Rob’s Top Five Favorite Albums of 2011

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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, SummerteethSummerteeth 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!

The Muppets: Original Soundtrack

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.)

R

11 Comments

  1. There were quite a few albums in 2011 that I have enjoyed. One of them, although not as good as their previous album, but definitely very highly anticipated (by me), was “El Camino” by The Black Keys.
    I also enjoyed “Zonoscope” by Cut Copy, “Middle Brother” by Middle Brother, “Generationals” by Actor Caster, “Nothing But The Beat” by David Guetta,
    “Magnetic Man” by Magnetic Man.

  2. Always love “Best of” posts. My 7 1/2 year old saw the Muppet Movie and was all about the Starship song. So now its our iPod playlist. Its fun seeing your child’s musical tastes evolve (from Raffi to the Wiggles to Kidz Bop!) Here a few songs that were “our” favorites in 2011:
    T.G.I.F (Last Friday Night) – Katy Perry
    Moves Like Jagger – Maroon 5
    Pumped up Kicks – Foster the People
    Marry the Night – Gaga
    Marry You – Bruno Mars
    Anything from the Glee cast
    Does it read like a Top Pop Song list? You betcha! And we love it. Thanks for you post Rob…and sorry for the digression.

  3. Thank you so much Rob, thankfully I’ve developed a way to get that song to stop looping in my brain. When they sing “knee deep in the hoopla” I pretend its “hoop law” instead and imagine someone with stacks of arcane law books in a library frantically studying to pass the bar so they can practice hoop law. By the time I get through that scenario the song is long gone and I’m trying to figure out what exactly hoop law would entail.

    • Ha! I have one of those too. The actual line of the song is: “The police have the chokehold and we just lost the beat!” I hear it as: “The police have the chokehold and we just lost Thabeet.” Thabeet? Do they mean former UConn center (and current Houston Rockets 12th man) Hasheem Thabeet? Why, they must! I like to imagine the members of Starship in some sort of rec league where they’re losing a tight game against a a team from the FOP and Hasheem Thabeet just went down with a knee injury. (Thabeet is a ringer. Or maybe he’s the new drummer. Either way.) Mickey Thomas is crushed! Grace Slick is devastated! Makes me laugh every single time I hear the song.

  4. Hey, “We Built This City” actually was one of my favorite 80s songs also! Didn’t know the Muppets sang it…I’ll have to check that out! Also didn’t know it was maligned by the “critics.”

  5. Rob, thanks for taking me back to the 80′s with your mention of “We Built this City”. I clearly remember this song being played at a dance at Christ the King Grade School here in South Bend and let me tell you when it came on the crowd went wild when it came on. Critics may not have liked it but it was a real hit with Catholic middle school kids. Julie, I agree the sugary the pop the better!

  6. Cringe? Well, Starship was the commercial remnant of the Jefferson Starship, who were the commercial remnant of the Jefferson Airplane.

    In the 60′s the Jefferson Airplane started out with hippy folk music and turned to songs describing drug allusions found in children’s literature. Then they turned genuinely weird and hostile and political. Typical lyric…”We are forces of chaos and anarchy. Everything they say we are we are. And we are very proud of ourselves.” Add in a touch of SF and it was good fun.

    When the band reformed in 1974 they did a combination of love songs, more subtly political songs, and songs about UFOs. Shortly after appearing on the infamous Star Wars Christmas Show in 1978, more of the Airplane hold overs left and Mickey Thomas joined the band. They did corporate rock with frequent references to UFOs, girls who ate souls with their eyes, and politics. It was good, and Grace Slick rejoined the band. One of their better songs was an answer to the critics of their new approach – Stairway to Cleveland – with the catchy chorus of “F. U. we do what we want.” Except they didn’t use initials. I saw them in concert about this time – they were good!

    Starship was the commercial remnant of this band – after a hostile takeover Paul Kantner left taking the UFOs, politics, and the “Jefferson”.

    Critics didn’t like them? Picture Nirvana doing a straight pop album ala Journey. Not that any of this mattered to the happy kids who liked the song that sounded good next to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

    PS – good list – especially the Wilco…and the Decemberists

  7. I dedicate my reply to Kwad and Joe. (Nice post on J.Starship’s utter strangeness btw, Joe!)

  8. My 5 favorite albums of 2011:
    Wye Oak – Civilian
    Florence + the Machine – Ceremonials
    Jay-Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
    Bon Iver – Bon Iver
    Justice – Audio, Video, Disco

  9. Horrible Crowes: “Elsie”
    That is all.

  10. Being a longtime major fan of Nels Cline, I remain glad he got the Wilco gig because he needed that money, but he still makes his best music away from and outside of Wilco. They greatly imporved sonically with his addition though. I just can’t ever get past Tweedy’s voice and songs.

    For me, Nels’ best of 2011 was The Veil.

    Other 2011s I love are PJ Harvey – Let England Shake.
    Bjork – Biophillia (so much better than the horrible Volta)
    Evangelista – In Animal Tongue (had to grow on me unlike past ones which just blew me away from the get-go)
    David S. Ware, Cooper Moore, William Parker & Muhammad Ali – Planetary Unknown

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