Top Ten Albums You Don'T Own
A list of ten excellent but commercially unsuccesful albums with a commentary on each album and band.
The following is a list of the ten best albums that most people do not own. The only qualifications these albums meet is that they are excellent musical works and that they have not enjoyed considerable commercial success. Some are from popular bands and some are from bands who never really made it off the local club scene.
1. "Eating February" by Star 69
There is only one difference beteen Julie Andrews, the lead singer of the now defunct Star 69, and Gwen Stefani of No Doubt: Gwen Stefani is famous. Julie Andrews has the same powerfully, borderline angry female voice that Gwen Setefani has popularized. "Eating February," which Star 69 released on Live's "Radioactive Records" label, is a one of the most complete albums I have ever heard. There are no bad songs. In today's music world, artists deserve a commendation for producing an album that can be enjoyed from start to finish rather than an album with two hits and ten earsores. The highlight of "Eating February" is "I'm Selfish," the soul-purging musical confession of someone who asks for acceptance of her self-centered and self-destructive lifestyle. "Eating February" represents one of the best if not the best alternative record with female vocals. If Julie Andrews has an equal, she is Shirley Manson of Garbage. Star 69 is no longer together, but we can hope that Julie Andrews will find her way into the limelight either as a solo artist or with a new group. In the meantime, enjoy "Eating February."
2. "Foma" by The Nixons
You may have heard the song "Sister," which earned The Nixons their fifteen minutes of fame in 1996. But, like most one-hit wonders (actually, "Sister" probably was not successful enough to earn one-hit wonder status) the single's success did not translate into album sales. That's a shame, because "Foma" is an excellent album. Despite the fact that "Sister" is head and shoulders above all the other songs on the album in terms of melodic quality and lyrical creativity, all the songs on the album are good. The album did not sell well because "Sister" never made the jump from alternative radio to mainstream and because none of the other songs on "Foma" became radio hits. While only "Sister" has the right sound for radio, the rest of the songs are good album songs. As evidenced by Pearl Jam's "No Code," the Red Hot Chilli Peppers' "One Hot Minute," Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" and Live's "The Distance to Here," a great album does not necesarily contain successful radio singles. "Foma" is a very good alternative album, on par with such albums as Creed's "Human Clay" and the Counting Crows' "Recovering the Sattelites."
3. "You and Everybody Else" by Fighting Gravity
Fighting Gravity is probably the most successful local Richmond, Virginia band of the 1990's. They were a fixture on the local club scene and recieved considerable airplay on Richmond radio station WBZU. Following the unexpected success of their "Forever Equals one Day" album, released in 1996, they were signed by Mercury Records. They were suposed to be the next Dave Matthews Band. They were a Virginia band (DMB is from Charlottesville, Virginia) with an unusual, creative, almost eclectic sound that was much more than the traditional guitars and drums alternative sound. They recorded "You and Everybody Else," which includes two tracks ("Mission Bells" and "Bend the Light") that were first released on "Forever Equals One Day." But the new album just did not catch on. It recieved only occasional radio play, and Mercury Records soon gave up on the PR campaign that Fighting Gravity so badly needed. Nevertheless, "You and Everybody Else" is one of the most innovative albums you will ever hear. And I'm not using "innovative" as a euphemism for "bad." Fighting Gravity's sound does not fit into any mold, but "You and Everybody Else" is one of the most melodic and acoustically pleasant alternative albums around.
4. "Come on Down" by Green River
Pearl Jam is the most successful band to come out of Seattle since Jimi Hendrix. And, as any Pearl Jam fan knows, guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament were members of Mother Love Bone, a Seattle band that was headed for stardom until the death of lead singer Andrew Wood from a heroin overdose. (The "Temple of the Dog" album on which members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden played is a tribute to Wood.) But few fans outside of Seattle remember Green River. Maybe you heard them on a college radio station sometime in the late eighties. Probably not. "Come on Down" probably would not be a significant album by itself. But the album is significant in that it was a stepping stone on Goddard and Ament's way to fame, which they achieved with Pearl Jam. On "Come on Down," Gossard and Ament's parts shine through the uninspired vocals of Mark Arm. Take Gossard and Ament, add another good guitarist and a better lead singer, find someone to play drums, and you have a band good enough to make it out of Seattle. The other guitarist was Mike McCready, a regular on the Seattle music scene. And as we all know, the lead singer that made it all come together was Eddie Vedder, formerly of the San Diego band Bad Radio. So put "Come on Down" into the same category as the album Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham made before they joined Fleetwood Mac- a good album that lead to a great band.
5. "No Substance" by Bad Religion
Bad Religion has been almost famous for fifteen years. Since the mid-eighties, they have hovered halfway between obscurity and fame. They have opened for mega-selling bands like Pearl Jam and Blink-182. But Bad Religion has never seemed to make it over the proverbial hump. "No Substance" is the band's thirteenth album. Few bands have thirteen albums that are all somewhere between commercial failures and commercial successes. But on "No Substance" the band turns over a new leaf. Their sound is more melodic and not as raw as on previous albums. For a change, the emphasis seems to be more on the music than on the sound. The sound Bad Religion puts forth on "No Substance" is that of a metal band that has matured. They are no longer young punk rockers. Now that Medicare is in the immediate future, Bad Religion has decided to turn the amps down and focus on making songs instead of noise. The band's new sound is best exemplified by "Shades of Truth," the only radio single from the album. All this talk of Bad Religion maturing is not to say that they have lost their edge. They toured after the release of "No Substance," and they can still excite a crowd like they did in California clubs ten years ago. But it is refreshing that, after a headbanging metal interlude, the band can play a song that their fans can (gasp) sing along with.
6. "Looking Forward" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
As everybody knows, Santana returned with a vengeance in 1999 with "Supernatural," the album that won eight Grammy awards and convinced the music world that old-timers should not be forgotten. But lost in the "Supernatural" hype was another group of old-timers that made an even better return in 1999. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young released "Looking Forward" with little fanfare, although they did tour together in support of it. These are without question four of the most talented musicians in the world today. "Looking Forward" is one of the most diverse albums in the rock genre. I hate to even place it in a genre, given the range of styles presented on the album. From the guitar-driven mainstream rock song "No Tears Left" to the deep and mellow "Stand and Be Counted," this album represents the crowning achievement of CSN&Y's career as a group.
7. "Recently" by the Dave Matthews Band
The Dave Matthews band released "Recently," a six-song mini-album, in 1997, between their chart-topping albums "Crash" and "Before These Crowded Streets." ("Before These Crowded Streets" has the distinction of being the album that knocked the "Titanic" soundtrack out of the top spot on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.) Despite its length (or lack thereof,) "Recently" contains some of the best material that the band has ever recorded. "Warehouse" is a classic Dave Matthews Band song, with Dave's poignant vocals backed up ably by the band. The highlight of the album is the band's cover of Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower." The cover is a tribute to the original from fans, not an attempt to revive a classic for commercial purposes. The band did not try to promote its cover, nor was it released as a single. This is one of the best covers of a classic that has ever been done. The album, which only costs around ten dollars at most music outlets, is probably one of the best albums around on a per-dollar basis.
8. "Modified" by Save Ferris
Save Ferris achieved considerable commercial success with their 1997 album "It Means Everything." The album was released in the middle of the Ska revival that included The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, No Doubt, and Reel Big Fish. But by 1999, when Save Ferris released "Modified," Ska was out. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish have faded into obscurity. No Doubt is pretty much a mainstream alternative group. But Save Ferris chose to stay true to their Ska roots. "Modified" retains the energy that made "It Means Everything" such an entertaining album. Most of this energy comes from Monique Powell, the lead singer who acts as if she is on a permanent caffeine high. The energy she brings to Save Ferris' music is almost uncanny. The album's highlights include "Turn it Up," a fast-paced song about someone who is dying to hear a certain song on the radio, and "Mistaken," the only radio single from "Modified." The entire album fits into the Save Ferris mold of excited vocals, driving guitars and complimentary horns. It may be the best Ska album we will hear for a while.
9. "Nasty Little Thoughts" by Stroke 9
This album makes the list for much the same reason as The Nixons' "Foma." The album contains the single "Little Black Backpack," which was somewhat of a radio hit. Every other song on the album is almost as good. As a whole, "Nasty Little Thoughts" is one of the most cohesive and enjoyable alternative albums of the last few years. To compare them to a better-known band, Stroke 9 sounds like Blink-182 sounded on their "Dude Ranch" album. Their sound is neither unique nor innovative. But if you're a fan of late-nineties mainstream alternative music, you will enjoy "Nasty Little Thoughts."
10. "Mirrorball" by Neil Young and "Merkinball" by Pearl Jam
These two recordings are paired because Neil Young and Pearl Jam recorded them together. On the "Mirrorball" album, Young sings lead vocals and the members of Pearl Jam serve as his backup band. On "Merkinball," which contains only two songs, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder sings lead vocals and Young plays guitar and sings backing vocals. Because of legal complications, Pearl Jam did not play as a band on "Mirrorball," but rather the members are listed individually as contributors to the album. "Mirrorball" is one of Young's best albums, despite its lack of a successful radio singles. As an album, it is on par with his "Freedom" album, which contained the career-defining single "Rockin' in the Free World." Pearl Jam's "Merkinball" contains two fan favorites, "I Got I.D." and "I Got Shit." These two recordings represent what can take place when a group of musicians as talented as Neil Young and Pearl Jam collaborate. The history between Young and Pearl Jam is one of a long friendship. Pearl Jam has performed at three of Young's Bridge School Benifits and performed "Rockin' in the Free World" with Young at the 1993 MTV Video Music Awards. Shortly after the recording of "Mirrorball," Young filled in for Eddie Vedder when the singer was unable to play a show because of a bad case of food poisoning. "Mirrorball" and the relationship between Young and Pearl Jam is more than one of friendship or musical collaboration. Neil Young is the grandfather of grunge, the musician without whom there would never have been a "Seattle sound" or an alternative movement. Pearl Jam is the most successful band to come out of Seattle and the bearer of the alternative music torch. There is a musical relationship between these artist that supercedes any personal one. "Mirrorball" and "Merkinball" are the only recorded products of the relationship between Young and Pearl Jam. They are where old and new alternative music meet, shake hands, and produce some of the best music the alternative genre has ever seen.