19 February

In the post of 9 February, I listed those albums that had made the top five of twenty-four lists of the best albums of all time. Those who'd prefer a method of giving a certain number of points for a first-place finish, a smaller number for a second-place finish, and so on, would point to the arbitrariness of focusing on the top five. Why not the top ten, fifteen, or twenty? My problem with such an opinion is that it ignores the random nature of the lists in the first place. Several publications, especially New Musical Express and, in recent years, Q, have published more lists than others; we often don't know which critics contributed to the lists; the two Rolling Stone lists are quite similar, but if we were to exclude one we'd have to establish clear, but inherently arbitrary rules, for limiting the number of lists from a single publication; and that's just the beginning. As we've seen from sites like Best Ever Albums or The Greatest Books, those aggregating these lists weigh some over others, in some cases without telling us which lists are considered superior, and how that superiority is computed. So how do we not know that the original listmakers pulled off similar maneuvers? Anyone familiar with the history of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame can imagine that the notorious Jann Wenner's votes for the Rolling Stone lists, if he participated, could have counted more than the others' by factor of hundred, a thousand, who wants to know....

Instead, I'm going to see which of the albums I've already pulled from these lists appear in positions six through ten of those lists in which they didn't place in the top five. If, say, Radiohead's The Bends (which, as we've seen, made the top five of two lists) appears in the next five of two additional lists, it will get that second number placed next to it. Those albums that only appear in the positions, six through ten, will constitute a second list. Finally, an aggregated list will be made, with the highest-selling albums not on the critics' lists added at the end. Since we've got a list of 12 albums from the critics' list so far, the addition of a few more could give a number comparable to the highest-selling albums prior to 1985. This new list will be ready tomorrow.

While I don't want to belabor the point, this discussion further highlights the massive difference between "great books" and music-albums lists, and the superiority of the former. Since many of the book lists are made by individuals, their arbitrariness is obvious from the outset. Only the wide temporal scan from which they come (nearly 120 years) gives them more of a hard (social) science flavor than their music counterparts. Too fixated on ranking albums, popular-music listmakers have almost never made individualized lists. They collaborate, a fine gesture. However, the results rarely provide more than blurbs about the albums and often-interchangeable articles serving as a cheap way to sell magazines. An exception to this general rules is Tom Moon's 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, a decent-enough work (better than the 1,001-albums book), hampered primarily in that the author seems to know next to nothing about Rock music since the Punk era. It's especially useful if you want some guidance on Rhythm and Blues, Soul, and New Orleans artists that have been neglected by the Rock doc/ deluxe-expanded-legacy/ retro rags arbiters of commodification.