Day
Year: 2000

1. Warning
2. Blood, Sex and Booze
3. Church on Sunday
4. Fashion Victim
5. Castaway
6. Misery
7. Deadbeat Holiday
8. Hold On
9. Jackass
10. Waiting
11. Minority
12. Macy’s Day Parade

I pretty much hated Green Day from the get go. I thought Basket Case was one of the worst songs I’d ever heard, and felt punk was just random noise with raunchy, uninspired lyrics. Thankfully, my palette improved as I aged.  Though it’s far my favorite Green Day song, Good Riddance allowed me to give them (and Basket Case) a second chance. So when Minority was released, I gave it a honest listen. Green Day was my best friend’s favorite band, and at this point I finally allowed him to share the rest of their music with me. And while I didn’t love all of it (in fact, Dookie is probably my least favorite album), I went absolutely ga-ga over Warning.

The first three songs here are loud, emotional, and have fantastic drum work by Tré Cool. Blood, Sex and Booze is one of my favorite songs, and I think the only song in my Top 500 about sadomasochism.  The album continues with original songs, having enough pop hooks to make it relevant for me while keeping the punk lyrics.  Deadbeat Holiday and Waiting are a bit generic, and Castaway has a repetitive chorus, so I don’t always look forward to those songs, but that’s really just nitpicking.

American Idiot gets all of the press (and a Broadway musical!), but it’s far inferior to Warning.

8: Brand New Man (Brooks & Dunn)

Album: Brand New Man
Artist: Brooks & Dunn
Year: 1991

1. Brand New Man (D)
2. My Next Broken Heart (D)
3. Cool Drink of Water (B)
4. Cheating on the Blues (B)
5. Neon Moon (D)
6. Lost and Found (B)
7. I’ve Got a Lot to Learn (D)
8. Boot Scootin’ Boogie (D)
9. I’m No Good (B)
10. Still in Love with You (B)

I’ve pretty much run out of things to say about Brooks & Dunn.  So I’ll just say their debut album is sensational, the first song I ever danced to was Neon Moon, and I have a client with paranoid schizophrenia who loves playing Lost and Found for me on his guitar.

9: Abbey Road (The Beatles)

Album: Abbey Road
Artist: The Beatles
Year: 1969

1. Come Together
2. Something
3. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer
4. Oh! Darling
5. Octopus’s Garden
6. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
7. Here Comes the Sun
8. Because

Medley

9. You Never Give Me Your Money
10. Sun King
11. Mean Mr. Mustard
12. Polythene Pam
13. She Came In Through the Bathroom Window
14. Golden Slumbers
15. Carry That Weight
16. The End
17. Her Majesty

The last album The Beatles recorded, where they were all pretty much pissy with each other, is my favorite, mainly because of the epic sixteen-and-a-half medley at the end.  In fact, I combined the nine songs into a medley for my MP3 player, though I left She Came In Through the Bathroom Window and Golden Slumbers as individual songs as well. The latter is an amazing lullaby while the former showcases McCartney’s passionate voice at his best. Actually, Oh! Darling showcases McCartney’s voice at it’s best. He sang the song relentlessly for a week before recording it so the final track would sound like he was hoarse, much like on Twist and Shout.  It’s definitely a song that can only be sung by a young man. I heard Paul try to sing it a few years ago and my skin nearly crawled off my body to hit the mute button.

Harrison’s Something isn’t quite as ambitious but it’s a subtle, romantic song without being cloying. Come Together is pretty damn popular and I like it alright, but I think Lennon’s best song on the album is I Want You, but then again I’m a sucker for eight-minute songs that are mainly extended jams. In fact, only fourteen different words are spoken during the eight plus minutes.

The album’s major weak spot is from McCartney with Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. It’s a fun song the first few times through, but I’m pretty much done with it by now. It’s silly and belongs on Yellow Submarine, not here.  Starr’s Octopus’s Garden comes close to falling into the same trap, but is low-key enough to not seem completely out of place.

Many feel that Her Majesty should not have been tacked on at the end, what with The End being a poetic and fitting end to The Beatles. Ah, whatever. I like it.

Like with The Barenaked Ladies, there are a plethora of songs from The Beatles that make my Top 500 that didn’t get showcased on this countdown due to being on mediocre albums (or not on albums at all!).  Here they are, a whopping eighteen more:

If I Fell
And I Love Her
I’ve Just Seen A Face
Yesterday
Two of Us
I Am the Walrus
Penny Lane
Baby You’re a Rich Man
Blackbird
Happiness is a Warm Gun
I’m So Tired
Rocky Raccoon
She’s a Woman
Paperback Writer
Eleanor Rigby
I’m Only Sleeping
She Said She Said
Hey Bulldog

In fact, Hey Bulldog is a top fifteen song for me. Yeah, who’d of thunk, it being on Yellow Submarine and all.

10: Come On Come On (Mary-Chapin Carpenter)

Album: Come On Come On
Artist: Mary-Chapin Carpenter
Year: 1992

1. The Hard Way
2. He Thinks He’ll Keep Her
3. Rhythm of the Blues
4. I Feel Lucky
5. The Bug
6. Not Too Much to Ask (with Joe Diffie)
7. Passionate Kisses
8. Only a Dream
9. I Am a Town
10. Walking Through Fire
11. I Take My Chances
12. Come On Come On

It was really hard not to view this album through a wave of nostalgia. It was the first CD I ever owned and is one of the few I still have. Three songs turned me onto country music.  Boot Scootin’ Boogie by Brooks & Dunn, Runnin’ Behind by Tracy Lawrence, and I Feel Lucky by Mary-Chapin Carpenter.  But this album is more than nostalgia.  It’s truly an exceptional collection of songs. Not that the radio is the best barometer for quality, but Come On Come On had seven singles and all seven were Top 20. Even more amazingly, the best two charting singles were the sixth and seventh.

Carpenter is a smoker and there’s a bit of gravel in her voice that works for me, especially on her ballads. Combine that with mature songwriting (she wrote every song except Passionate Kisses) and you get some really moving songs. He Thinks He’ll Keep Her is a refreshing and honest look at divorce from a women’s perspective.  Rhythm of the Blues is as soulful as one will get from contemporary country. Then we get I Feel Lucky, a very fun fantasy about winning the lottery. What would Mary-Chapin do with 11 million dollars? First things first: buy a pack of Camel’s, a burrito, and a Barq’s. She also entertains fighting off Lyle Lovett and Dwight Yoakam’s sexual advances.  Great stuff.

The Bug and Not Too Much to Ask are okay filler and Joe Diffie was definitely not needed for the duet. The flip side of the album is where its at. Passionate Kisses is about a basic need of Carpenter’s that Maslow forgot to add to his hierarchy. Only a Dream is an amazing introspective ballad. I Am a Town is pretty good poetry to music. I Take My Chances is a better written version of the “Don’t follow the crowd” trope in country music. The title track is the perfect ending to the album, a powerful lullaby.