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10 classics Rolling Stone overlooked

Sunday, November 30, 2003

By Ed Masley, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

If you care about music at all, allowing for the fact that everybody's tastes are roughly twice as individual as their DNA, you'd do well to own at least a burned CD of no fewer than 443 albums on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time."

It's that authoritative.

You could argue position, of course, from now until the next time someone runs a list. Any Kinks fan could tell you, for example, that "The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society" should be higher -- say 255 places -- than 255, while nearly everyone I know would argue that "Revolver" (No. 3) is easily a better Beatles album than the top-ranked "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." But if it didn't lead to just those sort of arguments, it wouldn't be a list.

As for the argument that pulling as many as 319 of the Top 500 albums ever from two decades -- the '60s and '70s -- reflects some sort of Boomer bias, I'm too young to be a Boomer and I can hear those decades for the golden age of pop they clearly were. And while we may be living in the best pop decade since the '70s, it feels a little premature to gauge the music's timelessness.

But while it's aging, here's a footnote to the Rolling Stone list: 10 overlooked classics that would have made the Top 500 even stronger (with a one-album limit per artist:

The Kinks, "Face to Face" (1966): Their two best albums ("Village Green" and "Something Else") are on the list, as is the compilation "Kronikles." But they deserve at least another six or seven entries, topped by this, an obscure little gem that begins with a nod to the raucous abandon of their early days before settling into a quieter set of story songs that found Ray Davies rapidly emerging as the poet laureate of British rock. You couldn't ask for bigger pop hooks, and the lyrics are essential Davies, whether going for a vicious chuckle ("Session Man") or grinning social commentary ("Holiday in Waikiki") while making the most of class resentment in his UK homeland ("A House in the Country," "Sunny Afternoon"). The birth of Brit-pop, anyone?

The Beatles, "Magical Mystery Tour" (1967): Considering the placement of 11 other Beatles albums on the list (one more than Dylan and the Stones, their closest competition), this was clearly left off just because the Beatles didn't sit down and record it as a proper album. Capitol pieced it together, fleshing out the five-song UK soundtrack to "Magical Mystery Tour" with both sides of three recent singles (including such classics as "Strawberry Fields Forever," "All You Need Is Love," "Baby You're a Rich Man" and "I Am the Walrus"). It sounds like an album, though. And a brilliant one at that.

Elvis Costello, "Get Happy" (1980): Four Costello classics made the grade, but not his masterpiece, a 20-song salute to American soul and R&B that hits with the punkish abandon of "This Year's Model," a head-on collision of brevity, soul and wit. Despite the upbeat party feel and all that happy organ Steve Nieve insists on bringing to the soul-revival tent, Costello hasn't really gotten happy. As he sings on "The Imposter" (while the band runs away with the groove), "It's only gonna end in tears." And it does with a number of heartbreaking ballads.

The Who, "Magic Bus" (1968): The integrity police have trouble looking past the fact that this was patched together by the U.S. label just to make a buck. But I say, "Who cares?" when the end result includes the first appearance on an album of tracks as great -- and willfully eccentric -- as "Disguises," "Doctor, Doctor," "Pictures of Lily" and, of course, the title track.

Bob Dylan, "Planet Waves" (1974): You wouldn't think Bob Dylan could produce an underrated album, but even die-hard Dylan worshipers are split on this, an unabashedly romantic look at love with the Band revisiting the sound of "The Basement Tapes" (another glaring oversight) behind him. Despite the inclusion of such classics as "Forever Young" and "Going Going Gone" (that Robbie Robertson guitar alone should place it in the Top 500), it pulls in a 3.5 out of 5 in the Rolling Stone album guide, where seven of his proper albums rate a 5.

Otis Redding, "The Soul Album" (1966): One of two amazing Otis Redding albums you won't find inside the Top 500 ("The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads" is the other), "The Soul Album" ranges from heartbreaking ballads as devastating as "Just One More Day," "Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)" and "Cigarettes and Coffee" to a punched-up, nearly revolutionary overhaul of Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang," with the Mar-Keys at his back.

Alice Cooper, "Killer" (1971): The most consistently inspired of several list contenders by a group that really should be in the Hall of Fame, it features three amazing singles ("Be My Lover," "Desperado" and "Under My Wheels"), two raucous obscurities ("You Drive Me Nervous," "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah") and two brilliant moments of weirdness -- "Halo of Flies" and the practically Beatlesque "Dead Babies."

Gene Vincent, "Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps" (1957): The greatest rockabilly album of the '50s (with apologies to Elvis), this one picks up right where Vincent and the Blue Caps left off with "Be Bop a Lula" -- frantic, heavy-breathing odes to sexual obsession rocked out with screaming abandon by a band that briefly featured the most inspired rock 'n' roll guitarist of his generation, Cliff Gallup. While some Righteous Brothers fans would disagree, it also includes the definitive rock 'n' roll treatment of "Unchained Melody."

The Muffs, "The Muffs" (1993): Yes, we're going off the radar here -- in part because these songs have better hooks than anything commercial radio or MTV was playing at the time. The sound is on the poppy side of punk, but beneath all the shrieking and youthful abandon, the writing is steeped in classic '60s songcraft with Beatlesque chord changes spiking the punch. It's the '90s' biggest smile.

OutKast, "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" (1994): I didn't know this album when I left it off my list of 25 best debuts ever. I'm not sure what Rolling Stone's excuse is. But the P-Funk of the new millennium arrived at the top of its hip-hop game on this eccentric slow-burn mind funk, spitting out classics as instantly apparent as the title track, the soulful, smile-inducing "Player's Ball," "Ain't No Thang" and "Crumblin' Herb." Even the skits are inspired as the group stands every hip-hop cliche on its head and makes it spin.


Ed Masley can be reached at emasley@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1865.

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