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Permanent Records 

A handful of "minor" recordings that should stand the test of time

The Great Records tower above the landscape, altering the musical map upon their arrival, selling millions of copies, and serving as beacons for the coming generations. You know their names without our having to repeat them. But other great records arrive unheralded, subtly revealing their transformative power over the years, their sales never remotely approaching their eventual influence. It's a few of these titles we look at now, records rarely mentioned among the great ones -- though perhaps they should be.

Pixies -- Surfer Rosa
To be honest, you could put Doolittle here and be equally correct. How to justify this 1988 record's inclusion? How could one justify not including it? Even if the band's influence on Kurt Cobain and folks like, say, the Walkmen (to choose one band out of thousands) was all they had going for them, this record would be noteworthy. "Bone Machine," "Gigantic," and "River Euphrates" might be the album's biggest "hits," but the entire exercise is one of alternative pop's boundaries being stretched in a way that might only be compared to a low-fi, dysfunctional, day-job-having Beatles -- a comparison strengthened by the clamor the Pixies received from Indie Rock Planet when they announced that they were reforming for a tour.

Camper Van Beethoven -- Telephone Free Landslide Victory
Led by songwriter and resident smart-ass David Lowery, this group of college satirists were stoned enough to believe that none of the rules applied to their music, which became both a template and aesthetic for the yet-to-be-fully-explained phenomenon called indie rock. Telephone Free Landslide Victory, their 1985 debut, was filled with Dada lyrics about bowling skinheads, Chairman Mao, Lassie, the Balalaika Gap, getting wasted and how much Club Med sucked. The music ran the gamut, everything from ska to Slavic waltzes, punk to country, polkas to Tex-Mex, garage to psychedelic. Even the College Rock Radio hipsters of the time weren't ready for this. It was the heart of the Reagan era (long before his death apparently gave most of us Alzheimer's) -- arms to Iran, money to death squads, "jokes" about nuclear war -- and music was awfully earnest in its all-black Smiths and Cure attire. But without losing their sense of disgust, Camper managed to bring humor, perspective and a real sense of inquisitiveness into the music, skewering all comers in the process -- "I was a hippie/And I was a burnout/I was so wasted/I was out of my head/I was a punker/And I had a Mohawk/I was so gnarly/And I drove my Dad's car." A cult classic that deserves to have the "cult" removed from its legacy.

The Wu-Tang Clan -- Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Whither the Wu? Their 1993 debut disc, Enter the Wu-Tang, not only ushered in the era of posse rap, it also expounded its lyrical boundaries, made the whole alias thing popular, started a lucrative rapper-fashion connection that continues to this day, and revolutionized the artist-record company dynamic. Did we mention the album slams like a Riker's Island cell door? The RZA's stark, nuts-and-bolts production on Enter... basically made beatsmiths like El-P and The Neptunes and record companies like Anticon and Definitive Jux possible. Eschewing the 808 for kung-fu films, found sound and opera singers, Enter the Wu-Tang belongs on any shortlist of the greatest hip-hop albums ever.

Souled American -- Fe
This 1988 gem came and went (out of print) with barely a blip on the radar, but left its mark on virtually every music fan -- and musician -- who heard it. Souled American's debut is the record that first straddled the country rock and indie worlds, pre-dating the 90s infatuation with all things alt.country and offering open spaces in its oddly sparse construction that post-rockers still emulate. Between Chris Grigeroff's drawl, the twangy guitar interplay between Grigeroff and Scott Tuma, and Joe Adducci's unmistakable bass, Fe's trippy, dubbed-out narcotic delivery is a unique take on Appalachian funeral dirges and campfire stomps from an urban point of view, managing to sound simultaneously old fashioned and way ahead of the curve. Author and obsessed fan Camden Joy once plastered 50 different posters all over New York City featuring other musicians extolling the virtues of Souled American -- that's the sort of passion Fe inspired among some.

Weezer -- Pinkerton
When this record first came out in 1996, it tanked like David Wells on a bender. Folks used to the nostalgic, (bitter)sweet pop of their debut, Weezer (The Blue Album), didn't take well to Cuomo singing about being "tired of sex," his love of half-Japanese girls (and, to judge from the record's sound, the band Half Japanese), and his general dislike of, well, life in general.

And then a funny thing happened -- people started playing it again, and digging it. Really digging it. Digging it so much, in fact, that they started forming bands. A forerunner of the whole Emo movement, Pinkerton showed that underneath all the sugar of pop culture, the body is often rotting.

Boards of Canada -- Music Has the Right to Children
Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin's music on 1998's Music Has the Right to Children is still the benchmark for the tenuous style of music known as IDM, or "Intelligent Dance Music." Sons of Eno and Aphex Twin, the BOC gave homemade-for-home-listening electronic music its backbone, via a dizzying array of instrumentation: drum machines, samplers, analog and digital synths, all combined with an experimentalist creation aesthetic more in line with Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage than Sasha and Digweed. "Bocuma," "An Eagle in Your Mind" and "Turquoise Hexagon Sun" introduced warmth and depth to dance music, via layers and layers of sound and texture. From gauzy to gaudy, it's all here, and in most every IDM record that came after it. Electronic house and down-tempo always had a heartbeat -- Boards of Canada just helped give it a heart.

Mission of Burma -- Vs.
This may be the Vs. people eventually remember, not Pearl Jam's gazillion-selling and dating quickly grunge hit. This Massachusetts quartet released their Vs. in 1982, their only official full-length before a bad case of tinnitus forced leader Roger Miller from the stage and into early retirement forever. Or so it seemed. Back then, Burma grabbed liberally from a host of influences, chief among them The Stooges, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground and early Roxy Music. But what emerged from that mix was decidedly their own, an explosive angularity built on the staccato-like guitar attack of Miller and a punishing but intelligent approach from the rhythm section of drummer Peter Prescott and bassist Clint Conley. Their influence was immediate, the odd time-shifts, howling vocals and aural dynamics picked up by, among others, a couple of students at the University of Massachusetts who a few years later would form the Pixies. But the true measure of this record's lasting power came this year, when after two decades Burma put out OnOffOn, a new record built on the same sonic principles -- to virtual unanimous critical acclaim.

The Stone Roses -- The Stone Roses
The record that changed British music. Radiohead cite it as a reference point, as have every Big New Thing band since -- Travis, Oasis, Coldplay, Starsailor, ad infinitum -- that crossed the pond in the last 15 years. "I Wanna Be Adored" was an anthem for a generation, and songs like "Fool's Gold" still sound good to this day, whether or not you're all jacked up on Tennants and designer drugs. This 1989 debut, featuring the warm guitar jangle of John Squire as well as the cock(y) rock vocal stylings of Ian Brown (we'll forgive him his would-be doppelganger, Liam Gallagher), made dance kids and rock kids come together as one, starting a hippie-redux "Madchester" scene whose effects are still being felt to this day. When Morrissey was asked in 1989 to describe the year in one word, he said "1969." For musical Manchester and much of England, it was the closest thing since.

The Feelies -- Crazy Rhythms
The missing link between the Velvet Underground, early REM, Yo La Tengo and Luna. The Feelies' first record debuted in 1980, when short and loud was the order of the day. But four of the nine cuts clocked in at over five minutes, including the opener, "The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness," as aptly titled a song as could be. Guitarists Bill Million and Glenn Mercer wove sinewy and hypnotic guitar lines that Keith Clayton and Anton Fier provided a propulsive rhythmic framework for. The VU influence on these four New Yorkers was undeniable -- Mercer's sing/speak vocals and Fier's Krautrock metronome drumming the most obvious examples. But when the label Rough Trade crashed and burned it left dozens of bands -- and much of the Feelies' legacy -- in the lurch. They reformed a few years later, but in the interim REM had borrowed from their sound and became the talked-about act. The Feelies' new drummer, Stanley Demeski, later became a founding member of Luna, keeping alive the band's tradition.

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