7 February

Studying "great books" lists has lead me, as seen here, to one of my periodic reviews of music-album rankings. And it has lead me for the first time to ponder why music listmakers seem dead-set on ranking the listed albums. The logic at work, that of mathematics surely, but also that of competition (gaming, sportsmanship, capitalism), has been used by nearly every critics' poll to determine the order in which to list albums--in stark contrast to the personalized lists more common in "great books" list-making, wherein books are generally listed chronologically: given numbers often, but only for organization's sake, with no thought given to which are the top five or ten. As I've discussed in the "great books" posts, many of the lists include excerpts of books, essays originally published in periodicals, and so on. The music lists, on the other hand, focus on albums, with on occasion separate lists for singles. Only with halls of fame do we see a similar approach to "great books": artists themselves are included, with no indication of one being greater than another, except indirectly in that a few artists are inducted in their first year of eligibility, others are not; and those artists not inducted as early as possible, even when they are inducted, receive a lower level of support. This means that the album lists are simpler, and easier to compare with each other; but they also fail to relate a broader history of the music eras and genres covered by the list. Many of the "great books" listmakers write entire books explaining their selections, in the process relating an informal history of literature, and in some cases civilization itself.