Discover: 50 Essential Rock Albums
Whether your school’s back in session or you haven’t been to class in years, now’s the time to crack open decades of iconic rock music and brush up on the very best eMusic has to offer. Not just familiar faces like Dylan, Springsteen and Cash, either; our Discover: School of Rock sale is here to help you brush up on everything from the ravaged heavy-metal riffs of Mastodon and High On Fire to such rite of passage records as Transformer, Psychocandy and London Calling.
London Calling pushes the Clash beyond the boundaries of punk rock. The music stretches out in a number of directions, with lyrics that make politics and anger factors rather than focus. "Koka Kola," "Death or Glory," "Clampdown" and Simonon's violence-threatening reggae rumble, "Guns of Brixton," hit reassuringly familiar marks, but songs about actor Montgomery Clift ("The Right Profile") and lonely youth ("Lost in the Supermarket"), plus the surprise hit single "Train in... Vain," don't encourage blood-boiling or fist-pumping. Few groups have redefined themselves so adroitly: Taken on its own terms, London Calling is nearly flawless.more »
Forty-one years after it was first released, this rambunctious performance still stirs the soul. Johnny Cash's rapport with the prison audience is overwhelming — his ability to successfully alternate silly novelty songs with dark murder ballads suggests he understands things about them the rest of us cannot fathom — and his nervous energy injects new life and urgency into every song. He neither romanticizes the crimes he sings about, nor does he... try to explain or overdramatize them. They just are. Is it Cash's best album ever? Hell, it's probably the best country album ever.more »
After the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed's solo career could have gone in several directions. Communal strength and Andy Warhol's patronage had allowed the group to explore the darkest impulses ever recorded as music — would Reed alone be so intrepid? His self-titled debut was a good start, but hooking up with David Bowie as his under-bearing producer and creative stimulant made Transformer a bigger, bolder and more enduring statement. Together, they... explored transgressive lifestyles with a light, occasionally campy, musical touch and the strongest concentration of memorable melodies Reed has ever assembled on one disc. Made in the first flush of the gay liberation movement, Transformer is a masterpiece of inclusiveness, glossing over explicit homoeroticism in favor of lines like "we're coming out...of our closets...out on the streets" ("Make Up"), the feyness of "Vicious" ("you hit me with a flower") and the stylish back cover photos, which could have come from a Roxy Music record. For his centerpiece, Reed depicts gender-blurring superstars of the Warhol stable in the subliminally decadent hit single, "Walk on the Wild Side." But there's more here than just pushing the limits of conventional sensibility: the unironic sentimentality of "Perfect Day" and "Satellite of Love" underscore the humanity at the core of Reed's provocation.more »
It was 1973, OK? Even then, the Stooges two albums on Elektra (released in 1969 and 1970) were legendary for their influence on glam rockers like David Bowie and a nascent generation of punks. Raw Power in its time was renowned for two things: a strange and thin mix by Bowie that Iggy has described as "weedy," and its collection of eight nearly perfectly conceived and executed songs — and "executed"... may be the operative word here — written bymore »
Featuring two ex-members of influential noise-metal band Today is the Day, Mastodon creates fringe music for the mainstream — proggy, rhythmically complex torrents of melodic noise that incorporate elements of death metal, grindcore, hardcore, thrash and math rock, and somehow still groove like Skynyrd on crank. With Leviathan, the band funneled its multifaceted attack into a concept album based on Herman Melville's literary classic Moby Dick. Nothing could seem less metal;... little sounds more metal.more »
Forget about "Last Nite." The single that launched the Strokes is, to paraphrase NFL coach Dennis Green, what we thought it was: the riff from Tom Petty's "American Girl," an adolescent growl, too gutless to be big dumb rock, a song so dimensionally-challenged that it couldn't draw a square around a typical mid-'60s garage stomp. Is This It begins with a yawn — the resigned-sounding, sing-song title track hears frontman Julian Casablancas... admitting, "I'm just way too tired" — and it turns out that boredom is the most authentic emotion on the Strokes 'debut. (Tellingly, the album also contains songs titled "Soma" and "Take It Or Leave It.")more »
It also turns out that boredom is the catalyst for nearly all of the strange and wonderful things that have happened in the history of rock 'n 'roll. Is This It was the 21st century's first masterpiece of blasé theatre, a conscious changing of the style guard by five privileged Manhattan prep-school types. Much has been written about the upper-crustiness of the band members, but the Strokes 'real advantage was their cultural affluence: early teenage years spent listening to Guided By Voices, the Velvet Underground and Television — bands most Gen Xers didn't discover until college.
Casablancas 'vision arrived fully formed on Is This It, from the deliberately tinny guitar and drums to the unfashionably round bass tones and vocals that sound like they're coming through a megaphone in the apartment next door. It all sounds cheap, hammered-out (or just plain hammered) and more glorious for each implementation of its let's-get-small approach to recording. Each song chugs along with a peculiar brand of wizened youth, with Casablancas singing about regrets and lost loves with a world-weariness that's almost comically beyond his 23 years. While "Last Nite" is too slight to deserve its reputation as this debut's signature song, "Hard To Explain" is its real anthem. The ducking-and-weaving guitar melody perfectly carries Casablancas 'maze of lyrics — part scribbled bar conversations, part confused meditation on whether he should stay or whether he should go. To be so young and so old at the same time.
At the height of Nirvanamania, the Secret Machines catalog issued Stopwatch, a cassette by an artist known only as Late! It was no big secret that it was a collection of concise pop songs penned and performed by Nirvana's drum-popping Dave Grohl, and the tape proved that he was a budding songsmith in his own right. So the emergence of Grohl as frontman/guitarist with Foo Fighters in the wake of Kurt Cobain's... death was a natural progression. That he would go on to become a hearty multi-platinum rock star of his own accord that same decade becomes evident here.more »
Whereas many of his grunge peers veered towards the angsty side of the spectrum as the decade wore on (unfortunately favoring growled emoting a la Eddie Vedder), Grohl always grounded his discordant guitars and hardcore velocities in pop. No doubt recalling the lessons of Nevermind's massive success, for all of the squall and feedback, he kept sharp, steely hooks at the center of his band's sound. On the strength of singles like the furious "Monkeywrench" and ever-building "Everlong," Foo Fighters became modern-rock radio staples. And when original drummer William Goldsmith left during the album's recording, Grohl also proved he could still make the drums concuss like the thunder god he is.
This is the one, people, the album that made Modest Mouse one of the most unlikely crossover cases in recent memory. It's not that their songs aren't solid; it's just that the band's fourth album is just as haunted by demons and derelicts as the rest of Isaac Brock's oeuvre. Oh sure, "Float On" is a certified windows-down, speakers-up anthem, suitable for summer drives and backyard barbecues, but it's a ruse, really,... a candy-coated gateway drug to a disc that's dark and delightful.more »
Beginning with a horn blast from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (see also: the wailing backdrop of "This Devil's Workday"), this one's a strange trip indeed, as the group whips out wood nymph whistles ("The World At Large"), hammerhead hooks ("Bury Me With It," "Black Cadillacs") and twitchy, wild-eyed tributes to Tom Waits ("Dance Hall") and Talking Heads ("The View"). And, hey, if you've been here since the beginning, rest assured that "The Good Times Are Killing Me," "Bukowski" and "Blame It On the Tetons" are vintage Modest Mouse at its very best.
Talk about modern rock that's actually modern — a reason to believe in your radio dial again, if only for a track or two.
Tom Waits is in a profoundly unimpeachable position. He is perceived as grizzled and crazed and magnificently out-of-step. And, most crucially, a genius. An inscrutable iconoclast, with a hobo's sense of style and a coal miner's voice box. Over time, he has begun to resemble a video game villain — dark, rarely seen, unbeatable. The Legend of Zelda's Ganon, basically. So hearing him on Glitter and Doom, a live album, is both... a treat and a curiosity. Here is this unknowable artist, perpetuating the folkloric artifice, and perhaps even stretching it into full-blown myth. Waits's growl is deeper, his stories more cracked and poetic, and his band more lurching and lockstep. He is only himself, without context or contemporaries.more »
In 2008, Glitter and Doom was the first Waits tour in three years and he and his band traveled through the underserved Southwestern swath of America — places like Mobile and Tulsa and El Paso. So the fans in attendance, often traveling a great distance to see Waits, are rapturous, slurping down much-loved compositions, like Rain Dog's "Singapore" with the same verve as the never-before-heard story song, "Live Circus." Most of the time Waits's howlish singing style can verge on the grotesque and hilarious. "What does it matter, a dream of life, a dream of lies?" he woofs on Bone Machine's "Dirt in the Ground." It is terrifying, melancholic and logical at the same time — one of Waits great, uncelebrated gifts. On a restructured "Falling Down," one of Waits's best and most heartbreaking songs, he is almost freakishly hoarse. Which, we suppose, is by design.
Glitter and Doom is an unsurprisingly defiant work, culling mostly from stellar later albums like Real Gone and the odds 'n' ends compilation Orphans. It's a stopover until the beast grows bigger and darker, but suitably menacing no less.