My friend Thomas sent this challenge out via e-mail, and I figured I would post my response on my blog, rather than just sending it to him directly. Here are the rules: they can’t be concerts, greatest hits, compilations or soundtracks (although I think Pink Floyd’s The Wall may be excepted from that last rule). It’s actually a lot more difficult than it sounds, but it’s good food for thought.
It was actually hard to identify my top 10 albums (I don’t even have all of these on CD!), and I’m almost embarrassed by some of them, but I believe these are honestly my favorite ones (based on the fact I either know all the lyrics to every song, can listen to these albums repeatedly, or both).
At any rate, here are my top 10 picks (in alphabetical order):
BLACK CELEBRATION – Depeche Mode. I think this is the best Depeche Mode album ever, even better than People are People. “New Dress” is probably one of the most insightful songs out there (“You can’t change the world, but you can change the facts… When you change points of view, you can change the world”), and “A Question of Time” has punk-rock sensibilities in the guise of New Wave techno-ish sounds. I simply love this album.
BLIND MAN’S ZOO – 10,000 Maniacs. It’s hard to decide on a favorite 10,000 Maniacs album (how can you choose when Natalie Merchant’s lyrics are all exquisite prose?), but I think Blind Man’s Zoo wins, only because there aren’t any songs on it that I don’t like. The opening track “Eat for Two” is probably the best known song from this album, but, as strong as it is, it’s also probably the weakest. “The Big Parade” brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it (no better song to play in remembrance of our fallen soldiers abroad), “The Lion’s Share” saddens me as I think of the corruption in governments around the world, and I don’t think any song could speak to the importance of being an individual more than “You Happy Puppet”. “Dust Bowl” will break your heart, and “Poison in the Well” will make you angry. Finally, “Jubilee” is a haunting and extremely disturbing song in which the music helps you visualize the lyrics – to a point where you almost want to cry.
THE CIRCUS – Erasure. I don’t think this album got nearly as much attention as it deserved. “Victim of Love” was the main single from this album, but there are so many great tracks on it. Listening to the lyrics, you can sense a theme of accepting one’s (homo)sexuality, but the themes also work for any impressionable young teen (as I was when it was released) trying to find one’s place in the world. As it was the precursor to The Innocents (another great album, but not my favorite one by Erasure), I think a lot of people have forgotten it, but it’s entirely their loss. Among my favorite songs are “Sometimes”, “It Doesn’t Have to Be”, and the title track. But my favorite of all is “Spiralling” – it’s by far one of the best break-up songs ever.
DARK AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL – Oingo Boingo. Boingo Alive was immediately eliminated from the running based on the rules of this exercise, but I was able to find another favorite Boingo album nonetheless. This album showcases an older, more mature Boingo (to go along with the older, more mature high-school-aged me). The songs have more serious overtones that were missing from much of their earlier work. “Out of Control” is deservedly the best known (it’s a great anti-suicide song, by the way), but some of the deeper tracks still resonate with the inner teen-angst that never fully goes away. “Try to Believe”, “Skin” and “Is This” are easily some of the best songs lyrically in the Boingo anthology.
NEW MISERABLE EXPERIENCE – Gin Blossoms. This is an album from my early post-high school years, and the songs on it evoke all sorts of memories – both good and bad. Its only noteable single, “Hey Jealousy”, doesn’t do the album justice. “Lost Horizons” is chock full of despair, and “Hold Me Down” ought to be the theme song for Alcohol Anonymous (or any rehab center, for that matter). All the songs on this album are lyrically smart, and I don’t think the Gin Blossoms have been able to recapture the brilliance of this collection.
SEVEN AND THE RAGGED TIGER – Duran Duran. I don’t think the songs on Duran Duran’s third album get nearly as much credit (or play) as they deserve. Even the singles (“The Reflex”, “Union of the Snake”) are overshadowed by the less complex (but more bankable) songs from Rio. I saw the video for “New Moon on Monday” the other day and was immediately reminded of what a great album this is. “The Seventh Stranger” still ranks very highly on my list of break-up songs and is one of the best deep cuts on this album.
TALK SHOW – The Go-Go’s. Their third and last album before their initial hiatus, Talk Show has much more depth than Beauty and the Beat andVacation. The entire first side of the album (yes, I remember the days when this was on vinyl) consisted of catchy pop tunes, most of which were released as singles (“Head Over Heels”, most notably) or should have been, but the B-side has those deep-cut gems like “Capture the Light” and “I’m the Only One”. My favorite song on this album, hands-down, is “Mercenary”, followed by “Forget That Day” and “You Thought”. These three songs – which are great break-up songs, by the way – almost heralded the band’s split.
TRAGIC KINGDOM – No Doubt. I feel like such a poser including this album, especially since almost half of the songs on it were released as singles. But once you get past “Spiderwebs”, “Don’t Speak” and “Just a Girl”, you uncover gems like “End It On This”, “Excuse Me, Mr.” and, my personal favorite at our karaoke bar, “Sunday Morning.” Just about the entire album screams Girl Power; and it practically serves as a soundtrack for any teenage girl’s love life. It’s definitely an album I can listen to repeatedly and never tire of it.
WARNING – Green Day. Of course I had to include a Green Day album. Warning happens to be my favorite, even though American Idiot has sold much better. The funny thing is that I didn’t even realize Green Day had released a new album when Warning came out. Aside from the title track and the very catchy “Minority” and “Deadbeat Holiday”, there is a very sweet love song (“Church on Sunday”) on this album and my favorite song to listen to while pregnant (and the source of the quote on my baby announcements): “Waiting”. “Fashion Victim” is another great song that, oddly, reminds me of the girls at my high school, past, present and future.
THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE – U2. This was the last album before everyone was a U2 fan, the last time they were a little indie band from Dublin. Strange, then, that “Pride (in the Name of Love)” is on here, since this is a song everyoneknows. Some of the songs on this album (including “Pride”) read like history lessons, but this album is also home to my favorite U2 song of all: “Bad”.