I have decided to listen through every album in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.” This blog will be where I present some thoughts and lists of my own. I don’t know exactly how long it will take, but I’m going to finish eventually, and have great experiences along the way. I know this blog looks a bit dismal, but I dig simplicity and reading free of distractions. Down the road there will be definitely be some changes. Any suggestions/opinions are welcome.
“1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” is a reference book edited by Robert Dimery. It lists the albums deemed “must hear” in order of release date with short reviews and explanations of why each album is included. It was originally published in 2005 but it is edited every few years to include recent albums. Here is The List as it stands in the latest edition. (right click, open in new tab). I think this first post will serve as a disclaimer. That way, I can just express the issues I have with the list, or the book, and then move on with the project without whining every inch of the way.
First off, I understand “1001 Albums…” is flawed. There is plenty of nitpicking to be done. Does David Bowie really have 8 albums we must hear but John Coltrane only has one? Dimery and his music experts really expect me to believe that Limp Bizkit’s “Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water” is a must hear and Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come” does not deserve the same prestige? And what constitutes an album anyway? Nothing on this list predates the LP record, so why aren’t collections of 78’s included? There are some more modern collections of music that aren’t technically “albums” either. Bjork’s most recent release “Biophilia” (not on the list) was officially released as an iPad app. So in that case, would the editor and judges only factor in the musical aspect of the iPad app, or would they extend what they mean by “album” to mean also iPad apps released as a musical collection, or would they dismiss the iPad-app-album altogether? Which is the most fair choice? If 1955 is the year when collections of music were officially what we know as albums (according to the book), then what will be the year when artists’ collections of music aren’t considered albums anymore? With the way people consume and share music now, it’s hard to predict what will happen to the music industry. Music may not be packaged in albums very much longer, and we can already see that singles have come back with a vengeance.
This didn’t make the list but Britney Spears did??
Next issue. The list contained in “1001 Albums..” is not very good for contemporary music. As mentioned, every few years it is edited in order to accommodate recently released albums (2005, 2008, 2010, 2013), but can you really call an album classic after only a few years? I mean, remember that band World Leader Pretend? Neither does anyone else, but at the time (2005), the baby blogosphere was going crazy about their album “Punches.” Some people, including the lead singer of Hot Hot Heat (and again forgettable) were making comparisons to Radiohead. But then World Leader Pretend disappeared and no one really cared.
Not bad, but forgettable.
It is good to know that the list isn’t static. It isn’t a final say. When a new edition is released, it is the more recent albums from the last 5 or 10 years that have been taken off the list to make room for new albums. This is to keep the list count at 1,001. That is comforting, I personally would hate for Jay Z to get added and Frank Sinatra (who starts the list off) get bumped. It just means once I get towards the end of the list I’ll have to accept that it’s a bit fickle and those albums could very well be taken off the list in a few years. This has been the case so far, but I assume no single album is really set in stone, which I can appreciate until they do something egregious. Even then, who cares, it’s just someone’s opinion. I don’t need my favorite album to be on a list for me to feel justified in liking it.
The nitpicking, though, really comes back to a fundamental flaw in the very act of rating music as worthy of a listen or not. If something is popular, does that automatically mean it’s great music? If music is complex and meticulously thought out, but no one enjoys listening to it, can it still be considered great music? Well, yes and no. There is no right answer. Ultimately, any criteria or rubric used to compile this list is arbitrary, making the entire book dismissable if you choose.
I, for one, am not willing to reject the entire book. I think anyone can benefit from listening to the albums contained in “1001 Albums…” even if you hate a few of specific albums, or even if your favorite album isn’t on there. Instead of shoving away music I might not like, I’m going to find out why I don’t like it, and figure out what it is that other people like about it.
“Just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean it’s bad. Also, f–k you, everything you like sucks.”-Adam from Workaholics
I think the reason I want to do this project is because I, like many of us, have these albums I either pretend I have listened to, or I say to my friends and colleagues, “Oh I need to listen to that!” But what I am actually saying is, “Oh I want you to think that I am intellectual and cultured. By excitedly telling you I want to listen to that album, I feel like I’m basically telling you I have already listened to it!” This goes for books, movies, and even places, or activities. No more excuses. No more good intentions without action. I’m taking control! Haha, okay, obviously there are other factors in my life at play here. Moving on…
So here is the plan: I’m going to post little thoughts along the way here in this blog, but the official updates will come after listening to every 100 or so albums. With the official updates, I’ll make my own list of 5-15 of my favorite albums with personal views and feelings. That means you, the reader, when this blog is done can look and see 100 or so albums that you absolutely totally must hear before, like, next year or something!!! Which is much less arduous than 1,001 albums. Okay, here we go!
TL/DR (too long/didn’t read): I’m listening to every album on a list contained in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.” I’ve got a beef with it though. It is too vast, and too narrow at the same time. Despite this, I am still taking on this project. I will make updates for every 100 or so albums I give a listen, and any other time I just feel like sharing thoughts. Those updates can be read right here on this blog. Why am I doing this? For some reason I feel like I’m taking control of my life by doing this. Also I just love music and want to hear as much good music as I can.
More links that relate:
Most recent edition of “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” with Joy Division on the cover for some reason:
Just for fun, this guy who I’m pretty sure was involved with that Bjork album/iPad app (playing the hang)
What are your thoughts??