1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not*

Welcome to Christian Adams’ 15-part essay series documenting an ill-fated attempt to hear every record listed in the somewhat popular coffee table book, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, edited by Robert Dimery.
*Also known as 1001 Albums Released Between 1956-1992 You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not

Most importantly, Adams attempted to establish whether or not the casual music appreciationist*, i.e. the listener really needed to hear these albums, and in some cases, suggested an alternative record which didn’t make the list.

In step with the spirit of the book, nearly every genre of modern popular music is discussed, including avant-garde, noise, psychedelic, jazz fusion, world music, sophisti-pop, soft rock, extreme metal, adult contemporary, post-punk synth pop, country rock, and many, many more. Additionally, the essays often touch on tangentially related issues that surround the culture of popular music, such as the influence of computer technology on artistic development.

*Christian’s term for this type of writing: appreciationism.
Dimery, Robert, ed. (2011). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Preface by Michael Lydon. Octopus. ISBN 1-84403-714-2; ISBN 978-1-84403-714-8.
Dimery, Robert, ed. (2011). 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Preface by Michael Lydon. Octopus. ISBN 1-84403-714-2; ISBN 978-1-84403-714-8.

Introduction

1956-1966

1967-1968

1969-1971

1972-1974

1975-1976

1977-1978

1979-1980

1981-1982

1983-1984

1985-1986

1987-1988

1989-1990

1991-1992

Click here for the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (Complete Unofficial List).

The essay series comes with its own key and multiple standards of exception, including but not limited to: The BS&T Clause, the Human League Dilemma, Double LP Syndrome, and exclusive definitions and explications of terms like shitball and solipsism. Here are some excerpts.


BSM’s 1001 Albums Review Key:

Strikethrough indicates what you probably think it does
Green indicates highly recommended listening
Underlined indicates questionable but ultimately acceptable record
Red indicates generally hazardous material
Blue bold italic indicates ABSOLUTELY MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Note: Suggested alternatives are from the same year as the contested entry unless otherwise indicated.

From the Introduction:

You don’t have to do anything. However, if you’re interested in the development of rock music as an artistic, historical, and/or social movement, there are more than 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. In fact, if you really want to know your stuff, there are 10,000 albums you need to be familiar with before you can join the conversation.

1001_Beach_SambaAstrud Gilberto – Beach Samba (1968)

[Clears throat. Sits up in chair.] Samba.

The only sound of music more offensive than samba is bossa nova, which, surprise! Is a form of samba. This is the shit that gets piped into trendy restaurants for “atmosphere,” when they really mean “sonic wallpaper.” By far the most tepid, inoffensive, disingenuous form of music in existence. Theme songs to children’s television shows have more substance.

Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace Of Sin (1969)

1001_Flying_BurritoHere, I face a major dilemma. If I say go ahead and listen to this, I’m not being honest. If I say don’t bother listening to this, I’m not being fair. Whether I like it or not, country rock is a thing, and these guys were the Pangaea of the genre.

So it comes down to a very conscious decision on your behalf. Ask yourself these two questions: Do I like Wilco? Do I own a copy of The Eagles – Greatest Hits 1971-1975? If you answered yes to either, you should probably give this record a spin, not because you might like it, but because this is where all that middle of the road, cut along the grain, country rock sawdust comes from. Actually, the story of the band is far more interesting than any of their jams. The legend of Gram Parsons is a fascinatingly morbid tale.

Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat And Tears (1969)

Here’s an outfit that sounded really, truly great on their debut album, Child is the Father to the Man (1968); but then Al Kooper left and BS&T became the house band in my version of Hell featuring David Clayton-Thomas on lead vocals and perspiration.

1001_D_Clayton_ThomasBS&T won the 1969 Grammy for Album of the Year, and this is one of several proverbial lines in the sand: Accolades mean nothing. The same cat who produced this unacceptable bullshit (James William Guerico) was also working with Chicago (see #3) and Moondog, but he dropped the ball on BS&T. Even though Child is probably a Must Hear album, BS&T disqualifies the band from inclusion on any list yours truly might be involved with.

Thus, we shall henceforth call this the BS&T Clause, which renders a band non-essential no matter what they did before or after (in this case) David Clayton-Thomas joined the band. The clause will be invoked when we get to the Bee Gees, for sure.

Ramones – Ramones (1976)

The other night, I watched a Ramones show from 1977 at Hammersmith Odeon and was shocked at how good they were.

Saturday Night Fever – The Original Movie Sound Track (1977)

1001_TheBeeGeesSaturdayNightFeveFile this under: Shit I Can’t Believe I’m About to Write.

At this point in the whole deal, I’m getting picky about albums that were overlooked by Dimery and the 1001 Albums crew. The fact that Saturday Night Fever – The Original Sound Track (1977) is NOT included on the list was a welcome discovery, but puzzling as well. Surely, if the idea is to give people an idea of what was cookin’ in 1977, Chic is a fine example of disco; however, Fever, partially due to its movie tie-in, goes above and beyond a simple representation of a genre. Its cultural impact cannot be understated as the best-selling soundtrack album of all-time until surpassed by Whitney Houston’s soundtrack to The Bodyguard (1993).

While it’s erroneously considered a Bee Gees album – they wrote and produced 8 of 17 tracks – I refuse to absolve them of the blame. All the big hits are Bee Gees’ cuts. To be clear, I despise the movie and the soundtrack as much as possible, and there is one thing on here that’s worse than disco—it’s called “How Deep Is Your Love” performed by the Bee Gees; it may be the softest soft rock song ever, and that’s saying a lot. That means it has to be worse than “Muskrat Love”. And it is. Nevertheless, Fever is one of a handful of albums I think You Must Hear even though I really don’t think You Must Hear.

Wire – Pink Flag (1977)

1001_Wire_PinkIf you haven’t heard this, consider yourself having missed out on something truly worthwhile.

Brian Eno – Before And After Science (1977)

If Eno’s solo career was a sinking ship, this is where all the rats like me would be diving overboard. It strikes me as a poor analogy, since Eno’s career has been remarkably buoyant; however, ambient music is helpful in film and theater, but in almost every other context, it’s Muzak for your life. I don’t want life to sound like it’s taking place in a hotel lobby or an elevator.

There’s an imaginary line between popular and avant-garde, not unlike the Tropic of Cancer, which you may cross without even knowing it. It’s safe to assume that Eno knew what he was doing.

From 1983 – 1984

1001_Billy-Idol_rebelyellalbumTo be honest, I didn’t know what the hell was going on in 1983-84, and I was hoping that 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die was going to bring some clarity to my confusion.

Generally speaking, the self-awareness of a 16-year-old boy is limited to his immediate sight and grasp. At least, that’s how it was for me.

What I do know about the period is that music was as much a part of my life as it was my identity. All groups form on a certain commonality, and high school is nothing but a laboratory experiment in social stratification. My school had maybe six main social groups based on music (more or less, for the purpose and definition of this essay).

Brian May + Friends – Star Fleet Project (1985)

1001_Brian-May_StarfleetIf I can’t find anything nice to say about a record that features Brian May and Eddie Van Halen exchanging guitar solos for half of the total time, then it’s got to be an exceptional record. This joins the list of Albums I Wish I’d Never Heard Before I Died.

From 1991-1992
There was one morning I woke up in 1992 and I felt like I’d been asleep for a couple of years.

Right here, right now, at this very moment, I think the 1001 Albums list should end and start over. The book and list should be split into two volumes. It’s got nothing to do with me being a lazy dirt bag, which is also debatable.

This is the end of 1001 Albums Released Between 1956-1992 That You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not.

Clearly, it’s a cumbersome title and a moot observation, but my point is very simple. We are leaving (and in some ways, have already left) the analog era of popular music. That’s incredibly important, in two somewhat related ways.

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8 Comments

    1. Who, me? Or the writing. And you used not one but three exclamation points. What am I supposed to do with that, Mario? Give me something to work with, Cap’n. Thanks for participating.

  1. I’ve really enjoyed reading all your posts on AYMHBYD. I wish you’d done more of them into the 90s and this century… Any chance of reviving your project?

    1. Thanks for reading, Lisa. I forget that sometimes people actually read my stuff. It pleases me to hear you’ve enjoyed the series. As for a continuation project, I thought about it, but there are contingencies. The 56-91 section was somewhat easy to accomplish, given that I’d heard somewhere in the vicinity of 70%+ of the records in question; thus, listening was not always a chore; and I could just skip what I was already familiar with (if necessary). The problem is, as mentioned in the article, I didn’t completely stop listening to new music in 1991, but I stopped caring about new music. At some point around the turn of the century, I was too far behind to catch up. So, I haven’t heard 95% of the records on the AYMH list from 91-present. In many cases, I haven’t heard a note of their music. And that means I’d have to genuinely listen to far more records in the second phase.

      It would be fun, but I can’t do it for free, you know? I don’t love the idea enough to sacrifice my paid freelancing work in order to pursue it, which is not coincidentally my M.O. for posting stuff here. But since you asked, I will reconsider the idea. Maybe I could do a significantly stream-lined version…

      Again, thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate the motivation to continue.

  2. I just discovered your series today while looking for a quick copy-n-pasteable version of the Dimery list (I hate typing but I end up doing tons anyways). This is really great, I honestly wish you would have gone in deeper on every number, but I understand that the dings were the only ones which really needed clarifying. Straight up, this is going to save me so much time! Just the comment about Getz leading to Kenny G – effing gold. Thanks for your epic work habit, this coming from a person who has spent years analyzing both Stockhausen and Allan Holdsworth for some blog which will probably get deleted with the rest of digital information in the next era…

    1. Right on, Ed. Thanks for the kind words. I’ve been thinking about re-visiting this piece and actually following through with the 92-present era albums. I’m sure there’s an updated list somewhere. Maybe not. Anyway, it might be cool to – at least – play catch-up into the 2010s. Time is money though. I’m a full-time freelancer, so every tick-tock is precious. Thanks again. By the way – you have a music blog? Send it my way! I’d love to see it. Just the fact that you even know Allan Holdsworth gets my attention. And also, if you have something you might want to rock up on BSM, of course, let me know.

      1. Do I have a music blog? Oh man… I don’t want to swamp you with the results of my OCD music-analysis syndrome, but here’s my Holdsworth blog/history/reference:
        https://threadoflunacy.blogspot.com/

        Here’s my Stockhausen project which I humbly submit to be the single best reference work on Stockhausen in existence – in print or on the web:
        http://stockhausenspace.blogspot.com/

        I have about 12 more of these things but check out the “Other blogs/Resources” tabs on my blogs. Regarding rock, I started a Hendrix analysis blog but essentially ran out of gas after the Band of Gypsys (which alone covers 3 releases….).
        https://rsexp.blogspot.com/

        I’m seriously considering doing a “Best Guitar Albums 1966-77” blog, as I’ve been making a list and auditioning other peoples’ lists for ideas….if I think I have something appropriate for BSM I’ll let you know.

        Again, still going through your “1001…Not essays” and I enjoy your frank (snarky) style. I’ll probably add commentary on the individual essays at some point.

      2. Amazing! I dig your analytical approach. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an in-depth look at Holdsworth. That’s tight. Probably going to tuck into that Hendrix blog – very interesting. Band of Gypsys is not my favorite record of late era Jimi – I like Cry of Love – but it’s all sort of melting together. Loads of informative stuff, Ed. Rock on, and see you ’round!

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