The Best Albums of 2020, 30 Years Ago: Thrash Metal, Hip Hop And Ragged Glories

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It’s that time of year again to go digging the crates and find the albums that mattered three decades that matter more than the music that’s out and praised in the last year and that the Grammy’s are going get wrong once again. Or did they present their shitty accolades and dubious honors already? Surprise they are bothering manufacturing non-essential cheap trophies during a pandemic.

Anyway, and in honor of the return of the Village Voice and possibly their legendary Pazz and Jop best of lists, here’s the top 20 of 1990.

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Ice Cube, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Kill At Will ep

Following the two-year reign of terror N.W.A. had on hip hop and an intimidation letter from the feds, 20-year-old O’Shea Jackson aka Ice Cube abruptly split from the group where he was an MC and house lyric writer for Jerry Heller’s Ruthless Records label. Even more abruptly was the release of his even more volatile debut album in a little less than 6 months when he went from America’s most dangerous band to Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.

With Amerikkka (what a killer and original take on the word) Ice Cube took the subject matter and lyricism on the first two NWA albums and took it to visceral and visual higher levels as the LP flowed lyrically and sonically like a 70’s blaxploitation action movie, graphic novel or an uncensored street crime show which foresaw the The Wire.

Produced by Public Enemy’s stalwart music deconstruction team The Bomb Squad: starting off with Better off dead with Cube’s getting executed,”The Nigga You Love To Hate” and “Amerikkka’s Most Wanted” deliver double barrel shotgun blasts and semi-automatic fusillade of random braggadocio and ultraviolence. While the protagonist is on the run from the cops and the feds (stemming from the letter he and his former accomplices in NWA got a letter from the FBI), Cube partakes in a funky ass dice game on “What De Hitten’ Fo?” and then gets caught up with an old girlfriend claiming his carrying his seed “You Can’t Fade Me”. Then he blows of her off and hooks up with a woman in a crackhouse in “Once Upon A Time In The Projects”. Cube breaks off from the gangsta shit to thoroughly shit on mainstream rap and commercial radio on “Turn Off The Radio” and the duality of endemic police brutality and territorial gang warfare’s effects on Black youths on “Endangered Species” (Tales From The Darkside) where Chuck D vocally and lyrically stomps on the last verse .

On Side B/2, Ice Cube “lightens” the mood of the vitriolic violent LP with his Slick Rick/Dice Clay inspired street crime interpolations of Aesop’s fables and other children’s stories in “A Gangsta’s Fairytale”.  Flavor Flav pops by to assist Ice Cube on his obligatory subjective disses of women on “Only Out For One Thing” and the brief “Get Off My Dick”.  On the lowdown dirty “Who’s The Mack”, Cube in three verses deftly describes three types of street hustlers that exploit and manipulate people (or it may be the same person).

Then it’s followed by the banger “It’s A Man’s World” as the moment when Ice Cube is about to go off on another bitter tangent about women like his early single “Bitch iz a Bitch” he gets cut off by MC Yo-Yo who makes Cube sound overmatched with sound retorts to his misogynist snaps. Amerikkka’s finale “The Bomb” has Cube firing wicked vitriolic freestyle rappin’ for 3 minutes over the fastest beats on the greatest hardcore and gangsta rap album in history.

But Mr. Jackson wasn’t done, because he dropped some extra hip hop on the public with the Kill At Will ep. Initiating with a remix of Endangered Species featuring Tom Brokaw and a blistering guitar solo and featuring an extended version and more lady dissing tales on”Get off my dick and tell your bitch to come here” (since wasn’t YoYo wasn’t around). On “Jackin’ For Beats”, Cube loots the loops from the hip hop classics of his peers. The EP features two more classics with the fatalistic tale of young misspent Black youth “The Product” and their tragic consequences on “Dead Homiez”

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Kool G. Rap And DJ Polo, Wanted: Dead Or Alive

Kool G. Rap and Polo’s came back harder a year after their solid debut with this all killer no filler landmark album, which comes off like a gritty crime film noir complimenting Ice Cubes’s blaxploitation flick of Amerikka’s.  Starting with the “Streets Of New York”, Kool G raps about the city still under the grip of the bad days with crack’s continuing predominance in poor places of the five boroughs surprisingly backed by live instrumentation. “Streets” not only gives off a vibe like a movie opening but it’s also an evocative of other anthems in homage of the seedy underbelly and harsh realities of city life like Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”.

It’s immediately followed by the action packed crime spree and fugitive on the run title track, which effortlessly segues into the celebratory aftermath of the plunder, the posse rap “Money In The Bank featuring Large Professor and Freddie Foxxx.

After the car alarm tripping bass driven badder than George Thorogood boast rap “Bad To the Bone”, G Rap unleashes the nastiness on the inhibited “Talk Like Sex” his classic fucking with the porno rap that 2 live crew was getting banned from shopping malls for. Following the MC/DJ tag team boasting on “Play it again Polo”, on “Erase Racism”  Kool G and Big Daddy Kane condemn the racism that was still plaguing the big city (and would still 30 years later) which is bizarrely broken up by Biz Markie’s ludicrous Three dog night quoting chorus. Then Kool brings it back to basics on the next 4 tracks culminating on the freestyle “Jive Talk” and gives DJ Polo the spotlight with the outstanding (and criminally overlooked) crossover instrumental “The Polo Club”. The album caps off like any celluloid crime story with the protagonist’s imprisonment on the raw scared straight/life lesson depiction of “Rikers Island”

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LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out

Following peaking early as a young Black teenager on his back to back landmark albums “Radio” and “Bigger and Deffer”; hopes were high for a hip hop hat trick from Ladies Love Cool James Todd Smith was surely inevitable as he was riding high on millions of fans and earning the ire of old school rappers like Kool Moe Dee and older rappers like Ice-T. Signs were looking real good with his innovative abstract rap noir classic “Going Back to Cali” and his hardcore response to Kool Moe Dee “Jack The Ripper”.  But he got shamelessly and shamefully got cocky with “Walking With A Panther”, a bloated album overloaded with gratuitous half-baked boasting and wretched cheesy ballads. Even though it had hits like the off-putting track of male prowess “I’m That type of Guy” and the fetish favoritism of “big ole butt”, it was immediately forgotten.

But something happened along the way to boost the sagging sales when that albums “Jingling Baby” was released, the original version’s played out beat and repetitive “Scropio” sample was deconstructed and remixed by Queensbridge living legend producer Marley Marl, giving it way more bass and a way more jazzier beat. The video accompanying the track had LL going to house party in the hood where he blended into the crowd instead of taking it over. At the time it was a great optical makeover for the MC, transforming him from an arrogant overbearing punk into the mature Uncle L that would put out one of the greatest hours in hip hop history with “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Produced solely by Marley Marl, the album starts off “The Boomin’ System” As Uncle L steps into his car, lets the music and the bass do the talking while owning the streets. LL Cool J resumes owning his competitors on the funky “Eat Em Up L Chill” and the hectic live freestyling on “Murdergram” and comes back the hardest on the hard rockin’ title track. His mojo with the ladies rises again on “Mr Goodbar”, “Six Minutes Of Pleasure” and the Kellogg and General  Mills double entendre laden “Milky Cereal” and of course on the remixed but still jingling “Jingling Baby”. Uncle L brings a bunch of upstarts to freestyle for his homecoming on “Farmers Blvd” and then gets back at Moe Dee and Ice T again on “To Da Break Of Dawn”.

LL Cool J brought new dimensions to Mama Said Knock by interjecting current affairs addressing abusive policing on the 4th amendment tribute song “Illegal Search”, alienation and destitution on “Cheesy Rat Blues and spirituality and perserverence on “The Power Of God”. But LL’s shining moment on the album comes on “Around the Way Girl”, a smooth but rough and strikingly lush track about looking for a dream lover in his own zip code.

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Digital Underground, Sex Packets

Rap, make that Quality rap was reaching infinite heights in 1990 as hip hop artists were coming out and (also were germinating) across America as the decade was turning even if it was only prevalent on the East and the more rapidly growing West Coast scenes, and the most inventive and funkiest band from the Golden Age of Hip Hop sprung from Oakland in Digital Underground. Fronted by Shock G, the band debuted with one of the hip hop’s greatest jams “Doowhutchalike” in the summer of ’89. Even though it was loaded with snappy witty lyrics, a butt shaking bass line, a piano solo and mad DJ dexterity, for some reason the single didn’t get over the Nevada state line. But then winter came and a guy named Humpty Hump grabbed the microphone and out came “The Humpty Dance” and slowly blew up into a worldwide hit. Propelled by an immediate 808 drum hit and the most recognizable and elastic bass riff ever recorded and sampled, MC Humpty came out like a hip hop Groucho Marx and spent the whole song dissing himself and admitting publicly playing with himself. When it came to actually doing the hump, Humpty described it as MC Hammer on crack, but it in actuality it could have been any crackhead dancing or anything anyone made up.

With the momentum and starting off their debut LP with the Humpty Dance, Digital Underground came out full form with Sex Packets, a concept album about a government issued aphrodisiac sold on the black market mostly inspired by and sampled with P-Funk and also George Clinton’s mission to unite one nation under a groove and the still young old school hip hop emphasizing party down themes and song lenghts. “The Way We Swing” literally does as Shock G takes over the mic for six minutes establishing DU as a band that can’t be pigeonholed then spends another six minutes “Rhymin On The Funk” and with equally capable MC Money B as DJ Fuze tears apart P. Funk records and also on “The Danger Zone”. The duo flawlessly trade quips and aquatic metaphors on “Underwater Rimes and the self-reflective “Freaks Of The Industry”.

But the album’s best jams are the longest. On “Gutfest ’89”, Shock and Money describe getting experienced, scoping ladies and  getting laid at a utopian music and culture festival over wakachika guitars and swinging horns and beats. Even though it stalled on the charts, Doowhutchalike conceptually works better on the album (since it comes with an intermission) as Shock, Humpty (also Shock) and Money B later on trade off on rhymes imploring the crowd to do whatever they want, integrating partying with any other habits and vices during the song’s nine minutes.

The album closes with the five song suite title track, which lyrically and sonically illustrate the pills amorphous effects and then going on the street to meet the “Packet Man” to score.

What makes Sex Packets such an essential album is how visionary it was. While a sex elongated stimulation pill has yet to be invented, its still a precursor to sexual enhancing drugs like Viagra and Cialis. And since Sex Packets was a drug invented by the government that got loose on the streets in Cali, it’s also resembles the CIA’s  involvement on their role in crack distribution in poor predominantly Black and Latinx areas. While Gutfest 89 was a take on Woodstock, it’s modern take on music festivals with more diversity and casual sex led to future enlightened cultural events like Lollapalooza, Bonaroo and also Burning Man. The greatest thing about this album is Digital Underground continuing George Clinton’s P-Funk mission to unite the nation under a groove where everyone is invited to the party and can dance like Hammer on crack and doingwhatchalike.

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Public Enemy, Fear Of A Black Planet

After releasing the greatest and radical summer song of all time with Fight The Power, Public Enemy became the only band that mattered like The Clash were a decade earlier. But while recording their follow up to the greatest hip hop album of all time, one of their members condemned a creed of people for the myriad problems of the world and frontman Chuck D and the band were up against the ropes with accusations of anti-Semitism. After Professor Griff’s dismissal, Public Enemy released a rebuttal in the form of a 5 minute sonic boom manifesto called “Welcome To The Terrordome”, where the Hard Rhymer scatalogical rebuttal to all the relentless media scrutiny he received for associating with Griff (who was actually an essential contributor to the bands sound and it’s politics that derived from the problematic Louis Farrakhan) and how it wouldn’t lead to the dissolution of P.E. and to one less voice bringing Black social justice issues to the mainstream over a greasy guitar lick, Terminator X’s buck wilin’ cuts and the heaviest 808 drum hits ever laid down on a song. And when Fear Of A Black Planet dropped, that made all that scrutiny irrelevant.

The first notable thing about “Black Planet” is that this was a more group effort than the first two albums, especially from DJ Terminator X whose turntable skills dominate the majority of the album. Starting with cutting up interview segments and jazz records on the intro “Countdown” and immediately on the second track”Brothers gonna work it Out” where he cuts the shit out Prince’s “Lets Go Crazy” in Chuck D and Flavor Flav’s activist calls for dropping beefs and focusing on and rising up against the system. Then Flavor Flav gets to shine on the immortal hip hop novelty song on shitty city emergency services on “911 is a Joke”.

“PollyWannaCracka” is a provocative track tackling miscegenation and the blowback from friends and acquaintances, which Chuck delivers in spoken word like he’s on qualoods. “Anti-Nigger Machine” is a short and to the point rebuke of systemic racial abuse exhibited by overzealous cops and implemented government agencies until a shrill phone rings abruptly halts the song and goes right into “Burn Hollywood Burn”, where Chuck, Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane in a blistering verse eviscerates decades of racial typecasting in movies.

Briefly disrupted by Flavor Flav’s other contribution and smash hit  “Can’t Do Nuttin For You Man”, Chuck D continues railing against other systemic injustices against Black celebrities on “Who Stole The Soul?”, theories on Black and (mostly) White societal and cultural phobias of miscegenation on the title track, a thunderous rally song dedication to women’s contributions to social justice “Revolutionary Generation” ; Terminator X emerges as the real star of this sonic manifesto as his turntable skills dominate those tracks and the all the way live coda on the party anthem like “Power To The People”. Chuck, Flav and the Bomb Squad also let his virtuosity literally take over on the last three tracks “Keep this off your fucking charts”, B Side Wins again” and “War at 33 1/3” and the re-inclusion of “Fight The Power”.

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Eric B. And Rakim, Let  The Rhythm Hit ’em

Following their two classic timeless albums and their Golden Age of Hip Hop peers P.E. and BDP, Eric B and Rakim’s also progressed lyrically and sonically on their third opus. In a way, the album’s themes were not another treatise of the duo’s prowess on the mic and 1 and 2’s but also on rhythm theory and mathematics shown on the propulsive title track and the following “No Omega”. On their remake of the 70’s socio-political classic (not the Elvis song) “In the Ghetto”, Rakim soberly laments about the state of the city but also addresses residents to still strive for progress with the oft-quoted last line “It ain’t were you from, it’s where you at”.

On “Eric B made my day”, the DJ reminds everyone again why he’s billed first in the duo, and continues to do so for the rest of the album as Rakim shows why he was the best MC of the era on “Run For Cover”,  “The Untouchables”, the brilliant Al Green sampled and surprising hip hop ballad “Mahogany” and the last two self-reference tracks “Set em Straight” and “Keep em eager to listen”. Killer album.

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A Tribe Called Quest, People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm

After debuting on the track Buddy(probably the most innocent sounding though graphic song about private parts and casual sex since Afternoon Delight) on De La Soul’s innovative swirling psychedelic rap masterpiece 3 Feet High and Rising; Q-Tip with his band mates Phife, DJ Muhammad and hype guy Jarobi A Tribe Called Quest’s debut album was released with little promotion was released to little enthusiasm. It’s first single “I left my wallet in El Seguendo” was also met with indifference.

At the time it kinda made sense going by the very mediocre first song on the first album “Push it Along” which was a basic introduction to the band  that ends with a call and response of the group’s members, it sure wasn’t hard to resist throwing the tape or CD in the garbage. Then Jarobi ends that track by introducing the next song’s title “Luck Of Lucien”, Q-Tip’s tale of a street derelicts good fortune hustling on the streets of France on a smooth loop over hardcore beats officially begins this album’s ascendance to hip hop’s pantheon of classic LP’s and the emergence of one of the era’s greatest bands and Tip as a premier M.C. Q-Tip and  DJ Ali Muhammad continue to shine on the two following tracks “After Hours” and the should have been a single “Footprints”.

The flop single “El Sugendo” returns and works immensely better in the album’s format and traveling theme over the booming bass and dense poetry of Tip’s lyrics. That single’s winning wackachicka B-side song about battling STD’s “Pubic Enemy” also returns. The album kicks off side 2/B with sitar driven boom bap breakthough ballad hit “Bonita Appelbaum” and the Lou Reed sampled follow up breakthrough “Can I Kick It” which put the album in gold and platinum status.

The album’s momentum doesn’t let up with “Youthful Expression” , “Rhythm (Devoted to the art of moving butts), DJ Ali’s virtuoso track Mr. Muhammad. Following the silly anti-cholesterol consumption PSA song “Ham and Eggs”, the album ends on two sobering yet funky message songs on the inspiring “Go Ahead in the Rain” and the slept on and best track on the album about bad habitual decision making “Description of A fool”

After consuming all that funk and poetry for an hour, Push it along grows into a great song after returning to play it again. Which is what makes this such a great enduring album.

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Jane’s Addiction, Ritual De Lo Habitual

After their thundering major label debut and modest success of Nothing’s Shocking, Jane’s Addiction blasted into prime time into elite rock and roll band status with Ritual De Lo Habitual with Dave Navarro’s hardcore funk metal riffs and Perry Farrel’s sneering yells that introduced the first track “Stop”, a song that signified fury and rebellion and defined the anthem of a new generation and began the era of alternative rock music with the same gravitas that Stepponwolf had with “Born To Be Wild”

The momentum from that blazing track segues seamlessly into the anti-establishment anti-racist rally song “No One’s Leaving” and the cynical “Ain’t No Right”. After that 10 minute attack, the band gets artistic on the piano tinkling psychedelic hardcore “Obvious” and their supercatchy funky ode shoplifting endorsement “Been Caught Stealing.”

The on the remaining four tracks, the band delves and integrates exploratory progressive elements in their punk funk rock attack. Starting with the brilliant 10 minute opus “Three Days” which was inspired and dedicated to a friend of Perry’s who died of a heroin overdose (which the entire album was dedicated to also) and the time it took for Jesus’s death and resurrection, it also is one of the most captivating musical performances ever committed to recorded music, accentuated by Dave Navarro’s soaring guitar solos and Stephen Wilkings monster tribal beats. “Then She Did” expands on Perry’s tribute to his tragic muse and also his artist mother who died tragically by suicide accompanied by the bands subdued jazzy music and climaxing with orchestral string arrangement. “Of Course” takes a 180 degree musical turn from the alt-rock format in a percussive driven and middle eastern tune about settling in a primitive societies resembling something out of “lord of the flies” or more likely a take on hyper-capitalist ones. Then the LP ends on a high note with the shining “Classic Girl”

Then the band went on a successful tour, revived the festival concert circuit with Lollapalooza and Perry broke up the band to preserve their legacy. Which was pretty dumb in retrospect since he reformed the band a decade later.

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Slayer, Seasons In The Abyss.

While Metallica was still touring following their Grammy shunned masterpiece “and justice for all” album, Slayer pounced and took over as the kings of Heavy Metal with their third major label album masterpiece of their own “Seasons In The Abyss”. Sensing that their subject matter regarding all the evil things the Devil does on the last album “South Of Heaven” Slayer found newer rings in Dantes Inferno and delved musical and lyrical depths, casting Satan’s power of humanity aside for more realistic predominant enemy like government control. On the leadoff track “War Ensemble”, Slayer reverts to the faster and louder format of “Reign In Blood” and it delves more into the decisions made by the political architects and field commanders and the blind support of the masses that inspire and fuel the attacks than the ones ordered to execute them and consequences and collateral damage that results, which had massive relevance at the time because of Operation Desert Storm in Iraq (and still has massive relevance with regime change missions of sovereign nations based on dubious evidence since 1990) in one of metal history’s greatest opening songs. “Blood Red” continues “War Ensemble”s theme of using militaristic might over the will of the people.

“Spirit In Black” brings ol Scratch to the forefront again and also a return to speed with Jeff Hannenmann  and Kerry King dueling solos and Dave Lombardo’s jazz influenced frenetic machine gun rhythms. On “Expendable Youth”, Slayer conflates the global war them addressed on the first two tracks with the gang violence on the streets of Los Angeles and “Dead Skin Mask” chronicles the methods of child serial killer Ed Gein whose gruesome legacy inspired the horror suspense Oscar winning thriller’s Silence Of The Lambs Buffalo Bill character a few years later.

The blistering “Hallowed Point” is as much about the bullet itself as is about the power a person gets holding the trigger. “Skeletons Of Society” is a catchy song about surviving a nuclear apocalypse, and the following “Temptation” and “Born of Fire” are a couple more classic shredding symphonies to the devil.

And then there is the majestic and landmark title track. Based on an Alister Crowley poem, the song conveys instance of a brutal and sudden death and the projections that follow. A vision of the afterlife that is more gruesome than the widely reputed white light one has from a near death experience. But Seasons also compliments War Ensemble as a bookend to the album’s themes of war and gratuitous violence and gore. Whether it’s a soldier killed in battle or by accident, a gangbanger ruthlessly slain or an innocent child imprisoned by a madman. Truly a nightmarish soundscape worth going through again and again.

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Megadeth, Rust In Peace

Not content with Slayer taking over the best Metal band in the world, Dave Mustaine and Megadeth came back from their messy last album and released their own timeless masterpiece, and even getting some overdue revenge on his rivals Metallica for kicking him out with besting their “justice for all” Grammy legitimacy with his band’s superior Rust In Peace.

Not content with letting Slayer war metaphor compositions and inspired by the decades long religious conflicts in the middle east and in the United Kingdomw Mustaine delved even deeper with “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” driven by Dave and new co-lead guitar shredder Marty Friedman staccato riffs and dueling solos and new drummer Nick Menza’s trashing double kick barrage drumming. Dave and Marty battle leads again on the spectacular alien conspiracy track “Hanger 18” and also in the short anti-jingoism anti-war “Take no Prisoners”. 

The album takes a left turn into Dio territory with the wizard inspired “Five Magics” but is buoyed by more guitar wizardy from Dave and Marty, but the brings the subject matter and the trash back to the grimy underground with the drug addiction tale “Posion was the cure”. The next two tracks contain the most immortal riffs Mustaine ever composed in “Lucretia” about childhood traumas and the soaring “Tornado Of Souls” and the album completes with the dirge apocalyptic “Dawn Patrol” and the subsequent anti-nuclear proliferation message told from the perspective of the weapon “Rust in Peace…Polaris”.

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Alice In Chains, Facelift

Although Seattle as a landmark rock city was starting to germinate after Soundgarden hit the majors first following their classic Ultramega Ok and Sub Pop records was churning out quality albums by myriad bands like Mudhoney and Green River and  culminating with Nivana’s debut album Bleach, the out of left-field debut album success of Alice In Chains was quite a shock to the industry. While they didn’t actually have the grunge sound and resembled more like a slow version of Aerosmith, they did capture the feel and turned it up to 12 and became an overnight sensation like Guns N Roses, led by their own dynamic frontman and guitar tandem Layne Staley and principal songwriter Jerry Cantrell.

Facelift’s impact was instant thanks to the first four songs of the album, the monstrous “We Die Young”, “Man In The Box”, “Sea of Sorrow” and “Bleed The Freak”. The album didn’t slow down either (despite slowing the pace down, showing the influence the Melvins had on all the other Seattle bands) with “I Can’t Remember” and “Love Hate Love” and “It Ain’t Like That”.  Alice in Chains also showed they weren’t a one trick pony band by injecting boogie and funk riffs in their repertoire with “Put you down”, “I know something about you” and “Real thing”.

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Anthrax, Persistence Of Time

With a decade of classic LP’s, Staten Island’s Anthrax cemented their legacy as one of New York’s greatest bands and also their place in the trash metal elites with Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. And along with the latter two bands, Anthrax delivered a landmark album with Persistence of Time. Putting aside the reckless abandon and goofiness (notably on the I’m the Man single and the NOT mascot), Persistence of Time embraces bleakness and darkness on themes like death, bigotry, isolation, depression, fatalism and drug addiction in “Time”, “Blood”, “Keep it in the Family”, “In My World”,”Gridlock” and “Discharge”.

The specter of war also permeated Anthrax creative juices on the ominous and hooky “Intro to Reality/Belly of the Beast” as it addresses the morals behind fighting for an unjust and immoral cause. They stay loyal to their excellent remake of “Got the Time” and make the songs meaning more chaotic. The anthemic “One Man Stands” is about how one voice is enough to make change, start a movement or even win a war battle. With Persistence of Time, Anthrax greatest album was one of the most thought provoking and inspiring they would ever make.

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Entombed, Left Hand Path

As death metal was still in it’s toddler stage, few albums stood out like the debut album of Entombed’s Left Hand Path. Hailing from Sweden, Entombed’s sound had a little bit more rock and roll and hardcore punk than it’s peers and label mates on Earrache Records. Although it sounds like hell opening up to grab you, Entombed’s blazing title track is more about indivualism than embracing the hands of Satan and Lucifer. “Drowned” is about succumbing to mental illness (kinda like the sunken place).  Death metal’s usual macabre themes arise in “Revel in Flesh”, a self-explanatory ditty about cannabalism, decomposition “Morbid Devourment”, body preservation in “Supposed to Rot” and the morbid yet sympathetic death rippers “Bitter Loss”, “When Life Has Ceased” and  “When Life Goes On”.

Although the subject matter is familiar, it doesn’t get old because Entombed’s sound had a little bit more rock and roll and hardcore punk than it’s peers and label mates on Earrache Records. And the fact that death and black metal was the hardest and most passionate music that was out at the time. A fact that still remains and is more predominant in 2021.

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Judas Priest, Painkiller

After reinventing the steel in the Heavy Metal genre in the late 70’s and early 80’s which basically started the speed and trash metal movement, Judas Priest suddenly got into a creative rut in the mid 80’s when they started getting gold and platinum albums with slick silly albums like the synth driven “Turbo” and the smacks of too much effort “Ram It Down”. Then the band took a few years off and regrouped with a new drummer and released one of rock and roll’s greatest comeback albums with Painkiller.

On the title track, their greatest opener since “Exciter, Judas Priest gave the new drummer some, letting Scott Travis open the album with double barrel cannon beats as Rob Halford screams like a banshee and Glenn Tipton and KK Downing blistering solos like the four horsemen of the apocalypse are running around your head for 6 minutes. This aural assaults continues with the inspiring and shamelessly self-explanatory speed metal bashers “Hell Patrol” ,”All Guns Blazing”, “Leather Rebel” “Metal Meltdown and “Night Crawler”. Judas Priest then gives the album levity by returning to their earlier sound with “Hammer and the Anvil”, second hit “Touch of Evil” and the stadium ready song “A shot of Glory” which also was a rebuke against unnecessary wars that was a steady topic on the minds of a lot of people and performers.

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory

With 1989’s album of the year Freedom, the reliably prolific Neil Young cast aside the restrictions of the classic rock format and discovered the new loudness alternative rock and heavy metal that took over the mainstream and reformed his band Crazy Horse for his most metallic album Ragged Glory, equipped with more amplifiers and instantly memorable riffs and inspired by purveyors of white noise mastering bands like Jesus And Mary Chain and Sonic Youth.

In “Country Home”, Neil Young sings and shreds about living the simple life away from the city, like a heavy rock version of the Green Acres Theme. “White Line” is a rollicking country metal song correlating driving and drug addiction which segues seamlessly into the following and most explicit and second hardest song of Neil’s canon “Fucking Up”. After fucking up, he begs for forgiveness in “Over and Over” and gives into temptation of another woman’s desires in “Love To Burn” in nearly 20 minutes of loud searing riffing and soloing.

After an unnecessary remake of an overrated garage rock song “Farmer John” which is saved by tongue in cheek singing and speaker blowing notes, Neil follows with another classic rock staple with the nostalgia driven “Mansion On The Hill” and “The Days That Used To Be” and the utopian hippie revisionism of “Love and Only Love” and caps it with the timeless tribute to climate consciousness and environmental activism “Mother Earth”. 

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Sonic Youth, Goo

Sonic Youth’s decade of setting new standards of music exploration set by the Velvet Underground and avant garde musicians like Lamonte Young to name a few and recording groundbreaking albums underground legendary indie record labels Homestead and SST and making one of the most important and influential rock albums of all time with Daydream Nation, the band joined the Big Show with their major label debut Goo. Noticeable right away was how the crystal clear production by Don Fleming was, as the atonal riffs and white noise dual guitar freak out by Lee Ronaldo and Thurston Moore in “Dirty Boots” and “Mary Christ  and the emphasis on Kim Gordon’s bass and Steve Shelley’s driving beats of “Tunic” stand out immediately. The beat poem subject matter of most of the songs seem to revolve around pop culture and iconography, notably on the latter song which is a homage to the unappreciated artistry of Karen Carpenter and then on their breakthrough song “Kool Thing” which is entirely about LL Cool J and propelled by a tight ass groove and sleazy riffs. The band reverts to it’s serious side on the side closer the  seven minute “Mote”.

Kim Gordon gets more frontwoman duty on the LP, evident on the juvenile but charming “My friend goo” and the abrasive “Cinderella’s Big Score”.  While the best tracks on the album “Disappearer”,  the outstanding though brief instrumental “Mildred Pierce” and finale “Titanium Expose” continue the albums themes of iconography and uninhibited desires and addictions.

The thing that stands out about Goo is that like most commercial rock albums, it sounds even better while driving and blasting it from the speakers going fast. It sort of explains why the cover as a couple about to hit the road after killing the woman’s parents.

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Goo Goo Dolls, Hold Me Up

While their sonic progenitors The Replacements released their final underwhelming (but pretty good) album “All Shook Down” and the Ramones and Cheap Trick sounding more aged, Buffalo’s Goo Goo Dolls grabbed the torch on their big show debut “Hold Me Up”, a flawless album of 2-3 minute passionate punk rock confections.

The album blasts off with the hat trick of “Laughing”, “Just The Way You Are” and “Out of Line” and then the remarkable songwriting growth shown in “There You Are” and “You Know What I Mean”, “On Your Side” and “Hey” and the remarkable instrumental “Kevin’s Song” “Out Of The Red”, and “Know My Name” are delightfully snotty tracks and the album balances it out with stupendous remakes of Prince’s “I’ll never take the place of your man” and the Plimsouls “A million Miles away”.

While extremely overlooked because of the band’s massive platinum bland soft rock catalog in the last few decades, this album was not only a straight up spirited party rock and roll album but it also predictied the mainstream pop and emo punk genres that made bands like Green Day and Fall Out Boy giant successes 5 to 10 years later. So respect is way overdue for this classic.

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Breeders, Pod

On Bossanova, The Pixies 3rd album, bass player Kim Deal’s voice was conspicuously mostly absent. Good thing she saved her sensual vocals and witticisms for her own band The Breeders raw classic album Pod. Joined by lead guitarist Tanya Donnelly from Throwing Muses in college/alt rock’s first supergroup, Pod’s minimalist and abstract songs cut to bone. Kim’s songwriting potential and her contributions from the Pixies first 3 classic works shined through Steve Albini’s bare bones production, turning Black Francis’s foil into natural front woman.

Like the Pixies best know songs and like 99% of rock and roll music, The Breeders subject matter were mostly about drugs and sex and have endured as classics in tracks “Glorious”, “Hellbound” “Fortunately Gone”, “Oh” “Metal Man” and their angular interpretation of the Beatles “Happiness is a warm Gun”.

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L7, Smell The Magic

Heavy Metal and Punk Rock were sorely lacking a female touch at the turn of the decade, notwithstanding Kim Gordon and the aforementioned Kim Deal, and even Joan Jett who came back with a huge hit a few years earlier. Nah, what was needed at the time was a hard as fuck band consisting entirely of women. Thus L7 was born and their epic Smell The Magic graced the planet. 

On their debut on the hot Sub Pop label, L7 wound up putting out the second best album on that label (behind Bleach, natch). The first track “Shove”, which comes off like the Gen X version of Jett’s “Bad Reputation” can’t be any more self-explanatory and served as confirmation of L7 as the rudest, crudest band since Motorhead. And then the band grabs the torch and even their balls from them on the fast and loose “Fast and Frightening”, “Packing a Rod”, “Just Like Me” and “Till The Wheels Fall Off”, and channel the Pixies on grinders like “Right On Thru” and “Deathwish”

If there is a downside to this is that the album clocks in under 30 minutes, but it still leaves you wanting more and is a definitely fine metal substitute over the glam metal bands that would vanish in a year’s time after this release.

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Sinead O’Connor, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got

With her big blue eyes and bald head and dynamic figure, Sinead O’Connor was a striking figure, almost otherworldly in stature and appearance. Yet her songs were naturally organic and honest. Brutally honest to be precise on her universally acclaimed second album. “Feels So Different” is a six minute breakup song, describing splitting up with her spouse and denouncing God accompanied by dour strings then builds to crescendo at the end,

The literally haunting “I am stretched out on your grave” continues the allegorical themes of religion and relationships over the classic Funky Drummer break beat until it’s disrupted by a piercing fiddle solo. Infant miscarriages also haunt the beautiful yet moribund “Three Babies”.  The album perks up a little bit on one of the few album’s few rockers “The Emperor’s New Clothes” then it’s back down to earth on the treatise against excessive force policing on “Black Boys On Mopeds”

Everybody already knows “Nothing Compares 2 U”, Prince’s gift to Sinead that wound up being the saddest number one hit in history. “Jump in the River” and “You cause so much sorrow” and the devastating “The Last Days of Our Acquaintance” further expand on separation from friends, family and significant others. The album concludes with the stark a capella title track about isolation.

So it goes:

  1. Ice Cube-Amerikkka’s Most Wanted
  2. Jane’s Addiction-Ritual de lo Habitual
  3. Slayer-Seasons In The Abyss
  4. LL Cool J-Mama Said Knock You Out
  5. Kool G. Rap-Wanted:Dead Or Alive
  6. Megadeth-Rust In Peace
  7. Digital Underground-Sex Packets
  8. Public Enemy-Fear Of A Black Planet
  9. Goo Goo Dolls-Hold Me Up
  10. Sinead O’Connor-I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got
  11. L7-Smell The Magic
  12. Anthrax-Persistence Of Time
  13. Sonic Youth-Goo
  14. A Tribe Called Quest-People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Funk And Rhythm
  15. Neil Young And Crazy Horse-Ragged Glory
  16. Entombed-Left Hand Path
  17. Breeders-Pod
  18. Eric B. And Rakim-Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em
  19. Alice In Chains-Facelift
  20. Judas Priest-Painkiller

 

I don’t own any of the music on here, it’s for educational purposes only
 

 

 

 

 

 

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