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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

"Take Me To The River" came on the radio the other day-- the Talking Heads' cover, not the Al Green original-- and it got me thinking about great second albums. I suppose there are more of them than we think, but the sophomore jinx is certainly real enough for it to be a happy surprise when overcome. "More Songs About Buildings And Food" was certainly one of the happy exceptions. It was a game changing recording, moving the band and American New Wave in an entirely different direction. Think of the artists from that period that didn't have a solid second in them. "Radio Ethiopia" has its moments, but Patti Smith had to release "Easter" in order to reassure us that she was as great as we hoped. Television's "Adventure" makes me sad just thinking about it. What would American rock'n'roll have been like if "Candy O" had approached The Cars' debut?

On the other hand, "This Year's Model" outstripped "My Aim is True". "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" ranks with the best Neil Young sides (and of course "The Freewheeling Bob Dylan" is where everyone starts-- his first album is really only for specialists at this point). I like Madonna's first album, but "Like a Virgin" is the essential recording in her oeuvre. Likewise with Lou Reed: "Transformer" is where he became Lou Reed. They Might Be Giants' "Lincoln" belongs on this list, too.

Of course the music biz has changed in ways that I could never have imagined when I brought home my copy of "More Songs". A second album flop -- a first album flop-- is a ticket to obscurity today.

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