Top Five Albums

I’ve been meaning to write a top five list for a long, long while now. It’s not like a I don’t have a tonne of them saved on this computer…I mean, I’ve got a “top five Matt Cameron moments” list on here somewhere (think about that for a second). It’s something I was hoping to make a semi-regular feature of this blog, a sort of hook to keep the non-sports fans interested (I’m talking to you, Christina!), but for various reasons haven’t written one. Until now. And in the interests of starting big, what better way than with a top five list of my favourite albums of all-time?

  1. The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. I’ve listened to Mellon Collie start-to-finish about a thousand times and still can’t fathom its depths. This album has it all: perfect four-minute pop masterpieces (“1979”), achingly beautiful ballads (“In the Arms of Sleep”), skull-crushing riffs (see: the last minute of “X.Y.U.”), the trademark Corgan-and-Iha liquid nitrogen guitar work, Jimmy Chamberlin’s regular quota of brilliant moments (the end of “Jellybelly” is absolutely staggering) and a top five all-time favourite song (“Thru the Eyes of Ruby”) and…well, it’s for those reasons, among others, that Mellon Collie is #1 on this list with a bullet. If I were stranded on a desert island and could bring only one album with me, Mellon Collie would be it.
  2. The Who, Tommy. It’s hard for me to write about the Who in any sort of rational sense. This is the band that changed my life–period. Pearl Jam might still be my “favourite” band of all-time (whatever that means), but were it not for the Who and for a little album called Tommy I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. Does this mean my priorities are all skewed? Make me a shallow person? Overstate the case? I don’t think so. It’s just hard for me to explain what Tommy did to this fourteen year-old boy from Northwestern Ontario. On a superficial level it turned me into a raving Who lunatic, which led, in turn, to Pearl Jam and Springsteen; on a deeper level, however, it affected change in me that rock n’ roll music alone is capable of doing…and even if I don’t like the Who’s original 1969 recording nearly as much as the 1993 original Broadway cast recording of Tommy, the musical, I owe it to the album that changed my life to put it at #2 all-time.
  3. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York. The one album I own that I can’t get through start-to-finish without a lump building in my throat. Just the most gut-wrenchingly beautiful stuff you’ve ever heard; the song selection is perfect, the versions heard here vastly superior to their original, “plugged” versions (with the probable exception of “On a Plain”, whose original can’t be beat…and yet I digress). But it’s the covers that make this album a masterpiece: the plaintive “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me for a Sunbeam”, the acerbic “Man Who Sold the World” and the album-closing take on the Leadbelly song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”, whose harrowing climax is arguably the ultimate embodiment of everything for which grunge supposedly stood. Nirvana’s masterpiece.
  4. Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run. How to choose a favourite Bruce Springsteen album? Simple: find the one that includes your two favourite Springsteen songs (“Backstreets” and “Jungleland”, the latter of which might actually be my favourite song period) and go from there. Throw in two of the greatest songs about the open road that have ever been written (“Thunder Road” and “Born to Run”), a so-sexy-it-hurts love song (“She’s the One”), the irreverance of “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”, the seductive sax in “Meeting Across the River” and the fist-pumping joy of “Night” and you’re talking unparalleled levels of exuberence. If being young and in love has a soundtrack, Born to Run is most likely it.
  5. Temple of the Dog, Temple of the Dog. In case you haven’t noticed, I grew up in the 1990s. A stunning collaboration between Mssrs. Cornell and Cameron (Soundgarden) and Gossard, Ament, McCreedy and Vedder (Pearl Jam), Temple of the Dog‘s one and only album was written and recorded in honour of the late Andrew Wood, former lead singer of Mother Love Bone and close friend to most of those involved in Temple of the Dog. The album is full of quiet, stunning moments of gentle introspection, spliced in between McCreedy’s typically fiery guitar work (see: “Reach Down”) and a duet between Cornell and Vedder (“Hunger Strike”) that got the album some serious exposure back in the glory years of grunge. And “All Night Thing”–which makes an appearance in, of all things, Wayne’s World–might just rank as one of the top five album closers of all-time. But that, my friends, is a whole other category.

This list will, in all likelihood, be different next month. For the record, here are some of the other albums that might have made the cut:

  • Green Day, Dookie
  • Les Miserables, original Broadway cast recording
  • Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill (and no, this doesn’t embarass me)
  • Our Lady Peace, Naveed
  • Pearl Jam, Yield…plus live in Buffalo, 5/2/03, if we can count it as an album (actually, if we can, it might warrant immediate consideration for the top spot…but that’s besides the point)
  • Tom Petty, Wildflowers (great minds think alike…)
  • The Phantom of the Opera, original Canadian cast recording (for recordings that changed my life, this one is virtually unbeatable)
  • Rent, original Broadway cast recording
  • Singles soundtrack
  • Sleater-Kinney, One Beat
  • The Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream
  • Soundgarden, Badmotorfinger, Superunknown or Down on the Upside
  • Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town
  • Sweeney Todd, original Broadway cast recording
  • The Tragically Hip, Road Apples or Day for Night
  • The Who, Who’s Next or Quadrophenia (either of which could have taken the two-spot)

…among others, I’m sure, some of which Paul and/or Adam will suggest in the comments section (or at least I would expect them to…). Next up: top five Matt Cameron moments! Actually, maybe I should just keep those ones to myself.

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