For cynics and critics, “Green” was supposed to be the beginning of the end for R.E.M. After all, the Athens, Ga., band had culled a following throughout the country by essentially touring nonstop and bringing their DIY ethos to college radio — a medium they practically helped create. “Green” was their first album with Warner Bros. Records — and their deal with WB was (at the time) the most lucrative recording contract in US history. But most important to Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe was the freedom and artistic control it provided. “Green” reflects a band at its artistic and creative zenith. It was commercially successful thanks to songs (and videos for) “Stand” and “Pop Song ’89,” but it was still weird enough and full of “R.E.M.-iness” to placate even their most devoted fans. It was also a bridge album between the jangle pop of the early days and the lushness of what was to come.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Green by R.E.M. online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

There’s a very good chance that if you’ve set foot in a random bar in the South over the last 25 years, you’ve heard the song “Straight to Hell.” This song has all the makings of a prototypical country song: twang; heartache; self-loathing; a catchy, singable chorus to raise a beer to. But it’s a song about a latchkey kid with a somewhat loose, disinterested mother. The song, off Drivin’ N Cryin’s 1989 “Mystery Road” album, gives you a great glimpse of the mystery that is the Georgia band: you probably know the song, but you probably didn’t know it was by them. “Mystery Road” itself is full of contradictions. There are bluesy songs. There are southern rock anthems (“Honeysuckle Blue”). There are hair metal songs. There are protest songs (“With the People”). There are bluegrass songs (“Ain’t It Strange”). At the heart of all of them are Kevn Kinney’s heartfelt and voice-cracking lyrics that make you wanna hug the nearest person. Drivin’ N Cryin’ would reach a larger audience with their follow up “Fly Me Courageous” album, but this is the one that shows the breadth of their heart and talent.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Mystery Road by Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

In many ways, Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” – which turns 25 years old this month – was the un-“Full Moon Fever.” When it was released, “Wildflowers” seemed sparse and stripped down, especially compared to his previous offering. But it not only featured Petty’s hit-making skills – the album produced bona fide Petty radio and MTV hits like “You Wreck Me” and “ You Don’t Know How it Feels” – but it gave the world a chance to for Petty to pour out his soul in a way that still haunts today. With Rick Rubin’s get-out-of-the-way production, “Wildflowers” is (sadly) Petty’s autobiographical epitaph — one that he just happened to write two decades before his death.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Wildflowers by Tom Petty online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

As forerunners of alternative hip-hop, A Tribe Called Quest helped set the standard. They led a movement of thoughtful rap, fused by music inspired by their parents and lyrics inspired by their lives in Queens. Led by Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, Tribe’s second album, “The Low End Theory” pays homage to jazz and bebop while dropping insightful rhymes about the shadiness of the music business, poseur rappers and injustices all around them. It also introduced the world to Busta Rhymes. To this day, songs like “Scenario,” Excursions,” “Buggin’ Out” are considered masterpieces – and the album can still get a house party jumping.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Before they reached international stardom thanks to the song “’74-’75,” The Connells were something of a regional favorite to music fans along the Eastern seaboard. Man, could they pack a house. The band composed some of the most pop-centered, unforgettable, singalong songs of the late-’80s and ’90s — ANYWHERE. It also didn’t hurt that they came across — even on stage — as just normal dudes. They even looked the part. Nowhere was this devotion to catchy melodies more emphasized than on their third album, “Fun & Games.”  Mention The Connells today to someone of a certain age in Virginia or the Carolinas, and there’s a very good chance this is the album that comes to mind. You can still see the album cover on t-shirts to this day. If that’s not lasting power, we don’t know what is.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Fun & Games by The Connells online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

In our second ever “Listener’s Choice” epipod, we take the Wayback Machine to 1998 when boy bands ruled the world. More specific, NSYNC took the pop world by storm with their debut album. This was the world’s first glimpse of Justin Timberlake, but NSYNC was more than just JT. In fact, they were a perfectly constructed boy band of the finest ilk — even if the group didn’t reach its full potential until later offerings. But “NSYNC” is a 13-song “how to” album chock-full of the boy band formula: pop gold (“Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “I Want You Back”), soulful ballads (“(God Must Have Spent) A Little More Time on You”) and even Euro dance hall beats (“I Need Love”). It was a syrupy, uber-produced glimpse of what was to come … and it was quite the appetizer.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream the debut album by *NSync online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

It’s an album full of rage caused by racial injustice. It’s an album borne out of the voices of the oppressed. It’s a musical masterpiece of dope beats, thumping bass and intellectual rhymes that spotlight police brutality, racial undercurrents and the promise of a pyrrhic breaking point. The album is also 32 years old. The fact that Public Enemy’s seminal “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” is as timely and current today as when it was released is a sad testament to America’s progress in race and socioeconomic progress. However, one reason “It Takes a Nation” still resonates is because musically it still freaking slaps. Spurred by Hall of Fame-caliber hits like “Bring the Noise” and “Don’t Believe the Hype,” this album signaled a brave new world in music. It took courage then to produce it. Unfortunately, even in 2020, it still does.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back by Public Enemy online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

No album brought heavy metal into the mainstream quite like Metallica’s “… And Justice For All.” It didn’t hurt that in the golden age of MTV, the anti-war video for “One” was on HEAVY rotation and turned James Hetfield and the rest of the band into household names. But this was still a heavy metal album with all the boxes checked: dark, brooding lyrics; growling vocals; speed-metal guitar riffs; and even double kick drums courtesy of Lars Ulrich. But unlike a lot of previous metal albums, which tended to dive into the dark and sinister for the sake of being dark and sinister, “Justice” was the thinking man’s metal album with songs about loss of freedom, inequality, and, of course justice. But there was still just enough of the songs about death and anger and genocide for any headbanger to enjoy.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream …And Justice For All by Metallica online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

“We are headed north.”
It’s all right there in the first verse of the first song of the first major label album by the Avett Brothers. This band of foot-stomping, string-breaking renegades from Concord, NC, were moving on up — creatively, artistically and, yes, commercially. But “I and Love and You” is not a sell-out album. It’s a growth album. All the emotionalism is still there; but the boys — Seth & Scott Avett, Bob Crawford and Joe Kwon — are maturing, and asking their fans to mature with them with “I&L&Y.” This beautifully-crafted and produced album — Rick Rubin is to thank for that — is a statement album. As they sing on “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise”: “Decide what to be and go be it.”  With “I and Love and You,” the Avett Brothers did just that.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream I And Love And You by The Avett Brothers online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

You couldn’t get away from Radiohead’s radio hit “Creep” when it was released on the world in 1992-93. Not even the band could escape the clutches of such a megahit. So they did what any self-respecting band – a band inspired by the DIY ethos the likes of R.E.M. – would do with their next album, which was released in 1995. “The Bends,” the follow-up to “Pablo Honey,” is a tour de force album that 25 years later holds up as perhaps one of the most complete and wonderful albums of all time. The guitar virtuosity of Jonny Greenwood is complemented by the paranoid vocals of Thom Yorke. Oh, and the rest of the band is pretty freaking incredible, too. If people came listening for the next “Creep,” they were sorely mistaken. And thank God for that.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream The Bends by Radiohead online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon.