Up and down: Ice-T, Lou Reed, Beastie Boys, Neil Young, The Ghetto Boys and Faith No More
Because of pressing matters going on NYC with crime and local and national politics getting worse, the Impunity City best music released three decades ago since 2019 is late again. Also, the Grammy Awards came earlier this year and the big winner was this teenage girl named Billie who swept all Album, Song and Record of the year along with best new artist. I haven’t heard her music, or maybe I have since supermarkets, chain stores and recent TV shows and commercials feature today’s blandly dull music. My assumption about the young lady’s tunes might have validity because the last “musical” “artist” that swept the Grammies like this was the horrendous commercial MOR soft rock hack Christopher Cross in 1981 and his music has not even endured on the multiple lite music stations in New York. I’m sure Bill will come up with as good a follow up as Chris Cross.
Anyway, this is the music that in my not so humble opinion ruled and still kicks the living shit out of the shitty sense depriving music of today. And to start this list, it’s strictly rap. Because as one of the talents on here uttered, hip hop ruled in 89:
Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique
King Ad Rock, MCA, and Mike D were going through some shit after their raucous classic Licensed to Ill got released, going on a massive tour with their Queens allies Run DMC and LL Cool J, they dumped their manager Russell Simmons, parted with producer Rick Rubin, left Columbia distributed Def Jam records and took their gear to sunny California and signed with Capitol Records, hooked up with Tone Loc’s producers the Dust Brothers and got to work on their highly anticipated follow up.
And what manifested was one of the greatest LP’s ever created. Or with the wicked amount of samples, kinetic beats and abstract and pop culture heavy lyrics and rhymes maybe it’s fit to call it curated. After the smooth creepy intro for all the girls the drum roll crashes into “Shake Your Rump”, introducing without question the Beastie New Edition abandoning the sound and style of their first album that was limited to a few break beats and metal lick samples but still keeping up the raunchy and sophomoric subject matter but with a nastier twist with new takes and metaphors for them. Then the song ends abruptly and slides into the low down blues homage to a charismatic bum named “Johnny Ryall” and is followed by the homage to scurrilous vigilante vandalism (and the Beatles sans John)”Eggman” which wildly samples Superfly and Psycho. Then it’s the slow, sleazy outlaw funk of “High Plains Drifter” that rides steady on an Eagles Loop about gambling on horses. The “Sounds Of Science” continues the Beasties Beatles muse by rhymin while stealing loops from Sgt. Peppers and Abbey Road. The first side closes with the Funkadelic sounding “3 minute rule” continues the braggadocio with live playing along with the stellar scratching by DJ Hurricane and the first single, the old school hip hop and Jerry Lewis inspired gigolo anthem “Hey Ladies”
Then you flip the cassette, press play and are greeted with a hillbilly romp which gets abruptly cut down for the live playing molten Sabbath style ode to ultraviolence “Looking Down the Barrel of A Gun”. The felonious “Car Thief” and the their take on the fucked up state of society of that time “What Goes Around” continues the Beasties current obsession with glorious 70’s funk and R&B.
Then the album gets real gone with the last two tracks beginning with “Shadarach” as the Beasties get biblical by comparing themselves with the title character plus fellow prophets Meshach and Abegnego over a Sly Stone background vocal riff as well as one of his most reliable drumbreaks. Then the pinnacle and most ambitious track and hip hop song of all time comes on “B-Boy Bouillebaise”. Continuing drawing inspiration from the Fab Four (which was convenient being their label mates now) the fab four minus one styles the song after the song suite that codas side 2 of Abbey Road and it’s fucking mint, starting with 59 Chrystie St, aggressively watching ladies on the street go by followed by the human beat box saliva spreading “mike on the mic”, then proceeds to two standout songs “Stop That Train” and the MCA solo track “Year And A day”, probably the best MC and DJ performance on the album as Yauch goes off on a stream of consciousness freestyle as Hurricane scratches the hell out of the Isley Brothers “That Lady” on the 1 and 2’s. That fucking track is one of those songs that you wish would go on for another 7 minutes (surprised it was never made into a 12″) but it gets cut down and seamlessly seques into “Hello Brooklyn” about more Beastie wilding on a rubbery electro beat. Then it goes into the Nola funk of “Dropping names” and “Lay it on me” then going into the Mike D’s solo cut “Mike on the mic” and after a cameo by WOR weatherman (and inspiration for Ad-Rocks hello shoutout) it concludes with the call and response AWOL.
Although not the greatest hip hop album ever (it’s still belongs to Public Enemy), this landmark album belongs to pantheon of other rock and roll landmark recordings. With themes and styles of the Beatles axis of classics Sgt Peppers, White Album and Abbey Road. The genius song craft and pristine production of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds. The sequencing and collaging of effects of the songs like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of the Moon and the Paul’s Boutique’s surreal still life photography and mystique layout similar to Led Zeppelin’s Zoso. And with the initial terrible sales of the album after it’s release, it can also be compared to Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, which was another chaotic masterpiece full of wonderfully weird songs that was initially blown off but grew popular and sold more records as the years went by.
Most of all, Paul’s Boutique was the album that not only brought progress to hip hop but was responsible for bringing all genres of music and diverse cultures together. This album was lollapalooza before there was a concert festival for it.
The really great thing about this album is that even though the Beasties went to the west coast to record this infinite classic, it’s still 100 New York. It shows that besides consuming lot of beer, mushrooms and weed, you can still make inspired music by just being homesick.
Ice T, The Iceberg: Freedom Of Speech…Just Watch What You Say
Introduced with a PSA by the Dead Kennedy’s lead singer Jello Biafra with a loop of Black Sabbath’s first song blaring in the background titled “Shut up Be Happy” a take on one of the biggest hits of all time and the worst song that came out that year, Los Angeles citizen and vulgarian gangster MC Ice T unleashed this motherfucking hip hop manifesto on the nation. Fueled by rising crime, gang related and territorial violence, rampant drug abuse, and police brutality as well as brazenly lame attempts at oppressing musical expression by the likes of the PMRC and the FBI, Ice-T wrote his most fearsome and offensive songs yet. The result was this concept like album that seamlessly weaved all these issues.
“The Iceberg” rolls like a blaxplotation flick theme as Ice talks shit like Dolemite, then takes a 180 degree turn with the kinetic single “Lethal Weapon” which about killing your rivals by being informed than with tech 9. Then it’s followed by the funky classic karma stories of “You Played Yourself” and the funky but grim gangbanger revenge tale “Peel Their Caps Back”. Ice-T then puts out his first straight forward metal song with his guitar compadre Ernie C on the humorous “That Girl Tried to Kill me”.
After the rollicking “Hit the deck” Ice-T drops science about virtue signalers on “This Ones For Me”. After the fugitive on the run “The Hunted Child” and nine minute posse cut “What You Wanna Do” (featuring Everlast) the penultimate second title track “Freedom Of Speech”, although dated because of the targets of the PMRC and other oppressors of free expression at the time, Ice’s furious lyricism and the relentless music still maintains the songs relevance and universalism, especially when it closes with Jello Biafra returning to give an ominous warning of the supposed harmlessness of labeling and rating music.
The hilarious thing about all this that after the PMRC got what they wanted the music industry slapped all those Parental Advisory stickers on LP’s, tapes and CD’s, the targeted genres of hip hop and heavy metal got more explicit and vulgar. And on this masterpiece, Ice was obviously glad to oblige those assholes.
De La Soul, 3 Feet High And Rising
As the Golden Age of Rap was in it’s nascent stage, the majority of hip hop artists were rapping about politics, ultraviolence and about how bad each and every one of them were. Then three kids from of all places Amityville, Long Island called De La Soul got signed to Tommy Boy and put out this sensational aberration. With a ridiculous looking album cover that looks straight out of nursery school, the music and rhyme styles contained were the most innovative of that year. Produced by Stetsasonic’s DJ Prince Paul, MCs Trugoy the Dove and Posdnous and DJ Mase assembled 24 tracks of quirky funky tracks and silly ass comedy skits that was devoid of filler.
Even though you have to wait 2 minutes to get to the first song it doesn’t disappoint. Taking a damaged Sesame Street record and looping the drum beat and mixing it high, De La goes off the wall with schoolhouse rock revamp “The Magic Number”, the follow up “Change in Speak”. “Jenifa taught me” is a sex song that gets nasty as 2 live crew but with very clever metaphors and colliquialisms, almost like Dr. Seuss. Then De La Soul hit hits the streets and raps ’bout the blight, desperation and depression in “Ghetto Thang” and then goes into the lovey dovey track “Eye Know” featuring Steely Dan and Otis Redding hooks then goes into a couple of goofy tracks before heading into the first single ripping on biting rappers as gophers on “Potholes In My Lawn” (and yes that is a hook from the Little Rascals theme).
Side 2 kicks off with the anti-drug dealing and using PSA track “Say No Go” followed by the shameless self promoting “Plug Tunin”. After another nasty song of De La and some guests in the studio faking orgasms, it’s followed by the sweet posse cut “Buddy” with the Native Tongues crew of the Jungle Brothers and the debut of Q-Tip on the second vagina euphimism of the album (the other being Jenny from earlier, both takes on the hip hop penis names of Jimmy and Jimbrowski). After a Sly Stone sampled Native Tongue roll call the Funkadelic Knee Deep drum break kicks into the immortal individuality anthem “Me, Myself and I”. Then the album closes out with the hardcore “L.I.F.E.” and the dippy hippy “D.A.I.S.Y. Age”.
Like Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions, this hip hop landmark also changed hip hop sonically too with its wild and creative (curated) usage of samples and beats. It didn’t even take long because the Beasties Pauls Boutique would use this same style on their release just six months later.
Ghetto Boys, Grip It On That Other Level
What’s great about America, at least what we’re told, is that anyone can become successful through hard work and determination but mostly you just have to be at the right place at the right time with the right message or medium. That’s where the Ghetto Boys from Houston and their trailblazing second album comes in.
Willie D, Bushwick Bill, DJ Ready Red and the incomparable MC Scarface quietly dropped the rawest and hardest rap album of the year. Even though they were immediately lumped in the gangsta rap genre, the Ghetto Boys lyrics delved a lot deeper into the psychosis of their subjects and were graphic in their depictions. The intro take no prisoners cut and first single “Do it like a G.O.” rides on the “pusherman” riff as they rail not against sucker m.c’s but sucker radio programmers. Then comes “Gangsta of Love” as the Boys brag about sexual conquests and prowess while Ready Red cuts and deconstructs Steve Miller’s “The Joker” for the chorus and the hooks.
After calling out phonies on “Talkin loud, saying nothing” they are followed by the ass kicking proclamations of Willie D’s “Read These Nikes” and Bushwick Bill’s inspiring self-defense anthem “Size Ain’t Shit” which features the timeless idiom “Play pussy get fucked” and Ready Red freaking the shit out the Odd Couple Theme.
Following the nihilism of “Seek And Destroy”, addressing persecution and compromising on “No Sell Out”, another cynical take on the ladies “Let a ho be a ho”, Scarface lets loose with his gangsta storytelling on his namesake song while riding on the Eric B Paid in Full beat and the follow up “Life In The Fast Lane”. As with most classic albums they leave the best songs for last, as Scarface and Willie D ruthlessly scaremonger their listeners with the serial killing themes of “Trigga Happy Nigga” and the maniacal sociopathy of “Mind Of A Lunatic”.
Jungle Brothers, Done By The Forces Of Nature
The Jungle Brothers followed up their stellar debut “Straight out the Jungle” with this 60 minute masterpiece about the urban jungle and party utopia of NYC. Of all the hip hop albums, this one stood out as the music on this was very club-oriented and the majority of the lyrics were more dedicated to women and getting down than M.C. braggadocio.
The first single “Beyond This World” rides on a relentless bass groove guaranteed to make anyone move as the lyrics grimly focus on the realities of their surroundings in the urban jungle. “Feeling Alright” has the JB’s walking on the poor city streets on a pleasant day bereft of the usual blights as the followup “Sunshine” continues that mood.
Then it’s the should have been a huger hit “What U Waitin’ 4” which was clearly made for mass consumption and soul train lines as well as the Zapp-fueled follow up “U Make Me Sweat”. The album takes a break from the housin’ as the JB’s encourage self-education with “Acknowledge Your Own History”. And the side closes out with a killer virtuoso cut “Good News Comin'” by DJ Sammy B.
Side 2 opens with the jazzy and spacey title track and the tribal bangers “Beads On A String”, “Tribe Vibes” and “J Beez Coming through”. Then the J Beez comes up with their universal tribute to the ladies with “Black Woman” and ends with the hope for the future anthem “Dayz To Come, a Native Tongues posse cut follow up to De La Soul’s Buddy “Doin Our Own Dang” and finishes it off with a street corner blues ditty “Kool According to A Jungle Brother”.
This album did not really do that well even though it came out at the right place at the right time and is one of the greatest hip hop albums of Rap’s golden age even with a major label distribution and budget by the W.Beez (Warner Brothers Records). If this came out 15 years later it would give Outkast competition. The J.Beez were truly ahead of their time.
Boogie Down Productions, Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop
While a lot of rap artists were loading tracks with samples with excellent results, Boogie Down Productions went back to basics with this phenomenal album (remember when basic wasn’t a lame slur?) with a few choice breaks and lifted hooks and a live band as Blastmaster KRS-ONE goes beyond the Bronx and tackles universal themes based on acquired knowledge he obtained by studying and dwelling in local libraries when he was a homeless teenager.
Following the War-inspired boast track “The Style You Haven’t Done Yet”, on “Why Is That?” KRS delegitimatizes the perpetual myth of Jesus Christ as a white man as depicted in churches and government institutions. On the co-title track “The Blueprint” he schools other rappers on hip hop’s musical integrity with the same fervor he dissed the Juice Crew on Criminal Minded.
Then BDP includes his excellent track “Jack Of Spades” from “I’m Gonna Get You Sucka” and it doesn’t seem out of place at all like most previously released inclusions. “Who Protects Us From You” is a great treatise on aggressive arbitrary policing which the album cover brilliantly conveys.
“You Must Learn” continues KRS-one’s self-proclaimed MC role as “The Teacher” by giving a Black History lesson condensed in three and half minutes just like Stevie Wonder did on his classic “Black Man” (which was five minutes longer). “Jah Rulez” “Hip Hop Rules” “Bo Bo Bo” and “Gimme Dat” continue BDP’s devotion to reggae music which is more pronounced than any other hip hop group in that era. And the album closes with the brilliant anthem “World Peace” which doesn’t display naievte at all, as KRS proclaims that “you got to just take it”.
Queen Latifah, All Hail The Queen
Even though pioneering female MC’s like MC Lyte and Roxanne Shante were around making great singles, they fell just a bit short making a great and cohesive album. Then a 19-year-old woman from New Jersey dropped this bomb on the masses. With beats and sounds constructed by the brilliant producer and Flavor Unit co-leader 45 King and her fellow Tommy Boy labelmates, Queen Latifah’s lyricism and wild rhyming styling made All Hail The Queen established it as a landmark for women rappers.
On the opener “Dance for Me” she excellently exudes her command and her MC entitlement status immediately and keeps up the club groove on the followup single “Come Into My House”. “Mama gave birth to the Soul Children” is great collaboration with label mates and Native Tongue allies De La Soul. “Latifah’s Law” and “Wrath of My Madness” shows the Queen can rock a gangsta flow like her XY competitors.
Then comes “Ladies First, one of the best songs of 1989 and probably the greatest female empowerment anthem ever as Latifah and Monie Love brag and boast while throwing fire on male dominance perceptions, the Queen continues relentlessly and savagely on that concept on the accusatory “The Evil That Men Do” after the back to back rawness of “Queen and King Creation” and the wicked “Queen of Royal Badness” then the album comes to a close with “Princess of the Posse” and the smooth “Inside Out” as Latifah showcases her excellent singing skills.
Queen Latifah would make a few more albums later on but they didn’t come close to it, probably because she was pursuing an acting career which continues to this day. Which is too bad, since because of her success in T.V. and film, her groundbreaking album has been virtually forgotten even though it as significant as Aretha Franklin’s “I’ve never loved a man the way that I loved you” breakthrough album.
3rd Bass The Cactus Album
When this album came out on Def Jam it was almost a curiosity. They already were when their first single and video debuted on Video Music Box (greatest music video show ever). It was easy to cynically define this. The Beastie Boys left Def Jam, so the label had to find a new white rap group. But with the Golden Age of Rap standard at the time, they have to lyrically and musically gifted. MC Serch from Far Rockaway and Prime Minster Pete Nice from Brooklyn had absolutely no problem filling that bill.
3rd Bass first album like De La Souls 3 feet high (also produced by Prince Paul) seems to be a concept album, presuming the Cactus is like the Holy Grail or Burning Bush of hip hop, silly as it sounds. What’s not silly is how perfect and combative this album is. “Sons Of 3rd Bass” is a direct unprovoked dis of the Beastie Boys, as much you want to disagree with it it’s still a funny song. Then comes the “Gasface”, which is an unprovoked yet justified dis song on the punks behind power structures and establishment narratives.
Following five seamless tracks of super rhyme skills and dope beats provided by DJ Richie Rich, Serch and Pete tell their life stories about how their love for rap on “Product of the Environment” followed by their jazzy off-kilter explanation of the meaning behind “The Cactus” (which disses nascent superstar rapper MC Hammer for the second time on the LP). After a ludicrous homage to Tom Waits comes a sincere love ditty to the two boroughs they hail from “Brooklyn-Queens” even though it’s mostly about the predominant subject of gold-digging women and closes with the first single “Steppin’ To The A.M.. Another great release from the legendary Def Jam label.
(There were so many outstanding hip hop albums that came out that year it was hard to leave them out, so consolation prizes go to Kool G Rap and DJ Polo, Schoolly D,The D.O.C., Nice And Smooth, Big Daddy Kane and Roxanne Shante)
Three legendary and reliable rock and roll singer songwriters made their greatest albums after about almost a decade of creative futility.
Neil Young, Freedom
After releasing Rust Never Sleeps in 1979, Neil Young was floundering aimlessly in the 80’s after signing to David Geffen’s label (with the exception of the underrated Trans LP) jumping from genre to genre and making forgettable music. Then he went back to his old trusty label, did one more genre jump and then reverted back to form with the second best album he ever recorded. He just needed the creative freedom to do it, which may have been partly the inspiration for the title here.
But this album is not about Neil’s liberation from a shitty record deal, it’s about America and how the nation was still struggling after a decade of Reaganomics and the first years of Bush as depicted in the opener “Rockin’ in the Free World” which was reminiscent of “Hey Hey My My” off Rust but about homeless crises and economic disparities and with an optimistic/sarcastic jingoist chorus. “Crime in the City” continues the themes of the “Rockin..:” and focuses again on urban decay from the perspective of the cop and the criminal. “Don’t Cry” is a break up song and also the first song on the album that debuts Neil’s embrace of white noise style utilized by Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr, it sort of depicts that the separation wasn’t that amicable. “Eldorado” utilizes the same racket, disrupting the mood of the flamenco ballad. “Hangin’ on a Limb”, “The Ways of Love” and “Someday” are more additions to Young’s pantheon of classic ballads.
Then the album gets darker starting with the remake of the Drifters “On Broadway” as Neil extends the song and turns it up to 11 when he gets to the line “plays this here guitar” and turns the lilting song about strolling on the street into a heavy metal apocalypse of despair as Young codas the song with a man begging for crack. “Wrecking Ball” is another exemplary ballad like the previous one as the follow up “No More” is also another great song tackling insatiable drug addiction leading up to the metallic reprise of “Rockin’ In The Free World” with an extra verse maligning inequitable budgetary spending towards the military industrial complex over the needy and the environment and capped it off with his most scorching solo since Hey Hey (Into the Black) from a decade earlier on Rust Never Sleeps.
No one in rock music got more political and passionate than Neil Young did on this classic.
But one other rock and roll living legend did:
Lou Reed, New York
In the 80’s, Lou Reed was still making significant music (even a classic like The Blue Mask) even though he wasn’t getting much attention until he wrote some commercial songs that were sorta hits, he also sold out to the man by appearing in a motorcycle commercial. Then when the year 89 was just a baby, Lou Reed came out with this vicious, stripped down one hour hate/love letter to his hometown and the greatest but not at all safest city in the world, New York, Reed’s greatest album of his solo career. New York was like a collection of short stories and metro news articles set to raw rock and roll.
Starting with “Romeo Had Juliette”, Lou reduces Shakespeare’s fable to a nasty lay between the unrequited lovers and a naked city gang war playing outside then the bleakness continues nicely to the sorrowful and gorgeous ballad on AIDS victims missing from the “Halloween Parade. The beautiful “Dirty Blvd”(a surprise hit single) documents the tale of two cities and graphic descriptions of the city’s denizens and sights, showing that the wild side he once sang about as got worse and is more hard to escape from. “Endless Cycle” stresses the generational repetition of domestic and drug abuse, and “There Is No Time” lists everything citizens and officials waste their time on while nothing progresses. On “The Last Great American Whale”, the subject mammal is addressed mostly as a symbol for humanity’s ails and ignorance.
Side 2 delves into city survival themes on “Busload of Faith” is a rollicking anthem of self-perseverance and maintaining hope in the worst conditions and elements. “Sick of You” is a hysterical breakup song that blames every horrible current event on his significant other. The inspiring and relentless “Hold On” documents the dystopian society that evolved from the bias crimes, street riots and daily violence of the past 3 years. “Good Evening Mr Waldheim” calls out Jesse Jackson’s and Pope John Paul II’s hypocrisies than the at the time Austrian President and exposed former Nazi. “Xmas In February” gives a shout out to Vets destroyed by the Vietnam War, which around that year made up a lot of NYC’s homeless population. “Strawman” is a rousing anthem trashing the one percent and their worthless contributions to culture and society, false prophets and grand expensive events leading to inevitable disaster. And the closing “Dime Store Mystery” he reunites with his Velvet Underground bandmates John Cale and Moe Tucker on the albums only avant garde track about a street killing.
New York was a collection of short stories, metro news articles and police blotter set to two guitars, bass and drums. There hasn’t been anything in 30 years that has come close to it and going by the times in 2020, this album is purely due for a sequel. Too bad it will never happen because Lou’s been dead for 6 years and the majority of New Yorkers are transients and tourists.
Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever
Tom Petty decided to stable the Heartbreakers (except for his trusty lead guitar player Mike Campbell) and hooks up with his fellow Wiburys for his official solo debut Full Moon Fever and it became his second biggest hit album and best album of his two decade career.
The album timely summer release contained excellent songwriting and exuded cool vibes on the laid back transcendance of “Free Fallin'”, the stoic defiance of “I Won’t Back Down” and the back to back polar relationship songs of devotion and distance in “Love is a long road” and the haunting “Face in the Crowd”.
Then comes the unforgettable undeniable starter riff of “Running Down a Dream”, a four and half minute blazer track about driving and ambition and the greatest top down cruising song since Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” . Following the great remake side 2 opener of a Byrds classic, Petty writes a rocking ode to a wild impulsive babe on “Yer So Bad” and segues into the needy yet bittersweet “Depending On You”. The next two songs also take on similar relationship themes on “The Apartment Song” and “Alright for now”.Then the concise perfect album closes with a Wilburys’ styled rocker “A Mind With A Heart of it’s Own and closes with the status seeking and materialism trashing of “Zombie Zoo”.
Like Paul’s Boutique, this album also embraces the sun and expansive sights of Cali while staying grounded to the artist’s stylistic and hometown roots and is bolstered by lush production this time with co-producer ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne. Tom Petty would continue to make classic songs but arguably couldn’t come close to this again.
Aerosmith’s comeback following their collaboration with Run DMC and the multiplatinum success of their 1987 album Permanent Vacation is really one of rock and roll history’s greatest stories and it also established the connection of rock and rap as allies in musical rebellion. But like the band once sang on an overlooked great album leading to their revival, let the music do the talkin’; and did they ever on the their monster album Pump, their hardest and best album since their magnum opus 76 LP Rocks.
Starting with “Young Lust”, Boston’s furious five bust out the gate and brings down the garage with a relentlessness that the Replacements abandoned on their own 89 release that came out months earlier which segues into the honky metal tonkin’ song about high maintenance women on “F.I.N.E” . The band then channels both Guns’N Roses and the Beatles on their classic song about public fornication and cunnilingus on “Love in an elevator”.
The band gets into social subject matter for the first time on the autobiographical drug foibles on “Monkey On My Back” and child abuse and paternacide on “Janie’s Got A Gun”. The rocking doesn’t stop on the three following tracks starting with the AOR hit “The Other Side” but the band gets hard and funky again on “Voodoo Medicine Man” and ends with the goosebump begging and pleading ballad “What it Takes” featuring Steven Tyler’s best singing on the album. Still holds up FINE.
Before it was a brand, alternative rock music was making headway and although it was an off year for heavy metal a few innovative new bands broke out in a huge way.
The Cure, Disintegration
The Cure’s gradual evolution from post-punk to goth to new wave to radio friendly commercial success put forth a lot of great music but spotty albums in the 80’s and then at the closing of the decade Robert Smith hunkered down, got sad and composed Disintegration. And the result is the most beautiful and atmospheric downer of an album ever made. The ironic thing is that listening to this brings forth joy at The Cure’s expense, being their phenomenal performance on this classic.
As wind chimes ring for almost 30 seconds a crescendo of synthesizers form an expansive chilling wall of sound on the modestly titled “Plainsong”. Then its the beautiful bass-lead riffing reminiscing ballad “Pictures of You”. The ascending “Closedown” belies the dread of the one stanza of the song. “Lovesong” is the most detached song ever with that title and gives the Cure’s label Elektra the massive money making hit they wanted, and got another hit with the equally catchy “Lullaby”.
“Fascination Street” is wall of massive sound and the heaviest and groove laden song they ever wrote. Following that songs brief respite in the outside world the album depression themes go full on for the next 20 minutes with “Prayers For Rain” and the ambience of “The Same Deep Waters As You”, both songs which Smith uses his thoughts of aging as drowning metaphors (explains the cover with him glaring under the surface of a lily pond). “Disintegration” is the Cure’s definitive epochal song as the music coincides with the feeling of collapse from excessive drug use. The album closes with “Homesick” and melodica driven “Untitled”. Moping never sounded so good and inspired.
What do you do when you put out a barrier breaking original rock and roll album that introduces an innovative composing style (soft verse/loud chorus) along with inventing a new genre like on “Surfer Rosa”? If you are the Pixies, you make the obligatory landmark album as your follow up. Though Surfer was a landmark too, Doolittle has more modern rock for your dollar.
As the two note bassline from Ms. Kim Deal comes on, Joey Santiago melodically abrasive guitar licks come in on the opening track “Debaser” and Black Francis goes off like a banshee while yelling ho-ho-ho on a song about a foreign horror flick. “Tame” and “Wave of Mutilation” continue with the garish surrealistic violent themes with heavy metal pop hooks. “I Bleed” is a little singalong style ditty as Deal follows Black’s lead on a song seems to be about genocide. Then comes the college station hit (on an album with a dozen of them) “Here Comes Your Man” which rides on a Beach Boys riff as Black croons about an eerie boxcar ride. After the biblical discordant noise rocker “Dead” comes the Pixies stunning crossover AOR radio hit about the man-made end of civilization and the planet Earth “Monkey Gone To Heaven”.
Surrealism and the off-kilter post-punk music collectively fuel the short spurt tracks “Mr Grieves” and “Crackity Jones” which gets disrupted by a silly love song sung by drummer Dave Lowering and blends into the next three tracks “No 13 Baby”, “There Goes My Gun” and Baby”. The album codas with two disparate moods on the evocative spaghetti western soundtrack “Sliver and the violent torture imagery on “Gouge Away”.
Unfortunately this album would be the last time the Pixies would coalesce all the band members talents as Black Francis got tyrannical on Kim put a cap on her sexy voice on the Pixies last two albums. Creative decisions sure can kill a band.
Faith No More, The Real Thing
One of the greatest phenomenon’s in music is the proverbial artist that came out of nowhere. And with the legendary multi-genre spanning heavy metal band Faith No More they literally did just that (except to the people who already knew of them from their last album in 1987 and their crossover hit We Care A Lot). Even the first song and single on the monstrous “The Real Thing” might have been self-referential- the punk and organ driven “From out Of Nowhere” even if it was a standard metal song about a woman. Then it’s the classic second track and international super smash “Epic” as Faith No More merges rap and metal and new singer Mike Patton distinguishes himself as a dynamic frontman on a song about tripping balls.
“Falling to Pieces” continues in the funk vein with Billy Gould’s rubber bass line and Mike Bordin’s big beat drumming as Patton continues his schizo rapping and singing style and gets maniacal on guitarist Jim Martin’s metallic “Surprise! You’re Dead”. The Songs “Zombie Eaters” and “The Real Thing” are where the band adds progressive rock to their heavy metal hip hop boulliabaisse.
And the album closes with the noir tale “The Morning After”, the classical driven instrumental shredder “Woodpecker From Mars” and a stupendous remake of “War Pigs” (which was probably ordered by the major label as insurance for a single) and “Edge of the world” where Mike Patton brings out his inner lounge lizard.
Sepultura, Beneath The Remains
Morbid Angel, Alters Of Madness
When Metallica went double platinum with ..and Justice For All bringing faster and harder edged music to the mainstream, major labels went on a frenzy signing dozens of other thrash metal bands that released quality but insignificant albums. Fortunately the existence of indie labels still existed and two bands would release landmark and still influential albums of their own.
New label Roadrunner records picked up Sepultura from Brazil, who already had two great albums before them, and out came “Beneath The Remains” which continued and expanded Metallica’s metal composition standards on their four masterpieces. With an ominous opening Max and Igor Cavalera and lead guitarist Andres Kisser slash and burn on the title track about a soldier’s accounting and responsibilty behind a shelling of a village. “Inner Self” and “Stronger Than Hate” deals with an individual’s convictions and the emotions that drive them. “Mass Hypnosis” covers the cults that blindly worship religious institutions.
“Sarastic Exsitence” graphically describes the effects of being institutionalized. “Slaves of Pain” and “Lobotomy” explore themes of accepting oppression and servitude to power, and the unstoppable force of the music concludes with the and the avarice and evolutionary themes of “Hungry” and “Primitive Future”
Underground label and British export Earache Records quietly hit America’s shores with bands like the legendary Napalm Death, Carcass and various other bands that took metal to new extremes, playing louder and faster with albums that were lyrically more gruesome, graphic and Satanic. But their American franchise band was a black metal group from Tampa Bay, Florida called Morbid Angel and their perfect debut album “Altars of Madness”
Starting with “Immortal Rights” and “Suffocation”, the band breaks open the gates of hell with the complex and stellar virtuosity musicianship notably by lead guitarist Trey Azagthoth and drummer Pete Sandoval as bassist and vocalist David Vincent possessed vocals give the devil his due and praise. “Visions from the Darkside” is another demonic allegory comparing hell and war. “Maze Of Torment” describes a few rings of Dante’s Inferno.
The next four songs continues giving the devil his due with blistering leads and blast beats while like “Damnation” and “Blasphemy” direct their bile on their rival christian institutions and the closer “Evil Spells” references the sad sack Faust. I bet Slayer regretted taking the year off when this was out.
Last year was the
Sliver silver anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s suicide at his house in Aberdeen, Washington but it was also the 30th anniversary of Nirvana’s debut on Sub Pop records “Bleach”. Budgeted for a measly $6,000, Kurt, Kris Novaselic and two drummers pre-Grohl pounded 12 classic songs songs laying the genesis of the hardcore and metal (with pop sensibilities) “grunge” sound that would take over and save the music industry in a few years.
Kurt Cobain’s and the band’s approach was at first derivative of the his favorite bands at time, especially the Pixies, Sabbath, R.E.M., various indie punk bands and his beloved Melvins (their drummer Dale Crover plays on a few tracks here). The first two tracks “Blew”, “Floyd the Barber” and “Paper Cuts” clearly show the Melvins influence on Kurt. Although the next track “About a Girl”, his song crafting potential comes through on this Beatles styled track and the catchy bubblegum guitar riffing of “Love Buzz” (a remake of a cheesy 70’s pop song).
The albums best tracks delve into anti-social hardcore punk and existential dread of “School”, “Negative Creep” and “Scoff”. “Swap Meet” is a very funny story song about the title subject as Nirvana continues to perfect the pop/hardcore sound laid down by contemporary and temporary superstar band the Pixies. “Mr. Moustache” and “Sifting” are fast and slow savage takedowns of Kurt’s targeting society’s worst elements, bullies and authority figures.
Ministry, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste
Ministry already established themselves as metal saviors on their last album “Land of Rape And Honey” the year before but apparently that wasn’t enough as they brought more guitars and stacks on this followup.
The metal machine music on “The Mind is A Terrible Thing to Taste” goes from zero to hyperdrive immediately starting with the staccato machine gun riffing classic “Thieves” as Alain Jourgensen, his silent partner Paul Barker and Wax Trax label ally Chris Connelly renovate their industrial music sound they helped pioneer with powersaw flourishes over a hip hop beat disrupted by trash metal spurts following the verses condemning thieves, liars, hypocrites and bastards. “Burning Inside” continues the onslaught on a relentless hardcore track about drug withdrawal overwhelming the body.
After the Art of Noise/Motorhead romp “Never Believe and the bass and synth ambient “Cannibal Song”, “Breathe” (you fuckers!) opens up side 2 with 5 minutes of hard driving pounding repetition. “So What” is the epic track that rolls on dub, ambient music and audio chatter reminiscent of the best of PiL and Pink Floyd that gets disrupted by Jourgensen’s abrasive shouting and power chords. Then comes a surprising appearance of a guest MC that is tasked to rap over a collapsing wall of sound and fury on the albums loudest song “Test”. The album closes with the death march instrumental “Faith Collapsing” and the ambient “Dream Song”.
With this album, Ministry jumped into the forefront of the rock and roll revolution as aggressive music would take over and dominate the mainstream in a short amount of time.
Goo Goo Dolls, Jed
After Paul Westerberg and the Replacements disappointed most of the world with their bland followup to their garage rock masterpiece “Pleased to meet me” in 89, other bands they influenced had to fill the void left by them (which includes the aforementioned Aerosmith) But hardly anyone knew that three punks from Buffalo, New York would take that sound and aggression and put out a power pop punk classic.
Robbie, Johnny and George Goo took their Mats as well as their Cheap Trick, Metallica and Ramones influences and put the pedal to the metal on this overlooked gem of an album. The albums first four tracks are perfection “Out of Sight” ,”Up Yours”, “No Way Out”, and the sparkling phenomenal instrumental “7th of Last Month” another one of those songs that you wish were longer, and continues the onslaught with “Sex Maggot” and “Love Dolls” until it’s interrupted with a lounge lizard guest star crooning with the Goos on the CCR remake “Down On The Corner”
The band branches out musically with dynamic melodies on Side 2’s opening tracks “Had Enough” and the gorgeous “Road To Salinas” , returns to the snotty punk of “Misfortune” and closes with a Stones cover song and Johnny’s warm acoustic standout coda ode to “James Dean”. Like “Jed”‘s cover, the Goos played like they were DWI and crank and every song was catchy and memorable and laid the groundwork for the pop punk driven hardcore that would be monetized by bands like Green Day and Blink 182 about a half decade later.
Prong, Force Fed
New York City Hardcore became a huge movement in the late 80’s and maintained its relevance by staying provincial and being populated by excellent bands like the Cro-Mags, War Zone and Agnostic Front just to name a few. Which led to the spawning of the thrash metal godhead band Prong.
Their debut “Force Fed” (which was recorded in 87) showcased excellent and almost poetic songwriting and performing on dense hardcore songs barely exceeding 3 minutes as per the NYCH standard. Tommy Victor’s stellar riffs open up “Freezer Burn”, “Forgery” and “Senseless Abuse” while Ted Parsons relentless and savage drumming conjures up the feeling of a runaway local subway train. “Primitive Origins” slows it down just a little bit until reverting their normal breakneck pace of the first 3 tracks as “Aggrevated Condition” reveals the influence of their contemporaries Slayer and Anthrax.
The brilliant debut album continues it’s savage head banging neck breaking pace while buttressed by killer instrumentals on songs like “Decay”, the title track, “the Taming” and the tracks “The Colisseum” and the chugging “It’s been decided” respectively. Then closes with the apocalyptic themes incorporating elements of arty noise in “Look Up At the Sun” and Drainpipe”.
The album is a 30 minute treatise on mass consumerism and the biological breakdowns of disease. Like the best metal bands Metallica and Slayer, Prong’s focused aggression and musical execution made them stand out.
Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation 1814
Even though there were a lot of albums that needed acknowledgement, they had to be set aside with every listing it’s obligatory to include a blockbuster release. But obligation doesn’t mean shit with Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. It wasn’t just an album, it was also a movement and it warrants mention and recognition here also. Produced by The Time’s Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (who also produced her previous blockbuster mallrat album Control), Ms. Jackson and her studio allies took the sounds and signs of the times from contemporaries like Prince, Tracy Chapman and Public Enemy, the new jack swing genre and even industrial music and assembled an excellent commercial and conceptual R&B pop album.
Ms. Jackson starts off the album showing off great songwriting and sincere takes on current events, pleas for activism and politics on the hard driving funk songs “Rhythm Nation”, “State of The World” and the brilliant “The Knowledge”. Then come more and more hits in the world wide hit confections “Miss You Much” and “Love Will Never Do”
Then the world party gets disrupted with the pathos of “Living in A World (they didn’t make)” as Ms. Jackson laments about what the children of the future that Whitney Houston sang about are going to inherit from their adult leaders if they are able to survive in the streets rife with gang violence.
Ms. Jackson slips politics on the dance track “Alright” (Kendrick Lamar would do something similar with his same titled hit), followed by the bouyant”Escapade” and the surprisingly good frozen metal track “Black Cat”Ms. Jackson wisely decides to leave the love songs for last with great tracks like “Lonely” the hit “Come Back to Me” and “Someday is Tonight”. An amazing and well composed and sequenced album from a remarkable talent. Which is not a surprise coming from a woman from a musical family and who played Penny on Good Times and Willis’s girlfriend on Different Strokes.
Honorable Mention: Public Enemy Fight The Power 12” single.
Even though Public Enemy already established themselves as the only band that mattered with two great albums (including what is still the greatest rap album ever made), they were still a great reliable singles band capable of dropping hit after hit like Sly and The Family Stone used to do when they first came out. So it was only natural when Spike Lee got down with the P.E. and let them write the theme song for his landmark and best movie “Do The Right Thing”.
When “Fight The Power” came out a few weeks before the movie released and killed everything else on the radio, making the call to assemble and gather arms one of the greatest political protest anthems as well as the biggest song of the summer. The song was so catchy that the character Radio Raheem played it about 20 times in the movie it propelled and would ultimately play it to (his) death.
“Fight the Power”, the music provided by the Bomb Squad and the virtuoso cutting and fading by Terminator X was as incendiary as Chuck’s vitriol proselytizing and pop culture shaming lyrics, followed by the Brandford Marsalis free jazz sax coda carrying the song to the end. Though Chuck dates the song on the first line, Fight The Power’s music and the message stays powerful and relevant even in this near quarter old century we’re in now. Especially with Trump in the White House and Bernie Sanders bringing a formidable challenge to his fragile and waning reign on the nation.
How they rank:
- Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique (Album of the year)
- Lou Reed, New York
- Neil Young, Freedom
- Ice T, The Iceberg: Freedom of Speech, Just Watch What You Say
- Pixies, Doolittle
- Faith No More, The Real Thing
- The Cure, Disintegration
- Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever
- Ministry, The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste
- Jungle Brothers, Done By The Forces Of Nature
- Ghetto Boys, Grip It! On That Other Level
- Nirvana, Bleach (Best new artist)
- Sepultura, Beneath The Remains
- De La Soul, 3 Feet High And Rising
- Boogie Down Production, Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop
- Queen Latifah, All Hail The Queen
- Prong, Force Fed
- Morbid Angel, Altars Of Madness
- 3rd Bass, The Cactus Album
- Janet Jackson, Rhythm Nation 1814
- Goo Goo Dolls, Jed
- Aerosmith, Pump
- Public Enemy, Fight The Power 12″ (Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year)
(Acknowledgements due to some actual essential music in 2019; Tool’s first album in 13 years “Fear Innoculum” and L7’s killer comeback “Scatter the Rats”. Also death metal band’s MGLA “Age of Excuse” and Cattle Decapitation’s mind blowing and expanding apocalypse album “World Atlas. And Lizzo is pretty good too)