Monday, 31 March 2014

Top 20 Bands & Solo Artists

Top 20 Bands & Solo Artists

Honorable Mentions: A Perfect Circle, Steven Wilson, Jeff Buckley, Guns N Roses, Ancestors, No Man

20. The Tea Party (1990 – )

The Band: The Tea Party were one of my first ‘under the table’ finds. I had a friend in high school who used to listen to the weird radio stations, and they played Tea Party. They have a very decently sized discography, and no bad albums, although some are better than others. In terms of what sort of a band they are, you could almost say they are a softer, more eloquent version of the better known Perfect Circle. At least that’s how I’ve always thought of them.

Best Album: Seven Circles (2004)

I’d say Transmission and The Edges of Twilight come pretty close to nabbing this – but both of those albums were largely lifted by their stand out songs (Psychopomp and Correspondences). Seven Circles is a very consistent album with no bad songs, and it took on a freshly unique sound that couldn’t be found elsewhere. My favorite two songs on this album are the final two.

Best Song: Psychopomp (1997)

Pyschopomp is a perfectly crafted alternative rock song, that gradually builds from a haunting atmosphere to an explosive finale. The piano in this song is outstanding.

Favourite Obscure Song: Seven Circles (2004)

Seven Circles’ title track rock ballad completes the album, and is the last thing we’ve heard from Tea Party since their hiatus. The album Seven Circles came and went with obscurity so you could almost argue that the whole album is obscure to a degree. But if you make it to the end for this one last ride, you’re in for a treat.

19. Led Zeppelin (1968 – 1980)

The Band: They were before my time, and have always been hailed as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I would never have said I’ve been a huge fan myself, but the band’s hits and other noteworthy songs have left such a strong impression on me that I’m rating them this high. They have a huge discography and I’m not really versed on many of their albums, but still I’ll make an effort.

Best Album: Led Zeppelin IV (1971)

This is a cop out because I don’t know their albums that well. This one at least has four songs that I know well, IE Black Dog, The Battle of Evermore, When the Levee Breaks and of course, Stairway to Heaven.

Best Song: Achilles Last Stand (1976)

Stairway to Heaven is a close contender, but Achilles Last Stand is just such a supreme example of progressive rock that I can’t go past it. One of my favorite songs of all time it comes out at just over ten minutes, and by the end of it you will have rocked out so hard you’ve lost a whole hour.

Favorite Obscure Song: Carouselambra (1979)

Can’t say I know any Zeppelin obscure songs, so this will have to do. I never heard Carouselambra until a couple of years ago when I dug through their entire discography. It’s a bit weird, goes for ten minutes, but the beat is in the right place. Enjoy the ride.

18. Bon Jovi (1983 – )

The Band: Probably my favorite band as a child. I wasn’t into the albums per say, just the best of, Crossroads. It was the first album I ever bought. Bon Jovi is just one of those bands you’ll either love or hate, I think, so no point in trying to convince you they’re good.

Best Album: Keep The Faith (1992)

You could say Cross Road of course, with it including new classics Always and Someday I’ll be Saturday Night, in terms of straight album I’m going with Keep The Faith. It is a little tight between it and Slippery When Wet (Slippery has Livin’ on a Prayer) but in terms of consistency I think Keep The Faith has the best running order.

Best Song: Living on a Prayer (1986)

The first song on Cross Road and the most famous and successful of the band’s songs. One of the greatest songs of all time in my opinion.

Favorite Obscure Song: Save a Prayer (1992)

Bonus track on Keep The Faith that holds up with the best of the album. Was new to me not too long ago, and it was refreshing to hear an old Bon Jovi song for the first time to say the least. Not much else to say. Just good Bon Jovi.

17. Marilyn Manson (1989 – )

The Band: Where I initially viewed Manson’s music to be on the heavy and annoying side of things, he actually slotted right into the alternative music category that I was listening to growing up. He certainly has a lot of average stuff in his large discography, but his stand out songs have kept me coming back.

Best Album: Mechanical Animals (1998)

Mechanical Animals, easily. There again some average stuff on this album, but nothing really unlistenable. The stand outs though are massive and amazing – some of the best music ever recorded. Dark, emotive and rich on the electronics, it was weird and it rock all at the same time.

Best Song: Great Big White World (1998)

First song from Mechanical Animals. Also the first Manson song I ever listened to. I couldn’t believe my ears. This thing went the whole way, for being one of the greatest rock anthems of its time.

Favorite Obscure Song: Heart Shaped Glasses (2007)

Mason has plenty of obscure songs, but I’m not sure I like many of them. So instead here is the single Heart Shaped Glasses. Enjoy.

16. Cyndi Lauper (1983 – )

The Artist: Another childhood favorite of course. Pretty hard to think of me ‘discovering’ Cyndi Lauper in 2014. I had her best of first, but bought two of her albums when I was a teen. They’re both alright, though it should be said that once Lauper left the eighties her music went downhill. Downhill to unlistenable.

Best Album: She’s So Unusual (1983)

Lauper’s debut had most of her famous songs on it including Time After Time and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. The second half of the album isn’t very good compared to the first half, but the stand out songs still outshine her follow up True Colors, which is more consistent.

Best Song: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (1983)

Could it be anything but? Maybe this is the gayest song I’m a fan of, especially when you see me really get into the chorus (I don’t understand half the verses), but I’d still say it’s my childhood in a time capsule here. I’m gonna say that’s a good thing…

Favorite Obscure Song: Hatful of Stars (1993)

Taken from the album of the same name, this solo piano song is the only thing I like from Lauper post 80s. The lyrics and singing are top notch and the piano fuses in to make a very emotive piece.

15. Arcade Fire (2001 – )

The Band: I don’t think I’ve ever heard the words ‘indie’ and ‘band’ ever as much in the same sentence as when someone’s talking about Arcade Fire. When they started out, no one knew them, but gradually their indie thing proved powerful enough to win some grammies for The Suburbs in 2010. I got into the band after seeing them at Big Day Out in 2008.

Best Album: The Suburbs (2010)

I’m not sure if we should count their debut EP as an album, but if we did it would come very close to taking top spot here. Although I do think The Suburbs has earned the title, especially since it is full length. Where I felt that previous releases Funeral and Neon Bible were inconsistent, The Suburbs is awesome all the way, and offered the band’s most cohesive sound. Definitely a classic for sure.

Best Song: No Cars Go (2007)

It began as an already classic on their original EP, but I appreciate them bringing this masterpiece back for their second album, and give it a more polished sound and epic finish. One of the best songs ever made, this song just keeps getting better as it goes along, and deserves to be heralded as one of the greatest rock anthems of the 2000s.

Favorite Obscure Song: Vampire / Forest Fire (2003)

This seven minute epic closed out the band’s debut EP and has since then been lost in obscurity. It’s haunting tone and lyrics are reminiscent of The Suburbs theme, and the end of the song is arguably the heaviest the band has ever been. I was a fan of Arcade Fire for years before I heard this song, and now it easily rates as their second best after No Cars Go. So if you haven’t heard it yet, check it out.

14. Michael Jackson (1972 – 2009)

The Artist: It took me a while before I figured out I was a Michael Jackson fan. I was always pretty big on the album Dangerous as I grew up with it, but his older and better known work is certainly impressive. In terms of talent, I’d say he was probably the most talented singer I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.

Best Album: Dangerous (1991)

Michael Jackson was a huge sensation when I was growing up. He dominated the radio with all his hits, especially from the Dangerous release. My Dad had the album and played it a lot and I had fun dancing to it. Today though it still holds up incredibly well, both in terms of variety, consistency and unique content. You have ballads like Heal the World and Will You Be There, in conjunction with heavier and dark material like opener Jam and closer Dangerous. Then everything in between which was also awesome.

Best Song: Who Is It (1991)

Who Is It was one of the later singles from Dangerous, that was probably my favorite as a kid and still my favorite now. It tells the tale of a girl betraying Michael to have an affair with someone and it might be someone close to him. The raw emotion and darkness in this multi layered song was in my opinion his very best.

Favorite Obscure Song: We Are The World (1985)

This was a very special song written by Michael Jackson and preformed by him and a dozen other huge names of the time. To give you an idea – Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, just to name a few. I found out about this song when I went through is discography last year, although I had seen it before. Not for everyone of course, but if you want to go back to the past, here’s one crazy way to do it.

13. Something For Kate (1994 – )

The Band: Mainstream Australian rock band from my local area, that I got into before they were known. All their albums are fairly consistent and the worse they ever do is be a bit bland. I think the lead singer / song writer is an incredibly gifted singer and his lyrics are penetratingly down to earth and symbolical. He always finds a way to phrase things in a strange way that hits home.

Best Album: Leave Your Soul To Science (2012)

After a six year hiatus beyond the height of their popularity, Leave Your Soul To Science was a huge comeback for the band. It had the same addictiveness as the successful Echolalia, as well as a fresh rawness that further expanded their sound. Bluesy and harmonic at times, it was always the strong lyrics and singing that made the album whole.

Best Song: Pinstripe (1997)

The second song of their first official album, was a heavy, blunt and scathing depiction of relationships in the modern world. Probably liked best for it’s build up and explosive finally, it was equally impressive when it appeared as an acoustic b-side on one of the Beautiful Sharks singles.

Favorite Obscure Song: You Can’t Please Everybody Rockwell (2004)

This song is a b-side from the 90s, but I don’t know the year. It was released in 2004 as part of Something For Kates’s double disc b-side compilation, which is where I first heard it. There was a tone of fantastic songs on that album, but this one was probably my favorite. It tells a dark surreal tale set in Melbourne.

12. Radiohead (1985 – )

The Band: One of my early ‘alternative’ band favorites, along with Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Radiohead started out as a straight rock band, and then saw their peak as they evolved into a more industrial sound complete with more complex arrangements. Then they completely lost the plot and the band veered into a dark weird electronical abyss.

Best Album: The Bends (1995)

I’ve said in the past that In Rainbows is their best album, and it might be, but today if I asked myself which album would I prefer to go back to after I’m sick of everything, and I think that album is The Bends. It’s a classic with zero bad songs on there, and plenty of brilliant ones. Street Spirit, Planet Telex, The Bends, High and Dry and Fake Plastic Trees are all massive songs. I’m also not a huge OK Computer fan in case you’re wondering, though it is a good album, but not the classic it’s made out to be.

Best Song: Fake Plastic Trees (1995)

This song begins softly with some light acoustic and some superb singing from Thom Yorke, before mounting into purely awesome electric guitars and a wall of sound that won’t give up. Hard to pick a best song for Radiohead because they have a huge number of classics that are evenly placed, but I think this one does rise above the rest.

Favorite Obscure Song: Fog (2001)

A b-side to one of the singles from Amnesiac, this song proved to be not only better than any of the album songs, but one of Radiohead’s best efforts ever. It’s hard to point at exactly what makes a great song, but this has it. Not only do the lyrics / vocals sound perfectly divine, but the awesomely dark and epic music that unfolds is so far beyond b-side status it is a joke.

11. Pearl Jam (1990 – )

The Band: It feels INSANE putting Pearl Jam this low on the list. But I’ve gone over what’s ahead, again and again, and I really believe the next ten bands are more want I want to listen too. I would put a marker here and say we’ve now entered the second of three tiers in my top 20, the last being the top 2 bands. I’d say that it’s very evenly placed amongst the bands who follow and this is just today’s order and tomorrow’s might be different. Needless to say Pearl Jam are classics of 90s grunge rock, and somehow managed to stay together and never split up, which is amazing.

Best Album: Ten (1991)

Pearl Jam’s best two albums were their first two released, without a doubt. The other albums have some of their best work (Vitalogy and No Code especially) but fail in terms of consistency. I would say that 2000s Binaural was a bit better than 1998s Yield, but since Binaural it has rapidly gone downhill. But the album at hand – Ten – Ten had all the big Pearl Jam hits minus Betterman and Daughter. Alive, Jeremy, Black, Even Flow – it’s all on Ten. It’s only eleven songs but almost all of them are fantastic. One of the best albums ever made and easily in my top 10.

Best Song: Rearviewmirror (1993)

From their second album VS, this is the absolute best Pearl Jam have ever sounded. Amazing that the song is under five minutes, because this song feels prolonged and epic in its undergoing – and they certainly expanded it live. I think the studio has always been the best because the wall of sound and the high pitched guitars in the finish never sounded as superb live as did here. A must have for all rock fans.

Favorite Obscure Song: Rockin’ In the Freeworld

This live only staple is a cover of a Neil Young song that the band frequently uses at the encore of their shows. In some respects it actually surpasses Rearviewirror, just for its epicness and explosive rock out finish. I know that whenever I go to see Pearl Jam (I’ve seen them at least 2 times now I think) that this is the song I always hope they play.

10. Bryan Adams (1976 – )

The Artist: Was the absolute first time I ever heard music that I can remember. My mum was over at a friend’s house for dinner and I was there with nothing to do. So they put on some Bryan Adams for me to listen to, and it since has been a hugely recurring artist that I’ve come back to for more. His old stuff of course lol.

Best Album: Waking Up the Neighbors (1991)

It’s probably just because I grew up with it, but even past all the classics from BA before Neighbors, I still think Neighbors is by far his best album. It has a lot of my favorite songs from him on it including Everything I Do, Thought I’d Died and Gone To Heaven, and Don’t Drop That Bomb on Me.

Best Song: Summer of ‘69

His signature song, much like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun for Cyndi Lauper, and Living on a Prayer for Bon Jovi. He just hit the right groove here and made something that most people will hopefully love. I know I sure do.

Favorite Obscure Song: The Way of the World (2008)

Almost the only thing worth listening to on this late album, this should have been the lead single. It has an addicted memorable chorus, rocks out hard, and makes it all work in under four minutes. The best thing he’s done in AGES and they made it a BSIDE. Stupid, shit. I bet it’s still not on youtube either (like the rest of Bryan’s non single songs).

9. John Butler Trio (1998 – )

The Band: Australian folk / progressive rock band that started with just John Butler busking with his guitar in the streets of Western Australia. John Butler is a musical genius to say the least – I have never heard a guitarist as good as him. He can sit there and just strum away at an acoustic guitar for fifteen minutes and people will enjoy it, because that’s the best guitar work they ever heard. His albums became more commercial as they went along and he certainly lost his touch by 2010’s April Uprising. Fortunately though his 2014 album didn’t disappoint, though it never comes close to matching his early work.

Best Album: Sunrise Over Sea (2004)

This was a huge leap into the commercial for John, and even contains the dreaded funk smash Zebra, but still it was his hardest rocking and most refreshing sound to date. While there weren’t as many epics as the previous selftitled debut and follow up Three, that was made up for by an ensemble band presence and some beautifully crafted ballads (What You Want, Seeing Angels, Peaches and Cream).

Best Song: Take (2001)

Best heard live in concert, this eight minute song can be expanded to upward of twenty minutes as Butler goes into improv and creates some of the greatest rock music ever made. In his early years he always closed with this song or at least played it – now it doesn’t even get a mention. I still rate it in the top 5 songs of all time.

Favorite Obscure Song: Losing My Cool (2004)

This eight minute masterpiece was released on the Zebra single before Sunrise was out. I remember being disappointed enormously by Zebra, but soon found value in the single, as I kept playing this song on repeat. I’m not up to date with JBT setlists but I’d bet it’s been a very long time since he played this live, if ever.

8. Tool (1990 –)

The Band: Can we call Tool a metal band? Maybe they’re a progressive metal band – that’s sounds right, I think. Tool do not conform to the norm in anyway, and have increasingly gotten better with each album they’ve put out. Lead singer Maynard is an absolute superstar whose unique vocals were also enough to have him front A Perfect Circle as well. Tool’s songs though tend to be a lot longer and better thought out. There’s all sorts of science and secrets behind the pieces of art they produce.

Best Album: 10,000 Days (2006)

I didn’t think it could get any better after Lateralus, but somehow they found a way to do it. The heaviness of the guitars is earth shattering, the riffs, choruses, verses, it all gels together so perfectly to make such a distinctly dark and aggressive album. Throw in some mindbendingly groundbreaking songs like Vicarious and 10,000 Days and you have yourself a must have.

Best Song: 10,000 Days (2006)

Of course, the title track to their masterpiece, that spans eleven minutes and even has its own secret version hidden on the album if you listen to it in a special way. It was the song about Maynard’s mother being in a coma for 10,000 Days and then dying, after she was a devout follower of God… Truly intense stuff.

Favorite Obscure Song: Reflection (2001)

I don’t know much in the way of obscure Tool songs, but one that doesn’t get much of a mention is this gigantic epic at the end of Lateralus. Fudamentally weird and supersonic, it really is out there with the stars and cosmos… And the Gods of Rock.

7. Devin Townsend (1993 – )

The Band: For the past six months about eighty to ninety percent of what I’ve been listening to has been Devin Townsend. Because he’s so new, you could probably say that I’m rating him too high. Could be the case. In six months from now he could drop a few places. But not much, I don’t think. Devin’s music ranges from quiet meditative ballads to full thrown bashing metal romps, to progressive guitar epics. His music for better or worse, is my favorite kind of music to listen to.

Best Album: Ocean Machine Biomech (1997)

Very close between this and Terria but the three masterpieces near the end (Funeral / Bastard / The Death of Music) are all in his top 5 songs and too hard to ignore. I wouldn’t say it’s a consistent album, and it is hard to say any full album Devin has done is perfect, but his discography is so huge and the stand out songs so good, that he rates highly here.

Best Song: Planet Rain (2000)

Just about every Devin song has needed more than a few listens to truly appreciate and this was no exception. Clocking in at eleven minutes, this is the closing epic on a very mediocre record called Physicist. It’s definitely on the heavy side of things, but the best spots in the song are actually the quiet moments. Chills down the spine as they say.

Favorite Obscure Song: Funeral, Acoustic (2011)

Taken from Devin’s unplugged performance, the electrifying Funeral is reduced to a simple acoustic sound work. Very slow going, and quiet, but the powerful emotion and atmosphere in this song makes it almost as good as the original.

6. The Pineapple Thief (1999 – )

The Band: Also new to the fold, I got into The Pineapple Thief in 2013. Since then their massive discography has plunged the band as a sure thing as one of my favorite bands of all time. I’d say they’re mostly similar sounding to the band Snow Patrol, except much, much better. They should have found a tone of commercial success given how good they are and the bulk of their work.

Best Album: Little Man (2006)

One of their most consistent albums, this also saw the likes of classics God Bless the Child, Snowdrops and We Love You. The overall feel of the album is quite strong which is hard to explain but it gives it an edge over the rest.

Best Song: Remember Us (2003)

I forget how long this goes for, but it’s upwards of 16 minutes. You will not be bored. I think this song contains the closest guitar work that could be compared to the genius John Butler, which is saying something. All in all it’s a thumping ride with outpouring emotion and mindblowing rock.

Favorite Obscure Song: Parted Forever (1999)

No Pineapple Thief song is more obscure than the last, that I can see… But I guess the first album barely gets touched on, and sitting there is a massive eighteen minute extravaganza of progressive rock that deserves to sit with the best rock epics of our time.

5. Midnight Oil (1976 – 2002)

The Band: Good and wholesome Australian rock! Their hits are all dynamite and have given me a profound experience time and time again, but even better are their albums. I’m not even completely versed on this band and there plenty more for me to discover.

Best Album: Earth and Sun and Moon (1993)

Again with Michael Jackson’s Dangerous, one of the reasons I love this album so much was because I was into it as a kid. The great thing about this was that I all but stopped listening to it after a few years, and since returned to it in my early twenties to discover so many forgotten songs I used to know and love. No bad songs, a truckload of awesome ones. Just a killer album start to finish and one of my all time faves.

Best Song: Beds are Burning (1987)

Their signature song, their best song. Again it’s hard to describe why it works so well, but the chorus makes it and it just hits all the right notes. Diehard classic.

Favorite Obscure Song: Kosciusko (1985)

I probably haven’t heard any obscure songs from them (at least that I remember) so this will have to do. This song was new to me last year after my Dad pointed out this and the equally brilliant Jimmy Sharman’s Boxes missing from my best of. Since then, they’ve both become two of my absolute Midnight Oil favorites, and furthered my appreciation of the band.

4. U2 (1976 – )

The Band: U2 are one of the all time biggest bands in rock and for good reason – they’re just that good. Very easy to listen to and get into, you could pass them off as being too commercial, but absolutely they are not. Pretty much in the same vogue as Midnight Oil for their short stand out performances, but U2 do surpass Midnight Oil substantially. Their discography is even bigger, and they have more classic albums behind them. I haven’t really attempted to get into their new stuff – after All You Can’t Leave Behind that was it for me. But I’ll still know them for their 80s and 90s gold.

Best Album: Zooropa (1993)

Achtung Baby is a close second, but the classics on Zooropa plus the overall sound make it my favorite U2 album. Stay, Lemon, Babyface, Numb, The First Time and the title track, although I think I just named half the album. It’s all relevant and it’s all good.

Best Song: Zooropa (1993)

Yep, Zooropa again. The title track first song is of mind blowing proportions as it launches like a quiet spaceshuttle leaving earth and drawing into this brand new world – Zooropa. The lyrics, the music, it’s all stellar and amazing, at least to me.

Favorite Obscure Song: Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me (1995)

Not exactly an obscure U2 song, but at least it isn’t from their albums. This was actually a really interesting sound from them and I haven’t heard much else like it. Here they verge on industrial rock and go about it in an absolutely epic and heavy way. One of their best songs, to say the least.

3. Pink Floyd  (1965 – 1995)

The Band: If I’d been born in the fifties or sixties, then I’d probably be obsessed with this band. An awesome time to be into music for sure, when alternative music was cool, and bands like Pink Floyd were invented an entire genre of composition that had been previously unheard. Their body of work spanning three decades is sublime with many masterpiece albums and individual songs likewise. Pink Floyd proved they could handle long and epic prog tracks, as well as some commercial rock songs that were famously successful. I love all eras of the band and the concert DVDs I’ve watched have been spectacular.

Best Album: The Division Bell (1994)

So many to choose from with Animals, Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon all being impressive, but The Division Bell I felt was their best work. The overall sound of this album was uniquely uplifting, stellar, and immersive. Songs like High Hopes and Coming Back To Life highlighted Gilmour’s fantastic guitar work, which has only been emulated by other bands on odd occasion.

Best Song: Shine On You Crazy Diamond (1975)

The lead song from Wish You Were Here gave us one of the best openings to any album in history. The slow build up of atmosphere from the beginning is the highlight before it escalates into that wonderful signature riff that stays with you for the days and years to come. With so many other Pink Floyd epics vying for the top pick, it just highlights further how good the best Pink Floyd song must be.

Favorite Obscure Song: Pigs (1977)

This is hard because every great Pink Floyd song is well known by now, but I thought I would point out one that is just a tad less known perhaps. Fans of Floyd epics usually flock to a number of their songs – namely, Shine on you crazy diamond, Echoes, Sorrow, High Hopes, Us and Them and Sheep and Dogs also from Animals. Pigs though, while not as good as Dogs, is probably just as good as Sheep if not better. Sitting at eleven minutes, the racing guitars capture your attention with its underlying suspicions from the get go, and it never lets up. I won’t say it’s underrated, but perhaps less talked about than it deserves.

2. Porcupine Tree (1987 – )

The Band: I talk a lot about Porcupine Tree on my blog not only because they are my second favorite band, but because I’d never even heard of them until 2011. Given the success of bands like Radiohead and Tool, it is a serious crime that Porcupine Tree aren’t more famous and successful. Over the course of ten albums and many (and I mean many) alternate recordings, the band have reinvented themselves time and time again, and they always find a way to sound just as good if not better. Whenever I hear ‘progressive rock’ talked about online, it’s always with a sneering, like progressive rock is nerdy and too weird for the populace. For me it’s not complex at all – progressive rock is AWESOME. I’m talking soft to loud, heavy guitars, and a band’s average song coming out to six or seven minutes. I’m talking the eighteen minute epics, the mind blowing solos, the rich harmonies and brilliantly designed albums. That’s progressive rock and Porcupine Tree are the best prog band in town.

Best Album: Fear of a Blank Planet (2007)

Only six songs (mostly long songs) but six songs is all you need apparently. It’s heavy metal, its rock, it’s acoustic, it’s electronic and it’s simply unique. If the music wasn’t good enough, you have Steven Wilson’s dark social commentary coming through the lyrics, as he observes the state of it’s contemporary world and his own pathetic attempts to fit in with it. Stuff we see everyday and just take for granted is laid out here with darkness that really connects with the listener and makes you think.

Best Song: Voyage 34 (Phases I & II) (1992)

This was one of the very last Porcupine Tree songs I got into, maybe even a year and a half after I started listening to them. It was released as an epic with two additional remix tracks, shortly after PT’s debut On the Sunday of Life… I wasn’t expecting much of course, and Phase I opens with a very weird sort of narration, where an unseen doctor type figure is analyzing some young people taking drugs. But once the song starts to get going, especially in Phase II, the guitar work and layers of sound are just so unbelievably good it will blow your mind. Finding this song was like finding a secret – within the depths of a semi unknown band’s massive caltalogue, lies one of the greatest epic songs that seems to encompass the prog rock of the future, but somehow it’s gone back in time to the sixties. And no one knows about it. For me, this should be as widely acclaimed as songs like Stairway to Heaven. But it’s not going to happen, because I’m probably the only one who thinks that.

Favorite Obscure Song: Remember Me Lover (2009)

Well, I think Voyage 34 is about as obscure as it gets for Porcupine Tree, and if you’re after one of their better known classics, check out Trains or Arriving Somewhere But Not Here. Anyway though, I think Remember Me Lover which was on the bonus CD to their last release The Incident is an obscure gem enough. Actually, I think I prefer…

Chloroform (2003)

This was on the bonus CD to In Absentia and I can see how it might have not fit there. But I have to say, if Chloroform had been on there, it would have been the best song after Trains.

1. The Smashing Pumpkins (1988 – )

The Band: No surprises here. I first got into Smashing Pumpkins in 1999, the after Adore and the year before Machina. It was fantastic to be able to be a fan when the original band was still together and get a new release – though I do think the band’s second carnation beginning in 2007 has been massively underrated. Before Pumpkins I had Cyndi Lauper, Bon Jovi and Bryan Adams, as well as whatever was on the radio. Like Britney Spears and the Offspring. The Smashing Pumpkins marked a jolt for me, in that from then on I was into alternative music rather than mainstream pop. In my personal opinion, Smashing Pumpkins have singlehandedly created the best four albums ever made: Siamese Dream, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Adore and Zeitgeist. Machina and Oceania are also masterpieces.

Best Album: Siamese Dream (1993)

For a long time I’ve been saying that Zeitgeist is their best album, and before that it was Adore. It’s interesting because as the years go by, some songs and albums have better staying power than others. I would say that the original Pumpkins albums feel fresher today than their more recent stuff. I’ve listened to it all to death, but if there’s one album that is perfect, has no bad songs, and classic after classic it’s Siamese Dream. Cherub Rock, Today, Hummer, Rocket, Disarm, Soma, Mayonaise – it’s all the same album. The hits rock hard, Hummer and Mayonaise are awesome progressive works and Disarm is one of the greatest ballads ever made. Admitedly there are parts of Adore, Zeitgeist and Mellon Collie that overshadow Siamese Dream, but I think that Siamese is just so uplifting and consistent that it remains their best. It is impossible to get sick of this.

Best Song: 1979 (1995)

The band’s signature song, and one of the most original works by any band. You cannot recreate a beat and bouncing atmosphere as wonderful as this. It’s a song I’ll keep coming back to, year after year, and each time I hear it, it will be a little different, because I’m different. Even though the studio version reigns supreme, I do appreciate the work they did on this playing mostly acoustic version live in the Machina era.

Favorite Obscure Song: Gossamer (2007)

At thirty something minutes, this is no crowd pleaser. In 2007 upon Zeitgeist’s released the band would often play new songs that weren’t on the album, most notably, Gossamer. How it didn’t get on there, I don’t know – the fact that it’s thirty minutes and they kept closing shows with it as late as 2010 indicates that Billy believed in the song. It’s a dark progressive rock that will take many listens and much patience from you to get into. The first time I heard it, I didn’t like it. The sixth time I heard it, it still hadn’t grown on me. But now that it has it is one of the hardest rocking songs the Pumpkins ever made, and even tops other heavy numbers like United States, Silverfuck and X.Y.U.