Backtrack

Elvis Presley, the debut album from a shy southern boy from Tennessee who would later become the planet’s biggest rockstar, is considered by some to be the greatest album of all time—despite being released nearly 60 years ago and recorded in an extremely lo-fi, almost primitive manner.

Fast forward 10 years, and the Beatles, a young band from Liverpool, hit the stage for the first time in America, taking the world by storm and selling more records than any musician has ever sold before. They still have diehard fans to this day. So, how is it that these artists manage to stick out from the thousands of artists today that have music that is (arguably) much better produced and features more skilled musicians? How is it that Bo Diddley’s bare-bones blues stompers have a heavier impact on music than the epic blues-guitar heroics of an artist like John Mayer? Or that an album like Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols, a band who hardly knew how to hold their instruments, has influenced more kids to buy instruments and start bands than any other neo-punk band with razor sharp musicianship?

The answer to this is personality, originality, and of course social and musical impact. Theres no question that Elvis’s songs changed the world of music forever, but would he really of have obtained such a wide following if it weren’t for his bad boy persona? Or would the Velvet Underground ever have been discovered if Andy Warhol hadn’t taken them under his wing? Artistic value and musicianship plays a large role in whether an album is considered to be a classic, but personality, originality, and impact are huge determining factors.

This is a list of absolutely classic albums that came out this month 10 and 20 years ago. It didn’t matter whether you were 3, 13 or 33 when they came out; their impact is still the same.

Green Day – Dookie

Released: February 1st 1994

originalReleased in the post-Nevermind age of rock music, Dookie brought something very new to the table, setting the tone for mainstream rock in the mid-90s. Sharing more or less the same success story as Nirvana, Green Day traded low end drop D-tuned  guitars for an upbeat, snotty breed of punk reminiscent of bands like The Clash, The Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers. As a result, this album was a breath of fresh air for the flannel-laden Doc Martin-wearing era of grunge. With seemingly innocent, immature lyrics with topics ranging from masturbation to being a social outcast, this album was every teenagers best friend. The musicianship was on point, with drummer Tre Cool’s tight fills perfectly accentuating Billie Joe Armstrongs downstrokes and nasally vocals. Dookie was a bewildering piece of punk revivalism that has been imitated thousands upon thousands of times, but that has yet to be surpassed.

Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Released – February 14th 1994

20ihxmwAfter releasing a genre-defining debut album 2 years prior, Pavement’s future in 1994 was bright. Their branch of indie-rock was growing immensely in popularity, and band leader Stephen Malkmus’s songwriting was only getting better. It wouldn’t be fair to call Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain an improvement over the band’s debut Slanted & Enchanted. Instead, one could say that Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain took the main components of the debut and polished them. The end result is Pavement’s most memorable album to date. Though it keeps the fuzz, fractured guitar riffs, twirling harmonies and overall aesthetic that was omnipresent in the debut, the cleaner recording qualities gave this album a clean sheen that Pavement would learn to embrace in their later years.This is also the first album Pavement recorded as a full band, and not just as Malkmus’s solo project; the full band gives this album a much fuller, richer sound  This album shows Pavement at their peak; Malkmus’s clever wordplay is on key, and the hazy, disheveled melodies the band manages to put together are bizarre but never alienating. And with such a wide palette of influences, ranging from country-rock to krautrock, their sound was fresh, distinctive, and gave a whole new light to indie-rock. No band sounded like Pavement in ‘94.

Kanye West – The College Dropout

Released – February 10th 2004

The-College-DropoutKanye wasn’t always going on elaborate rants at talk shows, comparing himself to various social icons such as Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, Barack Obama, and even Willy Wonka; hosting extravagant isolated recording sessions in Hawaii; or openly calling President George W. Bush racist on a televised hurricane Katrina fundraiser. The Atlanta-born and Chicago-raised rapper/producer had humble beginnings as a young man in a pink polo with a passion for making rap instrumentals. Often getting dismissed by record companies and other artists alike for his lack of “gangster” qualities, Kanye showed in his debut that you didn’t have to come from the streets and/or own 3 gold chains to break out in the rap game, you just had to really really like rap. And Kanye did just that, he really liked rap music, whether he demonstrated this through his superstar list of guests rappers which ranged from household names such as Jay Z, Mos Def and Talib Kweli to obscure acts like GLC and Rhymefest.

Just the fact that he recorded the The College Dropout’s lead single (“Through the Wire”) with his jaw wired shut says a lot about his commitment to his trade. Kanye, being a producer at heart, really gives us the goods production wise, his beats are bold, bright, imaginative and his use of sped-up soul samples was something completely new to hip hop. And this isn’t to take away from his rapping ability, Kanye is in fact an excellent rapper, his flow is incredibly smooth and his delivery is definitely on par with his contemporaries, but what really makes The College Dropout what it is, is it’s lyrical content. Thanks to Yeezy’s over the top charisma, his lyrics often touch subjects that aren’t often discussed in rap music, whether it be the recurring theme of dropping out of college or even the subject matter in which he deals with in his magnum opus of a song “Jesus Walks” where he discusses religion, and his personal relationship with god, Kanye wasn’t afraid to break new grounds lyrically. The College Dropout might not be the greatest hip hop album of all time, but it will certainly always stand out as being an album that in a way revitalized hiphop.

 

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