This decision has caused me no end of thought. There are an awful lot of good choices out there. For instance, off the top of my head, I would recommend They Might Be Giants‘ “Flood” (the ultimate geek pop opus); Lyle Lovett (and his large Band)‘s “Joshua Judges Ruth” (a perfect blend of despair, jazz, grit, and humor); The Black Crowes’ “Shake Your Money Maker” (ignore everything associated with this band after this album; enjoy great southern rock on this one); Living Colour‘s “Vivid” (I still don’t quite know how to describe this band after almost 15 years, but the music’s good); or Aimee Mann‘s “Bachelor No. 2 or the last remains of the Dodo” (dark, dark pop music).
But ultimately, I am going to have to go old school (following Lance’s lead):
John “Cougar” Mellencamp‘s 1983 album “Uh Huh”. This was Mellencamp’s first true chart-topper and with good reason (It was also the first to feature his real last name and the last to feature “Cougar”). The songs are consistently memorable, hummable, and (mostly) dancable. This album is fueled by a kind of rage usually more closely associated with punk groups. Mellencamp struts like a rooster, flipping the finger and shouting obscenities at whomever is presuming to tell him what to do. In spite of the anger, the album is basically optimistic and playful. Songs like “Play Guitar”, “Lovin’ Mother For Ya”, and “Warmer Place to Sleep” are actually kinda silly, but they are driven by great riffs and catchy hooks. This album also marks the beginning of Mellencamp’s political era (which would later make his albums much more boring) with great songs like “Pink Houses” and “The Authority Song”. No one has a greater ability to represent the thoughts and plight of the American little guy in power pop. This is guitar “roots” rock at its finest.