My Ballot Was Not Counted: ‘Rolling Stone’ 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time

10.27 rock n roll

Dear Editors of Rolling Stone magazine,

You probably have never realized that I have been writing a rock music blog since 2015. Is it a good blog with keen insight and sharp criticism? Not really. In fact, it is simply the humble ramblings of an old guy that had to take early retirement due to some health issues. Bottom line, my blog is just an outlet to keep my mental health near a baseline of undetermined “zero.”

In the past, I have often said that I was going to declare for the NBA draft. That has been a running bit for this 5’11” 57-year-old former legend in his own mind. Now, I would like to throw my writing into the ring for an album review job, just one review, for Rolling Stone, whose publication I have been reading since I was in high school. As a matter of fact, I began my Rolling Stone reading hobby in 1979, which lead to a subscription that first ran from 1981 through 1992 then started it back up in 2009 and watching it end with the magazine’s change to a monthly rag around 2017. The magazine was actually one of the bigger influences on my musical tastes, along with Lester Bangs, Creem magazine, early MTV, Fridays! and SNL and Casey Kasem.

Recently, while I had been in the middle of my monumental series that covered my 1000 favorite albums, I heard through the grapevine here in the metropolitan area of Central Indiana that your publication had finally updated your 2003/2012 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time. What I can’t believe is that your group did not consult me for this landmark list. Since your people did not contact mine (The only person you might have contacted other than me would have been my long-suffering wife.), I thought it would be prudent of me to send you my Top 50 list in an effort to correct this oversight.

I do not wish to cause you any more embarrassment, but my nearly 100 dedicated readers might wish to see this long-rumored list of what I consider to be the 50 Greatest Albums of All-Time. Maybe, this unforeseen blunder on your part might actually become a display in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an example of the unintended slights by major players in rock music given to the little-known bloggers floating around the ether.

Before you read my list, I do want to thank you for being a pioneer in the making of “definitive” countdowns in the rock arena. These published catalogs of the rock era have influenced my own collection and in the manner in which I have entertained myself over the decades.

Sincerely,

Scott Keller

P.S. If you need to see what I said about these albums, please refer to the reviews I made in my series. Thank you!

My Top 50 Albums of All-Time Rolling Stone Ballot

9.10 Jellyfish - Bellybutton

50. Jellyfish – Bellybutton (1990)

49. Ramones – Road to Ruin (1979)

48. N.W.A – Straight Outta Compton (1988)

47. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

46. Guns N’ Roses – Appetite for Destruction (1987)

45. David Bowie – Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)

44. Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

43. Pearl Jam – Ten (1991)

42. Stevie Wonder – Songs in the Key of Life (1976)

41. The Who – Who’s Next (1971)

5.20 The Beatles - Revolver

40. The Beatles – Revolver (1966)

39. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)

38. Daryl Hall & John Oates – Private Eyes (1981)

37. Tom Petty – Wildflowers (1994)

36. Cheap Trick – Heaven Tonight (1978)

35. The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)

34. Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

33. Paul Simon – Graceland (1986)

32. Pixies – Doolittle (1988)

31. Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (1977)

8.13 R.E.M. - Murmur

30. R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)

29. Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Armed Forces (1979)

28. The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers (1971)

27. Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A. (1984)

26. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours (1977)

25. Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2006)

24. Dr. Dre – The Chronic (1992)

23. Weezer – Weezer (“The Blue Album”) (1994)

22. R.E.M. – Automatic for the People (1992)

21. The Rolling Stones – Some Girls (1978)

5.29 The Beatles - Abbey Road

20. The Beatles – Abbey Road (1969)

19. Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel (III: Melting) (1980)

18. Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)

17. The Band – The Band (1969)

16. Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (1973)

15. Pink Floyd – The Wall (1979)

14. AC/DC – Back in Black (1980)

13. U2 – The Joshua Tree (1987)

12. Prince – 1999 (1982)

11. The Cars – The Cars (1978)

6.29 Queen - A Night at the Opera

10. Queen – A Night at the Opera (1975)

9. Talking Heads – Remain in Light (1980)

8. The Style Council – My Ever Lasting Moods (1984)

7. Prince & the Revolution – Purple Rain (1984)

6. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Damn the Torpedoes (1979)

5. Big Star – #1 Record (1972)

4. R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)

3. Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run (1975)

2. Prince – Sign ‘o’ the Times (1987)

7.24 The Clash - London Calling

1. The Clash – London Calling (1979)

Until next timepeace!

The Rest of 2018 & All of 2019, or It’s the End of This Series & I Feel Fine: My 1000 Favorite Albums

5.17 Top 1000 Albums_LI

In 2018 and 2019, the big news for us was grandchildren. Grandchild #1 (GC1) was born a couple of weeks after our younger son got married. GC1 has the distinction of being the first Keller female born in captivity in over a century. The last time we had a full-blooded Keller female born were the sisters of my dad’s father. Needless to say, it had been a very long time.

A little over a year later, GC2 was born. Now, this one was a boy, of course. This child is very active, constantly on the move searching out the next object he wants to mess with that he shouldn’t. Of course, I prefer my description of him as being a disaster looking for a place to happen.

Honestly, I can’t wait until this stupid pandemic is finally put to rest so we can enjoy GC1 and GC2 together. That could be a very interesting mix. The cool thing is that they will grow up in the same school corporation, though they will not be in the same building until they are in middle school. Now, based upon their current heights, I suspect that GC1 will be significantly smaller that GC2. But, I also envision GC1 being able to verbally handle herself with him. Just for the few interactions they had together this past summer, GC2 did much physical protection of GC1. I really think those two have some kind of telepathic connection developing quickly, so it should be very interesting to witness their developments as they grow up.

I know! Quit the grandkids this, grandkids that routine. I said, “Okay!” Let’s look at this last entry for my 1000 favorite albums blog series. These will be the albums forever associated with MY grandchildren. Unveil my selections!

10.20 Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer

Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer (2018). Will someone please explain why Janelle Monáe, the talented Prince and Outkast protégé never had a Top 100 pop hit song as a solo artist but only via a guest vocalist on a yoga song called…uh…”Yoga”? Dirty Computer is her third album that reminds this old guy of someone’s own Dirty album. All of her stuff is from the Janet Jackson/Prince/Outkast mold with Monáe taking similar risks while effortlessly bending genres. Now that Prince and Bowie are deceased, Stevie is off in whatever La-La Land he landed in, Janet’s a mom and Outkast remain apart, Janelle is our current hope for this throne of personal musical diversity. This album should have been huge.

10.20 Kacey Musgraves - Golden Hour

Kacey Musgrave – Golden Hour (2018). Musgrave is arguably the one modern day, non-throwback oriented country singer/songwriter who is doing something that isn’t bad Eighties music with a fiddle. No, Kacey has some sly humor deep in her lyrics while her music gives nods to soul, R&B, soft rock and even (gasp!) disco and hip hop. In lesser talents, this mix would break careers. Yet, for Musgrave, she continues to rise in status.

10.20 Leon Bridges - Good Thing

Leon Bridges – Good Thing (2018). Mr. Neo Soul is back with his sophomore release, and it proves to be no slump. The deck was stacked against Bridges being able to move past his seemingly stuck-in-the-Sixties soul, but he nimbly navigated that concern with some mighty fine songs. Sure, he’s still a soul man, but he is branching out as his lyrics get to be more heartfelt and personal. “Beyond” is a timeless song about budding love.

10.20 Ariana Grande - Thank U, Next

Ariana Grande – thank u, next (2019). Grande’s creative growth was so fast that the new smell on her 2018 Sweetener album had not even faded when gave suddenly dropped a new song, which ended up being this album’s title track. Suddenly, her songs’ lyrics maturation were catching up to her otherworldly voice. This is what should happen for all singer/songwriters, or at least the ones I root for. I can understand why young ladies in their late teens  made this album their go-to musical binge during times of breakup angst.

10.20 Billie Eilish - When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go

Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go (2019). Along with Grande’s LP, this was the other big selling album of the year. Eilish immediately filled the role of being the anti-pop star of Generation Y. Her lyrics thrust her into the unenviable role of becoming the voice of her generation, a title that the others before her openly shunned, such as Dylan, Lennon, Springsteen, Stipe, Cobain, Tupac and Kanye. Some of those names navigated the waters, some simply turned away and yet others succumbed to the pressures. I love her starting place on the map of her career. Let’s simply hope that she is more of a Bowie, rather than end up like Cobain or Tracy Chapman.

10.20 Bob Mould - Sunshine Rock

Bob Mould – Sunshine Rock (2019). I gotta admit that I love 2010s Bob Mould! The man has been on a stellar creative role ever since the release of his autobiography See the Light in 2011. But, on this release, Bob is looking backward as much as he is forward. The album is a non-compilation culmination of his career. You can hear all of his phases throughout his career. From the early days of Hüsker Dü to latter day Dü through acoustic solo to Sugar up to and including older, angrier Mould, all together on one album of fresh material. Rack this one up with Zen Arcade, Workbook and Copper Blue as his classic albums.

10.20 Coldplay - Everyday Life

Coldplay – Everyday Life (2019). It’s official people: Coldplay was one of the biggest musical acts on the planet. So, in celebration, the band goes into full on U2 territory by creating an album similar in nature to U2’s triumphant return to their basics on All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Coldplay was nearing the end of their second decade as one of the big rock draws in the 2010s, much like U2 had been as Y2K approached. And, Coldplay began to look all around them for inspiration, including the politics of the countries they had just visited. This album is in the same vein as U2’s 2000 release because of the introspection. Additionally, this album confirms that Coldplay is the real deal.

10.20 Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell

Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019). Lana Del Rey exploded on the music scene back in 2012. The public was eating up her noir lyrics-meets-Chris Isaak’s music, while critics were skeptical, claiming she was a manufactured singing star. Then, she had a disastrous performance on SNL, which I thought would signal the end of her career. What happened? The woman persevered by working harder at her craft, developing her vocals and choosing some fantastic musician/producers. Everything finally came together on this wonderfully dark album of just plain outstanding songs. Del Rey teamed up with Jack Antonoff to carefully creature the textures that enhance Lana’s descriptive lyrics. The more I listen to this album, the more that is opened to my ears.

10.20 Lizzo - Cuz I Love You

Lizzo – Cuz I Love You (2019). So, who had Lizzo as their breakout musical star for 2019? No one was really that surprised as Billie Eilish and Lana Del Rey both achieved commercial success. But Lizzo? First off, the woman IS a talented singer, songwriter AND musician. Her first EP was lackluster at best. Then came Cuz I Love You, and, OMG, this thing blew up! This is how dance music should sound in a word: FUN! It had been a very long time for this old geezer to name the last album he thought was “fun.” He went back to 1983 for Madonna’s self-titled debut for that word. I’ll take albums like this any day of the week!

10.20 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Ghosteen

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (2019). Everyone’s favorite death-obsessed  rock star is back with one of the best albums of his career. Sure, Cave’s lyrics remain dark, but they are tinged with a spirituality that is more Biblical than it is Gothic. The beauty of Cave’s work is that darkness is balanced with just a tincture of hope that cuts to the core of The Message in The Bible, the stuff that usually is ignored by American Christianity. Yet, it that very thing that Americans yearn for, while they remain completely petrified by that notion. It is in with the sinners where the growth takes place. And Cave alludes to that throughout his best albums. Just like this one…

10.20 Vampire Weekend - Father of the Bride

Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride (2019). During the six years between this album and the band’s previous album, much happened. Most significantly, one of the creative minds behind the band, Rostam Batmanglij, went solo, while the other creative spark, Ezra Koenig, left the East Coast for L.A. During this time, Koenig fell in love with Kacey Musgraves’ music, influencing Koenig’s writing by developing sound characters for his songs. On their previous album, Modern Vampires of the City, VW had shown much growth. However, Vampire Weekend truly displayed major growth in their music, especially within their lyrics. This is the case of addition by subtraction.

And that wraps up the list of My 1000 Favorite Albums of All-Time. So, what albums should have I included? Let’s hear it people! Peace.

Time for 2017 & Some of 2018: My 1000 Favorite Albums

5.17 Top 1000 Albums_LI

It was in October 2017, my wife and I learned that we were finally going to become grandparents for the first time when our older son and his wife announced their were expected. Additionally, over the summer, my younger son and his long-time girlfriend finally got engaged. Those two had been an item since the end of their freshman year of high school back in the spring 0f 2004. Basically, the two had grown up together and had only broken up once in the spring of their senior year in high school mainly because my son got too big for his britches. Fortunately, the two realized their mistake (I gotta give it up to his wife for making him work hard to win her back even though we all knew that’s who she ultimately wanted.). So, everything was coming together as far as my boys moving into adulthood.

As for the music of these two years, there were several fine albums. As I have stated earlier, there are some great albums that were released by my favorite artists during this time period (namely Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello), but I refuse to take up space with my personal favorites in order to shine the light upon the younger ones, generally speaking. So, let’s get today’s list going.

10.19 Drive-By Truckers - American Band

Drive-By Truckers – American Band (2017). The Drive-By Truckers have arguably been the most artistically consistent rock band of the 21st century. Every album that have released since their landmark 2001 album Southern Rock Opera have been some of the best music released each of those years. Technically, this album was released in 2016, but it was released so late that year that it took me until 2017 to catch up. And, what a terrific album this one is! Once again, they tackle the philosophical and political issues that divides their native American South. This album plays as an adult version of Southern Rock Opera, as the anger and passion that drove that album are replaced with puzzlement and concern. The whole album can be summed up with one burning question, “Why do working class white people, who share so much in common with the working class of people of color, work so hard to undermine policies that are in their best interest?” Only a white man from a working class background can tackle such a topic with compassion.

10.19 Dua Lipa - Dua Lipa

Dua Lipa – Dua Lipa (2017). Of course, the younger talented women coming up in music will have the newer batch of outstanding singers as influences. With Ms. Lipa, look no further than Lady Gaga, Adele and Sia for her inspiration. With Gaga, she learned to aim for the dance floor and pop radio simultaneously. From Adele, she grabbed the idea of vocal control and emotions conveyed. And, from Sia, she took the notion of the dramatic. And, on this album, Dua put it all together for an excellent debut. I expect some big things from this young lady as she becomes more polished and experiences more emotions during her maturation into adulthood.

10.19 Joey Bada$$ - All-Amerikkkan Badass

Joey Bada$$ – All-AmeriKKKan Bada$$ (2017). My favorite protest music was never totally nihilistic but often offered the listener hope that the change would come. That’s what Joey Bada$$ has in common with artists like Elvis Costello, The Clash and Public Enemy. While Bada$$ was busy pummeling police violence, institutionalized racism and Donald Trump, along with many other ills and injustices here in American. Once again, we have an album that was ultimately prophetic in that it predicted just the things we were protesting about in 2020. This remains my favorite middle finger to the status quo created this century. And, it true! We do need a Bada$$!

10.19 Kendrick Lamar - Damn.

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (2017). Kendrick Lamar is on a creative roll similar to Kanye’s nearly a decade ago or Eminem’s two decades ago. The guy just can do no wrong. While still displaying his keen political and sociological observations, Lamar actually turns his power of observation inward in order to comment on how everything is affecting him spiritually and psychologically. None of us will get out of our upbringing unscathed. It is what we do with it as adults that separates us. And, that is where Mr. Lamar seems to be heading in his unparalleled music.

10.19 Kesha - Rainbow

Kesha – Rainbow (2017). What can you say about an artist who originally charts hit songs that draw upon her hedonistic life decides to shed her party girl skin to show some emotional depth? That’s exactly the major step Kesha took on this album. I guess she grew tired of the rock cliché of being tired of waking up hungover and intertwined with the bodies of people she did not know. Instead, she turned inward and created more dance anthems but with some emotional depth missing from her original hits. I really believe you can’t listen to this album and not be emotionally moved.

10.19 Lorde - Melodrama

Lorde – Melodrama (2017). Lorde was only 17 when “Royals” made her an international superstar. Yet, although her talent belied her age, she still understood that her growth would come through whomever she collaborated. Enter former fun. creative leader Jack Antonoff, who quietly became ubiquitous in the modern pop music world as a producer. Lorde, who can brood with the best of them this side of Hamlet, reveling equally in the joy in her life as the angst, all of it put to music on this album. Here’s to the further musical development of Lorde!

10.19 St Vincent - Masseduction

St. Vincent – MASSEDUCATION (2017). St. Vincent, known to her friends as Annie Clarke, nearly had a breakdown in the aftermath of the breakthrough of her previous eponymous album. So, instead of pushing herself further down a rabbit hole, she enlists the help of, you guessed it, Jack Antonoff to smooth the rough edges. Fortunately, this collaboration never jettisons St. Vincent’s sonic quirks for the sake of pop success. Instead, the duo simply polishes the sound a bit to make it more compelling when heard on a radio. I compare this move to being similar to Talking Heads turning to Brian Eno for a little guidance into the avant garde back in the late-Seventies.

10.19 SZA - Ctrl

SZA – Ctrl (2017). Want your R&B delivered with the ferocity of Kendrick Lamar? Look no further! SZA is the artist for you. This young lady is fearless and undaunted as she follows her muse into new soul music territory. I cannot wait to hear her musical journey.

10.19 Ariana Grande - Sweetner

Ariana Grande – Sweetener (2018). Finally, Grande is shedding her little girl Lolita image to become a fully aware young lady on this album. Maybe it was just her age catching up to her vocal talent. Or maybe it was the bombing that took place at the Manchester Arena before one of her concerts. Or, maybe it was a combination of the event occurring at the correct moment in here life. Whatever triggered this metamorphosis, I’m glad it happened. Everything conspired to make this young woman reassess her life right before our ears on this album. This growth is matched by the greatness of her music. That’s what made this album so compelling. She is following the path that her obvious predecessor, Christian Aguilera, should have traveled down.

10.19 Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy

Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (2018). I find it such a relief when a female rapper finally hits the charts. Why? Because they to this day rarely get the full-on record company push needed to break her. So, now, welcome Cardi B to the trail once blazed by Queen Latifah, Salt-N-Pepa, TLC, Nicki Minaj, etc. It’s just so great that talent is now being more recognized that one’s gender. Cardi B took the music world by storm with her debut album that pitch perfectly uses cameo appearances by SZA and Chance the Rapper to enhance to outstanding album.

10.19 Christine and the Queens - Chris

Christine & the Queens – Chris (2018). This album is full of coming-of-age stories of a queer woman. And, she does it by doing some Madonna-like rule-breaking by creating music geared for the dance floor that is created with the influences of Lady Gaga, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Mika, among others, while cutting her very own swath. This is simply a compelling album on so many levels.

And, that wraps up the next-to-last entry on this list. Stay tuned for the next one as it will be the last one in this series. Peace.

2015 & 2016: My 1000 Favorite Albums

5.17 Top 1000 Albums_LI

By the time 2015 and 2016 rolled around, I was beginning to get into a little survival mode with my pain. Toward the end of October, my older son finally married his long-time girlfriend. He was in the process of finishing an applied economics degree when he got a job offer to move to the town in Pennsylvania where his wife grew up. So, they moved to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in this time period. So, instead of finishing that degree, he was accepted to American University’s master’s program for the very same degree. The exception is that many of the classes he had taken in Indy counted toward this Master’s Degree that he worked on totally online.

Simultaneously, my younger son was finishing his master’s program in sociology at Ball State. He had finally moved out of the house and into a nice little rented house near the campus with his then-girlfriend who will eventually become his wife. It seemed like both boys were on their way to establishing their own lives.

All of this meant that my wife and I were finally empty-nesters. Did we celebrate? Not really. We immediately got to work on those former disaster areas that were known as the boys’ rooms. The bigger room became the guest room, while the smaller one became my Music Room (now known as ‘Pop-Pop’s Music Room,’ as designated by the sign given to me on this year’s birthday and is hanging prominently and proudly in said room). It was nice to see them finally making that transition to adulthood.

You know, 2016 was a very strange year as we lost many artists who have played a significant role in my listening habits, especially Prince and Tom Petty. Those two were my two favorite artists and to lose them in the same calendar year was absolutely mind blowing. But, to have also lost David Bowie; Glenn Frey; Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White; Keith Emerson; Leonard Cohen; Greg Lake; Beatles producer Sir George Martin; Merle Haggard; Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor of A Tribe Called Quest; Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s Paul Kantner; Leon Russell; Denise “Vanity” Matthews; Bee Gees manager Robert Stigwood AND George Michael was simply heartbreaking. A major portion of my youth had been ripped away in one twelve-month period of time.

Musically speaking, these two years were not too bad. Some of my very favorite artists such as Prince, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and others from my prime, created some excellent music that I could not justify having on this list when younger artists were conjuring up some magic at the very same time. Plus, any year that has the dramatic comeback of one of the greatest groups of the Nineties, has got to be a very good year. That happened in 2015 when A Tribe Called Quest returned to show all the young’uns how hip hop is really done.

So, let’s get this blog entry going. We just keep getting closer to the end of this thing.

10.18 Carly Rae Jepsen - Emotion

Carly Rae Jepson – E-MO-TION (2015). I am not afraid to say that Ms. Jepson burst onto the scene back in 2012 with the wonderful earworm “Call Me Maybe,” perhaps one of the greatest songs of the 2010s. But, in all honesty, is it really fair to hope for more terrific pop songs from an artist in this day and age? So, imagine my surprise when I streamed this album and discovered that Carly Rae is NOT a one-hit wonder. Quite possibly, she is the most important pop artist of this current decade, which is a genre known for throwing off artists immediately after their life-changing hit song. Carly Rae Jepson is an artist who is in this business for the long haul, all without shunning her endearing sunny outlook on life. Her music, like all great pop music, can be referred to as the Everlasting Gobstopper of popular music because neither ever loses its flavor. You can place her right next to ABBA, Hall & Oates and Madonna as pop artists for the ages.

10.18 Chris Stapleton - Traveller

Chris Stapleton – Traveller (2015). Stapleton is the more traditional new country outlaw when compared to his comrade Sturgill Simpson. Stapleton makes you immediately think of Seventies southern rock as much as he reminds you of Willie Nelson, but never call him the second coming of Hank Williams Jr. Not at all! Chris may have some rowdy tendencies, but he shares more in common with Stevie Ray Vaughan than any country outlaw wannabe from the Eighties. Stapleton, along with Simpson, is bringing country back to its pre-Allman Brothers roots.

10.18 Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015). It seemed that the fans of alternative music were ready for something of a strong Nineties feminist rocker revival when Barnett dropped this album. The whole album gives you Liz Phair and PJ Harvey flashbacks but with a more Millennial philosophy than a total Gen X/slacker vibe. Still, it was time for a revival of this nature, regardless if Courtney would remain on track or not (seems like she wouldn’t).

10.18 Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). How often do we witness a hip hop artist openly grappling with his or her own movement into adulthood? Oh, sure, white singer/songwriters do this all the time and are praised for the introspection. On the other hand, critics tend to keep rap artists in a little box in which the rapper describes the street life he witnesses and/or participates in. But, the best rapper of his generation, Kendrick Lamar, channels his inner middle class white college kid to show the world that white people do NOT have the whole emo/angst vibe cornered. Now, we finally witness a black American male questioning what it means to be a man in the black community. And the whole description is simply compelling, not to mention that the man set his rhymes to some of the most compelling original music from any genre. If you put together this album with D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, and we now have one of the greatest chapters in black American musical history. Personally, I love how the two go together so seamlessly.

10.18 Leon Bridges - Coming Home

Leon Bridges – Coming Home (2015). Is it just me or does Leon Bridges remind me of Otis Redding? I am not quite sure why I always go that route, but maybe it is the way that Bridges makes you believe that he is an old soul man who cut his teeth on the Chitlin’ Circuit of the Sixties and Seventies. Sure, Mr. Bridges sends me back to the days of my youth spent listening to soul music on my AM radio. Yet, there are some definite modern touches throughout this album. And whenever an album puts your in this juxtaposition, you gotta believe you are listening to something that is sonically timeless. Plus, the man can just flat out sing.

10.18 Lin Manuel Miranda & Cast - Hamilton

Lin-Manuel Miranda & Cast – Hamilton: The Original Broadway Cast Recording (2015). It has been a very long time since a Broadway show made such a cultural impact, especially when said show played so loose in casting people of color in the roles of actual historical white men and using modern rap and pop music within the context of a Broadway musical. This musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of the more charismatic founding fathers, and his love/hate relationship with Aaron Burr, one of the least charismatic of this country’s founders. It is the casting of people of color in these historical figures roles that makes the musical so compelling. And, like all great cast recordings, the album stands up on its own after repeated playings every bit as much as seeing a performance in person or on Disney+.

10.18 The Weeknd - Beauty Behind the Madness

The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness (2015). If there is such a thing as alternative R&B, that is the genre best suited for The Weeknd’s music. The man does not stick to the usual game plan for R&B, since he seems to be as influenced as many indie rock and pop artists as he is by traditional and current R&B artists. Upon repeated listenings, The Weeknd’s music reveals a strong melodic method to his madness. Plus, who doesn’t live for his live Bowie-esque performances on TV shows, or his SNL’s Weekend Update segment The Weeknd Update?

10.18 A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It from Here...Thank You for Your Service

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016). Sometimes, when legendary bands break up and then finally reunite nearly two decades later, you just roll your eyes over the thought. But not in the case of one of the greatest rap groups of all time, A Tribe Called Quest. No, these guys reformed to record one of the best albums of 2016 by not resting on their laurels and past sales and critical praise. No, these fellas worked hard to build upon their reputations of being hip hop innovators in the Nineties to shake up the world in 2016. This album was recorded before the untimely passing of original member Phife Dawg, as his spirit is flowing through this joint. Once again, ATCQ somehow continue to maintain their status as GOATs by picking up like they never took any time off from each other.

10.18 Beyonce - Lemonade

Beyoncé – Lemonade (2015). I really don’t care what the lady is responding to during the highest level of creativity in Queen Bey’s career. Whatever it was, be it marital betrayal by husband Jay-Z, maturity, motherhood, or just feeling like enough is enough, Beyoncé responded to things in her life by creating some of the most compelling music of her career. If Bill Withers was the voice of the everyman in the black community, as I once heard the great Questlove once describe Withers’ songwriting, then Beyoncé was moving into her Bill Withers era. Now, she was speaking for the strong women in America, whether they are the mothers of black men shot down by white people in authority positions, scorned wives by sexual improprieties by her husbands or whatever, Beyoncé has suddenly become the voice of the oppressed. And she did all of this as great music was carrying the weight of her lyrics.

10.18 Chance the Rapper - Coloring Book

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (2016). Chance has become an important voice within the hip hop world. He takes his image seriously, trying to remain a straight arrow role model for young black men. Yet, he still raps for the hardest of the hard of the inner city. His message equally gives as much thanks to God as he does to point out societal ills. Chance is the real deal.

10.18 Childish Gambino - Awaken, My Love!

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (2016). If Donald Glover, the man behind the artist Childish Gambino, were an athlete, I picture him being very similar to Reggie Miller. I say that because Glover writes, acts, dances, sings, etc., like he is attempting to get the attention of the public to his range of talents. I totally understand why he constantly uses his slight from SNL when the legendary show passed on the man’s endless flow of talent. To this day, he still uses it as motivation whenever he creates a new project. And, once again, as Childish Gambino, Glover proves himself to be a top level musical artist on this classic album.

10.18 David Bowie - Blackstar

David Bowie – Blackstar (2016). Just as Warren Zevon had done nearly a decade-and-a-half earlier, David Bowie spent the last months of his life recording his musical epithet. And, what an album did Bowie ever create? For this album, Bowie gathered some young hot jazz musicians, along with his old reliable arsenal of hotshots that he been recording with for a generation or more, and together they created an album of jazz-influenced rock. And, it wasn’t influence in the manner of a Seventies jazz rock fusion album, but in the manner that the music flowed as instruments interacted with each other. As with all other Bowie joints, this once must have been nerve-wracking, except for the knowledge that the creative leader was on his last leg of his life. And, the whole experience is reflected both in the music and in the lyrics. To this day, Blackstar remains a heartbreaking listen.

10.18 Lady Gaga - Joanne

Lady Gaga – Joanne (2016). So, Lady Gaga continues to move forward as an artist, yet critics seem to refuse to allow her this freedom as if they want her to remain a dance floor diva as opposed to branching into other forms of music as her muse takes her. This seems slightly unfair and a little sexist to me because this album in remarkable in its depth. Plus, you, in retrospect, actually hear Gaga moving toward the musical direction in which she will travel within the movie and soundtrack for A Star Is Born. Finally, we get to hear Ms. Germanotta’s  emotional depth, especially on the title song which happens to be about her late aunt. For my money, this album is her best to date.

10.18 Rihanna - Anti

Rihanna – Anti (2016). This album is Rihanna’s first LP to revolve a cogent theme as opposed to her widely successful previous albums being vessels containing a boatload of hit singles. Anti seems to have been meticulously created and arranged such that the music and the lyrics make sense during a listening session. This is a great combination of art and commerce placed together for optimum effect. Rihanna officially became a diva on this joint.

10.18 Solange - A Seat at the Table

Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016). Since I understand what it’s like being the older sibling in a family, I have no idea what Solange has endured as Beyoncé’s kid sis. But, sometimes growth as an artist goes better outside of the limelight than in it. So when Solange dropped this album, suddenly the younger sister in the Knowles family was a hot commodity. Somewhat following Big Sis’s recent career moves over the past couple of years, Solange created a masterpiece of R&B/pop. And, the ground she covered simply seems a natural place for her to mine a while. Well done young lady. Cheers to Solange, no longer to be known as Beyoncé’s sister. She is now simply Solange, R&B/pop queen.

And, that brings to an end to two pretty good years for music, but tumultuous for the lives we live. We are blessed to have had those talented people add depth to our lives. The crazy thing is that we only have two more blog entries for 21 LPs remaining on My 1000 Favorite Albums list. So, until next time. Peace.

2013 & 2014 – The Beginning of a Retirement Due to a Disability: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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I was in a bit of a wilderness when I abruptly retired due to a disability (that’s my official designation according to the government) in the spring of 2012. By the end of 2014, I had experienced one major upheaval after another that I think we were temporarily out of them for a bit. In May, my brother got remarried in Yosemite National Park. You would think that was a joyous occasion, but it didn’t begin that way.

Back in March, I was having stomach issues periodically. Ever so often, I would vomit and feel like crap, then quickly recover. Then, my mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with dementia and after a major stroke. As a matter of fact, I had thrown up right before I gave her eulogy. The very next day, I had my hearing for social security disability payments, a full two years after retiring and being denied once. Not even two minutes into my testimony, the judge stopped me and asked me what I wanted from life now. I told that I wanted to be the best husband, father and son that I could be. He said okay and ruled in favor of me getting social security and being considered disabled.

The cool part about the trip out West was this ended up being the last time my side of the whole family would be together, outside of my strange step-father. It was on this trip that I truly noticed how bad my mom’s dementia was. The bummer was that I was sick for the whole trip. It was a whirlwind trip that had on arriving on a Thursday and leaving the following Sunday. Unfortunately, I was sick the whole time and did not get to enjoy the beauty of this natural phenomenon. About a week after getting home, I had to be rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that my potassium blood level was critically low. That’s what was causing my nausea, vomiting and my back spasms being so severe. I was so critical that I had to be sent via ambulance to the Indiana University medical center in downtown Indianapolis for my treatment. Plus, I always make for an interesting case for the third- and fourth-year medical students and residents in the hospital. I spent the next several days getting IV potassium, as well as drinking the most metallic solution of potassium that I had ever tasted. No one knows why my potassium dipped, other than it might be related to the pain pump, muscle relaxers and blood pressure medications all reacting to cause this. Now, I have to take this horse pill of potassium every day to keep that level in the safety zone. Lord knows that no one wants to deal with me having a heart attack due to low potassium. At least if I pass out, I will not have to face the possibility of reawakening to see a student giving me mouth-to-mouth (that was a HUGE fear of mine!).

It was during this time frame in which a couple who were friends with us began to encourage me to start writing. This couple, both of whom are published authors, had liked some posts I had made on their websites and thought I had the makings of a writer. After laughing at them for a couple of minutes without them joining in, I decided they were serious. Now, I always felt I could write a bit in high school and college, but I had never taken it seriously. As a matter of fact, I had discovered early on that there was system to getting an A on a writing assignment. First, pick an unusual topic, preferably one the teacher was not an expert in. Second, when writing, remember to use sentence transition words when moving from sentence to sentence, and do the same with paragraphs. In your opening paragraph, use a story that it interesting but unrelated to your paper, eventually narrowing down the subject until you have answered “Who, what, when, where, why and how” about your topic in that opening. Close the paper with an inversed reminder of your opening. And, always, and I stress, always properly use a semi-colon somewhere in the paper.

In other words, I never really took writing seriously, even though I did have an English professor attempt to talk me into a degree in creative writing, telling me I should combine science and writing together. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken her more seriously. But, as a still-teenaged boy, I wanted to blow something up in the lab, so writing about such escapades never really piqued my interest. I guess the joke’s on me since I now spend some of my time writing.

So, I started to look for a topic to write about, when my friends stated that I should write about music. It seemed simple enough. I still loved to listen to music. I still bought new stuff that interested me. And, once my younger son finally moved out of the house by 2015, I would be changing his room into my music room. So, the planets were aligning for this blog to become a hobby to help me forget that I was no longer teaching or coaching. Writing really does not help me forget my former calling, but it does help me keep some form of sanity while being a semi-permanent prisoner of the walls of my home.

With that crappy stuff now out in the open, let’s look at the great music released during these two years. There really was some exciting music released during 2013 and 2014.

10.17 Beyoncé - Beyoncé

Beyoncé – Beyoncé (2013). This album was dropped on an unsuspecting public in the lead up to Christmas 2013. This self-titled album was quickly praised as Beyoncé’s finest ever, as we heard Queen Bey comfortably inserting herself into all discussions as to who is the best musical artist of this era. Everywhere you turned, you heard a confident woman who loved her man (Jay-Z) and loved her career. Confidence is the word in this most personal musical statement of her career.

10.17 Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013). Speaking of unexpected album drops, Daft Punk did the same thing back in the spring of 2013. The only warning we got was an unannounced commercial playing their soon-to-be-ubiquitous song “Get Lucky,” that had both singer Pharrell AND Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers playing. This was the sound of our favorite French robotic DJs embracing the disco life of the Seventies. And, Random Access Memories ruled the club dance floors for a good year after its release.

10.17 Kanye West - Yeezus

Kanye West – Yeezus (2013). During the lead up to the release of Yeezus, everyone involved in this album’s creation was sworn to secrecy. Rumors were swirling as Kanye’s ego was in the process of exploding much like a star readying itself for its move into supernova status. We were witness to Kanye’s ego exploding in the same manner. And, no one was ready for West to go full industrial music on this album. From the artwork through the lack of artist-involved hype to the music itself, Kanye was being anti-establishment which was the manner in which his ego first moved. But, there is no denying just how innovative this album, not just to the hip hop world, but to the whole music world. I find it interesting that the vinyl cover of this album would actually be a photograph of a “naked” CD. Now, that’s a juxtaposition if there ever was one.

10.17 Paramore - Paramore

Paramore – Paramore (2013). This is the sound of a pretty good pop punk band maturing into a major artist. The band doesn’t just stick with its normal sound, as they begin to incorporate more than just the normal noises. This is Paramore’s landmark album as they do some genre-breaking on their own. Now, the band can be looked at as major players, not simply a fresh version of Blink-182. This is simply the sound of a band finally putting it all together.

10.17 Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013). Welcome to yet another artist who was recorded while displaying growth. On this album, VW uses a more sparse production to get their Graceland-inspired tunes across, all the while downplaying the whole Graceland influences. This album is a great transition album as VW finds a manner in which the band continues to make strides as a unit while never relying upon clichés. These guys continue their winning streak.

10.17 D'Angelo & the Vanguard - Black Messiah

D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014). Finally, one of today’s more enigmatic performers quietly dropped his first album in 14 years. This sound is loose and very much at odds with the sound of current R&B. Actually, the album has more in common with the work of bassist Thundercat, jazz saxophonist Kasami Washington and rapper Kendrick Lamar than anything currently being played on the radio. The loose nature of the playing, along with the socially conscious lyrics allows for comparisons to Sly & the Family Stone’s classic There’s a Riot Goin’ On. This album is the perfect album for the times. I love this one much more than D’Angelo’s first two. Personally, I feel D’Angelo proves that he has more artistically in common with Prince or Miles Davis than anyone else. My one request is that he doesn’t make us wait so long for his next joint.

10.17 Run The Jewels - RTJ2

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels II (2014). Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborations have quickly become some of the most thrilling music being created today. As Run the Jewels, the duo have released one fine album after another. But it was their second album that caught the attention of the public. Hip hop has always had its finger on the pulse of the nation’s heart, and Run the Jewels have described a slow boil in the inner city that eventually erupted just this past summer. If you had been listening to this group and Kendrick Lamar, you would not have been surprised.

10.17 St. Vincent - St. Vincent

St. Vincent – St. Vincent (2014). If you are like me and find yourself pining periodically for Talking Heads reunite, stop that right now. St. Vincent, the artistic name of Annie Clark, is here to fill that void in the NYC art rock/alternative music sweepstakes. Annie grew as an artist when she actually collaborated with former Heads leader David Byrne in 2012. Now, she has released an album that is ready for mainstream success. Plus, her performance on SNL was nothing short of breathtaking.

10.17 Sturgill Simpson - Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014). Whenever country music mainstream seems to be drifting away from its core, a movement of traditionalists come in to pull the genre back in place. Back in the Seventies it was Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings leading the way. Today, it’s Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson. These men embrace the traditional sounds of country while bringing in touches of the blues and southern rock into the mix. Simpson did just that on his stellar sophomore album that established himself as an heir to a modern day Outlaw Movement.

10.17 Taylor Swift - 1989

Taylor Swift – 1989 (2014). On Swift’s previous album, the outstanding Red, she confidently announced to the world that she was ready for pop music domination. Although it did not sound that way, Red was intended to be the transition album in which Taylor was metaphorizing into a pop star. In that context, 1989 (the year in which she was born) is the rebirth of Taylor as a major pop star, to be mentioned in the same breath as Lady Gaga, P!nk or Halsey. One listen to “Shake It Off” and you come away convinced that the change was every bit as successful as it was inevitable.

10.17 The Black Keys - Turn Blue

The Black Keys – Turn Blue (2014). The Black Keys return for the duo’s third straight classic album with this LP that is steeped in the psychedelic side of the garage sound. The band is still hitting on all cylinders with producer Danger Mouse still at the helm. Rock is alive and well in the hands of The Black Keys.

10.17 The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014). If anyone is yearning for a band who sounds like a updated version of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty rolled up into one, look no further than The War on Drugs. These guys, although steeped in the indie rock world, sound like they are ready to make the classic rock format into a current sound. Although the three aforementioned artists were still creating terrific music in 2014, The War on Drugs were forging their sound in a new light for a fresh renovation of that classic music.

And, there, my friends, are the albums I love the most from 2013 and 2014. Only 37 more albums to tackle in this series. Until next time, peace!

2011 & 2012 – My Last 17 Months as a Semi-Functioning Adult: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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I find that combining these two years into one blog entry is rather appropriate as far as the events of my life are concerned. From 2011 through the month of May 2012, I was a high school chemistry teacher who was dealing with too much pain to really function as an effective teacher, in my opinion. For these 17 or 18 months, the school attempted to give me all kinds of accommodations in order to help me succeed. First was my schedule. Over the past few years, we, my administrators, department chair and colleagues and I, all noticed that if my schedule was broken up into sections of two or three classes followed by a break, then I might be able to recover to be able to teach more effectively. So, these last two school years basically meant that I taught the first three periods, had “A” lunch (10:30 am to 11:00 am), taught fourth and fifth periods, then have my prep period during sixth period (which I would often spend laying down on a couch that had been brought up to the second floor of our mega-school building), and finish the day teaching up my students during seventh period. Then, I would go home and, hopefully, come back the next day to do it all again.

By Spring Break 2012, I knew I was seeing the end of the road for my career. I was having one helluva time just trying to keep up with the every day goings-on in my classroom, let alone take on any special requirements that are regularly dropped on teachers. Earlier in 2012, in a last futile attempt to find something to alleviate my back pain and spasms, I had the rods and screws that were inserted five years earlier to be surgically removed. Everyone had high hopes, but once again, we were left very disappointed. In the meantime, I had gone back to my original pain management physician simply because the Satan’s Lair was in some malpractice problems (Gee! I wonder why? Not!). Once we were certain that the “hardware” removal had not worked, I began to talk with my principal about taking disability in order to retire from education. That whole process struck me right through my heart. Additionally, my pain management team were ready to hand me off to another group whose expertise was in more advanced treatments. My group had thoroughly feted this new group so I would not be given to another bunch of quacks and snake oil salesmen.

So, when June 1, 2012 rolled around, I was no longer coach but also no longer a teacher. Obviously, for the next three or four years I was depressed, and more so than my normal low mental health baseline. While in that state of severe malaise, I began my fight with an insurance company in order to prove my qualifications to use my long-term disability insurance AND to receive my social security earlier in my life. Additionally, I was being assessed by the new pain management group as to what my new treatment would be. Eventually, by 2014, my financial picture would be straightened out. And, in September of 2012, I had another device implanted into my body, a pain pump.

The pain pump consists of a hockey puck sized reservoir that holds around 40 milliliters of a dilute solution of morphine. Coming off the reservoir is some thin tubing that runs from the device, which is implanted around my waist on the front of my right side. The tubing is threaded through my body until it reaches the L4/L5 area of my spine, where the tubing stops. This allows the diluted pain killer to be delivered right to the area experiencing the pain. It also means you no longer have a need for oral pain medication. Some people’s pumps will automatically deliver medication via a timing system in the hockey puck. Me? I use a device that tells my pump to deliver my programmed amount of medicine ten times per day. There is no way in which I can overdose because of the programming of the pump. We did attempt to use a muscle relaxer in the pump as well, but that only made me pass out a few times. Needless to say, we stopped that brilliant idea. I continue to take oral medication for my back spasms, but, today, I am a little more clear-minded than I was before. The problem was that I was definitely physically worse than I had ever been before. But, now, I had surrounded myself with some pretty competent medical and mental healthcare people, so I was able to deal with this whole pain situation.

So, let’s look at the music that helped me deal with the end of my teaching career. And although this was a very dark period in my life, my favorite music does not all share that viewpoint. And, it’s a good thing too.

10.16 Adele - 21

Adele – 21 (2011). Two years earlier, Adele had released her debut album that had critics squealing with delight in praise of her work. But, those critics were worshipping Adele as another Amy Winehouse, when she really was just another diva in more of a Barbra Streisand/Mariah Carey/Etta James mixture vein. So, when 21 was dropped, it became one of those albums that became a cultural milestone. Just as Thriller had seemed to be a mandatory purchase for every home in the Western World back in the Eighties, so too was Adele’s 21. “Rolling in the Deep” is simply a classis R&B/soul/pop song. And the rest of the album is not too shabby either.

10.16 Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Bon Iver – Bon Iver (2011). What made Bon Iver’s debut so compelling was the sparseness of the music that Justin Vernon had created in that backwoods cabin in Wisconsin. This time, however, Vernon went full tilt into The Flaming Lips territory by making the arrangements of this batch of songs as filled to the brim with instrumentation as possible. The result at times is that the songs themselves are not given a reach opportunity to breathe. The tension of this set of songs being cluttered with so many sounds results in a nearly claustophobic feeling for the listener. While a very interesting and ultimately influential album, this album is still a slight step down from For Emma, Forever Ago.

10.16 Drake - Take Care

Drake – Take Care (2011). After Canada’s most acclaimed rapper (and Toronto Raptors fan) finally hit the big time in 2010 with Thank Me Later, Drake dropped a rap album dripped with all the R&B smoldering love heat that seemed to come from another place and time, like the Seventies. But this album represents Drake finding his personal wheelhouse. This album represents Drake becoming the superstar Drake.

10.16 Fiona Apple - The Idler Wheel...

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2011). You gotta hand it Ms. Apple. She sure knows how to name with an impossibly long title that few while ever be able to recite accurately for anyone else in particular. However, Fiona sure knows how to create emotionally compelling music. She doesn’t release new material often, but when she does, it is excellent.

10.16 Foo Fighters - Wasting Light

Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (2011). Dave Grohl has done so much session work over the years, it can be a daunting task to list every artist with whom Grohl has collaborated. One of the more significant moments occurred when Dave played drums for Queens of the Stone Age, because that influence finally showed up on a Foo Fighters album nearly a decade later. This is definitely the band’s heaviest album in their catalog to date. It’s as if Grohl is finally exorcising his past as part of Nirvana by ripping out his heart and vocal cords while making this emotional LP. With this album, the band proves they are one versatile rock band.

10.16 Gotye -_Making Mirrors

Gotye – Making Mirrors (2011). If you are like me and miss new material being released by the alternative arty likes of Peter Gabriel or The Police, then I image that this left field hit album by the rarely solo Gotye became your go-to album around this time in history. It was wonderful to hear an artist actually embrace his inner pretensions to create this truly timeless album. Oh, it contains that outstanding song of the year “Somebody That I Used to Know.”

10.16 Jay-Z & Kanye West - Watch the Throne

Jay-Z/Kanye West – Watch the Throne (2011). I remember how excited both of my boys were when word was released that Jay-Z and Kanye were collaborating on an album. Both rappers have stated that this album is equal parts thought-provoking “shit” and mindless “shit.” I can’t argue there. It must have been a treat to watch these two giant egos attempting to compromise their individual visions into one iconic sound. This could have been a complete mess, but, instead, isn’t too shabby.

10.16 Lady Gaga - Born This Way

Lady Gaga – Born This Way (2011). Whereas Gaga’s debut album, The Fame, introduced herself to the word as the latest incarnation of the disco queen with a sense of artistic vision, Lady Gaga’s sophomore LP is a full-blown nod to all forms of Eighties music updated for the 21st century. I find this album to seem to be showing all of Stefani Germanotta’s musical loves from her childhood. Not only did Born This Way made Lady Gaga a musical treasure, but it ensured her place as a voice for all of the neglected, like the bullied, the LGBTQ+ community, racial minorities, etc. This album seamless mixes rock, dance and pop, much as her apparent inspiration Madonna once did back in the day.

10.16 The Black Keys - El Camino

The Black Keys – El Camino (2011). Striking while the iron was still hot, The Black Keys jumped on the Sixties blues/garage rock sound of their commercial breakthrough hit Brothers to demonstrate just how important R&B is to their sound. Just as he had on the duo’s previous two albums, Danger Mouse, of Gnarls Barkley and The Grey Album bootleg fame, is the producer who adds a pinch of glam to the atmosphere that does not interfere with the songs. At times, The Black Keys seem to be striving into Led Zeppelin musical zones.

10.16 Alabama Shakes - Boys & Girls

Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls (2012). After spending a good six months in a Black Keys haze, I was really itching to listen to a band who was as influenced by early-Seventies rock as it was as by the sounds created by the Muscle Shoals studio session players. At that very moment, all three Keller boys simultaneously discover Alabama Shakes. This album got me through the summer and fall of my first year of retirement. This reminded of all the great things I loved about rock music: soulful singing, R&B-influenced rock music and great playing. Come to think of it, The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes ought to combine with Danger Mouse to help The Rolling Stones rediscover themselves.

10.16 Frank Ocean - Channel ORANGE

Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012). This is a 21st century take on the old soul/R&B romantic music of yesterday. Instead of stilling specific to one gender of another, Frank Ocean confidently fashions his storytelling in the manner befitting a bisexual man. This is a beautiful album no matter who the subject of a particular song is. Love is universal, no matter what so-called people of the cloth say, since they are the ones attempting to put limitations on God’s love and how humans are supposed to love one another. 

10.16 fun. - Some Nights

fun. – Some Nights (2012). This album answers the question, “What would a pop/rock band sound like if their influences were Queen and ELO, Seventies disco and Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?” Enter the Indie Pop/Rock band fun., who takes these influences and funnels them through a baroque-style filter, and create this wonder mix of the grand and the junk. This is truly an album that lives up to the band’s name, fun.

10.16 Kendrick Lamar - good kid m.A.A.d. City

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2011). It had been a few years since a rap artist’s debut album was being as hyped as Lamar’s was being. Lamar actually lives up to the hype with a flowing rhymes that only enhance his inner city Springsteen-esque storytelling. This man represents the present AND future of hip hop. Not even 50 Cent was hyped as much. Lamar was more on the level of Nas. The talent on display on this album is unparalleled for nearly the past 30 years, and all of hip hop wants in on it. Get ready, Kendrick, the world is your oyster.

10.16 Mumford & Sons - Babel

Mumford & Sons – Babel (2012). Mumford & Sons, an English folk revivalist band, saw their debut album, Sigh No More, take a slow heating before the album broke through to commercial success. So, the band became something of a hot commodity as this album was being recorded. The timetable for the release of this new album, Babelwas delayed so the previous album could cool a bit. But, when Babel was finally unleashed on the public, copies immediately began fling off the shelves. To top things off, Babel won the Grammy for Album of the Year.

10.16 Taylor Swift - Red

Taylor Swift – Red (2012). Taylor Swift intended Red to be the album in which she sheds her country outward wear and begin a shift toward the pop charts. And, for all intent and purposes, Swift was successful in this move. She collaborate with many of the current hitmakers to concoct a terrific pop/rock album that still showcases her remarkable songwriting skills. This just might be one of her best albums to date. And, an argument can be made that she is the songwriting voice of the Millennial Generation.

And, cut! That’s a wrap on those two years’ worth of music. We now have only 48 more albums left on the list. See you next time. Peace.

2009 & 2010 – The Structure’s Fine Now: My 1000 Favorite Albums

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The years of 2009 and 2010 were a blur. One minute, I am a chronic pain patient at some pain management group who first told me I was an addict, the next a new nurse practitioner order a CT-scan and discovers that I really did not have a fusion. Wow! It only took five physicians and three nurse practitioners to finally realize that I was NOT full of shit when I said my back felt unstable! Remain a couple of things about medicine here in the states. First, the docs are human, so they make human mistakes. However, many also come in with preconceptions that they should NEVER have when dealing with a new patient. Next, chronic pain sufferers are NOT addicts. Just because most of us look “normal,” do not use a wheelchair or cane/walker or have a cast, does NOT make us fakers and wimps. This shit is real. Finally, Americans are stupid with regards to pain. Everyone has had a twinge or two in certain areas in your body, and may have been done a couple of days because of it. But, your temporary pain is nowhere comparable to those experiencing chronic pain.

So, shortly after Michael Jackson died in the summer of 2009, I had my biggest surgery yet. This time I had an anterior fusion, meaning the surgeon move my abdominal sac containing my digestive system in order to see my spine. Then, he removed all the remnants of my former fusion attempt, insert a spacer, fill it up with a protein-based fusion substance that is like spackle and put a cage around three-quarters of the vertebrae and spackled that. He left the original rods and pins in my back from the posterior surgery for extra support.

Now, I was on a strict four-month recovery, during which I listened to music. The problem is that little of the new stuff out was relaxing to me. Right before I went back to school, my SCS began malfunctioning. That meant I had to have my second surgery in three months as that particular doctor did a revision.

Once again, after a good six months of healing, I was once again in pain and still experiencing back spasms at all hours of the day. So, all through 2010, I spent my time teaching and going to have test after test. I had massage therapy, which only aggravated my back spasms more. I had what are called trigger point injects, which are a steroid and pain killer injection directly into the points in my back muscles and ligaments in which those spasms were originating. The final big treatment that was attempted was to have Botox injections into those trigger points. The interesting thing about that procedure is that the office had a device that could amplify the sound of my back muscles as they spasmed. Usually, the doc has the volume up full blast. Mine were so violent that I damn near blew his speakers. He said that was the worst sounding spasms he had ever heard. Of course, the sounds were recorded for posterity. Oh, and the Botox injections made my back spasms worse! Now, we were officially out of options. I was in survival mode.

In the meantime, rock music seemed to finally be morphing into something that was appealing to me less and less. It seems I was reaching that point while in my late-forties where I realize that current popular music is not being made for my age group.

So, let’s take a look at the albums from 2009 and 2010.

10.15 Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009). Due to this group’s eclectic musical influences, you might initially want to label Animal Collective as a Millennial’s Beastie Boys. And, their genre hopping within a song is reminiscent of the Boys’ best work. However, AC is rooted in EDM and not hip hop, and AC is not as culturally anchored as the Beasties. Still, this is a fine example of the cross pollination of genres can produce in rock.

10.15 Death - For the Whole World to See

Death –  …For the Whole World to See (2009). Back in 1976, a trio of black men from Detroit got together and recorded a legendary batch of songs that was independently released. Over the years, this excellent take on American punk was passed from one hipster to another, first on cassette, then on CD. Finally, this group of songs got an official release, and thank goodness, since it reminded everyone how good these guys were with their Stooges-inspired punk. Unfortunately, the sociological lyrics of these songs still ring true in this age of Black Lives Matter.

10.15 Jay-Z - The Blueprint 3

Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3 (2009). By 2009, Jay-Z was beginning to transcend the hip hop world to become one of the biggest artists in the world. Now, with his collaboration with Alicia Keys, had created a timeless song honoring his NYC roots on “Empire State of Mind.” That song quickly became a NYC anthem up there with Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” And, the rest of the album is so good that Jay-Z became the undisputable king of rap.

10.15 Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009). This French band briefly hit it big with the college crowd with their updated version of good old Eighties new wave dance music. The first two songs on the album, “Lisztomania” and “1901” could be heard everywhere at the time, including in several commercials. This was a fun album during a time that wasn’t much fun for me.

10.15 The XX - XX

The xx – XX (2009). By this time, indie pop and alternative rock were indistinguishable. So, when The xx popped up, they were able to blur the lines between the two easily, especially because the trio’s two vocalists, Oliver Sim and Romy Madley’s deadpan vocals. This is a brilliant album that gives simultaneous nods to new wave, alt.rock, arena rock and electronica without favoring one over the other. Actually, they remind me of a modern day version of the original lineup of Roxy Music.

10.15 Bruno Mars - Doo-Wops & Hooligans

Bruno Mars – Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010). I really want to hate Bruno Mars’ music, but I can’t because that little shit can just write some pretty catchy tunes. This is pure pop for people who love early Beatles, ABBA and Aqua equally as much. This is no guilty pleasure, it’s the real deal.

10.15 Cee Lo Green - The Lady Killer

Cee Lo Green – The Lady Killer (2010). Cee Lo was that guy from the Goodie Mob who sang lead on that terrific Gnarls Barkley song, “Crazy,” a few years ago. Now, he had created yet another earworm with his Motown homage “Fuck You,” or “Forget You” as the cleaned up version was known. Did you know that Bruno Mars was a co-writer on this song? It’s true! But, that song is NOT the only terrific one on this album. This album is a nearly perfect nod to the great soul music of the early Seventies, like a much better version of Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man. I really need to buy this one on vinyl soon.

10.15 Fitz & the Tantrums - Pickin' Up the Pieces

Fitz & the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up the Pieces (2010). I discovered FATT on the local independent Adult Alternative Station we have here in Central Indiana, WTTS-FM. I was immediately taken by Michael Fitzpatrick’s Daryl Hall-like songwriting AND singing. And, the band consisted of a group of hot LA session players without a guitarist. And, their secret weapon is co-vocalist Noelle Scaggs who possesses one of those rare soul, barn-burning voices like Sharon Jones. All together, this band makes some terrific rock ‘n’ soul that reminds me of the best of Hall & Oates.

10.15 Janelle Monae - The ArchAndroid

Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (2010). Talk about one hell of another throwback album. Monáe threw away the notion of becoming the next Janet Jackson and swung for comparisons to Michael himself. Well, she sure succeeded as she one-upped the Jacksons on this magnificent album of soulful pop. Plus, I gotta admit that Janelle just might have a, dare I say it, better set of pipes than any of the Jacksons. What I cannot believe is that this album did not blow up in a huge way.

10.15 Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). This just might be the last truly brilliant album created before his ego, along with, unfortunately, his mental illness ran his genius into the ground. It seems that every artist has one of those album in which all of the music on it seems to be the confident culmination of every experiment they had attempted in the past. This is that album for West. He pulls off every weird production thought in a terrific manner, whether it is sampling diverse artists such as Black Sabbath, Gil Scott-Heron or Robert Fripp or collaborating with the likes of John Legend or Bon Iver. I honestly believe this album is Kanye’s masterpiece.

10.15 Katy Perry - Teenage Dream

Katy Perry – Teenage Dream (2010). After years of her record company attempting to plug Perry’s vocals and looks into various genres, including Contemporary Christian Music, Katy finally found success with her mega-hit “I Kissed a Girl.” Well, on this album, according to the cynics and naysayers, Perry’s producers loaded her up with some terrific songs from the best songwriters around, and Perry did the rest. This album is loaded with hits and remains to this day, Katy Perry’s finest album.

10.15 LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (2010). Whenever an artist has to follow up such a critically acclaimed album as LCD’s Sound of Silver, the creative minds have got to be feeling pressure. Honestly, James Murphy did not seemed to be bothered by the situation. He remained squarely in his band’s wheelhouse and created another winning mix of EDM and rock. Oh, sure, this album lacks the surprise brilliance of the previous one, yet it stills has a certain charm nonetheless.

10.15 Mayer Hawthorne - A Strange Arrangement

Mayer Hawthorne – A Strange Arrangement (2010). I’ll be honest and tell you that I learned of this album through a John Mayer tweet singing the album’s praises. Of course, I had to hear it. I was immediately taken aback by the wonderful throwback soul music and Hawthorne’s falsetto work, both of which reminded me of former Temptations Eddie Kendrick’s early-Seventies solo work. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Hawthorne, real name Andy Cohen, began creating his own Seventies soul music because, as a DJ, he could not afford the royalties to sample actual hits. So, a record executive caught wind of his music and signed him to a deal. And, the rest is history.

10.15 The Black Keys - Brothers

The Black Keys – Brothers (2010). I heard of The Black Keys throughout the first decade of the 21st century. My older son claimed they were nothing but a cheap rip-off of The White Stripes. Both bands were guitar/drum/vocal combos that were equally influenced by Sixties garage rock and punk as they were by the blues. But, the two diverge in their executions. The Black Keys were more grimy in their approach, while The White Stripes were artier. In the case of The Keys, it took them a little longer to catch on with the public. But, when this Akron duo put it all together, as they finally did on Brothers, there was no doubt that rock was alive and well.

10.15 Vampire Weekend - Contra

Vampire Weekend – Contra (2010). VW struck while the iron was still hot by releasing their sophomore album in relatively short time, at least for this era. Once again, the band maintained their feet in the sounds of Paul Simon’s Graceland, but confidently began to incorporate other sounds, such as samples from M.I.A. and Toots & the Maytals. This was the sound of definite growth in one of the more exciting indie pop/rock bands of this era.

And, with one blog, we finished off two years. 

2008: My 1000 Favorite Albums

5.17 Top 1000 Albums_LI

Perhaps the biggest thing that happened in 2008 was that my younger son graduated from high school, followed by his older brother quitting law school and moving back to Indy, and finishing up the year with my younger son going through a week of orientation as a Purdue education student calling us to say he wanted to transfer to Ball State. Of course, the first one was an expectation. The second one was not a surprise, but it was an expensive decision for all of us. And, finally, the last one was the ultimate outcome my wife and I attempted to get through his head at the time. Of course, he thought he wanted to follow some high school friends to Purdue, while the more appropriate education was at Ball State, not to mention that his long-time girlfriend (They began dating as high school freshmen and are now married with one child and another on the way, so who knew best?) was a student at Ball State. By the way, you really can withdraw a student from one university on a Sunday, move him out (temporarily to home), enroll him at another one on Monday, AND have him all moved into his new dorm room by 2 PM that very day. It can be done, especially when you have the help of his now in-laws.

When I think back to the days after transferring to Fishers High School to teach, until about 2017 when I had my fourth SCS revision with an up-to-date battery and no other significant health issues, they were a whirlwind. Often, I find it very difficult to place events in the correct order. Additionally, I have a more difficult time trying to remember the names of former students during that time period. It is simply horrible what those meds did to me, and how what happened in 2008 did to completely mess me up that I am still paying for it.

You see, my wife and I were frustrated with my pain management physician. He would give me steroid injections along with a tiny amount of pain killer into the facet joints between the vertebrae. Please bear with this description, because let’s just say it was my second worst procedure ever formed on me. Unfortunately, I had this procedure, and one very similar to it, a total of five times. Hold on! First, you lay face down on a table in an X-ray room. While the doc and his nurse practitioner wear lead gowns, I am butt exposed naked on the table with a fluoroscope aimed at the L4/L5 level on my spine. The doc then begins to slowly maneuver four approximately 100mm needles into my back, then take a X-ray. And he does this until those needles are in position, meaning inside those four facet joints where the two prongs of one vertebra touches the smooth area on the back of the vertebra below it. Once in place, the doc injects the steroid/painkiller solution. And, did I mention that you have to be awake during the procedure to describe how the injections feel by ranking your pain levels before and after the procedure. Then, you are asked to walk back to your exam room and eventually released. This procedure was done three times to me.

Wait a second Keller! You stated that you had this procedure done five times. Correct! But I had a disclaimer that stated I had a similar but more sadistic version completed those other two times. This is the old radiofrequency ablation. This is based on the fact if you no longer had nerve endings in an area, the pain will go away. Basically, the procedure is done in the very same manner, except instead of a syringe of a solution being injected through the needles, the doc threads an electrode through the needle until it is in the joint. Then the doc connects the other end of the electrodes to a battery and flips the switch. Now, the doc and the NP both claim that the battery is only on for 30 seconds to burn the little nerve endings in the joint. But, when you are feeling something exceptionally hot radiating from INSIDE your spine and smell the burning of the tissue in the joint, 30 seconds feels like hours. So, in comparison, the injections were a piece of cake. And, once again, you have to be awake as well. Apparently, one doc thought this procedure was not performed correctly by another, so HE wanted to perform the RFA one more time. Of course, the second time was much worse.

And guess what the outcome was? That’s right! I was still in pain, had back spasms all the time (made temporarily worse by having needles poked through the muscles in my back), and my spine was STILL not stable. So, I transferred to another pain clinic upon the recommendation of the first pain doc. Let’s just say that I now refer to this new clinic as Satan’s Lair. This particular place believes that everyone patient coming in to see them is addicted to pain pills. With me, nothing was further from the truth. So, they made me stop my old pain meds for a week, cold turkey. Then, they were start me on their medication for pain. Guess what?!?! They were NOT treating me for pain at all! They were attempting to make me drug-free. And, they damn near killed me with their new medication regime. I was sick the whole six months I spent with them. And every time I said that I was sick, they give me another medication to mask that symptom. And, of course, the new med made me more sick, until I finally told them that I was going to find a new doc. Fortunately, I went back to the original pain doc, but I had found out that my spine was not fused, just like I kept telling everyone. If you are a future doctor, LISTEN TO YOUR PATIENTS, they will tell you wants wrong with them (advice from a long-time friend of mine who used to be my family physician; he remains one of the most intelligent people I have ever known in addition to being wiser beyond his years).

Stop this crap Keller! We want the music! Okay, okay, all ready! Let’s get this going.

10.14 Coldplay - Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends

Coldplay – Viva la Vida or, Death and All His Friends (2008). By the time that Coldplay got ready to record their fourth album, they had cornered the market on the soft arena rock portion of the fans. So, this time, they pulled a U2-inspired move by enlisting producer Brian Eno who helped the band discover both their louder and artier experimental sides. It was a brilliant updating of their distinctive softer rock sound that incorporated Achtung Baby-inspired soundscapes, along with more daring uses of sampling of various songs and hip hop-like rhythms to push themselves out of their pleasing comfort zone. This album proved that the band had improved as musicians and were open to expanding their touchstone sound by integrated touches of the modern world into their version of U2.

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Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes (2008). Once, back in the late-Eighties or early-Nineties, Bono stated that when kids finally tired of relying upon technology for their music, they were revert back to acoustic instrumentation and analog production tactics. As the 20-teens approached, alternative radio slowly began to sound exactly like Bono predicted. Suddenly, over the next several years, more and more acoustic-based bands began popping up all over the place. One of the first to go down this road was a new band on their self-titled debut album Fleet Foxes. They sounded like a country rock band that were suddenly dropped off in Seattle, the former home of grunge. These guys had created what just might be the first Millennial country rock classic of the 21st century. This was just the right tonic for all the pre-fabricated sounds that were ruling the charts. Unfortunately, the band’s success and the Americana genre’s influence petered out shortly after Mumford & Sons won the Grammy for Album of the Year.

10.14 Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak

Kanye West – 808s & Heartbreaks (2008). After Kanye had the same level of success for his pretty good third album Graduation, Kanye experienced a great deal of heartache in the aftermath. Most importantly, he lost his beloved mother, which sent him into something of a tailspin. In response, Kanye began collaborating with all kinds of alternative artists to create some challenging music on which he laid his most vulnerable vocals covering his painful lyrics but recorded using that vocal treatment of the moment auto-tune. All of this led to some of the most challenging music of his career (though he will top this one soon enough). Drake should be giving Kanye some royalties because much of his career got its inspiration from this album and Kanye’s next album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.

10.14 Kings of Leon - Only by the Night

Kings of Leon – Only by the Night (2008). Chalk this one’s success as a shot in the arm for traditional rock music. Kings of Leon’s musicianship and songwriting had finally bloomed and gave us some of the finest pure rock moments in a long time. The band is loose and having fun, while their songs arrangements are tight and the melodies are earworm-like. You would have a difficult time finding a better 1-2-3-4 punch in the 21st century as the songs that begin this album. And, of those four, “Sex on Fire” was a Grammy winner, while “Use Somebody” was heard about once-an-hour on all kinds of radio formats. Rock & roll is alive and well in 2008.

10.14 Lady Gaga – The Fame

Lady Gaga – The Fame (2008). In the post-Madonna days, we have been awaiting her heir. Some declared Britney for the throne, while others went with Xtina. Me? I just kept waiting, until one night, while watching one of the few episodes I ever watched of American Idol, I saw Lady Gaga perform in a bubble outfit. Immediately, I mentioned to my wife that this woman would be huge. She has the chameleon aspect of Bowie, the obvious reference in her name to Queen, the glam of all the best artists from the UK circa 1972 (T. Rex, Sweet, Roxy, Slade, etc.) and the dancefloor chops of a young Madonna. Miss Gaga had the same look in her eyes during that performance that reminded me of Miss M’s eyes during her “Like a Virgin” performance at the first VMAs back in 1984. And, so far, Gaga has proven me correct. I would even goes so far as to say that Gaga has much more musical talent than Madonna. Now, if she can maintain the inspired choices in musical directs that Madonna has flawlessly done throughout her career. This album remains a dance floor classic.

10.14 Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III

Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III (2008). Lil Wayne had been building his career with some fine albums, but it was Tha Carter III that made him briefly a household name. The anticipation for this one was built through Weezy’s use of mixtapes, two solid albums, planned leaks of new songs and talk of a massive number of guest collaborators. Lil Wayne’s rap flows were at his strongest throughout this album, and the album managed to capture the ear of the hip hop world. Unfortunately, Weezy never really reached the heights of this classic again.

10.14 My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges

My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges (2008). When MMJ fans discuss this album, they argue over its merits. Personally, it remains my favorite one in the band’s arsenal. I love it mainly because the band was striving for greatness, even if others think they stumbled. The band tackles more of a soul/funk bent on Evil Urges, even paying musical and vocal homage to Prince throughout the whole thing. This album includes the song that was the closest thing they ever had to a Top 40 hit in their brilliant “I’m Amazed.” See, jam bands can actually do poppish rock songs if they set their minds to it.

10.14 Raphael Saadiq - The Way I See It

Raphael Saadiq – The Way I See It (2008). Saadiq first came to prominence shortly after he turned 18 when he joined Prince’s first post-Revolution backing band in 1986 for a string of European shows. After that initial dip in the pool of success, Raphael went on to help create an band who updated soul and R&B in the original phase of hip hop with the band Tony! Toni! Toné! After that acclaimed band ran its course, Saadiq began a successful solo career by doing session work for various artists needing a hotshot bassist. But, it was on his fourth album that he put everything together. This is not just a neo-soul artist, but someone who equally steeped in Motown and Stax as he is in Eminem, Jay-Z and any other hip hop artist of the moment. This is another album that looks forward while having its feet firmly in the past.

10.14 Taylor Swift - Fearless

Taylor Swift – Fearless (2008). For a young lady who was born in the same year as my younger son, she has talent beyond her age. While her debut is the sound of a very talented girl in love with country music, this album is a deliberate show of maturation by Swift creating music that could easily crossover, much like Faith Hill, Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain did a decade ago. Obviously, Swift is no longer a girl but a woman, and her songwriting reflects that change. This album is Taylor’s first classic album, whose Grammy win caused Kanye’s first public meltdown. I should have been astute enough to realize this woman was the real deal, as I was kinda writing her off.

10.14 TV on the Radio - Dear Science

TV on the Radio – Big Science (2008). While TV on the Radio’s previous album Return to Cookie Mountain is a busy classic, I prefer this album to it. I love that the band toned things done a bit that allowed the atmosphere of the songs to breathe more. It’s a shame that one of their members died after a battle with cancer, since it appears these guys are now finished as a unit.

10.14 Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend (2008). Who knew that Paul Simon’s Graceland would be the starting point for a band of nerdy Millennials? That’s what we have here. These guys play these concise pop/rock songs with flourishes of Graceland sounds through out. It’s as if Talking Heads in their earliest stage began AFTER 1986. That’s what I love about this Vampire Weekend.

And that completes my 2008 time capsule. We are now down to six blog entries on this list. Peace.

2007: My 1000 Favorite Albums

5.17 Top 1000 Albums_LI

In 2007-07, I switched schools, going from Hamilton Southeastern to the first new public high school in the state of Indiana in 20+ years and HSE’s sister school Fishers High School. I moved mainly because when the school split would happen, if I remained at HSE, I would be teaching biology to freshmen, and after teaching chemistry for nearly a decade, I had no desire to go backward. Plus, at FHS, I would get to start the Honors Chemistry and Microbiology programs from scratch. To a healthy me, that was a challenge I needed at this point in my career. Unfortunately, I underestimated my healthiness and found out later that this change was a huge strain on my health. However, if I stayed at HSE, my mental side would have dragged me down faster by teaching freshmen because I took it as a demotion.

The crazy part of the move is that I instantly went from being a teacher of average age to being one of the old teachers in the building. That was ironic since I had spent all of my career teasing the seasoned teachers. Now, I was the seasoned teacher who was being teased. That was jarring to say the least, but that’s how karma works.

To top things off, I allowed myself to get talked into being a varsity assistant basketball coach at the new school, during a year in which we would be fielding a team with no seniors (the school opened with NO seniors, it was full of juniors, sophomores and freshmen). The new head coach and his assistant needed a fourth coach on the staff. Those two had been assistants at Lawrence North, which was coming off two national high school basketball championships and three Indiana state championships. They coached two future professional basketball players, Mike Conley and Greg Oden. They were in for culture shock with the lack of basketball experience.

This all occurred because I am friends with another assistant coach at LN, and he recommended the head coach, JR Shelt, to contact me. JR called me and gave me his sales job. He said that he would give me time off when my back was giving me problems. The biggest thing he wanted was a somewhat familiar face to the kids coming into a new school. I was hired ultimately because I could help the other three coaches navigate the high expectations for a teacher and coach in this school district. Unfortunately, I knew we were in trouble when the final roster was split into three teams, with the best team to be coached by the varsity assistant; the second best by the JV head coach; and I got the leftovers to play a Round Robin sort of unofficial tournament in a free game of teams playing for a quarter each. Before each quarter we played, I told the kids they were playing for the playing time during the upcoming season. This was the opportunity to work on things we had taught them during the preseason, and all I was asking for them to play hard and the score will take care itself. Now, what was the bad part? My “C” team beat the tar out of the other two teams. They played harder, defended decently, went for rebounds with more passion and simply out-played the “A” and “B” teams.

So, whenever the other coaches would give me crap about being the low man on the coaching totem pole, I would remind them that I’m undefeated against them. And, whenever I needed to play this card, I would: I was the only coach in this coaches’ office who had won a Conference, County, Sectional or Regional championship. That one would always get the most laughter out of them. However, by mid-December, my back was so bad that I stopped riding on the team bus to the away games that were more than an hour away, of which there were several. By the end of the season, I was so tired and hurting so badly that I knew I had just coached for the last time. That March, I resigned and have had a huge hole in my heart ever since. No matter what I attempt to do, nothing can fill it the same way.

Then, a month later, I made my first step into the world of electronic devices made to help me deal with my pain better. I had a spinal cord stimulator implanted that is a battery on my left side back just above my waist. It feels like a thin hockey puck and has electrodes that run up to one of the higher levels of my thoracic vertebrae, threading down both left and right sides of my spinal column until they reached the nerves that branch off the spinal cord between L4 and L5 that were damaged by my injuries to those vertebrae. The constant delivery of electronic impulses kills the pain by fooling my brain with those impulses instead of the pain signals. It has reduced my pain by 85%, causing me to slightly reduce my oral pain medicine intake at the time. So, I am part bionic, but I can’t see better, run faster OR jump higher. Still, I am getting closer to having the same $6 million dollars to improve Steve Austin.

Which means, it’s time for the music from 2007 that made my life just a little more bearable.

10.13 Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007). Bon Iver (pronounced bon é-vār, a deliberate misspelling of the French phrase bon hiver that translates to rough winter) is the studio name of indie folk artist Justin Vernon. Vernon recorded this sparse album in a cabin in the wooded regions of Wisconsin during the winter of 2006. And, this beautiful album was what he came out in the spring of 2007 with. It has been described as a rustic, acoustic Radiohead album. Vernon went on to work with Kanye West, the first of several collaborations with rap artists.

10.13 Jay-Z - American Gangster

Jay-Z – American Gangster (2007). Jay-Z’s retirement didn’t last very when he dropped Kingdom Come to lackluster reviews and soft sales. So, Jay needed a bounce back quickly. And that came in the version of a film called American Gangster which inspired this album. And, he rose to the occasion as he fashioned an album that details the gangster life of NYC in great detail and empathy as a cautionary tale much like the movie that inspired it. Jay-Z was back!

10.13 LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver (2007). This studio conglomeration is the brainchild of a huge music fan named James Murphy. One listen to this album, or any by his band, tells you this guy is a HUGE music fan. Murphy, a Gen X-er, latched onto the club scene for his inspiration for his mixture of humor, punk, EDM, rock, soul, pretty much anything and everything, to create some of the most exciting music of the new century. Once again, I must thank my older son for the heads up on this one. It has been a gift that truly keeps on giving.

10.13 M.I.A. - Kala

M.I.A. – Kala (2007). I remember hearing this song coming from my younger son’s room that was based upon the sample of The Clash’s “Straight to Hell.” I popped into his room and asked him who the artist was, telling me it was M.I.A. So, I listened to the album and discovered that there were really some artists doing wonderful music under the banner of EDM. And M.I.A. was one of them. This album uses all kinds of samples from the alternative music of my youth, like “Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers, or Jonathan Richman if you prefer. What an exciting new form of dance music.

10.13 MGMT - Oracular Spectacular

MGMT – Oracular Spectacular (2007). I love the jumping-off point of Millennials’ version of rock music. The Boomers’ music used the blues, jazz, Broadway, big band and hillbilly music as their starting points. With Gen X, those musicians began with disco, punk and bubblegum music for their inspiration. The Millennials start with the technology of their youth, cheap Eighties electronic noises. Thus, this album by MGMT, a new duo from NYC. They started with a Casio keyboard and a producer of some of The Flaming Lips’ more ornate albums resulting in this album which is nothing but fun use of junk culture made into great art. This reminds me of my new wave days, yet still sounds light years beyond my age group’s music. Simply put, it might be the Album of the Year for 2007.

10.13 Radiohead - In Rainbows

Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007). This album is notable for the band offering it for download on their website for whatever the downloader wanted to pay for it. That was a marketing masterstroke, as this meant the band was making pure profit nearly from the outset. The crazy thing is that Radiohead’s music actually sounded cheerful, regardless of Thom Yorke’s lyrical misery. It was a great juxtaposition. When the physical form of this album was finally released, the band was flushed with cash and able to put together an elaborate tour, which only increased their reputation as being this era’s Pink Floyd. This is truly a wonderful album.

10.13 Rihanna - Good Girl Gone Bad

Rihanna – Good Girl Gone Bad (2007). You gotta give it up to Jay-Z because the man sure can recognize talent. Rihanna was his latest protégé to receive his cameo appearance in her ubiquitous hit “Umbrella.” This album broke Rihanna into superstar status with this state of the art pop music. Rihanna will always reside next to Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift as the big divas of the early 21st century.

10.13 Spoon - Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007). Sometimes, it is simply reassuring that an album like this is released periodically these days. It tells me there are musicians still out there who are picking albums by some of my favorite artists like Cheap Trick, Big Star, Teenage Fanclub and the rest and expanding upon their vocabulary. For 2007, it happened to be another journeyman band called Spoon who concocted this masterpiece in indie rock to whet the thirst of this old man. And, I still crank up my car’s radio whenever I hear “The Underdog.” It’s a great song from a great album.

10.13 The White Stripes - Icky Thump

The White Stripes – Icky Thump (2007). Everybody’s favorite Detroit garage band since The Stooges was back with what appears to be the duo’s last studio album. If this is the way they intended to end their creative bond, then they did it right. Both had moved out of Detroit (Meg to LA and Jack to Nashville), so fans were worried what that would mean to their sound. Yes, the eclecticism from their previous album was present but in less obvious manners. Plus, Jack had gotten back to cranking up his guitars, so all was fine with the fans.

10.13 Wilco - Sky Blue Sky

Wilco – Sky Blue Sky (2007). In the fall of 2007, Graham was in San Diego attending law school. One night he called and said, “Dad! Seriously, you gotta get the new Wilco album! It’s awesome!” Reluctantly, I followed his advice since it had taken me a couple of years and many listens to fully appreciate Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I did it anyway, and, of course, he was correct! This was a great album right from the first listen. This is a much more subdued album as opposed to the aforementioned LP, as if Sky Blue Sky were influenced by Neil Young’s Harvest, the hits by America, and the rest of that great soft rock from the early- and mid-Seventies. This is just a beautifully relaxing album, and a great way to forget about one’s physical pain.

Those are my picks from 2007. We now have 910 albums finished and 90 more spanning 12 years left to cover. See you next time! Peace.

2006: My 1000 Favorite Albums

5.17 Top 1000 Albums_LI

There are great years, then there not so great years. 2006 was definitely that latter. From the viewpoint of someone observing my life, you might think I was living a charmed life, and to a certain extent I was. But, this was the year during which I discovered what chronic pain actually was. Like most of us, I thought pain came in three forms.

First, there’s a physical pain due to being uncomfortable, sick or injured. You take some acetaminophen or ibuprofen and go on your way, maybe rest a little. Second, there is emotional pain due to the loss of a loved one, a breakup or the loss of something important in your life such as a job. Time heals those wounds, even it’s not completely. Finally, there’s the physical pain involved with exercising or training for athletic competition. The pain you experience while lifting weights, running in a timed run, the pounding you take in football, the constant change-of-direction movement in basketball, soccer or tennis, the constant down-and-back in swimming, etc. Those are temporary pains that you learn to break through in order to become better.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, is something that never goes away and seems like all three of the aforementioned types rolled into one. You never escape it. It wakes you up at night and keeps you from sleeping, making you constantly sleep-deprived. You never feel refreshed or caught up on rest. Then, there’s the days of breakthrough pain, which seems to be at a whole new level. I hate those days the most, which I have been battling the past couple of days. My patience is non-existent and my body feels like I’ve been running a marathon, played an afternoon of basketball games, then beaten with a baseball bat. That’s been my life for the past three days. Later today, I will rally because we are watching our grandson for a few hours, then I will collapse.

It was in 2006 that I knew something was wrong with my body. My spine did not feel stable. I was immediately sent to pain management because I was also complaining of constant back spasms and back pain, but all of that stemmed from the lack of a fusion of vertebrae L4 and L5. When you are sent to pain management, the immediate concern becomes that you are an addict, which was not true of most of us. But, that’s American society and our false mantra of picking yourself by your bootstraps.

So, I was beginning my foggy period of life, in a haze of medications while attempting to work my way through this, since that’s what you did in sports. It’s the old “are you hurt or are you injured?” question. Even when I was probably injured, I tried to bounce back quickly as if I were hurt. The problem was that I could no longer deny that I was injured, no matter how I tried to ignore it and just carry on. 2006 represented the year when I discovered I was invincible. So, I was battling to come to grips with my new limitations.

Still, there were a few albums that helped me survive this change in my life. So, let’s see what 2006 had to offer.

10.12 Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

Amy Winehouse – Back to Black (2006). What a talent and what an album! This album was simply timeless in Amy’s jazz/soul singing and instincts brought up to date with tasteful touches of modern sounds from hip hop and R&B. She was a talent for the ages, and her absence is felt more and more as time moves on. Unfortunately, it may have been that internal pain of hers that moved her talent to the immortal level.

10.12 Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not

Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006). For a brief moment, this band was poised to be the next big indie rock band out of the UK. And, this debut set the tone. Unfortunately, once again, a huge English indie rock band does not translate well here, and they become a little bit bigger than a cult band here. Regardless, this album rocks.

10.12 Bob Dylan - Modern Times

Bob Dylan – Modern Times (2006). A few years earlier, Dylan quietly released an album called Theft & Love that introduced the bard of Minnesota to a whole new generation of music lovers. That album was something of the beginning of a whole new level of creativity for Dylan. Sure, the days of his world-changing music were 40 years in his rearview mirror, but he actually was entering a whole new phase like the old bluesmen of the past. Modern Times happens to be the best album in his catalog since 1976’s Desire. This is a great album.

10.12 Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere

Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere (2006). If you did not hear this duo’s song “Crazy” back in 2006, you may not have been on Earth. This album was the work of Danger Mouse, fresh off his Grey Album bootleg mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and The Beatles’ White Album, and Cee Lo Green, former member of the rap group the Goodie Mob. I remember my older son bringing this CD home from college for me to listen to. What a visionary mix of the old and the new. Plus, how did “Crazy” NOT win the Grammy for Song or Record of the Year? Robbery!

10.12 John Mayer - Continuum

John Mayer – Continuum (2006). In the aftermath of the surprising popularity of the Dave Matthews Band, there seemed to be a million or so acoustic guitar-based artists with whiny voices and sincere lyrics popping up everywhere. Initially, despite the protests of many of my students and athletes, I wrote off John Mayer as a somewhat pleasing poser. Then, he recorded this album that is steeped in the blues and Seventies soul that seemed to be something of a millennial’s What’s Going On. Finally, he was breaking through those silly love songs of his youth and stepping into being something of a serious artist. This album changed my opinion of him.

10.12 Justin Timberlake - FutureSex LoveSounds

Justin Timberlake – FutureSex/LoveSounds (2006). I never expected that little curly-haired dweeb from *NSYNC to be the man who would bring sexy back. But, that’s what makes rock music so much fun. Suddenly, this guy has grown into a major musical force yet will leave it behind for a bit while he pursued an acting career. But, this album was so good, that people never forgot and were constantly begging him to make a comeback, which he did in spectacular fashion. This album will be the one that launched him into superstardom and a future Five Timers Club member on SNL.

10.12 TV on the Radio - Return to Cookie Mountain

TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain (2006). This was the NYC band’s breakthrough album that caught the eye of many record buyers in the mainstream. This band has been described as something of America’s answer to Radiohead. And, there is a little truth to that description. On this album, the band’s production allows their music to breathe, much like Radiohead discovered on their O.K. Computer album. But, the music is still challenging but melodic (sound like someone else, uh, let’s say Radiohead?) and even soulful. They must have been good because David Bowie lent backing vocals to this project.

And, there you have it. I know, it’s a short list, but it is packed with some outstanding albums. Catch you later! Peace.