Saturday, August 21, 2010

List Fest: The 20 most symbolic albums of Generation X

We enjoy lists because they provide a more distinctive means of processing information.  Breaking the initial monotony of plowing through one paragraph after another possibly amplifies our increasing inability to peruse over much of anything for more than five seconds.  Yet our preference for commingling information with some form of entertainment has become the standard nevertheless -- dwindling attention spans be damned.  Hence your humble purveyor is adding a new feature to this ever-evolving blog, simply called, "List Fest."

A piece in the current issue of Esquire (p. 156) described anger as, "The latest in a recent string of sentiments to define the collective American experience."  Truer words may never have been written.  Verily the anger and cynicism that also symbolize America's most nondescript postmodern generation (currently 29-49 years-old) is a recurring theme in the following list that respectfully attempts, through music, to encapsulate who Generation X really is:

#20. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
Chosen for addition to the National Recording Registry in 2002, Davis's magnum opus also features the equally gifted John Coltrane on saxophone.  Released, astonishingly, 51 years ago this month, keynote instrumentals such as "Blue in Green" invite even the most trendy hipsters to enjoy the inspired work of a master at his finest.  (See also the Liquid Mind series by Chuck Wild)

#19. Greatest Hits 1970-2002 by Elton John
This three-disc collection features over 40 songs, some two-and-a-half hours his all-time best, that span the career of an iconoclast -- to whom virtually anyone can relate -- whose talent is only surpassed by his originality.  (See also Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits by Elvis Presley)

#18. Reason to Believe by Pennywise
Having followed Radiohead's lead by initially releasing their ninth studio album as a free digital download, riff-heavy tunes such as "One Reason," "The Western World" and "Die for You" are the socially thematic songs by which these melodic California punk rockers would be appreciated if only more Gen Xers knew about them.

#17. Singles (original motion picture soundtrack), various artists
Nirvana unknowingly kicked the door in for the grunge explosion during the early '90s, but it's this lineup of angst-ridden songs by which Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and The Smashing Pumpkins owe much of their multi-platinum success.  Despite the prevalence of this Seattle-based collection of songs, it is the melancholic "Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns" by Mother Love Bone that perhaps defines this album best for America's "13th generation."  (See also Ten by Pearl Jam, Dirt by Alice in Chains and Badmotorfinger by Soundgarden)

#16. The Wall by Pink Floyd
A concept double album largely based upon the life experiences of bassist/lyricist Roger Waters, songs that speak of a desire to build a "wall" of protection from the outside world have resonated with both fans and casual listeners for over 30 years en route to becoming one of the best-selling albums of all-time.

#15. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins
Once billed as "The Wall for Generation X," Billy Corgan broke all ties with the Pumpkin's grunge background with a double album, loosely conceptual in scope, that deals unpretentiously with the realities of life, which is further complimented by a surprising level of emotion and depth.

#14. Reise, Reise by Rammstein
Although the originators of the "New German Hardness" (Neue Deutsche Härte) hit the American scene in 1997 with Sehnsucht (German for Longing), this is the bone-crushing album -- on which virtually no English is spoken -- that requires no lyrical comprehension to be understood.  Dark and heavy as hell itself, industrial masterpieces "Keine Lust" (No Desire), "Amerika" (America) and the disturbing "Mein Teil" (My Part) grab listeners by the neck from start to finish.  Considering the largely nihilistic sentiment of Generation X, this album (similar to #18) would be considered a classic if only more people knew about it.

#13. IV (aka, ZoSo) by Led Zeppelin
Also called The Hermit and ZoSo, this is the purest rock album from one of the greatest bands ever.  Classic Rock remains central to Gen X, and with a roster of songs that receive regular air play nearly 40 years after its release, no further explanation about the importance of IV should be required.  (See also Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix)

#12. Pronounced 'Lĕh-'nérd 'Skin-'nérd by Lynyrd Skynyrd
Still the kings of Southern Rock after all these years, "Tuesday's Gone," "Simple Man" and, of course, "Free Bird" highlight an album that even the most ardent disregarders of this under-appreciated genre', which refects Americana so thoroughly, can appreciate.  (See also Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 by The Eagles)

#11. Thriller by Michael Jackson
Some would argue that the biggest-selling album in music history deserves nothing but the top spot on any list.  Multi-generational in its appeal, Michael Jackson's career defining achievement is only hindered by the fact that Thriller is entirely pop -- a genre' notorious for not always speaking to those longing for a voice to which they can relate.  That said, every Quincy Jones-produced tune is simply amazing.  (See also Purple Rain by Prince and Rhythm Nation 1814 by Janet Jackson)

#10. The Joshua Tree by U2
A band that somehow sounds much larger in scope than merely three musicians and one singer, U2 were already Gen X favorites when The Joshua Tree was released in 1987.  Yet this is the definitive album, the only one that can be called "important," which cemented the Irish foursome's legacy forever.

#9. Metallica (aka, The Black Album) by Metallica
Metallica were playing sold-out arenas all over the world before mainstream America discovered who they were.  Yet this is the release that forced even the most alternative jet setters to listen until their ears bled.  Sadly 17 years would pass before fans would be given a worthy follow-up to this "arena rock" masterpiece.

#8. Nevermind by Nirvana
An album that inspired rich kids to hate their parents and wear flannel in the middle of summer, the unwitting purveyors of a grunge movement-gone-global engendered an unlikely music revolution that wouldn't come to a grinding halt until its poet-king ended his own life.

#7. Untouchables by Korn
All killer with no filler, Korn's finest (and heaviest) release abandons all previous hip-hop influences and gets straight to the point with one anger-fueled assault after another, and Gen X responded in a multi-platinum way.  As one would assume from the covert art alone, this one is strictly for the hardcore.

#6. Under the Table and Dreaming by Dave Matthews Band
An appreciation of bands like Phish and Widespread Panic isn't necessary to understand the infectious vibe of an album which thrust Dave Matthews Band into the mainstream without losing its college town credibility.  Despite the multi-platinum success in the years that followed, this is the one Gen X will always respect the most.

#5. 1984 by Van Halen
David Lee Roth's final appearance as Van Halen's frontman (until further notice) took a stylistically different direction from the band's previous five albums, but the upbeat vibe generally remained the same.  Over a quarter-century after its release, 1984 remains Van Halen's defining achievement.

#4. Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,
the eponymous "White Album" and Abbey Road by The Beatles

These four lads from Liverpool changed the world of music with every album they released, but their five album stretch from 1965-1969 (minus Yellow Submarine) are what make The Beatles the most important band that will ever exist.  Some 40 years after they broke up, The Beatles remain tops among the bands that impacted Generation X the most.

#3. Back in Black by AC/DC
The spirit of perseverance is thematic from start to finish on Back in Black.  The cathartic reaction this album receives 30 years after its release proves that even the most cynical Gen Xers still possess the utmost respect for real men.  On a side note, the definitive hard rock album of all-time (the second-biggest seller, behind only Thriller) was released on The Eccentric Conservative's fourth birthday.  And yours truly could not be more proud of that.

#2. Core by Stone Temple Pilots
Initially labeled as a grunge rip-off, STP's debut was released to lukewarm reviews that were colored, in part, by the aforementioned genre' that dominated the music landscape.  Yet Core has stood the test of time, as most of the songs -- driven by some of the heaviest power chords of the era -- center upon themes that remain relevant to this day.

#1. Urban Hymns by The Verve
If there was ever an album on which Generation X could have a listen and say, "They know what I'm thinking," then this is most likely it.  "Bitter Sweet Symphony" is the album's most noted tune, but the remaining roster of songs -- "Sonnet," "Space and Time," "Lucky Man" "One Day" and "This Time," among others -- are capable of piercing the hardest of hearts.  Have a listen for any reason.  (See also Kid A by Radiohead, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? by Oasis and the eponymous debut by The Stone Roses)

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