I have two giant cases full of CDs. One of them is filled with punk and ska discs and the other is filled with everything else. The punk case contains roughly double the discs of the “everything else” binder, which is another way of saying, I have fairly narrow tastes. Although I do have my moments of broadness.
I don’t visit the other case as I often as I do the punk one, so let’s follow Hart’s lead and see what are the five best ones from the non-punk world of music.
Incubus – S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
Punk or not, this is one of my favorite CDs of all-time. In fact, I struggled with whether or not to put this on my desert island list. While this album is good on its own, it becomes all the more striking when compared against what Incubus turned into in later albums. After “Pardon Me” became a huge hit (which is not off of S.C.I.E.N.C.E.), Incubus hit pop stardom with awful pale-faced tunes like “Wish You Were Here” and “Nice to Know You.” How the hell did this happen? Incubus used to tour with hardcore acts like Static X and 18 Visions. Now they were on pop radio? What the hell?
S.C.I.E.N.C.E. was an absolute revelation to me. You could headbang to a lot of the tracks – notably the face melting “Certain Shade of Green” and exhilarating “Redefine” – while keeping your mellow funk groove in check with tracks like “Anti-Gravity Love Song.” As Allmusic.com says, “The numerous styles on the album don’t always blend perfectly, but they create a solid sound that defines the band.”
At least they used to define the band. I hadn’t ever heard anything like S.C.I.E.N.C.E. when I came upon it, and I still haven’t. That’s probably why this disc still finds its way into my regular rotation 10 years later, and I listen to very few bands that use a DJ or have an entire track dedicated to remixing some weirdo audio record accompaniment to a children’s book into a fun electro jaunt. Like I said, nothing like this, ever. During the great CD loss of 2002, I had to re-buy almost all of my CDs. I think this was the 3rd one I re-bought. That’s a compliment.
Rage Against the Machine – Rage Against the Machine
Like most music and virtually everything else in pop culture, I came around to Rage about 6 years after they hit the scene. I am unbelievably square when it comes to keeping up with trends, so it should come as no shock that someone let me borrow their Discman (Ha! Discman! How whimsically archaic!) at a swim meet that was cued up with this album, and I absolutely adored it. This happened in 1998.
Despite my embarrassing behind-the-curve nature, I became a full-fledged Rage fan from that point forward. Even though I pretty staunchly disagree with all of Rage’s political beliefs, this used to be my favorite band both ideologically and aesthetically. They were so raw, so powerful, so passionate. So angry at the system that made everyone happy, prosperous, and full of love.
Then the Bush years hit, the Towers fell, and the country had a pretty rough fucking decade. Where was Rage? Nowhere. Zach claimed to be making a rap album that never materialized while the rest of the guys went off and formed the reprehensible Audioslave with Chris fucking Cornell. Blech. I fell out of love with Rage at that point and took up the mantle of Rise Against, starry-eyed optimists that believed in the efficacy of the individual to foster real cultural change under the banner of righteously ass kicking music. Although they’re probably not better from a technical standpoint, they’re definitely more noble, more fearless, and equally as tough. What’s this got to do with this album?
If not for how goddamn great this debut was (as well as the 3 subsequent follow-ups), I might never have found Rise Against or any of the punk rock I love so much. Thanks, Rage!
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Full Moon Fever
In high school you spend a lot of time worrying about what people think of you. You need to wear the right clothes, have the correct shitty sarcastic attitude about everything, and perfect the complicated alchemy of listening to the right bands at the right time. It’s horrifically exhausting to the point that at some point around the middle of sophomore year, your body does a big old rejection spasm, and you don’t give a fuck what anything thinks for a good six months.
Of course, then you and your parents move to Houston junior year, and you repeat the process in order to make friends, but that’s life, right?
Anyway, when I stopped giving a shit, I got really into Tom Petty for some reason. I had no reason to. I had no older siblings, my parents listened to the rock ‘n roll and slow dance kissy face shit of their 1960s youth, and Tom Petty wasn’t even that popular in 1996. But for some reason I found my way to Full Moon Fever, and put that disc on repeat for a good half a year. I got my license the next year and played it over and over on my endless trips up and down the highway from my house.
Was it the iconic “Free Falling” that opened the disc? The tangible pain in Tom Petty’s voice? The invigorating “Running Down a Dream” that crests the first half of the disc perfectly at Track 5? The charming interlude where he takes a moment to let the people listening on LP turn the record over before playing the next side?
Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. And about 100 other reasons. This disc is great.
Ludacris – Word of Mouf
Act like I don’t make cloud. How you gon’ act like I don’t get loud? How you gon’ act like I don’t rock crowds? And leave a lot of people with a gap tooth smile. If I recollect right, then you sound like dirt.
Say those words to yourself in a normal cadence. You sound like a fool. Listen to the song “Saturday” with Ludacris’ unusual cadence and incredibly disarming rhythm, you’re half nodding your head, half giggling because you have no ideas what’s coming next. Sometime in college I got completely over rap music. I couldn’t relate to anything these idiots rhymed about, and I found the constant posturing matched with goofy-as-can-be appearance increasingly irksome. I’m required by my whiteness to exclude Outkast and Eminem from this generalization, of course.
But one drunken night with Ludacris stole my heart, and I had one last affair with rap music. He’s an incredibly creative lyricist who isn’t afraid to be unironically silly. I can get on board with that. Anyone who takes themselves too seriously is just begging to be mocked which is why the “Kanye West is a gay fish” thing was so perfect. He didn’t get it, and that only made things better. It’s why I started laughing uncontrollably at work today when I heard “Du Hast” on the radio. Those guys are so serious, and that song is too goofy for mere words.
And that’s also why Ludacris is still my favorite rap artist. He’s a goofball that also happens to be one of the most creative lyricists around. If you’re listening to Ludacris, you’re almost certainly having a good time.
Bush – Sixteen Stone
When I found ska music, I broke up with my previous lover grunge music so fast, my first time having sex looks like the Cambrian Era by comparison. Ska offered an upbeat antidote to the dreary, comatose, hopeless angst of maudlin grunge rock. I used to shit on Nirvana endlessly, turned on Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, and pretended I never owned those two Stone Temple Pilots albums.
For whatever reason, I could never fully disown Bush. They were my first grunge love, and my first concert. It’s entirely possible I look at them through rose-colored glasses, and I’m prepared to accept that. That is, until you listen to the first 40 seconds of “Machine Head” and remember that this song kicked fucking ass. And so did “Little Things” and “Everything Zen” and “Comedown.” This album ruled!
When I had a music renaissance in college, I came back to this album and realized I could never cast it aside because it still stands up today. I don’t hate grunge the way I used to, and one of the reasons is that Sixteen Stone by Bush still managed to rock my headphones even all these years later.
Considering I look back at middle school (when this was released for me) with the same fondness as I look back at my bout with chicken pox when I was 9, it’s amazing I can associate this with anything other than the emergence of acne and getting approximately 700 boners per day. But I can. And why? It’s a great freaking album.
Most of you probably don’t divide your music between the categories “punk” and “not punk,” but we’d like to hear from you anyway. What are your favorites? Leave them in the comments section, and we’ll buy you a cookie at a date yet to be determined.
22 Apr 2010 E Dagger