A few years ago Rolling Stone came out with its 100 best albums of the aughts ('00s), and #1 was Kid A by Radiohead.
There were other oddities in the list as well (every Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan album that came out during the time frame, which was the most grating), and it seemed like everyone who contributed to the list was about twenty years too old to be tastemakers (thus having no reason to rank or write about music to the audience). Bruce and Bob have had great albums...and they all came out before the 20-somethings of today were even born. Really. Blood On the Tracks is better than any Dylan album that came after. And it always will be.
But the Radiohead thing hit me closer to home because I was very intensely connected to the music of the 90s. I bought Pablo Honey and painted lyrics from "Everyone Can Play Guitar" on the ceiling of a rental house. I've been a fan of the band from the first guitar chops of "Creep". Kid A might be a great album, but it's only the band's 3rd (or maybe 4th depending on how I'm feeling on a given day) best album. OK Computer (the best) was not crowned the best of the 90s, so how could Kid A be the best of the decade it came out (and barely part of, because it came out in 2000)? Is music or albums (as groups of songs) so much worse these days?
And I know some people would say that, yes, music, especially popular music is worse these days. And no one makes albums anymore, they just have never ending releases of singles and EPs and updates and deluxe editions that bridge the time between when an "album" comes out and the next "album" bows its head. But that would be dismissing a lot of good music because of the crap that gets spread over radio these days. And there will be, eventually, albums from the 00s on this list of ours.
That Rolling Stone list pissed me off so much I started thinking about making my own list. So this is the genesis of the massive project my older brother Jon and I are embarking on as we both get so old we're probably dinosaurs when it comes to discussing good music. These thoughts evolved over time, because evolution is necessary and real.
And people love lists. They are definitive, but also completely subjective and debatable. They are conversation starters, and relationship enders.
I first discovered the power of lists in the fifth issue of Lies Magazine, a small press pop culture zine I presided over in the mid-90s. It was a music issue, with a great deal about Lollapalooza '95 (a.k.a. the least attended because it consisted of Sonic Youth's dream line-up, which made it possibly one of the best, as well as completely eclectic in a popular music sense) and thoughts of the recently dead 80s hair metal bands (one of which was written by a young Chuck Klosterman). I wrote "15 Reasons Why Hootie & the Blowfish Must Die". It got lots of thumbs up from readers, so from that issue on, we started making little lists of everything. Including a list of things that are actually ironic (because we couldn't stop making fun of Alanis Morresette for her somewhat ironic misinterpretation of the word "ironic").
But there's also something limiting about a traditional list. One big problem is how do you distill a long time period into 100 items. Like the 100 best movies ever. Seriously? Over a hundred years of film and you're going to tell me these are the 100 best? And let's be honest, with movies, don't we see pretty much the same fucking list with only small tweaks over time? Without Fight Club in there somewhere?
Music, albums, records, whatever, it's a huge amount of material to try to pin down into a finite list. I've seen top 100 or even 500, and the Beatles occupy so much of the top 20 that everyone else might as well quit trying to write a song. I like the Beatles. Sometimes I love the Beatles. But then again, I wasn't born until after they were finished as a band. The Doors were also dead (because Jim died) before I was born. But the Rolling Stones are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. They somehow survived (for the most part, RIP Brian Jones), even while pretty much every one of their peers and descendants bit the dust somewhere along the way.
The other big thorn in my craw is this stranglehold the baby boomers have over the history of popular music. Like they discovered it or created it. Most of the artists who became popular during the coming of age of the boomers were older than the boomers. Their elders, in fact. Inspired by the Beats and Elvis simultaneously. And they pissed the boomer's parents off to no end. Kinda like every musical movement that has reared its head since. The boomers have pretty much ruined America, and they should all have an expiration date, a la Logan's Run. Instead we feed them drugs to make them feel like they're younger than they actually are. And they keep trying to insinuate that they are still hip. But they're irrelevant and deserve to die.
Motley Crue is made up of boomers. Just saying. (Alright, there will be a Motley Crue album or two on the list, but I just wanted to point that out ya fuckin' geezers).
That being said, I feel the need to get these thoughts before I'm completely irrelevant myself. I can hear the clock ticking. This little light of mine is running low on fuel.
I began (with my brothers) listening to pop music in the early 80s. Paul McCartney and George Harrison were solo artists. The Rolling Stones were on a bit of a hiatus. The Police and Olivia Newton-John both had hit singles that stayed atop the charts for 10 straight weeks (a record at the time). And Michael Jackson was just about to hit his peak.
During the first ten years or so of my life I had no idea the radio had music on it. My dad listened to talk radio, and we listened to the Kansas City Royals' baseball games. When I tried to turn the dial (a couple of times), the static made me think I'd broken it. So I quickly found the talk radio station again (didn't want dad to be mad, it was his radio). We listened to musicals and music soundtracks on vinyl. My mom had about 50 45s that we listened to on our little record player (my mom liked novelty songs like "Witch Doctor" and "Purple People Eater" when she was young). My family saw "Annie," "A Chorus Line," "Grease," "Camelot" and "Oliver!" (among many others) live on stage before I saw a rock star in concert. We used to watch the Sound of Music every Christmas on TV.
Then we moved to Clovis, New Mexico, in the summer of 1982, and there was no talk radio station. I think there were about four stations total. So my dad listened to the pop music station that had the most talk. And we started hearing music. Pop songs. Quick bursts of melody we hadn't heard before.
And we were hooked.
In the context of this list, anything that came out before 1982 was music out of time for me. I didn't really start listening to Led Zeppelin till after I discovered Dread Zeppelin in the early 90s. After I'd already seen Great White live twice. After I'd seen Tawny Kitaen dance on Jaguars for Whitesnake. In other words, Led Zeppelin is based in the druggy 90s (not 70s) in my mind. And it was a slightly different kind of druggy, like the 2010s are a different kind of druggy now (lay off the pills, kids, it's so easy to miscount).
So why 1,367? Especially since we aren't putting up a complete list of 1,367 albums right now? We're going to do it piecemeal until we're old and senile (because, well, we aren't making money from this, and we're kind of lazy in a completely overly ambitious way).
I wanted room. Room to include albums that suck, but have great album covers. Room to include the eighth best NOFX album. Room to ponder if 7800 Fahrenheit by Bon Jovi is actually more important to my teenage sexual development than Slippery When Wet. And room for my brother to include a crap load of music I've never heard of in my life (except maybe during a drunken conversation with my brother).
These won't be conventional record reviews. They won't include technical sonic dissections of guitar solos. You may not even be able to tell what kind of music an artist engages in. Except, of course, when all three of these things happen to be a part of the story of the album. For us.
Because this is, when it comes down to it, about us. My brother and I (and possibly some guest writers from time to time) telling our own history in the context of talking about music. And albums. Chunks out of time. Slices of pizza from the long gone Pizza Factory in Clovis where, on my birthday once, I put Madonna's "Like A Virgin" on the jukebox, and my parents were somewhat confused. Because it would still be years before I wasn't actually a virgin (then after merely just "like" one).
So the journey starts here. But it won't be linear. And the order or ranking of the albums might not make any sense. It will be like jumping around the semi-firing neurons of our aged and somewhat damaged brains and bodies. I apologize right now for anything that might offend. But, y'know, fuck you.
'Cause this is rock and roll. If it doesn't piss you off a little bit, it ain't doing its job.