Massive Album November is here! Each episode this month will be a different artist and record that has attained huge sales numbers that we've somehow missed so far. To get us started, thegreatalbums.com blogger Jeff Fiedler joins Bill and Brian to discuss Madonna's sophomore effort Like a Virgin (1984, Sire). Although a success on the dance scene, Madonna had yet to make herself a household name prior to this release. With the help of producer Nile Rodgers and an excellent set of tunes, Madonna became the icon she has continued to be today. Jeff talks about becoming a record collector at a very young age and how it helped him cut through the production of 80s pop as a listener. Bill, Brian, and Jeff then discuss the contributions of Rodgers' bandmates in Chic, the songwriting talents of Stephen Bray, Madonna's early bands Breakfast Club and Emmy, how the controversy over the sexuality on the album is a bit overblown, how pop songs were songs in the 80s, and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Bill and Brian take some time out to cover a little bit of Neil Young's weaker output by discussing "Transformer Man" off 1982's Trans. We discuss Young's rationale for incorporating electronic instruments into his music, the sincerity of his experimentations at the time, and how some better songs may have helped him in this period. Also, we read a listener email that takes back down the path of Pearl Jam as Bill attempts to defend Yield, "Wishlist," and his opinions about Ten!
Bill and Brian welcome WXPN music director and podcaster (soundcloud.com/ddmusicpodcast) to discuss the final chapter of Neil Young's so-called "ditch trilogy," Tonight's the Night (1975, Reprise). Still reeling from the drug related deaths of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, Neil Young cast off the folk and country tinged sound he was known for with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and his own chart topping album Harvest in favor of a more raw rock and roll sound. Dan talks about discovering the depth of Young's music through a friend before diving into his entire catalog (including the Geffen years!) during his time at college. Brian, Bill, and Dan then discuss how "raw" might be describing the audio quality instead of the emotions on the album, camping, Nils Lofgren's excellent guitar (and piano), which Neil Young song should never be covered by anyone, what alcohol the band was drinking for the sessions (it was tequila), which Neil albums we love the most (other than this one), and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! And Bill and Brian decide to continue the conversation about Pearl Jam by focusing on a song from guitarist Stone Gossard's 2001 solo album Bayleaf called "Pigeon." We talk about how Stone's songwriting fits in with Pearl Jam's sound and why this is a great power pop song with a cool power chord based riff. Also, we get into some listener emails that include listener lists of top 5 Pearl Jam albums, cool untitled songs from Live on Two Legs, and a bit about Todd Rundgren!
Podcaster Jim Hanke (vinylemergency.com) makes his second appearance on the podcast to help Brian and Bill talk about Pearl Jam's Yield (1998, Epic). Coming off a bit of a downturn in their career, some would say creatively as well as commercially (but not us), Pearl Jam went into the studio looking to use each member's songwriting contributions and came out re-energized with one of their best albums. Jim talks about the ubiquity of the band's music in his life before Bill, Brian, and Jim then discuss how Bill and Jim are mirror images as PJ fans, ripping off Led Zeppelin, Eddie Vedder getting precious lyrically, Brendan O'Brien's excellent production, the Dismemberment Plan, and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! With Brian jet setting about the globe (aka taking a long weekend trip to Chicago), Bill tackles some more Amy Winehouse by taking a listener suggestion and talking about her duet with Tony Bennett, "Body and Soul" from his 2011 album Duets II. Bill talks about the scene in Amy documentary where she has to overcome some initial nerves to create a wonderful performance. Also, Bill reads some lister emails about great track sequencing, the Rolling Stones, U2, Led Zeppelin, and Fran Zappa v. Tom Waits!
Bill and Brian welcome future podcasters (Indie Heroes, available soon) David Hillier (also a journalist) and Chris Barrett (who works in the West End) to the podcast to talk about Amy Winehouse's Back to Black (2006, Island). British singer songwriter Amy Winehouse was immediately noticed by the public, as much for her music and voice as for her tabloid escapades. With producers Mark Ronson and Salaam Remi, she hit the charts in a big way with her second and final album before her untimely death at the age of 27. David and Chris talk about what it was like watching the British tabloids take hold of her before they really got to appreciate her music. Then Bill, Brian, David, and Chris make their way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! And Brian and Bill continue discussing Tom Waits by...talking about Norah Jones? That's right, Norah Jones covered an obscure Waits song on 2004's Feels Like Home. We talk about how Jones tried to pull away from the glut of female singer-songwriters that dominated the early aughts as we analyze what makes this song cool. We also read some listener emails that help fill in some info we missed way back when we talked about Guns'n'Roses on the show. And we get talking about what albums we think are well-sequenced, prompting Brian to discuss the many virtues of the Beatles' Abbey Road!
Bill and Brian are joined by podcaster and musician Joe Galuppo (diningroomradio.net and joegaluppo.bandcamp.com) to talk about Tom Waits' Bone Machine (1992, Atlantic). Waits, with his idiosyncratic musicianship and distinctive voice, emerged from a 5 year hiatus to create one of the tentpole albums of his career. Joe talks about how his cool dad, noting his son's taste for the unusual, pointed him toward Tom Waits. Brian, Bill, and Joe then discuss how death permeates the album as a theme, the echo-filled concrete studio it was recorded in, Wait's unique vocal performance, a train made of bones, Fight Club and masculinity, Frank Zappa, and more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill talk about Scott Weiland and Dean DeLeo's acoustic performance of "Plush" off their 1992 debut Core. We talk about the song's structure, Dean's chord style, Scott's excellent vocal skills, and whether or not Led Zeppelin was cool in the 90s. We also read some listener emails about our mind reading prowess while discussing Ben Folds and what musicians play like Elliott Smith.
Musician Zach Calhoun (from Cadet, cadetcadets.bandcamp.com) joins Bill and Brian to discuss Stone Temple Pilots transformative sophomore effort Purple (1994, Atlantic). After debuting with the 8 million-selling Core (home to mega-hits "Plush," "Creep," and "Sex Type Thing"), STP fell into grunge's bottom tier as far as critics were concerned. Purple was the band's successful attempt to right the ship and show the world there was quite a bit more to them than just power chords. Zach tells us how he discovered this album via his brother's cassette tape and it helped shape his love of alternative music. Bill, Brian, and Zach discuss the albums cool artwork, how people who say that only one song off an album is good don't get it, Weiland's powerful voice, the negative stigma surrounding the band, Dean's awesome chord voicings, Robert's wild bass playing, a little on Weird Al, Chester Bennington and the band's legacy, and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! And Bill and Brian take a very circuitous route to keep talking about Elliott Smith by discussing Jimmy Eat World's cover of the Heatmiser tune "Half Right." The song was written by Smith and added as a hidden track to the band's last album, 1996 album Mic City Sons, as Smith left to pursue his solo career full time. Brian and Bill talk about how the song is a faithful recreation, the story of the EP that contains it, and how Brian himself covered the song in his first live performance of a complete set. We also read some listener emails about the Grateful Dead, Levon Helm, and the word "timbre."
Centennials and Rose Boulevard drummer Pete Stern joins Bill and Brian to discuss singer songwriter Elliott Smith's major label debut XO (1998, Dreamworks). Coming up in the Portland indie scene of the 90s, Smith eschewed the alt stylings of his band Heatmiser and gained attention with his folksy, DIY home recording. He got his big break when director Gus Van Zant included the song "Miss Misery" on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack, and this album followed shortly after. Pete discusses hearing Elliott Smith first on MTVu but not really delving into his catalog until a few years later when his biography was released. Bran, Bill, and Pete then talk about the Oscars performance and Celine Dion, what Elliot's problem with Heatmiser was, Smith's 2003 suicide, the quality production of the album, the criminally underrated Jon Brion, a whole bunch of diving into Smith's dense lyrics, Joey and Lenny Waronker, driving to Nashville on shrooms while listening to Weezer's "Hash Pipe," Brian Wilson's love of "Shortening Bread," how we would shorten the album a bit, and much much more are we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill continue talking about the Grateful Dead via the War on Drugs recent cover of "Touch of Grey" from the Day of the Dead tribute compilation. Brian talks about why he loves this song, the whole collection, and how it's helped him open up to being a fan of the Grateful Dead. Then we read some listener emails including a correction about us confusing Norway for Sweden and an interpretation of an Against Me! tune.
Bill and Brian welcome guitarist Tom O'Leary (whose band, Small Planet Radio, just put out an excellent album* that can be heard at smallplanetradio.com) to talk about the Grateful Dead's American Beauty (1970, Warner Bros.). Known for their live jam sessions that have helped created a devoted following, the Dead sometimes struggled to translate that to their studio work. But with the release of this album (and Working Man's Dead) earlier in that same year, the band gave the world a lasting work of art. Tom talks about discovering the band through his older siblings playing the records, and then really discovering them when he befriended some nice hippies at college. Brian, Bill, and Tom discuss the influence of CSNY, how the band got tricked into having to write pop songs, a deep dive into Robert Hunter's lyrics, how honest moments between parents and children as depicted in media makes Bill cry, hippie culture, Brian sliding into people's DMs, weird chords, what timbre is and how "tambre" is not a thing, and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!
*note: Host Bill Lambusta is also in Small Planet Radio and wrote this description, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt.
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Bill welcomes Brian back to talk about Laura Jane Grace, Miley Cyrus, and Joan Jett's cover of the Replacements "Androgynous." Brian, having missed out conversation about Against Me!'s Transgender Dysphoria Blues earlier in the week, share some of his thoughts on trans issues before we get into to talking about how we love this song and all its nonsense lyrics. We also compare and contrast Miley with Justin Bieber and discuss the role of innovation and experimentation in pop music. Then we read some listener emails about misogyny in AC/DC and Guns'n'Roses' lyrics and bands with changing lead singers!
With Brian out on tour, Bill welcomes podcaster Justin Tyler (SongSpotters.com) to talk about the seminal (already) trans punk rock anthem Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014, Total Treble) by Against Me! Formed by then-name Tom Gable as a teenager in 1997, the band went on to become an icon known for their political fueled punk rock anthems. Surprising many, front woman Laura Jane Grace came out as transgender in 2012 and began transitioning to living her life as a woman. Using her own experiences and that of a fictional transgender prostitute, Grace penned and released this album a couple years later. Justin talks about how this album was his introduction to the band, and how it has factored into a cause that he feels close to. We then jump into discussing gender expression and toys, transgender dysphoria in the DSM V, how these songs are fantastic sing along songs, Atom Willard's awesome drumming, suicide rates in the trans community, how sexual identity and gender expression are troubles for many (including cisgender individuals), how Laura Jane Grace is a hero for taking on the responsibility of being a trans communicator, how even those with good intentions sometimes have trouble with pronouns, sci-fi author Ann Leckie's series that exists in a gender neutral world, and more as we make our way through there album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! And Bill and Brian get political as we take a listen to and discuss Third Eye Blind's latest release "Cop vs. Phone Girl" off their upcoming EP We Are Drugs. We talk about the contemporary production style and how we're glad that a 90s band can remain relevant before jumping into the lyrical content, discussing #BlackLivesMatter, Fox News, accountability, and more! NOTE: seriously, although we tried to maintain a balanced POV and not point fingers or really talk about Democrats or Republicans, there may be some who disagree with us on what we say. If you are one of them, that's cool, but keep in mind that we were recording our reaction to a song with a strong narrative bent. If you have a different reaction, feel free to record it and release it on your own podcast instead of writing to us in all caps please.
Brian and Bill welcome music biz insider Mike Prince (he works in licensing music for Disney) to discuss Third Eye Blind's self titled debut (1997, Elektra). Masterminded by singer/lyricist Stephan Jenkins, 3EB took off with massive success filed by their infections pop hooks and catchy melodies. Benefiting from a great chemistry with guitarist and co-songwriter Kevin Cadogan, Jenkins famously ousted Cadogan from the band, leading them into a creative and commercial lull. Strangely, the band has lived on, outliving their 90s rock brethren and remaining a vital influence through till today. Mike talks about purchasing CD singles of the band's early hits before finally discovering the album as an art form while listening to a friend's copy on vacation in Las Vegas. Bill, Brian, and Mike discuss how a younger generation is spreading the word about this album, Kevin Cadogan's role in the band and the business dealings that leads to his dismissal, Arion Salazar's cool bass grooves, Brad Hargreaves' pay day, the non-pop oriented tracks on the album, what the heck harmonics are, the influence of Oasis and MTV's the Real World, where the album dips into a "winter" vibe, how the last 3 songs solidify the band's legacy, and more as we make our way through the album track by track!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill continue talking about the wonders from down under (didn't want to use "Thunder" twice in the same sentence) AC/DC and their tune "Thunderstruck." We discuss how this song and its parent album, the Razor's Edge, were a bit of a comeback for the band and helped solidify their place in the annals of rock. Also, we keep our promise and fill in some of the AC/DC story, getting us up to present day, Then we jump into some listener emails, tackling the controversy surrounding both Napster and Lars Ulrich's count in to the Metallica song "Leper Messiah."
Bill and Brian make the best of an odd situation in which a guest was supposed to come on to be our gritty Australian rock and roll connoisseur but ended up not joining us. So we tackle AC/DC's legendary Back in Black (1980, Atlantic). After years of working their way to the top of the Australian charts, the band, founded by brothers Angus and Malcolm Young, broke through to an international audience with 1979's Highway to Hell. Tragically, after a night of heavy drinking, charismatic frontman Bon Scott passed away during the winter of 1980. Choosing to carry on, the band brought in singer Brian Johnson who helped them reach even greater heights of success and critical acclaim. Brian and Bill talk about AC/DC's presence in their younger days, Bill while listening to the radio and Brian while broadcasting on the radio. They also discuss the influence of producer Mutt Lange, Brian Johnson's back story, the band's unique ways of honoring Bon Scott, how the band made it's distinctive sound, Angus' killer leads, the chart topping-ness of the album and its singles, what Max Weinberg might think of Phil Rudd, a bit about if there is any misogyny on the album, and as always a track by track review!
On another very special episode, Bill and Brian take some time to fill in the big gap from back before we started the Bonus Song Thursday tradition. We play our way through songs from the Replacements, Miracle Legion, the Rentals, Billy Bragg and Wilco, Our Lady Peace, the Wrens, the Hold Steady, Oasis, Arcade Fire, Bruce Springsteen, the National, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Guster.
On a very special episode of the Great Albums, Bill and Brian take a break from our usual geeking out over the minutia of an album to geek out over the minutia of a film. We talk about the best fictional biopic of a 60s pop band That Thing You Do! Written and directed by Tom Hanks, the film follows four small town musicians as they rise to fame on the strength of their danceable rock'n'roll tune (also called "That Thing You Do"). Brian and Bill talk about how they started watching the movie and how they've watched it too much. Also, we follow the plot, talking about what we loved and giving some insight into what made it cool. Also, Bill pulls out some lessons from his Literary Criticism classes from over a decade ago to deconstruct some of characters and plot devices!
It's Bonus Song Thursday! Brian and Bill continue talk about Metallica, jumping 10 years ahead from 1986's Master of Puppets to "Hero of the Day" from 1996's Load. We discuss the evolution in the band's sound and image, how their alternative leaning contemporaries influenced their sound (maybe bringing in some Bowie influence?), and more about Lars' heavy kick drum. Also, we read a bunch of listener emails, first tackling some singers who reference a person/character in multiple songs, then we finally get an answer to what the heck dream pop is, and then blogger Jeff Fiedler finally clues us in to what the heck was going on with Queen and Elektra Records! Additionally, we read an open letter from one listener to all the others, that makes Jared my "Hero of the Day."
Bill and Brian are joined by educator and author Doug Robertson (aka the Weird Teacher, @theweirdteacher) to talk about what makes Metallica's Master of Puppets (1986, Elektra) great. Metallica, forebears of thrash metal and icons within the metal genre, spent a few years in the underground building a rabid fanbase before finally breaking through with their major label debut (which did so without the help of radio airplay or any music videos). Doug shares how listening to Metallica for the first time forced his body to experience puberty within a matter of seconds as a high school freshman. He then became a ravenous fan, taking in their back catalog and falling in love with each album in turn. Brian, Bill, and Doug discuss Nu metal, growing with fast and loud music, Metallica's musicality, Winger, Lars Ulrich's drumming skills (and maybe lack thereof), how Hetfield's lyrics are smarter than you may think, a whole bunch of really cool guitar things, Dave Mustaine, which song on the album is actually a sonata, a bunch about Cliff Burton's life (and death), and much more as we make our way through the album track by track!