Last year, on a pleasant late-summer day, I awoke to the realization that many of the albums I loved and admired had hit milestones in 2012, with 10-year, 20-year and 25-year anniversaries. Gems such as Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People and U2’s The Joshua Tree all had aged to notable dates.
With 2013 here, I realized that it also synchs up with anniversaries of other all-time favorite albums. In particular, The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd will turn 40 years old this Friday, as it was released March 1, 1973. With this groundbreaking record reaching its official anniversary, I decided to launch a new list for a new year—looking back at favorite, game-changer albums with special birthdays.
10 Years Ago This Year in 2003: Greetings from Michigan by Sufjan Stevens. When the on-the-fringe alt-folk rocker Sufjan Stevens started making waves in 2003, it was difficult to know what drove his genius. It was, as far as anyone knew, the first time someone make a modern rock record that chronicled the state of Michigan, or any state in the union.
With songs such as “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)” and “Flint(For the Unemployed and Underpaid),” Stevens gave listeners geography and history lessons while also delivering great pop gems and ballads (And a lot of parentheses and exclamation points!). Michigan, though, set us up nicely for the next album about a state, 2005’s Come On Feel the Illionise, which would become Stevens’ masterpiece. But, like the auto industry, it all started in Michigan.
15 Years Ago This Year in 1998: In an Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. One of the most influential albums of the alternative rock scene continues to be In an Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. But it’s better known among musicians who try to emulate its music than it is by the mainstream public.
“King of Carrot Flowers Pts. 1 through 3” presents one of the most perfect-but-twisted rock suites to come along in a generation. The title track is arresting and haunting and shows off low-fi pop inclinations that also permeate other tracks.
The record is, intriguingly, based loosely on the Diary of Anne Frank. The band has never publicly confirmed that, but several references seem to connect to Frank, including her birth and death dates, especially notable in the track “Holland 1945.”
20 Years Ago This Year in 1993: Vs. by Pearl Jam. The year 1993 saw both Pearl Jam and Nirvana release not-quite-as-good-follow-up albums to their major breakthroughs. However, time and repeated listens show a certain power in these stepchildren records.
It’s difficult to pick one over the other, but I give the nod to Vs. as the best album of this year over Nirvana’s In Utero. Here, Pearl Jam shows itself as a more thoughtful, ponderous band that gives voice to different perspectives. Consider “Daughter,” “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town” and “Dissident.”
On the rock-out songs, the music feels more unvarnished and out of control than it does on Ten. It also has elements of funk that leak out on songs such as “Animal” and “Blood,” which show a band bristling with creative energy.
25 Years Ago This Year in 1988: Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction. I’m often surprised that Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking isn’t often named with albums such as Nevermind, London Calling or Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols as a ground-shifter in the rock landscape.
During a time when hair bands roamed the Earth, Jane’s Addiction channeled rock into something more personal, perverse and devastating. Sure, lead singer Perry Farrell was all about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll like any other frontman—but his take on sexuality was less like David Lee Roth and more like Dr. Frank-N-Furter.
Ultimately, what Farrell and company did with Nothing’s Shocking was craft a perfect, sonically engulfing hard-rock record. Songs such as “Ted Just Admit It …” and “Mountain Song” are earth-shaking rockers, while “Summertime Rolls” and “Jane Says” prove poignant ballads. It’s one of the great records of the ’80s.
30 Years Ago This Year in 1983: Speaking in Tongues by Talking Heads. Oh, how I struggled to pick an album from this year, particularly one of two that I wanted to herald and celebrate for turning 30 this year.
In the end, though, I choose Speaking in Tongues by Talking Heads over Synchronicity by the Police. I do this even though the latter has “King of Pain,” one of the most rueful and poetic songs to make the Billboard Top 10, and “Every Breath You Take,” one of the best ballads of 1980s, despite the creepy stalker factor.
No, I give it to Talking Heads, whose album Speaking in Tongues opens with “Burning Down the House.” This song gave the Heads their commercial breakthrough, and it leads off what is a solid album, with “Girlfriend is Better” and “This Must Be The Place” being other notable tracks. Speaking and its subsequent tour also lead to one of the all-time great rock documentaries, Stop Making Sense.
40 Years Ago This Year in 1973: The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Yes, this is the perfect album to celebrate among albums with anniversaries. To me, Dark Side is the best rock record of all time.
How, in a world with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Led Zeppelin IV, Exile on Main Street and Pet Sounds, could I pick Dark Side as the greatest rock album to ever get recorded? To me, it comes down to mastery of the format.
It is an opera suite in 43 minutes that is expansive in mood, style and subject. To listen to the album from beginning to end is to go on a journey. It explores themes of insanity and the delicate state of being human. The album is supposedly inspired in part by the mental illness of former Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett.
To name important songs from Dark Side is like naming favorite chapters from “The Great Gatsby,” for each track is crucial to the whole. But it would be remiss not to talk about tracks such as “Time,” “Us and Them,” “Money” and “Damage/Eclipse,” for they are recognized among the greatest in the classic rock pantheon.
Still, few to no artists seized the potential of the album format better than Pink Floyd did with Dark Side. It’s a powerful experience to simply sit and focus and listen to it.