Thursday, August 30, 2007

Radio Nowhere

"Radio Nowhere," the first single off of Bruce Springsteen's forthcoming album Magic, is powerful. The song hangs on a heavy chord progression which is totally contemporary. Over it, the song laments the lack of diversity on contemporary radio and how the repitition of five or six songs leaves everyone those five songs don't relate to feeling alienated.

As he is apt to do, Springsteen begins the song by evoking the American landscape in turmoil. Attacked by the drone of the radio, he imagines a "satellite / crushing the last lone American night." Elsewhere, the Boss is "searching for the Mystery Train." This reference to Elvis's essential Sun single, written and originally recorded by Junior Parker, brings to life the idea of earthy music made for enjoyment. "Mystery Train," and Presley's other Sun singles, pre-dates the time when people knew what rock'n'roll was supposed to sound like, and more importantly what rock'n'roll had to sound like in order to make some money. This allowed the music to have the room it needed to come to life, and the influence of the market means that thousands of artists who may have brilliant ideas fail to get signed because their music doesn't conform with Top 40 radio.

The line "I want a million different voices speaking in tongues" is brilliant. The idea of diversity is expressed through the variety of sounds made by a million different voices and the idea of speaking in tongues conjures up the idea of people making emotional music spoken from passion rather than thought. This truest way to express the self is where rock gets its unbridled energy. The line also, rather obviously, implies that rock is imbued with spiritual power; this has always been true of Springsteen's music.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Prince's "Planet Earth"

Listening to Prince's newest album, it is apparent that the Artist Formerly Known as the Symbol needs to come back to Planet Earth.

The album does have a few strengths, a lot of problems, and one undeniable success.

Several tracks have potential. "Planet Earth" is musically reminscent of "Power Fantastic," likely due to the heavy influence of collaborators Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman on both tracks. "Power Fantastic" is a Parade-era outtake, which I believe was intended for the aborted Dream Factory project. It eventually surfaced on The Hits/B-Sides. What this means is, it could be classic Prince, but instead the music seems to be simply rehashed with some overdubbed guitar licks. Lyrically, the song covers a wide range of political ground, but none very effectively.

"Guitar," the first single, is classic Prince pop in many ways, but is too lightweight to be a serious contender. The song is built on a guitar lick that sounds wicked-catchy, but is as musically stale as the lick in Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend" (also catchy as all get out). Lyrically, it makes Avril Lavigne seem like Joni Mitchell, and that's hard to do. The song is reminiscent of "Fury," 3121's third single, in that both feature simple but catchy hooks, but the lyrics is the opposite, so shallow as to disrespect women rather than praising their strength.

"The One You Wanna C" features some great rhythms and is musically one of the album's stronger tracks, but even with these potential strengths, the lyrics ruin the song. At one point Prince attempts to compliment his woman by telling her that he knows she "ain't no concubine." A couple lines later he suggests that if she "wants to get creamy" then Prince is "the one u [she] wanna c." I usually prefer intellectually destroying such tripe, but when faced with that I feel my gut reaction sums it up: ewwwwww.

Most of the rest of the albums is an outright embarassment. Prince's attempts to rap on "Mr. Goodnight" show him trying to expand into musical landscapes he's already failed in. I do appreciate his previous forays in "Get Off" and "Sexy MF," but those songs, especially "Sexy MF," had funk-laden backing tracks, while "Mr. Goodnight" rests on lightweight R&B (read: imitation soul).

"Lion of Judah" is Prince's latest attempt to blend sexuality and spirituality. In the past, no one could do this quite like Prince, but now he has a little too much brimstone behind him to make it successful. The song is all power when, to be truly vital, it needs enough nuance to allow the complexity of religion to show.

"Resolution," the album's second attempt at a political broadside, is not nearly as successful as "Planet Earth." It uses middle school logic to confuse itself into being a song that seems anti-war on the surface, but really takes no stand if examined closely, other then the obvious stand that Hallmark-card-style rhetoric makes everything better. This is a lite version of 2004's "Dear Mr. Man," both musically and lyrically.

The one indisputable achievement on this album is "Chelsea Rogers." The song starts with a James Brown bass beat, laying over it some Catfish Collins-style scratch guitar and then laying horn charts over that. The gospel vocals mix with soulful screaming and dramatic exultations. The overall effect is Prince's most exciting all-out-funk since 1986's "Girls and Boys." For all its old-school flavor, the track is entirely modern, all the way down to the Outkast-referencing line "shake it like a juicy-juice."

The final verdict? Download "Chelsea Rogers" and don't worry about the rest.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Big Love for Harry Dean Stanton

HBO's Big Love consistently reminds me of how great Harry Dean Staton is at playing despicable people.

In Big Love he plays the worst kind of villian. He is a church leader, but you can almost smell the reek of hipocrisy as he sings the Carter Family's "Wildwood Church." He is a mafia-esque extortionist. His greed makes him the worst kind of materialist. Jesus would have overturned his table for sure. He's also a pedophile with a fifteen-year-old wife and a crush on his thirty-something daughter.

Lankily pacing around the screen in a western suit and cowboy hat, he looks the very face of a man at ease with himself. He is calm and confident. He looks like one might expect Bob Dylan too after a particularly great show. However, behind all that, something ugly lurks, making him seem like a voracious wolf just ready to pounce.

Part of me thinks that Roman Grant (what a name!) is the character Harry Dean Stanton was born to play, and he handles the role perfectly. Another part of me longs to see him in the role of Asa Hawks, the (psuedo-)blind street preacher in Flannery O'Connors Wise Blood. Stanton has played that role, but unfortunately the movie is near impossible to find.

Asa Hawks is as hypocritical as Roman Grant. Hawks claims to have blinded himself to show his faith; however, in truth, his eyes are unharmed. Hawks young daughter, who has a knowing crush on the spiritually seeking Hazel Motes, seems a little too sexually knowledgable for her age. Perhaps this is due to Hawks having abused her, though there is no direct evidence of this in the novel.

The paralells between Roman Grant and Asa Hawks are obvious, and Hawks seems as good a role for Stanton as any. If only I can track down Wise Blood, then I will be able to find out for sure.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Weekly World News

America has lost one of its great publications.

The Weekly World News, the World's Most Reliable News Source, closed its doors recently. The final cover speaks volumes about the swelling emotions of readers around the country.

Reminiscent of a scene from DC Comics' Funeral For A Friend series following the death of Batman, except completely realistic, the cover features an open coffin with Bat Boy laid inside. Surrounding the casket are such contemporary luminaries as Big Foot, the world's fattest cat, and the Gator-man. A single tears falls down the cheek of each. If Big Foot is crying, you know there's been a serious tragedy, or else TNT is showing Harry and the Hendersons.

On a more serious note, though, Weekly World News has been a source of the best kind of satire for as long as I've been reading it, starting as a casually curious observer in the late 1990s or early 2000s and becoming a subscriber who had collected well over three hundred issues by the time of the newspaper's closing.

For the uninaugurated, which I'm assuming is most of the population, here's an example of what you are missing out on.

One of my favorite all time stories began with a vampire taking a trip to the dentist's office. His dental insurance refused to cover the cost of the visit because, due to the enlarged size of his fanngs, the vampire was a liability and the company refused to provide him insurance. The vampire was in the process of suing the insurance company, arguing that they were discriminating against those who, beyond their control, had long teeth.

The story was a great commentary on how screwed up health care is in this country because of how many exclusions and guidelines are imposed by greedy insurance companies. Granted, it seems ludicrous, but in truth it is no more ludicrous than the reality that exists. That's why the Weekly World News has been able to live up to its title of the World's Most Reliable Newspaper.

Monday, August 20, 2007

100 Albums, 100 Words (90-81)

90. U2 – War (1983)

Bleak and political, U2’s War features the band at their angriest and hardest. The guitars clash and thrash, the drums rattle like gunfire, and the bass pounds. “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” a song about the massacre of Irish revolutionaries, opens the album. On “New Years Day,” peace is only temporary and love occurs across a series of rendezvous beneath the “blood red sky.” “Two Hearts Beat As One” attempts to reconcile Ireland’s halves, but the title’s solution seems a long way away. The Bono we know first expressed himself on this album, and it contains the most intelligent things he’s said.

89. MC Paul Barman – Paulellujah! (2002)

The unheralded king of nerd rap, Paul Barman is a rhyming genius. His apocopated syllables, along with palindromical lines, before and afters (I. R. Skimo), and four syllable rhymes (“disarobe Lisa Loeb”) make him the game’s most literate MC. Unfortunately, his subject matter leaves a little to be desired – basically, he whines about why he hates feminists and how he plans to sleep with them. Still, the cartoonesque beats with quirky sound effects, as laid down by MF Doom and Prince Paul, provide the necessary backing for Barman’s silly yet offensive rhyming, and “Excuse Me”’s boasts are the best around.

88. The Who – The Who Sell Out (1968)

The first concept album by a group renowned for them, The Who Sell Out not only has one of the greatest album covers, but also a great collection of songs. The main songs – especially “Our Love Was” and “I Can’t Reach You” – are among Townsend’s best melodies. The hit, “I Can See For Miles,” opens with a superheavy chord. “Silas Stingy” is a great send up of misers. The advertisement songs are great too, though. “Odorono” is a story song almost as witty as “Tattoo.” The pirate radio spots between songs ensure the album’s anti-regulated radio concept won’t be forgotten.

87. The Doors – LA Woman (1971)

Widely regarded as signaling a creative resurgence which was never fully realized due to Morrison’s untimely death, this album features some amazing music and some truly experimental and groundbreaking songs. ‘L’America” features a weird scene dealing with slavery inside the gold mine. “Hyacinth House,” among the Doors’ most underrated songs, features excellent chord changes. “Texas Radio and the Big Beat” is Morrison’s best attempt to fuse his loves of rock and poetry. “L. A. Woman” should be the soundtrack to every scene of hopped-up, adrenalized freeway driving. Had Morrison lived, there’s no telling how eerily good it could have gotten.

86. Van Morrison – St. Dominic’s Preview (1972)

From the opening sprightliness of “Jackie Wilson Said,” the listener is both smiling and in heaven. This high-energy album finds a happy medium between Van’s mainstream-friendly fare such as Moondance and the more esoteric masterpieces like Astral Weeks. At once poppy and soulfully emotional, the album is able to hold two ten minute songs that never feel like they are lasting ten minutes. The album feels as open as an endless bazaar but retains its musical tightness, a strength few albums can hope to emulate. Unsurprisingly, this is the only Van Morrison album to produce two contemporaneous Hot 100 singles.

85. Michael Jackson – Thriller (1982)

Although it is generally accepted that Michael Jackson is the weirdest person alive, that doesn’t discount the fact that, when he was only semi-weird (who cuddles a tiger and wears a diamond-studded glove?), he made one of the most ass-shakable albums ever. From “Thriller” to “Billie Jean” to Eddie Van Halen’s solo in “Beat It,” this album is extremely danceable. The two best moments, though, are the least celebrated. The improbable dialogue between Michael and Sir Paul in “The Girl Is Mine” always leaves me in tears (of laughter). “P.Y.T.” features the most memorable melody and coined the term “tendaroni.”

84. Prince – Musicology (2004)

Prince is back! Not only is this album not filled with twenty-minute instrumental musings or anti-Semitic ramblings about why being a Jehovah’s Witness rules (okay, he does that a tiny bit), but the concise poppy hooks are sometimes accompanied by political lyrics of the kind Prince hasn’t achieved since “Money Don’t Matter 2night.” “Cinnamon Girl,” a song examining post-9/11 racism against Arabs through the eyes of a middle school student, hangs on a George Harrison inflected hook that recalls the Purple Reign. “Dear Mr. Man” is overpoliticized JB-style funk. The album is a science class in how groovin' is done.

83. Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

Along with Workingman’s Dead, this album includes much of The Dead’s best work. “Box of Rain,” “Ripple,” “Sugar Magnolia,” “Friend of the Devil” and “Truckin’” are all essential staples of their catalog. The album takes the new country-rock sound The Dead had experimented with on their previous album and develops it with more complex instrumentation and more textured recordings. Garcia’s guitar work on “Friend of the Devil” is tender yet memorable. “Sugar Magnolia” features an endearingly romantic lyric. “Ripple” shuffles along with a pleasant, afternoon rhythm. Alternately laidback and rollicking, the album is perfect for smiling in the morning sunshine.

82. Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads (1940)

Dust Bowl Ballads may be the first real album, the first collection of songs recorded to cohesively serve one purpose. Rather than just a hodge-podge of 78s, these Guthrie sides chronicle the depression as well as any other historical document or piece of art. Simultaneously fictional and non-fictional, Guthrie reports hardship with a journalist’s objectivity and a novelist’s eye for detail. Nothing is wasted and everything has meaning. Even the outlaw ballad “Pretty Boy Floyd,” not explicitly about the dust bowl, relates through Floyd’s mythologized generosity towards farmers. Meanwhile, “Do-Re-Mi” gives advice on how to persevere through economic hard times.

81. The Who – Tommy (1969)

Tommy was The Who’s third rock opera and the second full-length rock opera, but it is the most important example of the genre and set the pace for what was to follow. The storyline, in which a deaf, blind mute achieves celebrity through his pinball skills and later reveals himself to be the new Messiah after being miraculously healed, is absurd and highly unlikely, but so is much of rock. Musically, much of this is brilliant and the interlocking musical themes, which weave the story into a cohesive whole, work great. As a narrative, it bring eyesight to the ears.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Springsteen's "Magic"al titles

So, the track list has been released for the upcoming Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band album due out this fall. It will be titled Magic. Judgving from the song titles, it should be classic. There are a couple clunkers ("I'll Work For Your Love"?), but for the most part they are classic Bruce. "Radio Nowhere" sounds like a companion to that other media wasteland cut, "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)." "Last to Die" sounds like a sequel to "Tougher Than the Rest." "Gypsy Biker" sounds like something out of the ragged glory of early E-Street. Any time you mix gypsies and bikers you can't go wrong. Hopefully Crazy Davey and the Magic Rat make cameos. Finally, "Devil's Arcade." Wow. That sounds like a powerful blend of the outlook on "Devils and Dust" with a rambshackle mix of the wildest imagery. I can't wait.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On Cheating

While engaging in a friendly game of trivia this week at my favorite drinking hole, things almost got unfriendly. One team got a question about a Scottish Terrier. Instead of admitting they didn't know, the team had one of their members pretend to be passed out while he called a friend up. Unfortunately for him, he was too drunk to hide his cheating. After four teams called him out on it, he claimed that he didn't know calling friends for answers was against the rules, which must have been why he pretended to be passed out.

It doesn't bother me so much that he lied, or even that he attempted to justify it by saying that he wanted to win. These are all secondary sins. The real tragedy is that he cheated in the first place. No one should have to pretend they were unaware of cheating policies because they know it is wrong.

Accepting responsiblity is part of life. Unfortunately, it is not a part that some people take seriously. In the long run, does cheating at trivia matter; probably not. Even so, if someone will take the chance at cheating for something so trivial, almost certainly they'd be tempted by the higher stakes of more serious instances of cheating.

After having their points taken away, the cry babies mumbled threats of bodily harm for a few minutes before trying to begin a chant saying that cheating was for winners.

The tasty, tasty julep

It seems that for the past year or so, the mojito is the drink that has been most in vogue. Having first encountered them at the Drum Room in Kansas City and then later the Starlite Lounge in Lincoln, they now seem to be everywhere.

For a brief moment in time when sorostitutes were the epitomy of cool, the Cosmo had everyone's attention, but hip is always cooler than cool and the mojito is the hipster's drink. Mojitos have become so big now that even Orbitz has created a gum based around their popularity. Of course, the laws of gravity denote that anything too big must fall and so the mojitos days are numbered.

I'd like to nominate the mint julep as its replacement. In recent months I've notice several references to the julep in news stories. Bath and Body Works carries julep-scented good-smelling girl stuff. Best of all, its more or less an 80 proof slushy, and it just doesn't get much better than that.

On a side note.... I'd like to give free advertising to two great bars.

The Drum Room in Kansas City is the hotel bar at the President Hilton. It has perhaps the coolest bartender ever and they make a scorching-hot bloody mary. The Starlite Lounge in Lincoln is in the basement of a cajun restaraunt. It has a rat-pack vibe to it with a round bar. They serve Pabst Blue Ribbon but specialize in a wide range of exotically delightful mixed drinks, such as the Moscow Mule and the Singapore Sling.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Dylan 07 Track Listing

So, the tracklisting for the new Dylan box set has been posted, and at this point I'm even more disappointed than I expected to be. It is as follows:

Disc One:

Song To Woody
Blowin' In The Wind
Masters Of War
Don't Think Twice, It's All Right
A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall
The Times They Are A-Changin'
All I Really Want To Do
My Back Pages
It Ain't Me Babe
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Mr. Tambourine Man
Maggie's Farm
Like A Rolling Stone
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
Positively 4th Street
Rainy Day #12 & 35
Just Like A Woman
Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I'll Go Mine)
All Along The Watchtower

Disc Two:

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
Lay, Lady, Lay
If Not For You
I Shall Be Released
Knockin' On Heaven's Door
On A Night Like This
Forever Young
Tangled Up In Blue
Simple Twist Of Fate
Changing Of The Guards
Gotta Serve Somebody
Precious Angel
The Groom's Still Waiting At The Altar
Dark Eyes

Disc Three:

Blind Willie McTell
Brownsville Girl
Ring Them Bells
Everything Is Broken
Under The Red Sky
You're Gonna Quit Me
Blood In My Eyes
Not Dark Yet
Things Have Changed
Make You Feel My Love
High Water
Po' Boy
Someday Baby
When The Deal Goes Down

Basically, this presents several short-comings. I'd hoped for a sort of Biograph 2, a compilation with plenty of surprises and outtakes and alternate versions. Since its widely rumored that "I'm Not There" will come out on the soundtrack to the film of the same name, I can forgive its exclusion, but this is basically an exact greatest hits. Not only is this simply hits, but whoever did the sequencing showed no creativity at all. This could have been better had songs been strategically placed; perhaps, for instance, placing "Things Have Changed" right after "The Times They Are A-Changin'".

My only hope is that some of these will be alternate takes. I would especially like an alternate version of "Blind Willie McTell" to come out of the vaults, one which takes the song in a different direction musically. I would also enjoy getting "New Danville Girl," the early version of "Brownsville Girl." At minimum, one can at least hope for the remix-free version of "Dignity" that appeared on the Touched By an Angel soundtrack.

As it is, the only things that seem to be here in order to lure collectors are the Mark Ronson remix and the packaging, which seem to be too little to pay a lot for. Consumers may be better off splurging on an import of Masterpieces where they could pick up "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" live in Liverpool (I'm lucky enough to have the 45 of "I Want You," where it originally appeared) and, my Dylan07 vote (the only officially released song I don't have), the Desire outtake "Rita Mae," a b-side of the single from Hard Rain -- only to be re-released on Masterpieces and in the iTunes Collection.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

100 Albums, 100 Words (100-91)

The following list, concieved of in the Spring, represents a ranking of 100 albums, each reviewed in exactly 100 words. The reviews are prefaced by a 100-word working definition of the album. Enjoy.

A good album, like a good review, is poetry -- it's crafted. You have to consider it all: album art, liner notes, production values, ... album order (if you put an album on shuffle and it sounds just as good, it's not a real album). You have to have a concept rather than a song collection, be it a plot, theme, or just a feeling. Thus, compilations can't be albums, unless they have a guiding principle, and live albums don't count if the set is all hits. That said, exceptions exist. If they need justification -- if they deserve it -- they'll get it.

100. John Lennon and Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy (1980)

The lightly veiled racism of America has continuously portrayed Yoko Ono as some sort of evil force which ruined John Lennon’s career by breaking up the Beatles and forcing him to experiment on his own. That’s a crock of shit. Americans were just pissed that they weren’t getting to sleep with John Lennon; they felt betrayed. Lennon’s songs here are mainstream and well crafted, especially the beautiful “Woman.” Ono’s songs are no slouch, though. “Give Me Something” rocks like Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” and “I’m Your Angel” recalls 1930s pop as well as anything since McCartney’s “Honey Pie” on The Beatles.

99. Suzanne Vega – Solitude Standing (1987)

Minimalist, new folk, almost world beat, Suzanne Vega’s second album explores a variety of territory with skill. She includes the hit-to-be “Tom’s Diner” in both a capella and instrumental versions. “Luka,” the most well-known track, is a brilliant depiction of child abuse. An English major, Vega’s lyrics are well-drawn, cataloging images better than anyone since Joni Mitchell (who seems to be a musical influence). “Ironbound/ Fancy Poultry” is a gorgeous ballad about what seems to be the bride of an arranged marriage. “In the Eye” is poppy. “Wooden Horse” recalls both the Trojans and Warner Herzog. Listen and be intrigued.

98. The Clash – Combat Rock (1982)

I realize this is not the Clash’s best work, but when I was young I thought this was the holy grail of punk and I still think it's underrated. I was drawn in by “Rock the Casbah,” but I soon found there was much more. “Know Your Rights” is as explicit as protest music gets. “Car Jamming” made me learn who Lauren Bacall was (hey, I was young). “Red Angel Dragnet” made me go buy Taxi Driver. “Ghetto Defendant” got me interested in Allen Ginsberg. “Overpowered By Funk” lives up to its name. An amazing listen from start to finish.

97. The Dixie Chicks – Fly (1999)

Anyone who was truly surprised when Natalie Maines made her anti-Bush comments simply wasn’t listening to their music; on Fly the girls grow wings and become liberated women. “Goodbye Earl,” a single with crossover appeal, justified the murder of a spousal abuser. Murder ballads are nothing new in country, but not since ‘Frankie and Johnny” has the woman won out, and Frankie felt guilty. “Sin Wagon” is simultaneously a barnstormer and a paean to, well, sin. The liner notes include the term “booty call.” I don’t like pop country; this is pop country, but it’s not your typical Toby Keith.

96. Weezer – Weezer (1994)

It should come as no surprise that Ric Ocasek produced Weezer since it employs a straight-forward rock sound that hadn’t been achieved since The Cars' debut album. “Buddy Holly” is the most well-known song, a deconstruction of the myth of 50s culture as regarded in the nineties (how else can you explain a song called “Buddy Holly” opening with “What’s with these homies dissin’ my girl?”). “Say It Ain’t So” features poppy hooks throughout played with majestically chunky chords. And any album that opens up with a reference to Jonas and the whale definitely deserves a spot in my collection.

95. Thicke – A Beautiful World (2003)

Before he added his first name to his moniker, Robin Thicke was making underappreciated music that fused Michael Jackson, hip-hop, Joni Mitchell and a political consciousness; unfortunately, his lyrical inconsistencies made him seem laughable. “A Beautiful World” paints a bittersweet melodrama that pits man against the nature of the machine and finds man victorious through the beauty of nature … and centerfold models. Elsewhere, his inner feminist claims that a girl being “tha shit” makes her his “equivalent.” That doesn’t even rhyme. Still, the musical ripoffs of Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana sound as good as what their modeled on.

94. White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)

Armed with a distorted tube amp and an arsenal of power chords, Jack White’s guitar launches an assault against overly produced fluff. Amazingly, the band sounds full despite being only two people. The short songs (“Little Room” may be the best song shorter than a minute) mean that the album shifts fast and no song wears out its welcome but is a barn-storming tour-de-force able to do all its business as a breakneck pace. “I Think I Smell A Rat” is all surface, and once you accept that aspect, the licks become irresistible. The rest of the album follows suit.

93. Natalie Imbruglia – Left of the Middle (1997)

Simple yet catchy melodies, innate charm and well-crafted hooks should have made Natalie Imbruglia a breakout sensation, and they did for about fifteen minutes. Everyone remembers “Torn,” but everyone should remember “Smoke,” “One More Addiction” and “Wishing I Was There” as well, as they were all fantastic songs more or less ignored by the media. The press treated the Australian soap opera chanteuse like an amateur, doubting she could mature beyond what she had done. In truth, she deserved more credit than she got for this excellent collection of immediately contemporary yet warm pop songs shot through with mellow strength.

92. Bruce Springsteen – Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ (1973)

This album’s title sounds like a Hallmark card, and thematically that’s what it is: a love letter to the confused homeland that birthed The Boss. Lyrically Springsteen is said to be copying Dylan here, and while “Blinded By the Light” seems somewhat like an unfocused “Tombstone Blues” and “Mary, Queen of Arkansas” is akin to “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” much of it is pure Bruce from the start. “For You” is as mature a song as has ever been written. “Spirit In the Night” shows a gift for hooks and structure that portray the extent of Springsteen’s artistry.

91. Traveling Wilburys – Vol. 1 (1988)

The greatest post-Beatles Beatle side project, The Traveling Wilburys were democratic enough to let George Harrison’s talent shine. In addition to his crack melodicism, you have Roy Orbison’s angelic voice, Tom Petty’s rhythm guitar, Bob Dylan’s playful lyricism and Jeff Lynne’s sleek production to fill things out. The contributors often work best when they share duties, like on “Handle Me With Care.” The hilarious coda of “Dirty World” always brings a chuckle. Perhaps the finest moment, however, is the aching sorrow of Dylan’s “Congratulations;” the only non-upbeat song on the album, it stands as one of his most heartbroken ballads.