Gold Medal: Doolittle by The Pixies
Most Western music, particularly rock and roll, comes in series’ of four bars per phrase. The Pixies, however, like to use three or sometimes five. It’s not because they are über sophisticated or anything—The Pixies just didn’t give a flying f*** about conventions. But unlike most punk rock, their music is intricate and layered, passion with direction and precision. While Black Francis wails bloody murder, Kim Deal weaves her counter melodies over Santiago’s dissonant guitar and Lovering's steady backbeat, creating a mosaic of connecting disconnections. And somehow the opaque lyrics give the music more meaning than direct complaints about “The Man” as in generic punk. When Francis sings, “If the Devil is six, than God is seven!” in “This Monkey’s Going to Heaven,” I have no idea what he’s talking about but I want to scream it to the rooftops!
Silver Medal: Rumour and Sigh by Richard Thompson
If I had to name the top ten most underrated careers in rock and roll, Mr. Thompson would be on there. A triple threat topnotch songwriter, singer and guitarist, this album was released twenty-four years after Thompson first made his splash with Fairport Convention. And though the fine wine metaphor is well over-used, nothing else comes to mind about the guy. The songs on Rumour and Sigh tell the weathered tales of an experienced man, but lack the preachiness that often accompanies music from the middle-ages—they’re just great songs, top to bottom. And believe it or not, twenty years after this album, Richard’s still touring and playing with all the fire of old.
Bronze Medal: Oranges & Lemons by XTC
The first time you listen to Oranges & Lemons is completely overwhelming, and possibly a bit unpleasant. The album is one hour of complex, extremely dense music with political messages, mostly sung by the occasionally abrasive Andy Summers. But a couple listens later (or years in my case), it becomes obvious that this is brilliant. Each of the fifteen songs is achingly clever, sometimes even downright powerful. The final track, “Chalkhills and Children” ranks right up there with some of Brian Wilson’s best work. Reminds me a of a more modern "'Til I Die." Pure pop music as art at its finest.