Plastic Ono Band Beats Innervisions: Rolling Stone's Greatest 21-30
This week marked the first real conflict for my favorite record, out of the 10 albums from 21-30 that Rolling Stone magazine chose as their Greatest Albums of All Time: Innervisions or Plastic Ono Band? The race-man thing to do would obviously be to pick Stevie. Innervisions was laying around the living room of every 70s soul baby, while our parents had probably never even heard of Plastic Ono Band, or were scared off by Yoko Ono and all that “primal scream therapy” stuff.
Plastic Ono Band wins.
Revoke my race-man card, it’s somewhere in the trash bin anyhow. I give it to John Lennon this week for a few reasons. “Isolation” is one. “Look at Me” is another. Lennon wins by a hair’s breadth to tell the truth, ‘cause Innervisions is certainly one of my favorite Stevie albums. I’d personally rank Songs in the Key of Life higher, or even Talking Book.
But as one of those Statement Albums where an artist gets something off his/her chest and knocks it clean out the park? The breakup of The Beatles was one of the most seismic shifts in pop culture, like, ever. Plastic Ono Band captures the spirit of the aftermath better than anything McCartney or the others made around the same time. (I’m guessing a bit: while I’ve heard most of Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, I’ve never heard a solo McCartney record all the way through yet.) Innervisions is just as flawless as Plastic Ono Band, but minus the background gravitas. Let’s hand it to Lennon this week. Stevie’s got at least four or five classic albums; Lennon’s only got this one.
Records 21-30 on the Rolling Stone list went like this:
21. The Great Twenty-Eight, Chuck Berry
22. Plastic Ono Band, John Lennon
23. Innervisions, Stevie Wonder
24. Live at the Apollo (1963), James Brown
25. Rumours, Fleetwood Mac
26. The Joshua Tree, U2
27. King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol.1, Robert Johnson
28. Who’s Next, The Who
29. Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin
30. Blue, Joni Mitchell
The week’s worst record for me could’ve been Who’s Next. It’s my first beginning-to-end Who disc, and I was summarily unimpressed. My memories of director Spike Lee using “Baba O’Riley” in Summer of Sam saved the album from the “absolute worst” spot. Any of Lenny Kravitz’s first five albums are as good as Who’s Next
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours just isn’t my bag; it’s this week’s worst. Maybe I just don’t dig California rock. It’s a genre, no, California rock? Stuff like The Eagles, Joni Mitchell (who’s another story this week, with Blue), Fleetwood Mac? That kinda dry, super-produced, lyrically heavy, ultra-white rock music of the 1970s? I was already familiar with the Clinton campaign song “Don’t Stop,” and “Go Your Own Way,” neither of which lights my fire. I liked Stevie Nicks for 1983’s “Stand Back” (Prince on keyboards, y’all), and even that wasn’t my favorite song or anything. I could—and will—never listen to Rumours again and be perfectly content.
As for the rest. Chuck Berry’s The Great Twenty-Eight was much better than last week’s 1950s loser, Elvis’s The Sun Sessions, even with a bunch of the songs starting with that same “Roll Over Beethoven” guitar riff. (The one that always makes me think of LL Cool J’s “Go Cut Creator Go.”) For rockabilly rock ‘n’ roll, Berry’s the don dada: “Rock and Roll Music,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Around and Around,” “Almost Grown” and “Let It Rock” are all great songs. The Beach Boys toootally ripped off “Sweet Little Sixteen” for “Surfin’ USA,” fuckin biters. (“Songwriting credit for the song was eventually given entirely to Chuck Berry,” sez Wikipedia.)
James Brown’s Live at the Apollo was JB live, no more no less. I’ve seen him at the Apollo myself in 1988 (thanks Dad). If you’re used to JB, you know what to expect. He coulda lost this week, but nothing’s worse than Rumours. The Joshua Tree is great but it doesn’t belong in the Top 30 albums of all time, c’mon. Led Zeppelin is fabulous: “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby” especially, “Dazed and Confused” of course. Robert Johnson’s King of the Delta Blues Singers, Vol.1 makes 90% of the top 500 list possible, laying the groundwork for rock music as it does, but I didn’t looove it. I did love his “Traveling Riverside Blues” lyric, “You can squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg,” which Led Zeppelin bit for Led Zeppelin’s own “Traveling Riverside Blues.” Ahh, white rockers and their “homages.”
Confession: I hereby don’t love Joni Mitchell. It’s heresy for any Prince-loving bohemian black man to say (peace Q-Tip), but every Mitchell album I hear is usually only good for one track. On The Hissing of Summer Lawns, it’s “The Jungle Line.” On Blue, it’s “My Old Man,” specifically for the “We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall” vocal arrangement melody. Impress me, Joni, please. Blue doesn’t do it.