Sure, it’s been 20 years since Usher’s “Confessions” album was unleashed on the world and solidified Usher Raymond IV as one of the biggest musical and entertainment artists of his generation. But an artist like Usher is timeless, and his pick to rock the Super Bowl halftime in 2024 speaks to that. “Confessions” is the second best-selling album of the 2000s decade, and it spawned a number of (consecutive) No. 1 songs, including the iconic “Yeah!” But it wasn’t just the music that made Usher a sensation. His charisma and physics-defying dance moves left people in awe. “Confessions” would go on to sell more than 15 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling R&B album of the 21st Century (so far) by a male artist. 

You can listen to Confessions by Usher on Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and also he’s playing the Super Bowl, y’all!!

 

For our season-ending “Listener’s Choice” epipod, we dive into Billy Joel’s fifth album, his 1977 offering, “The Stranger.” The album made it to No. 2 on the US Billboard 200 thanks to singles such as “Just the Way Your Are,” “Only the Good Die Young,” and “She’s Always a Woman,” but it has long since become critically appreciated (especially by fans) due to Joel’s ability to capture the Big Apple via tunes “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)” and “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” along with “Vienna.”

You can listen to The Stranger by Billy Joel on Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and those little juke boxes in the booths of those old school pizza restaurants in New York.

 

The boys are back with another special Christmas epipod! For the fifth annual edition, Matt & Matt are bringing you something fresh. One offering is a brand new (as of Thanksgiving 2023!) holiday album from Jim James and the boys from My Morning Jacket. The other is a serious deep cut: the early-80s funky and wacky album “Merry Christmas to You” by Joseph Washington Jr. Both albums are memorable in their own right, and we hope you enjoy the discussion this season. Merry Christmas from Finest Worksongs!

 

If it seemed like England’s The Sundays came out of nowhere in the early 1990s it’s because, well, they sorta did. The dreampop quartet didn’t start out with the idea of being major music stars — they just wanted to have a little fun and make some music. But there were a couple problems with this: Harriet Wheeler and David Gavurin. Harriet’s lilting, songbird voice made her one of the most distinctive female voices in pop music; and the gorgeous guitar work by David made The Sundays alternative rock gold. Their 1990 debut, “Reading, Writing and Arithmetic,” was released in 1990 — less than two years after they formed. “Here’s Where the Story Ends” made them massive indie stars in the United States, while “Can’t Be Sure” (their first single) was lauded in the UK. The Sundays would go on to create two more beautiful albums before settling into a more normal life. They are still missed.

You can listen to The Sundays on Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and other streaming services.

 

Few artists have had as much crossover success as Garth Brooks. The Okie not only took the country world by storm in the early-to-mid-1990s, but he was a certified mega pop star as well. And in doing so, Brooks redefined how country music was perceived — and performed. Brooks made country music arena-friendly. His songs were radio friendly as well, as his 1991 album “Ropin’ The Wind” proved. The album would go on to sale more than 14 million copies and produced hits (and Brooks standards) like “Rodeo,” “What She’s Doing Now,” “The River” and “Shameless” — a Billy Joel tune that showed that Brooks knows a great song when he hears it.

You can listen to Garth Brooks by going out and buying yourself a compact disc. We’re also pretty sure his music is on Amazon. 

 

Long before there was a TV singing competition  called “The Voice,” there was Whitney Houston — aka “The Voice.” But there really was no competition. Houston’s power and range was second to no one else of her generation. In fact, the term of “The Voice” was something of an insult; it suggested that she was given a gift of singing from above, that it had little to do with talent. But to those who heard “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” or “Greatest Love of All” Or “I Will  Always Love You” or any of the other chart-topping hits, it didn’t matter where the voice came from. It was magical. Houston sadly died in 2012, but not before gifting us all with a gorgeous legacy.

You can listen to Whitney Houston on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, but the important thing is that you listen!

 

Early computer animation. Sports bloopers. Pastel sport coats. And “I want my MTV.” On the surface, it’s hard to get more “1980s” than Dire Straits during their “Brothers in Arms” era. But peak MTV era was also quite superficial, and with Dire Straits, there was always more just below the surface. Even with mega radio and music video hits like “Walk of Life” and “Money For Nothing,” 1985’s “Brothers in Arms” is yet another album with frontman and guitar god Mark Knopfler weaving stories about the world’s castaways, about blue collar workers, and war. (In fact, almost all of side 2 is about war.) For those for whom the big “hits” were an entry point to the band were probably surprised at the depth of Dire Straits’ music and lyrics.

You can listen to Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

Lucinda Williams’ fifth album, released in the summer of 1998, not only cemented the artist as a bonafide songwriting juggernaut, but it solidified her place among America’s best storytellers. “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” would go on to be named The Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop (critics) Album of the Year, and to date it is among Rolling Stone’s top 500 albums of all time. And for good reason. Williams bemoans (and even moans) about love and loss in songs like “Right In Time,” Lake Charles” and “Can’t Let Go.” And she brilliantly illustrates pain in the title track and also on tunes like “Drunken Angel,” “Concrete and Barbed Wire” and more. Williams also captures the Deep South about as good anybody before or since. And because of that, this album is truly “2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten.”

You can listen to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

In 1994, heavy metal and hard rock were on the way out and grunge ruled supreme. But that mattered not to a young, quick-witted songwriter named Rivers Cuomo. Raised on KISS, Iron Maiden and the rest, Cuomo and his band Weezer brought forth an amalgamation of rock that embraced the angst of grunge with the chops of metal — all framed by the disposition and perspective of a loner. Weezer’s self-titled debut (aka “The Blue Album”) set the music world on fire with radio and MTV hits “Buddy Holly,” “Say It Ain’t So” and “Undone – The Sweater Song.” But beyond the veneer of those hits was an album that spoke to the rockers and the geeks alike. And it proved — like Weezer — that they two can live in harmony.

You can listen to Weezer’s Blue Album on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

How does a young songwriter come back from releasing a mega hit that EVERYBODY knows? For Van Morrison, he followed the success of “Brown Eyed Girl” with two different approaches. First came “Astral Weeks,” an album built on and around Morrison’s jazz upbringing. Next came “Moondance,” which bridged the gap (eventually) between his love of various genres of music with a nod to a more pop-friendly format. It worked. Like “Brown Eyed Girl,” the title track has since become a standard, but the album is so much more than that. “And It Stoned Me” tells the nostalgiac story of a trip when he was younger — in a way that only Van could tell it. “Crazy Love” is a blueprint for how a love song should be written. “Caravan” fused Morrison’s love of blues and soul to create a timeless tune. And “Into the Mystic” is among Rolling Stone’s top 500 songs of all time. And that’s just side 1 of the album. With  “Moondance,” Morrison further established himself as one of his generations’ great troubadours.

 

You can listen to Moondance by Van Morrison on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

“With the help of God and true friends, I come to realize / I still had two strong legs and even wings to fly.”
Those are among some of the first lines of the first song (“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More”) from “Eat a Peach,” the double album by the Allman Brothers Band, which was released in early 1972. The lines and the song  — heck, SEVERAL of the songs — underscore a lot of what the Allman Brothers were all about throughout their career — but perhaps never more so than at this point. They were a brotherhood — but one that was shattered by the 1971 death of leader Duane Allman in a motorcycle accident in Macon, Ga. But the band soldiered on, finishing an album of Allman classics like “Blue Sky” and “Melissa” (which Gregg Allman performed at his big brother’s funeral). “Eat a Peach” also showcases the Allman Brothers’ true magic: on stage. Live versions of “One Way Out,” “Trouble No More” and the epic (33+ minutes long!) “Mountain Jam” give us still today a taste of why they were considered one of the best live bands of all time. Tragedy and loss would continue to follow the Allman Brothers, yet they found a way through it. “Bearing sorrow, having fun” as Gregg sings on “Melissa.” Sounds about right.

 

You can listen to Eat A Peach by The Allmann Brothers on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

Few musical genres have the level of deep-seated appreciation for its forefathers (and mothers) like rap and hip hop. And Missy Elliott’s 2002 album, “Under Construction” is a wonderful homage to “the good old days” when it was about “British Knights and gold chains,” as Elliott raps on “Back in the Day.” But for all the looking back, this was also an album where Elliott continued to put her stamp on music. While the single “Work It” continues to be one of the Virginia-born Elliott’s biggest and best-known hits, the album itself remains an important one from the early 2000s. “Under Construction” was up for a Grammy for Album of the Year and Best Rap Album of the Year, and has sold more than 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. It also further established Elliott as one of the most important female artists of her generation.

 

You can listen to Under Construction by Missy Elliott on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

Sure, prior to 1992 there had been combinations of rap and rock. But they were mostly of the novelty variety – a way to offer a safe crossover of different genres and audiences. When Rage Against the Machine unloaded their debut album in 1992, they kicked the crap out of the novelty and drew a line in the sand that told the world that playtime was over. This wasn’t “Walk this Way” or “I’m the Man.” Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford laid down some of the heaviest, grooviest music around — which was perfect for Zack de la Rocha’s growls, screams and diatribes against oppression, racism, authority — and anything else on his mind. “Bombtrack,” “Killing in the Name,” “Take the Power Back”  and the rest take the spirit of 1960s protest songs with the added element of a world where everyone can see that the revolution was televised. Rage provided the uncensored and unfettered soundtrack.

 

You can listen to the self-titled album by Rage Against The Machine on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

Perhaps no band benefited from the beauty of the mix tape better than the Violent Femmes. However, you could argue that no other band led to the proliferation of the art form of creating a mix tape more than the Femmes. The simpleness of song structure (and production) and the adolescent lyrical content (one reviewer calling it “uber-elementary sing-alongs”) were absolutely {chef’s kiss} to represent frustrated, angsty teenagers of the 1980s and ’90s. It makes sense — chief songwriter Gordon Gano began writing much of these tunes when he was 15, after all. Their debut 1983 album includes classics like “Blister in the Sun,” “Gone Daddy Gone,” “Kiss Off,” “Add It Up” and more — all songs that hit the nerve of what it means to be a young person. It’s no surprise that the Violent Femmes can still be heard on “mix tapes” (aka playlists) even today. 

 

You can listen to the self-titled album by Violent Femmes on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

Few artists have enjoyed a resurgence in appreciation over the past decade like Dolly Parton. But in the 1970s, she fought against the perception that she was just a sidekick to Porter Wagoner … or just a pretty face. It also goes without saying that a lot of people think of other things first when thinking about Dolly, instead of thinking about her talents as a songwriter, singer and musician. But Dolly has remained true to her roots and to herself, and in recent years, she has begun to enjoy an elevated level of respect as an icon, a musician and an unbelievable person. But she’s been crushing it for a LONG time. No better example than 1974’s album “Jolene,” which includes the title track and “I Will Always Love You.” Perhaps you’ve heard of them? While the rest of the songs may not reach the level of those two, other tunes are elevated by Dolly’s lilting, east Tennessee voice, her ability to bring emotion to a story, and her songwriting prowess.

 

You can listen to Jolene by Dolly Parton on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

With his 1971 album, “What’s Going On,” Motown staple Marvin Gaye turned the R&B world — and the pop music world for that matter — upside down, smashing conventional ideas about pop songs, album topics and even song themes. It’s an album — and one you really should listen to from start to finish — about a Vietnam vet returning from war to find an America weighted down by racism, drugs, hatred and injustice. Not surprising, Gaye had to fight hard to have his vision come to life. It was deemed to be a concept album without any radio hits. It was too dark — especially coming from the voice of such hits as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and so many more. But in the end, Gaye got his way — and our world is better for it. He even had the last laugh as the title track went to No. 2 on the Billboard Soul charts, and “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Inner-City Blues” both charted in the top 10. Oh, and in 2020, Rolling Stone listed it No. 1 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. “Right On.”

 

You can listen to What’s Going On on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon, although it’s probably best on vinyl.

 

“And I said baby … it’s 3 a.m., I must be lonely.” If you were anywhere within earshot of a radio or MTV in the mid-to-late 1990s, that little slice of earworm was no doubt getting stuck in your head. The culprits? Rob Thomas and his band mates in Matchbox Twenty, whose debut album, “Yourself or Someone Like You,” took pop radio by storm. Hits like the aforementioned “3AM,” “Push,” “Real World” and more pushed the sales of this album upwards of MILLIONS of copies. (It sold just over 600 copies in its first week; today, it has sold more than 15 million.) And while the songs (and the band) may get dissed nowadays for being too vanilla, you can’t deny the pop sensibilities  of  Thomas, who not only as a golden voice, but also a golden ear for hit-making music. (As we would, unfortunately, find out when he gets introduced to one Carlos Santana.) Is “Yourself” a classic album? Depends on your definition of “classic.” But you can’t deny that many of these songs are just so damn catchy. And isn’t that sometimes good enough?

 

You can listen to Yourself Or Someone Like You by Matchbox Twenty on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

First, let’s get something out of the way. This is an album podcast. It always will be, first and foremost. Therein lies some limitations around how to talk about some of the early pioneers of rock and roll and pop music. Many of them “released” albums that were nothing more than a collection of disparate singles. Or they loosely put together a collection of songs, threw a cover on it and called in an “album.” Elvis Presley was no different. However, with “From Elvis in Memphis,” The King had an opportunity to present a new version of himself — one buoyed by his recent comeback TV success. And instead of crooning for screaming fans, Elvis instead sang for himself, eschewing soundtracks and going back, in many ways, to his roots. This “Memphis sound” Elvis is full of soul, country, gospel and blues — all the things that made him HIM. The results are a gutsy album of perhaps Elvis at his best. And the last song on the original release was a heartfelt ode to the disenfranchised that was – and still is – perhaps his greatest song: “In the Ghetto.” 

 

You can listen to From Elvis in Memphis on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon. 

 

“Hooray for Hollywood / That screwy ballyhooey Hollywood …”
Just in time for this year’s Academy Awards, Finest Worksongs is offering up our first-ever Oscars Edition where we feature a movie soundtrack. And what a doozy. The &#%!@ album we chose is so &#%!@ good, so innovative and clever, that we just had to &#%!@ talk about it. “Pulp Fiction” was such a game-changer of a film; however, you can’t talk about the movie without talking about how methodical the song choices were for the soundtrack. Quentin Tarantino’s choice of surf music, funk, country, love songs and more – not to mention the decision to include dialogue from the movie itself on the soundtrack album — not only extended the lasting power of the movie, but also ingrained so many of the lines, scenes and characters into our psyche some three decades later. It is, as is said in the movie, some serious gourmet &#%!@.

 

You can listen to Pulp Fiction: Music From the Motion Picture on iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, and Amazon.