Like a Rolling Stone

Some of my co-workers and I have been sharing some of our favorite music, rating them, reviewing them and sharing those reviews with one another. I thought I’d share my thoughts on their suggestions (and their thoughts on mine) with you here.

This week we decided each of my participating coworkers and I would share an album from Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time that we never gave a chance. Or rather, the top 100 albums up until May 2012. These are in ascending order, like how Rolling Stone had them, and after my review I’ll put my coworkers’ before I move on to another album.

Here’s how I rate things. If I give something one star, it means I don’t think it qualifies as music. Five stars mean I wish I wrote the thing. Most music for me is a three.

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) – Number 43

One of my favorite things about Pink Floyd has always been David Gilmour’s simple guitar solos. As I’ve played more fast banjo licks and done more improv solos on trombone, I’ve gotten better at my improv guitar solos, but I’ve never played a guitar solo to melt one’s face. Gratefully, Gilmour provides justification that I don’t have to play lightning-fast, gut-busting guitar solos. Sometimes less is more.

Specifically, the solos in Time and Money are great. In 2006 Gilmour said, “[My] fingers make a distinctive sound … [they] aren’t very fast, but I think I am instantly recognizable.”

I’ve listened to this album quite a few times over the years. Admittedly, I wouldn’t throw the whole album on a playlist. Really the first three tracks are one song to me, but I usually only choose to listen to Breathe (In the Air). The others are more atmospheric. Us and Them through the end of the album is also one song to me, but I might not put Any Colour You Like on a playlist.

And of course I’ve listened to this while watching The Wizard of Oz. Although it made way more sense when I watched it while I was on Valium after I got my wisdom teeth out.

This album is great. When Tim picked it, he said he thought it was overrated, but had never actually listened to it. To me that says he’s setting himself up. I totally understand why Tim might feel like it’s overrated. And it’s why a lot of other people would say it’s one of the 100 greatest albums of all time – its cultural impact. I think it’s great for its lasting musical quality. Sure there’s some weird stuff going on. It was the ’70s and these guys play prog rock. Both those things individually are going to be weird. Together, weird just comes with the territory. But they execute it wonderfully. This album easily gets a 4/5

Here’s what Tim thought:

“Yeah … this was my first listen to it…ever. So My opinion of this album falls into the overhyped category. But, I found I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It is definitely an example of a work being greater than the sum of its parts. I did feel that it kind of started losing its direction  about 3/4 of the way through, but it ended strong. So yeah, my personal enjoyment was more than I thought, but still a 3 star album (which makes me glad it isn’t higher on the list).”

Carole King – Tapestry (1971) – Number 36

I haven’t heard much of Carole King, so this is going to be a musical expansion for me, too.

Right off the bat, I was a little surprised at how funky the opening track felt. It had soul and I liked it. I was expecting more soft James Taylor-esque acousticism. I don’t mind James Taylor, but he’s not really my cup of tea. And Carole King is the female James Taylor. It doesn’t help that I thought You’ve Got a Friend was originally a James Taylor song. But it’s hers.

So maybe Taylor is the male King. Although he does have a smoother voice.

Anyway, while most of the album was exactly that kind of music, there were a couple pleasant surprises, aside from the I Feel the Earth Move, which I already mentioned. Where You Lead brought back a little Motown funk feel from the first track and Smackwater Jack had a little jazzy shuffle to it, but Beautiful was probably my favorite song on the album. And I can’t quite put my finger on why.

And as much as might not be into soft rock like this, only the title track really lost me. It seemed like it should have been a Christmas song, but she decided to change some of the words last minute. 3/5

“I love Carole King. I love her music, and the deep soul that is attached to each song. I know she didn’t write all her music, and I am fine with that, because her voice just wraps you in a warm blanket and makes you feel at home. I have heard this album before, so it wasn’t a new listen, but I never tire of it. This, combined with the structure of the album as a whole makes this a good listen from beginning to end. I had never listened to much Carole prior to my wife, but she was a fan, and I was drug in fairly early on in our marriage. But yeah, a solid album well worth a top 36 spot in the top 100, and honestly, should be within the top 25 in my opinion.” 5/5 -Tim

The Velvet Underground & Nico – The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967) – Number 12

Brian Eno said although this album only sold 30,000 copies at first, “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Also, so did a bunch of other bands who never listened to this album. But I get what he’s saying; they’re inspirational.

These guys are very much late ’60s rock. It’s a little bit psychedelic. It’s a little bit folky. It’s a little bit bluesy. But it’s not as innovative as I was expecting. Maybe that’s because their sound has been copied over the years. Maybe that’s what Brian Eno was talking about. I don’t know. I’d need to hear all the bands formed because of this album, but I don’t feel like this is that different from what was already going on. Nothing stood out to me, positive or negative. Although All Tomorrow’s Parties was kinda boring and European Son got a bit long. It’s not bad, but it’s not awesome either. 3/5

“Like Dark Side of the Moon, I felt this album was better than I expected. But, I had to keep checking the tracks because I thought I had switched to Bob Dylan (which I listened to directly after this one). I can definitely hear the influence this album had on musicians throughout the 70’s. A lot of them use the same tricks and sounds. For me, the album was really strong, until about 2/3 of the way through, then it just wasn’t good. It was like each song was written while high, and the only person who got it and understands the meaning, was the writer. So in some ways, the 2 star rating comes from the lost potential.” -Tim

Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965) – Number 4

I have some Bob Dylan records, but I’ve never listened to Rolling Stone‘s fourth greatest record of all time. Why this? Because I’m a fan of numbers one and three, and I’ve already given number two a chance (I’ll get into it some other time, but this isn’t a review of that record). This is the highest record on the list that I’ve never really listened to.

I’ve never really been a Dylan fan, to be honest. It’s not his voice (although, that’s not really a selling point), it’s the general vibe. Mostly it sounds like a stoned dude writing political/social commentary poems. And I’m not a fan of that. Maybe if I was around at the time. Maybe if I had grown up listening to him. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. So to me he just comes off as self-important.

So now I go on an objective self-assessment/Bob Dylan adventure.

I can respect his poetic writing and abnormal rhyme scheme, but for the most part his lyrics don’t mean anything to me. Sometimes it feels like he just uses words to rhyme or fill syllables with only a vague regard to the message of his song as a whole.

Musically, I liked Tombstone Blues the most. It was, to borrow a technical jazz term, jumpin’. I know Dylan was getting a lot of flak for “going electric,” as if it was a sin. But that song made no apologies. And I don’t think it would have been as good acoustic, but I’m willing to be wrong. If you know of a good acoustic version (by Dylan or someone else), share it with me and I’ll give it a listen.

The biggest surprise was Ballad of a Thin Man. I didn’t expect it to be so bluesy. The piano is just a little syncopation away from being ragtime and the organ has some serious soul. And I felt like the lyrics seemed more cohesive. Still weird, but at least it seemed to all flow together. I just didn’t expect any of it.

Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues was also pretty good, but I don’t really have much to say about it.

This is a fine album. Better than what I expected. There’s nothing super bad about it. But the whole album just seems like generic Bob Dylan. It’s folk inspired protest rock. 3/5

“I really enjoyed this album. For me, each song seemed to come from some deep place that human consciousness exists. I really felt this resonance with the feelings and frustrations he felt writing each song, despite having zero connections to the situations he described. While some might see his lyrics as meandering and force fit in an odd poetic structure, I actually felt that they were more human than most people can coherently communicate. This would have been a 4 star for me, or even 5, but honestly, I can only take so much harmonica. When it gets loud and becomes the focus it just rubs my teeth the wrong way, but works well as part of a blended sound.” 3/5 -Tim

I feel like this list should be turned on it’s head. Some of Rolling Stone‘s placements I agree with, but not all of them. And not these.

What do you think about these? Have you listened to all of Rolling Stones’ top 100 albums? Are there any people keep recommending you listen to, but you haven’t yet?

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