Recently, we read an article in the Guardian wherein critic Tom Ewing proclaimed loudly that he’d never heard Nirvana’s Nevermind. While Ewing’s oversight was apparently more due to apathy than willful ignorance — as he writes, “often I let an album pass me by, watch the buzz around it swell, crest and ebb” — the piece did get us thinking about how we’re generally of the opinion that you should give everything a chance, and then make a judgement, not dismiss things out of hand because they don’t fit your view of what’s good and what ain’t. While only the most curmudgeonly would dismiss Nevermind out of hand, there are plenty of other less fashionable albums that people these days tend to dismiss a priori as terminally uncool. And so we got to thinking about some such unfashionable records that we still think are totally worthy of a spot on your shelf and/or your iPod. We’ve nominated a few after the jump — (polite) suggestions are, as ever, welcome.
Pink Floyd — The Dark Side of the Moon
Curiously enough, if there’s any Floyd revisionism going on these days, it’s directed toward their Syd Barrett era (a point demonstrated amply by the backlash in the comments section of an article we ran a while back that nominated The Piper at the Gates of Dawn as a relatively ropey debut album). The rest of the band’s oeuvre is still mired in a perception that it’s all overblown stadium pizzle and giant inflatable pigs, and that Roger Waters et al should remain firmly in dad’s record collection, and/or on the cover of Mojo (which is basically the same thing). But wait, grab that copy of The Dark Side of the Moon and stick it on the turntable. You’ll be rewarded with the best lyrics Waters ever wrote — particularly “Time,” which contains a two-for-one package of cutting observations on fleeting youth and English society — and music that still sounds startlingly contemporary today.
Elton John — Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
These days, he’s a cuddly elder statesman known for his red piano, his penchant for spending lots of money on flowers, and his status as best-friend-by-default of rock stars getting off drugs. So it’s easy to forget that for a while in the 1970s, Elton John was a proper star. (Just look at the scans of ’70s mag Rock Scene we exhumed a while back — he features in pretty much every issue, just as much as the likes of Iggy and Bowie and the denizens of the punk scene). Most of his early-’70s albums are thoroughly worthy, but we’re particularly fond of this one for the title track and, of course, the fantastic “Bennie and the Jets” (later covered by the Beastie Boys, amongst others). It also contains a song called “Jamaica Jerk-Off.” True story.
Paul Simon — Paul Simon
Simon and Garfunkel were also great, of course, but we don’t think they’ve ever become hugely unfashionable (perhaps because of their enduring association with The Graduate, amongst other things). Paul Simon’s early solo work hasn’t fared so well, however, and despite commercial success at the time, the period between the end of Simon and Garfunkel and the release of Graceland is seen as a bit of a void. This is a shame, because Simon released some great songs over that period — especially on his debut, which contained the reggae-inflected “Mother and Child Reunion” (quite the radical musical maneuver for a white singer at the time) along with the all-time classic “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard.” (No, we’re not quite sure what’s going on with the intro to this video either.)
U2 — The Joshua Tree
Yeah, go on, tell us about everyone hates Bono these days. He’s a fake, and a phony, and a politician, and all that. But still, the fact remains that his band made some pretty great albums during the 1980s. Their enduring influence is largely due to The Edge’s guitar work, which took the sharp angles of post-punk and remolded them into a textured, delay-laden sound that was both distinctive and innovative — a sound that turns up today both in the obvious places (yes, Coldplay, that means you) and some less obvious ones (just how much does The Temper Trap’s “Sweet Disposition” sound like this song?!).
King Crimson — In the Court of the Crimson King
King Crimson have been hugely unfashionable for decades, largely because they were one of the bands to feel the iconoclastic fury of punk’s year-zero anti-prog revisionism. But we’ve always felt that they’ve been rather unfairly tainted by association to the icons that punk was smashing. While the ludicrous extremes of prog (like Rick Wakeman staging a King Arthur musical on ice, for instance) have been justly pilloried over the years, King Crimson’s music doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush — and even in 2011, it’s still pretty out there. You can hear echoes of “21st Century Schizoid Man” in everything from Spiritualized’s free-jazz wig-outs to Radiohead’s millenial angst and the grinding riffs of the metal bands that In the Court of the Crimson King would inspire — and shit, that’s only the first track on the album.
Electric Light Orchestra — Out of the Blue
And while we’re on prog, let’s revisit ELO’s crowning achievement. Like King Crimson, ELO have largely been undermined by implicit association with prog’s excesses — and, admittedly, this album does contain, amongst other things, a four-song concerto called “Concerto for a Rainy Day.” But before you dismiss it out of hand, give it a listen — in among the symphonic flourishes and crazy instrumentation, you’ll find a wealth of unconstrained ambition, and also musical ideas that recur today in the work of dance producers like Daft Punk and the Ed Banger Crew as well as heavily synth-driven visionaries like Oneohtrix Point Never and Emeralds.
Bruce Springsteen — The River
There’s an argument to be made that The Boss isn’t perhaps as terminally unfashionable as he became during the 1990s, but still, we’re including this here because it’s such a great album that we don’t want to run any risk of it being overlooked. The title track is flat out one of the saddest and most beautiful songs ever written — the lyrical denouement (“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/ Or is it something worse?”) always makes us a little teary — and it’s for that reason alone that The River gets a nod over Springsteen’s next album Nebraska, which is quite possibly his finest moment. Either way, at his best Springsteen was one of the most engaging lyricists of his time, and his work certainly deserves investigation.
INXS — Kick
It may be vague nationalistic bias showing through here (this particular Flavorpill writer hails from the land down under, after all), but there are few more unfairly neglected ’80s hit records than Kick. At the time it was massive, spawning six hit singles and peaking at #3 on the Billboard album chart. Now it’s a footnote to the ’80s, and it deserves better. Michael Hutchence was as good a frontman as any of INXS’s contemporaries could boast, and the band’s funk-inflected stylings were far more musically accomplished and interesting than many of the era’s cookie-cutter pop songs. If there’s still a copy of this gathering dust round your way, give it a spin — you may be pleasantly surprised.
Dire Straits — Making Movies
Dire Straits have always been a band that it’s never, ever been cool to like. Their debut single was a charming ditty about an amateur jazz band that was released just as punk was setting fire to the establishment; their commercial apogee came with their least interesting album, which was snapped up by a bazillion sub-Patrick Bateman businessmen looking to show off their new CD players; and their eventual demise was mourned by pretty much no one (or certainly no one in the music press, anyway). We can’t point to a single band that they’ve influenced, nor any sort of enduring musical legacy. They came, and they went, and that was it. But! Despite all that, they had their moments. Most of said moments came on Making Movies, an album that contains some pretty great pop songs and some characteristically smooth guitar work from Mark Knopfler. It was an ’80s landmark and in its own way, it captures the spirit of that decade just as much as synthpop and silly hair.
The Beach Boys — Pet Sounds
In our iconoclastic youth, we railed against this completely — overrated throwaway pop music, we argued, the sort of stuff that the Baby Boomers had been foisting unmercifully on unfortunate members of subsequent generations for years. But we’ve come to appreciate its charms, especially its wonderful, intricate production and the fact that it finds Brian Wilson at the peak of his songwriting powers. Apparently Wilson’s subsequent crisis of confidence was catalyzed as much by hearing the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” as it was by his LSD intake — which is a tragedy, because this is better than anything the Beatles ever recorded.