Favorite Album by Decade

One of my beloved co-workers has initiated an important research project at the office that I have deemed valuable enough to participate in. The game is simple: one person suggests a topic (usually pop culture-related) and the rest of us have to make a list ranking our favorites. Then we have lunch to divulge and defend our choices.

Naturally, I thought that it would be fun to include the rest of you in the game.

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Topic #1: Favorite Album by Decade

Official Rules:

• Name your favorite/most important (based on what they meant to you) albums by decade released; one for the 60’s, one for the 70’s, one for the 80’s, one for the 90’s and finally one for the 00’s.
• Feel free to include a runner up for each album… I will be!

My interpretation:

Just like voting for the baseball MVP, this challenge is more difficult than it initially seems. Is the MVP the best player or the most important player to their team? Should I pick my favorite album or the album that meant most to me at the time?

I’m going to go with the album that had the biggest impact on my life at the time – in other words, the game changers.

1960s

Winner: The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Runner-up: Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

I was born in 1971 and became a music freak early. The first album I remember owning was a vinyl copy of KISS’s ‘Rock and Roll Over’ when I was in elementary school. I always received records as birthday presents for as long as I can remember.

Terrible KISS albums aside, the most important band of my childhood was (surprise, surprise) The Beatles. I can remember listening to Strawberry Fields Forever during cub scout meetings. I took a music class in middle school that studied all of the “Paul is Dead” clues (I still remember most of them.)  I loved early Beatles, psychedelic Beatles and late Beatles. Rubber Soul is probably my favorite Beatles album but Sgt. Pepper’s was my first.

When Dylan released Highway 61 Revisited, rock and roll grew up. When I first heard it, I did too.

1970s

Winner: Led Zeppelin – IV (1971)
Runner-up: Al Stewart – Year of the Cat (1976)

Picking a favorite album from the ‘70s was nigh impossible. I always thought I was a ‘60s guy but this exercise proved me wrong. I can’t believe how many amazing records were released in the ‘70s. That said I’m not sure if I ever loved an album more than ‘Zoso’. To quote Ian Faith: “The music….every cut on this album is a hit.” I drew the runes everywhere. I had the fuzzy blacklight Hermit poster. I made endless trips to the old ‘Stairway to Heaven’ store in Downtown Crossing back when Downtown Crossing was really seedy {ed. note: still is!} I don’t know much, but I do know that Led Zeppelin is the greatest rock and roll band there ever was or ever will be.

I first heard ‘Year of the Cat’ on an unlabelled cassette in a stranger’s apartment in Tel Aviv in 1987. I haven’t stopped listening to it since. The album is flawless, the playing is sublime and the production is beautiful. Al Stewart is a wonderful musician with a long, impressive career full of great records but ‘Year of the Cat’ is his masterpiece.

1980s

Winner: Tom Waits – Franks Wild Years (1987)
Runner-up: Bruce Hornsby & the Range – The Way it Is (1986)

No artist had a greater impact on my developing personality than Tom Waits. My whole beatnik-Kerouac-bohemian obsession started with Tom Waits and I ‘discovered’ Waits through the crazy, beautiful, avant-garde masterpiece that is ‘Franks Wild Years’. Waits is the most challenging artist in my record collection. His early albums go down easy, full of emotions and melodies while his late albums require time to wear me down. But after about 5 years I always wonder why I didn’t get them sooner. He’s truly a genius.

I loved Hornsby long before and long after it was cool to do so. He’s a piano virtuoso and a brilliant songwriter/performer that probably kept Jerry Garcia alive for an extra 5 years. His debut album is wonderful and the title track is undoubtedly one of the greatest pop songs ever written.

1990s

Winner: The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (1990)
Runner-Up: Pearl Jam – Vs. (1993)

While most people credit Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ for restoring integrity to rock, it was really a group of scruffy teens from Georgia that killed hair metal with the release of SYMM in 1990. From the first time I heard ‘Jealous Again’ on the radio I was hooked. Finally a contemporary band was making new music that felt and sounded like real (‘70s) rock and roll! On November 29, 1990 I saw the Crowes for the first time in a ramshackle barn called Saratoga Winners in Cohoes, NY and they’ve been my favorite band ever since. Improbably they’ve made better albums since, but none had the cultural or personal impact that SYMM did.

I didn’t get Pearl Jam when ‘Ten’ first came out. It was too loud and too fast for my delicate tastes. Vs. changed all that in a big way.

2000s

Winner: Ryan Adams – Cold Roses (2005)
Runner-up: The Black Crowes – Warpaint (2008)

I had never heard of alt country hero Ryan Adams when Phil Lesh started playing with him in 2005. And to be honest, Ryan was a messy disaster during his brief stint as a ‘friend’ and most deadheads rejected him out of hand. But some vigorously defended his work and I decided to check out his brilliant double CD “Cold Roses”. Since then I’ve gobbled up ‘Heartbreaker’, ‘Gold’, ‘Cardinology’, ‘Easy Tiger’, ‘Follow the Lights’, ‘Love is Hell’, ‘29’ , ‘Demolition’, ‘Jacksonville City Nights’ and lots of shows (thanks to the RA archive.) I still can’t believe how talented he is – as a musician, songwriter and lyricist – and I can’t understand why he isn’t more popular. One day I may regret saying this, but I honestly think that he’s on the Dylan level. That’s how good he is. Don’t believe me? Buy ‘Cold Roses’ and find out for yourself.

I never thought that we’d get another great album from the Crowes but we did in 2008 with ‘Warpaint’. It’s an older, more mature sound for the band, which suits me just fine – I’m older (and perhaps slightly more mature) myself.

Timeless

Francis Albert Sinatra

I can’t pick a singular album from Frank because I grew up listening to his box sets: Columbia, Capitol & Reprise. But when you’ve loved and lost like Frank has…well you know the rest. Frank is the greatest artist of every decade. All music begins and ends with Frank Sinatra. He is the alpha and the omega.

One of my greatest regrets in life was not seeing Frank when he opened the Knickerbocker Arena on January 30, 1990. Yes, he was old and decades past his prime. Sure I was young and broke. But I should have sold a kidney or something to get into that show.

Mitch’s Favorite Albums by Decade:

1960s Winner: The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
1960s Runner-up: Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
1970s Winner: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)
1970s Runner-up: Al Stewart – Year of the Cat (1976)
1980s Winner: Tom Waits – Franks Wild Years (1987)
1980s Runner-up: Bruce Hornsby & the Range – The Way it Is (1986)
1990s Winner: The Black Crowes – Shake Your Money Maker (1990)
1990s Runner-Up: Pearl Jam – Vs. (1993)
2000s Winner: Ryan Adams – Cold Roses (2005)
2000s Runner-up: The Black Crowes – Warpaint (2008)
All-time: Francis Albert Sinatra

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