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All-time Top Ten

July 28, 2006

I’ve always been fascinated by top 10 album lists. Well, maybe not fascinated. But interested. It’s not just about documenting great albums or movies but finding out what art makes people tick is like a window to their soul. So I thought I’d write out my own list as a document of how cool and hip my soul is. But I found the albums I assumed would populate my list weren’t showing up.

Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, New Order, My Bloody Valentine, Neubauten, Coil, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Stone Roses, The Cure, The Smiths, Depeche Mode, Superchunk, Pavement, Bauhaus, Nick Cave, Stereolab, Pixies, Radiohead — none of them made the cut. And all of them have albums I’d recommend over anything that is on this list.

This really isn’t a list of recommendations, but of the albums I can always, due to some personal quirk, fall back on. These are the kinds of albums that you know backwards and forwards and inside out. The ones that can always take you away and make you feel safe, year after year and that you never hit “skip” on. The ones without a single bum song on them that just wouldn’t be the same missing a single track. These are the albums that make me who I am.

And the list is pretty… dorky.

Platinum Blonde: Standing In The Dark (1983)
No, this isn’t the one with “Crying Over You” on it. That album was half-baked crap with Duran Duran pretensions. Standing in the Dark, is the shit. The difference between crap and shit? The best Linn (those hexagonal electronic drums) work captured on tape in the new wave era. It is the sound of Thor’s hammer at a disco. Also, ridiculous, naive and pretentious as every single element of the record is (right down to the cucumbers in their pants on the “arty” cover) they all work together perfectly in a glorious new romantic meets post-punk at the Hardrock Cafe kind of way. It’s the kind of record that should be a disaster but somehow works. For me, at least. Sometimes you have to wonder if those old dudes can actually like those Blue Cheer and Grand Funk records. They probably do and this is my Led Zeppelin II.
Probably the best rock video ever made: It Doesn’t Really Matter.

Fine Young Cannibals (1986)
Sadly, the Cannibals get featured on One Hit Wonders type shows for “She Drives Me Crazy” from their unfocused yet mega-hit second album. That album, The Raw and The Cooked, wasn’t exactly crap, but it wasn’t the kind of magnum-opus their self-titled debut was. Imagine mixing Elvis, The Jackson Five, Sam Cooke and Kind of Blue era Miles Davis and have it actually work out into a slice of timeless pop-soul perfection. It’s a throw-back to music twenty five years its senior that still sounds fresh twenty years later. To me at least. The first CD I bought in 1992 when I started switching over from cassettes. The video for Johnny Come Home features some great choreography at the end.

The Police: Regatta de Blanc (1979)
Whatever you (or I for that matter) think about Stink now, The Police were a trio of such insanely tight and creative punky dub-wise pop-rock arrangement prowess, they make even the throwaway tracks on this album sparkle. Every single time I listen to Regatta I am in awe. Which is pretty impressive for a top ten pop album by MTV darlings of the day. They couldn’t make a video to save their life though.

Sigue Sigue Sputnik: Flaunt It (1986)
Probably one of the most maligned bands ever. This album is the sonic representation of Blade Runner meets The Road Warrior battling The Terminator. Blending Suicide, T-rex and Elvis in an ADD new wave cut-up sci-fi sound-collage, it’s amazing they actually intended it to be a multi-platinum MTV hit. It wasn’t. But, to me (and a few others at least), it might be the best album ever recorded. Also, Love Missile F1-11 is one of my favourite videos of all time.

Midnight Oil: Head Injuries (1979)
It might be hard to believe the Oils were once a ferocious punk-prog juggernaut. It’s kind of ridiculous to think so. But they were. Especially on this album where every note is coiled like a tightly wound spring. This video for Cold Cold Change is proof that 9-foot giants like Peter Garret shouldn’t wear hideous shirts. Which he always did.

INXS: Kick (1987)
It drove my dad nuts I liked this album. He kept trying to convince me I didn’t like it. And I never let any of my friends know. As far as they knew I only listened to Metallica, the Crue and W.A.S.P. But there’s something about Kick that stuck it’s arm down my throat, grabbed a hold of my soul and never let go. Probably something to do with Michael Hutchence’s leather pants. Which is probably why my dad didn’t like me listening to it. Need You Tonight is a pretty nifty piece of film too.

The Jesus and Mary Chain: Automatic (1989)
Yeah, it’s not as good as Psychocandy or as perfect as Darklands and doesn’t have ‘Sidewalking’ on it like Barbedwire Kisses. I’m not sure it’s even my favourite JAMC album, but here it is on this list. I can’t drive anywhere without it. Not happily at least. And that song the Pixies covered is on it.

Ned’s Atomic Dustbin: God Fodder (1991)
No band has ever had worse fashion sense. Worse, I used to dress like them. Ned’s and Platinum Blonde are the only two bands on this list I’ve seen live. Though I had a girlfriend who never forgave me for not taking her to see Midnight Oil when they played that free concert in the Carmanah Valley clearcut. She said it was the “Woodstock of our generation.” She was probably right. Anyway, I did take her to Ned’s and they kind of sucked rather quite a lot and we had a fight on the Skytrain. Unfortunate stage moves: Kill Your Television.

Skinny Puppy: Too Dark Park (1990)
There so much going on in this album. Too much. It’s a sonic trashheap of samples and seemingly random musical motifs.I can’t even tell how it’s all pasted together. Apparently they were so far gone on heroin at this point it was probably just an accident it came together the way it did. It’s a case of too much of a bad thing being a good thing. Or something. The video for Spasmolytic is probably the best Canadian horror film ever made.

Pet Shop Boys: Bilingual (1996)
This is the most recent disc on this list and it’s a full decade old. It has a really cool “frosted glass” jewel case. PSB can do no wrong in my book and they do a lot of right on this album. It’s absolutely fabulous. This video for Red Letter Day makes no sense.

Revisionist Note: Five years later, some of these albums are no longer in my ultimate top ten and a few of the ones mentioned in the introductory paragraph have been upgraded. Mainly, INXS has been edged out by Radiohead’s Amnesiac. Actually, In Rainbows is a close contender as well. Underworld has usurped Midnight Oil’s spot with dubnobasswithmyheadman. And Isn’t Anything might overtake Automatic after all. But this is the quibbliest of quibbling, really. They’re all great albums. ~ July, 2011.

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