Everyone knows the story ‘things (music/movies/TV/books) were better in THE GOOD OLD DAYS’. Whatever THE GOOD OLD DAYS means! Anyway, it is ‘common knowledge’, or is it? I had seen a ‘best albums of 1973’ list that counted down their ten best albums from 40 years ago, and then last weekend — while listening to Slacker’s “80s 90s and Now” channel — we heard songs from U2’s War (1983), The Police Synchronicity (1983) and The Cranberries (1993). So I wondered, what would be the likelihood of a song with a rhythmic and harmonic structure like Synchronicity ending up on Top 40 radio today?
I decided it would be worth putting together a list of music that represented 1973, 1983 and 1993 radio play … because it sheds such a stark contrast to whet you hear in 2013. The reality is that music is an ever-changing world, so while ‘big concepts’ dominate the 1973 list, pop-rock is 1983’s calling card and the 1993 list is just all over the place. But rather than just discuss them in detail, I wanted to put out a list of 5 albums for 1973, 1983 and 1993, with a small blurb as well as a single (live) YouTube song to represent each album … and leave the discussion to the comments.
Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon – is this ‘the best’ Pink Floyd album? As fans and you can expect a heated debate about the ranking of this compared to ‘The Wall’ and ‘Wish You Were Here’. But ask anyone to name a single Pink Floyd album to add to a new listener’s collection … it will be ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. It spent a record of more than 800 weeks in the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, and has all of the good, bad and indulgent elements that make up Pink Floyd.
The Who – Quadrophenia – Following up the epic first rock opera (Tommy) and one of the best rock albums ever (Who’s Next), we get another rock opera, one that almost destroyed the band. But whereas in hindsight Tommy looks like a somewhat thematically connected bunch of singular songs, with Quadrophenia we have mature music, mature themes, and a cohesive thread of motives and harmonies interspersed through the album. And the band was an its musical peak, so we got tremendously powerful songs such as ‘5:15’, ‘The Real Me’ and ‘Love Reign O’er Me’.
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions – coming off the immense critical and commercial success of Talking Book, Stevie Wonder didn’t break stride. Innervisions is one of his best works and one of the great all-time pop albums, something that just about anyone can appreciate. His musical genius and insightful lyrics seldom joined together so powerfully.
Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Leading off with ‘Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding’ going into ‘Candle in the Wind’ then ‘Bennie and the Jets’ followed by ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and also featuring the single ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’ … this plays better than most bands’ ‘greatest hits’ collections!
Wings – Band on the Run – Most of the former Beatles’ solo albums are mediocre efforts with one or two good songs. Band on the Run, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. Sales were a slow-burn, taking until 1974 to really take off. But as the recent reissue shows, it is a great album of excellent songs that really hold up over time.
R.E.M. – Murmur – While the Police were leaving and synth-pop was on the rise, along come four guys from Georgia with stripped down basic rock music and no gimmicks. And unlike so much other music of the era, this still sounds fresh and bristling with energy.
The Police – Synchronicity – the final Police album, and the last time I saw them live. This is an amazing exit for a great group that drown from differing ideas and one man’s ego. There is something for everyone here, from syrupy pop to rocking jams to rhythmic wonders to … Mother. Not my favorite Police album, but yet another reason they are a legendary group in the history of rock.
U2 – War – War was the cross-over for U2 and is my wife’s favorite album of theirs. They continue to be solid, stripped-down rockers, but the music is maturing. They are political and incisive, but not yet pretentious.
Billy Idol – Rebel Yell – if you were in college in 1983 or 1984 you were cranking out to Billy Idol super-loud, jumping around with a snarl on your face. Incredible party music that was danceable, singable, and totally rocked. Today we are lucky to get one of those three.
Madonna – Madonna – I have had Borderline on my MP3 players since the HP Jornada 430se in 1998 … there, I said it. Madonna was young and fresh, wrote about half the songs herself, and no one could have foreseen that instead of being on the ‘Debbie Gibson’ career path she would still be a major force in music 30 years later.
Nirvana – In Utero – the final Nirvana album doesn’t stand as tall or as bold as Nevermind, and shows at once the growth and impending fall of Kurt Cobain. That said, it was still an excellent album, one every rock fan should own.
Wu Tang Clan – Enter the Wu Tang – I will admit a fondness for early rap/hip-hop, with A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep and NWA providing most of my iTunes entries until recently, and fueling my older son’s love of the genre. He introduced me to Wu Tang, and they peaked with this deeply influential 1993 release.
Bjork – Debut – sure she is bizarre at times, but unlike so many pop stars today there is a real reason she attracts so much attention – raw talent and creativity, which was never so focused as on this album.
Counting Crows – August And Everything After – OK, so there are some songs here that were so overplayed that I STILL have no interest in hearing them, but there is no denying the impact of this excellent debut album.
The Cranberries – Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? – in the early 90s we saw loads of strong female singers leading great pop bands, but the Cranberries broke through with lyrical yet powerful hits such as Zombies and Linger. They were political in a way that is lost now, but their focus was on beautiful songs that stirred emotions.
So there you go – a bunch of albums from the decades past. I am not saying there is no good music in 2013, as there is PLENTY. But the focus on making truly great albums as opposed to a few singles and some other stuff seems to have faded long into history. I mean, I’ve listened to some of the highest regarded releases – Kanye’s ‘Yeezus’, Sabbath’s ’13’ and Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories’ – and suffice to say you won’t be deleting any of the albums above to make room on your permanent MP3 collection.
What are your thoughts?