I'm not a sucker for this book. 1,001 SONGS YOU MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE (AND 10,001 YOU MUST DOWNLOAD) (2010/2013) struck me at first as a gimmick and a joke. All of those "before you die" books seem kind of silly -- your life is your own, live it your way, set your own goals.
But I was looking for something new about music to browse, and this book is HUGE. So I picked it up for a closer look.
One of the first things I saw was a write-up on Nick Drake's gorgeous "Northern Sky." Then they listed the Korgis' "Everybody's Got to Learn Sometime," which I have fond memories of. Then I noticed Ike and Tina Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High," which I'd just played on the stereo that morning....
So I flipped a few more pages. Love's "Alone Again Or." The Beach Boys' "Surf's Up." Fairport Convention's "She Moves Through the Fair" (which I'd never heard before). By then I was pretty much sold. At least these folks seemed to have a pretty good ear for the overlooked and off-the-wall.
I still think that. But a more detailed browse through these 960 pages shows that the compilers (50 of them, British, all people I've never heard of, including general editor Robert Dimery) are also suckers for one-shot pop trash. My life would be complete if I never hear songs like Toni Basil's "Mickey" ever again. And it gets a write-up in this book.
Even more than the page-long articles on each song considered "essential" by the compilers -- and these are always informative, even if you don't like the song -- the index including 9,000 more songs to download is a field-day of obvious and not-so-obvious choices, leading a fan to ask the obvious "But how could they NOT include...?" questions.
For example. How many Britney Spears songs do you really NEED to hear? I'd say none. The index lists six, including one that's "essential."
How many AC/DC songs do you really need to hear? I'd say maybe one. The index lists 15, including two the compilers feel are essential.
OK, Tom Petty. I'd say one, the index lists 10. And the one I'd choose ain't here. Neither are some other rather obvious choices.
But the format's interesting. If you had to sum up an artist's achievements by picking just one or two songs, which would you choose? There's an argument starter. And an idea for a post I may write soon....
You name 'em, they're in here, from Abba to Zappa, with the index alphabetized the way your computer or smartphone or iPod or whatever would do it -- with Zappa filed under "F" for Frank. The book runs the gamut from Enrico Caruso in 1916 to David Bowie in 2013. Nice to see Cab Calloway's hilarious "Minnie the Moocher" from 1931 in here.
And the sections that focus on the '60s and '70s are jammed full of classics -- I mean, the songs I know. There's plenty in here that I've never heard. There's a ton to learn.
But I also have to note that there's a real downturn in well-known, often-heard "classics" after the mid-1980s. Which may just indicate that this book wasn't meant for me.
But for all the information in it, and all the new directions it points me as a fan, I'll be holding onto it.
For that, I'll forgive that they included as essential "Ode to Billy Joe." "Unchained Melody." "Walk on By." "Superstar." "Rock On." "Desperado." "Sweet Home Alabama." "Dancing Queen." "Hotel California." "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"....