My top 5 rock albums

1966 to 1989

There was a question on Quora asking for people’s top 5 rock albums. What an inane question! How can anyone pick just five? So I decided to do it anyway.

First, some guidelines. I am not going to get into the definition of what is “rock.” I hear this every year when an ABBA, Nina Simone, or Joan Baez enters the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nor will I address the “best” albums because “best” has become an increasingly elusive term for me.

I could have picked Blue by either Miles Davis or Joni Mitchell, Who’s Next, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, Abraxas by Santana, k.d. lang’s Ingenue, or approximately a zillion more, including at least three by Stevie Wonder.

I’m not selecting a greatest hits album; Sly and the Family Stone would otherwise be on the podium. There are no soundtracks, Broadway cast albums or compilations, so no The Harder They Come, Hamilton, or  West Side Story.  And if I do this in five years, three of these might be different.

The Eclectics

I decided on three of these because they are so eclectic.

Spike – Elvis Costello, which I mentioned back in 2009 in my 25 most influential albums. The All Music review calls it “maddeningly diffuse.” Its diffuseness may be why I like it because I don’t find it maddening at all. 

Veronica, Chewing Gum, Last Boat Leaving

That’s A Plenty – the Pointer Sisters. I first wrote about this album in 2006.  Then in 2014; unfortunately, only the links to Little Pony, Fairytale, and Black Coffee still work.

Salt Peanuts; Love In Them There Hills 

Revolver – The Beatles. I picked this one over other Beatles albums because I hate Run For Your Life (Rubber Soul). Abbey Road has Octopus’s Garden, which is too much in the Yellow Submarine vein. I may as well pick the album with Yellow Sub. It’s not my favorite song, but it fascinated me because the single, in the last verse, has “As we live a life of ease (a life of ease),” but the echo doesn’t happen on the album version I had.

The 2012 post has lots of bad links.

Taxman, For No One, Got To Get You Into My Life, Tomorrow Never Knows

Two more

Still Crazy After All These Years – Paul Simon. As I noted here in 2016. “Inextricably tied to the Okie in my mind.”

I Do It For Your Love, Have A Good Time, Title song.

Peter Gabriel (melt)- Peter Gabriel. I mentioned Gabriel in 2011 and 2020. In this post, also from 2020, I listed my favorite Gabriel songs, and the links still work! The ones from Melt have a 3 after the title because they are on the third eponymous PG album.

Favorites: Peter Gabriel, ex-Genesis

jeux sans frontières

peter gabriel.soI’m revisiting J. Eric Smith’s favorite songs by favorite band question. He broke it up by segments of his life. For me:

The Beatles (1965-1969) – without a doubt. I joined the Capitol Record Club in 1965 or 1966 and bought Beatles VI. Then I got all of the back albums and the subsequent ones through Revolver. Well except Yesterday and Today, which I got for $2.99 at the Rexall drug store. Sgt. Pepper, I purchased from W.T. Grant for the outrageous price of $3.67. (I don’t know where I got it, but the Let It Be album was $4.99!)

My favorite songs in 2011, which probably hasn’t much changed: 13-4; 3-1.

The Rolling Stones (1970-1972) – when the Beatles were breaking up, I turned my attention to that other leading British invasion band. Frankly, I thought most of their early albums were not very good. They had a couple of hits plus a bunch of filler. It wasn’t until Aftermath that I thought they started to put together coherent packages. like the Beatles, their record label in the US often repackaged what the band intended.

Then they put out my favorite albums of theirs, Let It Bleed and Sticky Fingers.
My favorite songs (2013).

Stevie Wonder (1973-1976) – you could argue that Stevie Wonder is not a band. 1) Don’t care, and 2) the way he creates such a full sound, maybe he is. His albums captivated me as early as Where I’m Coming From (1971), through Songs in the Key of Life (1976)
My favorite songs (2020).
If I were to pick a group in this time frame, it might be the Who or CSNY.

Paul Simon (1977-1980) – My obsession with Paul goes back to his period with Artie.
My favorite songs (2011).
If I had to pick a band, it’d probably be Led Zeppelin.

Post Genesis

Peter Gabriel (1981-1984) – I really discovered Gabriel with his third album (Melt) in 1980, which is probably on my island list. I quickly picked up the first two albums and several of his subsequent ones.

I shall admit that I wasn’t particularly familiar with his stint in the group Genesis until my local radio station WQBK played the title song of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway incessantly.

Making this list was brutal. I could almost pick every song from Melt and half the songs from So. From 10-1, approximately:

Don’t Give Up (featuring Kate Bush) 3 – I love the changing rhythms of this song, as well as the title message. There’s a cover of this by Willie Nelson featuring Sinéad O’Connor.
Big Time – lives on the bassline, and I always love that!
And Through the Wire 3
Solsbury Hill – Gabriel has said, “It’s about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get … It’s about letting go.”
Games Without Frontiers  3- “She’s so funky, yeah.” No that’s not right- “jeux sans frontières.”

Sledgehammer – it was the video, which makes this song seem faster than it actually is.
I Don’t Remember 3 – I relate to this too well.
Not One of Us 3 – Lots of people relate to this too well.
Here Comes the Flood it’s the remake. Shaking The Tree – 16 Golden Greats. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.
Biko 3 – one of the most important songs ever written in popular music. It started the process of shedding light on the apartheid of South Africa in a very tangible way.

If I were to pick an actual group from the early 1980s, it’d probably be The Police or The Clash.

Musician Peter Gabriel turns 70


Peter Gabriel MeltPeter Gabriel is one of my 25 “island” albums. Hmm, I suppose I should specify. There were three or four eponymous albums of his, depending on the country.

I’m talking about the THIRD Peter Gabriel album, the one originally released on Mercury Records in the US in May 1980. “The album is also often referred to as Melt owing to its cover photograph by Hipgnosis.”

At FantaCo, where I started working that very same month, many of the tracks were on heavy rotation on the radio station WQBK-FM, Q104, which was on in the store constantly.

I also heard songs from his first two albums. From Car, Solsbury Hill and Here Comes the Flood. Scratch featured On the Air. And from the last Genesis album featuring Gabriel, the title track of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.


Intruder uses the “gated drum” sound of Phil Collins, Gabriel’s former bandmate on Genesis.

No Self Control is well described on a blog about the music of Kate Bush by Christine Kelley.

Start is a snippet leading to I Don’t Remember. “Gabriel jokingly summarised the album’s themes as ‘The history of a decaying mind.'”

Family Snapshot was inspired in part by An Assassin’s Diary (1973). Gabriel said it was “a really nasty book” by Arthur Bremer, who had attempted to assassinate George Wallace in 1972.

And Through the Wire the closest to a straight-up rocker, but with a distorted vocal.

Side Two starts with Games Without Frontiers, also well described by Kelley. We knew the line was “jeux san frontières” but the FantaCo running joke was that it was really “she’s so funky, yeah.”

Not One of Us is another song of alienation.

Lead a Normal Life – “Atlantic Records (the label for the first two albums) didn’t want to put [Melt] out at all…” Atlantic head Ahmet Ertegun wondered “‘Has Peter been in a mental hospital?’ They thought I’d had a breakdown and recorded a piece of crap … I thought I’d really found myself on that record, and then someone just squashes it. I went through some primordial rejection issues.”

Biko – I was vaguely aware of the murder of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko in 1977. But this haunting track gave the incident the worldwide attention it deserved.


For Christmas 1980, our boss Tom at FantaCo gave us each a foot-long cube, which turned out to be six LPs. One of mine was Ein deutsches Album, “released in July 1980… Gabriel sang German vocals on top of completely new recorded instrumental and backing vocal tracks.” I loved it.

After that, I became a big Peter Gabriel fan, buying the first two albums, then Security and ITS German counterpart (1982), with the hit Shock the Monkey. Plays Live came out in 1983. The massively successful So album was released in 1986.

In October 2001, my wife and I were in Cherry Valley, NY, trying to get away from the world. A store was playing Afro Celt Sound System’s Volume 3: Further in Time. I recognized vocals by Gabriel (When You’re Falling) and also Robert Plant. I bought it.

Peter Gabriel turns 70 today. Links to songs throughout.

If I had a ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

What I hope will happen is that they’ll pick the great guitarist Link Wray as an early influence, as they have done in the past with people who have shown up on the ballot, deserve to be enshrined, but who most people never even heard of.

From CNN: “Grunge groundbreakers Nirvana, disco dynamos Chic and the costume-clad, Gene Simmons-led pop metal band KISS are among 16 nominees up for election in the museum’s Class of 2014. The deep selection also includes ’70s and ’80s hitmakers Hall and Oates; college radio heroes the Replacements; New Orleans funkmeisters the Meters; sweet-voiced Linda Ronstadt; and pioneering gangsta rappers N.W.A.

“Completing the list: the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Deep Purple, Peter Gabriel, LL Cool J, Cat Stevens, Link Wray, Yes and the Zombies.”

CBS News adds: “Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, and The Replacements are among first-time nominees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.”

All eligible nominees released their first single or album at least 25 years before the year of nomination.

Fans can vote for up to five artists at and and

I’ve already made it clear that I would vote for Linda Ronstadt. Beyond that, there are probably seven artists for the other four slots. Pretty much a coin flip, my ballot would include:
Chic, which is newly chic, its sound still relevant.
Peter Gabriel, who was not only commercially successful in the 1980s, but put out great albums before that; if for the song Biko alone, which codified understanding of apartheid to the western world, he’d be deserving. I have a LOT of PG.
Hall & Oates, who not only had massive commercial success over a lengthy period – I am an unapologetic fan – but also are great proponents of music to this day. And though it ought not to matter in this context, I really love Daryl Hall’s solo album Sacred Songs.
Yes, in part as a paean to progressive rock, in hopes that King Crimson gets a nod next time out.

What I hope will happen is that they’ll pick the great guitarist Link Wray as an early influence, as they have done in the past with people who have shown up on the ballot, deserve to be enshrined, but who most people never even heard of.

The Meters, which helped beget The Neville Brothers, was essentially the house band for Allen Toussaint and played on a lot of other people’s albums, so I’m hoping that they’ll get picked in the sidemen category, as Leon Russell did a couple of years ago.

My other pick in these fan ballots was Butterfield, whose three Bs (Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, Elvin Bishop) were also individually important in rock

Not picking Nirvana, on their first ballot, who will get in anyway. I like them well enough; have three or four of their albums and their sound defined the early 1990s.
Hope the Replacements get in someday – it was their first year as well.
I had quite a bit of Cat Stevens in the day, and I’d pick him if there weren’t people I preferred.
Have the greatest hits of the Zombies, and I’m just not sure a few hits plus one great album warrants the band’s inclusion.
I know N.W.A. is massively influential, despite its limited output, but not feeling it yet.
Never cared for KISS.
Loved the hits of Deep Purple, but guess I don’t know the oeuvre well enough to decide if they merit inclusion.
Know LL Cool J better as an actor than a musician.

Which five artists would YOU vote for?

G is for Gabriel, Peter Gabriel

As it turns out, I have TWO copies of Peter Gabriel’s third album in German, on vinyl.

Somehow, I was largely unaware of the music of the “progressive rock” group Genesis, which was formed in the late 1960s, until its 1974 album. The title track to The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway [listen] got a bit of airplay in this area. Shortly after this album, lead singer Peter Gabriel left the group over personal and artistic differences, with Phil Collins taking over the lead vocals of Genesis. Gabriel would eventually initiate a solo career.

His first album (1977) was called Peter Gabriel and featured the song Solsbury Hill [listen], which was about his departure from Genesis, as well as the first version of Here Comes the Flood, which Gabriel claimed was overproduced; from the version on his greatest hits album, he may have been correct.

His second, less successful album from 1978, was also called Peter Gabriel, and featured D.I.Y. Fans dubbed the first collection Car and the second, Scratch, based on the album cover features.

But it was his 1980 third album, called Peter Gabriel, referred to as Melt, that really captivated my attention. The first song, “Intruder”, “featured the reverse-gated, cymbal-less drum kit sound which [Phil] Collins would also use on his single “In the Air Tonight”…. Gabriel had requested that his drummers use no cymbals in the album’s sessions, and when he heard the result he asked Collins to play a simple pattern for several minutes, then built ‘Intruder’ around it.” Another great song is “I Don’t Remember” – “I have no memory of anything at all.

The hit was Games Without Frontiers [listen]; this version is pitched higher with the treble is adjusted. I must admit that I heard the lyrics “Jeux sans frontieres” as “She’s so funky, yeah.” Oy.

This album was also realized in German; “alternate takes of some of the instruments seem to have been used occasionally, and the mix is somewhat different.”

As it turns out, I have TWO copies of this German-language album on vinyl. When I worked at FantaCo in the early 1980s, the boss gave each of us a copy of the album, but, for reasons now lost to me, one of my colleagues was angry about the gift, didn’t want it, and gave it to me. So, one of my LPs is still factory-sealed.

Here are Spiel ohne grenzen [listen] (“Games without frontiers” in German) and Biko [listen]. The latter song is about Stephen Biko, “a noted anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s,” who died in police custody in 1977. Gabriel’s song was one of several about Biko but among the most significant.

Peter Gabriel’s fourth album, from 1982, was called, you guessed it, Peter Gabriel. However, his US distributor slapped the title Security on it. The big hit was Shock the Monkey [listen]. This album was also released in German.

The next year, Peter Gabriel Plays Live came out, filled with previously released songs plus the minor hit I Go Swimming.

Peter Gabriel would go on to even greater commercial success, but that’s another tale.

ABC Wednesday – Round 9

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