I remember when the first class of Absolute Classics came out last year. Oh, the controversy it stirred with split decisions amongst staff members and users as discussions blazed across the site in blogs and forums alike. Fast forward a year later and we're here to get you all talking again. Below is the next class we would like to induct as Absolute Classics. Where our first class may have fit the mold of what some expect of our little site, this year's inductees push the idea of not only what is a "punk" classic, but a stellar album that will stand the test of time and influence others who have come across or will eventually discover these gems. Here's 13 albums of influence, beauty and damn good music spread across time and genres. (Adam Pfleider)
Park - It Won't Snow Where You're Going
Record Label: Lobster Records
Release Date: November 11, 2003
There’s a rage throughout It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going that both gets me and gets to me. It’s the kind of album you hope a band only makes once, not because it’s so special, but because it’s unfair to wish more misery on a group of people. On what would be Senses Fail's best song, “Pomona For Empusa,” vocalist Ladd Mitchel sings, “Shall I stay rejected or end up drunk and soft like a bitter old man?” It’s a difficult question, but I’d like to think he finds his answer, in a somewhat obvious way, through the catharsis that comes from penning spiteful numbers like “Which Wrist First” or the absolutely heartbreaking “Dear Sweet Impaler.” You know, I debated whether I would even mention “Impaler” because it meant so much to me at such a specific time. Unlike the song’s main character, I never contemplated the end, but I can commiserate with how the song implies such euphoric highs that only become victim to heartbreak. It’s overdramatic, terrifying and impossible to forget. And to me that’s the making of a song (and album) that will stick with you, regardless of your current mental outlook. Someone once said we must remember our lows to appreciate the highs. It Won’t Snow Where You’re Going is proof they were right.
Dear Sweet Impaler
Weezer - Pinkerton
Record Label: Geffen
Release Date: September 24, 1996
When Pinkerton was released in 1996, it was largely seen as a disappointment, a serious letdown from multiplatinum upstarts with their stars on the rise. In retrospect, it's difficult to understand how this was possible. Sure, The Blue Album had some catchy songs, but Pinkerton's songs are even catchier-- "Say It Ain't So" was an earworm, but as hooky as "The Good Life"? Nay I say. And surely it couldn't have been that hard to overlook the rawer production value. The self-produced sophomore album lacked the studio magic of its predecessor, but if anything, that only added to the intimacy of the recording. Play Pinkerton loud enough and it's as though Weezer are performing live in your bedroom. Still, what probably turned people off most about the record is that this band was no longer like the lovable geeks of The Big Bang Theory. Rivers Cuomo transformed from some fictional TV sitcom character playfully jabbing at himself to Rivers Cuomo the real guy, and in the process dished out some pretty uncomfortable confessionals. It's not light fun, but it's not supposed to be. It's ironic that those qualities that made Pinkerton initially so unpopular are ultimately what make it one of the most earnest, poignant, enduring and downright essential albums of the 1990s.
Oasis - (What's the Story) Morning Glory
Record Label: Creation Records
Release Date: October 2, 1995
On achievements alone, Oasis' (What's the Story) Morning Glory is in a league all by itself: 10 weeks at number one in the UK; 346,000 copies sold in Britain in the first week; 14 million copies and counting sold to date; third biggest-selling album in UK history behind Queen's Greatest Hits and Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band; and 4x platinum status in the United States (3.9 million copies).
But achievements alone don't make an album a classic. What does then? Certainly having an arsenal of archetypal rock singles can't hurt and Morning Glory has three ubiquitous rock gems: "Wonderwall," "Don't Look Back in Anger," and "Champagne Supernova," all of which have been praised and adored ad nauseam. But what about those less heralded tracks? Though the anthemic "Some Might Say" and the punchy "Roll With It" never charted in the United States, they were huge hits in their home country and for good reason. There's an urgency and a precision to every second that seems almost too good to be true.
These are the kinds of songs that people can relate to. These are the songs that make people remember why they love rock music. Even the disc's less heralded tracks ––– the stadium-ready album opener "Hello," the scissored energy of "Hey Now," the cascading title track, the splashy "She's Electric," and the spartan ballad "Cast No Shadow," ––– have a timelessness and a potency that probably won't be replicated for quite some time. Is this a classic? Psht. That's a no-brainer.
Galaxie 500 - On Fire
Record Label: Rough Trade
Release Date: February 14, 1989
Rock records more deeply immersive than Galaxie 500's On Fire are hard to come by. Residing in the pre-Loveless shoegaze realm, it's one of those albums that encompasses those experiences like coming home from work on a late spring Friday, pouring some Jack over ice, lighting up a smoke, standing out on the balcony and watching as the sun drops toward the horizon, leaving the sky awash in the brilliant orange hues of the disc's cover art. You simply have to live through them, because, for these occasions, the descriptive power of language is woefully insufficient.
On Fire is full of gorgeous melody, and while each of its songs could stand strong on its own, when played in sequence, they tend to bleed together into a unified dreamy web sure to capture any wayfaring listener in its gently sticky grasp. The record's victims quickly become willing captives with a rapid onset of Stockholm Syndrome. By the time it gets to the extraordinary cover of George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity," it's easy to wish it would just go on ad infinitum. Of course, it does regrettably end. Unlike a real-life hostage, though, with On Fire, you can always press Play one more time.
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
Record Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: August 30, 1965
When Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar, his more obstinate fans accused the musician of betraying his folk heritage. When Dylan went electric, he also created one of the greatest albums of any genre and timeframe. Of course, Dylan didn’t forsake his folk sound by implementing rock music on Highway 61 Revisited; he just gave it a good kick in the pants and made it move in new ways. The album is a surreal journey, and its imagery ranges from biblical justice to circus sideshow. Highway 61 is the kind of place where good old Abe and almighty God can discuss family murder in casual tones, and women of grace are slapped down to reality. Full of cynicism, farce, and literary references, the album's songs are stories of depth coated as easy listening. If you’ve never taken a trip down historic Highway 61, it’s a good time to revisit the colorfully dark landscape and greet the troubled characters to be found along the way (and make sure to pack your harmonica).
Like a Rolling Stone
Thrice - The Illusion of Safety Record Label: Sub City Records
Release Date: February 5, 2002
The Illusion of Safety was what really got the ball rolling for the now revered alternative giant Thrice. Furnishing and perfecting the sound they cradled on Identity Crisis, Thrice made one hell of a statement album for all that is hard, fast and explosive with The Illusion of Safety. Eight years down the road, we're still constantly looking back on it, remembering the rip-stab emotion of "Kill Me Quickly," exhausting our lungs to the chorus in "In Years to Come," or thrashing out to the scathing and unforgettable "Deadbolt." We're also still enchanted by the warnings it roars - perhaps most powerfully by its admonition against pride and ignorance in "A Subtle Dagger": "Our souls they speak of something more / But we can't look beyond ourselves / We implore empty skies because / Our hearts hold room for no one else." But what's funny about revisiting the album now is listening to Dustin Kensrue sing "I want to write the perfect song / Play it just for you." Unknown to the Kensrue of 2002, he already did - an album full of them, too.
Delving deeper and deeper into what "post-hardcore" was and is supposed to be has its ups and downs. On the downside, you begin to discover that there are so many screaming suburban kids with problems that need an outlet, that it gets as old as getting through another Staind album. The upside is discovering bands like pg. 99 and their opus - yes, opus - Document #8. From the opening quote from Kurt Cobain and the mid-album rant by Born Against frontman Sam McPheeters, Document #8 was intended as a "fuck you" to fans who shunned the punk band from trying some "taboo" things in their preceding albums. Much like contemporaries Fucked Up and the legendary Converge, pg. 99 never gave up passion for artistic freedom and vice versa. The band moves around so much on Document #8 that it borders straight punk and angular progression that yields the true definition of post-hardcore - one that has been looked over by many, and held to the hearts of a select few.Fuck the glitter. Screw the photoshoots. Be damned what punk rock should look and sound like too. Cobain was right, "as long as it's good and has passion" should be the standard for any band in any genre. The portrait is on display here. Get thinking about your next move.
In Love With An Apparition
Rancid - ...And Out Come The Wolves
Record Label: Epitaph
Release Date: August 22, 1995
Not only did Rancid play an essential role in the mid-90’s punk revival, but they also introduced many kids to the world of Epitaph Records a decade later. True, Tim Armstrong’s voice isn’t for everyone, but it makes the songs believable. Lars Frederiksen’s pack-a-day vocals go with them perfectly and they really add the raw edge to Rancid's style. This band really appeals to so much more than just punks with mohawks and studded jackets, even indie rockers Vampire Weekend paid their respects by covering “Ruby Soho.” And whether it’s the opening bassline of “Journey to the End of the East Bay,” a song about the legendary Operation Ivy, or the bass solo on “Maxwell Murder,” few can play bass like Matt Freeman can. All the songs have very catchy choruses too, especially the ska influenced “Time Bomb,” but it’s not a glistening pop-punk record. There’s a rough darkness here, with songs about loneliness, poverty, and death, but Rancid shows the light “as wicked as it may seem, as wicked as anything could be.”
Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
Record Label: Columbia Records
Release Date: August 25, 1975
When Bruce Springsteen was 25 years old, he had to write a record that would silence the critics that began to turn on the singer/songwriter who was initially pegged as the next Bob Dylan. The result, Born to Run, was the record that fulfilled Jon Landau's prophecy that Springsteen was "the future of rock and roll" and was one of the most important records made in the 1970s. People have called it the record that literally saved the genre, as The Boss filled the void of the American rock and roll hero that had been vacant for nearly a decade. The story told on Born to Run was a story accepted by the people in America who had a chip on their shoulder, who grew up in a blue-collar family with a screened-in porch, who lived through Woodstock but weren't hippies. The musicianship borrows from 20 years of established rock and roll, but Springsteen showed his versatility and genius without making any major breakthroughs in style. From the twelve layers of guitar tracks on "Born to Run" to the opening riffs of "She's the One" and "Backstreets," Springsteen showed that he could write eight songs that were only more powerful together than they were alone. The weaving storyline of "Jungleland" and the imagery depicted on "Thunder Road" were examples of the indispensability of Springsteen's lyricism. Born to Run is pure rock and roll before it is anything else. If you've never taken the time to pay attention to that guy that your dad's always spinning on his turntable, you should. But if you do, be ready to get introduced to a journey through a single artist's music that some navigate for their whole lives.
Bad Religion - Against the Grain
Record Label: Epitaph Records
Release Date: November 23, 1990
Coming out of the L.A. hardcore scene of the 1980's, Bad Religion had already recorded two decade-defining punk albums in 1988's Suffer and 1989's No Control. As they blasted their way into a new decade full of uncertain possibilities, the band took every ounce of what was left in their legendary sound, and lavishly built up a bombastic collection of seventeen aggressive classics. Against the Grain is a fever pitch of political angst as well as a journey into the unknown (no pun intended). As the tumultuous '80's came to a close, no one was sure where punk's placement was going to be. "21st Century (Digital Boy)" cleverly concocts the notion that it doesn't matter how it all happens and what is left -- it's all gonna happen anyway; we just have to fight it. That is the mantra of Bad Religion, one that despite your feelings on their work in the 90's and beyond, has always stuck close behind. Greg Graffin's impassioned honesty is highlighted by the almost static riffs of Brett Gurewitz, and despite their embittered, pessimistic cries, the band leads a charge of rampant hunger for what lies ahead. While Pete Finestone's final display of his remarkably free-flowing percussion work takes a layer off future releases, at its core, this band is Graffin & Gurewitz. The punk rock equivalent of Lennon/McCartney, here they create anthems oozing with melody and intelligence that fire on all cylinders. Arguably their last full-fledged "punk" album, it could be seen as a final battle-cry to the "golden age," or the last stop before climbing to an entirely new peak. In the title track, Graffin sings, "There's a common consensus and a uncomfortable cheer, a reverberating chorus that anyone can hear. ... This lulling sense of purpose will destroy us rapidly." The irony behind this release is how dignified the intentions were meant to be, and how monumental they turned out to become. One of the last true remaining punk classics, Against the Grain's underlying message is still just as potent twenty years passed, and shows how prominent a force Bad Religion's messages have shown to remain.
Against the Grain
Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
Release Date: April 5th, 2005
Record Label: Jagjaguwar
Hopeless and haunting but somehow whimsical at the same time, Okkervil River has a touch for multi-sided folk narratives. Black Sheep Boy, the band's break-through record from 2005, was precisely this. The album is loosely based on the title track, originally done by Tim Hardin, a mildly known folk musician from the '60s. But it was the band's frenzied frontman that nutured "Black Sheep Boy", created a character of his own, and turned it into something beyond a straight shot of the tragic country wailer. During "The Latest Toughs," Will Sheff whimpers about burning suns and spills slaughtering lamb analogies to a stomping upbeat melody. On "For Real", Sheff opens with the line "Some nights I thirst for real blood, for real knives, for real cries"; dark corners of human nature exposed. It's captivating in the creepiest, most addicting way, and that's probably why all of us sickos out there consider it to be a classic.
Kanye West - The College Dropout
Release Date: February 10th, 2004
Record Label: Roc-A-Fella/Island-Def Jam
This is my most listened to record of all time (OF ALL TIME!), and deservedly so. People need to understand, Kanye West has also had controversy follow him and he has always had an ego the size of the sun (you can hear it repeatedly on his debut). So the man hasn't changed, it's just his debut, The College Dropout, finally gave him the chance to shine. He was already a world-renowned producer in the hip-hop community, as his production changed the game. He just wanted to prove himself as a rapper. Yeah, his flow isn't the best, but that's what makes him so appealing. Ye has a way with words most rappers don't have. He bared his soul on this album, which covered a variety of topics (money to girls to faith to education to social status) and displayed the best beats and production of any hip-hop album this decade. You can hate on the man all you want, but it's hard to deny that The College Dropout was a game-changer and the best hip-hop debut since Pac and Biggie were alive. Tracks like "All Falls Down" and "Jesus Walks" are full of emotion, while "Through the Wire" and "Last Call" recall Yeezy's struggles into the rap world. He showed he had a way with the ladies ("Slow Jamz") and churned out songs we love to bump in the car to ("The New Workout Plan" and "Get 'Em High"). "Two Words" and "We Don't Care" were the first glimpses we had into West's demeanor. The College Dropout is one of the best album of the past 10 years and an absolute classic not only in hip hop, but in all of music. Everybody feels a way about K but at least you all feel something.
Through the Wire
Outkast - Stankonia
Record Label: Arista
Release Date: October 31, 2000
In a time where digital music was a distant thought and Myspace didn’t even exist, two deep south rappers created an album that brought the funk of their predecessors and added a fresh new sound to the game. I can remember it as if it were yesterday, walking into my local Ames (R.I.P) and running to the electronics section to scan through the lines of CDs, stopping at what would be regarded as one of the best albums of its time. Stankonia was Outkast’s crossover album, as they dropped a little bit of the funk for a more mainstream pop sound but never lost sight of where they came from. First single "B.O.B." proved to be a monster jam that paved the way for basically every electronic/hip-hop artist in the future, proving you can completely cram a song full of drastically different elements and make it successful. "Ms. Jackson" and "So Fresh, So Clean" followed only to showcase their lyrical skill on top of their delivery and solidify the boys as household names in the music industry. Add a handful of guests, an intro, funky overlooked tracks, interludes and more to create a musical theme park that is an understatement to just call a rollercoaster ride. Outkast created something special, at a time where people were too scared to take a chance. I think P.O.S. says it perfect when he sings “And we all take chances to change us/Simple with yourself, hate just won’t do”. Outkast just did that and will always be remembered as the hip-hop pioneers of the 21st century.
So I checked out the Galaxy 500 song, cuz I had never heard of them. It's so far out of time. Sounds like a group of 13 year olds in their dad's garage jamming for the first time. Is the whole album like that?