RAMPANT MADNESS, cheap powder, and the whiskey river: below are the 50 most debauched, sodden, and certifiable records in music history.
The rules are simple: being merely eccentric while swathed in outlandish clothing fails to qualify. Having done an epic amount of street powder while getting handjobs in the groupie van is not enough. Hell, Steven Tyler claims to have spent $3 million on cocaine over the years, but would Aerosmith have sounded one iota different if they’d been straight edge? It’s the same reason Mötley Crüe doesn’t warrant space on this list. Sure, they snorted live ants (actually, that was Ozzy) and mainlined Jack Daniel’s to stave off epic boredom, but their music would have been exactly the same steaming pile of hair regardless.
No, to make this list, the music on a given album has to bleed chemical influence while also leaching a very specific brand of desperation and/or madness. The vocals, the rhythm, the melody–all have to be drenched in reverb, compression, and frighteningly altered states that could not have been recorded any other way. Except through a blind leap into the void.
And sometimes madness itself is that chemical.
Roll it, pour it, cook it, crush it, or just get stone-cold crazy; the needle will drop into the groove either way.
But excess is never enough. There also has to be undeniable beauty. And there is. Every single album on this list is a remarkable document, and warrants repeated listens over the course of a lifetime.
Also, no reggae allowed.
50. Skip Spence – Oar
The place where this list had to start, essentially the Rosetta Stone for drug-induced madness, this is an archive of excess. Spence was a founding member of both Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape, who spent months howling at the walls in Bellevue after epic runs of windowpane LSD. Just after his release he was cynically recorded, releasing Oar, which is a mix of shambling nonsense and haunting ballads, soul-baring and childish in turns. The despair is palpable. This album has been passed around for years among giggling heads, serious collectors, and those in recovery looking for inspiration or something to truly fear. Everyone had a piece of Spence but Spence, who spent the rest of his life in one institution or another.
49. Spacemen 3 – Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To
You’d have to figure when it’s spelled out so blatantly they’re probably pure-veined Mormons pulling off an elaborate inside joke. Nope. This fuzzed-out squeamish throb of an album begs for either Jesus or rehab in every other line, each of which is held uncomfortably long, the vocal equivalent of a mescaline freak staring at the wrinkles on their palm: have you ever noticed how your hand looks like a highway overpass? So what if the other songs often sound embarrassingly like all of the Velvet Underground compressed into one scorched spoon? What matters is that each track smells like a week crashed in a Manchester apartment trying (and failing) to have sex with Jesus and Mary Chain groupies on a velour couch covered in cigarette burns and drool.
48. David Bowie – Heroes
Station to Station would be the obvious choice from the Bowie discography, if only because even amongst his other slabs of space oddity and forced outrageousness, Station is notoriously hunkered in a blizzard of cocaine of the quality usually reserved for Bolivian generals and DuPont heiresses. It’s a landscape of head-shaved, locked-door madness in which a thin white duke might spend six months grinding his jaw, whispering epic gibberish into a cheap microphone. Each song sounds gargled and twitchy, run through a filter of back-of-the-throat gak. And yet the choice here is Heroes, if only because it was recorded in Berlin, where Bowie and Iggy went to clean up, trading powder for midgets and sex clubs and random Prussian decadence. There the high was a tantalizing memory, and the resultant album even more amazing for its utterly bloodless inflections. Heroes is a nut-cutting, blue ice, deep Arctic void of an album. As well as totally brilliant.
47. Eddie Cochran – C’mon Everybody
Is there any more powerful drug than unfocused teenage sexuality? Either through orgasm or chemical rush, Cochran’s raspy bass voice and “fuck ’em all” lyrics lit an intoxicating pyre under the first 50’s wave of rockabilly crossovers, which were absolutely dripping with the primal frustration and random anger unmatched by later, more overtly sexual acts. Cochran’s filthy twang, which ruled the radio waves when panties were still pure, can be heard in nearly every rock band since, from Led Zeppelin to the White Stripes, decades of ready bobby-soxers mainlining shuffle rhythm to get their rocks off. Cochran died in a car crash at age 21.
46. The Replacements – All Shook Down
Widely hated by most Replacements fanatics, All Shook Down is a grim slog through the wreckage of the band that is austere and revealing in turns. It’s pre-rehab but post-realization, a dissipated reprieve where stock must be taken and hard decisions made. Paul Westerberg sounds nearly bereft, the money spent, the bottles broken, the giddy buzz ten years gone. The rest of the band is surly and indifferent in turns. Founding guitarist Bob Stinson had already been “fired” for his erratic behavior and clumsy leads, left to deal (and die) with his addiction and mental illness alone—and the resultant karma is palpable. That said, the album is a slab of unwitting truth that has been more or less ignored since its release.
45. JJ Cale – Naturally
This album, released in 1971, is mostly known for the song “After Midnight,” which would be butchered a few years later by Eric Clapton–a fact Cale was completely unaware of until he heard his own song on the radio, transformed into a 70’s radio staple and moneymaking pow(d)erhouse. Whether Cale continued to abuse white lines, or just sound like he did, this album is like a sunny afternoon in a hammock with a beautiful girl, a joint, and decades of easy living ahead. Cale’s signature laid back virtuosity is in evidence track-by-track. There’s a reason Neil Young called Cale and Jimi Hendrix the “best electric guitar players I ever heard.” And that reason is because Cale managed to make every single song he ever recorded sound like 2am in downtown Tulsa, standing outside a bar that serves free hot dogs.
44. Nick Drake – Pink Moon
The final studio album recorded by Drake, it is the only one of the three without a backing band, and the stripped-down quality of the songs palpably reflects his mental state at the time, one of harrowing depression. Drake overdosed on pills at age twenty-six, but left this album as a legacy, one mostly ignored at the time but now rightly regarded as brilliant– a collection of delicate and starkly personal statements that makes no concession to anything but simple expression and sheer despair.
43. Miles Davis – Bitches Brew
Here Davis purposely and irrevocably destroys his legacy as Cool Birther and icon of be-bop by recording an incendiary slice of rock-tinged funk jazz, replete with upper register wah-trumpet, John McLaughlin’s fusion licks, and enough pimp stroll overtones to soundtrack the entire output of Iceberg Slim. The fact that Davis was aware that Jimi Hendrix was repeatedly dalliancing with his wife (the Funk/Diva legend Betty Davis) must have had an affect on the direction of his groove. Or maybe it was just the heroin. In any case, this is an absolute monster of an album, an unrepentant middle finger to jazz snobs, and a down-on-the-corner statement that throbs and wobbles and ultimately refuses to resolve itself in any context. It’s one of the most towering musical statements of the 20th century, a composition of 70’s black street life, the madness, the drugs, the hustle, the humanity. This is Proust in eight sides, four albums, one vision.
42. Jeff Simmons – Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up
Former member of the Mothers of Invention, Simmons left to go record a pair of albums for the Straight label, Lucille being anything but. It sounds like every 15-year-old’s room in 1970–black lights, bongs, riffs, solos and Zap-boogie arrangements with plenty of guitar noodling to shore up the tweaked lyrics. This is the album I Dream of Jeannie would be humming to if she’d lived in a bong instead of a bottle.
41. Dead Boys – Young Loud and Snotty
Cleveland’s own answer to The Stooges and The New York Dolls, the Dead Boys were a dumber, drunker slice of the distorted NY thrash-cake. Featuring the rude spasm of Stiv Bators and Cheetah Chrome, this album was produced by Ten Wheel Drive’s Genya Ravan (formally of one of the first all-girl bands ever, Goldie and The Gingerbreads–real name: Goldie Zelkowitz). The Dead Boys owned CBGB for a while, trading on their combination of anthemic stupidity, surly brilliance, and rivers of cheap booze. Listening to this album is like soaking in bourbon-flavored Palmolive: an absolute joy.
40. Bobby Fuller – Let Her Dance
Most famous for the early-sixties hit “I Fought The Law”, which has been covered by every punk band in history, and which he originally recorded (but was actually written by Sonny Curtis–who wrote the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore Show), The Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance” is a genius example of throwback fifties rock run through an echo chamber of surf-reverb. The effect is both intoxicating and disconcerting, like the best moments of being high in any context. Having once appeared in the movie The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini with Nancy Sinatra and Boris Karloff, Fuller was found dead in the front seat of his car, soaked in kerosene. It was initially ruled a suicide, but some people think he’d been taking acid the night before at a party with members of the Manson family, who ran away after almost being spotted burning an overdosed Fuller, in order to hide evidence of his death.
39. Legendary Pink Dots – Shadow Weaver
Producers of over 40 albums, this band, led by the magisterial Edward Ka-Spel, is a mix of Skinny Puppy, King Crimson, and a massive dose of tainted mescaline. Shadow Weaver itself is a tributary of prog-madness and lysergic atmospheres. “City of Needles”, “Leper Colony”, and “Ghosts of Unborn Children” are utterly demented and terrifying highlights.
38. Meat Puppets – Meat Puppets II
Listening to the Meat Puppets is like hanging onto the end of a length of cyclone fencing being swung in circles by your unstable older brother. No other band has ever captured the musical axis of evil (dueling country-fried guitar licks, heroin/punk sensibility and ghostly soprano vocals) quite as capably as the Kirkwood brothers. Legendary for their addictions, instability, and multiple rehabs, they still play like runaway geniuses. Curt Kirkwood sings like a wounded squirrel, his piercing warble the perfect compliment to the desert-inflected marching cowpunk anthems. Too High To Die would have been a fine choice for an album in this spot, but “Split Myself In Two” is such a perfect metaphor for drug lust/disgust that it could not be avoided.
37. Serge Gainsbourg – Rock Around The Bunker
This bizarre coke-fueled Nazi inflected rock drama is so drowning in weird intentions and barely understood metaphor that it’s like snorting a doomed line of Borax. Still, Gainsbourg’s smooth baritone and in-jokey French Asshole delivery totally delivers. One of the least scrutable albums ever recorded, the kind of thing that could only have made sense on the high wire of huit straight days of very, very expensive accelerants.
36. Elliott Smith – Either/Or
Elliott Smith died at age 34 of two stab wounds to the chest, which was ruled a suicide but is still inconclusive by many accounts. A heavy user of drugs and alcohol, as well as a sufferer of mental illness, Smith nevertheless put out six albums before his death, many of which are now acclaimed by cognoscenti as among the best of their generation. But it is Either/Or in which his greatest strengths and vulnerabilities are showcased. Using a spiderweb-thin delivery, over quavering and vulnerable chords, his songs are raw and simple and unusually affecting.
35. Bud Powell – The Amazing Bud Powell
The eccentrically brilliant co-inventor of bebop, and percussive rapid-tempo keyboard daredevil had already been committed to Bellevue by the time he recorded The Amazing, in which he can be regularly heard doing his signature growling and mumbling along with the rhythm. After being arrested for public drunkenness (during which he was likely sober and manic) and being beaten by the police, enforced electroshock therapy made him alternately violent and despondent. Soon after, his beloved brother Ritchie would be killed in the same car crash as the genius trumpet player Clifford Brown. Powell eventually died of TB and neglect, one of the greatest piano players of the twentieth century. This album is a legacy of his pain and brilliance.
34. The Libertines – The Libertines
A side of raw crack with a heroin chaser. An absolutely loathsome album in its oblivious self-involvement and rampant narcissism, and yet sort of a genius slab of pop drenched in undeniable hooks and hopeless dissipation. The studio tales are lurid, the tour debauchery even worse. Junkie lore in ’77 Detroit is one thing, white-Brit junkie 2003 with a side of Kate Moss is something else entirely. Still, “Can’t Stand Me Now” or “The Man Who Would Be King” pushed past third-form dorm angst and proved worth every ounce of navel gaze hatred.
33. Iggy Pop – Kill City
The musical equivalent of Death on the Installment Plan. Iggy in mental hospital for junk withdrawal. James Williamson takes over, who everyone hates, and starts barking orders. The absolute end of the Stooges, launch of Iggy solo, a memento of junk-trash-bravado, barely listenable but breathtaking in its nihilism and lack of talent. A pure historical statement: this is your band on drugs.
32. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
It is well known that Keith Richards shot a genuinely protean amount of heroin during the Stones’ debauched encampment at Ville Nellcoté in the south of France during the recording of Exile on Main Street. Gram Parsons spent a (un)healthy amount of time hanging about as well. It got so bad that Mick and Bianca rented an apartment a few hours away and only showed up to lay down the occasional track while the rest of the boys hung out in the basement practicing “Ventilator Blues” while waiting for Keith to rouse from his opiate coma long enough to fuck up another guitar line. And yet, somehow, Exile is by far the greatest Stones record, and one of the greatest rock records of all time–despite each and every note being dipped in pure molten poppy.
31. Johnny Thunders – So Alone
There are addicts, and then there are fiends. Johnny Thunders’ hero was Keith Richards, an emulation he took very seriously. Post-NY Dolls, his band the Heartbreakers were simultaneously a kickass rockabilly NY trash rock outfit as well as a traveling dimebag circus (add Jerry Nolan, minus Richard Hell, etc). And Johnny was the worst purveyor, both the lead-slinging hero and the stumbling shit-veined clown. So Alone features relatively crappy Ventures knockoffs (actually the Chantays) as well as Zappa-esque 50’s pop recreations and the reasonably affecting “You Can’t Put Your Arm Around a Memory.” This album is essentially a dried cotton ball, a clogged spike, a foul-smelling pair of leather pants left at the corner of Lexington and 53rd. His bizarre and relatively unexplained death in New Orleans only adds to the mystique of this excellent but reeking album.
30. Harry Nilsson and John Lennon – Pussy Cats
Notorious for his epic appetites, and justly lauded for his first few albums, 1974 found Harry Nilsson in the studio with friend and fellow debauchee John Lennon. The two had caroused at length around LA, regularly being kicked out of clubs and restaurants for absurd behavior, finally deciding to cut an album together. Nilsson, whose beautiful and delicate vocals had highlighted earlier releases, got into a coke-fueled competition with Lennon about who could scream their parts louder and ruptured a vocal cord. His voice was never the same. This album is one blurry inside joke after another, with unusual and surreal arrangements of songs from Jimmy Cliff to Bob Dylan that is steeped in a fortnight of hard drugs and harder lessons.
29. Shuggie Otis – Freedom Flight
Conceivably the most pleasantly baked album ever recorded. Funky, smooth, and with sweetwater vocals by Shuggie himself, son of strident bandleader Johnny Otis. Bad trip? This is your listen. Pot cookies and lemonade? You’re right there too. This is a Manhattan balcony, a sunny August, a mellow blunt, a cookout with pals, and a dalliance with horns. If a more chill album ever existed, especially before the word chill ever existed, I’d be terrified to hear it: you might be lulled into a short, blissful nap you’d never wake up from.
28. Suicide – Suicide
Without question one of the seminal albums of the 70’s, and possibly one of the greatest anti-rock opuses ever. Manhattan streets plus No Wave plus Jukebox Teardrop. You wanna take a swing by Deuce Avenue? Minimalism? Psychobilly? Yellow speed plus acid? Pure stoned synesthesia: genius. Also the third best album ever recorded to randomly ingest half of your mother’s medicine cabinet to.
27. James Ramey – The Baby Huey Story
At over 400 pounds and an unrepentant junkie, it’s not much of a surprise that Baby Huey died of a drug-related heart attack at the age of twenty-six. What is a surprise is how his sole album remains one of the best and most obscure slabs of funk recorded in the 70’s. With incredibly tight horn arrangements and a throbbing spine of a bass, Ramey’s truly raw and expressive voice carries each track well beyond the usual. What really propels the album though, in the end, is the other-worldly screech Ramey often released, part James Brown, part Grace Jones, part deeply wounded man. It pierces as it funks, skunking it’s way through high after dirty backbeat high.
26. Arthur Brown – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
The God of Hellfire was a histrionic showman often lowered onstage by a rope wearing a flaming metal mask. Which sometimes required being doused by beer to keep from being badly burned. One of the few people ever kicked off of a tour with Jimi Hendrix for outlandishness and chemical excess, Brown continued to wear a colander on his head while reaping the royalties from the hit “Fire.” The rest of the album is a surprisingly sturdy blues rehash, stealing bits from James Brown and Screaming Jay Hawkins and then forcing them through a psychedelic mash of bravado and pure methanol.
25. Charles “Packy” Axton – Late Night Party
One of the kings of ’70’s Memphis and a driving force behind Stax records, Axton was also a hard-partying sax player whose tracks laid over the top of any number of grooving instrumentals that sound as if they were blown through a bottle of bourbon at 3am in the parking lot behind a mortuary off Beale Street. He more or less owned a very particular boozy groove later made popular by any number of different musicians, although he got little to no credit for it.
24. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
When every vein in your body is packed with Robitussin and molten navel junk swirl. When every molecule in your body is an illegal one, a Kabul one, cut-with-strychnine buzz. Achingly beautiful drone, lush distorted lines piled on top of one another, almost whispered and gentle vocals, pistil meets stamen in front of a screeching Marshall stack. Some of the most beautiful music ever recorded.
23. Jeff Buckley – Grace
His musician-father Tim Buckley died at the height of his fame from an alcohol/heroin overdose. Jeff, apparently straight for most of his early career, was drinking and getting high regularly during the recording of this grittily opulent album, his second. Buckley’s multi-octave voice and tortured delivery sound like a mix between Robert Plant and Anthony and the Johnsons in a hot tub full of tequila. Buckley drowned after jumping into the Wolf River for a swim fully clothed and wearing work boots. There is much speculation as to whether it was intentional or not, but the beauty of these songs is unquestioned.
22. Arthur Russell – Springfield
Classically-trained cellist Russell moved to Manhattan in the early seventies and quickly ingratiated himself into the underground gay dance/electronica scene, wedding compositional minimalism with looped cello, poppers, crank, amyl, and disco backbeats–the result of which is an amazing and wholly original pastiche. Russell’s monotone and disaffected vocals ride above unusual arrangements to form songs that sound like nothing so much as aural cough syrup–heavy, twitchy, deep, stoned, genuinely beautiful.
21. The 13th Floor Elevators – 13th Floor Elevators
Truly a document of madness and mental disintegration. Roky Erikson was a notorious acid head in the Texan/Manson mold, and this album sounds like nothing so much as a very, very bad trip with enforced attendance at a dude ranch with barbed wire and collective meals and group prayer–not to mention bird-like vocals and strummy guitars and insane neck-stab snare hits. Apocalypse music.
20. James Booker– Spiders on The Keys
Without question the single best junkie, black, gay, one-eyed, patch-wearing, proto-genius keyboard monster piano player ever to come out of New Orleans, let alone the rest of the world. This album is so consistently flamboyant and resplendent with technique and junkie fuckups that it’s a primer in how to be great and high and greatly high at the same time. A colossal, wonderful mess.
19. The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Methodrone
Anton Newcombe, singer, guitar player, and mind behind BJM was a notorious junkie, crackpot, and dictator. Although he did once say “People talk about Eric Clapton. What has he ever done except throw his baby off a fuckin’ ledge and write a song about it?”, which I am inclined to agree with. This album is soaked in methadone, pot, alcohol, heroin, speed and unnecessary overdubs. Like Joe Stalin with a nose full. And yet, a semblance of genius. These songs bleed rehab and untethered desire.
18. Eddie “Smeero” Hazel – Games, Dames, and Guitar Thangs
Ah, god, is this album high. Hazel, architect of the greatest of Parliament/Funkadelic’s guitar solos, including the epic 10 minute intro to “Maggot Brain”, was more or less kicked out of the band due to his predilections and as a response recorded this genius slab of mess. Hazel-fuzz is like mother’s milk, one of the true gods of 70’s funk, unslakable thirst, and endless appetites.
17. Hasil Adkins – Peanut Butter Rock and Roll
Singlehandedly founded psychobilly, not to mention carving an entire career out of singing about hot dogs and Kentucky Fried Chicken, Adkins was a true madman, his songs barely on the verge of comprehension or sanity. Adkins died ten days after purposely being run over by an ATV in his front yard.
16. Cymande – Cymande
Happy, positive, full of amazing hooks and melodies, this island-jam pop-funk album is the distillation of the best joint you ever smoked, or a sticky drink with an umbrella in it being sipped at a poolside-bar. This is the talk down of every bad vibe, every bad acid trip, every argument with your wife about what to tip the bellboy. A skinny dip into the affirmative, high as a smiling, welcoming kite.
15. Joy Division – Closer
Lead singer Ian Curtis hung himself in his kitchen. It only gets darker and more grim from there. The soundtrack to ennui, tedium, enervation, malaise, lassitude, and Weltschmerz while somehow remaining vital and transformative. Like an iron lung full of despair, this is marching music, a parade of one through the Manchester back streets.
14. The Butthole Surfers – Locust Abortion Technician
Without question THE most terrifying album ever recorded, and purportedly done so at the tail end of oceans of cheap acid, this record, if played at correct volumes, can strip the paint off your ’83 Camry. Legendary Texas madman and insufferable genius Gibby Haynes lays it all on the line here, and then goes twelves steps over. I was once listening to “O-Men” on my headphones in a cubicle in college and the librarian came and tapped me on the shoulder and said “people are complaining about the frequencies coming from you.” Yes, that is a true story. I dare anyone to listen to “Kunts” at top volume, alone in a house at midnight, with all the lights off.
13. Billie Holiday – Lady Sings The Blues
Although this album is for some reason relatively well regarded, by 1956 Billie’s vocals had deteriorated badly due to a brutal touring schedule, along with heroin and alcohol abuse. Her performance here is gutty and raw, a professional vainly trying to deliver in the face of diminished skills, and it is unbearably sad. The elder Holiday, with seemingly full knowledge of the loss of nearly god-like vocal gifts, manages to grind through a slate of standards, and the one song that bears her writing credit, “God Bless the Child.” This album is a car wreck, unreflective of a lifetime of genius.
12. Neil Young – Trans
Sure, Neil was clean by the time this came out, and a better choice would have been Tonight’s the Night or On The Beach, both recorded under veils of heroin and U-Hauls full of cheap dirtweed even David Crosby wouldn’t smoke, but Trans is the choice because this is what happens after your brain is sodden with drugs: you buy a vocorder and make 1982’s best Kraftwerk cover album.
11. Love 666 –American Revolution
Heirs to a sludgey vein of post-MC5 grind, and purveyors of your aunt’s stolen blood pressure medication hoarded with half a six-pack of Malt Liquor, this tower of indifferent noise and silo-echo epitomizes an 80’s droning nihilism that wants to hunker in fields of corn, but trades scabs at the corner of 6th and Q instead.
10. Houndog – Houndog
A home-recorded slice of nothingness from Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, this afterthought of a Latino blues side project is so utterly pot-drenched it smells like the carpet torn out of the back of a ’71 Ford Econoline, stored in Geezer Butler’s garage for twenty years, lent to Cyprus Hill to use as bong screens, and then sold to Jimmy Cliff’s niece for eighty bucks a square inch. It’s heavy, deep, brutally stoned, magnificently ruined.
9. Fleetwood Mac – Rumors
Tusk, which was brilliantly named after Mick Fleetwood’s nose, up which half of Peru was once snorted, is probably the wiser choice here. But Rumors, for all its great songwriting and Lindsay Buckingham’s truly brilliant guitar, is really the only option. Because not only is this 70’s juggernaut bathed in booze and coke, it is simultaneously drenched in the pain of broken relationships and illicit inter-band fucking.
8. Marvin Gaye – Here my Dear
Absolutely pulsating with the subliminal knowledge of the existence of an entire culture of people who don’t do cocaine and yet are somehow, inexplicably, reasonably happy. Still, there is transcendent soul to be sung, so why not, in the depths of withdrawal, sing it anyway? Full of naked guile and often so transparently duplicitous it’s painful, Here is a blatant ploy to get paid and get out of a contract, full of rote instrumentation and laughable keyboard fills. And yet, it’s a poignant crumbled-life confessional with some beautiful harmonies and naked lyrics.
7. Paul McCartney – McCartney II
It’s astonishing how stoned and demented this album is coming from the nice and respectable Beatle. Sounds like it was recorded in McCartney’s home studio after a thousand Meerschaum pipes of top-notch Turkish hashish and….turns out it was. Amazingly progressive in retrospect, this is a testament to late-night madness and access to very expensive recording equipment that occasionally sounds like Devo outtakes. If this album were released under someone else’s name, it would be hailed as one of the groundbreaking sides of the late 70’s. For Paul, though, it’s just an irreverent, baked mess.
6. Henry Rollins –
Each and every song is utterly drunk on sweaty men and barely sublimated homosexuality. I was at three different Rollins shows, all of them full of muscled skinheads who tried desperately to start a fight with me, all while watching cut Henry Rollins, wearing nothing but insanely small 70’s jogging shorts and a sweaty sixpack run through his set. It was only after I moved to San Francisco that I realized those skinheads were mostly angry about not being able to take a reflective moment and quietly admit to their heavily leathered brethren they were, in fact, pretty damn sweat-loving. They didn’t want to fight me, they wanted to take me out for an omelet. For deeply closeted muscle cases, moshing is speed dating, and gay is the drug that Dare Not Speak Its Name.
5. Royal Trux – Twin Infinitives
A dirty junkie laundry pile of an album. Husband and wife heroin team. The 90’s stuffed through a cheesecloth of Star Wars effects and unintelligible monkey groans. This record is so astonishingly fucked up that it’s amazing it ever got released, let alone widely reviewed. It’s a map of where not to go, what not to play, notes not to sing, effects not to use, and debauchery not to engage in. It’s a black suckhole of cigarette butts and shitty Ohio street dope. Only a fool with a phase pedal could think this was brilliance, and yet it is, because it’s so amazingly high that it’s like an Alan Lomax expedition into 1690’s Guyana. It’s pre-language. Pre-historic. A mewly babyfood mess of an album so far beyond stupid it’s awesome.
4. Lou Reed – The Blue Mask
The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat would be a more expected, and perfectly legitimate choice for a template of heroin excess, especially since at those early shows Lou used to mime tying off onstage, injecting himself, and then handing the needle as a souvenier to a lucky audience member. But for my money Lou’s post-Velvets action is far more demented, wallowing as it does in just the brand of angry, lower Manhattan kink that only the man who recorded Metal Machine Music to prove the point that ultimate music was ultimately soulless could ever get away with.
3. Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica
The holy grail of difficulty, an obscure, obtuse puzzle which takes no easy route, panders to no notion of form, consistently hits the opposite note we are trained to hear, and almost BEGS you to hate it. Hey, just about anyone can play “Brown Sugar” or “Norwegian Wood” on the guitar, and to their detriment, frequently do. It takes some serious hang-lows to play any of the tunes on this album. Or record them. Or release them. The musicianship is astonishingly good and original. The human brain is geared to fear and revile that which it cannot immediately process. What greater calling is there than to strive for an expression that triggers that reaction? What more worm-like calling is there than to salve that fear with what is safe and quickly understood? Any great work in any medium; literature, painting, dance, or sculpture, had to spend decades– or even generations– girding against public notions of propriety and the general malaise of the easily satisfied. It’s not unlikely, in forty years, that this album will be burned in the streets by hysterical mobs responding to a decree by the still-living but grimly calcified President Christie.
2. Chrome – Alien Soundtracks
Conceivably the greatest lo-fi album ever recorded, Alien Soundtracks is a total acid/speed mess, a collage of excellent riffs, sci-fi punk, pure sludge, verging-on-amphetamine psychosis, Burroughs-inspired cut up techniques, and inspired fuckoffery. It practically single handedly birthed the 90’s industrial movement. Helios Creed gave a number of interviews around the time of the release of this album in which he seemed to be under the impression that he was a flaming golden lion. He later admitted he’d been eating a lot of blotter. One of my favorite records of all time.
1. Syd Barrett – Madcap Laughs, Barrett
No other album was even considered for the top spot. Without question, this is the most raw, disturbing, and haunting entry on the list. So much so that both solo works had to be included. Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd in 1968 due to mounting instability and lysergic dissolution, but it’s because of his huddling pair of solo albums, Madcap Laughs and Barrett, that he appears here. This is broken music. Lost Thelonius. Way out on the coil. Completely untethered. But it’s also beautiful, transcendent, and truly childlike. The structureless quality of the songs, combined with improvised lyrics and jarring (but somehow perfect) rhythmic changes, tap into something elemental without making any effort to. These songs simply exist. It’s a sound bands have been laboring to achieve for half a century, but only Syd sounds like Syd. And even he only briefly did.