Posts Tagged ‘The Jam’

When the history of 2020 is written, what will be said? That Rolling Stone released a remastered rendition of its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list? No, of course not – but it is a distraction from the machinations of the tinpot despot, so I’ll run with it. 

For those counting at home, this Top 500 is the magazine’s third stab at an all-encompassing album countdown. It first released a Top 500 in 2003, which was slightly tweaked in 2005 for a book, and then substantially reworked in 2012. The lists received just criticism, however, due to the artists being predominately white, male and rock-oriented. Artists of color, for example, made up a little more than a fifth of the featured acts, while women were less than 10 percent. As a result, this time around, the editors started from scratch. The introduction notes that “tastes change, new genres emerge, the history of music keeps being rewritten” before explaining that Top 50 lists were solicited from “more than 300 artists, producers, critics, and music-industry figures.” The lists were tabulated and weighted, forming the basis for the 500, which was then kept in a mayonnaise jar on Funk and Wagnalls’ porch until September 22nd, when it was posted to the Web.

The main headline, I suppose, is that the list is indeed more diverse. Artists of color account for 33 percent of the 500, while women account for almost a fourth. (Note: my estimates are rough.) Also, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is now No. 1, supplanting the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which trips all the way out of the Top 20 to No. 24; it’s now deemed the third best Beatles album, behind Abbey Road (No. 5) and Revolver (No. 11). To my ears, What’s Going On is a vinyl paradox, forever timeless and timely; it’s never not relevant. I consider it one of the greatest albums of all time, so have no issues with its placement.

I also have no major issues with the overall order. These lists are not of “all time,” but of their time; they reflect the zeitgeist of the moment, and that moment is generally set by those younger than me. That said, the list is an ethnocentric enterprise, with its selections limited to albums that impacted U.S. music fans. For example, unless I missed one or both, the Jam and Paul Weller are MIA despite their success and influence in the U.K.; and the Stone Roses’ stellar debut, which routinely places at or near the top of U.K. best-album lists, ranks No. 319 here. The results also skew heavily towards Baby Boomer favorites, with 46 percent of the 500 hailing from the 1960s and ‘70s (less than in 2003, but still a lot), but that shouldn’t be a surprise – that’s when the album as an art form was at its zenith (now, too often, it’s little more than Spotify fodder). Also, I’d wager many of those polled first heard them (or songs from them) while driving with their parents, so there’s a nostalgia factor involved, too.

I do find the inclusion of recent albums to be annoying. As I explained in my post on NPR’s 150 Greatest Albums by Women list, the main reason for excluding a recent album is that “we don’t know whether it will, as most great albums do, grow stronger through the years or fall from favor.” It’s the difference between infatuation and love.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Albums AWOL from Rolling Stone’s Top 500. They’re all past “essential” picks of mine; I’m listing them in alphabetical order. I should note that they hail from my personal Top 25 Albums off All Time list, where they share space with several hundred other albums. (As I joke somewhere, there are a lot of ties.) Also, they all hail from the 1980s, as the decade gets short-shrift in the countdown…

1) The Bangles – All Over the Place (1984). The Bangles rose from the ranks of the Paisley Underground to score some big hits by mid-decade, yet they’re routinely overlooked in these sorts of overviews. But, as their full-length debut ably demonstrates, they were nothing short of wondrous.

2) The Jam – Snap! (1983). I find the inclusion of compilations somewhat suspect on a list of all-time greatest albums, but if those are the rules of the road, then Snap! deserves inclusion. Simply put, it’s one of the greatest best-of compilations of all time.

3) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ’N Roll (1981). As I say in my recap, “The pages of history textbooks are filled will legions of folks who shaped the world, but – academia being what it is – many important people receive cursory mentions or none at all. Like Joan Jett.” In short, she turned the world on with her guitar.

4) The Long Ryders – State of Our Union (1985). The Long Ryders never got their just due in the U.S., yet are a crucial link in the Americana timeline, one bridge (of several) between Gram and Uncle Tupelo. As I note in my piece, this album “integrates rock ’n’ roll, R&B, country and folk into a tasty whole, contains glorious guitar work and incisive lyrics, and features melodies that burrow into the brain like a groundhog beneath a back deck.”

5) Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1987). Tracy Chapman’s debut is rightfully in the Top 500, though arguably too low at No. 286, but the artists who set the stage for that album’s mega-success during the “hair metal late eighties” (as RS stereotypes it) aren’t included. Suzanne Vega’s first two LPs were integral albums that helped shape the soundscape of the mid- and late ‘80s. This, her sophomore set, reached No. 11 on the album charts; and the single “Luka” reached No. 3. It’s a perfect album.

Fun, but frustrating. That, in a nutshell, summarizes my reaction to the Facebook challenge of naming 10 all-time favorite albums over the course of 10 days. I have far more than 10 all-time favorites, many of which are equally weighted on the scale I employ to rate records. (Among my measurements: “wondrous,” “wow. just wow,” “sublime,” “mesmerizing,” “transcendent” and “it takes you there, wherever there is.”)

Selecting them also meant adopting a different mindset than when choosing my ballyhooed Album of the Year honor. There, I look back at what I’ve bought and played most often during the previous 12 months, and gauge what resonated with my soul at such a deep level that I know, just know, I’ll be listening to it for the rest of my life. (Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong.)

Memes weren’t created to be fair, however, but to entertain. And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: 10 All-Time Favorite Albums, Part 2. (Part 1 can be found here.)

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Day 6: Juliana Hatfield – in exile deo. I’ve yet to feature this album in my “Essentials” series, but will at some point. It’s one of Juliana’s best albums – and her second to nab my esteemed Album of the Year honor.

Day 7: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – I Love Rock ’n Roll. It may not be Joan’s best album (her debut, Bad Reputation, is likely that), but it’s her most important – and, in my estimation, one of the most important albums in rock history. Thus, its “Essential” status. 

Day 8: 10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden. As perfect an album ever released, in my opinion. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 9: Stephen Stills – Manassas. A two-LP (now one-CD) gem. Another “Essentials” pick.

Day 10: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – Darkness on the Edge of Town. This 1978 album is one of the greatest albums of all time. What’s amazing about it, to me, is that the themes that Springsteen explores, both lyrically and musically, speak to their time and to all times. (It’s a future “Essentials” pick, in other words.)

And a three non-Facebook bonuses…

Day 11: Dusty Springfield – Dusty in Memphis. Another perfect record. And another “Essentials” pick.

Day 12: The Jam – Snap!. One of the greatest best-of compilations to be released on vinyl, and a set I’ve listened to as much in the past year as I did in the first year I bought it. It never grows old. (It’s an “Essential,” in other words.)

Day 13: Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life. It may be a relatively recent album, and as such doesn’t qualify for “essential” status just yet (my homegrown rule is an album has to be at least five years old for that), but it shot to the top of my internal charts the moment I heard it, and hasn’t left. It’s everything good about music. 

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

On back-to-back days in November 1983, I bought two double-LP compilations by two paradigm-shifting British bands: the Who’s The Kids Are Alright and the Jam’s Snap! I thoroughly enjoyed both right from the start. The Who’s set is, obviously, the odds-and-sods soundtrack to the 1979 documentary film about Messrs Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon. The comprehensive Jam collection, which was released the previous month, contains 29 of the then-recently disbanded group’s songs, including their 16 U.K. singles, b-sides and the “That’s Entertainment” demo.

Both sets are great, but only one – in my estimation, at least – is essential: The Jam’s Snap! It’s one of the greatest best-of collections ever released, and remains my go-to choice when in the mood to crank the Jam.

If you’re curious about Paul Weller’s first group, it’s the best place to start. If you’re a longtime fan, it’s still the best way to experience the taut trio’s top tracks in rapid-fire succession. Even in the streaming age, where “new-and-improved” compilations and playlists are a mere mouse-click away, it’s the only such set that matters.

About it’s only competition: Compact Snap!, released in 1984, which trims eight songs from the set (so that it could fit onto one CD). I picked it up a few years after that, in late 1987 or early ’88, at a now-defunct CD-only store in Jenkintown, Pa., that was called (if my memory is right) 21st Century Sound. The excised songs were “Away from the Numbers,” “Billy Hunt,” “English Rose,” “Mr. Clean,” “The Butterfly Collector,” “Thick As Thieves,” “Man in the Corner Shop” and “Tales from the Riverbank.”

The original Snap! eventually made its way to CD in 2006, and both the original and “compact” versions are available on most streaming outlets.

The track list:

Every Monday, we rolled out of bed, ate breakfast while scanning the sports section of the morning newspaper, and headed to the bus stop, where we waited with a motley crew of kids from the neighborhood. At school, we navigated the halls on the way to and fro’ class, and fled at day’s end unless we had an after-school activity of some kind. The next morn, we did it again. And again after that, times three, until summer break came.

After school, depending on weather and mood, we played in the street or the park, rode our bikes or walked to independently owned music and book stores in our small town’s business district, or hiked the long hill to the Village Mall, where we browsed the chain-store versions of the same. The main difference: the folks behind the counter at those independent stores knew my name. At the chain stores? They only knew my cash.

In 1982, social media would have meant talk radio. Cable TV was around, but channels weren’t many. In the Philly area, the most important to get was PRISM, an HBO-like premium channel that, in addition to movies and specials, carried the home games of the Flyers.

In some respects, life was less hectic. The news cycle played out in drips and drabs via the newspapers and evening newscasts, not the incessant drumbeat of disagreements that fill our Facebook and Twitter feeds. But, make no mistake, life was no less difficult then as now. June 1982, for example, saw America stuck in a wretched recession: Inflation clocked in at 7.2 percent while unemployment was 9.8 percent.

I was 16, going on 17.

New movies released this month include Poltergeist, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, E.T., Grease 2 and Blade Runner. True story: one day later this month, after school had let out for the summer, a friend and I trekked to the Village Mall, which was home to a two-screen Eric movie theater. He took in Poltergeist. I took in…Grease 2. That’s just how I rolled.

The top TV shows for the just-concluded 1981-82 season included Dallas, 60 Minutes, The Jeffersons, Three’s Company, Alice, The Dukes of Hazzard, Too Close for Comfort, M*A*S*H and One Day at a Time. (Of those, I only watched the last two on a regular basis.)

In the world of music, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were atop the charts with “Ebony and Ivory” – a 45 I still own – for all of June. Other hot hits included Rick Springfield’s “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny,” the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ cover of “Crimson & Clover.” (As always with all things charts, I rely on Weekly Top 40.)

Which leads to today’s Top 5: June 1982 via Creem. Joan Jett graces the front cover of the issue and, via an ad, the back.

1) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “I Love Rock ’n Roll.” The Iman Lababedi-penned cover article chronicles Joan Jett’s ascent from the generally ignored Runaways to this point in time, when she was on a roll, having finished a seven-week run at No. 1 with “I Love Rock ’n Roll” on May 1st, and then cracking the Top 10 again this month with “Crimson & Clover,” to say nothing of her platinum-selling I Love  Rock ’n Roll album.

2) Quarterflash – “Harden My Heart.” “In the United States, statistics show, a girl is walking out on her no-good man every 15 minutes. Statistics also show that 15 minutes later they’re going out and buying the Quarterflash record.” So begins music journalist Sylvie Simmons in this in-depth profile of the Portland, Oregon, band, which – to my ears – always sounded somewhat like Pat Benatar. Interestingly, the songs weren’t written by singer (and saxophonist) Rindy Ross, but her husband, guitarist Marv Ross.

3) The Jam – “A Town Called Malice.” Penny Valentine checks in from Britain with a good piece on the Jam. “Not since the Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ has a record so well captured an urban mood and sent out its own warning: ‘Better stop dreaming of the quiet life/‘Cause it’s the one we’ll never know/And quit running for that runaway bus/‘Cause those rosy days are few.’”

She also delves into the album the song springs from. “So ‘Gift,’ an indecisive, incomplete, somewhat directionless collection musically and a set which reflects Weller’s own confusion between a salvation that lies with love and individualism or collective action, somewhat accidentally reflects exactly the political climate at the moment.”

4) Van Morrison – “Cleaning Windows.” Richard Riegel has the lead review, of Van Morrison’s Beautiful Vision, in the Records section. Of this song, he writes that “‘Cleaning Windows,’ which opens Side Two of Beautiful Vision, picks up some of the threads of ‘Summertime in England,” and is the most interesting song on the new set as a result. ‘Cleaning Windows’ stars Van Morrison as a repatriated Belfast window washer, who measures his life in the number of sparkling panes he’s left behind…”

He also laments that “nowhere else on Beautiful Vision does Van Morrison allow us such crystalline metaphors for his life. All 10 cuts have his trademark beautiful-vision melodies but lyrically too many of the other songs celebrate those vague bromides favorited by Bob Dylan in recent years, songs in which the satisfaction of the singer’s belief is supposed to substitute for acute lyric detail.”

5) The Call – “War-Weary World.” Riegel also contributes his take on the Call’s eponymous debut to the Rock-a-Rama roundup: “Clenched-jaw, urban-melodrama-verging-on-paranoia, a la Talking Heads, but far icier and more detached music than David Byrne would ever allow his disciplined-to-funk urban soul to express.”