Pantera - Far Beyond Driven

Far Beyond Driven by Pantera is a kind of surprising album to reach #1. Pantera was a Groove Metal band, which despite the name, isn't very groovy in any way you might imagine. As per the Wikipedia, Groove Metal has a slower beat than Speed or Thrash Metal, which makes it groovy. It still features heavy guitar, raspy or screaming singing, and dark themes.

I find it surprising that the album made #1 because this isn't exactly mainstream music, now or 30 years ago. For better or worse I understand Mariah Carey being #1, but Pantera? Perhaps it was just luck and no big albums were released at the same time because next week this album dropped to #9, and then #19, #22, #25, etc. The #1 ranking was just a blip.

I could only take one listen to this album. I didn't like it at all. I like various kinds of metal, but not this kind.

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Counting Crows - August and Everything After

Ace of Base is back at #1 so I need to go down the list to find something to review. The first album I haven't already reviewed (I won't do R. Kelly) is at #4 with August and Everything After by Counting Crows. This is the second week in a row where I review an album I genuinely like. I won't ruin things, but I've gone through the albums I'll be listening to in the near future and some weeks are going to get rough.

This album has the song "Perfect Blue Buildings" with the lyrics:

Down on Virginia and La Loma
Where I've got friends who'll care for me

Counting Crows is from Berkeley, and this refers to the intersection of Virginia Street and La Loma Avenue in Berkeley. I've spent quite a bit of time near that intersection. When I was in middle or high school (can't remember precisely when; his family moved later due to divorce) I had a good friend who lived at 2708 Virginia St and in college I had some (other) friends who lived just next door at 2704 Virginia St, both of which are at that intersection. One of those college friends tells the story of walking home one day and encountering some lost-looking young women. He asked them "perfect blue buildings?" and they said "yeah." There were no blue houses at that intersection at that time (ca. 2000), so he replied "I think it's that one over there, it's got a newer paint job."

Through all of my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley (1998-2002) I bought student tickets to the home Men's basketball games. During this time team was fairly decent. They would win at home more often than not and only reliably lost to much better teams (UCLA, Stanfurd, and Arizona were the tough opponents). The games were fun to attend. Adam Durtiz, the lead singer of Counting Crows, was a regular at the games and I often saw him in the stands and hallways. I never asked for an autograph (selfies weren't a thing yet!). The main thing I took away from seeing him is that he's a pretty big guy, taller than me and husky.

I don't think I listened to Counting Crows all that much when the album came out. I think I was into more grunge rock than alternative rock (it's a small but important distinction!). Listening to this album doesn't conjure the same memories that other albums from this time might do. I'm certain I heard "Mr. Jones" on the radio when it was popular, and probably the other singles that came off the album. However my tastes in music have broadened since I was a teenager and according to I've listened songs on this album almost 300 times. Like any kind of music I'm not always in the mood for this album, but sometimes I am and I continue to return to it.

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Soundgarden - Superunknown

For the first time since I restarted 30 Years On there is a #1 (*) album I have actually listened to multiple times, willingly. Superunknown by Soundgarden is one of the smash hit albums that makes up the Grunge wave that came out of Seattle in the early to mid-1990s. Since I started tracking my music plays, I have listened to some Soundgarden every year for the last 17 years (although 2015 was thin for some reason). As of this writing I have over 500 plays of Soundgarden.

My Soundgarden Plays

I like to discover new music, and I'm still finding new artists to listen to. Last week a new album by Waxahatchee called Tigers Blood was released and it's great. But there's always going to be a place for the music I listened to as a teenager. A fair number of songs from this album still get steady radio airplay: Black Hole Sun, Fell on Black Days, and Spoonman. The whole album remains worth listening to by me, and by you, forever.

If you go to the Grunge link at Wikipedia, the second paragraph mentions a list of popular Grunge bands and their breakout hit albums: Nevermind by Nirvana, Ten by Pearl Jam, Dirt by Alice in Chains, Core by Stone Temple Pilots, and Superunknown. The (original) lead singers of these bands, except for Pearl Jam, all died untimely early deaths due to drugs or suicide. I guess that says something about Grunge musicians. Oh well, I can enjoy the music without succumbing to the same fate.

(*) The #2 album this week is The Downward Spiral. This was a good week for music 30 years ago!

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Toni Braxton - Toni Braxton

A different #1 album has topped the charts: Toni Braxton by (betcha can't guess) Toni Braxton. Interestingly, it was released 8 months "ago" on July 13, 1993; apparently it experienced a bounce in sales to bring it back to the top "now."

This album is very 90s R&B. It is very tightly produced by Babyface and Toni Braxton is an excellent singer. The songs are all as you would expect, about love and relationships.

Listening through the album I don't feel like any particular song stands out, which is both a good and bad thing. If you're in the mood for some 90s R&B, this delivers. It's 53 minutes and 29 seconds of smooth beats and harmonies which sometimes is exactly what is wanted. Let's just say it's not the kind of music that puts you in the mood to do a workout or spring clean the house.

I must have heard some of these songs on the radio 30 years ago because this album did very well, but honestly I can't remember. None of them seem familiar, in particular, but they all seem familiar. I'm more confident that I've not heard them at all within the last decade or more.

I am not often in the mood for 90s R&B and, while this album is not bad, per se, it's not really something I reach for often, or, ever. Ok, sometimes I need a dose of End of the Road, but only sometimes.

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Ace of Base - The Sign

Music Box is still the #1 album, but the #2 album is by R. Kelly, someone I'm going to stay away from, so we'll slide down to the #3 album, The Sign by the Swedish band Ace of Base. According to my scrobbling history, before today I had listened to Ace of Base exactly two times, probably as part of an algorithmic mix on a streaming service. I definitely remember hearing a few of these songs on the radio when this album came out and was popular, but I can't say I could remember the last time I heard it on the radio. Clearly, they're not my favorite band.

But luckily for them, my tastes, and perhaps American radio, the world has different tastes and they are the third most popular Swedish band in history, and have sold many millions of records. Don't worry about them.

Ace of Base is basically pure pop music, which isn't a bad thing. Their music is entertaining and enjoyable in the way pop music should be. It's obviously very synthesized, the horns in the beginning of "All That She Wants" are unambiguously fake. But that's the appeal of pop, right? Music that's tight, clean, and keeps the surprises to a minimum. Pop should be very danceable. The biggest hit off the record (in the United States), the eponymous "The Sign" fits this bill with a catchy driving beat. Many of the songs on this album were on their first album "Happy Nation" which did not make an impression in the US. This includes the title track of that album "Happy Nation" that didn't chart at all in the US. Curiously, "Happy Nation" appears to have a recent (relative) surge in plays according to, but the other songs off this album remain more popular overall.

My summary is that this music is not my favorite, but it's not bad. Now that I've been reminded of it, maybe when I'm in the mood for some pop, I'll think of them. We'll see!

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Mariah Carey - Music Box

Now that I've got my blog running again, I've decided restart my project of reviewing the top-selling album from 30 years ago. For the uninitiated, I listen to the top-selling album from 30 years ago one or more times and then write a review of it here. I'll try to do it weekly, but no promises.

I first started this over 13 years ago, and at that time 30 years ago was before I was into popular music. 30 years ago now in 2024 represents peak teenaged years for me. I was 14 and in 8th grade. Middle school is definitely peak teenage years and I definitely paid attention to popular music when I was 14. I think, therefore, I'll enjoy doing these reviews now more than I did before. There will be the stinkers and ones that I just don't like, of course, but there will be ones that bring me back to my youth.

Just like the first album I reviewed, this restart is a rough one in the form of Music Box by Mariah Carey.

Mariah Carey is not my first, second, nor third choice of music to listen to. It's not offensive nor grating, but it doesn't do much for me. About the only time I hear her music is when I'm listening to a Christmas music mix.

There are a few hit singles on this album, like Dreamlover and her cover of Without You. Unlike many songs, the original version of "Without You" isn't the best known or even the best version. The Harry Nilsson version is better than Mariah Carey's and the original. Apparently this album is important enough to warrant a 30th Anniversary Edition which I'm not going to listen to.

In summary, I will probably never listen to this album again.

By the way, I'm using this listing of top album sales. The quickest way to explore that list is just to change the date (YYYY-MM-DD) in the URL. It's likely that in about 15-20 years or so this listing will be completely messed up by digital music streaming, but I'll cross that bridge when (if!) I get there.

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Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Hard Promises

I just love the anachronism that is the cover of this album. I'm not talking about the plaid shirt Tom Petty is wearing (which is in fact cool again thanks to hipsters), or his leather jacket. No, I'm looking at the racks of records in the background, and especially the display stand of 45 single records. No doubt the goal of the photo was to put Tom in a cool and hip situation, and I say "mission accomplished!". Styles are cyclical, and LP records are presently cool (this time only partly thanks to hipsters, but also to luddites who like the sound of analog music), but 45 singles are much more rare now. My theory is that the kind of person who will get up out of their seat to change or flip a LP, instead of clicking a mouse a couple times, is not someone who would buy just a song or two from an artist. They buy the whole album and listen to it while drinking their microbrews and eating non-pasteurized cheeses. Single-song purchasers are the ones who now go to iTunes and download the latest hot single from the latest generic pop music sensation.

On to the actual content of the album Hard Promises by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (TPatHs). I've been a fan of TPatHs for a while, so I had already heard many of the songs on this album. There are a few weaker songs (like "Insider") but overall the songs are entertaining. It's typical TPatHs. I have, in fact, actually seen TPatHs live, in Atlanta, of all places. I can say that Mike Campbell is an excellent guitarist and that Tom Petty was definitely high during the concert.

One of the stated goals of this project is to see how popular music has changed over my lifetime. TPatHs are kind of a counter-example to this. TPatHs are still making music that doesn't sound all that different from what they were doing 35 years ago. This is not a bad thing, per se, because good music is good music. I will say that if TPatHs have changed, they have gotten less rock-n-roll and a bit more bluesy, but it's not a big change.

In summary, if you like any TPatHs, you should check out this album.

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Van Halen – Fair Warning

Yet again, I've fallen behind on my album schedule, so this will be brief. Fair Warning by Van Halen, hasn't made much of an impression upon me.

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Kim Carnes – Mistaken Identity

I was going to accuse Kim Carnes of being a one-hit wonder with "Bette Davis Eyes" (which went to #1 on the charts, is the lead track of Mistaken Identity and the only song I had heard from this album previously), but I suspect that's because her main genre is Country, and I never listen to Country. She is apparently very prolific and is active even today as a producer with the popular act Kings of Leon.

But the fact that she's not a one hit wonder doesn't change the (other) fact that I generally found this album to be merely fine. Not at all terrible, but not interesting to me. To her credit she has an excellent singing voice, the music is not slipshod, and the lyrics are not nonsensical, but it just didn't appeal to me. My recommendation is to skip this album. However, if you do listen to it and you like it, I won't accuse you of having bad taste in music. Now, if you admit to liking Yoko Ono's music...

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Phil Collins – Face Value

I am a fan of the BBC auto/entertainment show Top Gear. Often the three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond, will be given a humorous challenge which involves accomplishing some ridiculous set of goals with inappropriate vehicles. A couple examples are crossing the Channel in a car-to-boat conversion and "caravanning" in questionably designed and executed homemade car-to-RV conversions. As a bonus to these challenges, often a pair will work together to sabotage the third presenter's car in some humorous way. A favored method is to (permanently using glue) set the radio to loudly play music disliked by the target. In the case of James, it's anything contemporary, and for Richard, it's progressive rock.

Face Value by Phil Collins is solidly in the category of progressive rock, also known as "prog rock", and every time I listened to it I thought about Richard getting stuck listening to prog rock. There are some aspects I like about this album, most notably the lead track "In The Air Tonight", but the things I dislike the most about this album are actually what define prog rock and annoy Richard the most. Things like directionless piano solos and the over-use of synthesizers. It's those songs that made me feel, well, bored, and stuck listening to the music.

Overall, this album isn't anything special, and chances are you've heard the only good song enough times that you can safely skip this album.

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James Taylor – Dad Loves His Work

It's really hard to write a review of an album while asleep. Because that's what Dad Loves His Work by James Taylor has done to me. It is a boring, pointless album. I actually like some of his earlier work from the 1970s, but this album is very uninspired.

Furthermore, what kind of musician needs welding glasses and gets his face dirty in the course of his work? The answer is, of course, an awesome one! I have trouble imagining what music that would require active welding might sound like, but chances are it would be more interesting than this easy listening drivel. I have listened to this album twice, and I hear no evidence of welding sounds. The cover is definitely false advertising.

Furthermore, again, I can't figure out what James Taylor's fatherhood has to do with anything on this album. It's hard to tell, like I said, because I'm asleep, but there are no songs about or to his children. The album could equivalently be titled "White Male Loves His Work" or "33 Year-Old Lennoxian Loves His Work". If he's implying by the cover and the title that he loves to weld, I'm just confused, and so his he.

Huzzah! With this review I've caught back up to my review schedule. In fact, the next review isn't due for a week and a half.

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AC/DC – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Interestingly, although this is the second AC/DC album I've reviewed as part of my 30 Years On project, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap in fact originally came out before Back in Black. This album was released in Austrailia in 1976, and only came to the `states in 1981, after the 1980 release of Back in Black.

I suspect that AC/DC was a major inspiration for the 1984 mockumentary (that I think is brilliant) This Is Spinal Tap. In fact, I think a straight line can be drawn from AC/DC's song "Big Balls" to Spinal Tap's "Big Bottom". If you enjoy Spinal Tap, you're likely to enjoy AC/DC and this album.

Most of what I said about Back in Black can also be applied to this album. AC/DC is fun band to listen to if you're in the right mood. However, because the songs on this album don't quite get the same airplay as those on Back in Black, this album is worth checking out at least once.

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Grover Washington Jr. – Winelight

Here's a quick and simple review of Winelight by Grover Washington Jr.:

  • Every time I listened to this album I felt over-dressed. No, I never listened to it wearing a tuxedo or a three-piece suit. I mean that wearing any clothes at all is being over-dressed for this album. It's that kind of album.
  • It has only one song on it you've ever heard, Just the Two of Us, and likely only because you saw it in Austin Powers 2.

In summary, if you're naked, go ahead and listen to the album. Or, you can watch Austin Powers 2 and hear the only song on this album you care about, but see some funny stuff happen at the same time. What's funnier than little people?

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The Who – Face Dances

Face Dances was the first album put out by The Who after the death of Keith Moon. I'm not familiar enough with The Who to know if that had an effect on this album. I'm guessing it probably did. The best I can say about this album is that the songs are all very "poppy" and the lyrics and melodies stick in your head very easily. But overall, it's a fairly unremarkable album and probably got on the top-10 due only to the strength of their previous albums. The fact that the band disbanded two years after this album came out is a good sign that they were already on the decline as a creative unit.

According to the Wikipedia page, the cover artwork was commissioned from various famous artists. Judging from the top and bottom rows, it looks like the artists were handed the same photos. The bottom row is the most disappointing - three of the frames are basically identical, and I'm guessing they filled in the fourth with random icons to break the monotony.

Edit: Anyone want to proffer a guess what the middle-row, left-column icon is?

My recommendation is that this album is not worth checking out.

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Eric Clapton – Another Ticket

The album Another Ticket by Eric Clapton is mostly a blues album with only a few rockish songs. That's pretty typical for Clapton. Curiously, the first 3 (of 5) minutes of the title track is instrumental, which is unusual for album title tracks in my opinion. The only hit single off this record is "I Can't Stand It". According to Wikipedia, this song sometimes gets played during interludes on Bill O'Reilly's radio show. I cannot confirm this, for obvious reasons, but I imagine that Bill does not use it for its original meaning of an ahem troublesome woman. He must want to share something in common with one of his heroes.

I generally like Clapton, and this is a decent album. The only legitimate knock on the album is its bright red cover.

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