Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The culmination of my 15-year quest for Spin's Top 100 Alternative Albums

Out, foul temptress!

The year was 1995. I was a freshly minted CreComm grad trying to make my way in a world I didn't create.

Like that wasn't bad enough:
  • Coolio, Boyz II Men, and TLC ruled the charts.
  • Jumanji and Pocahontas made us wish that James Cameron would make a 3D movie about blue-skinned Avatars.
  • O.J. Simpson's glove fit, so we had to acquit (or something)
And...I bought the Spin Alternative Record Guide!

The great thing about the book is that it has a pretty loose definition of "alternative." So, we not only get reviews of alternative mainstays Ramones, Hüsker Dü, and Sonic Youth, but we also get the same degree of respect and analysis for ABBA, A Flock of Seagulls, Public Enemy, Neil Young, and modern-day star of the Celebrity Apprentice, Cyndi Lauper.

Hey, maybe punks just wanna have fun too!

But the thing that captured my imagination was a list at the back of the book, "The Top 100 Alternative Albums."
Spin 100

The first time I read through the list, I put a check mark next to the albums that I already owned: Ramones, Velvet Underground, David Bowie, etc.

I was shocked to find that I was missing well over three-quarters of what Spin considered to be the best Alternative Music of All Time: the Buzzcocks, Wire, Modern Lovers, Funkadelic, Flying Burrito Brothers, Brian Eno, Television, and Young Marble Giants among them.

And I had the gall to call myself a music lover?

Modern Lovers: driving faster miles an hour. Radio on!

I certainly didn't have any jazz albums at the time, so Sonny Sharrock, Sun Ra, and Ornette Coleman were new to me and even more alien-sounding than David Bowie, who as everyone knows, is actually an alien.

So, there began my quest to buy the Spin Top 100 Alternative Albums in all of their glory. Hey, how long could it take to buy 100 essential albums? If I've learned one thing about the Internet, it's that it's great for finding crap you've been looking for and buying it with the click of a button.

Wherefore art thou, Al Gore?

Trouble was, the Internet hadn't really been invented in 1995. Sure, there was "the Internet," but it was mostly being used by America Online subscribers to have online sex and talk about ALF reruns when they weren't having online sex.

In 1995, Napster was some weird place that Metallica hated, so - not wanting to raise the ire of one James Hetfield - I had no choice but to go for the albums in old-school CD format, which, coincidentally, was also America Online's format of choice at the time.

I snapped up the easy ones - the ones that were widely available, but I hadn't yet purchased due to some deep-seated and since-forgotten prejudices - Big Star, Pretenders, and Stooges, among them.

But then it started getting rough. According to the guide:
"The Go-Betweens are a band certain fans become obsessive for as they age, when the conceptual games of alternative start to matter less than music settling in upon a twentieth listen; 1978 to 1990 is the album that then never leaves their stereos."
Sounds good. Sign me up! Uh, not so fast: I found out that the CD was only available in Japan.

So, I did what any single guy with disposable income would do: I flew to Japan. Sure, I said it was to visit my cousin, but it was really to troll Shinjuku in search of that Go-Betweens' CD. Guess what: I found it on my first day!

That gave me the rest of my vacation to eat giant crepe ice-cream cones smothered in chocolate sauce. Japan rules!

"Crying all the time crying for you don't know what for."


Along the way, I picked up some key purchases at the late Let It Be Records in Minneapolis and the greatest record store on the planet, San Francisco and Berkeley's Amoeba Music.

So great is Amoeba Music, my friends still call me from there to leave messages mocking me because I'm not:


All told, I spent a good seven years of globetrotting to find the sacred 100 CDs "to put in a museum," as Indiana Jones once said.

Like Jones, I was rewarded by having my prize stolen by Nazis - or whomever it was who broke into my apartment and stole my entire CD collection. Nazis. I hate those guys!

But I learned that there's an old adage in the insurance business, second only to "God forbid!" It's, "When your crap gets stolen, you end up with better crap."

By this point, the heady days of 2002, the Internet was fully functional - the Chocolate Rain guy ruled the charts, the Star Wars kid ruled YouTube, and O.J. was living the good life before being jailed again for stealing back his Heisman Trophy, or something.

So, I took a long, hard look at the list. By this time it was dated. The Breeders might've seemed essential in 1995, but now?

Want you. Coo coo. Cannonball!

Funkadelic's "One Nation Under a Groove" better than the Sex Pistols? ABBA alternative? Bowie's best album is the "Changesonebowie" compilation? The Go-Betweens an "important" band? Sheesh!

Still, there they are on the list: the tried-and-true, yet forgotten, the Vaselines, the Clean, X-Ray Spex, and Pere Ubu. And Public Enemy in second place after Ramones? Cool!

"Screw it," I said to my imaginary manservant Gus. "I'll collect them all again."

And I did. And Amazon and eBay thanked me for it. My last, and final, shipment left today (containing Michael Hurley, the Indestructible Beat of Soweto, and Big Black). As of this moment, I'm missing just one album on the list:

Wanna Buy a Bridge by Various Artists.

The only problem: Wanna Buy a Bridge has only ever been available on vinyl and not CD and features 14 songs by various artists, only two of which I've got on other albums.

Gotta run: I've got another 12 albums to buy.

The leaning twin towers o' pleasure.

1 comment:

  1. There's also an Amoeba Records in Los Angeles. It is amazing.


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