Sunday, February 26, 2006

1001 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Die

Edited by Robert Dimery

'Best of' and 'Top N' lists are disparaged by critics of all styles and creeds, whether you're talking about music, movies or masturbation fantasies. Any given list is almost guaranteed to contain at least one item that will piss off any given reader, no matter the credentials or wisdom of the compiler. That said I have a perverse fascination with them. It's kind of like how I always watch the Grammy's; I think I enjoy being outraged at how terrible everyone else's taste is.

So this book had to really prove itself in order for me to judge it worth reading, and I'm surprised to admit that it isn't too bad. Out of 1001 albums there are of course more than a few shockers that make me shake my head in disbelief, but by and large I think they've done a decent job of providing an overview of fifty years of popular music. If I was to compile such a list it would of course contain a lot of things that were left off here, as the editors barely touch on my favoured genres of metal and industrial, but at the same time I'm not too disappointed with what they have ended up selecting.

The book lists the albums chronologically, and it seems that the contributors tastes worsen as they get closer to the present day. I guess that's to be expected, with more hindsight it is obvious which albums were important and influential, while there is more of a tendency to favour the flavour of the month when dealing with the more recent times (I don't know if The White Stripes deserved to have three albums listed). On the good side they've picked quite a few albums which I approve of. It isn't too surprising to find records like Nirvana's Nevermind and Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral here, but I was very pleased to note the inclusion of a few important but under-appreciated industrial bands, namely Laibach, Einstuerzende Neubauten and Throbbing Gristle. On the bad side there are some truly atrocious pop acts named in the 90s and 00s sections. Mariah fucking Carey anyone? I also could go on forever about the many many good albums and bands that have been neglected, but I will refrain from listing any, except for noting their inexplicable and saddening decision to not include a single Tool album.

I think it will be a good exercise to start listening through these albums. Even if I don't like most of them there's bound to be at least a few discoveries to be made, and it would be good to familiarise myself with some of the older stuff which wouldn't normally come to my attention. Sure the thought of having to sit through Madonna and Justin Timberlake is an unpleasant one, but I just comfort myself by thinking about all the people who must have bought this book expecting it to be full of U2 and Franz Ferdinand only to find themselves listening to an hour of Einstuerzende Neubauten at their noisiest.


Joel said...

I saw that book and was mildly tempted to get it myself. Although I often wonder about the past music, because often all that we here about now is the "popular" stuff in the past. The avant-garde and underground scenes have a tendency to easily fade into obscurity.

I'm not saying the popular past music is bad, after all I'm a Bowie afficando, but its made me interested in reading the biographies of old artists since they often mention other related artists and you can follow a path of relationships until you arrive at a weed-covered gravel path.

I will never listen to Mariah Carey. Actually I already have given her a chance, it is rubbish. However I did gave Madonna a chance, she actually isn't that bad (although it is really the producers involved in the music, she is more of a muse and singer).

And no Tool?
That is mind boggling!

Jon said...

Mariah Carey and Madonna - at least it'll be a laugh...

Old stuff - Even if stuff like Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday doesn't do anything for me, I should at least be able to say that I've given them a chance and know what I'm talking about.

As for the avant-garde being forgotten I don't know... obscure but influential bands have a way of hanging around in the collective memories of elitist hipsters like us.

Joel said...

Perhaps we should find some old music hipsters whom we can pick the brains of?

Jon said...

Well it's hard to find old hipsters who aren't insufferably boring. God knows what I'll be like in 20 years...