You know, compiling a list of great third albums is a bit difficult. Not because there aren't many great third albums by an artist, but because it requires you to actually double-check things and also to check an artist you think might apply. Debut albums roll off our tongues. Second albums are checked out to see if the artist can deliver. Third albums are only important to record companies who once upon a time decided this would be the "breakthrough" record. Or that myth was created to explain the "importance" of Born to Run and Damn the Torpedoes.
In any case, unless someone calls their third album 3 or Third (Thanks, Big Star! And Led Zeppelin! And Chicago! No thanks to Peter Gabriel!), it often isn't easy to remember what a band's third album is. This gets progressively worse as the numbers pile on. I really like Richard Thompson's Rumor and Sigh, but what number should it be in his repertoire? Should I count only the solo albums? Or do the ones with Linda count? Weird US-only compilations?
Another funny thing is when I discover I left someone off the list, I don't automatically dump whoever was number 25. I dump some random artist who was once number 13 and is now consigned to oblivion. Talk about life not being fair.
The easiest way to know an artist's third album is to be a fan of that artist. I'm not exactly checking the books to see which Bon Jovi album begat which other one. But you might feel different. Which is why there's a handy slot to write down that third Asia album, if you feel it deserves recognition.
If you really believe in that third Boston album? Keep it to yourself. I've got regular readers who won't appreciate such a thing. Not that I mind, But I need to keep my loyal readers happy.
25) Neil Young -- After the Gold Rush: I'm putting this here because much to my own surprise, I've left poor Neil off these lists thus far. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere surely belonged on the last list and his self-titled solo album belonged among the great debut albums. But I don't write this column with a crackerjack set of researchers, poised to catch my every bone-headed error. I work with some guy named Ed. who mostly asks if I can resend the file to someone else because he's too drunk to concentrate "at the moment."
24) Billy Bragg -- Talking With The Taxman About Poetry: It's sub-titled "The Difficult Third Album" but I think it's the most accessible of his work and I like the idea of songs about "Ideology" next to songs about listening to a cassette of the Four Tops and the idea that marriage is when we admit our parents were right. Well, we wouldn't want that to be the case now, would we? What does that make "divorce," the moment when we discover we're as legally screwed up as said parents?
23) The dBs -- Like This: This is one of those spots where I choose the "wrong" album by popular consensus. After all, Chris Stamey left the group and the power-pop fell mostly onto the shoulders of Peter Holsapple and the dBs were no longer a band working as a full unit. Well, whatever you want to say, I prefer this album for "Love is For Lovers," the big crazy production on "Spy In the House of Love" and the inclusion of the original b-side "Darby Hall" on the CD.
22) The Replacements -- Let it Be: Like all Replacements albums, this one has its share of crap and when pushed I do prefer Tim. But I can't ignore an album with "Unsatisfied," "Sixteen Blue" or "Answering Machine." But I can ignore The Who's Sell Out, so there are your generational politics in motion!
21) American Music Club -- California: Another band that never made a perfect album--Everclear and Mercury came closest--but with California, its under-production aside, they got near the perfect circle, getting more from pedal steel guitars than the country acts that usually use them. Why does clinical depression often sound so good?
20) PJ Harvey -- To Bring You My Love: There was a lot of hype surrounding Polly Jean (Phyllis Joan?) Harvey. No one can live up to hype. No one performer can "save" the music or the world. If you accept that music changes the world through subtler means (wouldn't want to live in a world without it, for example), then things begin to fall into place. This album then lives up to its more realistic artistic goal. It sounds good. (Thank you, Flood.) Therefore, it is good. (Thank you, Mr. Ellington.)
19) The Clash -- London Calling: There was a lot of hype surrounding the Clash. No one can live up to hype. No one performer can "save" the music or the world if you accept zzzzz. (Thank you, Guy Stevens.)
18) Trembling Blue Stars -- Broken By Whispers: There has been no hype surrounding Trembling Blue Stars. There is no hype to live up to. So, when you listen to this album (if you like drippy, impossibly sad British troubadours), you will hear your world being saved by subtle means. Isn't that what it's all about?
17) Husker Du -- Zen Arcade: Indie-Rockers making a double album. Seemed funny at the time. Did they sell that many records to get kids to part with a whole ten dollars? Maybe 12 or 13? Does anyone need side four? When I asked Bob Mould why the vocals on this album sounded like they'd been recorded behind a curtain, he explained that considering the pace the record was being recorded, and the lack of a real budget, it was lucky it sounded like anything at all.
16) Blondie -- Parallel Lines: Sure, hardcore fans probably prefer the earlier albums. But this was the one with "Heart of Glass" and it is exciting to think that at least one band from the NYC punk scene could have a massive hit transcending a scene doomed to be unpopular with middle America. The rest of the album is fun. And as the years go by, the NYC punk scene was far more diverse than any "punk" ideals. Modern day punks would be appalled to learn that once upon a time there were no rules to this sort of thing.
15) Metallica -- Master of Puppets: Granted, I'm not a metalhead. I know a few bands, enjoy the occasional pounding, but I'm not heavily versed in the works of Lamb of God or Cannibal Corpse. I've heard them. Somewhere I probably even have notes about them. (Don't ask.) But pretty much everyone I know accepts the idea that this is the best Metallica album. Besides, I chase my cat around the house to the tune of "Master of Puppets," screaming "Mustard, Mustard, Mustard," like I'm James Hetfield before therapy and the smart-guy glasses.
14) Randy Newman -- Sail Away: Since I don't think I'm going to get around to putting together a "Twenty-Five Best Eighth Albums" (unless you really insist), Randy Newman will be placed here. With this fine album (We're not counting Randy Newman Live). (Yes, the implication here that I actually prefer his later work is true. I just do.) Who can argue with an album that ends with a California God looking down on his creation and thinking "What a bunch of bozos." Or a song like "Political Science" that now doesn't sound all that far-fetched from much current political rhetoric. This list is filled with visionaries. Stick around and see!
13) Brian Eno -- Another Green World: No one can explain Brian Eno better than Brian Eno. I could try. But it would just be a weak carbon-copy of what the man himself has already said. I would suggest listening to this album in a room full of plants with some very funky lighting to accentuate the mood. I will say no more.
12) Lori Carson -- Everything I Touch Runs Wild: All music is related to where you are in your life. Yes, we can go back and study the classics, the ones that some bizarre form of critical or mass consensus tells us are the "important" ones. This list, surely, reflects that conceit to some degree. (Contrary to rumor, I live on earth with the rest of you. Just inside an Orgone box given to me by my buddy Jerry.) This album is a personal fave. I will not speak for the music. Surely you can find links to "Black Thumb," "Snow Come Down" or "Whole Heart" and see if it works for you. Do I need to spell things out? It's on this list. That should mean more than anything I write. Getting you to like the music I like is not an arm-wrestling competition (though, if it is, I hope I'm winning).
11) Van Halen -- Women and Children First: You can rightly argue that it was stupid of me to leave these guys off the great debut album list. But I also left off Millions of Dead Cops and I feel worse about that! Anyhow, at this point, since I'm not sure if I'm going to be doing a "Best Fourth Album" list (do you want to see it? do you?), I figured I'd put Van Halen in the running with this album where it really does sound like the delta blues being played by a nuclear reactor. It sounds exactly like Lori Carson's album, except completely different.
10) Iggy and the Stooges -- Raw Power: I've already written at length about the greatness of this album. It's still great. That hasn't changed.
9) Captain Beefheart -- Trout Mask Replica: Even the legendary Popsterman, Quest4BetterPop, likes this album. That last statement might leave you a little confused. Well, that's nothing compared to what you'll feel once you stick your head inside "Frownland," "Dali's Car" or "Orange Claw Hammer." His goal was to remove the "mama-heartbeat" from rock n' roll and he did it. Oh boy, did he do it. If Husker Du's record label seemed crazy for releasing a double album, Captain Beefheart's was surely insane. Thanks, Mr. Zappa.
8) The Cure - Faith: Again, not sure whether a "Twenty-Five Best Fourth Albums" is in the cards or not, I decided to make sure these blokes (they are blokes, Malcolm, no?) made the list. Any album with "All Cats Are Grey" deserves to be on a list somewhere.
7) The Jam -- All Mod Cons: The Jam were that rare band whose albums actually got better as they went along. Then again, so did all the great British groups of the 1960s. When did the Kinks hit their stride (even by British count, not until album four or five)? So, maybe it's a British thing? Then again, probably not. We could massage the numbers any which way to make things come out as we like. "To Be Someone (Didn't We Have a Nice Time)" is one of my personal faves. "Mr. Clean,' the cover of the Kinks' "David Watts" and, if you buy American, "The Butterfly Collector" make for yet one more reason why we Americans didn't actually win the Revolutionary War.
6) Jackson Browne -- Late for the Sky: Any of Jackson's first three albums could make the cut. I finally took pity on him and placed this album here to make up for past oversights. The J.B. lobbyists are partying hard in the Y! Music Executive Suite. Don't let them know, but they had me with the title track from this album, not to mention "For A Dancer," "Before the Deluge" and "Fountain of Sorrow" for starters. Yes, make all the fun you want out of Mr. Sensitive, I'm still a fan, through and through.
5) Robyn Hitchcock -- I Often Dream Of Trains: Hitchcock pulls of his own Nebraska and goes acoustic. But where Bruce went folk and direct, Hitchcock went indirect and surreal. Each CD of this album seems to juggle the order another time. To the point where I'm no longer sure what's considered to be on the album and what's not. All I know it's on my iPod and it still sounds great. Shouldn't all records come with a guarantee of freshness?
4) The Apartments -- A Life Full of Farewells: Sadly obscure, A Life Full of Farewells is a brilliant song cycle where you're left wondering why anyone bothers with anything. Peter Milton Walsh paints in shades of gray and by the end it's like he's discovered the most brilliant way of killing time. Will songs such as "All The Time In The World" "Not Every Clown Can Be In The Circus" (a theme song for this blog, per chance?) or "Things You'll Keep" entrance you? I don't know. What entrances you?
3) Black Sabbath -- Master of Reality: The last time I really heard this album - I mean really heard it, as in loud, loud loud - was before a Monster Magnet gig and it sounded ferocious. Quaaludes and Rosemary's Baby all in one place. These are eternal riffs and the ballad ("Solitude") is every bit as poignant as "Lord of This World" and "Sweet Leaf," a love song of a different order.
2) Tim Buckley -- Happy/Sad: The first Tim Buckley album to bring it all together. Goodbye and Hello had its flashes of brilliance that made the debut sound like the work of a precocious young man still finding his way. He's still plenty weird here and sometimes I'm more in the mood for Blue Afternoon or even Lorca (late-night). "Sing A Song For You" is much better than its title implies (that's what you're supposed to be doing, dude!) and "Love From Room 109 at the Islander (On Pacific Coast Highway)" is a tune worth setting your GPS towards. If you can't find your way with that one, you're stuck in the dark, bro.
1) Love -- Forever Changes: "A House Is Not A Motel" is one of my all-time favorite songs and the rest ain't bad either. If you haven't sat around listening to this on a sunny day, what are you waiting for? Arthur Lee would continue to be sporadically great from time to time, but here he is consistently great. "You Set the Scene"? No kidding.