7 April

I've noted previously what I call the "pre-death" lists of music albums that, given their length, have been presented as books: Tom Moon's 1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die [2008] and 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die [2005], edited by Robert Dimery and featuring the contributions of 91 critics. Dimery's introduction to that book does not indicate at all how the list was determined. And, as noted here previously, it's marred by a few glaring problems, most of all a British bias that allows a host of mediocre albums into the list (The La's, The Auteurs - New Wave, Elastica, The Charlatans - Tellin' Stories, Ash - 1977--you get the picture) and a tendency to include commercially-successful artists that have already been forgotten by their biggest fans. The other books in the "die" series I've read or skimmed (Books and Movies) are superior. They've also done "Songs" and "Classical Recordings" books, the latter compensating partially for implicit genre restrictions at work with the "Albums" book. 

Another book-as-album-list, Zagat's Music Guide: 1,000 Top Albums of All Time [2003], thankfully provides information on its compiling process. Sadly, we might prefer they hadn't. Drawing upon the contributions of "over 10,600 participants," the coordinator of this project, Pat Blashill, calculated numerical scores on a scale of 0 to 30 in the four following areas: Overall, Songwriting, Musicianship, and Production. Fair enough for a general review system. But this is a one-off gig for Zagat. Most of the albums discussed in the book of course rank highly on that 30-point scale. Without lower-ranked albums to compare high-scoring albums to, these numbers are rendered largely useless. Presumably the participants gave scores, followed by Blashill averaging those scores; but, again, we don't know for sure.

The survey provides a list of "most popular albums" without telling us how that popularity was determined. The no. 1 in that list is Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run, but the no. 1 in the Overall category is Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. Indeed, it's the only album to receive a 30 score in Overall, whereas Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks receives a 30 in Songwriting, both Kind of Blue and The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Electric Ladyland receive a 30 in Musicianship, and three albums get a 29 in Production: Peter Gabriel's Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, and The Beatles's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The difference between the "popular" list and the Overall list suggests that more of the participants voted for the inclusion of Born to Run than Kind of Blue, but that those Born to Run supporters gave the album scores not as high as those given to Kind of Blue by those who voted to include that album. But that's just a guess.