Now, this is disappointing. OK, I admit it -- I'm officially Old. There is a LOT of crap listed in this book.
After having such a great time with 1,001 SONGS YOU MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE, I thought I'd take a chance on 1,001 ALBUMS YOU MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE (2005, general editor Robert Dimery). And mainly I'm reminded about how out-of-touch I've become.
I expected that this 950-page list of supposedly great albums (from Elvis's first in 1956 to the White Stripes' GET BEHIND ME SATAN in 2005) would have a lot of predictable choices in it. The shock was how very predictable many of them are ... in the period I'm familiar with.
I wish the contributors (90 of them, mostly British, one name I was familiar with) had gone a little farther out, gotten a little weirder. True -- Can, Neu!, Faust, Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine, and albums by other weirdies are written-up here. Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd and other progressive-rock heavies are included. Even Emerson, Lake and Palmer have a couple of albums included in the lineup.
But generally, the choices are what you'd expect -- the same acknowledged classics you've heard lauded in other books of this type. And even the off-the-wall choices are generally the "coolest," most acceptable cult titles.
And I refuse to accept the idea that Britney Spears has an album I need to hear before I die. I'll die happily without that, I'm sure.
There IS some good stuff in here. And the articles are almost always informative and well-written -- though I think the book's practice of highlighting "key" tracks in lists of album-contents misses some great stuff.
But many of the choices are The Usual -- SGT. PEPPER, PET SOUNDS, WHO'S NEXT, REVOLVER, ABBEY ROAD, WHITE ALBUM, LED ZEPPELIN IV, RUMOURS, EXILE ON MAIN STREET, TAPESTRY, BLONDE ON BLONDE, COURT AND SPARK, WHAT'S GOING ON, THRILLER, PURPLE RAIN, BORN IN THE U.S.A., etc.
The cult choices are obvious, too -- Velvet Underground, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, early Roxy Music, early Brian Eno, The Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, Ramones, Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, Kate Bush, Tim Buckley, etc.
There are a few surprises, but not enough. They could have been a lot more daring.
I have some reservations about their individual album choices, too.The Beach Boys' SURF'S UP is not a great album as a totality, and they note this. (Great second side, though. Add two songs from the first side and you've almost got a great album.) I don't think RUMOURS is the best thing Fleetwood Mac ever did. But the compilers include Mac's TUSK, too, so it all balances out.
There are some factual errors, too. Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour gets his name spelled wrong at least once. MEET THE BEATLES wasn't their first album release in the States -- INTRODUCING THE BEATLES was released a year earlier. And four students were killed at Kent State University in 1970, not two -- this is VERY simple fact-checking gone wrong: "Four dead in Ohio!" There are other proofreading errors.
And while I was happy to see Brian Wilson's reconstruction of SMILE listed here, I've come to see that CD as just a place-holder to keep the CD-player warm until the SMILE SESSIONS set was released a few years later (though the compilers had no way of knowing that release was coming, back in 2005).
I also think the book is skewed toward more recent releases. The '60s are covered adequately; the '70s are covered in much greater depth. But suddenly 1980 arrives and the book isn't even half-finished.
There is very little here that I can relate to after about the mid-1980s. Which may mean this book wasn't meant for me.
Also, unlike 1,001 SONGS, there is no index listing 9,000 more albums you really should try to check out in your spare time. Such a list would have helped -- and probably would have made me drop most of my complaints.
Here's the thing: Sitting here at the keyboard, off the top of my head, I'm sure I could come up with a list of two dozen great albums everyone should hear -- that aren't mentioned in this book. I'm sure you could, too. And your list would be just as good, or better. That's what musical taste is all about, right?
Well, this book shows that musical-taste-wise, I'm an old fuddy-duddy. So once again, I'll be changing the name of this blog to "Living in the Past."