A Thousand Albums to Hear Before you Die


Nov 17 2008, 9:54

A year ago The Guardian published a list of 1,000 albums to hear before you die. Rather than aim for a list of the 1,000 best albums - boring! - it was intended as a miscellany; an array of albums slightly off the beaten path. Gems and runners-up from the greats, forgotten treasures from everyone else.

I went into the first supplement with an air of some smugness. As a broad listener I figured I'd have heard most of the albums on the list. Boy, was I wrong. I'd barely heard of most of the artists, let alone their work. And so I started to listen to the albums, tagging them as I go. What have I learned 1 year on?

The first thing I learned was that I was not nearly as much of a broad listener as I thought. So far I've heard about 210 albums. This sounds like a lot but it means I'm only about 21% done; at this rate I will finish sometime in 2012, maybe around the London Olympics. Having some 'directed listening' has been fun, and exposed me to artists and genres I've not really considered before - for better or worse. Here's some of the highlights:

From Gardens Where We Feel Secure - Virginia Astley
This record is tremendously relaxed and oddly English. I would love to listen to more of Astley's music if I could find any. It is gentle and delicate and intimate, in an oddly vague way.

The Dark Side Of The Moon - Pink Floyd
I can't say anything original about this album. You've already listened to it. It's extraordinary. You should listen to it again.

Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
Apparently Stevie played every single note of this himself. It's a perfect, upbeat 70s record.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
I have never much cared for Wilco, but whenever I listen to this record I find myself asking why that is. Fans of the band hold this as near-mythical as its production/release was plagued by locusts¹, but you don't have to care about that to enjoy this.

Stormcock - Roy Harper
Good luck finding a copy of this, though word on the street is it's been re-released on CD. I have a soft spot for sensitive men from the and with acoustic guitars, and this album hits all the right places. It's kind of reminiscent of Mike Oldfield, in that it's not really divided up into tracks; instead, it's more like movements that develop and evolve. This was the first album from the list that really sucked me in. It's not on the list but while we're talking about hard-to-find sensitive men from the 70s, Jimmie Spheeris' Isle of View is worth tracking down.

Odessa - Bee Gees
I was totally surprised by this one on two fronts: once by it not being falsetto disco tripe, and second by me not hating it. Unlike the others on this list I don't think it's an amazing album in itself, but it certainly confounded my expectations. I was expecting men from a Joy of Sex illustration in sequinned suits singing about ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin' alive and instead I was pleasantly surprised.

Chairs Missing - Wire
Pitchfork gave this a rating of 10.0 out of 10. Even if you hate Pitchfork you should like this. It's accessible , with a pleasing crunch and edge to it.

The Undertones - The Undertones
Eveyone knows Teenage Kicks, but everything else on this album is as notable. I don't think any track is out of place or a drag.

And I suppose this wouldn't be complete without listing some of the stuff I've hated. There were quite a few that were not to my taste, but there's only a couple that deserve a special mention. The others just faded away and I wouldn't listen to them again - although there's a curious pleasure in trying something out and discovering, for sure, that you don't like it.

Biograph - Bob Dylan
Not because it's a bad album, but because I listened to it back-to-back without any pauses. I nearly went insane. That much Bob is not good for you.
Black One - Sunn O)))

As a project I'd recommend it to most people. Find a list (there are plenty of them about) compiled by a person or organisation you like and have a listen. If you're a fan of music (rather than a narrow stream of artists) you're bound to find a few artists and albums to love, and gain a broader perspective on your listening as well.

¹ This is metaphor. There were not actual locusts.
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  • whocamefirst

    Biograph is a fantastic album 'Up to Me' is worth the price of the box set alone. Listen again with a few breaks lol

    Nov 19 2008, 22:15
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