In 2004, Blender named Starship’s “We Built This City” as the worst song of all time. In 2011, an online poll by Rolling Stone declared “We Built This City” as the worst song of the 1980s. The winning margin was so big that the editors of the magazine said that it was the biggest blowout in the history of the magazine’s polls. A family member of mine who gets paid to review albums once spent an hour explaining to me why the song was so bad lyrically, musically, and sonically and how it stood for everything that was wrong with rock and roll. It was, he told me, the perfect example of corporate rock. I shrugged my shoulders and told him I liked it. That I was one of the millions that bought the cassette single in 1985. And then, I started singing the song at the top of my lungs, “Marconi plays the mamba, listen to the radio…” (And guess what? Now you’re singing it too.)
My point is, we like what we like. Whenever I do Top Five lists I try not to refer to them as “best of” lists. They’re not “best of” lists. They’re just one guy’s opinion. For example, this week I’m tackling my favorite albums of 2011. They’re not the best albums. They’re the albums I enjoyed. The albums I listened to. The albums that I made a connection to one way or another. And one of them prominently features “We Built This City” by Starship.
(To read another take on my whole listen-to-what-you-want-to-listen-to belief, you can read my favorite albums from 2010 here.)
Wilco – The Whole Love
Here’s what I love about Wilco: They are always evolving. Their first record, 1995’s AM, sounded a bit like Jeff Tweedy’s previous work with Uncle Tupelo and then a bit like what Wilco’s next record, 1996’s Being There, would sound like. Being There sounded a bit like AM and Wilco’s third record, Summerteeth. Summerteeth sounded a bit like… Subsequently, when you put in a new Wilco record it always sounds foreign, but there’s part of it that sounds familiar. They grow as a band and they make you grow with them. The Whole Love is solid from the first song (featuring a mesmerizing drum beat by Glenn Kotche) to the last (a heartbreaking “One Sunday Morning” that is quickly entering the ranks of my all-time favorite Wilco songs) and is the capstone of a discography that has made Wilco one of the greatest American bands of all time.
Feist - Metals
The world’s biggest Feist fan first saw the Canadian chanteuse on Sesame Street when she was 2 years old. Feist did a take on her hit song “1234” with Elmo and friends (“1234 monsters walking ‘cross the floor…”) and my daughter immediately fell in love. “Daddy, who that?” Since that fateful July morning Feist’s 2007 album The Reminder has become an unofficial member of our family. Wherever we go, Feist goes and the last four years of my life have a permanent Feist accompaniment attached to them. What’s really amazing is that we’ve never gotten tired of it (or 2003’sLet it Die). That being said, we were in the mood for some new Feist tunes! Metals is not as instantly accessible as The Reminder, but that’s what I love about it. But who am I? I’m not the world’s biggest Feist fan! So I thought it might be a good idea to get my daughter’s opinion on the record: “It’s good. Um…yeah. It’s really good. You can dance to it. But you can also just, kind of like (at this point she closes her eyes and sways back and forth) to it. I like it a lot.” There you go.
Ryan Adams – Ashes & Fire
Adams’ best album since 2001’s Gold, which is really saying something. It’s his first album without The Cardinals (his backup band) since 2004. His first clean and sober album since…um…ever? And it’s a return to his Whiskeytown roots. It’s a beautiful album that only gets better the more you listen to it.
The Decemberists – The King is Dead
Listening to The King is Dead is like discovering a super-secret REM album that was recorded between Green and Out of Time. In other words, it’s what pre-teen me dreamt about in 1989. That, and Barry Larkin one day making the Hall of Fame. Man, 2011 was a good year!
Chickens singing CeeLo Green’s “Forget You?” Check. A barbershop quartet version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Beaker, Rowlf the Dog, Link Hogthrob, and Sam the Eagle? Check. A version of “Rainbow Connection” with all The Muppets singing. Check. “Mahna Mahna?” Check. Andrew Bird whistling? Check. Plus, original songs by Bret McKenzie (1/2 of the comedy folk duo Flight of the Conchords) that are hysterical and endearing and will get stuck in your head for weeks. And if all that wasn’t enough, you also get “We Built This City.” When we were at the movie theater my daughters sang along at the top of their lungs when the song came on. And yes, I did too. All together now, “…Don’t you remember, we built this city on rock and roll!”
Those are my favorites. You? See you in two weeks with another Top Five list.
(As always, click on any of the links to check on the availability of the albums.)