Tuesday, February 28, 2012

1978-9 (And then some)

I haven't written one of these 'Best of an Era' posts since April but I've still been listening to records from a different era every month since then. I've ranked them just for fun, but I decided not to post any words here as I've been quite busy adapting to this new life in Hong Kong. But after eight months abroad, I'm ready to ease back into music criticism. So, I've decided to resume these monthly imaginary medal ceremonies. Here is the best of 1978 to 1979.

Gold Medal: London Calling by The Clash

I've never really enjoyed anything labeled 'punk'—anything other than The Clash that is. Of course, many would call London Calling an esoteric blend of many genres rather than simply punk music. Still, it's the defining album of a defining punk band so by that logic...it's punk. With these nineteen songs forming one powerful punch in the gut, The Clash's first double album did more to vindicate waning late-seventies rock and roll than just about any other record in the era. No holds barred is an understatement. This is music to awaken the beast that every clueless disco dancing teenager didn't know they had. And the best part is, it doesn't take itself to seriously. It's angst-ridden as hell but also tongue-in-cheek. Never again will there be a rock statement quite like this.

Silver Medal: This Year's Model by Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello has had a prolific career but nothing has been quite as sublime as his first two albums. After the simple but brilliant debut, My Aim Is True, Costello put out the record with an album cover and a sound that solidified him as a true nerd of rock and roll, decades before Weezer. Starting with  the surging "No Action," every song on this record is memorable; they're chalk full of clever hooks, clever lyrics and clever instrumentation. Sure, there are other words that can be applied, but pure cleverness seems to radiate from every aspect of this album. This is pop, but with a quirky side that set the stage for hundreds of snide acts that followed. And just for what it's worth, Clash guitarist Mick Jones appears on "Big Tears," making him present on two thirds of this list. What an honor for him :)

Bronze Medal: Further Adventures Of by Bruce Cockburn 

While the first two records on the list are deeply associated with the crowded, dingy venues of London, Bruce Cockburn’s Further Adventures Of is right out of the Canadian wilderness; it even concludes with a dog’s bark. Blessed with prodigious acoustic guitar skills and an expressive voice, Cockburn’s songs have titles such as “Bright Sky” and “Rainfall.” The mood of the album is serene at times but these songs are far from background, relaxation music. Many tracks are set up to evoke powerful imagery of class conflict and unrest. This record is genuine, providing thrills but no frills. It’s hard to say why Bruce Cockburn is hardly even known outside his home country.

And here's some rankings from previous months. Sorry that there are no descriptions. 

April: 1966
1. Revolver by The Beatles
2. Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys
3. Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dyland

May: 1976
1. Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder
2. The Royal Scam by Steely Dan
3. A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra

June: 2006
1. The Crane Wife by The Decemberists 
2. Yellow House by Grizzly Bear
3. The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian

July/August: 1967
1. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles
2. Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles
3. Buffalo Springfield Again by Buffalo Springfield

September: 1977
1. Aja by Steely Dan
2. Animals by Pink Floyd
3. Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

October: 1997-8
1. OK Computer by Radiohead
2. Either/Or by Elliott Smith
3. XO by Elliott Smith

November: 2007
1. In Rainbows by Radiohead
2. Bayani by Blue Scholars
3. Nighttiming by Coconut Records

December: 2011
1. Helplessness Blues by Fleet Foxes
2. Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Girls
3. Bon Iver, Bon Iver by Bon Iver

January: 1968
1. The Beatles (The White Album) by The Beatles
2. Oddesey and Oracle by The Zombies
3. Music from Big Pink by The Band