For years I've spent the better part of .January grousing about these rock and roll critics who persist in reducing a year of music into some immutable list of 10 top records. Why, I would insist, must we single out certain lps, when there are certainly many more that in some way also deserve mentions. It is, I complained, just another example of the critical community's overzealous need to analyze, quantify and generally pontificate on the so-called state of the art.
But somewhere around November I realized that not only did I have the forum to tell the world my top 10, but that there was also an unspoken expectation of me and, yes, I admit, the personal temptation to announce my list. So without further ado, I'll let the intoxication of critical snobbery lead me into hypocrisy.
If there must be 10 best rock albums of the past year, here's my choice of the most notable (in no particular order):
1. Stick To Me — Graham Parker and The Rumour (Mercury) — Though other critics were less excited with this than they were with Parker's first two albums, time has told me that it's his most powerful, cohesive lp yet. Stop listening to the lyrics so closely and dance, fellas.
2. My Aim Is True — Elvis Costello (Columbia) Listen to the lyrics, and dance.
3. Street Survivors — Lynyrd Skynyrd (MCA) — Here Southern rock reached a new plateau of maturity. The shame is that better music still would have surely followed.
4. Monkey Island — Geils (Atlantic) — The hottest sleeper of the year. Beyond the initial shock of new production techniques are their finest songs and playing yet.
5. JT — James Taylor (Columbia) — By combining understatement with bluntness on both a musical and lyrical level, Taylor has regained his artistic and commercial crown... of thorns.
6. Aja — Steely Dan (ABC) — Never mind the analyses, here's Steely Dan. Always beyond reproach in my book.
7. Peter Gabriel — Peter Gabriel (Atlantic) — A rich, tricky album with an almost narcotic appeal. Another sleeper.
8. Rumours — Fleetwood Mac (Warner Bros.) — Two million American record buyers might be wrong, but not on this album.
9. Rough Mix — Peter Townsend and Ronnie Lane (MCA) — Even though the title fits and I find Lane to often be a yawn, Townsend's quiet wisdom wins out.
10. Hotel California — Eagles (Asylum) — Maybe not their best effort, but it grew on me.
Honorable Mention (or, we'll see...): Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols — The Sex Pistols (Warner Bros.)
The lack of females making the list is notable, but something hit me on the above lps that didn't strike the same chord with equally worthy contenders like Linda Ronstadt (Simple Dreams) and Karla Bonoff. The two women in Fleetwood Mac will have to hold the fort.
All the above share a certain life and soul, unlike some rather dud albums by established stars like the Stones, ELP and Bad Company. Big newcomers like Heart and Frampton came up short this year, while albums by Yes, Genesis and Supertramp were bubbling under, but hardly with ferocity. Unfortunately, nothing new from Springsteen and Boston, while it's a bit earl to judge the new lp from Boz Scaggs (though I like it).
To soothe my own disappointment in myself. I also singled out 10 albums I felt were underrated, ignored, misunderstood, slighted or otherwise mistreated during the past year:
1. Young Men Gone West — City Boy (Mercury)
2. Lake — Lake (Columbia)
3. Marquee Moon — Television (Elektra)
4. So Far, So Good — John Martyn (Island)
5. Elegant Gypsy — Al DiMeola (Columbia)
6. A Period of Transition — Van Morrison (Warner Bros.)
7. This Time It's For Real — Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes (Epic)
8. In a Different Climate — Mallard (Virgin)
9. Already Free — Nick Jameson (Bearsville)
10. Ghost Writer — Garland Jefferies (A&M)
In closing, I set my brightest hopes on two Britons: Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. Parker is a modest man who has come out from behind his songs to lead one of rock's best bands in a cavalry charge of street-style rhythm and blues-based rock.
Elvis, on the other hand, accomplished a minor miracle when he played a set at a recent party prior to his Saturday Night Live appearance (which was quirky, mired by a bad sound mix, but still powerful).