The Top Five, As Of Today (Nov, 2014)

As of about 10 seconds ago, I just finished reading through a list of top five albums by a number of poets and friends that another friend of mine compiled, because he frequently makes wonderful decisions about things like this.

Pulling the Top Five together is an exercise that I love almost as much as I'm frustrated by it. Usually because (due to unruly knack to not know when to leave well enough alone) doing so involves cobbling together some kind of elaborate defense of my picks, that I will almost undoubtedly want desperately to retract six months down the road.  

At the same time, I love the idea of being able to mark different periods in ones life by the music most evocative/influential/overwhelming to them at the time, as well as being able to map the manner in which those preferences can evolve, or stimulate an evolution of their own. 

To that end, every few months I'll be posting a new Top 5 to see where things are at. Some will probably end up being a bit more detailed/lengthy, but I figured I'd start things off in a more straight ahead fashion.

A couple rules from the get go: for my own sanity, I'm keeping this to studio releases, so that means no compilations, and no live shows (that list is coming soon). And once its posted, no revisions. 

So, as of today,  in no particular order (I can only go so far), and knowing full well I'll wake up disagreeing with half of these tomorrow: 


The Five:

-Voodoo, D'angelo

There's a section in Mo' Meta Blues, autobiography of the incomparable drummer/producer/scholar/guru/know-it-all Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, in which he explains his tendency to initially dislike, or at the very least be thrown by the music that will ultimately become most influential to him. The first time I heard Voodoo, I turned it off halfway through the opener. The second time I heard Voodoo, I jumped around until I landed at "Send It On," zoned out for a couple of minutes, then turned it off again. The third time I heard Voodoo, I sat alone in my bed listening front to back, flipped it on repeat for the fourth, and came out some two and a half hours later with a new favorite album. It moves slow. It's muddy. It never gives you everything you're looking for, at least not for as long as you wish it would. And that's a big part of what makes it brilliant. 

-Abbey Road, The Beatles 

I could take a good amount of time doing a track by track on this album, but the biggest part for me is that moment in "Carry That Weight" when the horns come back in with the "You Never Give Me Your Money" theme, and then a couple seconds later it drops back to hint the "Here Comes The Sun" bridge, and then hard drops into "The End"...thats a hell of a way to say goodbye (Sit down, Let It Be. No one asked you). Oh, and also, whoever's idea it was to pull "Her Majesty" out of the middle of the medley and turn it into a post-coital cigarette...That person deserves a medal. 

-Dirty Mind, Prince

I've written about this before, "this" being both how easily I can swap this album out with Purple Rain depending on what time I went to be the night before, as well as how fascinated I am by Prince's ability to deploy (and I mean that very literally...this man is a calculated dude) the perfect amount of jangle to humanize his virtuosity. Its one hell of a balancing act; swing to far to one end and you've got a room full of people dancing too hard to notice you're even there. the other way, nobody's dancing because their jaws are too busy weighing them down to the floor. Prince (especially on Dirty Mind) does just the perfect amount of work, mixes in the perfect amount of off-kilter and glitch and human error for you to forget how otherworldly he can be, for just long enough to start moving. And once you do, he doesn't let you stop. 

-Illmatic, Nas

A combination of some of the most brilliantly innovative beat-making and some of the most gut-punchingly evocative writing I've heard, the majority of which was composed and recorded by a teenager. so thats fun. AZ's still got the Top Guest Verse slot locked up pretty solidly in my book. And "It Ain't Hard To Tell" will always be my second favorite MJ flip (nobody's beating out Dilla, but still...)

-Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter

One of those perfect meetings of virtuosity and pocket. Also, Witch Hunt has one of the greatest opening shouts I've heard.  And an incredibly weird form. And still feels seamless. Well played. 


On the Fringes: 

-Tusk, Fleetwood Mac: You give me just the Lindsey tracks, and it would be a lock. 

-Off The Wall, MJ: Arguably one of the greatest 1-2-3 punches in history. But some people just aren't closers (that being said, I dont know anybody who does a 2nd to last banger as consistently) . Also, if you're gonna cover a Wings tune, at least do us the courtesy of making it a better version? 

-Early Riser, Taylor McFerrin: Just a question of staying power. If I put this on a year from now and feel the same way, it might just edge something out. 

-For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver: Definitely need a little more distance before I can separate this from the nostalgia that comes with it. Never underestimate the emotive power of a scruffy dude with an acoustic guitar who sounds like he's singing from outside the of the house in the middle of a snowstorm. 

-A 3-5-fewer-tracks condensed version of Confessions, Usher. I could be convinced a few different ways in terms of what to slice, but I'm definitely looking at you, "That's What It's Made For." Nothing about that isn't creepy. 


Thats it for today. Apologies to myself tomorrow...

A Giant Caveat...

So, here's the thing. I have a lot of opinions about things. Especially musical things. I really like having those opinions. And writing about those opinions. And debating those opinions with people who have different opinions. 

I am also fully aware of how unbelievably subjective everything gets the second you dance your way into any conversations about creativity/art, etc. In writing about/putting forward lists of "My Top Ten X, Y, and Z," it is never (ok...almost never) my intention to claim an absolute, or on the other side of that, belittle those on the other side of the fence. Its just something I really like writing about. And would absolutely love to dialogue about any and all of the things I put up here, if you're so inclined. So please dont hesitate to comment, or get in touch, or whatever. Just keep it civil, yeah? 

With all of that in mind...

Nate's Top Ten List Of Prince Albums Pre-1990*

*yes, this list would be remarkably similar without the date stipulation. But Musicology was amazing, and I’m withholding any further judgement until this new thing drops, because if ‘Breakfast Can Wait’ is any indication…just saying…


1.     Dirty Mind

If I’m being completely honest, you catch me on a different day and I could just as easily swap the 1 and 2 slots here. In every way that Purple Rain is refined, expansive, and anthemic, Dirty Mind is jangly, claustrophobic, and raw…in all the best ways possible. Never has a pocket so jittery and a guitar tone so thin made me want to dance so hard (sit down, Stevie, we’re not talking to you right now). Its also completely impossible to separate my feelings towards this album from the knowledge that 97% of it was performed by Prince all by his lonesome at the age of 22…so there’s you’re daily helping of “what am I doing with my life”… 


2.     Purple Rain

It is very difficult for me to imagine anyone composing a single note melody as emotionally evocative as “I Would Die 4 U.” Just can't imagine thats ever gonna happen again. Also, the Three Musketeers of a closing trio with “I Would Die 4 U > Baby I’m A Star > Purple Rain.” Also, try kicking in the door with something that’s not “Let’s Go Crazy.” Also I know it’s not technically on the album, but Beyonce’s cover of “The Beautiful Ones” from Glastonbury makes me feel way more things than I’m prepared to deal with. Also you managed to get away with “Computer Blue.” Congrats on that. 


3.   Sign Of The Times

This is another tough one for me…if you’re just talking the best material off the album, between “Adore,” “The Ballad Of Dorothy Parker,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend” and “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man” Sign would probably have the top spot locked up. But it’s incredibly difficult to keep that kind of pace through 16 songs, not to mention to keep any type of thematic cohesion (never completely been Prince’s bag, but nonetheless…). Don’t get me wrong, I’ll blast this thing front to back any day of the week. But I could also definitely survive without “U Got The Look”…


4.    Prince

Two things: The first time I ever heard the outro to “It’s Gonna Be Lonely,” I was on the way from Massachusetts to New York for a show, and almost drove off the road. Hands down one of my favorite album closers, one of the most startlingly and aggressively beautiful musical moments I’ve heard. Secondly: I don't think there is a single snare hit that makes me feel as good as the opening to “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” Rest of that tunes’s pretty high up on my list as well. 


5.    Controversy

This is where it starts getting more complicated. Controversy is by no means a perfect album, and in many ways feels to be an extension of Prince and Dirty Mind rather than a notable step forward, creatively speaking. That being said, “Private Joy” definitely comes in towards the top of my sleeper favorites, and “Do Me Baby” will always hold a special place in my heart, if only because of its role in inspiring D’angelo and Raphael Saadiq to compose “Untitled (How Does It Feel).”


6.    1999

It just never clicked for me. Hands down some of the strongest tunes in Prince’s catalogue. But on the whole…I don’t know. On some level I think it has to do with holding the entire album up to the standard of its best songs (two of which happen to be the openers), which I know isn’t entirely fair…but I’m also the one making the list, sooooooo….


7.     Parade

God damn it this is a weird album. Barely accessible (arguably deliberately so), with the exception of “Kiss,” which doesn't come in until three quarters of the way through. At the same time, there is something remarkably genuine, and as a result evocative, in the insanity/eccentricity, which is missing from many of his other similarly bizarre releases. 


8.     For You

Dude was 19. I just cant.


9.     Lovesexy

I hate how much I love the beginning of this album, if only because of how badly it builds me up for the let down that is everything after “Alphabet St.” Again, not to say its awful…it just never quite holds onto the momentum.


10. Batman

I’ll give you “Partyman.” I’ll give you writing lyrics and crediting yourself as different characters from the movie. But in all the ways Dirty Mind thrived in its claustrophobia, Batman constantly feels strangled, like its reaching for something more expansive than its ever capable of accomplishing. You could argue that's a product of production more than composition, but with Prince I’m not sure you can ever fully separate the two.


“Honorable” mention: Around the World In A Day:

-Even if you weren’t trying to follow up one of the greatest albums of the preceding twenty years…even if you had never made an album before this one…nah man. Go to bed. Sleep it off.