I have always been fascinated by what music musicians listen to when they aren’t creating their own music. What music inspires them, what albums do they return to again and again—their “desert island” discs. With this in mind I decided to ask some of my favorite New Jersey musicians to name their top 10 favorite albums of all time. Not the albums that they think are “important,” or that have influenced many other artists or ones of technical merit. I wanted to know their very favorite albums that they love just because the records mean the most to them.
Power pop / alt rock band The Brixton Riot have been in what they’ve called “hibernation mode” for the past few months. The Mint 400 Records band had quite a productive 2017 so a little rest is well earned. The past year found them releasing the infectious and guitar happy Close Counts, their second LP, fairly constant gigging including the all day North Jersey Indie Rock Festival, and contributing songs to many projects including a tribute album for The Knack.
The band is ready to break out of hibernation for 2018 and drummer Matt Horutz has certainly been busy crafting his top 10 albums. For a band influenced by The Replacements and The Jam and taking their name with a nod to The Clash there are some surprises here.
You can catch The Brixton Riot’s first show of 2018 at Stosh’s in Fair Lawn on Friday March 23rd for a night of awesome indie rock and craft beer. With Tony Saxon, The Components, The 65s and Shithead’s Rainbow.
Let me start off by saying that this was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I’ve always thought about putting together a list like this before but I never had the guts. In order to do it properly, I had to establish a few rules. First, I would keep my selections strictly to rock records; I wouldn’t know where to begin ranking my top jazz records or where they would fit in this list. I listen to the two genres in very different ways.
Second, each record in the Top 10 had to be a “perfect” record. That means there can’t be a clunker song in the bunch. Even though Husker Du is my all-time favorite band, in my opinion most of their studio albums contain at least one clunker and therefore are not perfect. For example, Flip Your Wig has “Baby Song,” New Day Rising has “How To Skin a Cat,” Zen Arcade has “Hare Krishna” (funny, but a little too goofy), etc… Even the albums that don’t have one of these novelty tracks (Candy Album Gray and Warehouse Songs and Stories) have at least one or two weaker songs. Plus, without this rule, I could have placed every Husker Du record on my list, but that wouldn’t be much fun.
Third, the records also had to be actual albums – no compilations or collections. There are bands that I love whose best albums are compilation records. I love The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, and Black Flag but I feel that their best albums are compilation records (Singles Going Steady, Substance, and The First Four Years, respectively). I wanted to keep this list strictly to non-compilation albums.
I retain a lot of my music memories and feelings by relating them to the periods of my life when I first started listening to a particular band. A lot of my descriptions start with the time period in which I was introduced to the band or album. As I was compiling this list, I realized that I first heard seven out of the ten albums in the late 80’s/early 90’s when I was a teenager.
This list is not in any particular order.
1. The Stooges – Fun House
I discovered The Stooges a few years after I started listening to punk, sometime around 1990 when I was in high school. I first saw Iggy on the old Channel 9 Howard Stern show. He performed a plugged in version of “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” It was loud, raw, and awesome. A few weeks went by and I stumbled upon a copy of Fun House by The Stooges. It didn’t have “I Wanna Be Your Dog” on it, but I picked it up anyway. I instantly heard their influence on all of the bands that I was listening to at that time – everyone from Black Flag to Mudhoney to Dinosaur Jr. to SST-era Screaming Trees. It sounded as contemporary as any of their records.
The sound is raw, the performances are solid (but not polished), and the songs are all perfect. Ron Ashton’s guitar riffs are some of the greatest in rock history. The guitar riff on “TV Eye” alone makes him a legend. Unfortunately, I feel like he doesn’t get the respect he deserves which is a shame since I consider him rock and roll royalty. I usually think saxophones on rock records sound cheesy (see Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel), but not on this record. Steve Mackay’s playing fits right in with Ron Ashton’s guitar.
This is definitely my favorite record on this list, so in my opinion, Fun House is the greatest rock record of all-time.
2. Elvis Costello – This Year’s Model
My friend Damon is responsible for introducing me to two albums on this list and this is one of them. I remember him telling me about this record around 1996. Up to that point, I only knew Elvis Costello as the guy who wrote decent pop-rock songs like “Veronica.” Damon said I would like the early stuff – it was raw and has just the right amount of angst for my tastes. He also told me I had to hear his incredible drummer Pete Thomas. When we listened to the record I was immediately blown away by the rhythm section of Pete Thomas and Bruce Thomas (no relation). Damon loaned me his copy of the album and I listened to it ad nauseam.
After the initial love affair with the rhythm section eased up, I started to hear how good the songs were. They were a combination of speed, finesse, and energy. There were so many hooks. I also started to hear their influence on other albums that I loved. I was (and still am) a big fan of The Figgs’ Lo-Fi at Society High record. I could immediately hear this album’s influence on the band. I was working at a music store at the time and I ended up buying used copies of all the early EC and the Attractions albums. They are all phenomenal records, but this one is the king. Standouts for me include, “No Action,” “This Year’s Girl,” “Lipstick Vogue,” and “Radio Radio.”
3. Matthew Sweet – Girlfriend
This is the other record that my friend Damon introduced me to around the same time as This Year’s Model. My love for this album is all about the songwriting. Every song on this record is a hit. EVERY SINGLE ONE. This is arguably the most perfectly written record on my list. The guitar hooks are as strong as the vocal hooks and they have just the right amount of jangle. As a drummer, I always focus on the drums, and Rick Menck’s drumming is spot on. His laidback rhythm and style perfectly complements the songwriting.
I’m glad I heard this album and This Year’s Model when I did. If I had been introduced to these records when I was in high school, I would have panned them. My musical tastes needed to mature before I could fully appreciate them. Even though I love every song on this album, my favorites are “Divine Intervention,” “I’ve Been Waiting,” the title track “Girlfriend,” and “Thought I Knew You.”
4. Minor Threat – Out of Step
This album is explosive, tight, fast, and above all perfect. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best record that Dischord has ever put out. It captures the band at their absolute finest. Minor Threat is another band that my older cousin David got me into around 1988. As much as I love their self-titled EP compilation, I think this record is more focused and mature while still having the fire and energy of their earlier EPs. Jeff Nelson’s drumming is incredible. He’s playing at breakneck speed for most of the record. These tempos would force most hardcore drummers to fall off the rails but he is right on the money. The album also contains some of the best (and tightest) stops and starts in hardcore-punk history. Ian MacKaye’s vocals sound extremely confident and his lyrics are better than those on the previous releases.
I also love the almost thrash-metal sounding dual guitars of Lyle Preslar and Brian Baker. Thanks to the addition of Steve Hansgen on bass, Brian Baker was able to switch from bass back to guitar. I can’t think of a better way to end a hardcore record than the snarky “Cashing In.” Highlights include, “Betray,” “Look Back and Laugh,” and the title track, “Out of Step.”
This is one of the albums that I don’t listen to enough and yet it was a no-brainer when it came time to make this list.
5. Agent Orange – Living in Darkness
Like a lot of punk/hardcore fans that are in their early 40’s, I discovered a lot of music in the late 80’s by watching skate videos. Vision Skateboards’ Skate Visions video featured all early Agent Orange songs on the soundtrack and included almost every song off this record. The band even appears in the video “performing” their track, “A Cry For Help in a World Gone Mad.” I still love the melancholy feel of this album. The songs are high energy but still have a dark vibe about them – as if they were exposing the dark side of punk kids growing up in the fun and sun of southern California. I was also really drawn to the distorted surf guitar style. I’ve always loved surf rock and this album beautifully combines the genre with punk. A cover of Dick Dale’s version of “Miserlou” was an awesome way to split the record. Songs like “Bloodstains” and “Living in Darkness” are hardcore punk classics and two of my favorites on the record.
Everything about this record is perfect, except for its length. It’s too short. The CD version features several bonus tracks, a definite upgrade.
6. Husker Du – Metal Circus
I remember my introduction to Husker Du like it was yesterday. It was 1987. My cousin David handed me a cassette tape with no cover or case – it only had the words: “Husker Du – Metal Circus” handwritten on it. I thought the name was weird but I listened to it anyway. I was hooked right from the opening guitar riff. This was already better than any of the other punk albums he had introduced me to. It wasn’t just three chords and yelling. It sounded complete and more advanced than The Misfits, 7 Seconds, Suicidal Tendencies, or any of the other bands I was listening to at the time. I was already sold five songs in when the opening tom beat and bass chord intro of “Diane” drew me in. It was dark, and the subject matter was disturbing, yet there was something beautiful about the droning in the song. As I listened to “Diane” over and over, I started to realize that this band really was different from everyone else. They were better songwriters than most of their peers and they didn’t seem to mind taking chances – a rarity in hardcore and punk music. I love every song on this record, but my favorites are the aforementioned “Diane,” “Real World,” and “It’s Not Funny Anymore.”
Husker Du piqued my curiosity more than any other punk band had before them. I immediately sought out their entire catalog as fast I could. It wasn’t long after listening to their other records that they became my favorite band.
7. The Damned – Damned Damned Damned
I first heard The Damned when my friend’s older brother gave me a copy of their compilation album The Light at the End of the Tunnel. It must have been around 1989. Even though the album contained a ton of great punk songs, the one tune that really stuck out to me was “Alone Again Or.” It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered that the song was actually a cover of a Love song (another great band). It didn’t matter – they had tons of other great original songs featured across some incredible records. As much as I love The Clash, The Ramones, and Stiff Little Fingers, the Damned are still the best “official” punk band of the 70’s (I’m not a fan of The Sex Pistols). I always considered The Damned to be a “real” punk band – they were always a little more aggressive and a little faster than their contemporaries. They were also a lot more interesting than most bands – the singer is a vampire, the guitar player wears a feather boa, the drummer’s name is Rat Scabies and the guitar player writes great songs. They definitely lost a little piece of their soul when Brian James left. I was agonizing over whether I was going to put this album or Machine Gun Etiquette on the list but this one edged out MGE since it’s a little more raw and energetic. It closes with a killer cover of The Stooges’ “I feel Alright (1970)” (there’s that Stooges connection again!) which I thought was a Damned song until I heard the Stooges original about a year or so later.
8. The Primitives – Lovely
I discovered the Primitives on MTV’s 120 Minutes (which is still the best show MTV has ever produced). My friends and I used to set our VCRs to tape the show since it was on late Sunday nights. I would check out the tape after school the next day and see what bands were on it. One of those tapes held the video “Crash” and I instantly loved everything about it. I’m a huge fan of female fronted rock bands – Tracy Tracy’s voice and Paul Court’s guitar riffs and tone immediately drew me to the song. I found the album a few days later at one of our local record stores and was amazed at how good it was. There are hooks and jangly guitars all over this record and a lot of fantastic songs. I also love the production on this record, just the right amount of polish. Songs like “Thru the Flowers”, “Nothing Left”, “Spacehead” and “Stop Killing Me” are all as good as “Crash.” “Carry Me Home” and “Shadow” are better than most bands’ best songs.
This is one of those records that should have been more popular and probably would have been huge if it had been released in the early 90’s. I think The Brixton Riot needs to cover a song off this album.
9. Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me
This record was only about eight months old when I first heard it so the sound and style was very fresh at the time. Dinosaur Jr. has influenced countless bands since it was released, but at the time I had never heard anything like it. This was before I heard the Stooges and I couldn’t believe that there were real face-melting guitar solos on a “punk” record and more surprisingly, I loved it! J was using full guitar chords, not the barre chords favored by most punk guitarists and it sounded awesome. The songs on this record have some serious hooks. Some of the standouts for me are, “Little Fury Things,” “The Lung,” and “In a Jar.”
The album has a strange horror feel to it, but not in an obvious Misfits way. It’s creepy like a Margaret Keane “Big Eyes” painting that’s staring through your soul, or a vintage baby doll whose eyes follow you around the room no matter where you walk, or the Eraserhead baby. It’s like a fever dream. Ok maybe it’s not as creepy as the Eraserhead baby, but that’s what I love about the record.
Lou Barlow’s track “Poledo” is THE PERFECT ending to the album. I owned the vinyl, so I didn’t have the bonus tracks. I love the bonus tracks on the CD, but this is the way this album should end.
10. Sugar – Copper Blue
As a rabid Husker Du fan, I remember being excited when this album came out. It exceeded all of my expectations. Copper Blue picks up perfectly where Husker Du left off more than any of the other post-Husker projects including Hart’s Nova Mob albums and Mould’s Workbook and Black Sheets of Rain. Copper Blue sounds like an actual band instead of “just” a Bob Mould record. It’s guitar driven, filled with catchy riffs and hooky choruses, and the rhythm section plays with just the right amount of style.
I especially love the sequencing and transitions on this record. They really tie the whole record together to make one perfect and cohesive album. The songs are like a perfectly balanced baseball lineup. It reminds me of the 1927 Yankees’ “Murderers Row” with hits like “Changes” and “Helpless” batting in the three and four spot like Ruth and Gehrig. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best album of the 90’s (along with Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend of course).
I want to thank Ed at You Don’t Know Jersey for giving me the opportunity to do something I never thought I’d be brave enough to do! And thank you for reading this if you got this far.
Almost Made the List:
Mission of Burma – Signals Calls and Marches
Guided By Voices – Alien Lanes
The Police- Outlandos D’ Amour
Descendents – ALL
Sonic Youth – Sister
The Church – Starfish
The Beatles – Revolver
Firehose – Ragin’ Full On
Rites of Spring – End on End
Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque
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