Clockwise: N.W.A., Sonic Youth, Living Colour, Tracy Chapman, Voivod
The other annual award show recognizing the musical achievements of the past year has arrived. Suffice to say this years crop is just not appealing at all. Although citing music from three decades ago makes it obvious that I will not appreciate this years nominees efforts. (Except for Childish Gambino’s incendiary dystopian anthem “This is America”, but that is more like a film short than a hit single)
So just like last years rundown, this year list of the best music from 30 years ago coincides with the dubious musical achievement awards and also around the time when the late, lamented Village Voice would compile their Jazz & Pop best music polls.
It begins with the Rap category, for 1988 was the start of what’s now called Hip Hop’s Golden Age, being that it went from a mostly 12″ single to a full album format.
N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton
The Niggas With Attitude; Ice Cube, MC Ren, DJ Yella, Dr. Dre and Eazy Motherfucking E dropped this unrepentant, unapologetic and uncompromising hour of blistering rap on an unsuspecting audience and eventually unprepared authority establishments. This was the most vitriolic album since the Sex Pistols debut and probably surpassed that album’s own nihilistic themes. The title track is one of the best opening songs ever and is basically their theme song, “Gangsta, Gangsta” is Ice Cube and Easy E bragging fulfilling their verbal ultraviolent fantasies.
Sandwiched between those songs is the most notorious song ever composed, “Fuck The Police” which instantly became an anthem for the repeatedly harassed and evolved (or devolved for those offended) into mass street protests later on in the face of heavy riot police deployments. The wicked thing about that song is that while Cube, Ren and Eazy are sharply critiquing and bitterly generalizing their targets, the first and next song would give the police the justification to profile them.
But this album is not just revered for it’s lyrical mayhem, but also it’s music and production by Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. It’s hardcore and minimal just like BDP’s Criminal Minded from ’87 but more melodic and catchy, and interpolates sampling with live instruments just like the old school classics of the Sugar Hill singles.
And it actually doesn’t have any filler which mars most albums that have two or three standout tracks. “Parental Discretion Is Advized”, Eazy’s “8 Ball”, Cube’s “Dopeman, Ren’s own two solo cuts and the hysterical vulgar duet between Dre and Ren on “Compton’s in the House” are also stellar. But Dr Dre’s rap remake of “Express Yourself” exhibits Dre’s own skills as a deft M.C. in the album’s only song of uplift that is as lyrically moving and inspiring as a Curtis Mayfield composition.
Later this band and album wound up getting the attention of Commissioner Louis Freeh’s F.B.I. who sent them a tax-payer wasting futile warning letter, which only exceeded the reach and sales of the album. And in a hilarious twist of fate, led the album to it’s induction in the Library of Congress last year. So after all that controversy and attempt at oppression, Straight Outta Compton will endure infinitely as a expressionist piece of American history just like a Norman Rockwell or Grant Wood painting.
Big Daddy Kane, Long Live The Kane
The Brooklyn M.C.’s name is an anagram for King Asiastic Nobody’s Equal and around the time this classic was released, he validated it by being the Cold Chillin’ house lyricist, writing timeless singles for labelmates Biz Markie and Roxanne Shante and putting out this classic. Brilliantly produced by Marley Marl with the music assembled by the outstanding DJ Mister Cee, it starts off and hits like Mike Tyson charging at the bell with the title track followed by the hectic back to back songs “Raw” and “Set It Off”, which are densely packed with mind blowing mic and lyrical skills and witty wordplay (best line “so full of action, my name should be a verb).
Despite the momentum killing but still good and poorly sung ballad “The Day you’re mine”, the album jumps off again with a freestyle rap with his dancers Scoob and Scrap Lover. And then there is the tour de force and smoothest braggadocio rap song ever made, “Ain’t No Half-Steppin”, the song is buoyed by the title and chorus of a rare Heatwave song and the rollicking organ riff of the Emotions “Blind Alley” and what would be the greatest lyrics the Big Daddy (like in your father) or any other rapper with overabundant self-confidence will ever write. The song also has a killer scratch and cut before the last verses that is equivalent to a guitar shredding solo on any speed metal album.
After that is a rap remake of the Staple Singers “I’ll Take You There” which like Run DMC’s Walk This Way and NWA’s Express songs, takes it to literal lyrical higher level as Kane uses the song to write about a utopian world of fairness and equality than a future in heaven. It closes with the fun party rap with Biz, a Mister Cee killer showcase solo song and the heritage pride driven Word to the Mother (land). 30 years later, this album is still perfection even with the silly love song.
Boogie Down Productions, By All Means Necessary
After the shocking assassination of DJ Scott LaRock in the South Bronx, who’s spirit and talent possesses this album, KRS-One (another anagram, Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) re-emerged as the Philosopher on the bouncing funky ass opener “My Philosophy”, a lyrical amalgam of bragging and social and cultural critiques. On it’s major label debut, Kris Parker takes over all production duties and creates an incredible wall of sound on tracks like the label dissing and Deep Purple sampled “Ya Slippin”, the lame MC dissing “Part-Time Suckers” and the shoutout heavy/superiority complex driven “I’m Still #1. This is also the album where KRS-One deftly tackles societal and geopolitical issues in “Stop The Violence” and “Illegal Business”
What stands out from the other rap classics here is KRS is heavily influenced by Reggae music, especially the dancehall genre which he assisted in breaking that genre into the mainstream. But on Necessary it takes a backseat to beats that make today’s dubstep drops sound like dropping dueces in toilet water. This was hardcore rap at it’s hardest. Pure genius.
Ultramagnetic MC’s, Critical Beatdown
Also from the Bronx, Producer/MC Ced Gee, DJ Moe Love, MC TR Love And the innovative, irrepressable MC Kool Keith put out this landmark hip hop album and it’s impact and influence is still felt today. The album is technically a compilation of many of their singles (which they remixed) and newer tracks. The amazing thing about this album (as with the other albums mentioned) is how far they were able to expand creatively with limited subject matter of being the greatest rapper at any time or place or moment, but it gets done here with ease mostly from the mentally mad mind of Kool Keith. The production and beats here with the aide of producer Paul C (who tragically died young) and the DJ skills of Moe are beyond this realm. Especially on tracks like the oft-imitated “Ego Trippin’, “Funky” and “Break North”.
Schoolly D, Smoke Some Kill
In ’88, the biggest rapper to come out of Philadelphia, Pa. was none other then The Fresh Prince aka Will Smith, who with Jazzy Jeff made a family friendly but actually great double album “He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper” but the real influential as well as fearsome MC to come from the liberty city is libertine rapper Schoolly D, who with his overlooked classic third album would set the stage for future themes of vulgarity and weed consumption in music and culture in the next three years. The title track is one of the first rap songs about getting high on pot with hilarious profane tv rerun references. “Mr. Big Dick” which interpolates the classic Stax/Volt 45 with Rudy Ray Moore is one of the funkiest funniest songs ever written. And this album peaks with the contradictory lead tracks on side 2/B “Signifying Rapper” and “No More Rock’N’Roll” which again pays homage to and remakes Mr Ray Moore’s Dolemite and Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir as the follow up track disses the music he just used and disses Prince at the same time with a live band providing backup.
The production by Schoolly and his superb DJ Code Money is also a wall of dense sound and grooves that grabs your temples and your ass at the same time. (Jive records must have rented great studios, they also released BDP’s aforementioned album)
What’s great and timeless about this album is that Schoolly was not as lyrically talented like most M.C.’s around that time, but he obviously didn’t give a fucking shit, which compliments these tracks nicely. You can say (but I can’t since I don’t have racial license being a White guy) is that Schoolly himself is a n—- with attitude.
Eric B. And Rakim, Follow The Leader
This album is a concept album about how def and phenomenal Eric B. And Rakim are and say they are, respectably on the one and two’s and on the mic. Like Kane and NWA’s albums, this LP also jumps out the gate with three killer tracks, actually four. With “Follow The Leader”, “Microphone Fiend”, “Lyrics Of Fury” and “Eric B Never Scared” these were all justifiable self-aggrandizing manifestos about their abilities. On side 2/B, Rakim directs his lyrical themes towards the audience in “Put Your Hands Together” and “To the Listeners” , the audience’s adulation for him in “No Competition” and “The R” and to Eric B on “Musical Massacre”. E and the R both go off on this. Eric beats, samples and cuts are sublime and only Rakim, arguably the greatest MC ever, can pull off rapping about himself for 40 minutes and still sound interesting. Great record.
EPMD, Strictly Business
This kind of came out of nowhere and sounded like no other rap album. But what an album. While the various rap groups mentioned here were breaking boundaries, Erick Sermon And Parrish Smith Making Dollars kept it simple . They both rapped in low-key, laid back styles but it was to compliment the molten tracks they and DJ K La Boss assembled for their songs. The samples they used and the hard beats they applied to the songs were sublime. The title track,”Because I’m Housin'” and the killer “You Gots To Chill” (hey, three solid lead tracks again) actually have menacing lyrics, but it’s hard to imagine them getting up to the violence they want to inflict, but they are just metaphors for their mic skills anyway. “You’re A Customer” is a sucker mc song that features Steve Miller singing “slippin”, and the album even gets humorous with the dance trend attempt “The Steve Martin” which sounds like the moves he did in The Jerk when he heard Lawrence Welk for the first time and the Rick James sampled “Jane”. This album was one of the biggest selling rap and R&B albums that charted that year.
Ice T, Power
This was the other notorious equal opportunity offending album that sprung from Cali, and it was a motherfucker. Ice T already had a gold album but his status was still regional, but this album got him across the flyover states. Riding on the momentum of his song “Colors”, Ice T and DJ Evil E put this killer album out. Ice’s lyrics ran the gamut regarding gangs, gangsters, drug dealing, pimping, corrupt police and government officials and calling out sucker m.c.s and LL Cool J. It was the musical equivalent of Iceberg Slim, which Ice dedicated his last songs on the album to.
Public Enemy, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
This was bar none, the best album of 1988 and the greatest rap album ever made, bar none, of all time. Chuck D remarked about this masterpiece that he wanted to do a rap version of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Well, he, Flavor Flav and DJ Terminator X did that as well as a rap version of The Clash’s debut and “London Calling”. I did a post on it’s 30th anniversary back in June. Nuff said, and freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitude.
1988 also witnessed genesis of the alternative music genre and the rising interest in independent rock music
Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
Sonic Youth is/was a great name for a band, when I read about them and their last album Sister, I wanted to buy it despite being a metalhead and never hearing a song from them. This led to much anticipation for their next album, Daydream Nation, which came out in the middle of Autumn. Like my approach to their prior album, I already was fascinated without hearing a song because of the album cover alone, a lone lit candle in a room. Then I popped the cassette in the deck and the first lilting dissonant chords of “Teenage Riot” began and it immediately fit the mood from the season at the time and the evocative image of the cover. Then the onslaught of the band came in and the song blasted off. I never heard anything like it, and it was already better than anything off their last two albums on SST.
The first two songs are sung by Thurston Moore. Teenage Riot is a rebel song. An abstract rebel song, the make you want to get your own guitar song and smash the system song. It’s a song that makes you believe in possibilities that assholes try to dissuade you from seeking and achieving. The follow up “Silver Rocket” is another hardcore influenced track which literally takes off in the middle with an MC5 freakout blast, so it must be about shooting smack.
“The Sprawl” and “Across The Breeze”, both sung by Kim Gordon, are two of the best songs on the album, the first song gave me the impression of a girl not in the mood to get hit on and the latter song, going by the initial speed and subtle ethereal transitions in the middle and the end, could be about teenage kids getting laid for the first time. “Eric’s Trip” is tribal Stooges like track that seems to be about a narcissistic junkie. “Total Trash” sung by Lee Ronaldo has funny verses bookending an avalanche of guitar skronk and the building collapsing sounding drumming of Steve Shelley.
The album actually gets sort of more accessible sounding on side 3/B with the Joni Mitchell homage “Hey Joni”, the plaintive piano mood and cranky phone message piece “Providence” and the album cover title track “Candle” and “Rain King” then brilliantly ends with the shoulda coulda been a hit “Kissability” and the “Trilogy” of “Wonder”, “Hyperstation” and the Robert Chambers/ZZ Top inspired finale “Eliminator Jr.” which Kim sings from the point of view of the murder victim Jennifer Levin getting raped and strangled and is the only track that approximates heavy metal music.
This album reminds me of The Who’s Tommy in a way being that it’s a double album and that it made both bands get wider audiences. But Daydream Nation album is way better and more everlasting and relevant.
Pixies, Surfer Rosa
This album was super-hyped when it was released coming off the follow up of the Come On Pilgrim EP, and it would have been bigger if commercial radio weren’t so rigid about genres. The Pixies were the third loudest rock and roll band around at the time and as metal as many of the best trash bands and definitely louder and harder than most of the commercial hair metal bands. If they weren’t limited to left of the dial college stations, they would have been as big as Nirvana got. But like seminal innovative bands like the Replacements and Husker Du, they got stuck with a limited audience. Which is too bad, because Surfer Rosa is one of the best albums ever recorded.
Produced by Steve Albini, who titled an album “songs about fucking”, this short and sweet and abrasive album was perfection. Every sound was turned up to 11. Black Francis wrote 14 phenomenal scatalogical songs complimented by Joey Santiago’s massive riffs and shredding leads, David Lowering’s powerful off-kilter drumming and Kim Deal’s subtle bass playing and sexy voice providing some sweet harmonies and her brilliant lead vocal on “Gigantic”.
Black mashed hardcore and pop to concoct blasting songs like “Bone Machine”, “Break My Body”,”Broken Face” and the masterful “Where Is My Mind” which sounds like some kind of physiology song series. Followed by the lovely “River Euphrates” and “Cactus” and the elongated remake of the seething Spanish sung punk song “Vamos”.
If a band came out today with this bands name, they would surely be a bunch of fey fops producing bland music for imbibing lattes. Thank the sun The Pixies came out when they did and blew away convention and blown minds with this record.
Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking
When Iggy Pop made his triumphant return, he played a show on a pier by the Hudson River and this band opened the show. The singer, Perry Farrell, was a weirdo, but he had an eerie vibe about him. He reminded me of Alice Cooper, except with braids or dreads and the band was playing punk punk infused heavy metal. They were from L.A. where the Red Hot Chili Peppers were from but they were definitely different. And actually funkier. The majority of the crowd were annoyed by and mocked them. I thought they were sensational and were inevitably going to be one of the biggest bands of the world in a few years.
The next day I went to Sam Goody and went looking for the tape and there it was, with that amazing album cover. And then music played, as the first bass riffs came and Dave Navarro’s guitar crashed and Perry’s scream crashed over the song like a typhoon wave, fitting that the song was called “Up the Beach”. It was then followed with the monstrous “Ocean Size” and the punk ‘n’ funk (now this is what that genre should have been called instead of “funk metal”) of “Had A Dad”, two songs that were already instant classics. With these two tracks, it’s easy to see the hype that was behind this band, both these songs had the same musical and lyrical theme stylings as Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper respectably. This was followed by the album title’s inspiration and reference in “Ted, Just Admit It” which cited the Ted Kennedy Chappaquidick incident when he left a woman to drown into a lake he drove into and seques into the rollicking pissing in the shower song “Standing in the shower thinking”.
The album’s biggest hits were on side 2/B in the other Zepp inspired man and nature track “Mountain Song” and the lovely junkie girl sympathy singalong “Jane Says” and concludes with a remake of their best song from their first album “Pigs In Zen”.
Almost a year after I saw them get treated with indifference by the Hudson, they became the biggest band from L.A. since Guns’n Roses. And the rest is (very brief) history.
Ministry, The Land Of Rape And Honey
Ministry was around for eight years before this album was released, and their last hit album (and it was) was a synthpop new wave album that was as catchy and poppy as Depeche Mode and hundreds of their poofy hair and big sleeve shirt wearing imitators at the time. So imagine my astonishment when this came out.
Alain Jourgenson and Paul Barker found religion and Metallica and turned it into this juggernaut, resulting in the troika of terror songs “Stigmata”, “The Missing” and “Deity”. They reverted back to their new wave ways on the remainder of the album but it still sounded like an apocalypse soundtrack with distorted vocals, samples, and assorted industrial and programmed beats. Not for the faint of heart or outgoing personalities.
Soundgarden, Ultramega Ok
Back when life was gloriously uncomplicated and internet free, if you couldn’t get good enough reception for the college radio stations you would get your information about new music from rock magazines. SPIN magazine was one of them. Founded by Robert Guccione, it came out in 1987 as an alternative to Rolling Stone, which was getting a little stale and corporate and was still writing glowing reviews of Rolling Stones and Steve Winwood albums, and crappy magazines like Circus. It was glossy and corporate too, but at least it was covering new bands from all genres and even gave extensive coverage to hip hop and even soul singers. It was also where I saw this album review of this innovative, essential band from Seattle.
The review was very stream of conscience and didn’t make much sense (it was like the writer was trying to be Lester Bangs) but it was long and it was easy to interpret that this album was sensational. And it fucking was.
Led by the late legendary frontman and songwriter Chris Cornell with Kim Thayil on lead guitar, Matt Cameron on drums, and Hiro Yahamoto on the bass, they put together a motherlode of an album. The band sound draws influences from seminal metal bands like Led Zepp and Sabbath along with proto-punk bands Stooges and MC5 and utilizes the off-tune guitar sounds like former label mate Sonic Youth and fast beats of 80s hardcore. All of these influences shine through in the grungy (when it wasn’t even a thing) “Flower”, the breakneck tracks “All Your Lies”, “Nazi Driver”, “Head Injury and “Circle Of Power”, the foreboding “Beyond the Wheel” and bluesy tracks “Smokestack Lightning” and “Incessant Mace”.
It’s unfortunate, but it seems like this album has been forgotten. The production is kinda shitty though which may be why it didn’t get much play when it first came out and didn’t get any play when they were dominating alternative rock stations for 6 years. Hopefully something from this album will be used in a movie and becomes a belated hit by accident. Like Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Butthole Surfers, Hairway To Steven
This band is indescribable and are legend. Or they are a joke. But if they are a joke, then they are the “who’s on first” of joke rock bands. The Butthole Surfers are the next best band out of Texas trailing ZZ Top. And they hit their fourth consecutive creative peak with this bizarre collection of untitled songs.
Really. In what can be assumed was a homage to Led Zeppelin’s Zoso album, the album jacket had no song titles. Well there titles on the label sticker and cassette flap but they were doodles of what the song was. Kind of like the way Charlie Kelly wrote his opus “Nightman” for Chemical Toilet on Sunny in Philadelphia.
And the songs were all expectly freaky but strictly commercial. Standouts being the opener Jimi, the tribute to Julio Iglesias, the juvenile and beautiful ballad “I Saw an X-ray of a girl Passing gas” and the story song John E Smokes (which I believe Lin Manuel Miranda subconsciously quoted during a speech at the Tony Awards)
The great thing about this album is that for a joke band the performance and musicianship is stellar. Arguably their best album.
Dinosaur Jr., Bug
The follow up to the phenomenal “You’re Living All Over Me” was just as great or maybe better. Side one/A is indie rock/guitar hero perfection of which will never be achieved again, with the sad punk anthem “Freak Scene” and the transcendent uplifting power chords of the downer songs “No Bones” and “Yeah We Know. And the beautiful wall of discordance continues unabated into the next five tracks, especially on “Budge” and “Let it ride”
The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God
Fans of this band surely prefer Rum Sodomy and The Lash, but I think this album is miles better. Trying to be more accessible shouldn’t be considered taboo or a vice in music, or else we wouldn’t have the Beatles, and I think the Pogues did the right thing here with this release and they still sound full of piss, vinegar, spit and cheap whiskey.
The title track is just outstanding and rocks with a fervor despite the lack of electric guitar powered chords, which was quite a shock for me being a new listener of this band. The relentless performances shined on the following punk driven and even internationally influenced tracks like “Turkish Song Of The Damned”, “Fiesta” and “Metropolis” as well as their original and traditional homeland songs like “Bottle Of Smoke”, “Medley” and “Sit Down By The Fire”.
But the shining tracks on the album are the indispensable raging Christmas ballad “Fairytale of New York” and the beautiful though sorrowful anthem of Irish emigration to the United States,”Thousands Are Sailing”.
1988 was also the year the exalted Grammy Committee deigned to acknowledge heavy metal after 20 years of existence and give it’s own award. Three of these bands here made it, and the odds on favorite got summarily rejected for their artistic effort, even after being invited to perform.
Metallica, …And Justice For All
The long awaited double album followup to their greatest album “Master Of Puppets” was the bands fourth consecutive masterpiece that refreshingly and masterfully focused on political, environmental, and societal issues plaguing the citizenry.
“Blackened” starts with a backward masked guitar intro and proceeds to trash as James Hetfield rails about the limited future of the planets environment from man-made climate change. The title track focuses on the inequitable standards meted by a corrupt justice system. “Eye of the Beholder” on deception from the news media and elected officials and their pop top 40 hit about the physical and mental damage on war veterans in “One”.
The second record or side B on the tape kicks off with the blazing “The Shortest Straw” which focuses on the effects of blacklisting and discrimination of those who speak truth to power. The dirge like “Harvester Of Sorrow” about harboring irrational feeling and fears leading to murder the targets of his paranoia. The mental illness continues in the epic “Frayed Ends of Sanity” which is about isolation and references Citizen Kane in the creepy sung intro of the song. “To Live Is To Die” is actually Metallica’s most beautiful song, an instrumental dedicated to their late and universally hailed bass player Cliff Burton who provides posthomous lyrics for the track. And it ends with one of the bands fastest songs ever “Dyer’s Eve”.
Although the production is shockingly muddled and poorly mastered (it sounds like it was recorded in a submarine) Metallica’s performances are stellar, highlighted mostly by Kirk Hammett’s reliable finessed and blistering guitar leads and Lars Ulrich’s high octane drumming. Jason Newsted does a fine job filling the mighty big shoes of Burton and contributes songwriting on a few tracks.
…All in all, the album is a triumph, despite being denied a worthless trophy from a dubious music experts and also being wrongfully dismissed by fans who call this a sellout.
Voivod, Dimension Hatross
Voivod’s masterpiece was a concept album about a vampiric parasitic entity that created a universe to control the masses by extracting all their information from them. Sounds familiar. This album came a decade before Star Trek came up with a similar character called the Borg and 2 decades before real life characters/entities Facebook, Amazon and Google would do the same thing. This was actually the best metal album of ’88 and if it was nominated for a grammy and lost to Metallica, I think there would outrage would have been justified too.
It begins with “Experiment” and “Tribal Convictions”, where the entity opens up a dimension and creates a universe (like you know ho) and the beings that gather to accept and worship it n the latter song. “Chaosmongers” are a resistance group who doesn’t accept the creator and battles with the entities worshipers and tries to take it down, even by using terrorist tactics.
The innovative hardcore “Technocratic Manipulators” is about a group controlling the residents by advertising. “Macrosolutions To Megaproblems” is where the entity is concerned that the Chaosmongers are getting close to overcoming and are getting through to the citizenry to rise up against it. “Brain Scan” is where the Tech Manipulators access the entity’s system and “Pyschic Vacuum” is describes the process where they to steal it’s data and it concludes with “Cosmic Drama” where the entity kills all the beings that are after it and destroys the dimension it created.
And it also has a remake of “Batman” if you bought the CD.
Living Colour, Vivid
This phenomenal album broke as many barriers and reinvented the metal genre as much as much as Guns ‘n Roses did the year before, more being that this band was Black in a predominantly White music genre. But it’s the sound and myriad music styles and the personalities and the musicianship that set Living Colour apart from the rest. And like G’n’R, they took all rock music from the past 2 decades and amalgamated it into an original sound, even more because they also drew from the last decade of Soul and the peak era of free form jazz. Corey Glover was excellent frontman and an outstanding singer, his vocal styles and ranges are remeniscient of Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and Aaron Hall as well as Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and the Bad Brains H.R.. Guitarist Vernon Reid was already an established player in jazz bands and his playing ran the gamut of the legendary masters Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane as well as his contemporary shredders like Eddie Van Halen, Dr. Know and Kirk Hammett and even Chic’s Nile Rodgers at times. The rhythm section of bass player of Muzz Skillings and drummer Will Clatyon rounded out this behemoth band and sound into this collection of diverse songs.
Everybody knows “Cult of Personality” the song about icons great and heinous and the people that worship and follow them, passionately and for worse blindly. “Middle Man” is about playing it safe and not to offend, which can apply to any politician running for or in elected office, most recently it reminds me Barack Hussein Obama. “Desperate People” is about jealousy, irresponsibility and addiciton. And the beautiful “Open Letter (To A Landlord) states the obvious about predatory landlords and real estate, gentrification and displacement and a call to organize against them. Very prescient of how the real estate industry still dominates today.
“Funny Vibe” is a hardcore showcase of Reid’s guitar virtuosity. “Memories Can’t Wait” is a brutal remake of a Talking Heads song that blows the original away. “Glamour Boys” is a left field pop song break mocking superficial, arrogant people. And it ends with the hardcore and disco romp “Which Way to America?”
Queensryche, Operation: Mindcrime
This was a phenomenal concept album about a dystopian society and a junkie that was revived by a manipulative priest and later becomes an assassin and revolutionary leader that attempts to topple the oppressive government but winds up being incarcerated and committed in a mental institution.
Prior to when this came out, Queensryche were just another hair metal band, but one of the better ones. So it probably should have been a shock they were capable of composing an album with a cohesive story like this, which is evocative of all the great literary classics like 1984 and Brave New World, but also the movie “Brazil”.
Slayer, South Of Heaven
Slayer’s fourth album slowed down the pace following their greatest work “Reign in Blood” but it did not diminish the brutality. The title track about the place called hell starts off like Sabbath as they revert to norm by speeding up the pace leading up to the trashers “Silent Scream” and “Live Undead”. “Behind the Crooked Cross” and “Mandatory Suicide” are two of their greatest songs too. It continues it’s slow/ultrafast song patterns for the remainder of the album. Rick Rubin really got the best out of this group. He was like their George Martin.
AC/DC, Blow Up Your Video
After their worldwide smash classic “Back In Black”, AC/DC were coasting for through the decade and while still putting out heavy music, they weren’t releasing anything that lasted (with the exception of “For Those About To Rock), but in ’88 they exploded with this album. To get the aggressive sound, Angus and Malcolm’s older brothers George and Harry Young, who produced their essential and heavy ass 70’s albums came back to record this one.
Surely seeing how metal had gotten faster with the mainstream success of trash and speed metal, the band kicked off this album with their two best songs in 7 years “Heatseeker” and “That’s The Way I Wanna Rock And Roll” the latter song being a statement against MTV and the weak radio programming playing yuppie music at the time. They followed it with R&B blues inflected rockers “Mean Streak” and “Kissin Dynamite” and blazed again with two of their fastest tracks “Nick of Time” and “This Means War”. AC/DC got popular in the 90’s again, but they wouldn’t come close to making an album this massive again.
Prince, The Black Album
This smokin’ funky vulgar album had limited distribution, it was actually released around Dec. ’87 but I got my copy on cassette at the Aqueduct Flea Market from a cool music vendor in May ’88 so it counts here. Prince put out this lyrically explicit album of the rawest funk and soul of his stellar career. A lot of the album makes no bones of what the subjects of Prince’s venting rages and desires are.
“Le Grind” is the most commercial song on here being a dance song. A filthy dance song. “Cindy C” is about Cindy Crawford, the hottest woman in the universe that year. “Dead On It” is where Prince trashes rap music for being unoriginal, but I think the target of this song is the earlier mentioned Schoolly D, who dissed Prince on his first album by mocking the artist while Code Money scratches a guitar break.
“When 2 R In Love” is one of Prince’s greatest ballads. “Bob George” is a funny ass song where the artist mocks himself. And the album concludes with three killer funk jams.
This LP got properly re-issued 6 years later on CD probably because of contract obligations. Good thing I was fortunate enough to get a copy while it was hot. More fortunate are those who have the original vinyl, one sold for $27,500.
Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
A homeless woman and busker gets noticed by a major label, records eleven beautiful songs of struggle, despair, hope and love, goes platinum and gets nominated for grammys and sweeps up three awards notably best new artist. Like some sort of dream that you can attain in America.
The characters in her songs will barely or never attain that dream though. “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution” leads off to fight the powers continually keeping the masses from getting theirs. “Fast Car” is about a couple dealing with strife and their desire to get out of their untenable situation and the biggest hit from the album. “Across the Lines” deals with segregation and “Behind the Wall” with domestic violence and police indifference. “Baby, Can I Hold You” is a gorgeous ballad about a cheating boyfriend (I think). The rest of the album concerns more themes like these.
And that’s it. I should also point out the high level of indefensable misogyny in the bulk of those groundbreaking albums above. But it’s music history and you can’t change it. So apologies to whatever viewers is offended by the artists inclusions here. If you want, you can mail the library of congress and demand NWA’s removal.
This is how these albums are ranked, along with the award designations
- Public Enemy, It takes a nation of millions to hold us back (Album of the Year)
- Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation
- Voivod, Dimension Hatross
- N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton (Song of the Year, Fuck The Police)
- Metallica, …and Justice For All
- Living Colour, Vivid (Record Of The Year, Cult of Personality, Best New Artist)
- Pixies, Surfer Rosa
- Big Daddy Kane, Long Live The Kane
- Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking
- Prince, The Black Album
- Ultramagnetic MC’s, Critical Beatdown
- Queensryche, Operation: Mindcrime
- Boogie Down Productions, By All Means Necessary
- Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God
- EPMD, Strictly Business
- Schoolly D, Smoke Some Kill
- Ministry, The Land Of Rape And Honey
- Soundgarden, Ultramega Ok
- Eric B. And Rakim, Follow The Leader
- AC/DC, Blow Up Your Video
- Butthole Surfers, Hairway To Steven
- Dinosaur Jr., Bug
- Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman
- Slayer, South Of Heaven
- Ice T, Power