Ten great albums recorded at Sound City Studios, the focus of Sound City
Dave Grohl is a busy guy. The Foo Fighters frontman is a member of multiple supergroups, played alongside Paul McCartney at the 12/12/12 Sandy Relief Concert, will be the keynote speaker at South by Southwest this March, and just made his directing debut with Sound City, a documentary tracing the history of one of the most important -- and practically hidden -- recording studios in the country, Sound City Studios.
For Sound City, he gathered such artists as Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield and many more to talk about their experiences recording in the studio, with its legendary Neve sound console -- and to record a new album in the studio. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival last week, and will be playing for one night only at the Mayan Theatre at 7 pm. Thursday, January 31. In advance of that showing, here are of ten great albums that were recorded at Sound City.
10. Rage Against the Machine's Rage Against the Machine (1992)
The message "no samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record" can be found on the sleeve of this album -- it's a great example of the kind of music recorded at Sound City. One of the first -- and one of the few -- bands to successfully merge rap and metal, Rage Against the Machine broke new ground with this debut album, which merged social and political lyrics with angry sound. Often found on lists of great albums, Rage Against the Machine is also praised for its production and pristine sound.
9. A Perfect Circle's Mer de Noms (2000)
A supergroup by definition, A Perfect Circle sounds like anything but a side project. This band is just as ambitious as anything Billy Howerdel has ever worked on. Mer de Noms, A Perfect Circle's debut, was the highest-scoring debut album for a rock band, entering the Billboard 200 list at No. 4. The video for the first single, "Judith," was directed by David Fincher, director of Fight Club, Se7en and The Social Network.
8. Cheap Trick's Heaven Tonight (1978)
Practically an ode to musicians before them, like The Beatles and The Who, the members of Cheap Trick took a page or two from music history and made it their own with their third album, Heaven Tonight. They may not have created a new genre or changed the world of music forever, but the craft and execution was undeniable. This album combines the hallmarks of their first two: the raw and powerful chords of their debut and the pop harmonies of their second effort.
7. Johnny Cash's Unchained (1996)
Most cover songs are just, well, cover songs. But when Johnny Cash covered a song, it became so much more -- both an honor to the original songwriter and an appropriation of his work. We catch glimpses of the power of Cash's covers on this album, the second volume of his American Recordings series. Backed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cash covers songs by Petty, Beck and Soundgarden. The album also includes such Cash originals as "Country Boy." This was his 82nd album.
6. Neil Young's After the Gold Rush (1970)
Legend has it that this album was recorded as the soundtrack to an unmade film with the same title. Young reportedly read a screenplay written by Dean Stockwell and Herb Berman and asked if he could make the soundtrack; although the script has since disappeared, Stockwell has said it was going to be an "end-of-the-world" sort of film, which might explain the surreal quality in some of the tracks. One of the featured musicians here is Nils Lofgren on piano; he went on to be part of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
5. Weezer's Pinkerton (1996)
Weezer's second album didn't get as much attention as its debut at first, but that's just part of the process of becoming a cult classic. A concept album loosely based on Madame Butterfly, Pinkerton was darker than the act's self-titled debut, but it maintains some of the humor of the era -- basically making fun of your own angst. The general sound is of a lightly-produced live band album, but the more you listen, the more you notice the craft in the writing and composition.
4. Tool's Undertow (1993)
Tool's first full-length album is angry, but not just for the sake of being angry. Everything this band does, from lyrics to disturbing videos, is thought-out. Undertow questions and mocks dogmatic religions; it reflects a belief in nothing, yet a search for something. This album also brought metal back to the public's attention, showing that the genre can be emotional and complex. People told guitarist Adam Jones he was crazy when he left a career in film -- as a set designer, sculptor and special effects artists on films like Jurassic Park and Predator 2 -- to be part of a band. But he put his twisted artistic skills to use on Tool's videos, including "Sober."
3. Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (1977)
Fleetwood Mac was already successful before this album, but Rumours made the band a legend. Not only is it a beautifully composed and produced record, but any generation can relate to the raw emotions hidden in the melodies. The band was going through a lot of turmoil, with John McVie and Christine McVie in the midst of a divorce and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks splitting up as the latter became involved with Mick Fleetwood. The lyrics reflect the tension within the band at the time, and give the album its energy.
2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Damn the Torpedoes (1979)
The third album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes usually makes an appearance in lists of great albums. Although Petty was going through a rough time, going into bankruptcy as he tried to leave MCA Records shortly after the release of You're Gonna Get It, the band's next album didn't suffer. With the help of Petty's songwriting and Jimmy Iovine's production, the content and quality of this album elevated it to a masterpiece. It includes the classic singles "Don't Do Me Like That" and "Refugee."
1. Nirvana's Nevermind (1991)
So much has been written about this album, there is not much more that can be said. It's one of the greats -- and it was recorded at Sound City.
Bonus Video: Watch the trailer for Sound City.
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