Never did a popular thing, couldn't sell out a telephone booth.
Monday, March 30, 2009
The rockist's arithmetic; subtraction, to be specific
2 Live Crew – As Clean As They Wanna Be AC/DC – Back in Black AC/DC – For Those About To Rock AC/DC – Highway to Hell Agnostic Front – Cause for Alarm Animal Collective – FEELS Aphrodite’s Child – 666 Arcade Fire – Funeral Aretha Franklin – Amazing Grace Arthur Russell – World of Echo The Beatles – The Beatles The Bee Gees – Best of the Bee Gees, Volume 1 Ben Folds Five – The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner Big Country – The Crossing Bill Fox – Transit Byzantium Black Uhuru - Showcase Bob Dylan – Self Portrait Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind Britney Spears – Blackout Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town The Cars – The Cars The Chills – Submarine Bells The Cramps – Songs the Lord Taught Us Crowded House – Together Alone Cyndi Lauper – She’s So Unusual Daft Punk – Discovery D’Angelo – Voodoo David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo Digital Underground – Sex Packets Dinosaur Jr. – You’re Living All Over Me Donovan – Gift From a Flower to a Garden Drive-By Truckers – Southern Rock Opera The Drones – Gala Mill Duran Duran – Rio The Eagles – Greatest Hits ELO – Out of the Blue Emmylou Harris – Pieces of the Sky Erykah Badu – Mama’s Gun Fairport Convention – Liege and Lief The Fall – Hex Enduction Hour Fennesz – Endless Summer Fugazi – 13 Songs Fugazi – In On the Kill Taker Garth Brooks – (in…) The Life of Chris Gaines Gary Numan and Tubeway Army – Replicas Gary Wilson – You Think You Really Know Me Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator) Girl Talk – Night Ripper Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun Grateful Dead – The Closing of Winterland Hall and Oates – Rock ‘n’ Soul Part One Herb Alpert – Whipped Cream and Other Delights The Hold Steady – Separation Sunday Husker Du – Zen Arcade The Incredible String Band – The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter The Incredible String Band – Wee Tam and the Big Huge Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden J Dilla – Donuts The Jam – All Mod Cons Jane’s Addiction – Ritual de lo Habitual Jawbreaker – 24 Hour Revenge Therapy Jefferson Airplane – Crown of Creation Jellyfish – Spilt Milk Jimmy Eat World – Clarity John Lennon – Live in New York City Johnny Cash – American Recordings Kanye West – 808 & Heartbreak Karen Dalton – In My Own Time Kiss – Destroyer The Knack – Get the Knack Kraftwerk – Trans-Europe Express Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen Leonard Cohen – Various Positions Lil’ Wayne – Da Drought 3 Little Feat – Sailin’ Shoes Liz Phair – Exile in Guyville Lou Reed – Metal Machine Music Madonna – Ray of Light Main Source – Breaking Atoms Manu Chao – Clandestino Massive Attack – Blue Lines The Mekons – Fear and Whiskey The Melvins – Lysol Metallica – Metallica Metallica – Master of Puppets M.I.A. – Kala The Millennium – Begin Moby Grape – Moby Grape Modest Mouse – The Lonesome Crowded West The Monkees – Head Mothers of Invention – Freak Out! The Mountain Goats – All Hail West Texas Namco – Katamari Fortissimo Damacy Neil Young – Tonight’s the Night New Order – Power, Corruption and Lies New York Dolls – New York Dolls Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Tender Prey NWA – Straight Outta Compton The O’Jays – Back Stabbers Operation Ivy – Energy Paul Simon – Graceland Pearl Jam – Vitalogy Pere Ubu – Dub Housing Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Phil Ochs – Rehearsals for Retirement Phish – Junta Phish – Rift Pink Floyd – The Wall The Police - Synchronicity Portishead – Dummy Public Image Limited – Metal Box Pussy Galore – Exile on Main Street Radiohead – Kid A Rage Against the Macine – Evil Empire Randy Newman – Good Old Boys Red Hot Chili Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik REM – Automatic for the People The Residents – Commercial Album Richard Hell and the Voidoids – Blank Generation The Rolling Stones – Some Girls Rush – Moving Pictures Sandy Denny – Sandy Scott Walker – The Drift Sleater-Kinney – One Beat Slint – Spiderland Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians The Strokes – Is This It Suicide – Suicide Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden Talking Heads – Remain in Light Television – Marquee Moon They Might Be Giants – Flood They Might Be Giants - Lincoln Townes Van Zandt – Townes Van Zandt USA for Africa – We Are the World Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend Van Halen – MCMLXXXIV Various Artists – Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol 1 Various Artists – O Brother, Where Art Thou? Soundtrack Various Artists – Reservoir Dogs soundtrack The Violent Femmes – Violent Femmes Warren Zevon – Warren Zevon Ween – Chocolate and Cheese The White Stripes – White Blood Cells Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot Woody Guthrie – Dust Bowl Ballads X-Ray Spex – Germ Free Adolescents X – Los Angeles X – More Fun in the New World XTC – Wasp Star (Apple Venus Vol 2) Yoko Ono – Plastic Ono Band Young Jeezy – Let’s Get It Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth The Zombies – Odessey and Oracle
170 albums. Ready to be written up (the story behind, that is). And not too bad a range, either. But this is the long short list. We need a short short list. And that's where the trouble begins.
AC/DC - Highway to Hell Aretha Franklin - Amazing Grace The Beatles - The Beatles Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind The Cramps - Songs the Lord Taught Us David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust Devo - Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo Dinosaur Jr: You're Living All Over Me ELO - Out of the Blue Grateful Dead - Closing of Winterland Johnny Cash - American Recordings Kiss - Destroyer Leonard Cohen - Songs of Leonard Cohen Lil' Wayne - Da Drought 3 Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville Lou Reed - Metal Music Machine Neil Young - Tonight's the Night Operation Ivy - Energy Paul Simon - Graceland Radiohead - Kid A Rolling Stones - Some Girls Slint - Spiderland Television - Marquee Moon Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes Ween - Chocolate and Cheese White Stripes - White Blood Cells Young Marble Giants - Colossal Youth
An odd statement from David a while back was about how each of the long shortlisted came with pitches that had "something" about them. "Enough to make me think they'd make a book worth reading." Which strikes me funny, because first and foremost I'd think the record should make you think there's a book worth reading first. But that's not not quite right, either. There's some kind of middle ground behind popularity, critical response, and back story that come together
Are we saying that the only album stories worth hearing are the classic ones? Outsized, with big set-pieces and unwieldy personalities? Because that seems to run counter to the kind of work such slight but focused books these can be. Why not more of the Jawbreaker's and the Fennesz's and the Britney Spears's of the world? The short short list takes a sliver of radio-approved albums for rockin' dads and their college radio sons. Occam's Razor makes the cut based on economics, obviously, but it still smacks of rockism. Insidiously reinforcing and even growing the canon while still locking the door behind.
Untold stories aren't the only stories worth telling. And if you go back through the list, it's a lot of bands and artists at the forefront of pop-consciousness that get diced. Kiss and their painted antics get the nod, but what about 2 Live Crew? I can only hope that it's the writers that were deemed of poorer quality and not the stories. But even then, I have a hard time imagining why some records were eliminated barring complete incoherency.
Is this pitch and refine method the best way to tell the stories of these records? What if the albums were decided first, and then the writers? A little A&R to cure the A&R blues? And does this alleviate the issues of selective rockism, or just exacerbate it? The 33 1/3 series will by no means be the Library of Alexandria for albums (unless it really wanted to), but there's the potential the potential to produce insightful historical documents of musical and genearl significance makes it too alluring to let it slip into a Rolling Stone pipe dream.
These books are something of a niche market unto themselves, capitalizing on vinyl references and a lot of smart music. They've even got John Darnielle in on the act. And yet one of his records didn't make the cut.
This idea of a fractured culture of niche has been under fire for a while, and it's becoming hard to ignore. A monoculture seems to have reemerged, but one this time with two channels that co-exist: the frivolous single culture that is instantaneous, bloggable, and completely detachable, and the traditional album culture that still warrants journalism with a capital PhD. The difference is that what lies out of the mainstream, or recent memory, has become the Holy Grail more so than the establishment's steady release. Yeah, Bob Dylan, U2, and even Radiohead still get a pass, but it's the bedroom history that's growing in appeal. Hidden secrets aren't any good as hidden secrets anymore. They have to be classics, too.