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1995 top albums

May 14, 2012

Top LPs, 1995

(Lucky you — TWO essays, one on people’s miserable tastes [when they don’t match mine] and one on how much I love the Beatles. No converts reported yet in either case.)

My history of listening to music is in its third stage: Frustration.

Years ago, back when the only time you’d get a chance to see your favorite musical act was during ”Ed Sullivan” or ”Shindig” or ”Hullabaloo,” I had a mob mentality. Simply because there weren’t many alternatives available, listening to what everyone else did was a fact of life.

As I grew to my teens and the popular music business began another of its many explosive expansions, I started listening to other things just because they were different. I spent a year declaring War as my favorite group, at least partially because none of my friends understood their music. And every time I’ve thinned out my record collection and paused on an album and thought, ”What the HECK was I thinking when I bought THAT?” it’s generally been something I liked just to be different.

Now, I like what I like, and try to avoid wasting too much time thinking about why. But I DO waste a lot of time trying to figure out why nobody seems to like the same music I do.

This is offered as a fair consumer warning: You may not like a lot of these albums. I’ve never made a ”ten-best” list, because I don’t think my taste is so amazing that I can dictate the ten best albums each year. I’d LIKE to think that, but I’m not working for Spin magazine.

What this list contains is ten favorite albums that crossed my CD player or tape deck this year. Hopefully, there are some names you’ll recognize, and I hope ever more strongly that you’ll hear more of some of these performers in coming years.

That’s where the frustration comes in. I’m a firm believer in home taping. Maybe I’ll change my mind when record-company clowns bring CD prices down enough so that each decision isn’t a major purchase, but for now, much of my favorite music is what I get on tape from friends. And I tape my favorites for them, as well.

Where else does anyone hear Michael Petak or Greenberry Woods? Who’s playing The Artist Formerly Known as Prince? Not most broadcast outlets, who loved his ”The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” but then abandoned him for the Rembrandts.

And in yet another sign of record company logic that simply baffles me, the man (Champaign’s Adam Schmitt) who has made the best CD I’ve heard all decade (WORLD SO BRIGHT, 1991) started this year without a contract. Go figure.

In my humble opinion, you could do worse than to check out a couple of these albums.

But if your favorite CD isn’t listed, it might be only because I haven’t heard it. Or because it’s by Michael Bolton.

I love the Beatles.

Not everyone else does.

In a year where much of my pleasure in listening to music has come through enjoying the reissues of old favorite material, this Beatles revelation seems to be the most important.

Just a few months ago, A-Beatle-C television devoted six prime-time hours to the Beatles’ career story. I was stunned to find out some people were NOT planning to watch it.

For most of my life, I’ve been mildly irritated when asked to name my favorite group. My first thought has always been, ”Who else could it be besides the Beatles?”

Again, imagine my surprise to find not everyone agrees with that analysis, either.

My musical knowledge, fervor and love all stem directly from the Beatles. When I was a few months past 4 years old, I fell in love with the band I saw with the rest of America on ”The Ed Sullivan Show” and still have the copy of MEET THE BEATLES my mother quickly bought for the family.

Maybe if the Dave Clark Five had been the first British band on Sullivan, I’d be writing something different right now. But the fact remains, that youngster in 1964 decided to back a pretty strong horse.

And interestingly enough, however much my musical tastes have drifted away from the Beatles at various times over the years, those tastes have always drifted right back.

Just as there’s never been any question that they’re my favorite group, there’s never any question what my favorite album is: THE BEATLES, also known as ”The White Album.” Thirty wonderful songs, a history of modern popular music, and you can bang your head and sing along and make out and dance to it, or just sit back and be amazed by its grace, beauty, wit, intelligence and miraculous musicality.

And astonishingly enough, it came out the same year as the ”Hey Jude/Revolution” 45, arguably the finest double-sided 45 in the history of the medium.

(If you’re under the age of 20, ask your parents about 45s.)

It’s difficult for me to explain my passion for the Beatles. Their greatness is so clearly obvious to me that it’s impossible to lower my fanaticism enough to approach it from anything close to objectivity.

If you’re a huge fan of the band, you’ll understand everything I’ve said. And if not, there’s probably nothing I can write that will change your mind. Nor will ”Free as a Bird,” which isn’t REALLY a Beatles single anyway.

Now, on to the list. There’s nobody in company with THE WHITE ALBUM this time around, but I remain confused by people complaining about how safe and sterile this year was in music. I found plenty on the edge, which explains why many of you haven’t heard of some of these people.

And here’s the usual disclaimer: These are just MY ten favorites of the year. I didn’t (and wouldn’t) listen to everything that came out. This is the stuff I was fortunate enough to hear:

1. Michael Petak, PRETTY LITTLE LONELY

A captivating, haunting, inspiring and frightening effort. At first, repeated phrases jump out: the yells of ”Insane!” that start the first song, ”don’t die” from throughout the title song, and the repetition of ”why” throughout the album. Its tone is not for everyone, but rewards await those willing to visit the dark, bleak side of a young man’s psyche. In other words, this probably isn’t for Mariah Carey fans.

2. Better Than Ezra, DELUXE

Not only are albums like this rarely made any more, they’re rarely even attempted. This is ripe with memorable melodies, fine lyrics and enough talent to help you ignore that when ballad-time comes around, the singer sounds a little too much like John Denver.

3. Greenberry Woods, BIG MONEY ITEM

These guys expanded their listening list this year, adding some Beach Boys and Big Star to their Beatles habit. They ended up making a great leap forward in maturity and quality. Their RAPPLE DAPPLE was my No. 1 album last year and, of course, no one bought it.

4. The Artist Who Refuses to be Known As Prince, THE GOLD EXPERIENCE

I’ll come down on his side in the fight against his record company if he was fighting for the right to put out music like this, his most consistent effort since PURPLE RAIN and maybe his best ever. If only radio and MTV would have been playing this stuff as much as mediocre Michael Jackson product.

5. THE PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A friend called them ”Punk Monkees,” and meant it as a compliment. And it is, if you take it to mean likable, memorable pop with an offbeat sense of the absurd. ”Lump” is a great song, and it does indicate what else is inside. Truth in advertising, and inexpensive to boot.

6. Randy Newman, RANDY NEWMAN’S FAUST

This package defines Randy Newman at his best. Well known for a couple of fluke hits, Newman’s true nature is that of a classic composer. He deserves more attention than this controversial work probably won’t help him get. Although there’s more Don Henley here than most reasonable people can stand, the outrageous God (James Taylor)-Devil (Newman) duet on ”Relax, Enjoy Yourself” is worth the price of admission by itself. And ”Feels Like Home,” sung by Bonnie Riatt, is Newman’s most beautiful song ever. Have it sung at your wedding.

7. The Rembrandts, L.P.

In a stunning tour-de-force, they perfect their Beatles style and sound with hummable melodies, clever arrangements and tight vocal patterns. Then, grafted on at the end, is ”I’ll Be There For You” (known around the Cain household as ”That Damn Song”). Last year’s ”rougher” version sounded intelligent in the middle of a prime-time television evening, but the ”polished” version here sounds merely annoying, particularly when pasted on to the end of a CD which features 14 otherwise excellent songs.

8. Foo Fighters, FOO FIGHTERS

It’s not a surprise that Dave Grohl, the drummer for Nirvana, has a good voice. After all, it was his harmonies that drove some of that band’s most touching songs. And it’s not surprising that the drumming is solid. But the rest [-Em] obnoxious guitars and shimmering pop songs in particular [-Em] is a thrill and a delight.

9. Danielle Brisebois, ARRIVE ALL OVER YOU

”You mean the ACTRESS?” Yup, that’s exactly right, doing meaty dance pop that was unjustly ignored. She had at least a hand in writing most of the stuff here; she proved on the Howard Stern show that her voice here isn’t just studio trickery, she can actually sing; and she doesn’t butcher the obligatory 60s cover (”Gimme Little Sign”). Let’s get more corporate weight behind this woman, eh?

10. Emmylou Harris, WRECKING BALL

In spite of all the fuss over her working with producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel), this really isn’t all that out of the ordinary for Harris. Whatever style she chooses, whoever’s songs she sings, it’s still Emmylou, a woman who seems able to understand every song ever written.

ALMOST THERE:

Jeff Healey, COVER TO COVER

Neil Young, MIRROR BALL

Del Amitri, TWISTED

The Critics, BRAINTREE

The Muffs, BLONDER AND BLONDER

Frank Zappa, DOES HUMOR BELONG IN MUSIC

The Foremen, FOLK HEROES

SINGLES OF THE YEAR

”Sick of Myself,” Matthew Sweet

”I Know,” Dionne Farris

”I Kissed a Girl,” Jill Sobule

”Roll to Me,” Del Amitri

”In the Blood,” Better Than Ezra

”Run-around,” Blues Traveler

”Turning Japanese,” Liz Phair and Urge Overkill

”Possum Kingdom,” the Toadies

”Gold,” The Goofball Who Used to be Called Prince

”One of Us,” Joan Osborne

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT:

The freak show that continues to surround Michael Jackson, which has effectively killed the memories that Jackson did in fact bridge the color barrier that built up on radio and on MTV in the mid-1980s with THRILLER, still a pretty impressive piece of work.

ENOUGH, ALREADY:

With the tribute albums. OK, there’s a good cut or two on each one. But these things are programmed by labels’ marketing divisions with one eye on the charts and the other on the consumers’ wallets. If the original music is so good, can’t we just enjoy that rather than someone else’s pale Xerox?

The worst? How about TAPESTRY REVISITED, the tribute to Carole King’s classic album. I don’t need to look any further than its roster of VH1 stalwarts to hate it.

OH, AND BY THE WAY:

I hate Hootie and the Blowfish almost as much as I love the Beatles. I just wanted someone to know.

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