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Sometimes, "Classic" Albums are Considered Classics for a Reason

27 July 2006

I’ve written a fair amount lately about going through my CD collection, reconsidering it all. The elephant in my apartment, though, is my cassette collection—despite years of getting rid of some here or there, I still have over a thousand tapes, sitting in boxes and drawers, generally not getting listened to. It’s sad, really, ‘cause there’s so much great music there that never gets listened to, since cassette players just aren’t that convenient anymore.

So I’ve been trying to replace my tapes with CDs, mostly by convincing friends to burn CDs for me of albums I have on tape (I bought them once, so that should count for something, right?) In receiving these CD versions of long-forgotten-but-once-precious-to-me albums, I’m enjoying re-experiencing them, facing them head-on once again.

And the general conclusion I’m reaching is that some albums are considered classics for a reason: because they really are fantastic. That’s no great revelation to you, I’m sure, but I think sometimes it’s easy to take the albums that form the ‘canon’, those that everyone considers ‘classic’, and at the very least just sort of toss them aside, if not reject them completely due to overexposure.

So in that spirit, here are three albums I’ve been embracing again after these tape-to-CD reintroductions, three albums that lately I’ve been enjoying every second of:

It’s hard to listen to this with new ears, to erase the notion of bombast and image of the Boss jumping around in front of the American flag. But doing so is rewarding, as it reveals a rather complex album, one driven by a sense of disappointment, by dreams gone unfulfilled and long-dead wishes still containing the faintest glimmer of hope.

PUBLIC ENEMY – It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
In this day and age, Public Enemy gets so neatly summed up, as “political rappers.” If that’s all you think of them, you need to hear this album again, for the monstrous sound and energy of it, for CHUCK D’s commanding presence as an MC (a ‘rhyme animal’), and for how much depth there really is to the lyrics, whether they’re expressing rebellion or telling a story (“Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” is one of the more visceral, put-you-in-the-moment story-songs that I can think of).

NEIL YOUNG – Harvest
Sure, this album goes over-the-top, with the strings and the emoting, and its status as Young’s most popular album still seems odd, considering how many more consistent albums he’s made over the years. But it has some truly fantastic songs on it, songs where he’s getting to the core of a feeling, songs that could have been given a rock makeover and slid neatly into one of the CRAZY HORSE albums, but sound powerful enough here, as they are.

The moral of the story: killing the legends off is fun, but sometimes the status of “classic” is deserved. Even if the “classics” aren’t truly the best of the best (not that anyone can define that objectively), and there are other albums (even by these same artists) that might sound better to your ears, so many of the so-called greatest albums ever do have something to offer. There’s no reason to limit your listening to what other people have already decided is great—but you miss out too by completely ignoring what other people say is great, just because you’re sick of hearing them say it or wish that they’d talk about your favorite album.

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