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?
61. Lauryn Hill - The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
Pop Quiz: Teacherís Edition
22) Lauryn Hill : rap :: _______ : rock a) Paul McCartney b) Axl Rose
Note: Either A or B is acceptable. Like Paul, Lauryn split from a critically acclaimed and universally beloved group for an album of (silly?) love songs that equaled, if not surpassed, the work of said group. (While Paul didnít accomplish this till Band on the Run, Lauryn accomplished this immediately. Sheís bigger than a Beatle, and also, therefore, Jesus.) Also, as deeply as I love Paul, a girl I used to love loves Lauryn.
Like Axl, Laurynís probably crazy. Iím waiting for them both.
62. Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
After I mastered the teenage boysí canon (Zeppelin, Aerosmith, AC/DC...), I wanted to somehow broaden my horizons. (I noticed the chicks werenít into the Rock.) I started my quest for new and different music, singers who sang instead of screamed, guitarists who strummed instead of soloed, art that expressed a second sweet emotion, not that thereís anything wrong with lust. I also discovered the beauty of the Beach Boys, thanks to college and music magazines. Before, Iíd dismissed them as corny and dumb, just because they sang about cars instead of lemons. But now I know theyíre sad and brilliant.
63. Moby - Play
The album begins with a banginí hip-hop beat and ends in a sort of new-age-y trance, perfect for driving and dinner parties both. Otherwise, I donít know how to describe it. Not that I need to; youíve heard it on TV Ė as well as in the movies, and probably in the mall, and anyplace else where somethingís being sold. Around track two, his shtick becomes obvious: sampled bluesmen, tinkling pianos, Mobyís own monotone and inexpressive sing. Around track three, his shtick becomes repetitive: sampled bluesmen, tinkling pianos, Mobyís own monotone and inexpressive singing. Somehow it works, though. Somehow it works.
64. 2Pac - Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.
Iím not supposed to own this album. Itís title expressly forbids me from listening. And yet, I find, whenever I play it, I not only love it, I live it for an hour. A frequently jogged to, top-five classic, itís louder and faster and angrier (and hotter) than anything else by Tupac, or rappers, or anyone else Iíd dare to enjoy, but pointed, and poignant, and sorrowful, too, with violence exposed as a sorry fact of life, caused by a society that segregates and censors, which is why Dan Quayle (!) should "eat a dick up."
Also, ĎPac predicts his death!
65. U2 - Achtung Baby
I love U2's sound here, especially the guitar, full of their trademark, chime-like reverb, and all those other supercool tricks The Edge pulls out of his stocking cap live, and also on classic records like this, as evidenced by "Until the End of the World," with playing so blistering itís on their greatest hits, even though Iíve never heard it on the radio. You hear it one time and you know itís The Edge, and then Bono wails as only Bono can, as confident as Christ himself, singing of love and also betrayal, making the whole world cry with "One."
66. Live - Throwing Copper
Live wins the nostalgia competition, beating Bush (1) as a one-album wonder, Collective Soul (2) as a band I donít hate, and everyone else from 1994 (3) as the only dudes ever to mention placentas (4). Poppy, polished, possibly perfect, this album piqued my interest as the post-grunge era peaked Ė and actually matters in my flannel-free life. From its quiet/loud dynamics to its psychobabble lyrics, somehow it transcends itself (5).
1. See also Sponge and Toadies, the
67. De La Soul - Buhloone Mind State
If you donít get Ė or donít like Ė rap, this rap album will buh-low your mind. Iíll bet you a mixtape youíll laugh at least once, another that your muscles will move involuntarily (head nods, toe taps, and ass shakes all count), and another that youíll be like, "Matt, gimme more!" Itís socially conscious and sonically adventurous, but best described with one word: fun. Thereís nothing to ponder, but nothing to fear. Itís blissfully free of gunshots and ho-downs; itís bursting with jokes and non sequiturs. Whatever youíre thinking it sounds like, it doesnít. Itís even better than you can imagine.
68. Simon & Garfunkel - Bridge Over Troubled Water
This album is as timeless as the magazines describe it. Every song is expertly crafted, perfectly played, superbly sung... It means as much to me as it does to your parents. (Also, I crossed a bridge to it once.) Itís almost like Simon issued a challenge: "Find a better writer than me. Exhibit A: ĎThe Boxer.í Booyah! Exhibit B: the title track. I double dare you not to get chills. Hereís ĎCecilia.í Play it at a wedding. (And think of your mom, who has the same name.) Find a better singer and hanger-on than Garfunkel. We represent the N.Y.C., muthafuckaz!"
69. Beck - Midnite Vultures
I canít explain why Beck is a favorite. Heís not the best musician, or singer, or rapper, or sound collagist, whatever that is, but he might be the best at doing it all. He reinvents himself better than most, to the point where not having a sound is his sound. But now Iím, like, rapping in critical jargon, instead of just singing this weird albumís praises. These songs about sexxx are truly freaky-deaky. Their unabashed horniness is goofy, not sexxxy. Their smarm is a major part of their charm. Itís totally, like, the funnest album ever. Maybe that explains it.
70. Hedwig and the Angry Inch Soundtrack
"Whatís it about?" my girlfriend asked, after Iíd recommended this movie. Well...
Hedwig is the story of a male-to-female tranny, on a quest for love and rock superstardom. "The Angry Inch" is her band Ė and her penis. Her sex-change operation got botched, you see, inspiring songs about being a freak, as well as her fear of being alone. She dreams of escaping her "Wicked Little Town" while wearing different "Wig(s) in a Box." Also, she sings about sex a lot.
Itís not a film Iíd watch with my mom.
"Itís basically a love story," I said.
So it is.
71. Radiohead - Kid A
With this album, Radiohead stopped making anthems, and made this noise pop, these soundscapes, instead, pieces of music to study and write to, and also to criticize for not being songs, even though I play these whatevers all the time, trying, no, hoping, to find what Iíve lost: joy and excitement and hopefulness itself, for music and life and their glorious potential, to shock and challenge and be an event, when someone says, "Listen," and thatís what you do, sitting with them in silence and awe, sharing a moment of wonder and terror, fearing such sublimity will never strike again.
72. Alice In Chains - Jar of Flies
Old Matt: Why the hell do you listen to this? Youíre not on drugs, youíre not suicidalĖ
Young Matt: Dude, Iím in high school. Whatís your excuse?
OM: Well, itís prettyĖ
YM: You sound surprised.
OM: Itís not like theyíre known for their quiet reflections. Theyíre known, if at all, for their caterwauling "harmonies," as well as for putting the "in" in "heroin." Itís hard to justify liking this stuff.
YM: Whatís there to justify? You said it yourself. The albumís pretty.
OM: You mean, the EP.
YM: Whatever. Itís quiet. With harmonies, yes. Itís unpluggedĖ
OM: Shh! Just listen.
73. Beastie Boys - Licensed to Ill
All throughout high school, I hated this shit, grouping it with Coolio, Sublime, and beer as things I didnít get or want to partake in, thereby making me boring at parties. (I always went, though, just to observe, hoping each time that something would happen. Also, I drank a lot of soda.) Everyone else would rap every word, the math of which seemed incomprehensible. (Werenít we all seven in 1986?) Thus, this album wasnít mine.
Later, I actually listened to it, loving the old-school beats and rhymes, wishing Iíd been cooler in 1997. This album and hindsight are both funny things.
74. Jason Mraz - Waiting for My Rocket to Come
Iím hereby starting beef with this dude, hoping heíll read this and diss me on record, thereby launching my recording career, and maybe letting me into his crew. It works for rappers, so why not singer/songwriters Ė especially ones who adore Young MC (an influence Mraz has actually cited)? Actually, despite his genre, and also despite his choirboy voice, Mrazís hip-hop jones is clear. Itís there in his humor, but also his wordplay, disarmingly witty and polysyllabic. I want to write more songs like his, if only to paint in less depressive colors Ė and also, like him, to avoid trite cliches.
75. Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks
Iíd never dispute the artistís brilliance. And yet, I seldom listen to him, favoring people with prettier voices, prettier songs, and sometimes even prettier faces. Perhaps itís because I heard him so late, or else itís because his cult turns me off, or maybe Iím just a contrarian critic, favoring "artists" who donít write their songs, but most of his music, sadly, fails to speak to me. Itís way too dense, too riddled with allusions, to resonate as more than an intellectual exercise Ė except for this album, his softest and prettiest. I listen, I mourn, I relate, I get it.
76. Nas - Illmatic
Here, with wordplay witty, gritty
Still, his wordplay murders mine
77. GZA - Liquid Swords
Wanna get your nerdiest white friends excited? Ask Ďem about the Wu-Tang Clan! Raps about swordplay bond us together; heated arguments about our favorite Wu members (GZA) and solo albums (this one) make that bond inseparable. It also makes us really loud in bars. Really, really, really loud. This album, like the others, is best left undescribed. Youíre better off hearing its sounds for yourself Ė its kung-fu samples and head-chopping beats, its battle raps and sword battle raps Ė than letting this white boy ruin it, excitably. Spilling more ink would lead to regret, kinda like spilling more blood. Or something.
78. Belly - King
If everyone I know is a representative sample, then I am Bellyís biggest fan. Some of you, I bet, have never even heard of them, much less listened to or bought their albums used. (However, if youíre curious, youíll find them in the bargain bin, next to R.E.M.ís Monster and Hootie!) History will say theyíre a Ď90s cliche, a Next Big Thing that never really was, a female-fronted curio better left unheard. Objectively, I might agree. Subjectively, personally, I disagree with history. I think, I feel, I know I love them, for sounding exactly like bands like this should sound.
79. Marilyn Manson - Mechanical Animals
He writes the songs that make the whole world kill Ė but only if you believe what you read. If you actually read his lyrics and interviews, it quickly becomes obvious that the most shocking things about this "shock rocker" are his deep insights into humanity Ė the depressed and occasionally depraved parts of humanity, sure, but humanity nonetheless Ė and his surprisingly tuneful way of conveying them. Few albums have changed my perception of an artist so completely, from willful ignorance to unabashed fandom. He writes the songs that make me want to re-read his autobiography. Music to spite other people to.
80. Ben Folds - Rockiní the Suburbs
Surely, you have your own favorite artists, those artists whose B-sides youíve purchased on the Internet, whose work makes you feel like you know them, and like them Ė like, if you got to hang with them, youíd be, like, BFFs Ė and though they might break their piano stools in concert, or crack your shit up with their giddy profanity, they also understand how to get inside your head, and also your heart and your soul. (Itís metaphysical.) Listing them empirically limits your expression Ė ranking your most-favored favorites, like, sucks Ė when all of their work, in whole, is what moves you.
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.