Ten of the Best Albums in History (Part 2)

Part 2, in your face.
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(6) Queen Queen II (1974)

Vogue, mothersucka!

A lot of people know Queen for their excessive string of pop hits. And some of those are the best pop songs in existence (“I Want to Break Free” anyone?). But what a lot of people don’t realize is that the early Queen albums were sensational progressive rock albums all the way through. Queen II is the essence of this era in their career, and not surprisingly, their music at this time was not nearly as successful as their later bombastic, more straightforward singles. I know, I know….A Night at the Opera, but that album also signified a change in direction for Queen towards a pop spectacle, so I wanted to bring attention to Queen II.

There is a really interesting presence to this album — a sort of progressive metal and fantasy element that lay the foundation for later bands exploring this musical and artistic territory; bands like Helloween and Blind Guardian. The guitar multi-tracking that Brian May is so famous for is fleshed out here, and less minimalist than on later releases. It’s very raw and fresh, something people don’t think of so much with this band.

There is also a considerable amount of piano playing by Freddie, who really steals the show on certain tracks (although I guess he always did…). The track combination of “The Fairy Feller’s Master-stroke” and “Nevermore” is really incredible. I know the lyrics won’t be everyone’s cup-of-tea (they’re English, lol!) but that’s their loss. And “The March of the Black Queen” is a masterpiece. Some of the most tasteful vocals and guitar playing you’ll ever find. There’s some sick vocal trade-offs with Roger Taylor towards the end,where they rock like the ship is burning.

A spectacular performance of some of Queen’s earlier tunes can be found on the release, Live at the BBC. My mom got it for me when I was 9 years old, because Queen’s Greatest Hits was one of my absolute favorite albums. However, Live at the BBC was too complex and progressive for me at the time! It wasn’t until several years later that I realized it is a classic rock masterpiece.

Queen was a real team. Everyone in the band wrote top ten hits, multiple tracks for each album, and shared the vocal duties.

Best band ever? Good chance.

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(7) Jason BeckerThe Raspberry Jams (1999)

Mmm…delicious jams….

If you know me, at some point in the past I’ve mentioned Jason Becker, the former kid-genius who is now nearly 40, confined to a wheelchair due to ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease) and communicates/composes using only his eyes. Jason Becker’s work with Cacophony and his 1988 solo album, Perpetual Burn absolutely changed my life. It made me a stupid shred-guitar junkie for years. I have that album memorized in my head, note-f0r-note.

If that’s the case, why am I writing about The Raspberry Jams? After all, Perpetual Burn is his only proper solo studio album, and the work on his later album Perspective has some of his finest compositions.

It’s because The Raspberry Jams is a whole new level of insanely awesome. It’s a collection of his personal recordings from age 16 to 22 or 23 (when he had to stop playing completely due to his illness) and displays a wide variety of styles. He does a rendition of Louis Armstrong (“Jasin Street”), a unique and spectacular cover of “When You Wish Upon A Star” as well as a number of splendiforous original cuts. The track “Angel Eyes” is almost more like Hendrix than Hendrix was himself, if you can believe it. It’s that good!

For anyone who has ever recorded music (preferably on an analog cassette multi-track recorder, you posers!), you’ll notice that as you look back on your work, not only do the composition and technical ability improve–but so do your recording and mixing abilities. Hence, certain tracks like “Throat Hole” really strike a chord with me: he recorded it when he was in high school and it’s rather low-fidelity 4-track recording. In other words, it has gorgeous ambiance, and the song is simple and epic as hell. It’s the archetype of every teenage metal guitarist with a cassette 4-track, except Jason Becker was the best. You hear me? The best.

I believe Jason has mentioned in an interview that, before recording tracks, he generally didn’t/doesn’t like to learn things completely one hundred percent; he likes to practice his pieces until he’s just comfortable enough with it so that exciting ideas pop up (flow) out of spontaneity or necessity. It’s a cool idea that forces the musician to eschew complete reliance on technique. Technique is not something one can always rely on, and good musicians are not constantly in some perfect comfort zone that comes from simply knowing theory and technique. If you do rely too exclusively on technique, you probably aren’t a stellar musician (no offense, loser).

If you like guitar playing, heavy metal, shred, lo-fi music, lo-fi recording, or really want to play in a lo-fi heavy metal band, you must buy this album.

And I mean buy.

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(8) Iron MaidenSeventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

Seventh sons for seventh daughters! el oh els…

This is maybe the most commercially successful Iron Maiden album, and still manages to be one of my favorites. Like Judas Priest‘s Turbo, which came out around the same time, this album features experimentation with synths and really exceptional songwriting. Apparently it’s a concept album, about a clairvoyant child born into prophecy or something confusing and insane (I assume “Moonchild” is a Crowley reference).

This album has some of the most concise, slick dual-guitar lines in their legacy — a style which has been forever emulated by heavy metal bands. Not to mention the epic qualities of the songwriting and the minimalist use of the synths! The title track is really something special, and lasts 10 minutes! I think I heard “The Evil That Men Do” back when I was a wee boy of 13 or 14 and immediately went out and purchased a rack of Maiden albums. And let’s not forget the really catchy and ominous closing track, “Only the Good Die Young”.

Everybody knows about Maiden already, so why am I writing this? It influenced every metal band ever on the planet ever. It influenced video games too. And all those shitty video game knock-off bands. And your mom.

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(9) Helloween Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II (1988)

Seven keys in two parts, amen.

Two albums obsessed with the number 7?

Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part II (yes, part two) is the best power metal album ever made. It opens with a song called “Eagle Fly Free” and ends with the finale, “Keeper of the Seven Keys” that’s over thirteen minutes in length and is the best power metal song in existence.

This isn’t a joke, but a bludgeoning blow of truth. In the future, when the ruins of our civilization are salvaged by lizardmen cthulu, they will gain enlightenment upon witnessing the majesty that is “Keeper of the Seven Keys”.

Not to mention that artwork. I have wasted precious hours gazing into this picture and wondering how it’s so awesome. Funny how it came out around the same time as Wizards & Warriors (which has a similarly incredible cover). Did video-games inspire metal or did metal inspire video-games?

See for yourself. Or die with regrets.

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(10) Vangelis Blade Runner: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1982)

DON’T DATE ROBOTS!

Vangelis has done music for a number of Ridley Scott films, which often tend to suck despite the quality soundtracks (case-in-point: Lisa Gerrard on Gladiator). But Blade Runner is good stuff all-around, and the soundtrack is one of Vangelis’ finest. This soundtrack was one of my favorite “electronica” albums even back in the dark days of grade school, so it should have some universal resonance as far as musical appreciation goes.

The minimalist background tracks sound a little sad, sometimes moody, dark, and wet, but in a way that comes across as mysterious and phantasmagorical, rather than sinister, draining, or grimey. Certain portions of the soundtrack (like the ending theme) or the bittersweet piano playing on “Memories of Green” are reminiscent of the very excellent film score to The Terminator, which is the other definitive sci-fi film of the early ’80s. The tracks “Rachel’s Song”, “Love Theme” and “Blade Runner Blues” are all wonderful melancholy tracks; it’s so sincere — sad, urban jazz from the cyberjunkie future! The people working on this movie knew what was up.

Everyone should be aware that Blade Runner has a really fantastic setting and atmosphere. The music and the set of this film were real endeavors, maybe even the real stars of the show (alongside the prolific Rutger Hauer). It’s a fantasy movie that has flawless ambiance, like The Princess Bride, Willow or Space Odyssey: 2001. It’s also the pinnacle of cyberjunkie film culture, and is an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story, and Philip K. Dick was a splendid storyteller.

In fact, one way I like to describe PKD’s work, is that it’s as if Terrence McKenna was writing William Gibson novels. That should make you curious, if you haven’t read any PKD yet!

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(11) Townes Van ZandtOur Mother The Mountain (1969)

Igon? Igon Spengler?!

Oh shit, you thought I was going to stop at ten? You so wrong I don’t even know where to begin!

Our Mother the Mountain is the most intense, scary, dark, romantic and serious of Townes Van Zandt‘s albums. I don’t think it was initially such a smash success, and didn’t have any big hits on it (who cares?) but has some of his more famous tracks like “Tecumseh Valley”, “Kathleen”, “Be Here to Love Me”, and “Snake Mountain Blues”. Every song on this one really hits where it hurts. This is the album by him where every song is a real piece of magic.

I’m surprised when people really like TVZ and then say Elliott Smith or Emperor or Leonard Cohen are too dark or depressing for them. I mean, some of this stuff here is just scary. The lyrics and delivery on “Our Mother the Mountain” or “Snake Mountain Blues” ? Yikes. This music has the magic of the landscape. It’s Native American magic, one hundred percent. A real cultural treasure. This is much scarier and more sincere than Johnny Cash, I’m afraid.

If you can’t like this because it’s country, you suck. This is a pinnacle in North American music.

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~ by chaosrexmachinae on December 10, 2007.

One Response to “Ten of the Best Albums in History (Part 2)”

  1. […] I’d probably include anything that’s on my “Ten of the Best Albums” posts, now that I think about it. Also…I absolutely cannot believe I am arguing that those lyrics […]

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