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Klinger: The early 1970s were, if you ask me, the Golden Age of Soul, a time when giants walked the earth (each giant larger than the last). And during this time, it became de rigeur for the R&B auteurs of the day to bring their compositional talents to the silver screen. The results were generally pretty spectacular. Isaac Hayes won an Oscar for his score for Shaft. Marvin Gaye turned the score for Trouble Man into one of the best albums of his career. Curtis Mayfield scored what may be the decisive victory, though, with his soundtrack for the 1972 Gordon Parks film Super Fly. According to the now-famous bit of music lore, Mayfield watched the film and was appalled by the actions of antihero coke dealer Youngblood Priest, who was at the film’s center. He proceeded to write a batch of songs that shed light on drug dealing’s very real repercussions, which he felt the film presented more or less without comment.

The result is an album that works on every level. As a soundtrack, it becomes an integral part of the movie, practically a character of its own as it acts as a latter-day Greek chorus. As an album, it’s a near-perfect collection of groove and soul, with elements of jazz and traditional film score orchestration. But that’s me. I’ve long been a sucker for Curtis Mayfield’s sweet voice and gift for melody, and for my money he’s one of the all-time great songwriters. (Exhibit A: “People Get Ready”, which is right up there with “Amazing Grace” as far as being a song that it’s hard to believe was written by a mortal human being who lived and breathed and watched TV and cut the cheese just like the rest of us—it’s just too freakin’ beautiful.) What’s your take, Mendelsohn?

Mendelsohn: There are only a few albums that can drag me helplessly into the nostalgia time-hole. Those records are few and far between, mostly because the music I used to listen to is terrible and I can’t even bring myself to revisit it (looking at you Marilyn Manson). Pearl Jam’s Ten, however, is a different story. Thirteen-year-old Mendelsohn loved this record. As a result, whenever I put this album on, I get that feeling of being unsure about the world—struggling to find my footing and identity. For a teenager growing up in suburbia in the early ‘90s, this record seemed like the perfect soundtrack. It was deeper than the rest of the records coming out of the Northwest, it had a real sense of drama, unmatched musicality that still brought the hard rock, and it was even uplifting at times. Maybe uplifting is too strong a word. Pearl Jam managed to avoid the dour sound that so many grunge acts seemed to trade upon in favor of a more updated classic rock sound.

There are a lot of different talking points that go along with this record—everything from the video for “Jeremy” to the group’s eventual suing of Ticketmaster. But before we get to any of that, I need you to answer a question for me, Klinger. I can’t answer it myself and I have been grappling with it for nearly a week.

Does this record hold up?

Klinger: Last week you mentioned that we’ve only covered five hip-hop albums so far, and two of them are by Public Enemy. Fair point. But here we are covering our second reggae album in nearly three years, and 100% of them are Bob Marley records. (Marley’s monopoly is going to come to an end next year when we get to the soundtrack from The Harder They Come, but still.) I have a few theories about how reggae came to be so nearly synonymous with Bob Marley over the years, but I don’t want to throw all my cards on the table just yet. I’ll just start with one notion.

Catch a Fire has become a major part of the Bob Marley iconography, probably due at least in part to the fact that college-age stoners love to decorate their dorms and apartments with marijuana-related memorabilia. And while the earliest pressings of the Catch a Fire LP have that cool looking Zippo lighter cover going (and the album is credited to the Wailers as a group), by 1974 the cover was replaced (and the credit changed to Bob Marley and the Wailers) with an image of Bob in full-on splifftastic mode. So the sheer ubiquity of that cover in places where ponchos are de rigeur certainly helped. Mendelsohn?

Klinger: OK, Mendelsohn, the last time we talked about Public Enemy was way back near the very beginning of our little Counterbalance experiment, with the perennially iconic It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. As I recall, you were somewhat, shall we say, underwhelmed by that album. But now Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, and (to a lesser extent) Professor Griff return to the Great List with their 1990 follow-up Fear of a Black Planet, and I have to say, Mendelsohn, that any underwhelmedness (underwhelmence? underwhelulence?) on your part will be looked at askance.

I never would have admitted it, because I apparently drank the critical Kool-Aid long ago, but Fear of a Black Planet is a far more focused work than its predecessor. Am I saying better? Maybe. But before I start saying things that I can’t take back, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts here. I suspect at least part of your previous ambivalence was that Nation of Millions was the first hip-hop album we covered on the Great List (still is, by the way), and maybe now that the pressure’s off you might be more amenable to whirligig of sound that is Public Enemy?

Mendelsohn: Long ago, back when we first started this little experiment, I had given Jimi Hendrix a pass, carte blanche, on any and all material. He can do no wrong and I stand by that, Klinger. So please, don’t take what I’m about to say as a repudiation of that previous statement. What I’m about to say is for the sake of argument.

Out of the entire Hendrix oeuvre, I tend to simply ignore Axis: Bold as Love. I don’t find it nearly as compelling as Are You Experienced? or Electric Ladyland. Axis has some great material—I mean, c’mon, it is Hendrix—but the overall package is lackluster and held together by studio trickery. There is a great sense of exploration and experimentation that permeates Axis, as Hendrix and Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell look for solid, songwriting footing, but I think the push by the band to get this album out to fulfill its recording contract really hurt the finished product. I suppose it’s easy for me to say that type of thing with 25 years of hindsight. As a follow-up to Are You Experienced? the listeners in 1968 might have found the record much more compelling than I ever will.

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