Wednesday, June 25, 2008

70s Albums

So, I have a problem with organizing my music-listening. I don't have a great deal of time to really "sit down with" my records, because I don't listen to music while I read, and when I'm not at home reading I like to be out doin' thangs or watching movies.

My procedure for a long time was to have a pile of "recently listened to/new" records out in front of my turntable, but this ended up being unmanageable. Then, for a while, I tried to restrict the number of records that were "out" at any given time to a dozen, which were to be played into the ground before moving to the next group. But, like the strange movies that work their way to the top of your netflix queue, it is hard to plan out in advance what albums you will want to hear a week from now.

My solution now is to only listen to records from the 1970s. I have already broken this rule from the start by listening to Led Zeppelin "I," Isaac Hayes "Hot Buttered Soul," and King Crimson "In the Court of the Crimson King," all from 1969. But we know deep down those are really 70s albums, because they are such 70s artists and in such 70s genres.

* * * *

Some time ago, Pitchfork Media published a list of the top 100 albums from the 1970s. I am planning to make my own list when I'm done with all this, but for now I would like to do a "reading" of the Pitchfork list, which can be found here pt 1 and here pt 2.

Negatively speaking, there are some gross errors here. The Sex Pistols album is wildly underrated (at #51), while the CBGB scene (Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, Suicide) and post-punk are overrated. This is in line with the entire project's favoring of the "artsy." Most egregiously, Black Sabbath is completely absent, as is Bob Marley. There are countless inexplicable exclusions.

Positively (that is, descriptively), the list's unbelievable pretension in what got included is unmistakable: as much Krautrock and glam as possible, Brian Eno and David Bowie everywhere, while the genres of reggae, soul, jazz, and funk are represented by mere touchstones. The most cliche thing possible would be to cry "hipster!" and "pretentious!" at these values. That is mistaken. Highly overrating Sly and the Family Stone is not a "hipster" move. The earnest inclusion of several Led Zeppelin albums is not "pretentious" in itself. What is pretentious is the split desire to produce a list by and for indie-rock (pitchfork's readership) and at the same time to make grand pronouncements about the place of Funkadelic in 70s culture. Which is to say, the list is more embarrassing to the extent that it steps *outside* its hipsterism and private tastes. For instance, is Stevie Wonder's "Innervisions" REALLY the only Stevie Wonder album superior to David Bowie's "Aladdin Sane"?? I wonder if there is a single person on earth who would assert that in a non-list form.

A GREAT list has its own logic--it makes you forget what has been left off. You grow to understand what the criteria were. This list is awful, because of the striking, striking confusion of putting a Sly and the Family Stone album at #4, and the only Marvin Gaye album at #49 (by contrast, Rolling Stone has this album as the #1 album of this decade!). A really really good list should be so well-conceived that in re-making or re-working it, you accidentally just repeat it while you think you are disagreeing with it. Like, it forces you to say, "The Beatles *really are* the best band"--for instance. Or, any list of the greatest novels that has Madame Bovary or Moby Dick at the top of the list is obviously throwing down a gauntlet.

Another type of great list is the list of albums that looks like a person's real private taste. The Pushead list of the 100 best punk records of the 1980s is an excellent example of this. It is bizarre and I disagree with a great deal of it, but it is *honest* and seemingly responsive only to internal criteria. Nothing is included for the sake of representing something else.

But let me tell you what I most like about lists. We are all inclined in our personal recommendations and on our myspace pages to represent our tastes a certain way. But the Beatles really are the best band. And it is important once in a while to have some perspective as regards what is "great" and a "must-buy." It is easy to say that something is fantastic when it is not being compared to anything else, but when held up against, say, James Brown's "The Payback," that is usually much harder to assert.

In any case, here is my preliminary top 10 list (before I've done a lot of listening to my pile of 70s albums)--with pitchfork placement in parentheses.

1the stooges- fun house (12)
2bob dylan- blood on the tracks (5)
3the ramones- ramones (23)
4david bowie- ziggy stardust (81)
5sex pistols- never mind the bollocks (51)
6stevie wonder- talking book (--)
7led zeppelin- 4 (7)
8judas priest- sad wings of destiny (--)
9bob marley- catch a fire (--)
10neil young- after the gold rush (99)

My inclusion of judas priest is the only one i think is "non-canonical"--but I think if one subtracts the entire subsequent history of metal from this album, it is truly the culmination of led zeppelin, glam, and black sabbath, i.e. a masterwork.

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