A personal history through my top 25 albums

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Moonbeam
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A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:24 am

I recently updated my all time album list to help inform my artist list for the current poll. I ended up with a top 650, which I've broken down into 5 different tiers:

Tier 5: Recommendable Pockets of Fun (650-351)
Tier 4: Taste Definers (350-201)
Tier 3: Enduring Favorites (200-101)
Tier 2: Personal Classics (100-26)
Tier 1: My DNA (25-1)

Since then, I've been going through each of my top 25 albums and sharing my personal memories and reflections on how these albums are part of my "DNA", and I thought I'd share them here. I've been posting one per day up through #10 so far.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:25 am

Depeche Mode Violator.jpg
#25: Depeche Mode - Violator (1990)

I became obsessed with music in 1989, soaking up everything I could from MTV and the radio at the time. “Personal Jesus” was released and became a defining favorite, coupling pulsing electronics with a titanic blues riff. It was unlike anything else I was listening to at the time and also represented a new sound for Depeche Mode, although I was unaware of that then. The Violator album followed in 1990 and is filled with evocative, sultry synths and arresting vocals. It was fun to watch as each single unveiled new magic, from the breathless expansiveness of the dancefloor classic “Enjoy the Silence” to the seductive drama of “Policy of Truth”, and finally the beguiling mystery of “World in My Eyes”.

As a 10-year-old, I was mostly captivated by the lush synthesized production. Although I was familiar with and loved some (mostly older) synthpop songs, Violator was the first synthpop album I sank my teeth into. It sets an incredibly high bar for a genre that would go on to become one I would mine deeply in the years to come. As a sort of torch bearer for the genre, it succeeds in showcasing different textures and feelings that synthpop can create, including moments of grand splendor (“Halo”), minimal introspection (“Waiting for the Night”), and vulnerability and tenderness (“Blue Dress”).

Violator has retained all of its alluring power for me - it’s balmy, it’s grandiose, it’s mysterious, and above all else, it’s pretty sexy.

Top 3 Favorites:

“Personal Jesus”
“Halo”
“Policy of Truth”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:28 am

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#24: Annie Lennox - Diva (1992)

1992 was a weird time for me. I turned 12 that year, and all of my adolescent awkwardness was on full display. It seems that’s a hard time for everyone, as hormones and the transition out of childhood and all of that naked insecurity around identity and how you fit in are all seemingly magnified with a blinding spotlight. It was in that context that I first heard Diva.

I was immediately struck by the elegance and the boldness of Annie’s image in the “Why” video, as she sang a song so wrought with remorse and trouble while applying exaggerated makeup and donning the iconic feather headdress of the album cover, morphing into her diva character. I couldn’t really slip into some new identity or hide who I was - I couldn’t help but continue to ramble on about yellow and Prince and Rutherford B. Hayes and Adrian Dantley and all sorts of things that weren’t hot topics among my peers, but the notion of finding strength through characters, or albums in my case, was something that stuck with me, and Diva was one of the foremost albums for that. “Little Bird” in particular became an uplifting personal anthem - its narrative of mustering strength after feeling so vulnerable served as a call to arms to stay strong during those turbulent times. I was also enraptured by the baroque pop tell-off of “Walking on Broken Glass”, the dramatic shifts of “Cold”, the barbed storytelling of “Legend in My Living Room”, and the triumphant swell of “Money Can’t Buy It”, among others.

The theater of the whole thing opened doors for other “art pop” artists to dazzle me in the coming years, including Björk and (naturally) Eurythmics. Diva remains one of the most graceful, and indeed soulful, albums I’ve ever heard.

Top 3 Favorites:

“Little Bird”
“Cold”
“Legend in My Living Room”
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:30 am

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#23: Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz (2010)

This album came out the year after I started my PhD, certainly a stressful time in my life! It’s hard to quantify just how seismic its impact was on me at the time. Sufjan Stevens had previously broken through my own barriers set around my musical comfort zone - I had previewed his 2004 album Seven Swans at a Virgin Megastore due to its acclaim but was turned off by the folky sound of it. I didn’t give his follow-up album Illinois a chance until a few years after its release due to this experience, but its symphonic grandeur broke through in a big way, and I went back and revisited Seven Swans, finding it much more palatable.

The Age of Adz is completely different. It carries the symphonic elements of previous releases, but it tosses them into a melting pot with glitch pop beats and synthesized magma to create a volcanic stew of sound. It’s a 70+ minute assault on the senses, each molten synth line, mechanized beat, and harrowing orchestral swell cast as a weapon waged for his sanity atop a blazing cauldron of religious fervor, self-defeat and self-aggrandizement, hallucinations, and a manic obsession with mortality. Songs like “I Want to Be Well”, “Too Much”, “Vesuvius”, and “Get Real, Get Right” went through me like lightning bolts while songs like “Age of Adz” and the 25-minute “Impossible Soul” thrilled me with a mix of horror and amazement.

I’ve always been partial to the tartness of rainbow sherbet instead of ice cream, and this album is a rainbow sherbet album in every sense of the word - intense, Intense, INTENSE!

Top 3 Favorites:

“Get Real, Get Right”
“I Want to Be Well”
“Vesuvius”
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:32 am

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#22: Madonna - Madonna (1983)

I think Madonna is the best “pop star” ever. She’s not my favorite artist, and she doesn’t have my favorite pop album, but the combination of her longevity and high impact makes her the Queen of Pop for a reason. She has lot of albums on my extended list (and maybe more to place above), but none are as purely addictive as this, her debut. All 8 songs aim straight for the feet with celebratory, technicolor glow. Dancing would go on to become a vital release for me, and this is probably the first seminal dance-pop album. “Holiday” and “Borderline” are rightly venerated, but my favorites have long been “Everybody” for its rhythmic pull, “Physical Attraction” for its flirtatious winking funk, “Lucky Star” for its checkerboard neon dancefloor euphoria, and “Burning Up” for its propulsive, percussive synth bass and insatiable boldness which still make it my very favorite Madonna song after all these years.

This album was great fun throughout my youth and particularly powerful once I went to college and could finally set dancefloors alight with regularity - I must have played this dozens of times in my dorm room in preparation for a night of rapturous release only available through hours of dancing. Whatever the setting, this album is a delight and sure to put me in a good mood with its fluorescent sparkle.

Top 3 Favorites:

“Burning Up”
“Lucky Star”
“Physical Attraction”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:37 am

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#21: The Cure - Seventeen Seconds (1980)

This wasn’t the first Cure album I encountered, but it was my favorite discovery of their back catalogue once I did. It’s a sort of “template” album - everything feels pretty skeletal. This minimalism enhances the mood of the album, as the melodic bass lines, sparse guitar lines, live drums produced to sound like drum machines, and frosty synth lines coalesce into a stark, wintry hollowness that I adore. The songs are all given long instrumental intros to build the atmosphere before Robert Smiths’s desolate lyrics add their own complementary grayness. All of the elements that would make The Cure such a great band are here, and while the albums that immediately followed would build from this blueprint, they never sounded as affecting as this.

There’s a beauty in the simplicity that I returned to very often throughout my adolescence and young adulthood in quieter, more reflective moods. It’s an amazing feat to create such atmosphere with such an elemental sound, rendering songs like “In Your House”, “At Night” and “Secrets” as snow-draped caverns with faint glows of light that are so easy to get lost in. Even upbeat tracks like “Play for Today” and “M” are filtered through an ethereal haze courtesy of the soft synth lines and reverb. And of course, there’s “A Forest”, a towering paean to loneliness with the foggy synth, lead guitar and bass lines all so distinctive, the resigned loneliness eventually building into impassioned despair.

It’s the torchbearer for me of another favorite genre of mine in post-punk and one of the most cohesive ambassadors of that sound. It’s perfect for a bit of quiet introspection on a cold winter day, and at under 36 minutes, it’s the Cure album I’m most inclined to revisit after it ends. And it was released exactly one week before I was born!

Top 3 Favorites:

“A Forest”
“Play for Today”
“In Your House”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:39 am

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#20: Prince - Sign o' the Times (1987)

There’s been no more empowering nor rewarding musical experience for me than getting into Prince. His music has become such a huge part of my life that it has shaped who I am and ultimately, who I married, where I live, and my career. Diving headfirst into each album was such a treat. No album showcases the multifaceted sprawling genius of Prince quite like Sign o’ the Times, a double album that spans smoldering R&B, pop, Christian rock, synth funk, soul, and psychedelia while lyrically running the gamut from social commentary to new dance styles to heady introspection. Each song was a new journey.

There was plenty for me to enjoy right away - the jubilant yellow of “Play in the Sunshine”, the vibrant nursery rhyme of “Starfish and Coffee”, the sizzling dancefloor bombshell of “U Got the Look”, the frolicking pulse of “Strange Relationship”, the pop/rock splendor-meets-jazz/funk “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man”, the thought-provoking funk rock of “Sign o’ the Times”, and mostly, the raucous spiritual fire of “The Cross” all immediately imprinted themselves on me and never let go. These songs created their own worlds, planting seeds as my musical taste and identity were still germinating.

There were also songs that took time to reveal their full power to me. I wasn’t quite ready for the blurry moods of “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” or the freakiness of “If I Was Your Girlfriend” when I first heard the album, but their brilliance eventually became undeniable with time. And while I had always loved “Forever in My Life”, the song gained new resonance as I sang it to my newborn son, rocking him back and forth.

There are a few Prince albums that rank higher for me, but Sign o’ the Times deserves its status as a sort of consensus fan favorite among the Prince fan community.

Top 3 Favorites:

“The Cross”
“Sign o’ the Times”
“Starfish and Coffee”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:43 am

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#19: George Winston - December (1982)

My early memories of music and its magic have been associated with family, as I'm sure is the case for many people. Sometime shortly after the album was released, some friends of my parents gave them a copy of December, and it quickly became the annual soundtrack for our late-year holidays. While preparing and enjoying our Thanksgiving meal with my Grandma R, we would play December. While we would follow the meal with a game of Royal Rummy, we would play December. While our hands got covered with dough and food coloring while making Christmas cookies, we would play December. While we decorated our Christmas tree, we would play December. While we would open presents on Christmas day, we would play December.

The album helped inspire me to learn the piano myself, which has provided me with great joy and a relief from stress over the years. There is something sacred in the grace and passion with which George Winston brings to life these seasonal hymns that echoes deep within my soul. It contains an amazing version of my all-time favorite Christmas carol, "Carol of the Bells". And if I want to relive the feeling of walking at night in moonlit, wintry wonder as huge shadows crawl away from barren trees, I'll put on the "Night" suite.

Few (if any) albums have had such a lifelong impact on me. When my dad died in 2004, I played a version of the Pachelbel Kanon on the piano at his funeral inspired by this version. And when my Grandma R died later that year, I played "Some Children See Him".

Top 3 songs:

“Variations on the Kanon by Pachelbel”
“Carol of the Bells”
“Night” (parts 1-3)

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:49 am

Eurythmics Touch.jpg
#18: Eurythmics - Touch (1983)

While my introduction to Eurythmics came with the incredible “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” video, I didn’t dive in beyond a Greatest Hits compilation (and even then I didn’t listen to the hits much) until 1998, when I fell head over heels. The unique blend of analog synth menace, the incorporation of strings, guitars, and horns, the production brilliance from Dave Stewart, and Annie’s commanding presence lit inside me an inner confidence I find hard to fully explain. It’s as if the shackles of my childhood and all that represented were lifted off of me once I went to college, and this bold, commanding music and Annie’s blindingly orange hair inspired in me a freedom to have confidence in my identity.

While their entire discography up to that point was pivotal, Touch was a massive part of it, in part because it took their icy synthscapes and hardwired them to the dancefloor more extensively than any of their other albums did - likely a reason that the album saw a remix edition follow the next year. Annie still bristled with a broken heart, infernal rage, and domineering sneers, but damn it, she was determined to seethe on a dancefloor. Songs like “The First Cut”, “Regrets”, and “Cool Blue” bared their fangs in such vibrant and fun ways, while songs like “No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts)”, “Who’s That Girl?” and “Paint a Rumour” (my favorite) served as synthesized symphonies atop which Annie could inhabit different characters with the conviction of a trained theater performer. And of course, “Here Comes the Rain Again” with its lilting, gorgeous melodrama was a huge hit too. The way these soundscapes filled my mind with such vivid imagery, even just abstract bursts of color, felt like a true epiphany.

This album also holds a very special place for me now because my son has fallen head over heels for a lot of the songs. “The First Cut” was my most played song of 2018 in large part because he loves some of Annie’s vocal affectations so both on the album version and live performances, and seeing the joy he gets out of the same sounds that had ignited so powerfully within me is so powerful - maybe DnA (Dave and Annie) run in our DNA after all!

Top 3 favorites:

“Paint a Rumour”
“Who’s That Girl?”
“Here Comes the Rain Again”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:54 am

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#17: Björk - Vespertine (2001)

Although the 90s weren’t as ripe with new artists for soundtrack my life as they should be as my teenage years, the one glowing exception was Björk. Her music felt so radically different to what was played at the time, and following the trajectory from Debut to Post to Homogenic provided me with a wild assortment of art pop treats that I loved, with songs like “Isobel” and “Hunter” and “Bachelorette” permanently leaving their mark. The Dancer in the Dark film was another harrowing highlight. And then came Vespertine, a glowing pearl of an album in August 2001. Björk’s music had always had such bold textures, but everything on Vespertine felt so intimate, like taking a microscope and examining the harmony of synapses firing in neon pulses - check out the interplay of the micro-beats and warm electronics of “Cocoon” as an example. There are still moments of unfettered abandon, like the shivering wilderness of “Pagan Poetry”, but the album generally feels like being wrapped in a cozy blanket by the fireplace. The loving embrace of songs like “It’s Not Up to You”, the aforementioned “Cocoon”, “Undo”, “Aurora”, and particularly the closing call for reconciliation “Unison”, a song worthy of ascension to borrow a phrase from my wife, render the album as a sacred love letter. Beautifully arranged choral sections make it almost feel like a collection of hymns.

It’s also an album my dad quite liked, the last album Björk would release in his lifetime. We gave his copy of the album to my wife Tracy, and the warmth of the album is a reminder of his warmth which will never fade. Of all of the magical albums Björk has produced, this one is the most sacred.

Top 3 favorites:

“Pagan Poetry”
“Unison”
“It’s Not Up to You”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 12:58 am

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#16: Kylie Minogue - Fever (2001)

It's hard to describe how momentous Fever was for me personally. I grew up in the 80s and started getting into music in a serious way in 1989. There was so much to discover and enjoy! Throughout the 90s, however, there was a lot less that excited me, the lone exception being Björk. But as far as popular music goes, I was alienated by all of the alienation of the 90s and only looked forward to new releases by artists I already loved based on their 80s material. There were a few singles here and there that I enjoyed by newer artists, but not much I could totally obsess over. The teenage years are supposed to be the high point for people to explore and love popular music, but for me it was the opposite - I longed for the colorful "neon" of the 80s in the worst way. This was before music became so easily available on the internet, so exposure to new music mostly came through the radio and MTV. Even when Napster became a thing, I didn't jump on board.

Then I saw the video for "Can't Get You Out of My Head" in March of 2002. I missed the artist name at the beginning, and the stunning visuals and the chugging electronic pulse of the song left me mesmerized. Not knowing the artist, I thought "whoa, Sheryl Crow has suddenly gotten really, really cool!". To discover that it was Kylie Minogue, who I only knew from "The Locomotion", a song I didn't care for, was absolutely mind-blowing. I quickly bought the album and was helpless to resist its addictive charm. It just sounded so "millennium fresh" and wonderful, and I could not stop playing it! I was living in the U.S. at the time, and had just met my future wife Tracy on a Prince fansite. She was a Kylie fan who lived in Australia and sent me copies of albums I couldn't find as they were never released in the US - things like Impossible Princess. So Fever represents to me a rebirth in my musical curiosity, my emergence into adulthood (I had just graduated from university), and the start of my relationship with the woman of my dreams. Hearing the opening rush of "More, More, More" reminds me of how freeing it all was, and circling through the buoyancy of "Love At First Sight", the seismic pulse of "Can't Get You Out of My Head", the delicateness of "Fragile", the flirtation of "In Your Eyes", the fireworks of "Love Affair", etc. feels like revisiting signposts of a personal inflection point that has defined who I am. That's what is so great about music - its ability to bottle those feelings and serve as ineffable monuments to our own life stories, and few albums mean as much to me in this regard as Fever.

Top 3 Songs:

“Can’t Get You Out of My Head”
“In Your Eyes”
“Love Affair”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:01 am

Kylie Minogue Body Language.jpg
#15: Kylie Minogue - Body Language (2003)

Yep, it’s Kylie back-to-back! Fever was a revelation, and sent me on a frenzy to track down her back catalogue. This set up immense anticipation for her next album, and boy did it deliver! At the time, I was a grad student in Salt Lake City, now head over heels in love after having met Tracy in real life for the first time in June. It was an exciting, good time in my life, and Kylie’s music and its connection to Tracy was a big part of that. My Kylie obsession had fully taken root, as I signed up to Kylie forums and listened to garbled snippets of music from fans who had staked out the location of her next music video and tape recorded a 20-second snippet of “Slow” in such poor quality it would make some shoddy Prince bootlegs blush, but the faintest clue as to what was coming next was a rabid pursuit. When the single and video finally came out, it was such a cool electro sizzle, a bold departure from the sound of Fever which had been such a smash.

The music industry at the time had adapted to the internet, but there were still a few quirks - Body Language was announced as her next album to be released in November 2003, but only in February 2004 in the U.S. This interminable gap would just not do, so I hounded the Salt Lake City Virgin Megastore to order in an import which I would happily pay for once it arrived a few weeks later. In the interim, a few songs leaked online ahead of the album, and despite my ethical qualms about illegal downloads, I dove headfirst and was rewarded with the heftiest groove of her career in the form of “Secret (Take You Home)”, whose synth line recalled Prince’s “D.M.S.R.” in the best possible way, its propulsive rhythm emitting pheromones in rapturous bursts. I shared it with a fellow fan who sent me a copy of “Sweet Music”, a song with another snarling, warped synth bass. These morsels only intensified my appetite, and when the album finally arrived, I was instantly hooked. It was more bass-heavy and Kylie’s vocals exchanged her usual neon brightness for a more subdued longing, and this longing perfectly captured my own longing to be with Tracy. Our relationship was a long distance one for four years, and those months between visits felt more excruciating as time went on. The yearning that emanated from songs like “Loving Days” and “Chocolate” spoke to those feelings so well.

Thankfully, we had planned another visit in the not-too-distant future - a 4-week trip to South Africa where Tracy had grown up over December and January. I had a ton of grading to due in the meantime, and I played Body Language upwards of 10 hours per day while I finished it all, soaking in the groovetastic electro gems like “Slow”, “Still Standing”, “Secret (Take You Home)” and “Sweet Music”, basking in the weirdness of “I Feel for You”, and immersing myself into the sensual pools of “Chocolate”, “Someday”, and “Loving Days”. Body Language would go on to be a sort of soundtrack to that wonderful holiday in South Africa, and listening to it today reminds me of all the bittersweet emotions that define that time period: the radiant joy of knowing I had found the love of my life and the aching loneliness of the distance between us.

Top 3 songs:

“Secret (Take You Home)”
“Chocolate”
“Slow”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:04 am

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#14: Prince - The Gold Experience (1995)

Though my Prince fandom started in 1989 and kicked off in a big way in 1990 and 1991, it was as much about his older songs and albums that I was discovering as it was about the new albums. Symbol from 1992 was an exception, a titanic rock/pop/funk opera that was all-encompassing (it nearly made my top 25). But the most fevered pitch I felt about a new Prince album came with The Gold Experience. I’ve seen a silly Facebook thing go around saying something like “the song that was #1 on your 14th birthday defines your life”. And while most of the music during my teenage years was definitely NOT defining for me, I was 14 when I first heard songs from The Gold Experience, and they certainly felt like life blood at the time. Prince performed a lot of songs throughout 1994 that had not been released yet, and it built up an excitement for a new album that has never been topped. Hearing “Interactive” and “Endorphinmachine” at a VH1 awards show, “Dolphin” on Letterman and especially, “Now” on Soul Train was electrifying. What were these songs?! Why can’t I buy them?! They were so hungry and wild, and were scheduled for an upcoming album, The Gold Experience (though "Interactive" was later cut), which was continually delayed until its final release in late September of 1995. Waiting over a year to hear these songs felt like torture.

When the album finally came out, it confirmed the impression I had. The first album credited to his symbol moniker, it’s clear Prince was extending a giant middle finger to Warner Bros, and the dispute had lit within him a fire that rivaled the hunger he displayed from 1980-1982 before he became a megastar. The blood-curdling screams of “Now”, “Endorphinmachine”, and “P Control”, the wailing guitars of “Dolphin”, “Shhh”, and “Gold”, the scorching grooves of “319” and “Billy Jack Bitch”, and the fury of “Eye Hate U” were all set to white-hot temperatures that blazed within me over and over again. The album contained his last mega-hit in “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World”, but nice enough as that song is, it feels like barely an afterthought on this set bursting with fire. I may not have had a bounty of watershed albums that defined pop culture to serve as a soundtrack to my teenage years, but I had this album.

Top 3 Favorites:

“Now”
“319”
“Endorphinmachine”
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:05 am

Eurythmics 1984.jpg
#13: Eurythmics - 1984: For the Love of Big Brother (1984)

Outside of December, this may be the most seasonal of all the albums in my top 25. While living in the U.S., I found its palette a perfect match for a Michigan November. The overcast skies, trees barren after the fall, and the onset of cold weather ahead of a long winter makes for somber times. Serving as a soundtrack to the titular year’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984: For the Love of Big Brother takes Eurythmics’ inventive synthpop and filters it through the electronic scores of Tangerine Dream to create a bold template of various shades of gray that felt perfect for the late-fall climate. Although there are perhaps only three “songs” in a traditional verse-chorus sense, this album is perhaps the best showcase of Annie Lennox’s vocal talents, as in turns she casts her voice with domineering presence (“Sexcrime”), allure (“For the Love of Big Brother”), lilting sorrow (“Julia”), primal wailing (“Ministry of Love”), skittering announcer mania (“DoublePlusGood”) and wordless, soulful pyrotechnics (“I Did It Just the Same”, “Greetings From a Dead Man”, “Room 101”).

Despite the overarching tone of paranoia and inevitable doom, there is an arresting beauty that keeps me returning to it time and time again. The nocturnal funk swagger of “I Did It Just the Same” is so potent that I usually play it 3-4 times in a row when it comes on, completely inhabited by its rhythmic wallops and Annie’s vocal freakouts. “Ministry of Love” is another one that commands repeat listens with the infinite space it creates leaving me overawed. The skittering synth menace of “Sexcrime” plays on in my mind hours after I hear it, such is its immediate impact. The Latin rhythm that percolates beneath the growing paranoia of “For the Love of Big Brother” is utterly beguiling. The glow of “Winston’s Diary” offers a fleeting moment of warmth. And the haunted existential horror of “Julia” is adorned with the most gorgeous soundscape Eurythmics ever crafted, which is really saying something. These songs are immersive on their own, but woven into a whole, they become a towering triumph of an album, the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard.

Top 3 songs:

“Julia”
“I Did It Just the Same”
“Ministry of Love”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:09 am

Mylene Farmer Ainsi soit je.jpg
#12: Mylène Farmer - Ainsi soit je... (1988)

I’ve been very lucky to do a bit of travelling for my job. I was a complete geography geek as a kid and going to new places always fills me with glee. One of my favorite things to do in a new place is to search for a music video channel to soak in some of its contemporary pop culture. During a trip to France in 2015, one channel was showing a number of Mylène Farmer’s videos from throughout her career as she was due to release a new album. I had heard her mentioned in hallowed tones by pop fans but had never listened to any of her music. I was intrigued by the videos I saw for songs like “Je t'aime mélancolie” and “L'Âme-Stram-Gram” so I picked up a copy of a 2-disc compilation called Les mots. I kept returning to 3 songs: “Sans contrefaçon” burst through the speakers with radiant energy, the synth strings of “Pourvu qu’elles soient douces” seduced me with their gripping extravagance, and the technicolor drama of “Sans logique” left me in overawed wonder. Each of these songs features on the album Ainsi soit je…, so I gave it a spin on Spotify and was completely absorbed by the atmosphere. Tracy bought me a copy for Christmas that year, and thus began my Mylène obsession, the level of which I hadn’t experienced for over a decade.

Despite not speaking French, I listened to the album over and over again. I searched for many different translations of the songs, eventually enlisting the help of some French-speaking friends to help me understand the lyrical nuances. Once I got a sense of each song’s meaning, my love for the album grew even stronger. One of the most breathtakingly towering achievements in pop from the 1980s, I feel that this album would have a monstrous reputation had it been performed in English. It finds a unique niche somewhere between synthpop and goth pop, with lush production that produces a thick, opulent atmosphere over which Mylène weaves tales that subvert gender expectations, ponder existential queries, grapple with good and evil, sex and virtue, and loss of innocence, making use of cultural and literary references across hundreds of years. Listening to it feels like visiting a massive 18th century castle in which each song describes the history of a different room - some shadowy, others opulent, and all memorable.

Placing this album so high feels a bit like I’m “breaking rules”. I’m a total listmaking dork, and the order of my lists, particularly at the top, feels as defining as the items in the lists themselves. How could I put something so new so high, knocking down favorites I have loved for 2 decades or more? Well, this album has already broken barriers for me. Usually with a huge discovery like this, an album can spend months in heavy rotation. My heavy rotation of Ainsi soit je… hasn’t stopped in over 3 and a half years. Since I started tracking my song plays in 2017, over a year after first hearing it for the first time, those three initial songs all feature among my 20 most played songs, and the album is my 7th most played over the past 2 and a half years. There are days I’m convinced that “Sans logique” is my all time favorite song.

I’ve visited France again twice since first hearing Ainsi soit je..., and it has sort of become an emblem for me of my favorite travel destination. After my first visit to Montpellier in 2014, I kept having dreams of being there. I hadn’t been particularly drawn to France before that trip, but something about it imprinted on me - the food, particularly the fromage (merely calling it cheese doesn’t do it justice), the narrow streets lined with shops, and the Mediterranean lifestyle all made me feel like I belonged there. To this day, I keep an old paper tram ticket in my phone as a reminder. The anticipation for each of my subsequent visits has made me return to the album with new excitement. I sang “Sans contrefaçon” at karaoke during my next visit, after which one of my friends joked, “now, you are French!” If these albums in my top 25 are hallmarked as being part of my DNA, this one simply has to be among them, forming a new “rule” against which any future albums that win me over will have to contend. I’ve got another trip to Montpellier planned in late September, so the obsession lingers on.

Top 3 songs:

“Sans logique”
“Sans contrefaçon”
“Pourvu qu’elles soient douces”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:10 am

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#11: Madonna - Ray of Light (1998)

Like many 80s babies, Madonna had been a huge part of my childhood experience, with hit after hit defining my life’s soundtrack as I grew up. What makes Ray of Light so special is that it serves as a soundtrack to one of the most impactful years in my life. I turned 18 in 1998, and as with many others, everything changed. I left my hometown for college where I started a new chapter in my life, still wide-eyed but my world got a lot broader. The previous summer, I took two road trips to the West, visiting states and sites I had long wished to see and feeling a newfound freedom to explore. Ray of Light was a perfect roadtrip album, with the opening wonder of “Drowned World/Substitute for Love”, the thrilling romp of “Ray of Light”, and the trancey EDM euphoria of “Skin” and especially “Sky Fits Heaven” with lyrics seemingly fit for purpose across hundreds of miles of highways and changing scenery.

Madonna enlisted the services of William Orbit, and they came up with a soundscape that felt very new in mainstream pop, a sort of pioneer of the “millennium fresh” sound that deviated from both the grungy and opposing saccharine overload sounds that largely defined the 90s. This new template bathed ballads like “Frozen” and “The Power of Goodbye” in trip hop and downtempo atmospherics and injected midtempo songs like “Swim” and “Shanti/Ashtangi” and uptempo songs like “Skin” alike with an exciting pulse. For her part, Madonna showcased a newfound peaceful glow undoubtedly due to becoming a mother, and her radiance rendered each song as a shining beacon. These songs simultaneously captured the excitement of new adventures as I left home and provided a calming assurance when these changes felt a little turbulent. She would go on to release more thoroughly enjoyable albums, but the synchronicity of Ray of Light with my emergence into adulthood makes it hold a particularly special place in my heart.

Top 3 songs:

“Skin”
“Ray of Light”
“Sky Fits Heaven”
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:14 am

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#10: Jenny Wilson - EXORCISM (2018)

There was a lot of loss and sadness for me from 2016-2018. They were tough years in which I had to lean on Tracy a lot for encouragement - I’m the luckiest person on Earth to be married to her. Toward the end of 2018, I gave EXORCISM a spin. It had been a long time since a new album had electrified me so palpably. In fact, during the 2010s, I can only think of three new albums that completely rocked me to my core. It’s tempting to conclude that increasing age and other priorities makes it harder for albums to become such all-encompassing lightning rods of emotion and identity, and maybe that’s true. But the way EXORCISM completely engulfed my soul in September of 2018 was enough to remind me that I’m as capable as ever of becoming completely inhabited by an album.

Sonically, the album is as intense as that glorious album cover promises - packed to the gills with molten synths that warble and pound while the beats weld it to the dancefloor. Lyrically, it’s just as brutal, as Jenny recounts personal trauma in acerbic detail. It’s got that hyper-intensity that drew me inexorably to The Age of Adz (my #23), but at just 39 minutes, I found it even easier to repeatedly immerse myself into its scalding fluorescence. My music play log tells me that I listened to the 9 songs on the album a combined 103 times between September 12th and 20th alone and nearly 300 times since its release. I’m a sucker for “heartbreak on the dancefloor” songs, but this takes it further, playing like a true exorcism on a dancefloor that helped me contend with the demons that had haunted me in recent years. The all-caps presentation of the song titles is appropriate as these songs SHRIEK THEIR WAY INTO EXISTENCE. The opening salvo of “RAPIN*” and “LO’ HI’” are such vivid mind-benders while “THE PREDICTION” and “EXORCISM” are furious hyperactive releases. Contextually, they render softer moments of beauty like “IT HURTS” and “It's LOVE (AND I'm SCARED)” even more visceral and wounded. And then there’s “FOREVER IS A LONG TIME”... Wow. As an album closer, when she’s ravaged and ruined and no longer able to feel safe or view the future as anything but a disappointment, she bursts into a simple plea: a plea for her partner to just be there for her, reassure her that it will be all right, and stay with her through the darkness. Exactly what Tracy had done for me time and time again during those turbulent times. Punctuated by arpeggiating synths, that moment is so simultaneously crestfallen and starlit and desperate and invigorating that it almost feels like an out-of-body experience to listen to it. And wouldn’t you know? I was lucky enough to have that out-of-body experience in a live setting, as Jenny performed every single song on the album at a concert in Helsinki while I was there in late September. And the moment that glorious chorus of “FOREVER IS A LONG TIME” first burst forward, SHE REACHED OUT AND GRABBED MY HAND.
It’s the bravest album I’ve ever heard, my favorite of the 2010s, and it’s permanently etched in my soul. The sleeve of the vinyl copy I have glows in the dark, and that’s a perfect summary of what the album represents for me - the ability to tap into an innate joy even when surrounded by darkness.

Top 3 favorites:

“FOREVER IS A LONG TIME”
“LO’ HI’”
“It’s LOVE (AND I’m SCARED)”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 1:15 am

The others will come in the days to come, one per day.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Romain » Mon Jul 22, 2019 5:33 am

It's interesting to look at the albums in this way, the links to the "facts of life"... I would be unable to do so; I look forward to the next part.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by prosecutorgodot » Mon Jul 22, 2019 5:49 am

I feel like I know everything about Moonbeam now... Spectacular breakdown of these albums! It's great to read about top picks having higher personal meaning.

It was cool to see love for "Halo" on Violator (those synth sounds are so unique). Also Madonna's self-titled is my favorite of hers.
The realest feel - "I can't sleep, it's too hot."

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 22, 2019 10:11 pm

Thanks, Romain and prosecutorgodot! It's been fun to try to put in to words just what these albums mean to me.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Tue Jul 23, 2019 12:05 am

Prince Controversy 500.jpg
#9: Prince - Controversy (1981)

I’ve always had a lot of energy - perhaps too much. I put my poor parents through far too many trips to the emergency room, from cutting my foot open from stepping on a sprinkler to breaking my shoulder when our playground set fell on top of me to nearly losing my toe when it got caught in a bike chain as I was riding barefoot. Running felt more natural than walking a lot of time, even into my 20s. And in my clubbing days, I couldn’t stop myself from burning so much energy, at times being asked “what are you on?!” by amused lookers-on. When Tracy first came to visit in 2003, my dad warned her jokingly about my energy level.

How does this relate to Controversy? I’ve long held it in far higher esteem than most Prince fans. It’s probably the album from his “golden period” that fans tend to be least enthusiastic about, even though it still has its backers. One reason I hold it in such high regard is because it bursts with more youthful energy than any of his other albums. There’s a wild abandon to songs like “Ronnie Talk to Russia”, “Sexuality”, and “Private Joy”, and this hyperactive energy resonates within me when I listen to them. Even songs that aren’t quite as plugged into a light socket showcase the same sort of zeal. “Controversy” rides a hefty thumping synth bass rhythm occasionally punctuated by grunts for over 7 minutes as it sets out his vision of utopia through racial, spiritual, and sexual harmony. “Let’s Work” features the most libidinous bassline of his career as his carnal come-ons stretch his falsetto into unfettered screams, while “Annie Christian” and its nightmarish electric fields pulse with unpredictable vitality. Even the ballad “Do Me, Baby” sees Prince unable to contain himself, breaking into some of the most primal and blood-curdling shrieks of his career. Rick James branded his sound as “punk funk”, but that term seems most suited to Controversy out of any album I’ve heard. There’s a sort of trilogy of albums from 1980 to 1982 that saw Prince at his hungriest, bursting with a desperation to release his messages and visions of the world to the masses. The album may have its flaws compared to an acclaimed opus like Sign o’ the Times, but the youthful vitality of Controversy is so damn infectious that I can’t help but love it.

Seeing that same tireless energy in my son and seeing it resonate in him when he squeals at the Princely yelps on the album and asks me to jump up and down to the hyperactive rhythm of “Ronnie Talk to Russia” and march atop couch cushions arranged in a circle throughout the duration of “Controversy” (he clearly picked up on the hypnotic rhythm of the song) makes the album all the more special. The album has taken permanent residence in our CD player downstairs as he asks to dance with me to it so much. I’m 39 now, but listening to the album brings out the inner 23-year-old in me like no other.

Top 3 songs:

“Controversy”
“Private Joy”
“Let’s Work”

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Romain » Tue Jul 23, 2019 6:35 am

Hmmmm, Controversy, the morning, in the car, driven by my mother, with my two brothers, road to school... controversy, on tape, in the car radio on country roads... maximum power... I think I know every note on this album.
Infinite happiness.

P.S.: and Dirty Mind/Controversy is the best double album of all times. Even if it's not a double album. :music-rockon:
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Honorio » Tue Jul 23, 2019 9:41 am

Best thread ever...

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Wed Jul 24, 2019 2:39 am

LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver.jpeg
#8: LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver (2007)

Immigration was one of the best and most important decisions of my life. It was also very hard. Leaving behind everything I knew to be with the love of my life is something I would do again in a heartbeat, but it was still a bittersweet decision. I didn't struggle so much with being in a new environment, particularly as I'd moved for love, but I did miss my friends and family in the U.S., and I knew that immigration would mean I wouldn't see them nearly as often. It also was a bit of a leap of faith from a career perspective. I had a master's degree and had a good job teaching at a local community college which I loved, but my master's degree didn't enable me to do much beyond casual teaching positions around various universities and after-school tutoring of school-age kids once I moved to Australia. I couldn't start my PhD until I got permanent residence two years later, so I felt I was in a bit of career limbo.

Sound of Silver was released 8 months after I immigrated, and its impact was massive. I had previously purchased and loved LCD Soundsystem's debut offering with its dance-punk thrills, but Sound of Silver felt altogether more human and spoke to me in an altogether more personal way. The hazy propulsion of "Someone Great" captured a lot of the disorienting shock around the death of my father a few years earlier, with lyrics about getting a phone call to announce the news of the passing of someone close, the feeling of not being able to reconcile the weather being nice while your whole world has changed so turbulently, and all the work and planning that comes as a result. The power ballad (!) closer "New York I Love You, But I'm Bringing You Down" was a soaring and mournful love letter to a New York City that had long gone in James Murphy's mind, and it resonated with me regarding the direction of the U.S. during the Bush years.

Most impactful, however, was the behemoth that is "All My Friends", which felt particularly attuned to my new setting, with wistful nostalgia about good times with friends inexorably fleeting as age and priorities and life put distance into those relationships. It so viscerally captures the feeling of trying to hang on to the runaway train of life as the years go by ever more quickly with mounting challenges, pressures, and battle wounds. Backed by locomotive piano chords, a melodic bassline that would make New Order proud, and searing guitar lines, it builds over 7 awesome minutes to a glorious crescendo as James Murphy repeatedly wails "if I could see all my friends tonight". With all that had gone on in my life in the preceding few years, both good and bad, its emotional potency sent shock waves through me.

I spent several months playing Sound of Silver almost exclusively on my way to various casual jobs I had, not only revelling in the stardust of the aforementioned songs but grooving to the infectious alternative dance of songs like "Time to Get Away", "North American Scum", "Us v Them", and especially "Get Innocuous!", which earns the exclamation mark in its title with its quaking rhythmic assault. It was wonderful to have an album that plugged in so directly to the feelings I had during those times. Although life still presents new challenges ("And it keeps coming, and it keeps coming, and it keeps coming ‘til the day it stops" as in the lyrics of "Someone Great"), I feel far more settled now. But Sound of Silver stands as a pillar of those times of seismic shifts.

Top 3 songs:

"All My Friends"
"Get Innocuous!"
"Someone Great"

Full review here
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Wed Jul 24, 2019 10:19 pm

Madonna Like a Prayer.jpg
#7: Madonna - Like a Prayer (1989)

Madonna was everywhere in the 80s. As someone born in 1980, I don't remember her not being part of the public's consciousness. Songs like "Like a Virgin" and "Material Girl" and "Lucky Star" have always felt like part of the permanent fabric of the universe, omnipresent messengers of Madonna's pop prowess. That said, I first got into music in a big way in 1989, and Like a Prayer was the first of three monstrous albums that year which hooked me from start to finish. Most of my music consumption came through MTV at the time, and seeing the sequence of four of her most legendary singles all in a row taught me the power of pop music through a nearly year-long album cycle. The opening single for the title track demonstrated that pop music can become a hotbed for discussion, as it caused an uproar with its video depicting burning crosses and Madonna kissing a black saint. The subsequent single and video for "Express Yourself" introduced me to the video mastery of David Fincher, as he produced an incredibly stylish, film-like extravaganza that launched the song into permanent adulation as a feminist anthem. Next up was the pure pop confection of "Cherish" with its cute, stripped down black and white video perfect for summer. My ears and eyes were wide soaking in the imperial gloriousness of these gems.

It was the fourth single and video that hooked me on Madonna for life, though, and taught me that pop music could be a medium to exorcise personal demons. "Oh Father" is a towering piano-lead ballad adorned with sweeping strings in which Madonna recounts the fallout from the death of her mother, putting a spotlight on the difficulty of her relationship with her grief-stricken father, whose strictness sometimes bled into anger and cruelty. Its theatrical grandeur seems as well suited to a stage play as it is to a pop album, and the video delivered on this visceral cinematic quality, a black-and-white opus featuring both a young Madonna witnessing her mother's funeral (including seeing her lips sewn shut in the casket) and cowering from her father's verbal abuse as well as a present-day Madonna recalling this history walking through a snowy cemetery. It left a huge impression on me and remains one of the most gripping songs and videos I have ever seen. Other songs also delved into deeply personal territory, with another mournful ballad "Promise to Try" dealing with the sorrow from her mother's death and "Till Death Do Us Part" recounting the abuse she suffered during her marriage to Sean Penn. While my mind and heart were sponges for all sorts of music that came my way in 1989, the power that came through in these personal songs resonated very deeply with me.

The remainder of the album was a wonder to me as well - the dramatic swells of "Spanish Eyes", the wonderful weirdness of "Love Song" and "Act of Contrition" which featured this Prince fellow I was also starting to love, and especially the kaleidoscopic whimsy of the baroque child fantasy of "Dear Jessie" showcased a diverse palette of pop flavors. Featuring so many avenues with which music can meaningfully connect with its audience, Like a Prayer is the greatest template for a pop album I can think of. Although I certainly view the album through several shades of childhood nostalgia, it genuinely feels like a pinnacle in music history, setting an incredibly high standard against which other pop albums can be measured. It really doesn't get any better than this.

Top 3 songs:

"Oh Father"
"Dear Jessie"
"Till Death Do Us Part"
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:34 am

Annie Anniemal.jpg
#6: Annie - Anniemal (2004)

Life hit hard in a big way in 2004. I was finishing my master's degree and had found the love of my life in Tracy. Everything seemed to be falling into place. Then my dad and both of my grandmothers died in the space of 11 months. To be blitzed by the death of three close family members in rapid succession knocked me off my orbit. I moved back home to be with my family and thoughts I had about working for a year in New Zealand to be closer to Tracy had to be put on hold. I lost myself in music by Joy Division and The Velvet Underground as it resonated with the grief I felt, and the new Arcade Fire album Funeral likewise provided a sorrowful soundtrack through those times. As momentous as these albums are (they are all in or near my top 100), it was Anniemal that provided the most powerful experience.

Annie started as a DJ in Norway who released a few singles in collaboration with her fellow DJ boyfriend, Erot. They had started conceiving the ideas for Annie's debut album (including its title, Anniemal) when he died of a rare heart defect at age 23. In the wake of his death, Annie persisted and released the album. While she could have filled it with a set of mournful songs, she opted instead to fill it with an upbeat positivity while still paying tribute to her lost love. For instance, "Come Together" opens with an extended sequence of simple reassurances to those who feel downtrodden in life. The stark electronic warmth of the production invites focus on her encouragement, giving the gentle tenderness with which her feathery voice delivers the lyrics an almost hymnal quality. The song then bursts into a electro-disco bonanza as Annie continues her loving affirmations. While I have long loved songs that wed emotional catharsis with dancefloor euphoria, this goes beyond that into an almost magical healing through dancing that helped me reconnect with my own joyful spirit during these tough times.

And then there's "My Heartbeat", in my mind the greatest song of the 21st century. Whether intentionally or not, it plays like an homage to her lost beau, and rather than make it an obviously morose epithet, she chooses to make it about the time that they met, having drinks and dancing and getting caught up in the excitement of the prospect of nascent love ("don't know your name, making me ashamed to feel the way that I do"). But there is still a sad acknowledgement of the whole ephemeral nature of that time. I'm not usually one to geek out over lyrics, but they are really effective here. She opens the song with "there was a time" with that airy voice of hers sounding both breathlessly invigorated by the memory and sad that it has passed. The "feel my heartbeat drumming to the beat" in the chorus takes on a whole new meaning given her boyfriend's condition, with her urging toward the end that rises in intensity with the climbing chord changes really taking it over the top:

"feel my heartbeat
feel my heartbeat
FEEL my heartbeat NOW
... some... how"

And then toward the end, her promise "I won't forget the greatest times I had when I was dancing with you" is both a bittersweet declaration and evidence of the CHOICE she made to remember the good times, rendering the song a triumph of strength.

The whole album is graced with a sort of wintry magic, as if watching sunkissed snowflakes gently falling onto a sunbathed blanket of pure white snow. The backstory makes electropop bursts of "Chewing Gum", "Anniemal", "Helpless Fool for Love", and "Me Plus One" each feel like personal triumphs, and it gives the airy reverie with which she sings songs like "No Easy Love" and "My Best Friend" extra resonance and their lyrics a beautiful vulnerability. I can't hear lines like "There was never anyone until you just came around, so afraid to be abandoned, can't afford to lose again" and "My best friend, where are you? Tell me where are you, can't seem to find you anywhere, where will I meet you?" without being taken back to that grieving process, and the accompanying warmth of the gentle electronic sounds feels like the tenderest embrace.

I was lucky enough to see Annie perform much of the album in concert four times from 2005-2006. Before the first show, I recorded a version of "My Heartbeat" on the piano onto a CD and wrote a letter thanking her for her music and explaining the powerful impact it had on me. I was able to give her both toward the end of that first euphoric show, after which she came out and talked to me and another big fan for an hour, giving us each a promo copy of her upcoming DJ Kicks CD. The last show I saw was 2 days after I arrived in Sydney after immigrating, and seeing her with my soon-to-be wife was a beautiful reminder of all the goodness in my life and that I could be excited for the future again.

So while Arcade Fire and The Velvet Underground and Joy Division spoke to the dark feelings of what my life had become, Anniemal helped restore me to the joy of who I was before. Of course I still get sad at times thinking about the loss of both of my grandmothers and especially my dad, but my memories of them aren't bittersweet anymore - I look back and feel so grateful for those tight familial bonds and close relationships as many people aren't so lucky. I'm strengthened by their memory, and Anniemal helped to teach me that, so Annie, I can't thank you enough. ♥

Top 3 songs:

"My Heartbeat"
"Come Together"
"Me Plus One"
ian_and_annie_smlr.jpg
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Sweepstakes Ron » Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:40 am

^Well, I'm certainly peanut butter and jealous.
"Music is powerful, man. It speaks to a primal pit in our brains. It makes anyone want to get up and get their knees going!"
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:56 am

Sweepstakes Ron wrote:
Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:40 am
^Well, I'm certainly peanut butter and jealous.
She's awesome! And quite approachable. She'd probably add you on Facebook if you requested her. The most "human" musical artist I've ever met - she answered fan questions on her forum long before social media, and she invited me and that same big fan from the first show backstage after the second show, telling the security guard to let us past as we were "her friends".

At another show she signed this:
Annie signed Anniemal.jpg
I gave her a copy of Prince's album 3121 which was new at the time, and she really loved the title track. She recently had a baby which makes me really happy for her - she seems to love being a mom. Apparently she's got new music coming soon, too!

Sorry for the ramble, but she's such an easy artist to champion.
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Jirin » Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:39 pm

Maybe all the regulars should do a thread like this.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:08 am

Jirin wrote:
Fri Jul 26, 2019 1:39 pm
Maybe all the regulars should do a thread like this.
I'd love reading through threads like these from others!

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:09 am

The Cure Disintegration.jpg
#5: The Cure - Disintegration (1989)

While most of the music I encountered during my first year of mass consumption in 1989 was generally bright, colorful pop music that gave song to my youthful energy, Disintegration was an important exception. At the time I didn't really make the distinction - I was young and green enough to think that every album had music videos that would be played on MTV. That said, it hit me in a different way than the other music I was hearing.

The first single, "Fascination Street" was a towering opus that made me fall in love with bass guitar. While the bass was becoming a key feature to defining what music I loved, most songs with prominent bass that I loved used it to create delicious funk licks or propel sparkling pop jubilation. But the bass in "Fascination Street" bares fangs, crafting a thrilling nocturnal atmosphere given extra color with searing guitars and sound effects that sound like chirping crickets. These elements build throughout an extended intro that is dense, muggy, and a little dangerous, with production that created a seemingly limitless sense of SPACE, stretching higher and higher into a summer night sky. Every element of the song was so distinct and woven together so masterfully, and it proved to be a wonderful harbinger of what the rest of the album had in store.

As wonderful as "Fascination Street" is (it ranks among my top 40 songs of all time), the next single knocked me even further out of my socks. "Lovesong" taught me that songs could simultaneously exude happiness and sadness, and this combination has resulted in some of my all-time favorite songs ever since. It features another prominent bass line which acts as a sort of heartbeat, visceral guitar refrains drenched in aching loneliness, and keyboards that glow throughout, emitting a somewhat alien warmth. In the verses, Robert Smith describes with a revealing simplicity how the person who inspired the song makes him feel: home, whole, young, fun, free, clean. But in the chorus, his bold declarations of love are qualified with "however far away", "however long I stay", and "whatever words I say", barbing them with a seemingly inevitable sadness, as if love is this glorious and wonderful thing that is fated to bring as much sorrow as joy. The video left a huge imprint as well. Robert being alone in a cave, bathed in blue light served as a perfect setting to communicate the song's anguished solitude. While I had a generally happy childhood, I always longed to have someone to love who loved me in return. I remember praying at night as young as 4 years old for a girlfriend, and when I developed a crush on someone, it would last for years. Growing up is a struggle for everyone, and "Lovesong" tapped into that lonely longing I had. I would often play it on repeat for hours at a time throughout my adolescence, perfect balm for my angst that it was. I wrote and recorded a number of (terrible) songs in my late teens and early 20s, and nearly all of them attempted to recapture the tortured beauty of "Lovesong".

The remaining singles, "Lullaby" and "Pictures of You" were majestic, awe-inspiring works themselves. "Lullaby", with its backwards string section and children's nightmare come to life, carves a gorgeous eeriness that is perfectly brought to life with the music video in which Robert Smith becomes cocooned in a spider web, additional arms eventually bursting from his stomach in noirish glory. "Pictures of You" is another glistening, tragic ode to lost love with cinematic grandeur. When I heard the rest of the album, I was taken aback by the glacial prominence of the starry opener "Plainsong", the cascading layers of sadness in "Prayers for Rain", the immersive quiet of "The Same Deep Water As You", the writhing existential torment of "Disintegration", and the reflective stillness of "Untitled". The guitars, bass, and synths are all so memorable on each song that it's easy to focus in on their individual mastery, and awe-inspiring to listen to their collective majesty. Listening to Disintegration feels like witnessing the graceful procession of a giant, lovingly adorned parade float, completely wonderstruck. From age 9 through my teenage years and into adulthood, it has been a luminous monument of beauty, perfect for both the innermost personal reflection and pondering the wondrous expanse of the universe.

Top 3 songs:

"Lovesong"
"Fascination Street"
"Plainsong"
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Sat Jul 27, 2019 10:18 pm

Prince Lovesexy.jpg
#4: Prince - Lovesexy (1988)

After first hearing Prince in 1989 with the Batman soundtrack, it was a wonderful adventure going through his back catalogue and discovering the wonderful surprises that awaited me. Each album felt markedly different to the next, with different soundscapes and looks marking each with a unique feeling. I grew up in a very spiritual household, to the point that some of my elementary school teachers thought I would become a pastor someday. As Lovesexy stands as the most spiritual album from his glory days, it connected with me spiritually in a way that is second to none. While there are many Prince albums that are defined by their spiritual tone, Lovesexy is by far the most joyous and the most inclusive of these, bursting with a universal love communicated in brilliant technicolor relief.

I must have played Lovesexy almost every day during my senior year of high school, when I was near my most spiritually plugged in and I had a seemingly limitless appetite for these vivid splashes of jubilation. The ecstasy that beams out of songs like "Eye No", "Glam Slam" (especially that glorious synth string coda), the title track, the lush "When 2 R in Love", and especially the hallowed "I Wish U Heaven" felt so thrillingly vibrant, as if the EXTEND stage from Bubble Bobble had been filtered through the gates of Heaven. These songs also intertwined spiritual fulfillment and romantic devotion in a way that made me hopeful to have this sort of soul mate someday. The feelings of these songs tapped into my innately joyful spirit like no album before or since managed to do.

It was the songs that were about overcoming darkness that had the biggest impact. While most of the album brought to life the whites, pinks, lavendars, and sky blues of the album cover, "Positivity" is bathed in midnight blue with its murky, beguiling bass line, piercing guitars, and beats straight out of Mega Man 2. Its call for positivity became something of a personal mantra, one that I returned to again and again during particularly challenging times. Even more powerful was "Anna Stesia", in which Prince seems to be uncharacteristically revealing of his vulnerability, recounting the overwhelming loneliness he felt and the vices he turned to as a result, ultimately stumbling on closeness to God as a respite from this loneliness. It converts the heightened urgency of the album into outright desperation. Having battled feelings of loneliness for a long time, it was completely electrifying to me through my late teen years and early 20s. "Anna Stesia" inspired me enough that I performed a piano version twice during university events (see a link in the comments for a video of one). As seemingly everything around me changed during those years, these songs were my lifeblood.

The live concert video from Dortmund which chronicled the subsequent Lovesexy tour was equally gripping. Witnessing the playful genius of the piano medley, the blistering guitar baptism as he converted "I Wish U Heaven" into gospel splendor, and the thematic inflection point of "Anna Stesia" was completely mesmerizing. If I ever had to present a skeptical person with evidence of Prince's greatness, it's this live concert I would choose. Though my faith may not be as unswerving as it once was, whenever I need to be reminded of that overwhelming joy and blazing fire, Lovesexy is the one.

Top 3 songs:

"Anna Stesia"
"Positivity"
"I Wish U Heaven"

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Sun Jul 28, 2019 10:01 am

OK, I've had another Annie moment that I feel compelled to share. As it was Anniemal's day a few days ago, I played the music video for "My Heartbeat" for the first time in a long time, and I was completely unprepared for how synchronous it felt with the story I described in the main post and also my recent life.

In the Christmas after my dad died, I visited Australia to be with Tracy (I hadn't moved there yet). Tracy had arranged for us to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks on a ferry over the Sydney Harbour. It was spectacular, and when the clock hit midnight and the fireworks started, I got really emotional, as it was the start of the first year I'd spend without my dad. As the ferry returned to the dock, there was a seagull that flew alongside us the whole way, and somehow it felt comforting, like in a strange way that his presence was there and telling me it would be ok. So I think of my dad whenever I see seagulls now.

Fast forward to more recent times, and my work has made me lucky enough to travel to some wonderful places, including Trondheim (where Annie was born). One of the most frequent places I've been to is Helsinki, with 4 visits so far. I absolutely love it there and feel a comfort I can't quite explain. My son Benjamin has become accustomed to me being away at times for work, and we get on FaceTime to chat in our own special way. Every time I go to Helsinki and we FaceTime, he becomes completely obsessed with the green trams, to the point that he doesn't want to talk to me so much as he wants me to show him the green trams as they come and go. I record special videos for him of the green trams approaching, me riding in the green trams, going to the tram museum, etc. He was thrilled when I finally found a toy version of a green tram on my list visit as they proved very hard to come by. In a way, I think it's comforting for him to have something familiar like that when I go there.

Well, when I watched the "Heartbeat" video, I could immediately tell it was filmed in Helsinki – somehow I had forgotten that. And then to see the green trams feature prominently toward the start of the video, and Annie PERFORMING in a green tram was amazing. And THEN! Then she is on a ferry. A ferry surrounded by SEAGULLS! I have taken the ferry a few times in Helsinki, to Suomenlinna and a few other islands, and on one of those occasions a seagull followed our ferry, reminding me of my dad.

Part of the magic of music, however, is that it can function as both a shared experience with family, friends, and strangers alike and simultaneously feel so deeply personal. It's this deeply personal connection that has truly changed my life, and I was reminded of it in a big way with its connection to my dad, its connection to Tracy and now its connection to my son, who as I discovered this was watching a video on my phone he loves of the chiming bells at Nidarosdomen from when I visited Trondheim.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Mon Jul 29, 2019 4:37 am

Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation 1814.jpg
#3: Janet Jackson - Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989)

Flash back to 1989: I'm 9 years old and just starting to follow the current music scene, staying up late to catch MTV's top 20 countdown against my mom's wishes and discovering the joys of The Cure, Madonna, Richard Marx, Roxette, Technotronic, Aerosmith, Joan Jett, Mötley Crüe and this strange Prince fellow. Late in the heat of August, a new video debuted by this artist named Janet Jackson, who was Michael's little sister. The video, done in classy black and white, showcased the emergence of a true pop superstar, as "Miss You Much" would lead off the album with a huge bang, racing up to Number 1 in the fall. The song carried a heftier dance-funk lick than the other music I heard at the time. In the video, Janet cast an image that a 9-year old kid would adore (hey, she has a key for an earring! Cool!). If that wasn't enough, the chair routine choreography at the end of the video sealed the deal: this 9-year old boy had his first celebrity crush.


As the album was pushed over the ensuing two years, each single release seemed to take me on a different journey with Janet. "Rhythm Nation" synthesized Janet's inclination for funk (thanks to a Sly Stone sample), her dance expertise (culminating in the iconic choreography that would go on to become her trademark) and her socially conscious message, which would garner her praise from critics and scores of inspired fans struggling through the plight of the 80s. The imagery left such a huge mark that I performed dance routines to this song on a couple of occasions in front of sizeable crowds - once at a high school lip syncing competition and then at a university event.
"Escapade" was pure pop confection - a perfect slice of ear candy that I remember cheering as it leapt from #9 to #1 on MTV's Top 20 countdown. "Alright", with its endless hooks and feel-good message of the enduring power of real friendship, featured a sprawling and intricate video paying tribute to a decadently clad in yellow Cab Calloway within the framework of a celebration of 1930s urban life. I hadn't seen a video with such elaborate staging before, and it left me in utter awe.
The lush "Come Back to Me" revealed producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis as masters of late 80s balladry, and Janet's gorgeous, soothing harmonies.

Showcasing the diversity of the album, "Black Cat" was written solely by Janet and roars through the speakers as a hard rock stomper. As a 10-year old who got his kicks out of hair metal (Mötley Crüe was a real favorite!), this marriage of Janet's street-but-sweet consciousness and the over-the-top rock bombast was my absolute favorite. Finally, in early 1991, the poptastic "Love Will Never Do (Without You)" featured a stunning video that showed Janet frolicing in the desert in a tanktop and jeans, a much different look compared to her usual full-suit attire. As I was growing up, it felt like Janet was growing up too throughout the album's lifespan.
While the seven monster hits proved to be record breaking (it's still the only album in history with seven top-5 singles in the US), the rest of the album was just as strong. The synth bass and new jack swing kick of "State of the World" was a huge standout, as well as the hard hitting funk of "The Knowledge". I was not a big fan of ballads at the time, but songs like "Livin' in a World (They Didn't Make)", "Lonely", and especially "Someday Is Tonight" felt wonderful even then. In fact, Rhythm Nation 1814 is so consistently strong that I rate my least favorite song more highly than my least favorite song on any other album.

This was one of the first albums I ever owned, and it has remained vital to me ever since its release. The album was seen as a bit revolutionary at the time by incorporating social commentary with topics as wide-ranging as urban poverty ("State of the World"), education as a way forward ("The Knowledge"), gang violence ("Black Cat"), the impact of spiralling social ills on children ("Livin' in a World (They Didn't Make)", and a call for racial harmony ("Rhythm Nation"). While they may come across as a bit naïve (Janet herself referenced this in 2015 with the song "Shoulda Known Better"), they are the ponderings of an idealist 23-year old woman concerned about the world around her and optimistic about the efficacy of her actions. I suppose the fact that I also tend to have my head in the clouds and am an eternal optimist endears the album to me as it does. But I'm not alone - this was more than a pop album to many people. The album was hugely impactful on black youth at the time, with a lot of stories of kids re-enrolling in school after dropping out or pursuing higher education after listening to it. This made her a heroine to many and was key to her legitimacy as not just a pop artist, but a cultural icon.

Rhythm Nation 1814 has made me dance, made me think, and provided me with soothing comfort for nearly 30 years. As I grow older, the value of a simple feel-good pop song has not diminished at all - as life throws increasing responsibility and challenges and deadlines and bills and stress, putting on a song like "Miss You Much" doesn't just transport me to being a relatively carefree 9-year-old again, it reliably lifts my mood and helps me face all these adult things. The ballads on the album inspired me to create a mix CD of ballads throughout her career that I played every night for years to help me fall asleep, comforted and soothed by her sweet and gentle harmonies. And while I don't have any tattoos, I've long thought the only one I would ever consider getting would be the "1814" as presented on the back cover of the album. After all these years, I'm still happy to enlist in the utopia that Rhythm Nation 1814 proposes.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Stephan » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:54 am

I saw one of your reviews on RYM and figured I should check if these forums were still alive and kicking, and of course they are. Nice to see you're still writing fantastic reviews; I've gotta give EXORCISM a listen for sure.

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:35 am

Stephan wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:54 am
I saw one of your reviews on RYM and figured I should check if these forums were still alive and kicking, and of course they are. Nice to see you're still writing fantastic reviews; I've gotta give EXORCISM a listen for sure.
Wow, it's great to see you here! Hope life and music are treating you well!

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:44 am

Eurythmics Sweet Dreams.jpg
#2: Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) (1983)

For as long as I can remember, analog synths have been what draws me to music the most. They are the perfect tool to paint the sort of bold musical worlds with colors set to maximum saturation into which I can most obsessively immerse myself. It only dawned on me recently why I respond to music this way. When I was in kindergarten, I was the only student to fail an activity set by my teacher, in which we had to draw shapes and write characters of specific colors in specific locations. The teacher called my mother and explained to her that while I had correct placement of the various shapes and characters, the colors weren't as instructed. My mother then explained to her, "For Ian, colors, shapes, letters, and numbers aren't just what they are. They are his friends. And he has them in favorite order: yellow, orange, red; triangle, circle, square; V, U, T; 8, 4, 2. So when he draws his favorite shape, a triangle, it has to be his favorite color, yellow. When he writes his second favorite letter, U, it has to be his second favorite color, orange." I hadn't been misunderstanding the instructions – the instructions had gone against my own deeply-felt rules of right and wrong. I used to ask for magnetic letters and numbers for Christmas every year, and one year when the v's came as white, I painted them yellow. To this day, I have a yellow magnetic V and 8 on my refrigerator (thanks for the 8, Nicolas!) – my love of the abstract "yellowness" or "orangeness" of something has not faded with time. Although I chose to attend Valparaiso University for mostly academic reasons, the fact that is logo is a yellow V helped inform that decision.

So why synths, then? Many of my favorite songs create worlds in my mind that are rich in color, and there is nothing that can so readily create these associations for me like analog synths. I now believe that my gateway to becoming a music lover came through old Nintendo games – the vibrant, pixelated colors that lit up the screen while I was playing Zelda or Bubble Bubble or Mega Man 2 were accompanied by equally fluorescent soundtracks in all their 8-bit glory. In these worlds, colors and sounds combined to create their own universes that strongly imprinted on me.

When I heard that opening note of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" explode into millions of neon orange pixels as a child, it felt like it went right through me, like that sonic boom had been plucked straight out of my DNA. That note may very well be the most iconic note of the entire 80s, and it detonates the start of each measure into a booming, irresistible MOTION, rising and falling in flares as it shifts between octaves, a perfectly programmed symphony of orange 0s and 1s. The palette during "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" is so vibrant that I can almost SEE the song's movements – brilliant streaks of orange light striating a pitch black night sky with each booming synth, flashes of white igniting with each clang of the picture frames against the warehouse walls, stars twinkling with each tap of the varyingly-filled milk bottles.

I first experienced it while watching the incredible music video which left me in absolute awe. There is a lot thematically going on, but it was Annie Lennox's orange, orange, ORANGE hair that left the deepest impression on me, as Annie cast an image that was so bold and so undiluted that it instilled courage in me to never compromise who I was. And orange is perfect for this song – its messages shrieking "CAUTION!" at every turn of the difficult and sometimes cruel nature of the world.


I eventually got the Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) album in 1998, years after having heard the title track for the first time. I was completely blown away - the bold synth tapestry ignited overwhelming awe in me, as if it was tuning into my innermost circuits. The diversity of tones that came from the synths made the album touch me in different ways. The titanic, booming menace of the title track was also all over "I Could Give You (A Mirror)", exploding into octave-stepping dancefloor rage. The kaleidoscopic bursts of color that chirped and buzzed out of "Wrap It Up" turned the fun dial all the way to zany. The synths in "The Walk" aroused a chilling, foggy mystery with alluring synth strings gliding atop a menacing synth bass. The synths in "Jennifer" so warmly eulogised the titular character, producing the most visceral counterexample this side of Kraftwerk's "Computer Love" to skeptics who believe that synths can only produce emotionless, sterile music. And the repeated synth phrase of "This City Never Sleeps" cast such a searching, trance-like ache to create the most vivid atmosphere of them all, rain falling in dimly lit midnight streets overcrowded with one-bedroom apartments.

During the summer of 1998, I had a job as the night watchman at a public pool. I ravenously played this album over and over during my shifts, its synthscapes aglow in my heart and mind. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) felt restorative. I had long felt ugly throughout my adolescence, but the next summer, I felt emboldened by the album to change my appearance, cutting my hair much shorter than ever before similar to Annie's closely-cropped crew cut and dying it blonde. I later tried out different colors, from bright yellow to aqua to that burning orange Annie adopted in the "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" video.

Ian Yellow Hair.jpg
When I first came to my Spanish class after dying it orange, my professor jokingly welcomed me as "the new student", and that moniker felt truer than she could imagine. Eurythmics, and particularly this album, helped me to redefine my own self-image and instilled in me a renewed confidence during those vulnerable late teen years. Years later, seeing my son's eyes light up seeing Annie's orange hair makes that connection feel even stronger.

Top 3 songs:

"Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"
"I Could Give You (A Mirror)"
"This City Never Sleeps"

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:02 am

Prince 1999 500.jpg
#1: Prince - 1999 (1982)

Ordering this top 25 has been very difficult. I've actually changed the order of the remaining albums a few times, making this exercise feel a bit like Album Survivor. That said, there was never any doubt that 1999 would be my #1. The way it has imprinted itself on my soul blows everything else away.

When I first heard Prince in 1989, I encountered some of his earlier singles through music videos during days-long MTV video marathons where they would play several videos from tons of artists. In this way I discovered the magic of songs like "When Doves Cry", "Let's Go Crazy", "Raspberry Beret", "Kiss", "U Got the Look", and "Alphabet St.". But it was "1999" that hooked me. The opening fanfare of the synths immediately grabbed my attention, soon joined by that first Earth-shattering rumble of the Linn 1 drum machine, and then exploded into a funk bonanza with the delectable bass and guitar licks. The way it wedded the neon of synths with the irresistible gravitational pull of funk left me completely mesmerised, connecting to the deepest part of me. It sounded so massive, an unconquerable force of nature that unleashed unfathomable joy and perpetual motion all at once, tapping into some unlocked quintessence of me later joined by The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" and Stevie Wonder's "My Eyes Don't Cry".


I started to buy music that year after my parents bought me a cassette player. I quickly bought a BackTrax cassette single featuring "1999" and "Little Red Corvette", another herculean song which used its synths so differently, ebbing and flowing with cinematic warmth before kicking into pop/rock immortality. I played it over and over until I eventually bought a cassette of the whole album, and thus began my decades-long obsession with this album. Actually, the word "album" doesn't cut it, as 1999 feels like an entire world unto itself. Indeed, the songs felt like they were conceived or hatched or unearthed in an isolated lab, cracking open new dimensions that melded sounds and images and all sorts of emotions into a sort of primal omnipresence.

Every single song ingrained itself into my every fiber. I discovered with delight that "1999" offered even more thrills than the sub 4-minute single version I knew and loved, opening with a robotic god-like voice announcing its desire for the listener to have fun before the rumbles of the Linn 1 deliver just that, activating the galactic motion of the thing for over 6 minutes of extended revelry. "Little Red Corvette" was improved with its extended pyrotechnics as well, while "Delirious" was an immediate hit for me with its squeaking synths amplifying a delightful zaniness. "Let's Pretend We're Married" paired Hi-NRG relentlessness with wanton desire in pulsating bursts of megavoltage. "D.M.S.R." was a call to arms for revellers of all sorts, with sassy, brassy synths prancing atop lethal slap bass licks guaranteed to shake and quake a crowd. The synths in "Automatic" were so singularly captivating, transmitting an alien glow equal parts eerie and irresistible. Both "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)", with its fractured nightmarish magma of scalding synths, frenzied Linn drum patterns, and primordial shrieks as well as "Free" with its anthemic fireworks ignited my emotions. "Lady Cab Driver" blended blistering rock volcanism with thumping funk rhythms, and "All the Critics Love U in New York" convulsed with such a galvanizing freakiness that my face contorted inexorably to the rhythm of its hyperfunkplasma. And the swansong ballad "International Lover" ended the voyage with decadent verve.

1999 engaged me on all levels - it sparked my imagination, burned deep within my soul, and willed me to dance as if by remote control. The purple neon futuresynth soundscape that ties the album together saw my awestruck wonder extend to seemingly limitless heights. Most of the songs stretched to 6, 7, 8, or 9 minutes, but I felt they could go on forever, drowning each corner of my being in succulent splashes of serotonin. More than that, 1999 emboldened me to remain true to myself. In Prince, I had found a hero - this 5'3" titan of a man raised his freak flag so unapologetically high for all to see. At 10 years old, I had begun to feel like I didn't quite fit in, but 1999 helped to instill within me an insistence that I would not, could not change who I was at my core. If Prince could overcome the family troubles that saw him leave home at 12 as well as God-knows-what harassment due to his race, height, and comfort with his feminine side to release something so unrelentingly badass, I could face my troubles headfirst as well. In this way I felt not only permission, but a DUTY to be myself when I played the album. I had a very strong sense of who I was, and with 1999 I had a reliable way to reconnect with my sense of self when times got hard. If I needed confidence, I could blast "1999" or "D.M.S.R." to pep myself up. When I felt heartbreak or loneliness, I could lose myself in the guttural wails of "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)" to exorcise those demons. If I felt like I was too weird for the world, I could play "Automatic" or "All the Critics Love U in New York" and feel encouraged to not only accept, but celebrate the quirks that made me… me.

I became a bit of a "purple evangelist", unable to help myself from proselytising about the wonders of Prince and his music. I've bought dozens of copies of 1999 over the years, both for myself and as gifts to others, even strangers who overheard it playing at a drive-thru window. It became a part of my identity, and my resultant Prince fandom changed my life in major ways, introducing me to dozens of friends, and eventually, the love of my life. I wouldn't have met my wife Tracy without Prince. I wouldn't have moved to Australia and started my career as a university academic without Prince. I wouldn't have my son without Prince. In Prince, I found not only an identity to help guide me throughout my childhood and adolescence, but a unique map to my wife, my new home country, and an entirely new life for me. And it was the opening rumble of "1999" that opened the door.

As such, as an album 1999 is the Alpha and the Omega for me. It was on 1999 that the peak of Prince's hunger met the peak of his vision and the peak of his ambition, creating the most vibrant soundscape of any album ever made. It is a 70 minute symphony of neon purple lasers illuminating a pitch black sky that will thrill and amaze me until the day I die. The wails of "Something in the Water" still go right through my core, that drum machine rumble in "1999" still moves with seismic thunder, the alien synthscape of "Automatic" still leaves me breathless, the twisted funk of "All the Critics in New York" still ignites wild fits of dancing in me, the propulsion of "Let's Pretend We're Married" still inhabits me with each pulse, the punishing bass and sassy synth of "D.M.S.R." still get me moving thousands of listens later.

It creates the most vivid pictures in my mind. I mean look at those worlds on the cover art that he drew! Prince made those worlds come to life in such a visual, visceral way. The ladder in the E leading up to the red staircase that climbs into the clouds in particular is so striking. And the guy isn't climbing the stairs as much as he is GROOVING his way up them. If I could think of one image of what Prince's music can do, it would be this. If "everybody's looking for the ladder" as Prince would later sing, I found mine in 1999.

Top 3 songs:

"Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)"
"1999"
"All the Critics Love U in New York"

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Romain » Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:13 am

Moonbeam wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:02 am


I wouldn't have met my wife Tracy without Prince. I wouldn't have moved to Australia and started my career as a university academic without Prince. I wouldn't have my son without Prince.
Wahou... that escalated quickly :mrgreen:

Another thanks for this incredible trip on your life. You managed to make it very intimate without being voyeuristic or embarrassing and that's a feat.
Obviously, I profundly understand your love for Prince and I'm sure, like me, "Original" will be the album of the year for you too! (you who like to dance, I'm sure "Holy Rock" drives you crazy! )

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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Wed Jul 31, 2019 12:07 pm

Romain wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:13 am
Moonbeam wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 10:02 am


I wouldn't have met my wife Tracy without Prince. I wouldn't have moved to Australia and started my career as a university academic without Prince. I wouldn't have my son without Prince.
Wahou... that escalated quickly :mrgreen:

Another thanks for this incredible trip on your life. You managed to make it very intimate without being voyeuristic or embarrassing and that's a feat.
Obviously, I profundly understand your love for Prince and I'm sure, like me, "Original" will be the album of the year for you too! (you who like to dance, I'm sure "Holy Rock" drives you crazy! )
Thank you so much for your kind words! It has been a blast to put this together - I've long wanted to put into words my personal connection with my favorite music, and I'm glad I finally got around to it. :happy-partydance:

And yes, Originals seems like a shoo-in to earn album of the year honors from me!

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Dan
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Dan » Mon Aug 05, 2019 4:49 pm

Thanks for this, Moonbeam. It was an absolute pleasure to get to know you better through these posts. Looking forward to meeting you in person in a couple of months' time.
...will keep us together.

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Moonbeam
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Tue Aug 06, 2019 8:51 am

Dan wrote:
Mon Aug 05, 2019 4:49 pm
Thanks for this, Moonbeam. It was an absolute pleasure to get to know you better through these posts. Looking forward to meeting you in person in a couple of months' time.
Thanks for the kind words. It's wonderful how much of an impact music has had on us all. It makes us a sort of family here. I'm also very excited to meet you!

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Moonbeam
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Fri Aug 09, 2019 8:33 am

OK, time for some dorky number crunching. :lol:

One thing that I tend to find is that when I make a list, the rankings sort of crystallize into firm rules - an album can attain "top 10 status" and therefore I feel automatically compelled to think of it this way when making a new list. I really tried to let go of these internal rules this time.

I've come up with a simple way to measure the volatility in my rankings. I've used the following formula:

Album_score = 100*abs(rank_new - rank_old)/rank_old
List_score(n) = average(Album_score[1:n])

Essentially, this measures the average percentage change in positions for the first n albums, giving me a way to track the fluidity (or lack thereof) of my lists through time. It's not perfect, as new albums aren't considered. For example, EXORCISM at #10 doesn't have any previous rankings to use, so it is removed from the average. Nonetheless, it gives me a way to measure ranking changes for various strata within my lists. I've got 14 album lists dating back to 2002 to compare, so I've plotted the list scores for n = 10, 25, 50, and 100.
List Volatility.png
I'm pretty pleased that the graph reflects my efforts to unchain myself from my own conventional placings of these albums. I still feel my lists are a lot less fluid than a lot of yours, but I’m still glad that my list was shaken up a bit.
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Rob
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Rob » Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:59 am

I'm late to the party, but thanks for this, Moonbeam! Your music taste is very different to mine, but you are one of the best writers around here and your love for your favorite music is infectious!

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Moonbeam
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Moonbeam » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:13 am

Rob wrote:
Sun Aug 18, 2019 10:59 am
I'm late to the party, but thanks for this, Moonbeam! Your music taste is very different to mine, but you are one of the best writers around here and your love for your favorite music is infectious!
Thanks for the kind words! What I love about this place is the passion that everyone clearly has for music and the friendliness with which we can share that passion, even if our tastes are quite diverse.

I'd love to read something similar if anybody else wanted to a rundown of their favorite albums/songs/artists/whatever.

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Rob
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Re: A personal history through my top 25 albums

Post by Rob » Wed Aug 28, 2019 5:20 pm

Moonbeam wrote:
Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:13 am

I'd love to read something similar if anybody else wanted to a rundown of their favorite albums/songs/artists/whatever.
I certainly toy with the idea. Albums is the most appealing, but I haven't made an album list yet and probably will only do so when the poll for it rolls around this forum next year. A big difference in my approach will be a lack of autobiography in it. Movies have a closer link to my life anyway, and even then.

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