An album per year, part 1


A couple of weeks back, I got an e-mail from your favorite defunct internet humourist Jay Pinkerton complaining that the “rat-finks” at the Onion AV Club had swiped his idea for making a list of his favorite albums for every year he’d been alive. “Those bums stole my idea!” said Jay. “Why I oughtta!” Of course, he reasoned, it was a hard case to prove that they’d stolen his idea since the only people he’d told about this idea were me and his wife, and he’d never actually written the thing, so it was probably just more of a spooky coincidence. “Still, though — why I oughtta!” he said.

I thought maybe I oughtta as well, particularly as Samurai Frog posted his own list over at Electronic Cerebrectomy. The rough notes I jotted down became more copious, as I whiled away some quiet hours at work without an internet connection with which to waste my time. With my lovely girlfriend finally back in Canada, I hadn’t had time to type them up, but I’ve disposed of her for the moment. Jeez, that sounds like she’s lying all sawn up in the trunk of a car somewhere. I simply just put her on a flight to Cape Breton Island yesterday for two weeks, which is to say that she’s staying for two weeks, not that the flight takes that long. The flight only takes two hours; it just felt like two weeks to her because of the screaming child throwing a tantrum a couple of seats behind her the whole way.

Anyway, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that, since these albums are favorites, I should have something to say about them. I’ll break the list into parts, more because of the diminished attention spans of today’s youth than because all this typing aggravates my rheumatism.

1974: Big Star — Radio City

The best deal I ever got as a CD shopper was paying $11.98 for the 1992 “twofer” CD release of Big Star’s #1 Record and Radio City. I know this because I still have the sticker on it to remind me of what a steal this was. Because of this, I think of Radio City as side two of a very long, very good album, but of course it’s not. It’s their second album, released two years after their debut and after Chris Bell had left the band he founded, though he cowrote a couple of songs, so his presence is still felt. This is the one with “September Gurls”, a perfect power-pop song I once got embarrassingly overexcited to hear being played in a shop. I get like that whenever I hear something I love that I never dreamed I’d hear outside my headphones or bedroom.

1975: Artful Dodger — Artful Dodger

This is probably what would spark my first argument with Jay. Surely Physical Graffiti should be here. I’m clearly just being willfully contrary. On the other hand, I’ve already betrayed my love of criminally ignored power pop, and when it comes to sheer obscurity, Artful Dodger makes Big Star look like a stadium rock leviathan rather than mildly famous-for-not-being famous cult favorites. But “Wayside” stands up there with anything Chris Bell and Alex Chilton wrote.

1976: The Ramones — The Ramones

Actually, I don’t really have a favorite album of 1976. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve even heard this one in its entirety, although I probably shouldn’t admit that. But I’ve always liked the Ramones, and this is the one with “Blitzkrieg Bop”, “Beat on the Brat”, “Judy Is a Punk”, and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend”, all of which I like. And given that one Ramones song pretty much sounds like another, I’m going to go ahead and assume that I like the whole thing.

1977: Meat Loaf — Bat Out of Hell

I’d love to claim Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue is my favorite album of 1977, but let’s be honest: It’s Bat Out of Hell by a country mile. Partly it’s because I grew up listening to it. It’s like how Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) will always be my favorite Beach Boys album, even though I know Pet Sounds is better, simply because my dad had it on LP and I just about wore it out as a kid. But while its legacy has been tranished by its sequels, it’s not accurate to say Bat Out of Hell is out of fashion today. It was never in fashion. It’s one of a kind in its ridiculous grandeur. It’s the sound of the Phantom of the Opera joining the E-Street Band. And it’s the most purely rock-and-roll album there ever was.

1978: Van Halen — Van Halen

Well, it’s all debut albums so far, except the Big Star, which I still kind of think of as one anyway, and the Meat Loaf, though his first one didn’t have Jim Steinman, the brains of the operation. I’d call this the best debut by a guitar god, though I could actually live without “Eruption” these days. Cock-rock virtuosity just doesn’t impress me as much as when I was a teenager. (Also: I can’t listen to “Jamie’s Cryin'” these days without hearing Tone Loc’s “Wild Thing”, which sampled it.) As a guitar-god debut, this exceeds even Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced in my books; the CD reissue that appends Hendrix’s pre-album singles and B-sides is probably better, but that’s cheating. David Lee Roth gives Van Halen the edge. Arguably, he isn’t much more of a singer than Hendrix, who didn’t see himself as a singer at all. Roth simply raised the art of being a frontman to its greatest height.

1979: The Clash — London Calling

It’s been said so often that it would be redundant for me to call this the punk Exile on Main Street or to mention that “Train in Vain” is probably the best hidden track of all time, although I just did. (Ask your English teachers about paralipsis, kids!) My personal note to contribute is this: After “Rudie Can’t Fail” appreared on the Grosse Pointe Blank soundtrack, my then-girlfriend fell in love with it. Yet, every time she mentioned it, she referred to it as “Mirror in the Bathroom”, which, as I repeatedly reminded her, is a completely different song by the English Beat. This isn’t why we eventually broke up, but it didn’t help.

1980: AC/DC — Back in Black

I’m not sure I even want this to be my favourite album of 1980. I simply don’t have any choice in the matter. It simply assumes the throne through sheer, bludgeoning force. A few years ago, I saw AC/DC at the so-called SARSStock festival, and they blew the Rolling Stones off the stage. I have a theory on why this was inevitable even though the Stones are unquestionably a better band with a greater legacy. The Stones have a deep enough back catalogue that it’s inevitable that you’ll be a little disappointed by the omission of one of your favorite songs. AC/DC, on the other hand, have just enough great songs that any setlist is going to read like a greatest hits album, and even if they leave something out, they’ve basically been rewriting the same song over and over and playing it with balls-to-the-wall intensity for decades, so who’s to notice?

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