Pearl Jam: As a Kurt Cobain acolyte, 17-year-old me was sort of automatically anti-Pearl Jam. They were pretenders: Kurt said so at first, and of course you could hear it in the music, which was so much less threatening than Nirvana’s. (Or so it seemed.) But they won me over with a pair of live performances in 1995. I was friends with The Frogs—my pal Damian played bass for a long time—and I went in with them, pretending to be a bass tech. I had heard and enjoyed both Vs. and Vitalogy—I was never and still amn’t a fan of Ten’s cock-rock production, though neither is the band—and had always heard how great Pearl Jam was live. Man, they were. I sat on the stage—like, literally on the stage, off to the side, but unreasonably close—on one night, and was pretty well blown away by the band’s commitment. I realized what everybody else already had but didn’t want to acknowledge: They were/are the real thing. I’ve seen them a bunch of times since.
It probably didn’t hurt—and I’m not trying to humble-brag here, just tell the whole story—that I had a few nice conversations with Eddie Vedder over those two days in 1995. He had read an interview I did for Milk with Wesley Willis—he was also a fan of Wesley’s. He still seemed absolutely blindsided by his own fame and happy to have a conversation with somebody who wasn’t too starstruck. The band was in the middle of a shitty stretch, canceling a show in San Francisco due to food poisoning, and the Ticketmaster battle was still raging. (Maybe I’m reading too much into it.) At one of those shows, I watched Dennis Flemion (a.k.a. Dennis Frog)—who was friends with Vedder—write some of his own lyrics in Eddie’s notebook, which became the song “Smile” on No Code. History in the making! (Here’s Jimmy Flemion’s version.)
So how do the records hold up? I never listen to the original version of Ten, though the 2009 remix feels good to me. (Live versions of most of the Ten songs are great.) I think albums two through four are fantastic, especially the sometimes maligned No Code, which sounds like a band actually falling apart. It all starts to lose steam for me around Yield—I like parts of that album, but I always read the title literally, as if the band were deliberately giving in to just being a great band and not fighting themselves or the world so heartily. The 2000-2006 stretch is my least favorite, with the self-titled record getting almost no play. I think there’s one fantastic record to be made by combining the best of Lightning Bolt and Backspacer. (That’s not intended as a slight.) And I’ll go see them live, every time, because every song sounds great that way, even the ones I don’t love on record. Purging two (a bootleg B-sides comp and Pearl Jam), keeping 11.
Pedro The Lion: From Seattle—like Pearl Jam!—Pedro The Lion was an outlier and outsider in ’90s indie rock, as a Christian band that played and lived mostly outside of that scene. Chief Lion David Bazan didn’t sing all that much about Jesus at the beginning anyway, but he was always sincere, downcast, and cuttingly observant. The Pedro catalog is pretty untouchable, too. The concept album Control seems to be considered the postmortem masterpiece (the band, such as it was, broke up in 2006), but my go-to is always the 1999 EP The Only Reason I Feel Secure. As a solo artist, Bazan has reexamined his relationship with God; to put it flippantly, they broke up. But whether his songs are coming from a religious place or not, he’s always been masterful at critiquing humans, including himself. So I’m keeping five and purging three EPs that I don’t play much.
Pele: Pele was a Milwaukee supergroup of sorts that initially featured both the original Promise Ring bassist and the guy who would go on to replace him. Maybe that’s only interesting to me. I’m surprised to see that I only own the band’s first album, the excellently named Teaching The History Of Teaching Geography, which is sort of an instrumental post-rock thing that’s a lot more fun than that implies. I once did a remix for a very limited release of theirs called Emergency Room Egg, even though I had no idea how to remix anything. But that’s not on this shelf because it’s in one of those thin cardboard sleeves. Maybe I’ll get to those eventually. Keeping one, purging a CD-R of a different remix album.
Pell Mell: Another instrumental supergroup! This one features Steve Fisk, who produced a ton of records by bands I like, including The Wedding Present and Low. I used to love Pell Mell, but I never listen to them anymore. If you think you’ve never heard them but you watched Six Feet Under, you might be wrong: The “on the next episode” montages for the first few seasons were set to a Pell Mell song. Purging five. Yes, I had five Pell Mell discs.
Pernice Brothers: I love the first Pernice Brothers record, 1998’s Overcome By Happiness, a lot—it’s damn near perfect in its cynical, sincere, crushing sadness. On the surface, a lot of the songs sound slightly cheery, but they’re not. (Especially not “Chicken Wire.”) But they are brilliant—and they make me wonder if I need any of the other records. I think I do, or at least I might. Keeping three, purging two.
Tom Petty: I have a slightly dumb selection of Tom Petty discs. I only need Anthology, Wildflowers, and Damn The Torpedoes—and I don’t even own Torpedoes on disc. I do, however, have the largely unplayed Highway Companion and Echo. I’m excited that Petty is talking about reissuing and touring Wildflowers soon; I would see the shit out of that. And don’t get me wrong, I would listen to almost any Tom Petty record, but there are only three that I ever grab. Keeping two, purging three.
PFFR: PFFR is the collective responsible for Wonder Showzen, a.k.a. the greatest television show of all time. They put out some music under the name as well, and it’s as insane (and insane-making) as you might expect. I think I only kept this as long as I did because they sent it to me after one of our several wild ’n’ woolly interviews. But I can’t listen to it, because it will make me crazy. Purging one.
Phoenix: I’m a bad Phoenix fan, in that I only own the record that made them famous, the stunning Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. But honestly, it’s the only one I’ll listen to of theirs with any frequency anyway. (With a hat tip to It’s Never Been Like That and a side eye at Bankrupt!.) Keeping one.
Pinebender: This Chicago band was loud and then quiet and frequently very slow, which are all things I admired at the time but don’t really listen to anymore. Purging three.
Pink Floyd: Remember back in the Fs, when I happened upon Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors with no real recollection of how it got there? Same deal with Dark Side Of The Moon, except I don’t feel the need to keep this one. Purging one.
Pixies: I have too many Pixies discs. But before I get to those, here’s what I remember about the rise and fall of the Pixies as it happened. This is not fact, by any means, but my recollections: Everybody rightfully freaked out about Doolittle, which came out in 1989. (The cool kids freaked out a little earlier, with Surfer Rosa.) They freaked out considerably less for Bossanova, then liked Trompe Le Monde, but not enough to keep the band famous enough/together. I recall a show in Milwaukee in 1992 that seemed particularly low energy.
A decade later, with a discography that aged really well, people seemed to realize what they’d been missing, and the reunion anticipation was crazy high. Some friends and I drove up to Minneapolis for the very first reunion show, in April 2004, at the Fine Line—a 750-person capacity venue that’s more suited to dance parties than alt-rock legends. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a show where the excitement was more palpable: Both the audience and the band seemed nervous as hell, but by the end of the night, everybody was happy. The reunion proved crazy successful; the band came back to Minneapolis later that year for two shows at the 5,000-person capacity Roy Wilkins Auditorium, and now they’re back to making records. Not that I want to talk about Indie Cindy, because… I kind of want to pretend it doesn’t exist.
So back to owning too many discs. At that Fine Line show, the band sold “bootlegs” of the set, burned on to CDs and delivered immediately afterward. That can go. The “Purple Tape” can go. Death To The Pixies can go, because all that stuff is elsewhere. Keeping five, purging four. (Keeping the studio albums plus the B-sides collection.)
The Pogues: I love The Pogues, but I don’t feel like I can claim that since I only own the Essential collection and the classic Rum Sodomy & The Lash on disc. (And I really only listen to the hits collection.) You may have heard the classic “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” in a Subaru commercial not that many years ago. In sum, I still love The Pogues. Keeping two.
Polak: For as much as I loved Adorable—I wrote about them in the first week of this project—I never really found much time for Polak, which featured Adorable’s singer. His voice is still fantastic, but the songs just never did it for me. Purging three.
The Police: Not that long ago, I realized I only owned Outlandos D’Amour—my favorite Police album—on disc and found I could obtain the complete Message In A Box box set for 60 cents plus shipping on Amazon. So I did that—it’s on a completely different shelf—and now realize that it’s harder to listen to the only album I really want to listen to, because it’s in the middle of a disc on a box set. (Message presents things completely chronologically, which means that track one of disc one isn’t track one of the band’s debut.) Oh, well, still means I can purge one off the main shelf, so hooray for something.
Pony: Pony sounds like a lot of slinky, growly indie-rock bands from the mid-’90s, and though it’s pretty much long forgotten at this point, the band is noteworthy for featuring a drummer named Jimmy James—a.k.a. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, pictured in the middle above. I saw them open for Archers Of Loaf a couple of times, but I never listen to their records anymore. Purging two.
Iggy Pop: Revoke my rock credentials, for the only Iggy Pop I own on disc is a greatest-hits set. (Also, I kinda like Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”.) Keeping one.
Portastatic: I love Superchunk a lot, so naturally I love Portastatic as well—it’s the solo side project of Superchunk singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan. But I’m also getting a little scared about shelf space here, and a lot of these discs—remember, self, you have all this stuff on a hard drive—don’t even have artwork. I know I’m keeping The Nature Of Sap and The Summer Of The Shark. This is hard. Can I say in the meantime, as a thanks as much as a public service, that if you love Superchunk but don’t even know that Mac put out a whole gang of records as Portastatic (and a great one even more recently just under his own name) that you should remedy your shortcomings posthaste? Keeping three, purging six.
Portishead: Dummy is the defining trip-hop album, right? But all the headz like the second album better? I like this one. Keeping one.
Brian Posehn: Brian Posehn is part of the gang that brought the world Mr. Show, and there’s a great joke on the one disc I own about being a human-shaped bag of farts. But that’s not enough to keep it around. Purging one.
The Postal Service: Oh, man, it’s a purger’s dream! I have both the deluxe reissue of the one and only Postal Service album, Give Up, and all of the original CD singles. Do you see what this means? Five discs can become one, with no loss of music! (And I’m ditching a CD-R of a radio session, too!) Which doesn’t mean I don’t love Give Up—I do. I remember getting an advance of the album, before anybody had any expectations about it. I thought it sounded shockingly electronic, though unsurprising given the Dntel song that inspired it. But nobody knew it would get huger—huger even for a while than Death Cab For Cutie, whose Ben Gibbard is half the band. I saw one of the first Postal Service shows, to a half-empty room in Milwaukee, and the very last, at the Metro in Chicago. All were really great, and the record holds up just as well as any Death Cab disc. I remember interviewing Gibbard after it had blown up, and he was just as surprised as anybody at its success. He seemed to feel like it was a lark that he didn’t put that much weight on—I’m reading between the lines a bit—that just happened to connect. And I only have to keep the one! Keeping one, purging five.
Danny Pound: Danny Pound was the singer in Vitreous Humor and The Regrets, both bands that I’ll write about more down the line. His solo songs ditch the palpable angst of those bands, and though they’re really good, I don’t pull them off the shelf nearly as much as I do those other bands. Which I’ll write about later, when I get to them. Lay off, already. Purging one.
Power Of Dreams: I just asked my wife if she remembered the debut album by the Irish band Power Of Dreams, Immigrants, Emigrants And Me, and without missing a beat she said, “Love it.” I guarantee we haven’t listened to it in years, and I only realized in looking at Wikipedia that the band was actually vaguely famous back when this record came out, in 1990. But I can hear some of the very earnest, very mainstream pop songs in my head, so I guess we’re keeping one.
The Pretenders: I’ve just got the packed compilation The Singles on disc, and I think that’s enough. Keeping one.
Archer Prewitt: I was never too enamored of The Coctails’ kitsch (though their last album was great). But Archer Prewitt, who also went on to The Sea And Cake, had a solid solo run, starting with 1997’s gentle, lovely In The Sun. Keeping one, purging one.
Prince: I wrote a bit about Prince when he died earlier this year. I have a weird passel of Prince discs—missing 1999 and Lovesexy, for starters. I’ve got everything from 1979 to 1988 in some form or other, though, so don’t worry. Keeping four.
Prince Paul: I don’t know how many times I’ve insisted that someone listen to Prince Paul’s ridiculous, amazing, hard-to-describe solo album Psychoanalysis: What Is It? What it is is the renowned producer (of De La Soul, most notably, but many other classics, too) fucking around and accidentally creating a genius satire that also serves as an amazing hip-hop record. He told Complex of the record, “I’m going to make it as stupid as I can possibly make it. And ironically, the stupid record got me to work with Chris Rock, got me to put Handsome Boy Modeling School together, and got me a deal to do A Prince Among Thieves.”
Psychoanalysis plays like a critique of all sorts of hip-hop, from the horrorcore he had just attempted (to little success) with Gravediggaz (“Beautiful Night”) to a ridiculous, hilarious booty anthem (“Booty Clap”) to weird, half-spoken bits about alcoholism and depression. There’s also a deliberately terrible stand-up comedy track that has me rolling every time I hear it.
A Prince Among Thieves was its follow-up, a “hip-hopera” that tells the story of a young rapper trying to make his way in the world. It’s not as good as Psychoanalysis, but it’s nutty and fantastic in its own way. Here’s a fun story: I interviewed Paul right before Thieves came out. At one point in the interview, I asked him why he put so many samples of farm animals on the record—I thought it was funny, but also kind of distracting, because they ran throughout the disc. He laughed and told me that the advance CD I got—the one I still have—had those samples added in to prevent bootleggers from copying it. (When I read this story about Neil Young hanging up on an interviewer earlier this year, it made me wonder if he was in the same situation. Turns out Neil wanted his animals on the finished product.) Keeping two.
John Prine: I know almost nothing about John Prine, but I love “The Late John Garfield Blues.” Keeping one.
The Promise Ring: I can’t really be objective here, but I guess that’s not the point of this whole exercise anyway, is it? I love The Promise Ring. We kinda grew up together—Milk Magazine and the band came of age at the same time, and the band was on the cover a bunch of times. I got to watch the shows and albums get bigger over the years and was right there in the thick of it. I was the officiant at singer Davey Von Bohlen’s wedding. My family goes on vacation every year with drummer Dan Didier’s family. (That sounds like me and Dan don’t go, too. We do.)
The band made four really great records, each different enough from the last to both irritate and intrigue fans. They signed to a bigger label for the last one, Wood/Water, and then turned in a quiet, contemplative, totally not-hit-filled affair. It was a weird career, but their influence is pretty clear on the emo and pop kids who followed, who wore their hearts on their sleeves and sang out of tune in all the best ways. I have everything on disc, naturally, including all the CD singles and a couple of CD-Rs that will have to go in a traveling emo exhibit someday: One contains two excellent unreleased songs from the demo sessions for Wood/Water, “Over Me Street” and “Rotten Stars.” Keeping 10, purging a mysterious CD-R that I think is just Very Emergency with a couple of alternate takes.
Richard Pryor: I think Richard Pryor is the greatest stand-up ever, and I feel lucky that my dad starting playing me tapes of his stand-up before I was anywhere near old enough to be hearing them. That said, I’ve got two massive box sets—And It’s Deep Too! and No Pryor Restraint—so I’m going to assume that most of what appears on the three discs on this shelf is already well-covered elsewhere. In sum, if you like comedy, you should listen to Richard Pryor. Or even if you don’t. You could learn something! Purging three.
P.S. I Love You: A couple of letters back, I wrote about a Detroit band called Majesty Crush. This band has the same singer, but I don’t really remember enough about this record to keep it. And the cover art is terrible. Purging one.
Public Enemy: Allow me out on a small critical limb here to say that the production on Public Enemy’s fantastic classic albums doesn’t have nearly the thunderous impact it once did. That’s more a function of time and technology than talent and takes away nothing from the group’s influence, importance, and intensity. Keeping three.
The tally: I ditched another 48, bringing the total to 634. A few weeks back, you might remember me feeling confident about getting to my goal. Now (and I’ve written a little ways ahead of this week) I’m realizing that there’s no way I’m going to make it. I’ve got something like 600 left to go through and room for just 200. (And I haven’t touched Superchunk or The Wedding Present yet—that’s 200 right there! No, not really.) So at some point here, maybe next week, I’m gonna take a quick pass through the keepers and knock a couple dozen out.
Personal Hall Of Fame (the discs that I’ll take to the grave, maximum of one per artist): Pearl Jam, a compilation in my brain with tracks from albums two through four; Pedro The Lion, The Only Reason I Feel Secure; Pernice Brothers, Overcome By Happiness; Tom Petty, Wildflowers; Pixies, Doolittle; The Postal Service, Give Up; Prince, Purple Rain; Prince Paul, Psychoanalysis: What Is It?; The Promise Ring, Nothing Feels Good; Richard Pryor, Wanted.
Next up: Can you guess what two vital Q bands I own? Can you tell me where my Pulp discs went?