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. 

 

Air drummers of the world, UNITE! This seminal album by the classic Canadian prog rock band Rush has been a long time coming for one Matt and a bitter pill to swallow for the other Matt. Clocking in at a concise (for them) 40 minutes, “Moving Pictures” was the album that took the trio from the world of mystical, dystopian rock operas to certified radio stars — while retaining street cred to the nerds. “Tom Sawyer” is an undeniable classic rock titan. “Limelight” tells the story of a superstar who doesn’t want to be a superstar — all the while ironically leading to said star becoming a superstar. And while “Moving Pictures” is a “pop” hit by Rush standards, it still retains elements of their earlier days with technically-sound instrumentals (“YYZ”), multi-movement sagas (“The Camera Eye”) and even paranoia/Big Brother elements (“Witch Hunt”). It also has a kick-ass car song (“Red Barchetta”).

You can listen to Moving Pictures by Rush on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

On our first “Underrated Albums” epipod, we’re sharing two albums that are scandalously under-appreciated. This is the opposite of the pretentious indie rocker touting an album no one would understand even if they could find it. These are albums we’re  dying for the world to hear. For whatever reason, these gems didn’t make it into everyone’s CD catalog or playlist, but it’s never too late. 

References in this Epipod:

You can buy Oh Tall Tree In The Ear by Roman candle online at Bandcamp, or listen to Queen Sarah Saturday on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. You can listen to Roman Candle on those platforms as well, but just go buy it. 

 

“We all wanna be Bob Dylan.”  In the midst of grunge and new punk, Adam Duritz and Co. were a throwback, not just to folk/pop music, but to the singer-songwriter era. Duritz’s poetic narratives offered a deep look into his soul and psyche, to his desire for belonging and fame. He would get at least the latter thanks to beautiful, pop hits like “Round Here,” “Rain King” and, of course, “Mr. Jones, which remains a radio staple. But the album, “August and Everything After” is a complete piece, often overlooked as a whole due to the momentous success of radio hits. “We all wanna be big stars, yeah, but we got different reasons for that.”

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream August and Everything After by Counting Crows online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Prince was already an enigmatic superstar before the movie (and soundtrack) for “Purple Rain” was released in 1984. But this outing catapulted him into superstardom — where he orbited the likes of Michael and Madonna (and often surpassed them). “Purple Rain” is Prince at his creative, clever and naughty best. Standard classics like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “When Doves Cry” are teased with gems like “Darling Nikki” and “I Would Die 4 U.” And the anthemic title track is the type of masterpiece by which other songs are measured. The album “Purple Rain” is a bonafide classic. And Prince was just getting started.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Purple Rain by Prince online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

How on earth does a group of high school buddies from Bowling Green, Kentucky win multiple Grammy awards for internationally popular rock music? For this listener’s choice epipod, Matt and Matt dig in to find out what makes this band so beloved. While Cage The Elephant wear their influences on their sleeves, you’ll see that these talented boys from the Bluegrass State are much more than the sum of the bands that came before them. 

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Melophobia by Cage the Elephant online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Easily one of the most versatile and collaborative performers in music these days, Anderson .Paak’s 2019 album “Ventura” is perhaps the one that feels the most true to who he is. “Ventura” includes all the elements that the artist himself  embraces: old-school soul, hip-hop, R&B and even rap from some of the world’s greatest. Paak’s gravitas as a drummer, producer and collaborator shines through with contributions from the likes of Andre 3000 (“Come Home”), Smokey Robinson (“Make It Better”), Lalah Hathaway (“Reachin’ 2 Much”), Brandy (“Jet Black”) and the late Nate Dogg (“What Can We Do?”). In every case, the collaborations work … and in every case, Paak is the star.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Ventura by Anderson .Paak online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

The alchemy that was the original Van Halen lineup would be almost impossible to replicate. On one end of the spectrum was the late, great Edward Van Halen, an introverted, virtuoso Guitar God who redefined the instrument and never seemed to put it down. On the other side was front man David Lee Roth, The Ultimate Entertainer who never seemed to slow down. The group was balanced out with steady bassist (and underrated backing vocalist) Michael Anthony and drummer Alex Van Halen. These four toured relentlessly in the 1970s and early ’80s, opening for — and more often than not blowing off the stage — the rock stalwarts of the day. By the time their fifth album, “1984,” was released, they were ready to take their place at the top of the rock ‘n roll food chain. And this album cemented Van Halen’s place among the greatest rock bands of all time thanks to hits like “Jump,” “Panama” and “Hot For Teacher.” Oh, and the videos didn’t hurt, either. The polar opposites of EVH and DLR would result in a fracture after this album, but like most alchemy reactions, it was magical while it worked.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream 1984 by Van Halen online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

In a time where pop music was dominated by dance-fueled R&B, slick hard rock, and a burgeoning alternative scene, Matthew Sweet’s 1991 major label breakthrough album “Girlfriend” was a refreshing throwback to Beatles-esque recording techniques and guitar-jangle melodies inspired by the Byrds. And, boy, did it resonate. Sweet’s songs about heartache and longing, combined with an all-star backing band led by Television’s Richard Lloyd, resulted in songs like “Girlfriend” and “I’ve Been Waiting” undoubtedly finding their way on to a ton of mix tapes. Throw in some faith-questioning tunes like “Divine Intervention” and  “Evangeline,” and you had an album that was gut-punch to American teenagers everywhere. 

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Looking back now, it’s easy to think that from 1983 and for the next couple of years, Michael Jackson singularly ruled the music world. But to think that would disrespect The Police and how massive their fifth album, “Synchronicity” was. And looking back now — with almost 40 years(!) to reflect — it’s even more remarkable what a juggernaut Sting, Stewart Copeland, and Andy Summers produced. Think about it: It’s an album whose title is based on the writing of Arthur Koestler (sure) with songs referencing domestic troubles (ok), the atomic bomb (sure, but everyone was), the Loch Ness Monster (huh?), obsession and stalking (creepy!), divorce (who hasn’t?), and, um, mother issues (yeesh). But it also includes the most famous non-love love song ever, “Every Breath You Take,” which ruled the airwaves on both sides of the Atlantic and accounts by itself for one-fourth of Sting’s income. The fact that the band broke up after this one just adds to the mystic.

References in this Epipod:

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

 

If Stevie Wonder had never released “Songs in the Key of Life,” we’d still be talking about him as one of the greatest — if not THE greatest — musician the United States ever produced. But, thankfully, he did. Look at any “best albums of all time list,” and this double-album masterpiece is guaranteed to be close to the top. And for good reason. Yes, it contains hits and standards that we all know (“Isn’t She Lovely?” and “Sir Duke” come to mind), but even those are layered with intricate mixes; instrumentation; percussion; new, innovative (for the time) instruments; and engaging and introspective lyrics. More than 100 people contributed to the album, but this album is all Stevie Wonder. (He even plays all the instruments on some songs.) It’s his magnum opus. And it’s glorious.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

One of the most unique and also most successful fans to come out of the Research Triangle area of North Carolina in the early- to-mid-1990s was Ben Folds Five. Led by Ben Folds, this three-piece (yes, just three of them) crafted clever, cynical jabs at mainstream society — as well as at themselves. But the songs were beautiful, catchy and well crafted, and were pulled from pop, punk, jazz and even classical music. They would find major success on their next album (and Folds would go on to a stellar critical and commercial solo career) but their debut offers us a glimpse at their wild and free beginning. 

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream the debut album by Ben Folds Five online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Like others in the cursed “27 Club,” Amy Winehouse burned bright and hot … only to snuff out too soon. But what an impression she left, particularly with her “Back to Black” album. The Grammy-winning album is as autobiographical as they come — and no less haunting. From her signature “Rehab” (where she gives an emphatic “no, no no!” when the idea is suggested to her), to “You Know I’m No Good” and “Tears Dry on Their Own,” the album is Winehouse completely bearing all and putting all her warts out for the world to see and hear in her beautiful mix of old-style soul and R&B — with some English crass along the way.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Back to Black by Amy Winehouse online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

In the mid-80s. Lionel Richie didn’t just operate in the same orbit as Michael Jackson and Prince — Richie was his a superstar of his own right. And nothing solidified his place on the charts like “Can’t Slow Down.” At a tidy 8 songs, the album still manages to fuse genres: pop, R&B, rock, Calypso, dance and even country. And it was a pop music juggernaut, solidifying Richie (and his sweet ‘stache) among the biggest of the bigs … at least for a while.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Can’t Slow Down by Lionel Richie online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

It was arguably the greatest gathering of musical talent in one place at one time — and still is. And it was INSANE. “We Are The World” brought the biggest American music stars of the 1980s* — and Dan Akroyd! — to one room to record a song shining a light on the plight of starving people in Africa. The song and the video was beamed incessently to the living rooms and kitchens of America. In the end, the song was inescapable at the time (if somewhat forgettable now); it raised some $68 million to help those impacted by drought and food shortages. But it also gave us a treasure trove of quirky, ridiculous stories that can only happen when you pack creative geniuses into one room — and ask them to follow orders.
*But not Prince or Madonna.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream We Are The World by U.S.A. For Africa online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Very few musical “events” transform the pop music landscape – and pop culture – overnight. But Nirvana’s “Nevermind” absolutely did just that. Coming seemingly out of the blue (but really from the Pacific Northwest), Nirvana gave power to the disillusioned children of the ‘80s, the latchkey kids and wannabe punks who were just searching for authenticity. In the blink of an eye, the hair metal, glam and slick production of the late-1980s and early-‘90s became silly and passe’. Cardigans, corduroys and dirty hair was where it was at. But it wasn’t just a look. Oh no. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” remains an anthem of the disenfranchised. “Come As You Are,” “In Bloom” and “Lithium” became alt-rock and mainstream radio standards. And they still are. And that was just essentially side 1 of “Nevermind,” an album of noise and beauty, anger and sadness, and irony and truth. All of those things made up Nirvana.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Nevermind by Nirvana online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon.