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.

Advertisements

100 ALBUMS: AN INTRODUCTION

Note: none of these pictured are in my list of 100 favorite albums.

(Originally posted on Kriofske Mix, 5/16/14)

In 2004, I blogged about and counted down my 100 favorite albums, writing at least 100 words about each one. My intent always was to post an updated list ten years later. Initially, I thought about posting two entries a week over the course of the year. That morphed into plans to do ten posts of ten brief entries each, similar to my top 50 albums of the 90s00s, etc; Still, the more I tried ranking 100 albums in order of preference, the less I was convinced that my readers would get much out of it, apart from the thrill (such as it is) of guessing what would come next. So, on a whim, I arranged the albums in chronological order. In the resultant list, a few interesting patterns emerged. I soon realized I could create some sort of narrative about my taste in music by looking at my favorite albums this way.

Thus, here are essays (expect about 1000-2000 words each) on these 100 favorite albums in chronological order. The list begins in 1966; one pre-’66 album made the cut but will appear in non-chronological order for reasons that will be made apparent when it’s posted. As to why the list has no pre-1966 albums (apart from that one exception), the album (or “LP”, aka Long Playing Record) was invented in 1948, but where pop music is concerned, it didn’t really take shape as nothing more than a receptacle for cash-ins (singles + filler) or compilations (Greatest Hits and the like) until the mid-1960s. The band that arguably made the LP into a pop music art form will appear in two early entries on my list.

Jazz, however, is another story. Early on, the format proved more desirable to this genre with its lengthier-than-average compositions. When compiling a list of ten pre-’66 albums I adore (but not enough to make my top 100), seven of them ended up being strictly jazz, one kinda jazz (Louis Prima’s referred to as a “jazz guy” in the film BIG NIGHT, but there’s a lot more going on in his hybrid, genre-crossing ‘50s output), one humor (Tom Lehrer) and, of course, The Beatles:

The Beatles, RUBBER SOUL
John Coltrane, MY FAVORITE THINGS
Miles Davis, KIND OF BLUE
Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto, GETZ/GILBERTO
Ella Fitzgerald, FIRST LADY OF SONG*
Billie Holiday, BILLIE’S BEST*
Tom Lehrer, THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS
Thelonious Monk, MONK’S DREAM
Louis Prima, CAPITOL COLLECTOR’S SERIES*
Frank Sinatra, SONGS FOR SWINGIN’ LOVERS

(*compilations released after 1966 whose music was recorded pre-’66)

This project isn’t meant to be a fifty-year overview of pop music in general, but simply an account of the music I like, and how my taste developed to where it stands today. Expect some callbacks in the narrative, as I obviously did not hear the albums in this particular order (I thought about arranging the list that way, but I think this way will resonate more with readers). As for ranking by preference, perhaps I’ll determine that once I’ve made my way through the entire list again. I can say that 57 of my top 100 as of 2004 were still there in 2014, while 17 of the current list were released in the past decade. That leaves 26 others I didn’t include in 2004—of course, I didn’t hear many of them until within the past decade, but the few I had heard in 2004 have grown on me considerably since then.

We will begin with a 1966 album that likely did not make many all-time-best lists thirty or even twenty years ago, but does so fairly regularly today…

(also note: none of the albums in the photo at the top are in my list. It’s just an image I took for a college project nearly 20 years ago, when I was an avid collector of cheap vinyl.)