Second Best Ain’t All That Bad

General consensus among the best album in an artists oeuvre is usually never in question. Though some fans will quibble and quarrel your basic music fan and average critic will most often agree. For example, Pet Sounds, Revolver, Exile On Main Street and Hwy 61 Revisited, What’s Going On and London Calling are pretty much universal as the best of each bands canon of music. As a matter of fact one of my favorite blogs (3 minutes, 49 seconds) has a wonderful, ongoing series to dissect such matters. I’ll leave such a detailed task to the master.
But what about second best? The “could’ve been a contender” albums, those amazing disks that spark debates among the super fan about the very definition of “best”. After all, tastes change, right? Time can sometimes age what was once considered “the best” in a not so flattering way. The reason Revolver is now #1, I believe, is due to the fact it was not as tied to it’s time, sonically, as Pepper. Pepper is still a great album and it’s importance on the future of rock is indisputable. But portions have not dated as well as Revolver. Tomorrow Never Knows still sounds like a subversive and weird anomaly, ultimately very moderand, and everything about the album (from the song sequencing to the cover to the sonic experimentation) has long been considered the blueprint for virtually every pop album made since.
The neat thing about “second best” is the heated and fascinating debates that ensue. Almost no one can agree on #2. Second is personal. Second can be first in many instances, know what I mean? A fan of a certain experimental band may enjoy the laid back, more commercial nature of an artist while another may rate the artists rawer, more experimental work in higher regard. It’s a fun exercise, it’s polarizing, and it can get nasty.

So let me take a poke with what I consider 10 artists “second best” album and you tell me in the comments section why I’m an idiot. And, if you feel the need, please tell me about your second bests.

The Clash, Sandinista! Ok, so you’ve read in these pages before that I consider this their best album, but after spending most of last week in a Clash induced haze I have come to the conclusion that, yes, London Calling is indeed unimpeachable. Their debut is indeed fantastic, but rates as #3 for Uncle E.

Nick Lowe, At My Age, Jesus Of Cool being my #1 pick. I came a little late to the Lowe game. Philbert introduced me to the wonders of Nick via Jesus and I was blown away by the variety and song craft of that particular album, but At My Age came out that same year and I had (have) a hard time taking it out of rotation. I let it go but it just seems to find it’s way back. Labour Of Lust is #3, followed by Party Of One.

Blur, Parklife. I don’t know, I just always thought that The Great Escape was a better album and contained more interesting character sketches than Parklife. And, musically speaking, I thought it was more interesting, especially the Specials influences that permeate a good portion of the album.

Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Summerteeth is just magnificent, the perfect hybrid of alt-country and Brian Wilson pop magnificence. Allmusic describes Tweedy as a “land locked Brian Wilson” and that’s right on the money. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, while brilliant and experimental, has been tainted for me due to the extensive re-hashing of it’s own legend. Still great, but second to the magnificent Summerteeth.

Supergrass, I Should Coco. This, their debut album, is a masterpiece. However, it lacks the musical cohesion of the follow up, In It For The Money. Sun Hit’s the Sky (from In It For The Money) is the only evidence you’ll need to agree with me on this one. Although Caught By The Fuzz, Lenny and Lose It still thrill.

Squeeze, East Side Story. The Beatles of the new wave generation, Squeeze released some of the best music of the 1980’s, and West Side Story is certainly a wonder. But Argy Bargy, containing the masterful Another Nail In My Heart, Pulling Mussels, Vicky Verky and If I Didn’t Love You edges it out for my #1 pick.

The Specials, The Specials (debut). I much prefer the follow up, More Specials, to the debut and I’ll tell you why. They change it up on the follow up, introducing lounge waaaaay before it was fashionable, and because it contains Stereotypes on it. Nuff Said?

The Ramones, The Ramones. Simply put Rocket To Russia has better songs. And the artwork on the back cover is amazing.

Queen, News Of The World. Yes, my #1 choice is A Night At The Opera (how couldn’t it be?), but the runner up for me has got to be this one. The metal heads love Queen II, the purists would choose Sheer Heart Attack, the anarchists would say Jazz, but this album contains the actual song Sheer Heart Attack (which, by the way, is more punk than a lot of the punk that was released in ’77), the psycho-sexual sonics of Get Down, Make Love and the out of character blues number by guitarist Brian May Sleeping On The Sidewalk. Oh, and the robot funk of Fight From The Inside. All this, coupled with an amazing cover by the master Frank Kelly Freas, makes this a very close contender to Opera as Queen’s best.

The Stooges, The Stooges. Raw Power may be, well, rawer, but Fun House remains the apex. The debut was a call to arms and remains the blueprint for such punk visionaries as the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, but come on! Down On The Street, TV Eye and Loose should be all the ammunition you need!