Before Oasis battled Blur and Kanye West wrestled 50 Cent, there was this: the ultimate pop-music rivalry. The Beatles represented Northern England, taking up the mantel for all the marginalized country folk whose ways and accents marked them as separate from the cosmopolitan London manifested by bad-boy R&B purists the Rolling Stones. That said, despite the well-publicized differences between the bands, they had a lot in common. Both shared a fondness for some of the same old rock ’n’ roll, employed overlapping session musicians, lost their ’60s catalogs to the same shyster (Allen Klein), worked with the same movie director (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who was behind the Let It Be movie and the Stones’ ill-conceived Rock And Roll Circus program) and used “hold me, love me” as a lyric. The Stones may have long since allowed their sell-by date to expire while improbably outliving half of the Fab Four, but back in the ’60s, this rivalry resulted in an amazing run of classic albums. Are you ready to rumble?
Let’s cut right to the chase: Everybody hates world music. Even David Byrne. (The Talking Heads frontman, who’s perhaps most responsible for expanding the genre’s audience via his Luaka Bop label, once penned a somewhat apologetic editorial for the New York Times saying as much.) Nothing conjures pretentious, self-satisfied yuppiedom quite as vividly as world music, but for whatever reason, foreign-language albums are invariably tarred with its brush. Here are six discs whose charms can’t be held down by a language barrier.
You’ve spent years honing your songs on the booze-stained stages of derelict clubs. Your debut album earns critical praise and popular support, elevating your group to buzz-bin status. So what to do for an encore? If you’re the six bands here, you give critics the ammunition they need to forecast your follow-up as a sophomore slump. These records are the most unfortunate examples of the dreaded second-album syndrome.
Chomping your way through a Big Grab of Doritos. Compulsive viewing of The OC. A deep, abiding love of chick lit. These are the guilty pleasures we take pains to keep secret, the embarrassing little indulgences to which we treat ourselves when we think no one is paying attention. Music is no exception: For all of your carefully selected stacks of rare vinyl or devotion to Sonic Youth’s obscure Japanese imports, you also have to admit you own a copy of Rush’s Moving Pictures. The following represent the best of rock and pop’s guilty pleasures from the last three decades—not in that hipster, irony-laced, sure-I-dig-Neil-Diamond kind of way, but albums that stubbornly remain in rotation despite all critical evidence suggesting otherwise.
“Somewhere there’s a war, sometimes there is art,” sings Jeff Tweedy on “Shake It Off” from Wilco’s latest LP, Sky Blue Sky. And sometimes there are both. Whether it was Bob Dylan standing over the metaphorical graves of the Vietnam-era profiteers on “Masters Of War,” Jimi Hendrix turning his guitar into a lethal weapon for peace on “Machine Gun,” the Soft Boys warning a generation they were “dying to get killed” on “I Wanna Destroy You” or Public Enemy’s Chuck D railing at the government for daring to send him a draft notice on “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos,” musicians have long taken up instruments, pens and voices in service of a decidedly pro-human agenda. The following six albums represent rock’s finest anti-war protest music.
The self-titled solo debut is the primary contribution of the singer/songwriter era, during which Bob Dylan, Tim Buckley, Randy Newman and Joan Baez were introduced to the world via albums named after, uh, themselves. It may seem archaic and narcissistic, but the ploy has outlasted the days of the chest-unburdening troubadour. Peter Gabriel, in a fit of George Foreman-like nomenclature pique, issued three consecutive self-titled albums. Dylan, Dr. Dre and Julian Cope went so far as to name songs after themselves, with Bo Diddley emerging as the crown prince of this practice, having released more than 30 songs with either “Bo” or “Diddley” in the title. (Our favorite: “Bo Diddley-itis.”) These albums represent MAGNET’s take on the finest eponymous solo debuts.
We all know self-appointed music snobs who would just as soon be strapped to a chair and force-fed the entire Poison catalog as purchase the lazy man’s way to a diversified music collection: the best-of. But everyone owns at least one greatest-hits collection. Surely you’ve got a well-loved copy of Al Green’s Greatest Hits or The Best Of Blondie bouncing around the glove compartment, right? Well, there’s a reason for that. These guilty pleasures are not only what make the music industry go ’round (some acts have been repackaged more often than they were ever officially recorded; take a bow, Jimi), they’re sometimes the best work an artist will ever release. We’ve surveyed the rock ’n’ roll wastelands to unearth six of the finest, most concise greatest-hits collections unleashed on the masses.
Drugs, like sex, are inextricably bound to rock ’n’ roll. More than a mere marriage of convenience, the pairing has come to resemble the partnership between remora and shark: It’s hard to imagine rock developing into the shaggy-haired beast it’s become without the influence of chemical compounds. Undoubtedly, other substances have also played a role in shaping popular music. For example, country’s relationship with alcohol is well-documented (see: Hank Sr.’s “There’s A Tear In My Beer”). In the jazz era, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Miles Davis used narcotics. Dance artists have designed specific beats to match the effects of certain types of chemicals, while reggae has tended to view drugs as quasi-spiritual “journey enhancers.” The following albums represent the epitome of what Spacemen 3 once referred to as “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to.”
The double album is an artifact of a bygone age in which artists conceived works requiring two vinyl records to contain all the content. Today, most double-length albums can easily fit onto a single CD, which has created some confusion about intent: Is the album simply in need of a judicious edit? The double album also speaks to an era when artistic freedom frequently shook hands with musical excess, from Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde to the Clash’s London Calling. Commencing with the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s At Carnegie Hall in 1963 (widely believed to be the first commercially released double album), artists have embraced the sprawling format. The indie-rock community has chimed in with classics of its own, such as Hüsker Dü’s relentless Zen Arcade and the Minutemen’s ADD-afflicted Double Nickels On The Dime. The following are perhaps the finest examples of the form the underground has authored in MAGNET’s 13-year life span.