Influences: My Top 15 Album Picks

Posted by  Grand Poobah  October 19, 2012  •  No Comments  • 

As Chameleon Red gears up to record the follow-up to Transposition, I’ve been getting back in touch with some of my influences to get grounded and to dream big.  In that spirit, here are my selections for the 15 greatest rock albums.

1.       The Beatles – Revolver
This is the Beatles at their best; the most focused and yet diverse collection of songs the band ever released.  You get scorching rock (“Taxman”), beautiful pop (“Here, There, and Everywhere”), raga (“Love You To”), a children’s sing-along (“Yellow Submarine”), and far-out psychedelia (“Tomorrow Never Knows”).  All this while they were still touring!


2.       The Beatles – Abbey Road
The band had all but fallen apart, they were moving in different directions, and yet…this, the last album they recorded together, was one of their strongest efforts.  Lennon and McCartney shine, as usual, but Harrison finally becomes their equal with “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun”, and even Starr proves he’s no one-trick pony with “Octopus’ Garden”.  But it’s side two’s medley, beginning with “You Never Give Me Your Money” and ending with “The End”, that lifts the album to greatness.

3.       Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
The snare that kicks off “Like a Rolling Stone” is the sound of Bob kicking the door down and storming into your house with sharp and acidic tales of the absurdities of modern society.  And just like Mr. Jones in “Ballad of a Thin Man”, something’s happening here but we don’t quite know what it is.


4.       Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland
This sprawling double album proves once and for all that Jimi was more than a guitar hero, he was a great songwriter and lyricist.  My favorite track is “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)”, a strange sci-fi epic that makes you feel you’re sinking beneath the depths of the ocean.  “So down and down and down and down and down and down we go…”


5.       Led Zeppelin – (Untitled)
This is the album with the four strange symbols on the cover, the one with “Stairway to Heaven”.  Yes, we’ve heard these songs a million times on classic rock radio, but they’re still great.  That’s why they play them over and over again.



6.       The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
Forget about “Surfin’ In the USA”…this is the Beach Boys as they were never heard before, with ethereal melodies, complex chords, and introspective lyrics.  Brian Wilson is at his creative height, before drugs and mental illness take him out for a few decades.


7.       Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
Yeah, Dark Side of the Moon is great, but I think this is better.  The last time the Floyd really worked together instead of being a Roger Waters vehicle, their instrumental freak outs are never better than in the extended “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.


8.       Neil Young – After the Gold Rush
This is Neil before he began segregating his acoustic and electric proclivities onto different album sides or even different albums.  Most of the album is more acoustically-based, but you have “Southern Man” and “When You Dance I Can Really Love” to break things up.  And even though there are a couple of inconsequential fragments here, I think his songwriting was at the top of its form.


9.       Creedence Clearwater Revival – Chronicle
It’s not really kosher to include a greatest-hits collection here, but it’s my list!  CCR was, first and last, a great singles band, and this collection proves it once and for all.  We’re only left wondering how a group of California boys could transform themselves so convincingly into the shamans of swamp-rock.


10.   Chuck Berry – The Great Twenty-Eight
Again, another greatest hits, this one included with the defense that they really didn’t make albums in those days.  This collection of the best of the first Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll makes a strong case for revisiting just who the real King was.


11.   Nirvana – Nevermind
This album blew away the hair metal of the previous decade and reminded us why we loved hard rock in the first place.  The hook-filled melodies disguised and in some ways, transcended the raw and disturbing lyrical vision underneath.  Classic and tragic.


12.   Queen – A Night At the Opera
Named for the classic Marx Brothers movie, this is Queen at their most focused and diverse.  Not only do you get “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but a seesaw between bone-crunching rock, lovely ballads, and kitschy romps through rooty-tooty pop music.  God Save the Queen, indeed.


13.   The Doors – The Doors
What other band could start out with a bossa nova and end with an Oedipal nightmare?  The organ may sound a little cheesy to modern ears, but nobody conjured up dark visions with more conviction than the Doors.



14.   Beck – Mutations
In a way, this is the most unassuming of Beck’s albums.  For once, he dispenses with the cut-and-paste hip-hop distractions and plays music with his band.  Every song is great, and the tone is less monotonous than the lusher-sounding Sea Change.  We get country, tropicalia, raga-rock, and 60s-influenced ballads before the whole thing is punctured by the hidden final track, the psychedelic fuzz-guitar attack of “Diamond Bollocks”.

15.   Radiohead – OK Computer
This album, the greatest thing Radiohead ever did, manages to be melodic, hummable, psychotic, and deeply disturbing.  Like the car wreck in the first track, “Airbag”, we are horrified, yet can’t look away.

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