Over the next few days I’m going to post fifty of the albums that mean most to me. Notice my weasel words. I suppose this would count as my fifty favorite albums if I believed in carving things on stone tablets. Suffice to say that were I asked to list these albums they’d be in there.
50. Nona Hendryx – Nona
On subsequent albums the former Labelle singer got the Tina Turner treatment by her label: Keith Richards, Arthur Baker, that sort of thing. She got it right once on this 1983 eponymous album, and so did Material and every one else recording music in Lower Manhattan like a Go-Go and Valerie Simpson. For theoretical dance music, of which the early eighties coughed up plenty, Nona still works. Occasionally she stirred herself to record the real thing.
49. Miles Davis – Get Up With It
“He Loved Him Madly” is the centerpiece, a sidelong track whose use of space and terse punctuative horn and organ represents Miles’ most adventurous music because it’s the quietest. For his most frenetic piece until the collection called Dark Magus, there’s “Calypso Frelimo.” Clearing-the-head music comes no purer than the seven-minute organ carouselambra called “Rated X.”
48. Gilberto Gil – Expresso 2222
Singer-songwriter albums don’t get more joyous than Gil’s. Ugliness isn’t the enemy – staidness is. Chanting and whooping like a second or third guitar, Gil doesn’t forget performing these literate songs maters as much as writing them.
47. Merle Haggard – Serving 120 Proof
Haggard recorded his most consistent longforms between the Carter and early Reagan administrations as middle age threatened him like lead poisoning (I like Big City but “My Favorite Memory” defines the fatuity of the softening hetero male). With Red Lane and a crack band providing modest accompaniment, “Red Bandana” and “I Can’t Get Away” use narrative and self-amused confession, respectively, to keep the blahs sat bay. Serving 190 Proof is the album I recommend to listeners new to Hag.
46. Utah Saints – Utah Saints
Arena techno: big beats, crowd noise, choruses sampled from Eurythmics, Simple Minds, and Kate Bush. Goofy and thrilling – the perfect gateway drug.
45. Ice Cube – Amerikkka’s Most Wanted
It Takes a Nation of Millions… and Fear of a Black Planet will rank as the Bomb Squad’s grandest productions, but it took Ice Cube’s debut for me to get Public Enemy. Cruder, disgusted by fags and bitches and anyone who impugns his manhood, Cube will forever sit uneasily in the pantheon. But so long as “Turn Off the Radio” and the title track clang, I don’t care. When Chuck D joins Cube on “Endangered Species (Tales from the Darkside),” the greatest rap act of 1990 joins N.W.A’s most talented for an East-West summit whose impact would dissipate in the coming decade.