When 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.
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?