Lists on Lists on Lists
Ballots for the third "Rolling Stone" inventory of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time
As most of my little world is aware, Rolling Stone has just published its third 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. I wasn't part of the first two. But in 2020 I was already relistening in my compulsively responsible way when the Stone solons threw in a sweetener by beefing up an electorate that can always use more women by adding the great lost rock critic Carola Dibbell to the rolls. Soon Carola's requests were crowding my own checkouts and Consumer Guide work, a process that toward the end of this supremely enjoyable research climaxed one non-TV living room evening as we finally got to two marginal candidates from punk-era Britain: Wire's Pink Flag and Eno's Another Green World. Life has a way of cutting into our listening as concentration ebbs and flows. But this time we both sat spellbound with an occasional comment, loving every track as we realized that while Wire's stripped, harsh art-punk intensity and Eno's fond, quiet pastoral technophilia seem diametrical in principle, both respond to the punk moment with minimalist restraint, a spare lyricism of tunelets. So the two longshots meshed, with the Eno ending up in both of our Stone top 50s but the Wire in mine only, because loving more than 50 albums is a way of life around here. Moreover, both finished in Stone's 500, Wire at 310 and Eno at 338.
I don't know how the bizzers and artists Stone dragoons into its surveys compile their lists. It's as hard to believe that any of them relisten systematically as that any of them can resist hyping their own personal and professional connections. Criticism has its limitations too, of course, and I'm sure plenty of my fellow pros rely too much on dim fond memories and ingrained ideological prejudices when they compile their best. I'm not about to analyze or hold forth at length about the list beyond three notes. 1) Only one of the collective top 10--What's Going On, Pet Sounds, Blue, Songs in the Key of Life, Abbey Road, Nevermind, Rumours, Purple Rain, Blood on the Tracks, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill--made my top 50, with Blue the winner and the Beach Boys, Hill, and especially poll-topping Gaye picks not even sure A's by me, and though it's time for me to relisten to Hill again and think about a grade for Pet Sounds, which I've never fallen for or written about. 2) I'm replaying the poll-topping What's Going On as I write and <as happens every fucking time I give it another chance am tuning out as the strings of the otherwise obscure David Van De Pitte swallow such mediocre songs as "Flyin' High" and "Right On." "What's Going On," "Mercy Mercy Me," "Inner City Blues"? Stone masterpieces, all three--brilliant and even earth-shaking, I mean it. The rest? Well-meant filler. 3) I am pleased to see that the initially rather overhyped and now way underrated Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band finished at 24. Our lists shared 25 albums and eight additional artist duplications--not only does she prefer Rubber Soul to Sgt. Pepper, but we both listed different early U.S.-only Beatles albums that a scan of the Stone list suggests didn't finish there, she the Meet the Beatles debut she and her Radcliffe pals danced in their rooms too, me The Beatles' Second Album I bought at Korvettes.
But although aware that my readership would be delighted if I went on about this statistical artifact, I won't. Life is too short; I have shoulder surgery scheduled for next week and plenty of fine if not all-time-great albums to sum up for the October Consumer Guide before I'm disabled in ways I can't anticipate (although I'm assured that typing will come soon). So instead I will provide the one thing much of my readership craves more if not a lot more than my prose: LISTS.
First the obvious stuff: my top 50 with methodological prologue, Carola's top 50 stark naked, and then--ta-dah!--a worklist of our listening adventures. Both top 50s, as my prologue explains, are now alphabetical by artist, although Carola's ballot did list the first 10 in an order she prefers to keep private for reasons I don't altogether understand. The third list catalogues the albums we checked out, although because it was conceived as a reminder not a record there are certainly omissions--sometimes we'd just think of something, pull it out, and decide it wasn't a candidate for the cut without my writing it down. Note too that all three lists are bedecked with boldface Ls. L means we listened to the record so bedecked, but I can't imagine I got every one--although I'm certain that we didn't have time for such lifetime faves as Omona Wapi, Funeral Dress, our most-played of all time Have Moicy!, and M.I.A.'s still-brilliant-even-if-she's-now-an-anti-vaxxer-nut Kala, which remains my favorite album of the current century. To avoid the tedious labor of formatting the text, in all three lists I've been inconsistent about the italics I'm generally punctilious about. These are worksheets, folks--enjoy or ignore as you prefer.
Robert Christgau's Top 50
Although Sgt. Pepper comes first below, my list is not arranged in order of preference, an impossible task piled on the impossible task of picking 50 albums to begin with. Instead it's arranged alphabetically by artist. So assuming you're assigning numerical values to our selections, mine should all get the same number. Let me add that I assume you're not so foolish as to go 50 down to 1; 100 down to 51 would make much more sense, because we obviously don't like our favorite 50 times as much as the one that squeaked in last though we may like it twice as much. Let me also add that I've avoided best-ofs except when the artist was a "singles" rather than an "album" artist--a '50s artist, that usually means, with half an exception for James Brown and a full one for the multiple heroines of Rhino's immortal Girl Group Greats comp. I also chose not to name any artist more than twice, with half an exception for John Lennon.
Carola Dibbell's Top 50