This was a great week of music. Again, I had never heard either album... Luckily this week afforded me a bit of time to listen to each several times.
48: Public Enemy -- It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
This album was just before my time. I was 11 when this album came out. I remember being a suburban Florida eighth grader, writing a paper about this emerging genre called Rap--and specifically about the copyright infringement controversy that its new wave was wreaking. I am sure this album was among my footnotes on that paper, but I still never heard it.
I was in to the other serious artists of that year. You know, like, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Rob Base, and Kid 'N Play, and the next year Young MC, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and Heavy D & The Boyz.
Needless to say, while I later discovered more intellectual MC's--I wasn't there yet. After what I've heard this week, I clearly have a lot of filling in to do.
I loved this record the first time I played it this week. I quickly realized that there was a volume of the 33 1/3 series dedicated to this album, snatched it up, and feverishly read through its entirety over the weekend. This is one of my favorites of the series. It turns out that the author, Christopher R. Weingarten, gave just as much attention to enumerating and sourcing the samples as he did to elucidating the rise of Public Enemy. He covers James Brown, the WattStax Music festival, Jesse Jackson, etc. He details the production and various techniques used in this incredibly sample heavy record, as well as the extremely limited samplers that were the cutting edge at the time.
Check out this video for some high points (also covered in more detail in the book):
[iframe width="420" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/BY_XUw0QGMg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen]
Chuck D's lyrical prowess and intellect is awe-inspiring. He packs in so much black history (whether via samples or his lyrics) that you can't deny his message. It reminded me of the should-be-required-viewing PBS documentary I watched a few months back called The African Americans: Many Rivers To Cross. If you haven't watched it, I can't recommend anything more. Whatever I thought I knew paled in comparison to what this well-researched and produced 6 part documentary presented.
This album is great from the first second to the last. While it's crazy that this is the only hip-hop album on the list, it makes perfect sense how highly this particular album is ranked.
47: John Coltrane -- A Love Supreme (1965)
I want to love this album.
I want to love this album.
I want to love this album.
Don't get me wrong--I don't dislike anything about this album at all. It's beautiful. I just don't feel like I really get instrumental jazz records. I seriously need to be taught what I'm listening for.
This NPR story, entitled Story of 'A Love Supreme' certainly helped. I don't think I would have ever gathered that Coltrane's inspiration for this album was of a deeply personal and spiritual nature.
I loved the quote from that story from Lewis Porter, the head of the masters program in jazz history and research at Rutgers University-Newark:
"Coltrane's more or less finished his improvisation, and he just starts playing the 'Love Supreme' motif, but he changes the key another time, another time, another time. This is something very unusual. It's not the way he usually improvises. It's not really improvised. It's something that he's doing. And if you actually follow it through, he ends up playing this little 'Love Supreme' theme in all 12 possible keys," says Porter. "To me, he's giving you a message here. First of all, he's introduced the idea. He's experimented with it. He's improvised with it with great intensity. Now he's saying it's everywhere. It's in all 12 keys. Anywhere you look, you're going to find this 'Love Supreme.' He's showing you that in a very conscious way on his saxophone. So to me, he's really very carefully thought about how he wants to present the idea."
I heard the modulations when listening, but I wouldn't have pieced together Coltrane's intent.
And just like that, I think I finally get it. As I'm writing this, I remember reading in a review from PopMatters that Coltrane had written a poem in the original liner notes. The reviewer claimed that you could read this poem along with Coltrane's melody on Part IV of the record, called Psalm. So, I stopped writing, searched for the poem, and gave it a try. I pushed play on the track, and read from the top (including the title) once the saxophone line comes in. With only a few minor spots not matching up, it's true. And it's powerful. Try it for yourself.
A Love Supreme
I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee, O Lord. It all has to do with it. Thank You God.
Peace. There is none other. God is. It is so beautiful. Thank You God.
God is all. Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses. In you all things are possible. Thank you God. We know. God made us so. Keep your eye on God. God is. He always was. He always will be. No matter what... it is God. He is gracious and merciful. It is most important that I know Thee. Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts, fears and emotions--time--all related...all made from one... all made in one. Blessed be his name. Thought waves--heat waves--all vibrations--all paths lead to God. Thank you God. His way... it is so lovely... it is gracious. It is merciful--Thank you God. One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God... everything does. Thank you God. Have no fear... believe... Thank you God. The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way... it is so wonderful. Thoughts--deeds--vibrations, all go back to God and He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful... Thank you God. Glory to God... God is so alive. God is. God loves. May I be acceptable in Thy sight. We are all one in His grace. The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee, O Lord. Thank you God. God will wash away all our tears...He always has...He always will. Seek him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday. Let us sing all songs to God. To whom all praise is due... praise God. No road is an easy one, but they all go back to God. With all we share God. It is all with God. It is all with Thee. Obey the Lord. Blessed is He. We are all from one thing... the will of God...Thank you God. --I have seen ungodly--none can be greater--none can compare Thank you God. He will remake... He always has and He always will. It's true--blessed be His name--Thank you God. God breathes through us so completely...so gently we hardly feel it... yet, it is our everything. Thank you God. ELATION--ELEGANCE--EXALTATION--All from God. Thank you God. Amen.
Both of these albums could be studied and appreciated far more than I could do in just one week. I believe you could take graduate-level classes on each of them.
Because the remainder of the list lays ahead, I will move forward...but I am sure I will be coming back to both...through however many of life's stages that still await me. Something tells me these albums, that have somehow managed to remain relevant in an ever-changing world, will continue to do so for many, many years.
046: Bob Marley and the Wailers – Legend (1984)
045: The Band – The Band (1969)
Want to listen ahead, or see some posts you may have missed? Check out the full list of the 100 Greatest Albums here.