100 Albums. 100 Words.
by matthew webber
100 albums. 100 words. Not the "best" or "most important." Not the ones that "capture the zeitgeist." These are the albums I actually enjoy; the albums, you know, I actually listen to. The all-time, top-100, desert-island mixes. The ones that console me, cheer me, excite me. The ones that inspire me, understand me, move me. The ones I've loved again and again. The ones I can't imagine life without. The only ones worth the following reflections, all of them containing 100 words apiece. Basically, my favorite albums ever. Totally subjective? Maybe. Sure! But what's more fun than arguing music?
41. Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
In truth, P.E. never made a perfect album. Important? Innovative? Mind-blowing? Yes. Shocking? Scary? Provocative? Sure. So, even as I quibble with album lengths and Flavor Flav (a rapper much cooler in concept than sound), I know thereís much more to love than to dislike: Lessons in history, sociology, politics. The loudest, craziest, most sample-licious beats. Chuck Dís booming baritone flow. An album, an experience, that changed this white boyís life. And Flavor? Fine. The jester breathes fire, damning 911 operators as Chuck damns everything else. The standard to which all rappers should aspire, of which P.E. itself falls short.
42. Coldplay - Parachutes
A funny thing happened when I tried to write a novel: My narrator turned me on to this album. I already owned it, I already liked it, but somehow I decided my narrator loved it. In fact, he played it whenever he wrote, so I started to play it whenever I wrote. A cup of coffee, my favorite chair, and quiet, pretty, ethereal anthems, pretty much every day for a year. The character was already a stand-in for me Ė and then I became a stand-in for him. Truth is always stranger than fiction, unless that truth contains melody and atmosphere.
43. Beastie Boys - Check Your Head
Really, the Beastiesí third debut album, or at least their second reinvention, this album is the first where they sounded like grownups. Thatís probably the reason I love it today. Regrettably, however, my fandom is retrograde: I claimed to hate rap in my post-grunge youth Ė even rap made by nerdy, whiny white boys Ė so I missed my chance to grow up with these boys. In college, when I finally realized what Iíd missed Ė and realized my ignorance, stupidity, etc. Ė theyíd long since discovered love and spirituality, in addition to videos chockablock with robots. Hence, their music has aged very well.
44. John Mayer - Heavier Things
For the first time ever, an artist truly spoke for me, or at least for the way I wanted to appear: confident but full of questions, knowing thereís something greater than myself, fearing Iíll never discover my purpose. It also helped that I viewed him as a peer, similar in age and singing poppy tunes. (His were better and bluesier than mine.) This album was something to share with my friends, a classic we envied but also admired. Basically, it dropped at the perfect time and place, starting my shift from hard to soft, admittedly making me boring and old.
45. Prince - Purple Rain
Hereís my dilemma: Music or history? Criticism or autobiography? Princeís success or my elusive searching? I bought this tape the same year as Tapestry, not that it matters, really, at all, except to me, or maybe to you, as each new album, experience, etc., teaches and changes its listeners forever, always adding, never subtracting, notes and quotes and theories on art, discussion topics for fans and friends (one of whom wrote his thesis on the guy)... Can I just say these songs are catchy Ė and even though theyíre in my life now, I really regret those years when they werenít?
46. Van Halen - Van Halen
Oh, to be sixteen again, discovering the music of teenage boys everywhere, blasting this album in bedrooms and cars Ė the most exciting thing to happen in those places Ė rocking out on air guitar in homage to my hero, knowing that music has never sounded better Ė or louder, at least, and faster! faster!! faster!!! Praise be to Eddie, like Jimmy before him, and Jimi before him, and other guitar gods and magazine cover boys, who gave me their religion, the one I still practice, playing my guitar and this album even now, admittedly worshiping crappier deities. Oh, to not be old!
47. Tori Amos - Under the Pink
I know this guy whoís in a cult. He shares his religion with everyone he meets, giving them lectures, CDs, and books. He goes to these rallies with thousands of people, waiting in line for the chance to see his priestess, conjuring spirits, speaking in tongues. And he wonders why people donít want to listen, devoting whole days to just one voice, finding her influence in every other woman? He mustíve forgotten his first scared impression, finding his roommateís bootleg collection, before he developed his own sick obsession. He listens, sings, loves, quotes: "Need a woman to look after you?"
48. Nellie McKay - Get Away From Me
"When my buddy Matty G said, ĎMatt, Iím gonna marry her,í I thought he was just a delusional fan, kinda like me at ten or eleven, telling my friends I would marry Nancy Drew. (Pause for laughter.) But Matt was serious. And twenty-five years old. (More laughter.) Of course, I had a crush on Nellie myself Ė I even introduced her Ė but how can you not when sheís so darn adorable? She sings, she raps, she plays the piano. She even has beef with Norah Jones Ė even though Nellieís a vegetarian! (Uproarious hilarity.) Actually, I love her, too. (Gasp!) To Nellie!"
49. Kanye West - Late Registration
Some days, I think Iím the best critic ever, not just of music but of anything artistic. Other days, I know Iím the best unknown writer. Iím certainly the best who lives in my apartment, which also means Iím the most egotistical, the most apt to mimic Kanye Westís delivery. If I believe it, it might come true, and I might earn the equivalent of platinum plaques and Grammys. I might create something this musically adventurous. (A book on tape with Ray Charles samples?) Even as Kanye mocks my degrees, he inspires me not to let crappy rapping stop me.
50. Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin
14) I only wrote this down to earn some indie cred.
15) Ha! As if. I have indie cred to spare.
16) I pretty much hate all music thatís fun.
17) These answers are true, and the earlier ones were false.
Fill In The Blank
19) "Race for the Prize" is the ____ song ever about scientists.
20) "Waitiní for a Superman" is the ____ song ever about Superman.
21) This album sounds like:
51. Fiona Apple - Tidal
Her next two albums were all about production, while this, her debut, was all about the lyrics, sung in a voice both sultry and scary, bigger than her body and wiser than her years, vivid and honest and painful and real, like nothing else Iíd ever heard (I didnít know Tori or Aimee just yet), a welcome alternative to phallocentric rock, an early text for my feminist bookshelf, five gold stars for my misses-education (I still donít know when to hold back the wordplay). This album didnít change my life, but it did change the type of music I liked.
52. Aimee Mann - Magnolia
The best soundtrack ever to the best movie ever.
The perfect marriage of music and film, both of which comfort me in sickness and health, with songs and scenes Iíll remember till death, praying for redemption and less clunky metaphors.
Am I a guy "in need of a tourniquet"?
God, I wish I wrote with such grace.
God, I wish my voice was so distinctive.
God, I wish I were Aimee Mann.
Lyrics much better than any of my words. A sound so perfect I canít do it justice. A singer, musician, writer, artist to whom I owe an apology.
53. Nada Surf - Let Go
In the past two years, since I started my novel, Iíve written more words on this band than any other, coming to terms with our buzzed-about pasts, albeit through the words of my Matthew Webber stand-in. (Thereís a kid whoís got it figured out!) For one-hit wonders and valedictorians, the future seemed limitless in 1997. Now, weíre joined in tiny clubs by dozens of travelers whose moments have passed, singing and swaying along to these words: "I wanna know what itís like on the inside of love." If they can continue to grow, so can I. Maybe Iíll let go.
54. Tears For Fears - Songs From the Big Chair
I did a disservice to Prince by not praising him, ignoring his pop to talk about myself, failing to mention the funk that angered Tipper. I also didnít mention how much I hate the Ď80s, musicís fakest and cheesiest decade, which is why Iím having trouble here big-upping Tears For Fears. I love the way these guys write songs: quiet buildups, hooks galore, synthesizer fills that enhance instead of dominate. Again, the hooks, like a kindergarten coatroom. And thatís why this album transcends my eighties-phobia, probably because I discovered it later, thanks to a girl who made me a mixtape.
55. David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
I hear this album; I hate myself. Not because of its interstellar rock, but because of how late I discovered David Bowie. I didnít own this album until my mid-twenties, even though Iíd listened to scores of his apostles. Now, I hear traces of Bowie almost everywhere, which wouldíve been cool to have noticed in my youth, back when I was rocking the "classics." Instead of progressing from Nirvana to Bowie, I regressed from Nirvana to bands their singer hated, whose albums failed to educate or challenge me. Damn the corporate-rock hegemony! I learned too late this album kicks ass.
56. Beck - Odelay
Except for Sea Change, Beckís music doesnít move me. I donít play his albums to dwell on my emotions. Instead, I play them because they move me. They actually make me want to dance. Itís weird, because theyíre not really dance music, a genre I "hate" or "donít understand." Theyíre not really rock, or rap, or funk. Instead, theyíre experiments, collages, mashups. Also, of course, theyíre totally Ď90s, even the ones heís made in the Ď00s. And this one album, the one heíll never top, sounds like the whole of my music collection, even with just a sampling of country.
57. The Muppet Movie Soundtrack
For a bunch of puppets, these things emote! Their voices arenít what youíd call technically good, but they carry the tunes and the weight of the world. More than just a soundtrack to one of my favorite films, this album is a soundtrack to all my favorite dreams: making friends, falling in love, and daring to dream at all. Plus, according to Webber family lore, this record was the first in my now-expansive library, a gift for Ė sigh, do you really wanna hear it? Ė successfully going potty. Sigh. Regardless of that, these songs remain magical, for lovers and dreamers and you.
58. Nirvana - In Utero
Another awesome soundtrack to physical exertion, this album by Nirvana (again) kicks ass. Guitars are shredded, (ear)drums are punished, and feelings are screamed and literally bled. We actually studied these lyrics in school Ė albeit in a lesson by an eager student-teacher Ė not that I knew them without the helpful lyric sheet, not that I know what all of them mean. I do know, however, the images linger, the screams sound primal even today, and the scholarly treatment hasnít ruined my band. Another awesome soundtrack to being young and angry Ė or being old and mellow and feigning youth and anger.
59. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV A top-ten album when I was twelve. A top-twenty album when I was sixteen. But now that Iím the age when rockers start to die, I donít need this album, this band, in my life, at least not every day after school, or pretty much the whole damn weekend, working out or re-reading The Hobbit or aimlessly driving around and around, turning it up till it shakes my rearview mirror... which doesnít mean I hate them or never want to hear them. (Iíll never grow out of playing "Stairway.") I just donít love them as much as I used to.
60. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin II
Again, I like them. Really. I do. I recognize their influence on music and my life, as well as how awesome they sound when I need them. But this bandís fans have told me I suck, since Iíd rather spend time with Mayer and Mraz, artists who actually speak to me today. My tastes have been replaced along with my cells. But these two albums? Fine. They rock. A punch to the gut and a kick in the nads. The music, really, is unimpeachable. Still, I canít defend the words: "Squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg?"
Got some free time? Wanna write something? This "100 Words" project is open to everyone. If you like what you see here -- or, even better, if you think it sucks -- Iíd love to see a list from you! What are your own favorite 100 albums? Films? Books? Breakfast cereals? Mustaches throughout history? The possibilities are truly infinite. Just rank your favorite whatevers (thatís the fun and easy part), describe them in EXACTLY 100 words (thatís the challenging but fun part), and post your list. Then we can trade our links Ė and our arguments. For more information, e-mail me at email@example.com.
All words were counted using the Word Count tool in my version of Word Perfect.
Visit the author's website at www.matthewwebber.net.