Given the range of material I cover on this blog, it may surprise you to learn that I’ve never actually heard Thriller (released, of course, in 1982) all the way through. I know, it’s the top-selling album of all time, a landmark of its era and a classic of its genre, hugely influential. And yet, I still haven’t heard it. It’s not even that I dislike Michael Jackson – “Beat It” is stellar, as is “Billy Jean,” as are both earlier (“Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” any major Jackson 5 hit) and later (“Say Say Say,” “Bad,” “Man in the Mirror”) singles. Perhaps having to leave it out of this Top 5 will provide me with the impetus to finally hear it in its entirety – though it should be said, the following albums are all strong enough that, based on the five songs I’ve already heard from Thriller, MJ would be hard-put to overcome them.
Also, a quick “honorable mention.” So far I’ve avoided doing that, since if we’re going to do a Top FIVE, then the whole point is to choose (however provisionally) FIVE albums, not five-plus-a-few. But the Bangles’ self-titled debut isn’t an album, strictly speaking – it’s an EP, a mere 13 minutes long. But it’s such a fabulous 13 minutes, I felt it deserved a nod.
So, having thus nodded, let’s move on to the Top 5 proper, shall we?
5. EYE IN THE SKY (The Alan Parsons Project)
The APP always straddled the line between art-rock and soft rock, nowhere more evidently–or more successfully–than Eye in the Sky. The opening duet “Sirius”/”Eye in the Sky” together constitute a radio rock and sporting event staple (it’s so effective that Lady Antebellum even “covered” it a couple years back). But the epic “Silence & I” and Colin Blunstone showcase “Old & Wise” are what keep you coming back for more.
4. TOO RYE AYE (Dexys Midnight Runners)
What is the most identifiable element of the Dexys sound? Is it the Stax-like horns that bolster these cuts with their taut R&B charts? Is it the Irish gypsy fiddles of Steve Brennan and Helen O’Hara? How about Billy Adams’ sprightly banjo? Their bedraggled, dungareed street image is certainly distinctive. Or it could be bandleader Kevin Rowland’s off-kilter vocals that sound like the common ground between Ric Ocasek, Joe Strummer, and Van Morrison. No matter. You’ve heard “Come On Eileen;” now hear the rest of Too-Rye-Ay.
3. TUG OF WAR (Paul McCartney)
Tug of War isn’t totally immune to the shortcomings of many of Wings’ albums – namely, the uneasy coexistence of minor masterpieces and questionable filler. But inspired by the presence of George Martin and braced by the assassination of John Lennon, Paul turns in his lushest, strongest effort since Band on the Run. Indeed, if the record didn’t run out of steam toward the end (although you know what, I LIKE “Ebony & Ivory”), it might have been his strongest solo effort, period – “Tug of War,” “Wanderlust,” and “Here Today” all number among the best songs he’s ever written. No small praise.
2. THE NIGHTFLY (Donald Fagen)
That The Nightfly was the very first rock album I can remember hearing probably says a lot about my subsequent musical development. The only thing that keeps this sophisticated jazz-pop song cycle about Donald Fagen’s own formative years from being a Steely Dan album is the absence of Walter Becker. Otherwise, The Nightfly would have a strong claim to being Steely Dan’s best album.
1. LOVE OVER GOLD (Dire Straits)
With Detroit filing for Chapter 9 last summer, “Telegraph Road” has lost none of its devastating power, the disillusionment and despair of deindustrialization concentrated into the knife-edge of Mark Knopfler’s Stratocaster. If Love Over Gold were only 14 minutes long, it would still be the best album of the year. That we get the searing, Dylan-esque “It Never Rains,” the riotous “Industrial Disease,” the spooky “Private Investigations,” and the jazzy title track into the bargain is just icing.
- Video: Paul McCartney Reunites with Ringo Starr at 2014 Grammys (consequenceofsound.net)
- Classic Singers 8 – Mark Knopfler (anothergrumpycommuter.wordpress.com)
- Alan Parsons Project – Eye in the Sky (politicaltunes.wordpress.com)
- Songwriter Explores Inner Space [Donald Fagen] (kuvojazz.wordpress.com)
- 1982: Kevin Rowland & Dexys Midnight Runners / Too-Rye-Ay (mylifethediscography.wordpress.com)