100 Albums: Epilogue

A few of my 100 favorite albums are currently in this crate.

 

Why did I write one hundred essays on my favorite albums, in chronological order from Revolver to Record? When I began this project five years and one month ago, I saw it as a constructive way to write more extensively about music, and also as an opportunity to get used to working on longer pieces in general. I figured I could complete a thousand-word essay a week and get to the finish line within a little over two years.

And I more or less kept up the pace until I got to album number 6, Abbey Road—a record I had far more than a thousand words to write about. Once I reached the ‘90s in my timeline, I encountered many albums that, due to when I first heard them or what presence they’ve continually maintained in my life, required far more time and attention to assess than I initially expected, to the point that at the two-year mark, I was only halfway through the entire project.

Now that I’ve finally completed it, I feel a sense of having accomplished something, but what, beyond finishing what I set out to do? I’ve left a record of my taste in music as it stands over this half-decade (go back to my 2004 list to see how it has shifted); I’ve also continually drawn connections between albums from nearly every notch on this half-century-plus timeline up to the final entry (thank you, Tracey Thorn, for injecting into your own Record a song title from Songs of Leonard Cohen!)

Throughout, I kept revising the initial list I came up with in 2014. My original end point was Random Access Memories, an ideal choice given its fixation on channeling past sounds into contemporary and possible future ones. However, it ended up at #94, which allowed me to include six more titles released after it. What happened to the six older albums I left off? Apart from the Mekons’ OOOH! (Out Of Our Heads) (I still wonder why I nixed that one; was it too similar to Sleater-Kinney’s contemporaneous One Beat?), I honestly can’t recall what they were (my original list is sadly lost to time.) I occasionally replaced one album with another from the same artist: Dig Me Out and All Hands On The Bad One were candidates instead of One Beat at various points, and I kept going back and forth between Scarlet’s Walk and Boys For Pele for Tori Amos before deciding I had more to say about the latter (mostly because it’s nuts.)

Still, as I made my way through 100 Albums, it gradually dawned on me that this project had a certain flaw: By writing only about records that I loved, I was in danger of lapsing into hagiography. Truthfully, I’ve always felt more comfortable dissecting art I was drawn to than stuff I found repulsive or that simply left me cold—I’m a fan/geek more than a critic where music’s concerned (film criticism, on the other hand, I have a graduate degree in.) While it was often fun reviewing records on a weekly basis for a website back in 2003-04, a majority of them were so awful, when I left that gig, I was elated to go back to focusing on albums I genuinely liked.

The other difficult aspect of writing essays about your 100 favorite albums is that before long, you are inevitably prone to repeating yourself: How many different ways can you say something is good and make a sound critical argument as to why others should listen to it? I’ve tried my best to confront this challenge and write criticism that comes from an honest point-of-view. I haven’t gone back and re-read every last entry in this project, but I can single out ten that I think are, at the very least (to quote Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-n-Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show), pretty groovaay:

The Beatles, “Abbey Road”
Joni Mitchell, “Hejira”
Concrete Blonde, “Bloodletting”
R.E.M., “Automatic For The People”
Saint Etienne, “So Tough”
Ivy, “Apartment Life”
The Avalanches, “Since I Left You”
Sam Phillips, “Fan Dance”
Tompaulin, “Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt”
Kate Bush, “Aerial”

It helps that every one of these ten would probably make a top 25 if I had to rank the entire list*, but another common thread runs through them: they are among my most personal essays here. I repeatedly found myself enjoying the writing process more when I was able to lead off or build a piece around a reminiscence or an anecdote directly related to an album, one that could help flesh out or even unlock what meaning this particular piece of art had for me.

I can firmly say there will never be a likeminded follow-up to 100 Albums: No 100 Films, 100 Books, 100 TV shows, etc. Putting aside the danger and difficulty that comes with only writing about beloved art, I’ve gradually discovered throughout this project that I have other, more important things to write about (even if I now regret not including Cosmic Thing by The B-52’s or anything by Steely Dan, among other artists.) Haunted Jukebox will continue, but its primary focus will no longer be music. Oh, there will be mixes (annual and otherwise), year-end lists and likely a decade-end album list in early 2020, but I’m ready to move on from criticism into more personal terrain. Thanks to anyone following and/or invested in this project.

 

* In 100 Albums: An Introduction, I said I’d do this upon the project’s completion, but since rankings of all-time lists are so prone to fluctuation, I’m leaving it up to each reader’s perception as to what my favorite, favorite albums are.

50 Down, 50 To Go

Almost exactly two years ago, I began 100 Albums simply to give myself both a reason to write and a goal to accomplish. Summing up an album in 1,000 words each week initially seemed doable; however, I soon discovered I could easily write closer to twice that length (sometimes more) about particular records, but needed more time to do so. Two years on, and I’ve reached not my original goal, but rather serendipitously the halfway mark.

I chose to write about my favorite albums chronologically, hoping it would allow me to develop an ongoing narrative about how both music and my personal taste has evolved. While there’s not much linking such disparate records as Future Listening! and It’s Heavy In Here together apart from coming out in the same year, if you go to any random entry (particularly past the first ten), you’ll see plenty of links referring to earlier entries. When I write criticism, I usually fall back on that (admittedly useful) trope of comparing and contrasting. Here, it’s especially useful in tracking how one piece of music informs another; I can only see it continuing throughout the remaining 50 entries.

Speaking of which, I suspect it will take longer than two more years to get through them. For starters, I’m off on a brief hiatus to focus on other endeavors, but in general, I find myself increasingly challenged to make each new entry fresh and not a rehash of ideas already explored. As I look over the list (that I’m continuously revising, by the way), I see great opportunities to expand and deepen this partial narrative, so I’m going to take time to put in the effort and keep the bar for myself set high. 100 Albums will continue, but don’t be surprised if the pace slackens intermittently.

When this project (eventually) returns, it will enter 1996 with one of the great Difficult Third Albums. Until then, click here for a playlist of songs from the last 50 albums (with a few substitutions for those records not on Spotify). Also embedded above: a brief history of how we got from there to here as summed up by XTC’s Andy Partridge.