The Shit List: The Top 20 Chicago Rock Albums Of All Time (In No Particular Order)!

Material Issue - International Pop Overthrow (Mercury)

Take one lead singer/guitarist with a bigger-than-life "fake it til you make it" persona, add the unshakable rhythm section of drummer Mike Zelenko and bassist Ted Ansani, and top it off with a baker's dozen crunchy pop gems and what you get is one of the most potent pop albums ever recorded - "International Pop Overthrow".  While "Valerie Loves Me", "Diane, "and "Renee Remains The Same" got most of the attention, the whole album has a sound of a band playing as if their very lives hang in the balance.  The album is comprised almost entirely of the very same demos the band had been shopping to labels and props to Mercury for resisting the temptation to fuck with perfection, releasing the tracks "as-is".

Best tune: "Very First Lie"

Ministry - Twitch (Sire)

Will the real Al Jourgenson please stand up?  After the artistically disastrous sell-out attempt With Sympathy, Jourgenson swung bitterly in the complete other direction, releasing Twitch, an album that broke all the rules and created the very template upon which all industrial music since has been built.  Anyone who frequented any of the cooler dance clubs in the city is no doubt familiar with tracks like "All Day", "We Believe", and "Over The Shoulder", but those who dove deeper into this album found out just how gorgeously apocalyptic one can make a synthesizer sound if so inclined.  Jourgenson has employed walls of shredding guitars and an ever-changing cast of characters in his attempt to top this album, biut has yet to come close.

Best tune: "We Believe"

Smashing Pumpkins - Siamese Dream (Virgin)

While Mellon Collie would have just as easily made the list if not for its sprawling largesse, the truth is Siamese Dream is the only album the Pumpkins needed to make and contains everything iconic about the band.  "Today" gets slagged for the simple reason that it was a massive MTV hit, but I challenge anyone posting such a gripe to write a better song that works on as many levels.  I'm honestly waiting for some blond country singer to cover it.  Album-opener "Cherub Rock" still hits like an atom bomb - one of the greatest album-openers of the last 20 years.  Add in "Rocket", "Disarm" and "Geek U.S.A." and you have an album for the ages, my friends.

Best tune: All eight minutes and 43 seconds of "Silverfuck".

Chicago - II (Columbia)

Sure, the minute they began making records, they blew town for the sun & fun of Los Angeles, but I challenge you to find a band whose music better fits the city from which they take their name.  Those who dismiss the band based on their '80s David Foster-produced ballads are missing out on a treasure trove of jaw-dropping musical artistry.  Their loss, of course.  The rest of us remain in awe of the band whose first two albums were sprawling and inspired two-record sets full of more musical genius than any ten Steely Dan albums.  On II, the band prove that Chicago Transit Authority had been no fluke and that nobody since could match their prolific nature and desire to continually break new musical ground by integrating R&B, funk, and rock into a chart-topping hybrid.

Best tune: "Colour My World"

Trouble - Manic Frustration (Def American)

The second album to result from the pairing of Rick Rubin and these Chicago old-school metal merchants yielded this outstanding melding of psychedelia and British-inspired metal.  While their previous effort with Rubin had been the band's best work to date, Ruin really inspired the band to step outside of their comfort zone by bumping up the tempos and working some new colors into their sonic palette.  I'm still amazed that Rubin's label couldn't break the band, or that they'd drop them after this record failed to live up to commercial expectations.  "Scuse Me" would have surely been a huge hit if it had come out in, say, '89, but by '92, it was "all grunge, all the time" and all else fell by the wayside, it seemed.  Other standouts include the adrenaline-fueled "The Sleeper", epic acoustic ballad "Rain", and the earworm hook of "Memory's Garden".

Best tune: Scuse Me

Green - Elaine MacKenzie (Pravda)

For a couple years in the late 1980's, Chicago's Green were the proverbial cat's pajamas, making music that was an infectious combo of D.I.Y. punk and 60's Kinks worship that even kids who weren't quite punk and hadn't yet discovered the greatness of the Kinks beyond "You Really Got Me" could relate to completely, which is quite an accomplishment if you think about it.  The rock solid bass and backing vocals of Ken Kurson was the perfect counter-weight to Jeff Lescher's emotive vocals, which gave each song an infectiously caffeinated urgency.  Those who investigate this album further will be rewarded by an album as brilliantly lo-fi and urgent as the first Ramones album.

Best tune: Impossible to pick just one.  "Up All Night", "She's An Addiction", "Radio Caroline", "Heavy Metal Kids", "I'm Not At Home", "Don't Ever Fall In Love" and Kurson's "Beaten Into Submission" are all stunners.

Naked Raygun - Throb Throb (Homestead)

If you're anything like me, you're still trying to figure out why Naked Raygun's monolithic album Throb Throb isn't universally adored as being one of the best punk records ever made.  From the open bee swarm riff of "Rat Patrol" to the last battle hymn foot stomp of "Managua", Raygun absolutely lay waste to the competition with military precision.  While Jeff Pezzati is truly coming into his own on this effort, what truly makes this one notable is that its the first NR album to feature the guitarwork of John Haggerty and, sadly, the last to feature drummer Jim Colao, who never fails to give the band a tasty swing regardless of the tempo. I still contend that if a band from NYC, L.A. or London had made this record, the music world have beaten a mad path to their door.  Even today, standouts like "Rat Patrol", "Metastasis", and "I Don't Know" pack enough punch to stun even the most jaded old-school punk purist.

Best tune: Rat Patrol

Big Black - Atomizer (Touch & Go)

I staunchly believe that those who've heard this album come to view their lives in two distinct halves; 1) life before Atomizer, and 2) life after Atomizer.  Delightfully so, it's the sort of album that once you do hear it, you can never unhear it and therein lies its genius.  Those curious to hear what the end of civilization as we know it might sound like need only check out "Cables" (with an intro that sounds like Steve Albini performing the intro to Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" with a guitar and the skull of Kenny Loggins) or, for that matter, the neo-industrial death rattle of "Jordan, Minnesota".  But, hey, let's face it, every song on this record is a brilliant attack upon the senses.

Best tune: Kerosene

Urge Overkill - Saturation (Geffen)

The list of great indie-punk bands that made the jump to a major label only to release a total turd is a long and sad one.  Those that actually managed to make an album that warranted the major label attention in the first place is a much shorter list, but Urge Overkill sit atop any such list for their masterful 1993 Geffen Records debut, Saturation.  Those who thought the band couldn't possibly top The Supersonic Storybook for Touch & Go were left eating joyful crow as the band's major label debut was everything a big-time rock record should be - anthemic, ballsy, and bigger-than-life.  While first single "Sister Havana" received the most attention, Geffen could have literally released any track from the album as a single with each packing an anthemic punch tailor-made for radio playlists of the time, remaining as potent today as when the album came out twenty years ago.

Best tune: Bottle Of Fur

Off Broadway - On (Atlantic)

Straight outta the burbs, Off Broadway were the owners of a monster regional hit, "Stay In Time", that still sounds magnificently bad-ass to this day.  The album from which it came is one of the more underrated albums to ever come out of this or any other city, with songs like "Bad Indication", "Full Moon Turn My Head Around" and "Hang On For Love" loaded to the rim with chugging guitars and arena-size hooks.

Survivor - Eye Of The Tiger (Scotti Bros.)

Who'd a thunk that a former member of early 70's band Ides of March ("Vehicle") would have been the driving force behind this '80s juggernaut?  While the band had flirted with fame on their previous album (Premonition), an invitation from none other than Sly Stallone himself to pen a theme song for his next movie (a little film by the name of "Rocky 3") was just the challenge Peterik needed to write the song of his career. While the title cut was a gigantic success and remains a guilty pleasure for many, let's face it, the entire album is a fist-pumping delight from start to finish.

Best tune: Eye Of The Tiger

Shadows Of Knight - Gloria (Dunwich)

It verges on the criminal that the version of "Gloria" that gets the most radio airplay is incorrectly attributed by most listeners to Van Morrison's Them when, in fact, it is the Shadows of Knight version they are hearing. Those who dig Jack White's musical stylings, but haven't heard this album are missing out on the originators of most of his schtick.  All the songs a 60's garage rock fanatic could ever want are found on this album, including superior readings of "I Got My Mojo Working", "Boom Boom", "You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover", "Hootchie Cootchie Man", and "I Just Want To Make Love To You".

Best tune: Gloria

Ides of March - Vehicle (Warner Bros.)

Forever known as "The band that does that one song", their debut album is a non-stop party that mixes garage rock and horns to create a sound much more upbeat and immediate than their contemporaries in the band Chicago.  As to why that band enjoyed a lengthy chart run while the more accessible Ides Of March were unable to escape the shadow of their first hit is a mystery that will forever plague mankind.  Especially when you bask in the soulful goodness of "Home", the Spanish flavor of "Wooden Ships/Dharma For One", and the rock stomp of "Bald Medusa".

Best tune: Vehicle

Wilco - Summerteeth (Warner/Reprise)

While the rest of the music press was convinced of this band's greatness long before this writer, Summerteeth was the first album to actually be worthy of the hype.  The result of obsessive compulsive studio geek Jay Bennett pushing the normally resistant Tweedy to embrace his pop leanings for once resulted in an album capable of competing with the likes of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Tall praise, indeed, but for once it was deserved. While Tweedy was at his most focused as a songwriter during the making of this album, it was Bennett's tireless studio tinkering that makes each song its own musical universe of sorts, full of varied textures and meticulous sonic detail.  Even a song like "Pieholden Suite", which might have still worked in any setting, is made majestic by Bennett's attention to the most subtle of details and his knack for arranging songs for maximum effect.

Best tune: "Via Chicago"

Pulsars - Pulsars (Almo)

There are some bands that, quite honestly, are just too damn good for this town.  Case in point, The Pulsars, a band comprised of brothers David and Harry Trumfio that created one album for Almo Records before blowing town for the sunny confines of Hollywood, where David is now a much in-demand producer.  In those halcyon days of 1997, however, he was still a Chicago studio rat with an appreciation for The Pixies and British synth pop determined to make an album full of immediately gratifying hooks and melodies at a time when everyone else was going ga-ga for Hootie & The Blowfish and Counting Crows.  Like all great albums, each song is an island unto itself, capable of carrying the rest of the album, yet all tunes work well together to create a genius ebb and flow that makes every second of this album a fucking pleasure.

Best tune: Tunnel Song

Robbie Fulks - Couples In Trouble (Boondoggle)

I still have a hard time figuring out how Robbie's 1996 Geffen album, Let's Kill Saturday Night, was such a departure from the sound he'd forged on his first two efforts for Bloodshot.  Was the normally self-assured Fulks swayed into making a Steve Earle album, or was it his idea?  If he'd made this album for Geffen instead, one gets the feeling that Fulks wouldn't be the well-kept secret he remains outside of Chicago.  "Anything For Love" and "Dancing On The Ashes" rock just as hard as anything on Lets Kill Saturday Night, but aren't dumbed-down for mass consumption.  "She Needs You Now" and "My Tormentor" explore the softer side of Fulks' reedy voice to stunning effect.  Those not yet convinced of Fulk's effortless genius need only listen to the smoldering slow build of "Real Money" to know that their ears are now in the hands of a master.

Best tune: Real Money

Smoking Popes - Born To Quit (Capitol)

With the unmistakable Morrissey-esque vocals of Josh Caterer gliding effortlessly over the top of the band's twin-guitar alt. rock crunch, it was only a matter of time before this magnificent album found a mass audience.  Released on Johann's Face, the album received glowing reviews and, once local radio station Q101 began playing "Need You Around" in heavy rotation, a deal with Capitol quickly followed.  Each song is a short, sharp burst of urgent melody, delivered with that trademark crooning style that would eventually lead to a tour with none other than Morissey himself, who called the album "the most lovable thing I'd heard in years."

Best tune: My Lucky Day

Insiders - Ghost On The Beach (Epic)

At a time when Chicago bands were summarily ignored by major labels, it was impossible to ignore the popularity of this roots-rock collective and a deal with Epic was eventually reached that gave the band unlimited control over their own recordings, which were produced by the band's guitarist Jay O'Rourke.  The entire album is comprised of tight, melodic gut punches of heartland rock that far surpassed the current Mellencamp tunes of the day.  While the album's title track continues to garner steady XRT airplay some 27 years after its release, songs like "Moondog Howl",  "Memory Row", "Love Like Candy", and "35,000" make the inclusion of an Everly Brothers tune ("Price Of Love") seem almost unnecessary.  If Tom Petty or Springsteen had written/recorded these tunes, they'd not only still be in-print, you'd find them on their Greatest Hits albums. As it stands, its downright inexcusable that this album remains completely out-of-print and largely forgotten.

Styx - Paradise Theatre (A&M)

Let the hipsters look down their noses at this band's musical accomplishments while the rest of us enjoy the fruits of the band's labors on Paradise Theatre, a concept album that constitutes the last moment of artistic civility between Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw/James "JY" Young.  Pieces Of Eight had been dominated by Shaw rockers "Bue Collar Man" and "Renegade" while Cornerstone had seen DeYoung wrestle back control of the group with the mega-ballad "Babe" becoming the band's biggest hit to date.  Paradise Theatre saw the two sides working in tandem to create an album that, for once, represented all of the band's factions equally.  Heck, Shaw. DeYoung and Young even managed to co-write "Rockin' The Paradise" together.  DeYoung's "Best Of Times" and Shaw's "Too Much Time On My Hands" would both become Top 10 hits.

Best tune: Best Of Times

Cheap Trick At Budokan (Epic)

First off, Cheap Trick is technically from Rockford, IL, but considering how often the band played the Chicago area both prior to and during their three-decade major label run, you can't blame a guy (or gal) from honestly thinking the band was from Chicago.  For those in the know, Cheap Trick's the sort of band whose first three albums should have been huge in their own right, but somehow escaped much notice by the mainstream until a tossed-off Japan cash-in that the suits at Epic actively kept under wraps at home until they literally could not keep it a secret any longer and had to release Stateside.  It is the sort of success the band could never have predicted and, in a way, has hog-tied them ever since, but the album itself is a ragged, muscular gem from start to finish that makes all past and future studio albums pale by comparison.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility


  1. mostly a buncha crap, in my opinion. Chicago has been the location of a whole lot of great bands. My list is (almost)entirely different:

    Bobby Conn THE GOLDEN AGE
    The Aluminum Group PELO
    Tortoise TNT
    Gastr Del Sol CAMAFLEUR
    Big Black RACER X
    Califone ROOMSOUND
    Baby Teeth THE SIMP
    Jim O'Rourke Eureka
    Cheer Accident THE WHY ALBUM
    Thymme Jones WHILE
    The Handsome Family THROUGH THE TREES
    Shellac THE FUTURIST
    Palm Fabric Orchestra S/T
    Loftus S/T

  2. Triplefastaction - Broadcaster
    (one of those too good for town bands)