Boasting arguably the most famous midriff of the 1990s, Shania Twain rose out of Canada (and poverty) and reinvented country music and even the notion of what constitutes a female superstar. And she did it on her (and her producer-husband’s) terms. Her 1997 album, “Come On Over,” was a country and crossover tour de force, boasting eight singles including “Still the One,” “From This Moment On,” “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” In doing so, Twain dominated a male-dominated industry, empowered a new generation of female country stars, and became the biggest-selling female solo artist of all time. Not bad for a girl from rural Ontario.

You can listen to Come On Over by Shania Twain on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Dave Grohl is like the Forrest Gump of the rock’n’roll world. From Scream to Nirvana to Foo Fighters, he’s traversed not only the country but the globe, making friends and funny videos along the way. The winner of our sixth Listener’s Choice contest, Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace had us rocking the suburbs this summer (literally, it took us all summer to finally record this one, not to mention the slow edit!). This album was full of surprises – the story of trapped Australian miners for Matt, and the mere existence of the song “The Pretender” for Also Matt. It was a fun way to close out the season, and congratulations to Joy for winning the contest! Thanks for giving us a great album to dive into!

You can listen to Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace by Foo Fighters on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

There’s more than a 50/50 chance you actually own this album — or did at some point in your life. (Especially if you’re a kid of the 80s/90s and the CD/cassette clubs like BMG or Columbia House.) There’s a very good reason why Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Legend” was in so many disc changers back in the day — and continues to be in regular rotation for many. As far as greatest hits compilations go, this one may be the greatest of them all. It contains 10 of Marley’s UK top 40 hits including and features classics like “No Woman, No Cry,” “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Redemption Song” and more. But this isn’t just a feelgood summer album (although it is that, too). Never before or since has a Caribbean artist conquered the known world like Marley did. He wrote protest songs that would make Pete Seeger smile, he gave hope to his fellow Jamaicans, and he opened up the minds of people all over the world to the types of lives that were available to those in the poorer sections of paradise. He just happened to do it all to a danceable, reggae sound.

You can listen to Legend by Bob Marley on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

David Bowie, according to U2’s Bono, was “like a creature falling from the sky.” America may have put a man on the moon, but “we had our own British guy from space.” Bono is referring to when, in 1972, Bowie performed “Starman” on “Top of the Pops,” a seminal moment for young, inspired musicians everywhere. “Starman” was a single on Bowie’s sci-fi/apocalyptic/androgynous concept album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” and the album propelled Bowie into the stratosphere as one of the clear giants of music. (Even if the album didn’t set the record sales world by storm.) “Ziggy Stardust” was groundbreaking, gender-bending, genre-shaking, and simply unworldly for its time. The guitar riff from the title track is as well-known a riff as you will ever hear, “Suffragette City” is a rocker worthy of Bowie best-of collections, and the other tracks help inch along a captivating narrative of kaleidoscopic proportions. But it was “Starman” that changed everything. As Bowie sings, “There’s a starman waiting in the sky / He’d like to come and meet us / But he thinks he’d blow our minds.” Bowie was the Starman, and he did, indeed, blow our minds.

You can listen to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars by David Bowie on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

The title of TLC’s 1994 album “CrazySexyCool” was appropriate as it defined the three members of the group individually and collectively. The group – made up of Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas – lays claim as arguably (still) the most successful girl group of all time. And this album is one major reason why. It’s a fierce collection of strong, confident and even risky songs that, quite frankly, female artists weren’t doing at the time. “Creep” and “Waterfalls” are still radio standards to this day; the latter of which addressed dark themes such as drug/gang warfare and the AIDS crisis. With more than 12 million albums sold, “CrazySexyCool” in many ways set the standard for female group success.

You can listen to CrazySexyCool by TLC on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Tidal, and Amazon. 

 

Ask someone to name some of the best-selling albums of all time, and there’s a very good chance they will overlook AC/DC’s “Back in Black.” In some ways, it’s easy to dismiss the band as overly simplistic .. or even stuck in time. But that would be a mistake to discount the impact that the band has had on the trajectory of rock and roll. “Back in Black” came out in summer of 1980, and it’s such a great summer party album. (Or course, you could probably say that about every AC/DC album.) “Back in Black” came out just months after the death of lead singer Bon Scott, to whom the album is dedicated. The record is 10 songs of pure fist-pumping fun – with just the right amount of deviousness to boot. “Hells Bells,” “Back in Black” and “You Shook Me All Night Long” are radio and arena staples more than four decades later, and they sound as fresh and relevant as they did then. Do yourself a favor and give a listen to “Back in Black,” particularly if you never have before. After all, it has sold more than 50 million copies … for a reason.

You can listen to Back in Black by AC/DC on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

She may be petite and blonde, but don’t let that fool you. Phoebe Bridgers is a GIANT. A songwriting giant. And her mid-2020 album “Punisher” was not only the perfect accompaniment to Covid quarantine, but it solidified the Californian as a bona fide commercial and critical star. Her ability to weave in angst, anger, humor and indifference into compelling, catchy, layered songs resulted in a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album, while “Kyoto” was also nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance. Other highlights of the album (of which there are many) are “Garden Song” and “I Know The End.” The latter version, which she performed on “SNL,” garnered headlines when she screamed and smashed her guitar — not unlike how she has already smashed stereotypes.

You can listen to Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Midnight Oil burst onto the TV screens all over America in 1987 with the videos to “Beds Are Burning” and “The Dead Heart.” It was like they were from another world. Well, they kinda were. They were from the other side of the world, at least: Australia. But their follow-up album, 1990’s “Blue Sky Mining,” proved the Oils were more than just a one- (or two-)hit wonder, or just a vehicle to showcase the frenetic dancing of the tall, lanky, and bald lead singer Peter Garrett. “Blue Sky Mining” brought a rich album across the oceans, an album full of Oils topics du jour: the environment, overdevelopment, the plight of indigenous people, and so on.  “There are people who do it really well,” R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe once said about artists who sing about politics. Garrett was one of them, with Stipe calling him “brilliant.” “Blue Sky Mining” is brilliant in its own right with Midnight Oil creating anthemic, rocking sing-alongs that just so happen to be about asbestos mining, war, or killing the earth.

You can listen to Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Sometimes the albums we discuss are deemed classic by the masses; sometimes they are deemed classic by a Matt (singular). Sometimes those albums are classic …question mark? In the case of Arrested Development’s debut album, “3 Years, 5 Months and 2 Days in the Life of …” (so-called because that was how long it took the group to land a recording contract), the question is not really whether it’s a classic album or not. It’s not. But it is an important album. When it was released in 1992, it was unleashed on a world that was coming to grips with gangsta rap. White America, in particular, wasn’t sure what to make of it all. Arrested Development came along and offered up pro-African and pro-family beats and rhymes that came across as a more positive (if, in the long run, a milquetoast) version of hip-hop that still hit on uncomfortable topics like America’s racist past, homelessness, the hypocrisies of faith, and so much more. They just did it with far fewer curse words. “Tennessee,” “Mr. Wendal” and (the now cringe-worthy) “People Everyday” were some of the biggest hits of their era, landing the group millions in record sales and even a Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Rap Group (“Tennessee”). Oddly enough, they are seemingly forgotten these days … unless you are a middle-aged white person.

You can listen to Arrested Development on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Released on the exact same day as both Nirvana’s “Nevermind” and A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory,” the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” took radio and MTV by storm thanks to massive hits like “Give It Away” and especially “Under the Bridge.” The Rick Rubin produced album was a crossover hit for a band largely known for funk, punk, and wild on-stage antics. The antics continued, but now to much larger, mainstream audiences. And while the album is full of things that long-time Peppers fans had grown to love, it also gave a glimpse of a more melodic and stronger songwriting ability to come. But there’s still a ton of songs about sex.

You can listen to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

It’s an amazing story, really. A well-born son of New England (and thus AMERICAN) heraldry battles drugs and romances only to find solace in songwriting. On a whim, the young man heads oversees and finds himself auditioning for Beatles. Not only do they love his music, they end up signing him to their label, playing on his debut album, and – in the case of George Harrison – being “inspired” by one of the young man’s songs enough to write arguably HIS greatest ever song. This is the story of James Taylor. Massachusetts born. Carolina bred. Some would argue one of America’s most important (and lasting) singer-songwriters. And his “Greatest Hits” is the stuff of legends. Even if in this case the legend speaks softy and plucks an acoustic guitar

You can listen to James Taylor’s Greatest Hits on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

If ever there was a band that has come close to “out-U2ing” U2, it is Coldplay. Think about it: four good friends from their school days form a band – led by a charismatic lead singer – and create atmospheric, emotional, sing-along stadium anthems. And with “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” Chris Martin & Co. culled together the quintessential Coldplay “sound”: chiming piano, uncluttered (and occasionally ringing) guitar, driving bass and drum parts that fill the space and complement the mood. The album starts with “Politik,” a 9/11-inspired song that hints that this isn’t the same band that JUST used to fill English pubs. “In My Place,” “The Scientist” and “Clocks” all catapulted the band into the stratosphere, whether you wanted them to or not.

You can listen to A Rush of Blood to the Head on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

“Not too hard and not too soft.” That phrase personifies, in many ways, the music AND appeal of R&B hitmakers Boyz II Men. They could sing the harmonious, emotional acapella high points with songs like “End of the Road” and “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday” but they could also bring the heat. (See “Uhh Ahh.”) However, there was nothing soft about their success. When their debut album, Cooleyhighharmony, hit in 1991, it hit HARD. Fueled by the Michael Bivins-produced “origin story” “Motownphilly,” Boyz II Men were on a path of mega superstardom that would show them ruling the airwaves for much of the 1990s – sometimes even beating themselves at the top of the charts.

You can listen to Cooleyhighharmony on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

It’s been … one year since the last Finest Worksongs Christmas epipod. But Matt & Matt are back to offer up a couple of Yuletide faves ….and both are quirky and fun – in their own special ways. Barenaked Ladies’ “Barenaked for the Holidays” is quintessential BNL: moments of musical brilliance combined with moments of inane levity. “A Very Special Christmas 3” once again brought music’s top heavy hitters together to put their own, uh, unique spins on holiday classics — and a couple (then) new ones. Giggle your way into the season with our season-ending epipod. And Merry Christmas from Marshmallow and the Duke!

You can listen to Barenaked Ladies as well as A Very Special Christmas, volume 3 on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

This Listener’s Choice epipod stays “in the family” as the boys discuss Taylor Swift’s 2020 album folklore, which was chosen by Matt Stevens’ daughter MC. The adoration and sheer respect for Swift shines through in the discussion – from hosts and guest alike. After all, this was not just a career-defining album for T. Swift, but also a life-changing musical experience for many. The stripped-down and introspective songs were the perfect sounds to arrive during quarantine. And with assistance from the likes of Jack Antonoff, Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver), and The National’s Aaron Dessner, Swift created a masterpiece that showed her continued growth and self-confidence, particularly through tracks like “Cardigan,” “Exile” and “My Tears Richochet.” But don’t fret, Swifties: there’s still plenty of love triangles, incriminating themes, and self-reflective tracks to keep fans cheering her on and analyzing her love life – and lyrics.

You can listen to folklore by Taylor Swift on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

In 1983, Def Leppard emerged from the burgeoning British hard rock/metal landscape as, arguably, the biggest cats around. On the strength of mega hits (and fantastically “1980s-esque” videos) like “Photograph,” Rock of Ages,” “Foolin'” and “Too Late For Love,” the boys from Sheffield were able to become MTV darlings while still leaning into the spike bracelets and fist-pumping ethos. Their third album, “Pyromania,” was a break-out success. Their ascension hit a slight bump when drummer Rick Allen was significantly injured in a car accident (and thus lost an arm), but they would reach even greater heights with 1987’s “Hysteria.” But with ’83’s “Pyromania,” Def Leppard was HOT. And who could forget this classic lyric:
Gunter gleiben glauchen globen

You can listen to Pyromania by Def Leppard on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

1985 was a big year in pop music. The list of Billboard-topping albums is like a “who’s who” of 80s powerhouses: “Born in the USA” … “Purple Rain” … “No Jacket Required” …. “We Are the World” … “Like a Virgin” … and so on. But one album that made a splash that summer was Tears For Fears‘ “Songs from the Big Chair.” All of a sudden, with hits like “Shout,” “Head Over Heels” and “Everybody Wants to Rule The World,” Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal were punching above their class with the likes of Bruce, Prince and Madonna. It didn’t hurt that the songs undeniably catchy, and the videos were compelling. Almost four decades later, many of us are still singing — or shouting — along to these songs.

You can listen to Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Twenty-five years ago, a hip-hop album hit the scene so hard – and so somewhat unexpectedly – that it is still amazing to reflect on the remarkable impact that it had. In a time where gangster rap was shouting the loudest, “The Score,” the second album by Fugees, resonated with virtually everyone, scoring Grammys, selling millions of copies, and being the soundtrack to dance clubs for years to come – while underscoring many of the same issues that their more bombastic contemporaries were also rapping about. Of course, it never hurts to have Lauryn Hill’s wordplay and sensual voice; however, the musicality and vision of Wyclef Jean and the skills of Pras Michel made the Fugees a tour de force. With hits like “Ready Or Not, “Killing Me Softly” and “Fu-Gee La,” Fugees’ “The Score” remains one of the most beloved hip-hop and rap albums of all time. 

You can listen to The Score by Fugees on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

When most people turn 21, they celebrate by going out drinking with their friends. Adele used her life experiences as a 21-year-old to create one of the best-selling (and critically acclaimed) albums of all time. It’s an album that shares the kind of heartbreak and loss that many young women have dealt with. However, the difference is Adele was able to channel that emotion and turmoil into a complete, beautiful — and sometimes cleverly vicious — album. “21” spurred three No. 1 songs: “Rolling in the Deep,” “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain” — and “Rumour Has It” was a top 20 hit worldwide as well. And she really did do it her way, by writing songs from her heart that captured the essence of a women going through intense life mileposts. The ex-lover who spurned her allegedly told Adele that she would be “boring and lonely” without him. Today, the world knows Adele and could not give a crap about him. So cheers to you, Adele, for “21!”

You can listen to 21 by Adele on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Almost out of nowhere, Alabama Shakes’ 2015 album “Sound & Color” took the music world by storm. Fueled by Brittany Howard’s Janice-meets-Aretha soulful treatise on love, loss and longing, “Sound & Color” brings together blues, rock, soul, R&B, Southern rock — and so much more. And the world was here for it all. Fueled by the gritty and thumping “Don’t Wanna Fight,” the album was loved by music fans and music critics at the same time — a novelty, for sure. It would go on to be nominated for six Grammys, including Album of the Year. “Don’t Wanna Fight” would take home the Grammy for both Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. But like the rest of the album, it’s SO much more than “rock.”

You can listen to Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon.