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After 1984, it's all downhill
I want to start by saying this 20 year cutoff is bullshit, as that excludes all Diamond Dave era Van Halen.
That being said, here we go (not really in any particular order, as this is off the top of my head):
20. De La Soul "3 Feet High and Rising" & "De La Soul Is Dead"
I hated rap until I heard 3 Feet High, because rap was what the football team in my high school listened to. Then I heard this record and reconsidered everything. A gigantic portion of my freshman year in college was spent sitting around listening to this album over and over, laughing our asses off. Rap has never been so fun. "De La Soul is Dead" is different from the first one, but still damn funny and interesting and surprising. My friend and I were listening to this in his car, and we were laughing so hard at the "Who's the doo-doo man" bit that we missed the exit we needed and got kind of lost.
19. Public Enemy "Welcome to the Terrordome" single
My friends and I at the college radio station used to sit around and have conversations like "What do you think it would be like to have been the first person to hear "Double Nickels on the Dime" or "Zen Arcade?" Like, you go, oh, there a new Minutemen record, or a new Hüsker Dü record, and you get it, and then it FUCKING BLOWS YOUR MIND!!!" Well, this was our version of that. I got a call from my friend who was in the station opening records, and he was frantic. "There's a new Public Enemy single!!! Get down here!!!" I ran out the door, and as I booked it across campus, I saw a friend of ours doing the same from a different direction. Ronnie, who had made the call, took the record out, set the needle down, and out came that amazing horn sample that opens the song, followed by that drone that Public Enemy did so well. Our weenie ass jaws dropped, and this was just the first 5 seconds of the song.
18. The Cardigans "Life"
This whole album was my favorite for a very long time. The first four songs are a marvel in the history of album sequencing, in my opinion.
17. Friendly People Making Noise compilation
This is something I bought used from someone on a mailing list (I think). I just liked the name. It's all fun electronic pop from Sweden on the Friendly Noise label. Most of it isn't that noisy, but it is friendly. I wish there was more music like this.
16. Flaming Lips "The Soft Bulletin"
I used to think these guys were pigfuckers because of "She Don't Use Jelly" (even though it inspired the best 90210 quote of all time - "You know, I'm no fan of alternative music, but those Flaming Lips rocked"). This album made me change my mind, big time. "A sonic adventure," I believe Dorf called it.
15. Gary Wilson "Mary Had Brown Hair"
Mat, Shumai's bass player played this for us in his car a few weeks ago on the way to see Star Wars. In some ways, it's depressing that the first record I have gotten excited about in a long, long time is a borderline novelty record, but it's got a lot of charm. Even given the fact that the dude is still writing songs about the couple of girls who snubbed him back in the 70s. Creepy, but in a Shaggs sort of way.
14. Stina Nordenstam "This is"
Normally girls that sing in the little girl voice tend to get on my nerves. Stina doesn't for some reason, but it might be because she's not really being cutesy. Or if she is, it's often balanced by the strange industrial percussion. And she had a video featuring ballerinas puking.
13. Stereolab - Everything up to Dots and Loops
Every once in while I'd get totally burned out on indie music and listen to one thing over and over. Once it was Hank Williams. Another time it was Gordon Lightfoot. What snapped me out each time was Stereolab releasing a new record.
12. Trainspotting Soundtrack.
I'm not sure if we were allowed soundtracks, but fuck it. Worth it for the Underworld song alone, but not a dud in the bunch.
11. Shins "Oh Inverted World"
I resisted this for a long time because everyone kept telling me I would love it. Everyone is usually wrong, except in this case. If this list were in order of importance, this album would be higher.
10. Magnetic Fields "69 Love Songs"
I think Spin giving this 10 stars is overkill, as there are some clunkers. And I don't really dig disc 2 as much as 1 and 3, but this is a good album, and I have a lot of nostalgia for it. Dorf and I listened to this a lot when I had just bought my condo in Boston and we were painting the shit out of it. This album reminds me of when I thought the world was full of happy possibilities.
9. The Milky Way "In Love EP"
Ok, I guess I was wrong about Gary Wilson being the first thing I've gotten excited about in a long time. I stumbled across this on some Japanese record store website, and bought it based on the sample. I fucking love this record. It is possibly the gayest record I own (and I own a lot of St. Etienne) but apparently gay is awesome. I cannot not get a goofy grin and wiggle like a tard when this is on. Which is embarrassing when I listen to it at work.
8. Free Loan Investments - their whole output
I forget where I heard about these guys, but they made me do the same sort of stuff the Milky Way does. They recently broke up and never put out an album, but they had a lot of mp3s out at one time, and put out an ep that was easy to get, so I have plenty to remember them by. They thought they were very punk, and had a very happy , bouncy song called "Bomb the Bourgeoisie"
7. Beastie Boys "Check Your Head"
Yes, Paul's Boutique is their masterpiece. But you could not go to a party my senior year of college without hearing this record. Did this record get played because there were parties, or were there parties because this record was being played?
6. Danielson Famile - Tri-Danielson
My friend really had to convince me to go to this show, as it was with the Make-Up (who I hate - pretentious douchebags) and ? and the Mysterians (who I don't really care about). We walked in in the middle of Danielson's set, and I was won over almost immediately. They were all wearing matching robes with silver spaceships on them, and had these red dots stuck to their cheeks. There were like 30 of them, and it really really seemed like some sort of cult, with Daniel calling the shots. The music was like twee King Crimson, jumping all over the place tempo-wise, and they had all sort of high school band instruments, and Daniel sang in this grating, screechy voice. We bought everything we could afford from them, went to a bank machine, and went back and got the rest. Then we went to my friends house and listened to it all. Her boyfriend had not been at the show, therefore had not undergone this conversion, was really freaked out and didn't get it.
5. Yo La Tengo "Fakebook"
Dorf gets cranky about how everyone loves this album over all the other Yo La Tengo stuff, and to a degree she has a point, but I think this is the perfect summer album. Possibly only because I first heard it in the summer.
4. Pavement "Westing (By Musket and Sextant)
If they had only written "Summer Babe" they would still be a great band. I often think they would be a better band if they had only written Summer Babe.
3. Jonathan Richman - Jonathan Richman
Not his best, but the first I heard of him. "Everyday clothes" remains one of my favorites of all time.
2. My Bloody Valentine "Loveless"
A lot of people get cheesed when people say how awesome they think this record is. That's too bad. At the time, nothing sounded like this. When I first heard it, it was on a shitty cassette my roommate had, so I thought the tape was warped or something. Then I got the CD and realized it was supposed to sound that way. On mornings when I was really hung over I used to say "This is one of those mornings when My Bloody Valentine sounds like normal music. So many different things going, I never get bored with it, even years later, and I've listened to it a ton in that time.
1. Unrest "Imperial F.F.R.R."
There was a time when Unrest could have pooped on a plate and I'd have dug it. I was just listening to this the other day and thinking, "You know, I hate when people make you make lists of your top xxx bands/albums/handjobs, but I think Unrest would be right behind Devo as far as my favorite bands of all time." Starts with a boring volume reference tone, then nails you with Suki, and it's awesomeness all the way through.
yeah, I know, I left out the Pixies. Everyone knows the Pixies are awesome. Also, Dinosaur Jr. Also, the Replacements' Let It Be was pre-the cutoff year. And a ton of other shit that might not be in my iPod as I write this. My memory is caca. Also, assume almost anything on Teenbeat in the 90s should be in here, and most Jonathan Richman records. And while it isn't on my favorite Belle and Sebastian record, I think "The Model" might be the perfect pop song.