Portishead makes the top 10.

DummyWhen Portishead’s Dummy came out in the fall of 1994, I was in complete awe. In my 16 years, I had never heard anything like it. Trip-hop barely existed yet, consisting only of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, which had hit the U.S. a couple of years previous. Though Blues Lines was good, it hadn’t gotten a great deal of notice — it took Dummy to make people perk their ears up. Six months later, Tricky solidified the genre with his masterpiece, Maxinquaye, followed by David Bowie’s shocking Earthling in early 1997 and Massive Attack’s near-perfect Mezzanine in 1998. (When U2’s “Discotheque” came along, on Pop, the shark had pretty much been jumped. Today, the song sounds hilarious tame and un-trip-hoppy.) I particularly took to Dummy and Earthling, investing a significant quantity in every related single, EP, and promo that I could import from England, Australia, and Japan.

Everybody loves the music of their teenaged years. It’s the music of freedom, of love, of uncertain possibility. For me, and for my close friends, that means trip-hop.

Like most people, I maintain a top ten list of best albums ever. I fought the urge to put Dummy on it, figuring that I needed to wait. Ten years seemed like a good time span to wait before messing with a top ten list. So I did and, somewhere in there, I lost track of time. It has now been eleven years since Dummy and I’ve made the decision: it’s on the list. Somebody alert Portishead.

Portishead MP3s
      Sour Times
      Glory Box

I have to admit that I often forget what’s on the list, and certainly the order. Paul Simon’s Graceland is always on top, followed by The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and The Beatles Sgt. Pepper (in that order, since The Beatles credited The Beach Boys for inspiring them to create a unified work, as opposed to a collection of songs). In less certain order is Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Beck’s Odelay (for which the ten-year rule was jettisoned in exchange for something closer to a ten-second rule; but, hey, it’s Odelay), They Might Be Giants’ Flood, and Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs. If you’re keeping track, you’ve noticed that’s only nine. That’s because I’m too chickenshit to actually commit to that tenth one. I like to leave a space open, in case I might suddenly need to claim that another album that I happen to like very much is on my top ten.

Albums for which I’ve merely considered candidacy at one time or another include The Breeders’ Last Splash, R.E.M’s Automatic for the People, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, Dave Matthews Band’s Before These Crowded Streets, Willie Nelson’s Teatro, Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, Eels’ Electro-Shock Blues, G. Love & Special Sauce’s eponymous album, Propellerheads’ Decksanddrumsandrockandroll, Suzanne Vega’s 99.9 F°, David Gray’s White Ladder, Deltron 3030’s eponymous album, Chris Keup’s The Subject of Some Regret, Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth, Cat Stephens’ Teaser and the Firecat, The New Pornographers’ Electric Version and The Chemical Brothers’ Exit Planet Dust. Only the latter two are likely to make it.

What’s on your top ten?

30 thoughts on “Portishead makes the top 10.”

  1. You should apply for a job at Plan 9. Seriously, these are the questions they ask.

    Or at least, these were the questions they asked three years ago.

  2. That’s because Plan 9 is run by twenty-somethings like me who all share the misguided belief that the whole of music history served to produce the music of the 90s. :)

  3. Here’s my top 10:

    Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
    Bob Dylan – Live in 75
    The Pogues – Rum, Sodomy, & the Lash
    Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads
    The Dubliners – Greatest Hits (I realize that some object to putting greatest hits albums on top 10 lists. However, I believe it’s justified when the band is relatively obscure)
    Nirvana Unplugged
    Bela Fleck & the Flecktones – Live Art
    Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
    John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
    John Scofield & MMW – A Go Go

    It’s always tough making up top 10 lists. For me, I know albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s (and others like it) realy should be on everyone’s list. But they may not have affected you they way they did the rest of the world so, for honesty’s sake, you have to leave them off. This is a very serious issue for a music lover. :). (good post, btw)

  4. I think the “Porpoisehead” album [not a typo, folks, but an old family joke] would be on my top-10 list, too, and I was WAY beyond my misspent youth when you started playing it. DMB’s BTCS would there, too, if I ever sat down and figured out my own top-ten list.

  5. In no particular order:

    Love – Forever Changes
    Tom Waits – Alice
    David J – Songs From Another Season
    Coil – Love’s Secret Domain
    Oliver Nelson – The Blues and the Abstract Truth

    Top 10 lists are hard because they’re too long. Really, I think that most people have around 5 albums that are really important at a given moment and then another 15 or 20 that could all just as easily make it into the next 5 slots of a top 10 list. Which is why I favor the top 5 list, a-la High Fidelity.

  6. 1. Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life
    2. Stevie Wonder: Hotter than July
    3. Greenday: American Idiot
    4. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
    5. Cubanismo: Debut album (self-titled)
    6. Red Hot Chili Peppers: By the Way
    7. Brian Ferry: Greatest Hits
    8. I Am Sam soundtrack from the movie
    9. REM: Automatic for the People
    10. Return to Forever (can’t remember album name, has “Sometime Ago” on it)

  7. No 90s Top 10 Albums is complete without Radiohead: The Bends. As much as I love Last Splash and Siamese Dream, I’d have to put that ahead of them.

    I’d also have to find a place for Doolittle.

  8. Mark, you’ve got some stuff on your list that makes me cringe for not including it on my top ten. :) Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, Kind of Blue, and Live Art, in particular. Eileen, you got me, too, with Songs in the Key of Life.

    Hence that empty slot. :)

  9. No particular order here:

    Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

    Paul Simon: Graceland

    Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland

    Beach Boys: Pet Sounds (Anybody remember that Doonesbury comic where Andy dies in peace, listening to Pet Sounds? I can only hope that, on my deathbed, I can hear those beautiful overlapping harmonies of “God Only Knows” in my final moments.)

    John Coltrane: A Love Supreme

    Yo-Yo Ma: Bach Cello Suites

    Vladimir Horowitz: Horowitz in Moscow

    Van Morrison: Moondance

    Giacomo Puccini: La Boheme Highlights (the Karajan, Pavarotti, Freni recording)

    Joni Mitchell: Blue

    Yeah, I know, nothing that’s been recorded in the past 20 years. What can I say?

  10. my top ten in no particular order:

    1. Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
    2. The Beatles – White Album
    3. Led Zeppelin – One
    4. Radiohead – OK Computer
    5. The Allman Brothers – Live at Fillmore
    6. Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion 1
    7. Beach Boys – Pet Sounds
    8. Dave Matthews Band – Crash
    9. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon
    10. CSNY – Deja Vu

  11. Everybody puts ‘Kind of Blue’ on their list with good reason. However, I contend that Oliver Nelson’s ‘The Blues and the Abstract Truth’ is a sort of souped-up ‘Kind of Blue’ and is in fact the superior work. Nelson’s line-up includes many of the musicians who played on Kind of Blue and offers a similar feel. BUT, Nelson wrote the whole album as an album which sets it apart from most other jazz recordings of the time – including ‘Kind of Blue’. It was a brilliant and successful concept to explore the chordal structure of the blues and is, in my opinion, the best studio jazz album ever made.

    If you like ‘Kind of Blue’ then you’ll probably like ‘The Blues and the Abstract Truth’ even more.

  12. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
    Nick Cave – And No More Shall We Part
    Matthew Good Band – Beautiful Midnight
    Massive Attack – Mezzanine
    Dave Matthews Band – Live at Red Rocks
    Sarah McLachlan – Surfacing
    Radiohead – Kid A
    sigur ros – ()
    Tragically Hip – Live Between Us
    U2 – Achtung Baby

  13. Waldo, I couldn’t resist this one. My top ten (in no particular order):

    1) Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde

    2) Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman

    3) O Brother! Where Art Thou Soundtrack

    4) Del McCoury Band and Steve Earle: The Mountain

    5) Paul Simon: Graceland

    6) Jerry Garcia/David Grisman: Not For Kids Only

    7) Willie Nelson: Duets

    8) Metallica: Ride the Lightning

    9) Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues

    10) Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Will the Circle Be Unbroken

    Man, that was hard, there are so many others listed above that are so close to my favorite, Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” is definitely up there; Nirvana’s Unplugged. Tough decisions.

  14. Andrew,

    See what I mean abot top 10 lists? We could both probably name 50 albums that ‘no top 10 list is complete without.’ This is why the top 5 list is superior. It forces you to get really brutal and slash all of those great albums like ‘OK Computer,’ ‘Yankee Hotel Foxtrot,’ ‘Deltron 30-30’ or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s ‘The Circle Will Be Unbroken’ that we find ourselves throwing onto top 10 lists because they’re just somehow ‘supposed to be there.’ The top 10 list leads us to succomb to pretension and tokenism. Pick your top 5 and it starts to get a lot more personal.

    The only real value of the top 10 list is that it allows you the room to throw some random crap on there just to start an argument. Like making Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’ be number 8. Or proclaiming that ‘Cut the Crap’ is actually the only truly definitive album by the Clash.

  15. Now there’s another three — the O Brother soundtrack, Folsom Prison Blues, and the first Will the Circle Be Unbroken — that I’d happy drop into my #10. I feel guilty listing a soundtrack, much like a best of, but the fact is that O Brother has a really excellent soundtrack. I meant to list Circle in my listing of albums that I’ve flirted with adding because, yeah, it’s amazing.

  16. (1) Mr. Tambourine Man – The Byrds (1965)
    (2) Forever Changes – Love (1968)
    (3) Starting Over – The Raspberries (1974)
    (4) Squeezing Out Sparks – Graham Parker and the Rumour (1979)
    (5) Get Happy! – Elvis Costello (1980)
    (6) The Indescribable Wow – Sam Phillips (1987)
    (7) New Miserable Experience – The Gin Blossoms (1993)
    (8) Eventually – Paul Westerberg (1996)
    (9) Our Love Will Change The World – Outrageous Cherry (2005)
    (10) Serge Gainsbourg – Comic Book (1990s greatest hits package of music recorded in the 1960s.)

    Seven out of ten are Americans. Graham Parker and Elvis Costello are Brits, and Serge is French. Check out his naughty (for American AM radio circa 1971) heavy breathing duet with wife Jane Birkin on “Je t’aime moi non plus” (I love you. Me neither.) Ooh la-la!

    Nine out of ten are male. Sam Phillips is a female.

    Two out of ten are Jews. A teen-aged Serge Gainsborg was Jewish and survived the Holocaust in France but had to wear a yellow star. There is also Eric Carmen, who sang and wrote all of the ‘Berries hits.

    One out of ten is black. The lead singer, main songwriter and co-producer of Forever Changes was Arthur Lee. Forever Changes is really his album.

  17. Piper, my deep apologies. I started typing that last comment before you had posted your #10. No disrespect intended.

  18. If Waldo gets to come back and add more then so do I. There is also Shablool by Arik Einstein and Sholom Chanoch in Israel. I bought this album over there in 1971. Decades later we visited my wife’s ex-boyfriend in Israel on our honeymoon. He told us that Shablool
    was the classic 60s/early 70s pop album because the musicians were stoned out of their minds the whole time they recorded it.

    When I was a teen-ager I wanted to be Mick Jagger but I wanted to look like Arik Einstein.

  19. Jack – I took no offense to your statement. Admittedly, I think I did put a few in there that I felt had to be there. I like your idea of the top 5. Here’s my list, this time it is in order of my favorites:

    1) Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
    2) Del McCoury Band and Steve Earle – The Mountain
    3) Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues
    4) Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
    5) Metallica – Ride the Lightning

    Maybe not as interesting, but I would have to agree that these albums have had the most influence on me more than any others that I have listened to in my life.

  20. Essentials include Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (which I think goes further than Kind of Blue), Radiohead’s OK Computer (I don’t think we’ve really realized how important this album will be), Sgt. Peppers, Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot , Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica, Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, (which I wrote about in my admissions essay for UVa.; although I think Adore is the better album) U2’s Achtung Baby, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation.

  21. A few year’s back, I lost all of my CD’s when my house burned down. I got a nice check from the insurance company just to buy CD’s with. My wife and I listed the CD’s we had to replace, and some we didn’t. For those we didn’t want to buy again, we made a list of albums that we felt no collection would be complete without. We didn’t necessarily live and die by these albums, but we felt like we would be amiss if we didn’t have them:

    Nirvana’s Unplugged, Beatle’s White Album, Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper’s, Madonna’s Greatest Hits (that was my wife’s idea), Beastie Boys’ License to Ill, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Crosby Stills Nash and Young’s Deja Vu, Led Zeppelin IV and Houses of the Holy, Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Dark Side of the Moon, and no collection is complete without ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic’s Running with Scissors.

  22. Wow, Piper, that’s really interesting. It’s like you’ve lived Desert Island Discs. :)

    Now that I think about it, so have I. From September-October of 1996 I walked the 333 miles from Mt. Washington, New Hampshire to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. It got dark real early, and I often found myself having to bed down hours before I was interested in going to sleep. So I carried a CD player and alloted myself six CDs. I remember that I brought Graceland, Dave Matthews Band’s newly-released Crash, and 99.9 F°. I think Ani DiFranco’s Out of Range, too. I think part of why I picked the discs was because I liked them, but I’m certain that part of it was wanting to have a great list of albums to name when people asked me what six that I brought.

  23. 1. Ryan Adams, ‘Gold’
    2. Paul McCartney ‘Off the Ground’
    3. Soundtrack to Titanic
    4. Tori Amos, ‘Y Kant Tori Read’
    5. Metallica, ‘The Black Album’
    6. Brittany Spears – ‘Oops I Did it Again’
    7. Prince, ‘Rainbow Children’
    8. Tin Machine, ‘Tin Machine II’
    9. The Cure – ‘Wild Mood Swings’
    10. Bob Dylan – Saved

    Heh heh.

  24. Jack makes some good points about the superiority of top 5 lists over top 10 lists. Another problem with both lists is sometimes there’s an aritist you know should be on there but you can’t decide on an album. I feel bad leaving the Grateful Dead off my list, but which album would I choose?

  25. Oh, boy. How can I resist this?

    So, with the caveats that (A) it’s a list of faves, not “bests”, and (B) I’d probably choose an largely different list tomorrow:

    The Clash- London Calling
    The Pixies- Dolittle
    The Beach Boys- Friends
    The Beatles- Revolver
    Public Enemy- Fear Of A Black Planet
    Elvis Costello & The Attractions- This Year’s Model
    Sam Cooke- Night Beat
    A Tribe Called Quest- Midnight Marauders
    Glenn Gould- Goldberg Variations (1955 recording)
    John Coltrane- Africa/Brass

  26. chronologically, here’s 10 i would take to a desert island, if i had to pack my stuff and leave for that island right now:

    Beatles – “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964)
    Jean Jacques Perrey – “The Amazing New Electronic Pop Sound of Jean Jacques Perrey” (1968)
    Prince – “Dirty Mind” (1980)
    Shonen Knife – “Burning Farm” (1983)
    Naked City – “Torture Garden” (1990)
    My Bloody Valentine – “Loveless” (1991)
    Sonic Youth – “Washing Machine” (1995)
    Aphex Twin – “The Richard D. James Album” (1996)
    Plone – “For Beginner Piano” (1999)
    the Softies – “Holiday in Rhode Island” (2000)
    Sunroof! – “Cloudz” (2003)

    those are the ones that, today, i couldn’t imagine living without. but thats already 10 and i still want to include the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” and De La Soul’s “3 Feet High and Rising” and the Ramones’ “Rocket to Russia” and Secret Mommy’s “Mammal Class” and holy shit, there’s not even any James Brown or Autechre on there. see, it’s impossible to really do an accurate list, several HUGE things (r&b, soul, punk, hip-hop, breakcore, etc) are hideously under-represented because those genres produce great singles rather than great albums, and of course 1 year from now my list will be totally different, the usual disclaimers, etc etc

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