Critics can be funny people. And by “funny” I mean “completely out of touch with humanity.” That point was driven home for me this week when I stumbled across “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.” This book is a list of one critic's most important musical releases since 1955. Of course, I was stuck on the title. Are there really 1001 albums I really MUST hear? I am a music lover, so I've listened to well over 1001 albums in my life, but there weren't that many of them that I considered worthy of everyone's attention before death. And I'm still not sure WHY I have to hear them all. Is it so I have a more rounded musical experience? Is it so I'll look cool at parties? Is it so some of these albums will sell more copies and funnel money back to the guy who wrote the book?
Then I looked through the list. There are some great albums on there. In the 50's section, there are picks from Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Frank Sinatra, and Billie Holliday. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and the Who made the 60's section with the Doors, Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder in with the 70's, and so forth. But what really got me scratching my noggin were some of the other albums listed as “MUST BE HEARD” by the author. Like the album “Don't Stand Me Down” by Dexy's Midnight Runners. You remember the tune “Come on Eileen” right? That band. (Sorry if the tune is stuck in your head now.) Why in the name of all that is good would I need to listen to an entire album from a forgettable 80's one-hit wonder band? And “Come On Eileen” isn't even on that album! There are plenty more questionable selections for a “must hear” list from every decade. A “must hear” list wouldn't include albums from the Electric Prunes, Quicksilver Messenger Service, or Haircut One Hundred. Not even if I had to struggle to come up with 1001 albums, would I pull out Blue Cheer or the Incredible Bongo Band!
So, you're surely asking yourself, what albums are the ones I MUST hear? First of all, there are no albums you absolutely must hear, but if you want a list of albums that would give you a well-rounded musical background, maybe I can help. I've taken care to introduce my kids to some music from before they were born, and this might be a good opportunity to work through some of those. With that in mind, here are some albums you should probably listen to if you want knowledge about popular music.
From the 50's - Chuck Berry “After School Session” (or any early Chuck Berry record). I like Elvis as much as the next guy, but Chuck Berry is the real King of Rock and Roll. That signature guitar riff is what it's all about. Also toss in any album by Hank Williams (Senior), Ray Charles “The Genius of Ray Charles,” Miles Davis “Birth of the Cool,” and Elvis' “Elvis Presley.”
From the 60's - Beatles “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.” This is the obvious choice from the psychedelic era because it influenced so many artists. (Almost as many as Chuck Berry!) Add to that the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds,” B.B. King “Live at the Regal,” Johnny Cash “Live at Folsum Prison,” and Bob Dylan “Freewheelin' Bob Dylan.”
From the 70's - Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” The New Jersey sound that The Boss and his band brought to America was incredibly different than anything else on the radio at the time, but became commonplace soon afterward. Then throw in David Bowie “Changesbowie,” Boston “Boston,” Willie Nelson “Red Headed Stranger,” and the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever.”
From the 80's - Prince & the Revolution “Purple Rain.” This was the mid-1980s. The music was a remix of a watered-down Jimi Hendrix sound with a dance groove. Then check out Michael Jackson “Thriller,” Stevie Ray Vaughn “Texas Flood,” George Strait “Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind,” and Van Halen “1984.”
From the 90's - Nirvana “Nevermind.” The commercially-successful beginning of grunge rock came from this Seattle band's landmark album. From there, try U2 “Actung Baby,” TLC “CrazySexyCool,” Alanis Morissette “Jagged Little Pill,” and Garth Brooks “No Fences.”
These are not necessarily the best albums, but the ones that will fill out your musical knowledge. Now, go and educate yourself. But if you feel the need to argue my selections, email me. But I'm not budging on the Dexy's Midnight Runners album. Deal with it.