Top Lists: Albums With Especially Great Lyrics

An album with a handful of songs with great lyrics is one thing, but a whole album’s worth of great lyrics is truly a treat.  Here are some albums that stand out to me for being lyrically consistently excellent.  I didn’t include any rap albums because there would be too many to put on this list, but I do give my respect to excellent rappers.

Joni Mitchell – Blue

I’m just going to go ahead and dub Joni Mitchell the queen of the early singer-songwriter movement.  If you’re going to argue against me, good luck trying to find an album as consistently great as Blue.  Mitchell’s way of storytelling is so vivid and true, she says the perfect thing when we least expect it and it catching us off guard – which is exactly what great lyrics are supposed to do.

 

Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited

When you get down to it, Bob Dylan was always a poet.  Stealing song structures from Woody Guthrie, Dylan turned tradition on its head with quirky storytelling that is at times vivid, laugh-out-loud funny, provocative, and demeaning.  Though all his albums have excellent lyrics, Highway 61 Revisited stands out to me for being his most visually satisfying album.  I can see Miss lonely’s diplomat with a siamese cat on his shoulders in “Like A Rolling Stone”.  I feel pity for Mr. Jones who clearly cannot make sense of what he sees in “Ballad Of A Thin Man”.  And of course I know all about what happens down at Desolation Row.

 

Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run

I’m more of a Darkness On The Edge Of Town kind of guy, but I have to give credit to Born To Run for having the better lyrics.   The whole album feels like a mini movie, with Springsteen as the hero trying to break out of his dismal life to find his promised land, and he’s getting there on a hot ride with his gal at his side.  Springsteen has such power and passion in his words, you can’t help but get inspired.  It also doesn’t hurt that its opening track might possibly have the greatest lyrics of rock & roll.

 

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

I’m 100% bias towards anything Ryan Adams does, so of course I put Heartbreaker on here.  Bias aside, this album is called Heartbreaker for a reason.  Adams tattoos his heart on his sleeve with devastating accounts of bad love and loneliness.  “To Be The One” could be the lyrical highlight of the album, “The sun it tries to warn me, Boy those wings are made of wax / While the things I do that kill me, They just tell me to relax.”

 

The Avett Brothers – I And Love And You

These brothers sure know how to tell it like it is.  Very few albums are as direct in their story telling as I And Love And You, and very few are as good.  The music is simple so the stories have more weight, and they sure do pack a punch.  Many people compare the Avett Brothers to Mumford & Sons, and while the London sons have the emotion, these American brothers have the storytelling.

 

Teitur – Poetry & Aeroplanes

It’s unfortunate that more people have never heard of Teitur.  The closest he ever got to potentially become big was with his excellent debut Poetry & Aeroplanes.  The title track has one of my favorite lines on love (“Love is somewhere in-between, what you believe and what you dream.”) and I love how the whole album makes you feel like the lovable romantic who is behind all the music.

 

John Mayer – Continuum

John Mayer has always had better-than-average lyrics for his radio-friendly pop songs, but on Continuum his songs have more bite.  True, most songs on the album are about his poor life (I’m rich and good looking, but I STILL can’t find love??), but he says it so nicely.  I was caught off guard when I first heard “Stop This Train”.  This is a song depicting what it’s like to grow up that gets your attention from the very first line (“No I’m not colorblind, I know the world is black and white”).

 

Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism

Only Ben Gibbard could sing a whole song about his car’s glove department and make it sound heartbreaking.  Gibbard is one of indie rock’s more clever lyricist, and Transatlanticism is one of Death Cab’s highest achievements both musically and lyrically.  The music demands your attention, but the lyrics make you stay.

 

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

For all his surfer charm, Brian Wilson can be quite the cynic, especially with the ladies.  Hidden underneath all the gorgeous harmonies and brilliant arrangements of Pet Sounds are tales about losing the ones you love, religion, and worries about the future – nothing you can really sing-a-long to at the beach.  “Here Today” could be one of the greatest anti-love songs I’ve ever heard.

 

Were there any songs that I missed?  Comment below or hit me up on Twitter @HeadfoneNation and let me know what albums are full of great lyrics.

In Case You Missed It: John Mayer’s New Song And Tour!

Well the wait is over – John Mayer is back in the spotlight.

Yesterday the famed pop star unexpectedly released a new song, “Shadow Days”, which I’m assuming is off his new album (I believe it’s titled Born and Raised)!

When I first heard this song I’m not going to lie, I thought it wasn’t that great.  It’s very simple and the lyrics aren’t too in depth compared to some of his best songs.  It’s almost exactly how I felt about “Who Says” at first.  I hated that song for being a near sell-out song.  Over time though, the song grew on me and now I think it’s a great Mayer song.  “Shadow Days” will probably grow on me quickly, so I’m not worried about the quality of his new album.

Here’s “Shadow Days”

 

But wait, there’s more!

Mayer has also released a schedule for his upcoming tour, and he’s coming to Bloomington!  I will try my hardest to get tickets to the show, but I know I’ll have to fight for them.  Wish me luck!

Click here to see the full tour schedule.

Music Journal: Albums To Look Forward To (And To Dread) In 2012

Well 2012 is a go.  Every music publication is now back on the job and looking for the best music of the new year.  To make this hunt a little easier, here are some albums that I’m looking forward to in 2012.  There’s no way to say for sure what albums will succeed and which ones will fizzle, but these are some albums to be on the lookout for.

 

The Big Pink – Future This

This could be the MGMT record of 2012.  Expect good, and trippy, things from this band this year.

 

Lana Del Rey – Born to Die

She made a scene last year with her song “Video Games”, and she was dubbed by Gawker as, “the internet’s most hated singer” for her questionable background.  However, if the new album is anything like “Video Games”, then this will be a contender for album of the year.

 

Dr. Dog – Be The Void

I don’t own any Dr. Dog albums, but this might be the first.  The band sounds like a 60s pop band that was raised in the 90s, and I really like the first single off the new album.  This could be one of the bands I rediscover in 2012.

 

Paul McCartney – TBA

Paul McCartney has the right to release anything he wants – he was a Beatle for goodness sakes!  His solo albums have been an uneven mix (Chaos And Creation In The Backyard was terrific, and so were most of the Wings albums), but like I said, this guy can release whatever he wants.  Fuck yeah indeed Sir McCartney.

 

The Shins – Port of Morrow

Everyone’s favorite Beach Boys sound-a-like indie band (this is a compliment) is back with a new album.  This is a very likable band, and I’m sure this album will be great.

 

Bruce Springsteen – TBA

Judging from the picture above, Bruce Springsteen is really excited for his new album.  Same thing with McCartney, The Boss can release whatever he wants – he’s Bruce Springsteen for goodness sakes!  His work will be cut for him though with the loss of Clarence Clemons, who was a huge part of the E Street Band.  Regardless how the album does, a year with a new Springsteen album is better than a year without one.

 

Craig Finn – Clear Heart Full Eyes

The frontman for The Hold Steady has a solo album? Sold.

 

Mumford & Sons – TBA

This isn’t confirmed to be released this year, but be prepared for the sophomore album from the little English band that took the world by storm with their excellent debut.  Hopefully the album is good, or else these lads are in danger of becoming a one-album wonder.  Fingers crossed!

 

John Mayer – Born and Raised

This also isn’t confirmed for this year, but with the way things are looking expect at least a new song from the pop-blues man in 2012.  His throat sugary had many people worried, but I’m sure Mayer has some great things in store for us.  Again, fingers crossed!

 

D’Angelo – James River

I just started to listen to D’Angelo, and if James River is finally released this year, then we are all in for a treat.  Be wary though, this album was supposed to be released years ago but has been pushed back so many times it’s starting to become like Chinese Democracy (and we all know what happened there).  Even if the album doesn’t come out, at least we have Voodoo to comfort us.

 

And here are some albums I will probably not stand in line for on release day…

 

Black Sabbath – TBA

I have a bad feeling about this.  I’m really hoping I’m proven wrong, for their sakes.

 

Adam Lambert – Trespassing

Look at the picture above.  That’s what I thought.

 

Creed – TBA

It’s Creed.  That’s what I thought.

Top Lists: My Favorite Guitar Solos

What makes a great guitar solo?  Is it how fast or flashy it is, or how slow and soulful it is?  Does it sound like a voice that you could sing to, telling its own story?  Does it start small but then crescendos into a colossal showcase of talent and emotion?  Solos are great for different reasons, but the one thing all great solos have is soul.  The following solos are my favorites, and they’re each here for different reasons.  These aren’t necessarily the best solos I’ve ever heard, but each solo here has soul and shows what can happen when an talented guitarist is in harmony with his instrument.

The Beatles – “Something” (Guitar Player: George Harrison)

 

Jimi Hendrix & The Band Of Gypsys – “Machine Gun” (Guitar Player: Jimi Hendrix)

 

Wilco – “Impossible Germany” (Guitar Player: Niles Cline)

 

John Mayer – “Covered In Rain” (Guitar Player: John Mayer)

 

Led Zeppelin – “Heartbreaker” (Guitar Player: Jimmy Page)

 

Prince – “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man” (Guitar Player: Prince)

 

Steely Dan – “Kid Charlemagne” (Guitar Player: Larry Carlton)

 

Sublime – “Santeria” (Guitar Player: Brad Nowell)

 

The White Stripes – “Ball And Biscuit” (Guitar Player: Jack White)

 

Pink Floyd – “Money” (Guitar Player: David Gilmour)

 

Tedeschi Trucks Band – “Midnight in Harlem” (Guitar Player: Derek Trucks)

 

Dire Straits – “Sultans of Swing” (Guitar Player: Mark Knopfler)

 

Were there any that I miss? Comment below or hit me up on twitter @HeadfoneNation

And before you say anything, Yes, “Stairway to Heaven” was denied from this list.  Sorry Wayne.

Hidden Gems: John Mayer – Heavier Things

There’s more to this guy than “Daughters”.

How about that John Mayer guy?  He has defined the current singer-songwriter genre and is the first artist to come to mind when “acoustic guitar” comes up in conversation.  The only songs you need to learn on guitar to impress girls are John Mayer songs.  Girls love him, guys like him cause girls love him, and a select few, including myself, appreciate his approach towards the guitar and the blues.  As a celebrity figure he is constantly in the news more for his personal life than his music.  However, as a musician he is stone-cold focused on the music, leaving all the People magazine bullshit behind when he enters the studio, creating introspective music that goes deeper than what is usually played on the radio.

Mayer’s growth as an artist is also interesting.  He grew up as a devoted disciple of Stevie Ray Vaughan and all that is blues guitar and worked his way to become a bedroom blues guitar prodigy.  He went to Berkley School of Music, dropped out, and then started to write folky coffeehouse-est songs (his all acoustic debut album Inside Wants Out EP is a must have).  Then he went all pop with No Room For Squares, an album with strong, smart pop songs but was lacking in any kind of blues.  Years later and many successful singles later he released Continuum, an album that finally showcased his blues skills combined with great pop songs.  Mayer’s place in music history was set and all was good in wonderland, even if many people didn’t like Battles Studies (which I believe is very underrated!).

With all the attention on Room For Squares and Continuum, most people forget about the album that came between, the awkward middle child that wasn’t as outgoing but possessed strong talents that were mostly hidden.  Heavier Things wasn’t as overall successful as his other albums, but the album is full of incredible music that, at its best, stacks up with the best of Mayer’s work.

Heavier Things is, as Mayer himself described it, his Axis: Bold As Love, an album more creative and colorful than its predecessor but not as appealing at first.  The songs here aren’t as cute as “Your Body Is A Wonderland” and the overall tone is more serious.  This album is full of songs of isolation, distance from loved ones, and coming to terms with the heavier things of life, hence the album title.  Always the introspective guy, Mayer is a master at expressing his feelings and making you feel what he’s feeling.

The album starts out with “Clarity”, a song so different from anything off of Room For Squares that the tone is set immediately for what is to come.  Piano, horns, and acoustic guitar accompany Mayer as he finds himself caught in a moment of realization, between knowing everything and knowing nothing, trying to make sense of what it all means.  Mayer does a lot of that on Heavier Things, trying to make sense of life and love and asking some deep questions – he’s not concerned so much about cute girls and 1983 this time around.

However, the radio-friendly Mayer hasn’t completely disappeared, proven by the following track “Bigger Than My Body”.  A showcase of Mayer’s gift of melody and lyrics, the song is the album’s most upbeat song.  “Something’s Missing” follows, and Mayer is back to trying to figure out every little aspect of his life and the source of his emptiness.  The rest of the album flows well, with all the songs complementing each other well but never really standing out on the first couple of listens.  “Daughters” is the key track here, maybe the song that makes girls cry the most (Fun fact: Mayer did not want “Daughters” to be a single because he thought it would ruin his career).

The album’s most powerful moment, however, is saved for last.  “Wheel”, the album’s closer, is one of Mayer’s most unique songs.  Softer and as minimal as anything he has written, the song is very much the answer to the questions the pervious songs raised.  Life goes round in a big wheel and everything goes in cycles, and the best thing anyone can do is to just let life happen.  This also has one of my favorite Mayer guitar solos.  It’s his smoothest and jazziest song, and one of my all-time favorites.

Love him or hate him, you have to agree that Mayer can write great songs, and his lyrical power is matched by his technical skills as a guitarist.  Continuum is his best album, but Heavier Things will always hold a special place in my heart.  It’s a great blend of smart pop songs and thought-provoking lyrics, an album that wasn’t meant to be radio-friendly but was good enough to be as popular as it was.  In the end, It is proof to me that there is more to this guy than “Daughters”.

John Mayer 2011 Berklee Clinic – “Manage the Temptation to Publish Yourself”

This is a must read for all you musicians out there.

I love this article not only because John Mayer is giving music advice, but also because the advice he gives is very insightful and practical.  The majority of this seminar is Mayer’s advice for musicians on how to handle the social media “distraction” and to focus on your craft before you go out and publish everything on the internet before it’s ready.  He also talks about how the music industry has changed, debunks some myths on how to make it as a musician, and also gives details on his new album!

Click here to read the seminar.

Playlist: Songs To Celebrate Graduation

Well today I have graduated from high school.  This is such an eventful time and I always try to find the perfect songs to fit the mood.  Here are some of my favorite songs to celebrate the end, and the beginning, of one of the many stages of life.  I tried to find songs that leaned more towards graduation and moving on, but all these songs on this list are about big changes in life and reflecting on it.

Head Automatica – “Graduation Day”

Green Day – “Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life)”

Alice Cooper – “School’s Out”

Smashing Pumpkins – “Today”

The Beatles – “In My Life”

John Mayer – “No Such Thing”

Eagle Eye Cherry – “Save Tonight”

Eve 6 – “Here’s To The Night”

Foo Fighters – “Times Like These”

Semisonic – “Closing Time”

Steely Dan – “Reelin In The Years”

Fleetwood Mac – “Landslide”

Wilco – “What’s The World Got In Store”

LCD Soundsystem – “All My Friends”