Ten Great Albums Recorded Before 1983

April 1, 2005

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A few weeks ago I decided it would be interesting to write about the ten albums I find to be the greatest since my birth. This week we are going back in time to look at the history of recorded sound pre-1983, to find my favorite albums. This list is incredibly biased, but then again it is my own personal list. I know Zeppelin and Sabbath were incredible, and despite owning veritable assloads of their records, there is stuff from the same era or earlier that I more closely align my definition of greatness. This isn’t like, the top ten albums of all time or anything, it’s mostly inspired by what I’m listening to right now.

Ten Albums Recorded Before 1983

10. Miles Davis Birth of the Cool (1949) – Lots of people prefer In a Silent Way or Bitches Brew. Miles Davis officially flipped my shit the first time I heard this recording. To rank any of his other albums after this one as being “better” would be farcical because the entire niche of cool jazz formed solely around this record. Imagine having that kind of credibility for the rest of your life…that you forged an entirely new territory, like Horatio Algiers or something? The first time I heard Birth of the Cool I was at overnight camp and we were smoking tea from crushed Coke cans in the shower, and someone put this on and I was like, oh my God, there’s music beyond rock and roll?

9. The Byrds The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968) – They hooked me with the couplet, “I’m coming down off amphetamines / And I’m in jail ’cause I killed the queen.” All the jingle-jangle and ninety-five-part harmonies put me in a zen-like state. It could have also been the haze that I was under the first time I heard it. Speaking of which, the first time I heard a Donovan album I was intoxicated and it blew my mind. Maybe that’s the secret for understanding otherwise fey, useless songwriting. Oh, right, The Byrds. They infused (that’s such a rock critic word, I hate it) a lot of strange instrumentation. I wonder if anyone at Byrds concerts used to scream, “Raga!” as it is short for “Rock on!”

8. David Bowie Ziggy Stardust (1972) – As a youth, I never really got into David Bowie. For some reason he freaked me out. A lot. I thought he was only an electronic artist because I heard cuts like, “I’m Afraid of Americans” at the age of fifteen and figured he was either a fruit or a nut. Nevertheless, when I was deeply entrenched in my Smashing Pumpkins phase, Grand High Pumpkin Corgan said something about Low and I realized I needed to stop being so jaded. I found a copy of this album and listened to it repeatedly for a few days straight. I loved the cynical, apocalyptic thread that ran through each track, and the notion of a concept album was one of the reasons I tried to write my own during my junior year of High School. Of course, Boobafellatio 2: This Time It’s Personal reeked of sophomoric fart jokes, but I am still proud to say Mr. Bowie was an influence.

7. The Stooges Fun House (1970) – I think my first introduction to Iggy Pop came when I read Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting in 1997. His name is brought up several times in the book and I made a mental note to find out who he was. Raw Power was also important, and cool, but the mix is awful. Fun House is perfect because it is minimalist and still wallops you each time you turn it on. No matter what the circumstances, it’s impossible not to blast this record as loud as you can. Also, once you hear Iggy totally lose it during “T.V. Eye,” you will start to wonder if all Kurt Cobain’s whinny, grating screams are nothing more than a rip off of this vocal delivery. The Stooges throw “Dirt” at you, a slow blues groove that stretches for seven minutes, and then conclude later with “L.A. Blues,” which is one of the most fucked up tracks ever recorded.

6. The Beatles Revolver in which John was thoroughly entrenched. Paul’s contributions to this album are among his best ( (1966) – Its flippant drug experimentations finally enabled the boys (and Ringo) to step away from the lovey-dovey pop mentality and write some dark tunes for a change. I am a bit of a Lennonist (that’s a Russian history pun), so my favorite tracks are “I’m Only Sleeping,” and “Tomorrow Never Knows,” which paints a nice picture of the psychadeliaconsdering he’s a bit of a fop), including “Eleanor Rigby.” In my adolescence, I was always fond of straightforward pop gems, but I think once everyone matures (reads: takes mind expanding drugs) they realize that The Beatles were at their best when lots of acid shifted their focus.

5. The Beach Boys Pet Sounds (1966) – Meanwhile, across the pond in America, there was this fellow named Brian Wilson who was going absolutely fucking bonkers (insane in the membrane, so to speak), and decided he was going to write one of the most depressing albums of all time, then gloss over the sad words with beautiful harmonies and rich instrumentation. His plan worked flawlessly. I thought the Beach Boys were gayer than homosexuals all my life, and then when I started listening to Weezer in middle school something told me to check out the Beach Boys again and listen closely. I don’t remember exactly what the common thread between Weezer and the Beach Boys was, but boy am I glad I listened to whoever told me Pet Sounds was incredible. From the off-key intro to “Wouldn’t it be Nice” straight on through to “Caroline No” there is not a moment of hesitation where, as a listener, you can find fault in any aspect of the recording. It’s just great! Did I mention how dour the lyrics are, my god was Brian Wilson nuts.

4. The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground (1969) – I’m into this minimalist, slow music these days, so for me this is the best album of theirs, and one of the most influential albums of the 20th century. I’m sure when bands like Bedhead and Codeine started recording, they realized the greatness of this album and wanted to harness a similarly sparse, slow, meandering style. I could be wrong, though. “Candy Says,” is one of the prettiest songs you will ever hear. “Pale Blue Eyes,” runs a very close second, and then the whole band starts contributing to “Murder Mystery” and the cacophony of voices will spook your shorts. I almost wrote “spooge your shorts,” which, admittedly, would have been a funny masturbation joke. I was first turned onto this band when I heard “Venus in Furs” somewhere, and thought it was really cool. I was probably in High School smoking a lot of pot, because that’s about the time most people discover the previous generations fringe artists. Also, listening to this album might be the first step on the path to heroin addiction.

3. Nick Drake Pink Moon (1972) – If it weren’t for shitty car commercials recently co-opting his songs, Nick Drake might still exist in a relative state of obscurity. He was never properly lauded in his short lifetime, and had only a small following when he made the shift from sort-of bland folk-pop to Pink Moon. The whole thing is bleak and frigid, but it’s also one of the most inspirational albums I’ve ever heard. I was having dinner with my cousin Becky once and she played this record for me. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever heard. I quickly took to “Parasite” because I wanted to paint a portrait of myself as an outsider, which couldn’t really be further from the truth. Nevertheless, this album will forever stand as a phenomenal work, the repercussions of which have led countless ambitious followers to seek a similar peak in their own songwriting. And in over thirty years, no one has come even close to touching the grace and mastery Drake channeled here.

2. Van Morrison Astral Weeks (1968) – Let the fools have their “Brown Eyed Girl” and their “Moondance,” we know Astral Weeks is one of the greatest albums ever recorded in the history of mankind. The man was 21- or 22-years-old, and there’s so much pain and hardship present here you have to wonder the immense amount of strife Morrison saw in his early years. It opens with the title track, a forceful number based around two or three chords with lyrics I couldn’t begin to comprehend. Then he launches into “Beside You” which is one of the most gut-wrenching songs you’ll ever hear. As far as my own songwriting is concerned, no one has taught me more about utilizing the English language than Morrison did on this album. It’s not so much the vocabulary as it is the tricks he’s able to pull, his style of manipulating words and fitting as much as he can in a finite space. He repeats words and phrases in spurts with force enough that they become a series of mantras. It’s in every track on this album, from the crescendo of “you breathe in, you breathe out” on “Beside You” to the utterly insane “And the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves to love the love that loves to love the love that loves.” God bless him.

1. Leonard Cohen Songs of Love and Hate (1971) – After nearly deifying Van Morrison, you’re probably wondering why Leonard Cohen is number one on this list. In fact, I’m not so sure why either, I just know that no album I’ve ever heard has moved me as much as this one. The intensity of these eight tracks is unparalleled. From the flamenco guitar picking, slow building intro to “Avalanche,” that crumbles beneath the weight of Cohen’s pitch-black voice, you’re hooked. You can’t stop listening. There is nowhere to hide. You are forced to follow Cohen on his journey to the darkest regions of his mind. He’s the most brilliant wordsmith I’ve ever encountered, and (for me) the quality of an album rests heavily on the lyrics. As much as Van Morrison toyed with the nuances language, Cohen crafted perfect vignettes. He takes love and doesn’t just dissect it, he follows it through the physical realm, the spiritual realm and the emotional realm, attempting to drag it down with him as he draws closer to actually grasping the true nature of love. The instrumentation is sparse; contributing musicians are often unable to intrude on the metaphysical journey on which listeners are led. I remember getting an extended series of chills the first time I heard Songs of Love and Hate. The first time you listen is an experience that you could spend the remainder of your life trying to replicate. In my humble opinion, it is the finest forty-five minutes in the history of songwriting.

4 comments

  1. evan
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    i like your list. wanna go to a dyke rally?

  2. -marsh.
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    always.

  3. |

    […] Weeks – I’ve written about this one a lot on the blog going all the way back to 2005 (see!), when guest writer Ian wrote his list of the best albums I introduced him to, this was on the […]

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