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. 

 

It’s only natural that Matt & Matt kick off Season 4 of Finest Worksongs with a non-charting song of covers by a country artist, right? But Emmylou Harris’ 1995 album “Wrecking Ball” deserves any and all recognition. It was a vast departure for the seasoned country songstress; that’s gonna happen when you partner with Daniel Lanois. “Wrecking Ball” — which includes collaborations with Neil Young,  Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Gillian Welch and others, did for Emmylou what Johnny Cash’s “American Recordings” did for the Man In Black: it rejuvenated a career and opened a whole new audience to the splendor of one of music’s all-time greats.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Wrecking Ball by Emmylou Harris online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

Matt & Matt close out Season 3 with another “Listener’s Choice” epipod. Finest Workfans voted for The Killers’ debut album “Hot Fuss” to be the album du jour. Though they may have been caught up in the mix of other similar-sounding bands like the Strokes, Franz Ferdinand and Interpol, The Killers have managed to put together a long and inspired career. And this is the one that started it all. And what a strong (if front-loaded) debut it is! Brandon Flowers & Co. deliver pure pop goodness on hits like “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Smile Like You Mean It” and the anthemic “All These Things That I’ve Done.” Not a bad way to start a career.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Hot Fuss by The Killers online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

For our second annual Christmas epipod, Matt & Matt discuss two albums that — each in their own way — set the standard for holiday collections. Phil Spector’s “A Gift for You” changed altogether how Christmas albums were created. Initially a flop, it is now essentially against how all Christmas albums are compared. Conversely, “A Very Special Christmas” introduced the idea of the philanthropic holiday album. It is a hodgepodge of hits and misses, masterpieces and head-scratchers alike. If nothing else, both albums capture their respective eras perfectly.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream A Very Special Christmas or A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector’s online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

It’s the classic “full creative control” story. Artist earns the respect (and the right) to do things as he wants. He goes against the grain to bring his vision to light. But upon hearing the final product, the record executives can’t believe it’s actually final. Sorry, bub. Creative control means creative control. And in this case, Willie Nelson’s 1975 album, “Red-Headed Stranger,” not only proved to be one of the most successful country albums of all time, but also one of the most successful — and celebrated — ALBUMS of all time. It’s a sparsely-produced, under-budget, concept album about a preacher that essentially goes on a killing spree. And it changed country music forever.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Red-Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

With a rock and soul sound reminiscent of the Stones, the Black Crowes are timeless. But when they broke — and BIG — in 1991, they occupied a space and time all of their own. “Shake Your Moneymaker” is Southern rock mixed with 60s soul at its best. Chris Robinson’s anguished vocals and brother Rich Robinson’s songmaking abilities resulted in a slew of hits like “Hard to Handle, “Jealous Again” and “She Talks to Angels.” It’s a sound that works in 1961, 1991 and even (almost) 2021.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Shake Your Money Maker by The Black Crowes  online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

When one thinks of the top rock albums of 1991, undoubtedly some classics come to mind. Nirvana’s “Nevermind.” Pearl Jam’s “Ten.” “Achtung Baby” by U2. Metallica’s so-called “Black Album.” Guns’n’Roses even released “Use Your Illusion I & II” that year. But when Spin magazine unveiled its best album of the year, that honor went to Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub for their “Bandwagonesque.” And for good reason. Combining early-90s crunch and distortion with odes to the pop goodness of the likes of Big Star, “Bandwagonesque” is as complete and inspiring as anything else that came out that year. We dare you to listen to it and not be drawn in by the melodic hooks, syrupy harmonies, or the relatable lyrics. Teenage Fanclub may be the most underrated-yet-influential band of the last 30 years. And this album shows why.

References in this Epipod:

You can buy or stream Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub  online at iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Amazon.