Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Soundtrack Of McVie’s Life: The Top 25 Albums (So Far)

Entertainment Weekly threw down the gauntlet when it came up with their greatest lists. But I am not a music critic, just someone who critiques a lot. I don’t review by profession, and I don’t go out of my way to listen to music genres that don’t interest me (hello, jazz). So in keeping with the personal nature of my blog, I decided to come up with my own personal list of favorite albums.

What for me constitutes a favorite album? It should fulfill what, for me, a good album is; plus, it should be something that, overall, I personally like. In detail: [1] There is cohesiveness to the whole structure of the album, whether thematically, sonically, or (better) both. [2] I like to listen to at least 80% of the tracks. If I can listen to the whole album without skipping tracks, even better. [3] Impact and relevance—there are songs in the album that have affected me one way or another. Oftentimes they contain lyrics that killed me when I first heard them.

I’ve decided not to include “greatest hits” compilations for a simple reason—they are a cheat. They are a compilation of disparate hits culled from other albums. (There have been hit songs that were released only as singles, and they find their way into a greatest hits album. But they’re the exceptions, not the rule.) So I decided to limit myself to original studio albums.

Aside from compilation albums I also excluded live concert albums, original motion picture soundtracks (goodbye, Saturday Night Fever and Purple Rain), and thematic compilation albums (for example, the 1992 AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Dance), for simplicity’s sake more than anything.

Surprisingly, I was able to spread the love evenly between some of my favorite acts of all-time.

25. Synchronicity – The Police (1983)
The band goes beyond the rock-and-reggae simplicity of their earlier albums, and the result is the apex of their career, a gorgeous display of their individual and group strengths. Anger, sadness, fear, and sinister longings express themselves eloquently in rock and soul.
My must-listen tracks: “Every Breath You Take,” “King Of Pain,” “Wrapped Around Your Finger”

24. Mystery Girl – Roy Orbison (1989)
I love how Roy Orbison’s gloriously melancholic rock opera voice finds its contemporary match in tailor-fitted songs by Bono and The Edge (“She’s A Mystery To Me”) and Elvis Costello (“The Comediennes”).
My must-listen tracks: “You Got It,” “She’s A Mystery To Me,” “The Comediennes”

23. Body Talk – Robyn (2010)
No wonder Robyn revels in a love that’s complicated. The insistent electronic beats and bleeps in each track make every anguish and ambiguity an exquisite joy to dance to.
My must-listen tracks: “Dancing On My Own,” “Indestructible,” “Call Your Girlfriend”

22. Discovery – Electric Light Orchestra (1979)
Jeff Lynne’s Beatles-lifted orchestral rock and roll meets 70s disco, resulting in an album that’s slightly glitter-heavy but wholly joyful, from their biggest single (“Don’t Bring Me Down”) to one of those “Our maids used to sing that back in the early 80s!” ditties, the LSS-ready “Midnight Blue.”
My must-listen tracks: “Shine A Little Love,” “Confusion,” “Don’t Bring Me Down”

21. Born In The USA – Bruce Springsteen (1984)
I’m not a big fan of heavy-handed Americana, but The Boss and his E Street Band got me with this juggernaut of an album that raises the red, white, and blue flag in both pride and protest.
My must-listen tracks: “Working On The Highway,” “I’m On Fire,” “I’m Going Down”

20. Thriller – Michael Jackson (1982)
This is the inescapable album by the Gloved One that changed everything, including eventually his face.
My must-listen tracks: All except “Baby Be Mine” and “The Lady In My Life”

19. Ray Of Light – Madonna (1998)
Madonna’s foray into electronica results in a gorgeous, moody triumph that also showcases a more mature lyricist who’s still figuring out how far she can go. And “The Power Of Goodbye” is a great kiss-off song which I appropriated for my own.
My must-listen tracks: “Ray Of Light,” “Frozen,” “The Power Of Goodbye”

18. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles (1967)
If Revolver is the first shot of the revolution, the Fab Four’s follow-up album flings the doors wide open. It cements the studio recording process as art, and elevates the people behind the recording console as artists.
My must-listen tracks: “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “She’s Leaving Home,” A Day In The Life”

17. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne & Brian Eno (2008)
Brian Eno’s production boosts David Byrne’s music and lyrics into a moody mixture of old and new, elevating this album into a triumph of sound and sense.
My must-listen tracks: “Home,” “The River,” “Strange Overtones”

16. December – George Winston (1982)
The magic of winter is encapsulated in a spare solo piano album. For me, it speaks of Baguio evenings and cuddling in the cold with your college crush... who sadly is really a few feet away from you. Some of my saddest memories are found in between the notes of the calmest, simplest album in the list.
My must-listen tracks: “Carol Of The Bells,” “Variations on the Kanon by Johann Pachelbel,” “The Holly And The Ivy”

15. Surprise – Paul Simon (2006)
I’m a sucker for smart lyrics wrapped in gorgeous melodies, and for me Paul Simon excels in both. This is one of his strongest albums. I find all of his songs here dynamic and engaging, and while sometimes his poetry can a bit too obscure, in almost every song he spins a line or phrase that leaps out of the music bed and slaps me silly. Surprise indeed.
My must-listen tracks: “Sure Don’t Feel Like Love,” “Wartime Prayers,” “Beautiful”

14. Like A Prayer – Madonna (1989)
Madge reinvents and reveals herself as a serious artist of album proportions. Whereas before she seems to be just having fun pushing people’s buttons, here she shows us the childhood and adult hurts that pushes her own buttons.
My must-listen tracks: “Promise To Try,” “Dear Jessie,” “Oh Father,” “Spanish Eyes”

13. Release – Pet Shop Boys (2002)
The pioneers of electronic music dial down their synths and add guitars and actual drums to their post-electonica album. The result is a gorgeous exploration in how far the Boys can go musically and lyrically, what with “The Night I Fell In Love,” a song that details a most intriguing what-if gay encounter with Eminem. It also includes my personal musical mantra, “You Choose,” that helped me get over romantic lost causes.
My must-listen tracks: “Home And Dry,” “The Night I Fell In Love,” “You Choose”

12. Revolver – The Beatles (1966)
Entertainment Weekly named this their greatest album ever, and I agree with all of their points. But more than revolutionizing the album as art, Revolver also contains pop triumphs that pack more punch within 3 minutes or less.
My must-listen tracks: “Eleanor Rigby,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “For No One”

11. Like A Virgin – Madonna (1984)
Dear Madonna, I love you as an artist. But I love you even more back when you were more fun, and from the opening drum beat of “Material Girl” all the way to the scoop, scoop, scoop, scoo-dili-bee-bop fade out of “Stay,” every track of Like A Virgin makes me feel like I’m touched for the very first time.
My must-listen tracks: all except “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”

10. Time – Electric Light Orchestra (1981)
With synths added over orchestral strings, this ELO album finds Jeff Lynne at his most ambitious, and by golly, he barely succeeds. But while I can hear his stretch marks all over the album, his musical compositions and production values are at an all-time high. (His lyrics still remain his weakest point.) The sheer ambition and joy of some of his tracks here manage to lift this album into the top ten. Mr. Lynne, you made it this Time.
My must-listen tracks: “Twilight,” “Rain Is Falling,” “The Lights Go Down”

9.     Balance Of Power – Electric Light Orchestra (1986)
With ELO down to only three members, Jeff Lynne also scales back the orchestration and lyrics on their penultimate ELO album. What results is the finest output of the group, and some of Lynne’s most personal-sounding lyrics.
My must-listen tracks: “So Serious,” “Is It Alright,” “Endless Lies”

8.     Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (1988) & Vol. 3 (1990)
The super grouping of Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and George Harrison results in two albums that, despite two years and the death of Roy Orbison between them, sound like one big mega-album. The second album (purposely mis-titled Vol. 3) rocks just a little harder, as if Orbison took with him some of his rock elegance. No matter, the trip is just as great.
My must-listen tracks: Vol. 1 – “Handle With Care,” “Last Night,” “End Of The Line”
Vol. 3 – “She’s My Baby,” “Inside Out,” “Wilbury Twist”

7.     The Raw & The Cooked – Fine Young Cannibals (1989)
The second and final album by this British band is a blistering collection of retro-sounding (and retro-length) pop-rock gems. Each under-4 minute track (the only exception, “I’m Not The Man I Used To Be” clocks in at 4:19) manages to sound both raw and produced, making this album a seamless triumph.
My must-listen tracks: “She Drives Me Crazy,” “It’s OK,” “As Hard As It Gets”

6.     The Innocents – Erasure (1988)
Another band in the one singer + one musician mode like the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure beguiles with their 1988 album, where no track is a wasted throwaway. Their sound is a harmonious contrast of soulful vocals over synthesized precision, producing an infectious sound that uplifts even in their more serious tracks. The 7-minute finale is their take on the classic “River Deep, Mountain High” by Tina & Ike Turner, and it builds up to a joyful ode to man (Andy Bell’s vocals) and machine (Vince Clark’s programming).
My must-listen tracks: “Phantom Bride,” “Heart Of Stone,” “When I Needed You,” “River Deep, Mountain High”

5.     Ingenue – k.d. lang (1992)
Before Adele was k.d. lang. Her 10-song album is a complete love cycle, from the tremulous beginnings, to the giddy delights, the stubborn persistence, the emptiness of the crash, and the eventual resignation of the heart’s needs. k.d. lang keeps things simple, choosing hope over cynicism (how very pre-millennial, how very un-hipster) despite Cupid’s fickle arrows.
My must-listen tracks: “Still Thrives This Love,” “Season Of Hollow Soul,” “Constant Craving”

4.     Rumours – Fleetwood Mac (1977)
Knowing the tumultuous personal stories (read: break-ups) between band members as they were recording this album only deepens my respect and love for this album and all the tracks in it. It is a shining example of universal and timeless art rising out of specific, personal pain.
My must-listen tracks: “Never Going Back Again,” “Go Your Own Way,” “You Make Loving Fun,” “I Don’t Want To Know”

3.     Achtung Baby – U2 (1991)
U2 fans are divided into two—those who love everything before and including The Joshua Tree, and those who are like me. I love how the band smashes their past and creates a future that’s exciting, dynamic, and unafraid of their own long shadow as “one of the biggest bands in the world.” Innovative and brash, it grabs you from the opening slash of The Edge’s guitar in “Zoo Station” and doesn’t let go until the moody fade out of “Love Is Blindness.”
My must-listen tracks: All except “Acrobat”

2.     Very – Pet Shop Boys (1993)
The Pet Shop Boys burst into the scene with songs that drip of dry, wry, and witty observations. Very is their departure from their previous outings, with positively upbeat, even hopeful, lyrics about love, marital discord, and the peaceful life. Still, they inject a sharp commentary or two about the Queen, West End, and anonymous hook-ups. And how gayer can you get with a remake of The Village People’s “Go West”?
My must-listen tracks: All

1.     Graceland – Paul Simon (1986)
This 1986 album continues to be an eye- and ear-opener of how music can transcend genres, eras, and borders. From the opening track to the last, Paul Simon ingeniously grafts together American folk-rock and South African rhythms and beats, and layering over them his middle-to-upper crust sensibilities and concerns. The result is an album that engages, challenges, inspires, and ultimately satisfies. For me, it’s an unforgettable musical journey of epic proportions.
My must-listen tracks: All

4 comments:

80910bca-ed87-11e2-8612-000bcdca4d7a said...

omg, Fleetwood Mac is a great band!

Unknown said...

Look for and listen to this. Some covers are so so, others are great. Jack White's Love is Blindness (also in the Gatsby OST) is in my opinion better than the orig

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AHK-toong_BAY-bi_Covered

Unknown said...

Also, no OPMs? kahit sa runner's up?

joelmcvie said...

@UNKNOWN: Growing up, I wasn't a big fan of OPM. I loved individual songs, but I didn't buy any albums by any one artist. Only when I was older did I buy multiple albums by only the following local acts: Eraserheads, Parokya Ni Edgar, and True Faith. Since the sample was too small, I decided to exclude OPM. I may come up with my top 5 E-heads albums, though.