Random Album Recommendations

Album: Fulfillingness' First Finale (1973)
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Comment: This album was made just after Talking Book and Innervisions and before
Songs in the Key of Life
, and it's better than all of them. There is a coherent emotional
narrative that runs through the whole album, though apparently I'm the only one who
hears it. "Please Don't Go" is the greatest song ever, and it's not on any of his
compliation CDs that I know of which kills me.
 
Album: Ring-A-Ding Ding! (1961)
Artist: Frank Sinatra
Comment: The one album Sinatra made with arranger Johnny Mandel, who was
admittedly just ripping off two other more famous Sinatra arrangers (Nelson Riddle and
Billy May) but making everything slightly harder and brassier. Sinatra at the peak of his
power and cockiness. This music works for every conceivable mood you could ever be
in. A close second on my list of favorite Sinatra albums is Come Dance With Me.
 
Album: Everything Must Go (1996)
Aritst: Manic Street Preachers
Comment: No one's heard of these guys in the US. They're very very good and this is
their best album (along with The Holy Bible which is quite different and not for
everybody). Co-lyricist/rhythm guitarist Richey James dropped off the face of the earth
when they started working on this album, so half the songs use his lyrics and the other
half indirectly address his disappearance. It's all solid guitar-based rock and superb
songwriting, and there are good examples of what I consider essential, non-gratuitous
string arrangements.
 
Album: Security (1984)
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Comment: He was doing the world music thing before it was cool, but he was using it
as an expressive tool rather than just a sonic novelty. Each song on this album is its
own rich world, flourishing under the terms it defines for itself. The results are either
terrifying or sublime or both. Also highly recommended: Peter Gabriel 3 (the one with
his face melting on the cover) and So -- I consider that progression of three albums the
greatest string in the history of pop music aside from the Beatles Rubber Soul/
Revolver/Sgt. Pepper's
.
 
Album: Night Beat (1963)
Artist: Sam Cooke
Comment: One of the greatest soul voices ever making a "concept" album a la
Sinatra's Capitol albums. The originals blend in with the standards so seamlessly that
you can't tell you haven't heard them before (in a good way). I don't know anyone who
wouldn't like this album.
 
Album: Selmasongs (2000)
Artist: Bjork
Comment: It's short, and it's a soundtrack album, but that makes it unified and
consistent, and it's the best use of an orchestra in this idiom I've ever heard. The songs
are made up exclusively of orchestra, sampled beats/noises, and singing. The first
track may seem like a dispensable instrumental, but the way it is transformed by the
last track makes it all worth it. The movie for which the songs were written is definitely
elevated by the songs, but the songs are not necessarily elevated by the movie -- the
CD is worth appreciating on its own terms. I enjoyed the "counting" song ("107 Steps")
more when I didn't know the context of the steps she was counting.
 
Album: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
Artist: Derek and the Dominoes
Comment:
Undoubtedly Eric Clapton's masterpiece, I would argue that this is the
greatest double album ever made.  Better than the White Album, better than Exile on
Main Street, better than Songs In The Key of Life. You heard me. For those of you
unfamiliar with the story behind this album: Cream had bitterly broken up, the
supergroup Blind Faith with Stevie Winwood had collapsed after one album, Clapton
was obsessedly in love with George Harrison's wife Patti, and he was in the late
stages of a severe heroin addiction which would take him two years of near-seclusion
to get clean from. After performing anonymously on George Harrison's epic "All Things
Must Pass" album, he took that band's rhythm section, added the GREAT GREAT
blues slide-guitar player Duane Allman, and recorded this album of originals and blues
standards with a very palpable, terrifying, and heartbreaking desperation. Bobby
Whitlock, the organ player, co-wrote many of the originals and added his manic, soulful
high backing vocals to pretty much everything on the album, acting as Paul McCartney
to Clapton's John Lennon. (And the very appropriately sad and understated final track
is Whitlock's entirely.) The album would be great just from listening to Duane Allman
and Clapton push each other to virtuousic heights, and it is endlessly rewarding to
listen to the album focusing exclusively on each guitarist's playing. But the transcendent
feature is Clapton's (and Whitlock's) hopeless, unrequited passion. It's like watching
someone kill themselves right in front of you.
 
Album: Rubber Soul (1965)
Artist: The Beatles
Comment: Obviously I'd recommend everything the Beatles ever did, but this album
more than the others defines the "Beatles sound" to me: the ringing crunch of the
guitars; the square drum fills; the busy bass lines; the three-part vocal harmonies on
everything. I always felt like Paul "framed" the band's sound because of his bass
playing on the bottom and his high vocals on the top -- the value of such a high voice
always willing to add harmony to anything -- and that John and his voice and songs
were the core. John's love songs on this album had reached levels of sophistication
which he would never surpass ("Norwegian Wood", "Girl"), and in fact he didn't write
another romantic love song for years. Paul, I think, was finally "catching up" to John as
a songwriter at this point, and this is the first album where I feel like his contributions on
the subject ("You Won't See Me", "I'm Looking Through You") don't feel incongruous in
the flow of the album. George's two songs are also, for the first time, up to par with the
others. (I always felt that George wasn't confident in his songwriting until he saw the
other two move away from conventional sappy love songs, a subject he never seemed
comfortable handling. Of course he would then go on to write the greatest conventional
sappy love song in the whole Beatles catalog, "Something".) Hell even the Ringo song
doesn't suck. The purity of the sound and the songwriting makes this their best album
for me; there's no weirdness-for-weirdness-sake which affects some of their later
albums.
 
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