Thursday, December 31, 2009

1001 Albums You Must olympics

Which countries have the most entries?

There are 38 nationalities represented in the list. Allowing for albums with multiple nationalities, there are 1065 national entries.

No surprises with the USA and UK at the top of the list - 521 entries (49%) and 400 entries (38%) respectively. Then things get interesting.

Canada in third (24 entries) makes sense - but surprising they didn't get more entries, with Joni Mitchell, k.d.lang, Leonard Cohen, Rush and The Band.

Australia punches above its weight in fourth position (15 entries) - with a big push along from Nick Cave. Australia shares credit for a number of artists including AC/DC, Crowded House, RHCP (Flea is an Aussie) and The Bee Gees.

Germany (14) is the highest non-Anglophone country in fifth. Kraftwerk and Can lead the charge.

Then come Ireland (12), Brazil (10), France (10), Jamaica (6) and Nigeria (5).

Here is the full list:

USA 521
UK 400
Canada 24
Australia 15
Germany 14
Ireland 12
Brazil 10
France 10
Jamaica 6
Nigeria 5
Iceland 4
India 4
South Africa 4
Sweden 4
Japan 3
Norway 3
Senegal 3
Argentina 2
Cuba 2
Mali 2
Algeria 1
Austria 1
Belgium 1
Democratic Republic Of Congo 1
Denmark 1
Finland 1
Ghana 1
Mexico 1
New Zealand 1
Pakistan 1
Peru 1
Poland 1
Russia 1
Slovenia 1
Sri Lanka 1
Switzerland 1
Yugoslavia 1
Total 1065

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

1001 Albums You Must Hear....the best years

What was the best year ever? And what made it so good?

To refresh your memory, the eleven best years by number of entries were:

1967 29
1968 33
1969 36
1970 29
1971 35
1972 30
1973 32
1977 29
1978 34
1994 29
1996 29

It shows that bimodal distribution we've noted before - the golden era from 1967 to 1978, and a smaller peak from 1994 to 1996.

So what made 1969 the greatest year ever?

CCR, Fairport Convention, Led Zeppelin were firing - each landing two albums in the list. There were also classics from a diverse range of artists including Frank Zappa, Isaac Hayes, Johnny Cash, King Crimson, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, Neil Young, Sly & The Family Stone, The Band, Beatles, Bee Gees, Kinks, MC5, Stones, Stooges, Temptations, Velvets and Van Morrison. Phew!

Its hard to imagine anything like it today. It would be challenging to name 35 really crucial artists - let alone imagining them all releasing one or more albums in a single year that will be regarded as a classic in forty years. If you weren't there, you have my sympathy.

Here's the full list.

Trout Mask Replica Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
Chicago Transit Authority Chicago
Bayou Country Creedence Clearwater Revival
Green River Creedence Clearwater Revival
Crosby, Stills And Nash Crosby, Stills And Nash
Dusty in Memphis Dusty Springfield
From Elvis in Memphis Elvis Presley
Liege And Lief Fairport Convention
Unhalfbricking Fairport Convention
Hot Rats Frank Zappa
Hot Buttered Soul Isaac Hayes
Johnny Cash at San Quentin Johnny Cash
In The Court of the Crimson King King Crimson
Led Zeppelin I Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin II Led Zeppelin
Songs From A Room Leonard Cohen
In A Silent Way Miles Davis
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere Neil Young
Five Leaves Left Nick Drake
Basket Of Light Pentangle
Happy Trails Quicksilver Messenger Service
Scott 4 Scott Walker
Stand! Sly & The Family Stone
The Band The Band
Abbey Road The Beatles
Odessa The Bee Gees
The Gilded Palace of Sin The Flying Burrito Brothers
Live/Dead The Grateful Dead
Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire The Kinks
Kick Out The Jams The MC5
Let It Bleed The Rolling Stones
The Stooges The Stooges
Cloud Nine The Temptations
The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground
Elephant Mountain The Youngbloods
Astral Weeks Van Morrison

1001 Albums You Must Hear....artists of colour

...or color if you are Merikan.

Most of the discussion so far has been about white artists - with Stevie and Jimi the notable exceptions. What other artists of colour make it onto the list?

Miles Davis and Stevie Wonder lead the charge with four entries each. No real surprise there - other than why the numbers weren't higher.

With three entries we have:
  • Bob Marley;
  • Marvin Gaye;
  • Michael Jackson;
  • Prince; and
  • Jimi Hendrix.

Now there is seven artists (altogether) I could live with.

Now it really opens up. With two entries each are:
  • A Tribe Called Quest;
  • Aretha Franklin;
  • Barry Adamson (gotta find our more about him);
  • Curtis Mayfield;
  • Fela Kuti;
  • Funkadelic
  • Ice Cube;
  • Isaac Hayes;
  • Love;
  • Massive Attack;
  • Missy Elliot;
  • Muddy Waters;
  • Outkast;
  • Public Enemy;
  • Ray Charles;
  • Run-DMC;
  • Sly & The Family Stone
  • The Temptation.
This is a great list - with plenty of diversity. My only problem is with the number - 26 artists, out of a total of 299 with more than one entry. Less than 10% - I don't think so..

Monday, December 28, 2009

1001 Albums You Must Hear....sustained intense brilliance

What artists have sustained creative genius over several years, achieving entries in two or more consecutive years? Surprises ahead...

David Bowie

All hail!!

Bowie has two runs in the list...

Hunky Dory - 1971
Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars - 1972
Aladdin Sane - 1973


Young Americans - 1975
Station to Station - 1976
Heroes - 1977
Low - 1977

Given the two runs are separated by only two years, it is arguable that this burst of sustained brilliance is close to The Beatles - who achieve seven entries over seven years (see below).

BUT...consider the other albums Bowie released around this time. Notably, Diamond Dogs in 1974 links the two lists. That would be 8 albums in 7 years.

But these works are prefaced by Space Oddity (1969) and The Man Who Sold the World (1970).

That's 10 very strong albums over nine years. In my not so humble opinion, the greatest period of sustained brilliance by an artist in the modern era.

The Beatles

No prizes for naming The Beatles. Seven (!) consecutive entries.

With The Beatles - 1963
A Hard Day's Night - 1964
Rubber Soul - 1965
Revolver - 1966
Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - 1967
The Beatles (White Album) - 1968
Abbey Road - 1969

Any one of these would have been a career defining peak for most bands. Will we see anything like it again? Hard to imagine.

The Byrds

If you've read the previous posts, this probably doesn't come as a surprise either. Five entries in four years. Nice.

Mr Tambourine Man - 1965
Fifth Dimension - 1966
Younger Than Yesterday - 1967
Sweetheart Of The Rodeo - 1968
The Notorious Byrd Brothers - 1968

There was certainly something in the air! (Or the Kool Aid.) This is a band that I should really know a lot better than I do. A worthy target for vinyl acquisition.

Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin - 1969
Led Zeppelin II - 1969
Led Zeppelin III - 1970
Led Zeppelin IV - 1971

Led Zep extend the golden era. They also reenter in 1975 with Physical Graffiti. In between was Houses of the Holy (1973). Presence followed Physical Graffiti in 1976.

That's seven superb albums - but over a relatively leisurely 8 years.

The Kinks

Face to Face - 1966
Something Else by The Kinks - 1967
Village Green Preservation Society - 1968
Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire - 1969

More from the golden era. I think I thrashed Village Green to death long after it had first been released - but had still never really seen The Kinks as a serious album band. Dammit, another massive hole.

Talking Heads

Talking Heads '77 - 1977
More Songs About Buildings and Food - 1978
Fear of Music - 1979
Remain in Light - 1980

I hadn't really thought of them - but yeah. Note Eno's fingerprints - again. He co-produced the last three albums in this batch - after working with Bowie on Low and Heroes in 1977.

Ol' Bob
Bringing It All Back Home - 1965
Highway 61 Revisited - 1965
Blonde On Blonde - 1966

Another burst from the golden era. He is also on the list with The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963). In 1964 he released The Times They Are a-Changin' and Another Side of Bob Dylan. After Blonde on Blonde came John Wesley Harding (1967) and Nashville Skyline (1969).

That's 8 strong albums over 7 years - although only 4 made the list.

He'd chip in Blood on the Tracks in 1974. Then over twenty years later another entry with Time Out of Mind (1997) and a live concert LP from 1966 released in 1998.

Elvis Costello

My Aim Is True - 1977
This Year_s Model - 1978
Armed Forces - 1979

Elvis makes three more appearances on the list - in 1982, 1986 and 1994.

Sonic Youth

EVOL - 1986
Sister - 1987
Daydream Nation - 1988

The Sonic Kiddies also appear on the list with Goo (1990) and Dirty (1992).

Steely Dan

Can't Buy a Thrill - 1972
Countdown to Ecstasy - 1973
Pretzel Logic - 1974

They reenter in 1977 with Aja. In between was Katy Lied (1975) and The Royal Scam (1976) - a pretty strong body of work - six strong albums in as many years.

Joni Mitchell

Court And Spark - 1974
The Hissing of Summer Lawns - 1975
Hejeira - 1976

Blue (1971) also appears on the list. Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (1977) is also a contender.

Stevie Wonder

Talking Book - 1972
Innervisions - 1973
Fullfillingness' First Finale - 1974

He reenters in 1976 with Songs in the Key of Life. Four classics in five years.


Fragile - 1971
The Yes Album - 1971
Close to The Edge - 1972

Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) and Relayer (1974) are also strong contenders. So five solid albums in four years.


Queen II - 1974
Sheer Heart Attack - 1974
A Night At The Opera - 1975

But A Day at the Races (1976) and News of the World (1977)
were also pretty solid albums. So that's five good albums over four years.

Jimi Hendrix

Are You Experienced? - 1967
Axis: Bold As Love - 1967
Electric Ladyland - 1968

Roxy Music

Roxy Music - 1972
For Your Pleasure - 1973
Country Life - 1974

Eno plays on the first album but not the other two. Apparently there was not enough room for two Brians in the band.

The Smiths

Meat is Murder - 1985
The Queen is Dead - 1986
Strangeways Here We Come - 1987

Morrissey is back as a solo artist - appearing on the list four times from 1987 to 2004.

The Pixies

Surfer Rosa - 1988
Doolittle - 1989
Bossanova - 1990

Sunday, December 27, 2009

1001 Albums You Must Hear....creative bursts

What artists have had intense creative bursts, as evidenced by numerous entries over a short period?

Getting one album into this list is an achievement. How about two entries in one year? Forteen artists have achieved it. There are some surprises.

Bob Dylan - 1965 - Bringing it All Back Home / Highway 61 Revisited. 'nuff said.

Jimi Hendrix - 1967 - Are You Experienced / Axis: Bold As Love. Guitar heroes give up.

Love - 1967 - Da Capo / Forever Changes. I do like Forever Changes - haven't heard Da Capo - one track taking up a whole side of an LP - pretty unusual in 1967. Must check it out.

Velvet Underground - 1967 - The Velvet Underground and Nico / White Light White Heat. Punks, don't bother.

Byrds - 1968 - Notorious Byrd Brothers / Sweetheart of the Rodeo

Creedence - 1969 - Bayou Country / Green River

Fairport Convention - 1969 - Unhalfbricking / Liege and Lief. Another band I need to check out.

Led Zeppelin - 1969 - Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin II

Black Sabbath - 1970 - Black Sabbath / Paranoid. With the exception of Sab's Vol. 4 heavy metal was all down hill from here, until it fractured into a million sub-genres. Symphonicthrashgothspeedmetal with a twist of lemon anyone?

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - 1971 - Tarkus / Pictures at an Exhibition. Prog was never grander.

Yes - 1971 - The Yes Album / Fragile. Once were musicians.

Queen - 1974 - Queen II / Sheer Heart Attack. "As heavy as Sabbath, as dense as Zeppelin, as clever as Cream". Maybe.

David Bowie - 1977 - Low / Heroes. Is it any surprise that a partnership between Bowie and Eno would have been special? Eno himself was on a solo creative roll - entering the list in 1977 with Before and After Science.

Iggy Pop - 1977 - The Idiot / For Life. Bowie strikes again - what a roll!

After this incredible creative outpouring of the golden era it would be nearly twenty years until another artist pulled off the double - not coincidentally in the 1996 mini peak.

Belle and Sebastian - 1996 - Tigermilk / If You're Feeling Sinister

1001 Albums You Must Hear....long service leave

Who has sustained creativity over the longest period, as measured by the gap between the earliest and latest appearances on the list?

Not too many prizes for guessing Bob Dylan. "The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan" was released in 1963 and gave us "Blowin' in the Wind", "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall", "I Shall Be Free" et al. His most recent entry is 1998 - a 36 year "career" (ironically a live recording from 1966). "Time Out of Mind" is the most recent new recording - released in 1997. I wouldn't be surprised to see another entry from the old Bob before he shuffles off.

Johnny Cash had a renaissance just before he passed and is just behind the old Bob with 35 years. "Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison" was released in 1968. Who else could sing in a prison concert "Well I laughed in the Sheriff's face and I spat in his eye."? In 2002 he was back with his third entry, "American IV: The Man Comes Around".

The 20 Year Club

Bruce ! (Springsteen) 5 entries over 28 years with the most recent in 2002. Surely he's got a few classics left in him?

Emmylou Harris - two entries over 26 years. Go girl.

Robert Wyatt - two entries over 24 years - one of those artists I've always meant to check out.

Neil Young - of course - seven entries over 22 years with the most recent in 1990. Now he could definitely pop out a classic any time, which would put him into third spot.

Leonard Cohen rounds out the 20 Year Club - four entries over 21 years. His recent concerts in Sydney were very well received - so he must also be still regarded as a threat.

Long Service Leave (over 10 years)

Muddy Waters
Elvis Costello
Tom Waits
Miles Davis
Paul Simon
The Fall
Elvis Presley
Nick Cave
Pink Floyd
Green Day
The Cure
ZZ Top
Peter Gabriel

Portishead, Nick Cave, Radiohead, Green Day, Slipknot all made their first appearances in the list 1990s.

1001 Albums You Must Hear....most appearances

Do I hear you ask which artists have appeared the most in the list?

It probably doesn't surprise you that Dylan and the Beatles are at the top of the list - with seven appearances each. Surprising and gratifying, Bowie and Neil Young also make seven appearances. I'm liking this list. If you had to chose four artists for the proverbial desert island this would be a pretty good selection.

The Stones follow closely with six appearances. But you'll never guess who also makes six appearances. Elvis. Costello not Presley! I've always meant to listen to more Elvis Costello.

Now things start to get really interesting. Springsteen, Zeppelin, The Who and The Byrds each appear five times. Fair enough. Also appearing five times are Brian Eno (!), Radiohead, Sonic Youth and Tom Waits. That's fourteen in total, so far.

This a pretty cool list.

With four entries are Iggy Pop, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Metallica, Miles Davis, Morrissey, Nick Cave, Pink Floyd, REM, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Talking heads, Kinks, U2 take the total to twenty-eight. At last we've got some black music!

With three entries, things spread out further - Aerosmith, Beastie Boys, Black Sabbath, Blur, Bob Marley, Creedence, Deep Purple, Dexys Midnight Runners (I always thought of them as a kind of novelty band for "Goodnight Eilene"), Echo & The Bunnymen, Elvis (Presley), Johnny Cash, Kate Bush, Kraftwerk, Madonna, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Nick Drake, Nirvana, Paul Simon, Pet Shop Boys, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Public Enemy, Queen, Roxy Music, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beach Boys, The Cure, The Doors, The Fall, Hendrix, Pixies, Smiths, Velvet Underground, Tim Buckley, Van Morrison, Yes. Something for everyone. Sixty-five artists - and a pretty good overview of the canon of anglophone popular music.

This is certainly a more interesting list than the JJJ greatest songs of all time.

It has highlighted a few gaps in my listening - Elvis Costello, Sonic Youth, Tom Waits, Nick Drake, The Fall, Pixies, Tim Buckley, Dexys are all artists that I've had little or no exposure to. I'm looking forward to addressing that. Stay tuned for reviews.

Artists appearing 7 times

Bob Dylan
David Bowie
Neil Young
The Beatles

Artists appearing 6 times

Elvis Costello
The Rolling Stones

Artists appearing 5 times
Brian Eno
Bruce Springsteen
Led Zeppelin
Sonic Youth
The Byrds
The Rolling Stones
The Who
Tom Waits

Artists appearing 4 times

Iggy Pop
Joni Mitchell
Leonard Cohen
Miles Davis
Nick Cave
Pink Floyd
Steely Dan
Stevie Wonder
Talking heads

Artists appearing 3 times

Beastie Boys
Black Sabbath
Bob Marley
Deep Purple
Dexys Midnight Runners
Echo & The Bunnymen
Elvis Presley
Johnny Cash
Kate Bush
Marvin Gaye
Michael Jackson
Nick Drake
Paul Simon
Pet Shop Boys
Peter Gabriel
Public Enemy
Roxy Music
Simon & Garfunkel
The Beach Boys
The Cure
The Doors
The Fall
Velvet Underground
Tim Buckley
Van Morrison

Saturday, December 26, 2009

1001 Albums You Must Hear....over time

What were the most creatively fruitful times?

The chart above (click on it for a bigger version) shows the number of entries for each year from 1955 to 2008. There appears to be two big creative peaks - a massive peak from 1967 to 1979 (with a dip centred on 1976) and a smaller peak from 1987 to 1996. Major troughs were 1981 to 1985 and 2001 onwards.

1967-74: The flowering of the 60s - a creative explosion centred on 1969 which blossoms and matures over the next 5 years. I can't imagine we'll see anything like it MUSICALLY in the lifetime of anyone now living. There will be creative explosions, just not in music. My money is on the fusion of gaming / filmmaking / TV and other immersive / interactive technologies. With respect to those art forms we are in the equivalent of the 1950s - the big breakout is 5 to 10 years away.

1976: Wha' happen? A transitional moment. To oversimplify, the music forms that had their genesis from 1967 to 72 had run their course - the UK punk counterrevolution was gearing up.

1977-79: Ramones, Stranglers, Clash, Talking Heads, Bowie (again), Iggy, Television, Elvis Costelle, Pistols, The Jam all hitting their stride.

1981-85: The counterrevolution had been co-opted by the mainstream and pureed into new romanticism. Something weird happened to production values.

1987-96: Manchester, grunge, rap, hip hop - Jesus & Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Jane's Addiction, Stone Roses, Public Enemy, Soul II Soul, De La Soul, NWA, etc

1001 Albums You Must Hear....bouquets and brickbats

First, a big thank you to Robert Dimery (Editor) and the Before You Die people for publishing 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. An even bigger thank you for putting up the list on their web site.

But some brickbats. (What the hell is a brickbat anyway?) The list viewer on the web site only allows you to see a maximum of 100 entries at a time. But even worse - where is the download feature? There is no easy way to download the list. Why put the list on the site but not provide a downloadable version? This just means I have to spend some time fiddling around with Excel to get the list in a format that I can analyse.

BTW I did a quick poke around the Web to see if anyone else had done it. Nothing up to date and comprehensive.

An hour or so later and I have the 1001 Albums in an Excel spreadsheet ready for crunching. Mwah ha haah.

Oh - the list on the 1001 web site is not the latest edition. Grrr. But there is a list of additions and deletions in the forum section of the site. A bit more fiddling and I'm ready to roll.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A new list!! A vinyl renaissance.

The day after Christmas 09. Still digesting yesterday's gastronomic assault - but nevertheless managing to squeeze in some more chocolates, sweets, tea and more tea. With the prospect of more Champagne this evening. The Champagne of the season is Piper Heidsieck, but I digress.

For as long as I have been into music, I have been an avid reader and rereader of music guides. I spent many hours pawing over various NME guides as a teenager. Since then there have been the Mojo guide, essential albums / songs / artists / labels, genre guides, etc..

Nearly one thousand colour pages proclaiming the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" is too good to resist. (As if resistance was ever seriously contemplated.)

First published in 2005, the edition I received (from a prescient Santa) was published in 2009 and includes ten albums from 2008. (I wonder which older albums were dropped to make way for these ten?)

Another Christmas present was a new turntable - something I've been without for...15 years? 20 years?

As much as I love iTunes, iPhones, Genius, I have recently been finding music fatiguing. Genius and "1001 Songs" by Toby Creswell have enabled me to excavate parts of my music collection that haven't been heard for millenia. But it is omnipresent (my iPhone and its portable music subcollection is never far away). And it is work. A track comes up on a Genius playlist that I haven't listened to for ages - there is no album artwork - and it is from a compilation album and the date is wrong. So now I am working through all the songs I have in iTunes from that artist...finding artwork, assigning songs to correct original albums, correcting dates and so on.

I am really looking forward to lying on my bed with album cover in hand and intentionally listening to a whole album - or at least side a of an LP. No skipping, no genius lists, no curating.

A turntable + "1001 Albums..." = blog entries

There will be much slicing and dicing of the 1001 albums - as well as individual album reviews.

It promises to be a fun time. If you are reading this, I'd love to hear from you. The life of a blogger can be lonely.