The Blind Leading The Naked by Violent Femmes: Talk about a late 80’s flashback! Few bands can lay claim to the soundtrack of my college career but the Femmes are definitely one of them. Of their first three albums, this is probably my least favorite but also the most accessible for the masses. While “Old Mother Reagan” definitely sounds dated, the rest of the album still sounds as fresh as the first time I heard it twenty years ago.
Chicago IX (Greatest Hits) by Chicago: Before they were the Peter Cetera Love Song Band, Chicago was a kick-ass rock band with a great horn section. Although some of these songs hinted at the mediocre ballads that would come later, this set of songs is never formulaic and recommended for all fans of classic rock.
Eagles Live by The Eagles: Classic rock seems to be the theme for this year’s crop of Honorable Mentions and this live album represents the classiest of the classics. This two-disc set was the capstone on the Eagles’ decade long run at the forefront of the country-rock movement. Although it’s a little heavy on songs from The Long Run (most of the album was recorded during that tour), two discs leaves lots of rooms for all the old favorites and even a “new” classic for this album, “Seven Bridges Road”. More than anything this album proves that the Eagles were a great live band that did not rely on the studio to make their sound. The harmonies are all spot-on and the musicianship is exquisite, particularly on “Hotel California” which ends with a legendary guitar duel between Joe Walsh and Don Felder.
Volcano, Riddles in the Sand, Last Mango In Paris by Jimmy Buffett: My sister introduced me to Jimmy Buffett in the 80’s and I have loved his music ever since. For years I had been satisfied with owning the wonderful Boats, Beaches, Bars, Ballads box set but I have missed many of the album tracks from the period of his career I like to call the Mustache Years. Upon signing up for Lala I immediately put those albums into my Wanted queue. This year I was lucky enough to receive three of those albums. Riddles and Mango have particular meaning for me because they helped provided the soundtrack for my summers in 1984 and 1985 when I lived with my sister in South Carolina. I’ll never forget the look on my brother-in-law’s face as the melody to “La Vie Dansante” played near the end of “Beyond the End” – we were perplexed, delighted… and stoned.
Walls and Bridges by John Lennon: Although this album is not considered among Lennon’s finest by most critics, I still count it as one of my favorites by John, probably because it was my first solo Lennon album. The Phil Spector-inspired production can get unnecessarily cluttered with horns sometimes, but each song has almost exactly the right atmosphere it needs. The downbeat numbers, in particular, have a definite dark feeling to them and John’s estrangement from Yoko is obvious. Perhaps that’s why the upbeat numbers feel forced, as if John was trying to convince himself that he was happy when he was not.
Apple Venus Volume 1 by XTC: Although I would classify myself as an XTC fan, I haven’t been very impressed with anything they’ve done since Skylarking, perhaps one of the Top 10 albums of all time. Sure there have been songs that I liked, but each album has been a disappointment as a whole. And so it took awhile for me to finally pick up the first release on their own record label, Apple Venus Volume 1. It undeservedly languished outside of the rotation for months last year until I finally set my mind to rediscovering XTC. Oh how I was rewarded! The lush production and the willingness to throw in a horn or some strings harken back to Skylarking but this album isn’t quite up to that standard. Thus, it only makes Honorable Mention this year.
Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull: Convential wisdom says that Aqualung and Songs From The Wood make up the essential Jethro Tull oeuvre but I would make the case that this masterwork should be included in that collection as well. I first stumbled upon this album in the mid-80’s as a plundered my sister’s record collection with cassettes in hand. I finally purchased the album on vinyl sometime in the 90’s just so I could have the full version of the epic liner notes but it took this long for me to pick up the CD. After ripping the CD into iTunes using the defaults, I went back and re-ripped it as a single track since I think that’s what Ian Anderson intended all along.