The 8 Best Album Sides
"The diamond is the world's hardest substance. But ten years later, you still can't cook on it." Better yet, "In Japan, the hand can be used like a knife. But you still can't slice a tomato with it." This type of TV commercial logic never did move me to call the toll free number on my screen and purchase large sums of Non-stick pans or Ginsu knives. Then again, I was only twelve years old at the time. Instead, these inane reasoning schemes lodged themselves deep inside my brain, and now they malevolently surface at random to effect my judgement on everything from Plato to Pop-tarts. Sure, this is astonishing prose, but where does it get you, peer reader.
Sadly, this whole argument has something to do with the inherent evil of compact disks. Yes, they sound great, they're virtually scratch proof, and they look real cool under a vibrating red light. But C.D.'s only have one side, hence the evil. Single-sided-ness may be great for your average transvestite cum cosmic karma-head, but where does it leave a God-fearing, dualistic American like myself. Case in point : The classic Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath album (Black Sabbath 1973) has a 'heaven' side and a 'hell' side. The Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath C.D. lumps heaven and hell together on the same side. This fact scares me.
In short, C.D.'s just can't cut the tomato. This is really too bad, since they're all over the place. Lamentably, we may never see another album side again. With this in mind, I feel it's time to honor eight of my favorite vinyl album sides (in no particular order). To avoid any unnecessary suspense, the Grateful Dead, John Coltrane, and Eric Clapton did not make the list. I don't write for Rolling Stone, sorry.
1) Bongwater, Double Bummer, Side 1 - The first word on this side is "shooby-dooby-doo" and the last sentence is "I've loved rock and roll since the day I was born, and I'll love it till the day I die." These tunes would all be instant top 40 hits if sung by Bon Jovi, and thank Jove they're not. Ann Magnuson's words are just as choice as Kramer's music. She's like Laurie Anderson times three plus a sense of humor = weird. Why is it that, every time you go to see a horror flick, some back-row psycho always laughs uproariously at the grossest possible scene? This album side knows why.
2) Stooges, Stooges, Side 2 - Do you love rock and roll? Do you love this album side? Have I asked the same question twice? Yes. This 1969 debut album, produced by John Cale (of Velvet Underground fame) and featuring Iggy Pop (of his own fame), rocks. Period. The wah-wah pedal, the angst, the youthful stupidity, the raw power, the wah-wah pedal. Say no more.
3) AC/DC, Back in Black, side 2 - This side contains "Back in Black", "You shook me all night long", "Have a Drink on me", "Shake a Leg", and "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution". If you haven't heard it your either from Mars or over forty. If you're too cool for this, then you're too cool for me, wank.
4) Led Zeppelin, II, Side 2 - Jimmy Page is the best living guitarist in the world. I've heard this album too much to be really fired up about it anymore. I've also heard it enough to know that if I didn't include this side in my list, I would loose all credibility as a sentient being. (Perhaps it's too late.)
5) Meat Puppets, II, Side 1 - Curt Kirkwood (of Arizona's Meat Puppets) is the second best living guitarist in the world. If you you like mountain music and you haven't heard the Pups yet, then you're limiting yourself to aural mediocrity. Technically, the Puppets sound much better on their later albums then they do on II, they're second effort (hence the name). Curt's voice is raw, his guitar work is un-apologetic, and there is relatively little overdubbing. In this case, however, less is more, and the resulting album side kills me righteously every time I hear it. "There's nothing on the top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds. / You see a lot up there, but don't be scared. Who needs action when you got words?"
6) Beatles, Abbey Road, Side 2 - (O.K., sue me. I'm trying to get a job at Rolling Stone after all.) It's very hard to write a good song, much less a great song, much less a bunch of them. And even if you do happen to have a bunch of great songs, it's nearly impossible to make them all fit together in a way that does them justice. In other words, I'm a sucker for a good theme-album side, and the side 2 of Abbey Road is the quintessential unified album side of all rock. Paul McCartney's bizarre bass playing really does make this side work. What planet was he from in 1968?
7) Sonic Youth, Evol, Side 1 - This music is ecstatically, statically beautiful except for one song, "In the Kingdom #19". But since it's Mike Watt's first appearance on the bass since the death of D. Boone (Mike and D. of Minutemen fame), and because Rachel Paschal has memorized every word of the song, I'll let it slide. Say what you want, folks'll be drooling over Sonic Youth in the year 2000, and you'll still be wearing your Hendrix bib.
8) James Taylor, One Man Dog, Side 2 - This is one of J.T.'s least known albums. One Man Dog was made in the early seventies and though it's just as mellow as James has ever been, it's also very experimental. More importantly, the experiments are fruitful and multiply. "Little David" begins very subtly with the low hum of chain-saws, and then the rhythm begins with the terse whines of handsaws hacking back and forth in time. All of the songs at the end of side 2 run together. Here, the structure of the songs effectively emphasizes their lyrical themes. J.T.'s lyrics move from love, to loneliness, to drug addiction, to salvation, and they conclude with dance. This album-side's journey will set you free. "Someone said that the streets of heaven were paved with solid gold. / It must make a mighty good road."
Till we get there, light a fire under yourself, blow up your compact disc player, and don't forget to rock.