The whole thing is preposterous, I know. Music appreciation, like 90% of all things material or otherwise related to humanity, is highly personal and exclusively subjective.
Some person just paid $300 million for a Gauguin painting. The world gasps at his extravagance. Perhaps in the buyer’s mind, it’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened in his life. Maybe acquiring Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?) is the sum, pinnacle, and apogee of his existence.
If you haven’t read the introduction to this essay, you might be wondering exactly what’s going on here. In another previous post, 100 Greatest Rock Songs of All-Time, I declared that Best Of lists are inherently worthless. It is, after all, the opening line of the post.
While I recommend having a look-see at this particular introduction, the gist of it can be framed thusly.
There’s an attractive coffee table book entitled 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die—basically an illustrated list—which has spawned an entire niche of Shit You Must Hear/See/Do Before You Die. Anyway, 1001 Albums is primarily focused on pop and rock albums from 1955 to the present, which happens to be right up my alley, or at least, circling my cul-de-sac.*
* This is neither an endorsement nor condemnation of the book. It exists, that’s all I’m saying. Also note that I’ve never actually owned the book, either, but I have accumulated several hours of concentrated browsing while camped out in Reference aisles of bookstores. Therefore, the book has been in my hands.
Following a period of review and self-evaluation, I came to the conclusion that a certain proportion of albums on the list were not exactly essential listening—in my mind—and if someone were to endeavor to hear all 1001 albums before they die, they might come to the same conclusion: At least one-third of said albums were not something they needed to hear before they died. Please note that the introduction explicitly recognizes the inherent solipsism of the above statement.
Nevertheless, this essay will attempt to delineate the Must Hear albums from those that may or may not be necessary, while maintaining the spirit of the book, which is genuinely (and admirably) geared toward increasing one’s knowledge and appreciation of music. My goal is to revise the list to 666 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. That’s it.
Of course, I’m going to give reasons and examples along the way. There is very little in my life, aside from writing, that’s done (or said) without motivation. For example, [also in the introduction], I boldly claimed that your life would still be complete if you hadn’t heard Metallica’s And Justice For All (1988). And if I were the reader, I’d want to know why. Consequently, I’m more than prepared to explain; you’ll just have to wait until we get to that part of the list.
About three days into this project, I started having conversations with myself about how and why someone would be bothered to spend weeks writing such an admittedly negligible essay. Invariably, the topic would reverse directions, and soon I was asking myself why anyone would be bothered to read it.
After sitting through yet another previously unknown early-1960s live album recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival, it occurred to me that while I was certainly listening to these albums in their entirety, I wasn’t really getting that old “album” experience, and the reasons for this absence of experience are fairly obvious, but I’m going to point them out, just in case.
First of all, the delivery method has changed dramatically. I’m listening to music on a computer, versus a turntable (or even a CD player); hence, there are half a dozen logistical contingencies related to place and setting. Second, the album itself is virtual; it doesn’t really exist, i.e. I don’t own most of the records I listen to.**
** Technically, I own a shitload of vinyl records, and I used to own a fucking boatload of records, but due to circumstances both beyond and within the limits of my control, those records have now been “set free.” Therefore, this is by no means an endorsement of my current method for listening: streaming on YouTube. Additionally, when there is something I really must have in my collection, I’ll buy it from iTunes or—gasp!—a record store. Illegal downloading is, well, illegal and unethical for two things. And despite Metallica not always living up to my “standards of metal,” they were completely right about Internet piracy. At this point, you can’t even give away your own music.
Finally, my attention span is about half of what it was 20 years ago, when I would come home from work and make a conscious decision about what album to put on while making dinner. Selecting a record was just as important, in some cases much more important, than what television show I might watch later, or what book I might read before going to bed, and equally meaningful as what I would be having for dinner. In my life, I would listen to albums the way people today download entire seasons of Breaking Bad from Netflix and watch each episode in a three-day marathon, pausing only for trips to the bathroom and paying the pizza delivery guy.
That last difference in experience is the crux of the 1001 gambit.
If the ultimate goal is to increase your knowledge, perspective and appreciation of popular music, the easiest way to deal with this Must Hear deal is so simple it’s almost dumb. Almost every major artist has a Greatest Hits collection, and in many cases, it’s what you wind up listening to. But it’s a total cop-out and precisely why a book like 1001 Albums has to exist. I don’t want to sound like an Old Man, but the art of listening to an album has been hijacked by time. It’s one thing to say, “Yes, I’m familiar with Pink Floyd’s work.” But it’s quite another thing to say, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn is by far [Pink Floyd’s] best album.”
We now begin parsing the list in chronological order.
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
Bold black (unformatted text) indicates agreement with the book
Blue bold italic indicates MUST HEAR BEFORE YOU DIE
Albums You Must Hear From the 1950s…Or Not
Frank Sinatra – In The Wee Small Hours (1955)
Duke Ellington – Ellington At Newport (1956)
Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
Frank Sinatra – Songs For Swingin’ Lovers! (1956)
Miles Davis – Birth Of the Cool (1956)
Ooh, this not a good sign, or is it? Two out of the first six albums get cut, supporting my contention that a third of these albums are not Must Hear stuff. Relax. It’s a long fucking list. The problem here is Sinatra and Davis with two albums apiece, which is unnecessary. I’m not kidding.
First of all, Frank Sinatra hated rock n’ roll, which he said was, quote, “sung, played, and written for the most part by cretinous [sic] goons. It manages to be the martial music of every side-burned delinquent on the face of the earth.” End quote.
Sigh. What a dick. But you still need to hear at least one Sinatra album all the way through. I don’t know why, you just do. But In the Wee Small Hours is not it. Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! isn’t a better listen, but I’m partial to album titles with stupid punctuation, especially an exclamation point.
As for Davis, Birth of the Cool isn’t quite as good as Kind of Blue (1959, #22), and doesn’t feature John Coltrane on sax. I dunno. Maybe it’s impossible to compare them. It’s fucking trumpet music, man; a bunch of tappity-tap-tap-SQUAWK-SCREECH-more-tappity-tap. Plus, Birth of the Cool a smug title. I’m giving it the axe. Try and stop me.
Louvin Brothers – Tragic Songs Of Life (1956)
There’s a better than average chance that you haven’t heard of the Louvin Brothers, and there’s an even better chance that you’ve never heard their second album, Tragic Songs of Life, which covers so much musical ground – folk, gospel, hillbilly, and bluegrass—it might be the only country record you would need to hear for almost another decade, which also explains why you can skip that Marty Robbins nonsense, too (see #21). In fact, and I write this without a trace of hipster irony, if you get a genuine kick out of Tragic, I highly recommend Satan Is Real (1959).
Suggested alternatives: One of the following artists of the era that unbelievably DO NOT have a record on the list:
Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Jackie Wilson, Art Blakely, John Fahey, Ornette Coleman, Bill Haley and His Comets, or Nat King Cole
But on with the program….
Count Basie – The Atomic Mr. Basie (1957)
Fats Domino – This Is Fats (1957)
Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard (1957)
Louis Prima – The Wildest (1957)
Machito – Kenya (1957)
Sabu Martinez – Palo Congo (1957)
The Machito record is a perfect example of the editor (Robert Dimery) trying to be inclusive. While Kenya is perfectly good Latin jazz music, I don’t know that you absolutely have to hear entire albums from Louis Prima, Sabu Martinez, Tito Puente and Machito. It’s fucking overkill. Too many deserving artists have been sacrificed to make room for these cats. Where’s Django Reinhardt, for chrissakes? He may have died in 1953, but his record company was still pumping out albums, for instance, Django’s Guitar (1956). Anyway, in this case, I would pick one jazzbo platter (Louis Prima, New Orleans jazz) and skip the other three, unless you have ulterior motives.
Buddy Holly and the Crickets – The Chirping Crickets (1957)
Buddy Holly doesn’t get near enough credit for setting the rock n’ roll template of two guitars, bass, and drums, in addition to making rock music palatable for white audiences, who breathed a collective sigh of relief when they learned that the dude singing “Not Fade Away” was a gangly, four-eyed white boy from Texas.
Thelonious Monk – Brilliant Corners (1957)
Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin (1958)
Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – Jack Takes The Floor (1958)
Jack Takes the Floor is a tough one because I hadn’t listened to the whole thing until very recently, and can’t say I’m in a hurry to do it again. However, if we employ the domino theory: American folk music as we know it probably doesn’t exist if not for Ramblin’ Jack. The previous domino to fall was Woody Guthrie. Fortunately, Jack picked up where Woody left off. If you like folk, you’re going to be all over this like bad breath. If you don’t like folk, cross it off. If you aren’t sure you even know what “folk” is, by all means, give it a spin.
Sarah Vaughan – Sarah Vaughan At Mister Kelly’s (1958)
Sarah Vaughn was arguably the most gifted jazz vocalist of the era, if not for Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Fortunately for us, unfortunately for Sarah Vaughn fans, we’ve just heard Lady in Satin, and Ella’s up next, so I’d personally be jazzed out at this point. As good as Vaughn is, I’d pass on At Mister Kelly’s.
Tito Puente & His Orchestra – Dance Mania Vol. 1 (1958)
We’ve already discussed (briefly) Tito Puente, but Dance Mania is something you might put on as background music if you were hosting a dinner party with a Spanish tapas theme. Thanks for inviting me. Food is great! Listen, would you mind explaining to me how the fuck this list does not contain any Chuck Berry? How is that possible?
Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out (1959)
They say Brubeck’s Time Out is the first jazz record to sell a million copies, and I say it’s got two sweet jams and the rest is filler. I dunno. It’s not the worst record you could put on while doing the dishes. If you dig Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for Peanuts, this record will blow your mind. The first two-minutes of “Blue Rondo a la Turk” are great fun, until it dissolves into rote sax and piano solos over a lumbering bass line. “Take Five” was the big hit and should be part of your vocabulary already.
Ella Fitzgerald – Sings The Gershwin Song Book (1959)
Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs (1959)
Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue (1959)
Ray Charles – The Genius Of Ray Charles (1959)
Net Reduction of Albums for the Period: 6
Suggested alternatives: 0
Running AYMHBYD Total: 1,006
Elvis Presley – Elvis Is Back! (1960)
Everly Brothers – A Date With the Everly Brothers (1960)
Joan Baez – Joan Baez (1960)
You need exactly two minutes and thirty-two seconds of “Silver Dagger” to absorb everything you need to know about Joan Baez. I don’t care if she paid Bob Dylan’s rent for two years; she bores me to tears, like staring at a blank wall. At the same time, no Joan Baez: no Jewel, no Ani DiFranco, no Lisa Loeb, etc. This is one of those records I would search for in cut-out and 99-cent bins, just so I could buy and physically destroy the disc, lest any other poor kid stumbled upon it and said, “Hey, she looks like Devendra Banhart, kind of,” and the kid takes it home and next thing you know, he’s taking guitar lessons, too. The only good Joan Baez record is a non-existent Joan Baez record.
Miriam Makeba – Miriam Makeba (1960)
So-called “world music” is very hit-or-miss. I don’t know about you, but if a cut has vocals in a foreign language, I’m much more inclined to tune out. The music better be something really interesting, or I’m on to the next sound. So it’s kind of nice when you stumble upon a Miriam Makeba, who was much more than simply a singer. You should check her out. I was impressed. [As mentioned in the introduction, I had never heard of Makeba until very recently.] Anyway, she’s known for an infectious little number called “Pata Pata”, which isn’t on this record, but her best work was done with Henry Belafonte, who is not on this list, either as a member of Kingston Trio or as a solo performer, and that ain’t right. So what I’m suggesting here is compromise. Skip this one and have a listen to An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba (1965).
Muddy Waters – Muddy Waters At Newport (1960)
For the majority of his career, like most postwar bluesman, Muddy released double-sided singles. All this changed in 1960 when Chess released Sings Big Bill Broonzy, followed by At Newport, which is a fantastic record, but… The single versions of his greatest hits (“Mannish Boy”, “Hootchie Cootchie Man”, “I’m Ready”, “Got My Mojo Working”, etc.) are far superior to what you’re going to hear on this record. [Note: “Mannish Boy aka Manish Boy” was not performed at Newport, hence, not on the record.] For casual listeners, a singles compilation with the original version of “Mannish Boy” recorded in Chicago on May 24, 1955, is the way to go. But it absolutely has to be that original version of the song; otherwise, you’ll never hear Muddy Waters.
Waters recorded several versions of “Mannish Boy” during his career. In 1968, he recorded and decidedly “rock n’ roll” version for Electric Mud. After he left Chess, it was recorded on Hard Again (1977), produced by Johnny Winter, and the version featured in Goodfellas scene: Last time Henry mixes the coke at Sandy’s place; dinner at the Hill’s with children, Lois, and brother Michael (“Don’t let the sauce stick”).
Bill Evans – Sunday At The Village Vanguard (1961)
I love jazz. Don’t get the wrong impression. But we’re in a major period of transition. Rock n’ roll is here to stay, baby. The Beatles were already starting to create a buzz, Elvis was making movies, American blues artists were touring Europe to sell-out crowds, and you’re not going to hear shit about jazz after 1964. It’s not like it ceased to exist. It ceased to matter. Pretty soon the genre of jazz would splinter like a disposable chopstick. Anyway, that’s an issue for a later entry, and what we may or may not be listening to is probably the greatest traditional jazz pianist of the era. But I don’t know how much piano music you can stomach before you feel like you’re in the atrium of a shopping mall. At the Village Vanguard is, again, one of those records constantly referred to as the “best ever,” and when it comes to jazz trios, you’re skating a very thin margin. Plus, that’s Evans on Kind of Blue.
Jimmy Smith – Back At The Chicken Shack (1961)
Admission: I had never heard of Jimmy Smith until the Beastie Boys sampled his jam “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More, Babe” on Check Your Head (“Professor Booty”, 1992). Chicken Shack is comprised of four long but unbelievably cool jams (the CD has an extra track), and coincidentally, would be the perfect musical segue into one of my personal favorite instrumental records ever made, Green Onions.
Booker T & The MGs – Green Onions (1962)
Ray Charles – Modern Sounds In Country And Western Music (1962)
Shocking, perhaps, to cut Sweet Baby Ray out of the mix, but we’ve already got The Genius Of… (#23), and that’s plenty. Modern Sounds is actually an exceedingly fantastic record, but we could live without it. Neither of these two records contain any of Charles’ biggest hits, by the way, so if you’re itching for some “Hit the Road, Jack” or “Let’s Go Get Stoned”, you’d be better off owning a Greatest Hits collection.
Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd – Jazz Samba (1962)
Charles Mingus – The Black Saint And The Sinner Lady (1963)
One of these two records had to go, and it was literally a coin-toss, since I’ve listened to each record exactly one time, and neither changed my life or my outlook on improvisational jazz. Though it’s debatably a more palatable record, Mingus winds up the keeper, mainly because of a personal distaste for anything samba-related, music and/or otherwise. Plus, Getz shows up later in the collaboration that produced “Girl From Ipanema.”
James Brown – Live At The Apollo (1963)
Does anything else need to be said about this album? No.
Phil Spector – A Christmas Gift For You (1963)
Fuck Phil Spector and Christmas music. Both suck. I am going to scratch every record Spector had anything to do with, except for one. Pay attention to 1970.
Ray Price – Night Life (1963)
If you spend and-slash-or have spent any amount of time in a real-deal, old school dive bar, you know Ray Price like the Colonel knows chicken. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve berated other drunks for playing Sinatra on the jukebox when Price’s Night Life is right next to the Sinatra best-of in the CD carousel. You want to hear something classy? You’re not down with this rock n’ roll shit, Pops? Fine. Start with Ray Price.
Sam Cooke – Live At The Harlem Square (1963)
Cooke’s Harlem Square was a slam-dunk until I realized that we’re not going to be hearing from a busload of great soul singers, starting with Jackie Wilson. At the same time, Cooke was one of the dominoes that made guys like Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye possible. Harlem Square is a fine album, and should stand as a reminder to modern musicians that guys like Sam Cooke just used to get up on stage, some dude would plant a microphone in the middle of the hall, and they’d rip through the set. This is what a live album used to be and is supposed to be. On the other hand, 1001 AYMHBYD tried to pull a fast one on us. While Harlem Square was recorded in 1963, it wasn’t released until 1985. So if you were sitting around in late 1964 thinking, “Damn, Sam Cooke just got shot. I wish he had put out a live album before he died,” well, you were shit out of luck.
Bert Jansch – Bert Jansch (1964)
I’ve said it before but it bears repetition. Jimmy Page, guitar maestro of Led Zeppelin, flat-out stole acoustic guitar riffs from Bert Jansch. Do you recall that sweet picking on “Going to California”? It comes from Jansch’s “Needle of Death”. Are you familiar with the gentle melodies of “That’s the Way”? It’s almost a direct lift of Jansch’s “The Time Has Come.” At some point, Page is going to die, and everybody is going to eulogize him as one of the greatest guitar players of all-time. And nobody is going to mention Bert Jansch. Here’s what Jimmy Page said about Jansch’s first record:
“At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.”
Have a quick listen and see if it sounds familiar. It should:
Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1964)
All right, all right. Take it easy. Chill out. There will be plenty of Dylan headed your way in a couple of years. Actually, the Dylan album you really should hear, Another Side of Bob Dylan (1964) didn’t even make the list.
Dusty Springfield – A Girl Called Dusty (1964)
Dusty Springfield? Haha.
Jacques Brel – Olympia 64 (1964)
You don’t need to hear an actual Brel record because literally every decent cut in his catalog has been covered (and done better) by artists from David Bowie to Belinda Carlisle. Yes, that’s right. The lead singer of the Go-Go’s did an entire album in French, Voila, which includes Brel’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me).” You don’t need to hear that, either, but it is a good song, and a fine example of Brel’s writing prowess. As a performer, his morose chansonnier (singer-songwriter) style of crooning is exactly the type of shit I wish didn’t exist in the first place. Next domino in line: Leonard Cohen.
John Coltrane – A Love Supreme (1964)
Must Hear if there ever was a Must Hear. Listen to Giant Steps, too.
Solomon Burke – Rock ‘N’ Soul (1964)
The Solomon Burke album is sort of a “cool, obscure” selection, and something the serious audiophile would have in his collection, but for the everyman, forget it. Sure, it’s a fun record and you might even wind up liking it.
Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto – Getz/Gilberto (1964)
We’re in for a Fukushima-scale meltdown with all these fucking Latin jazz/samba bullshit entries, I’m just warning you. With Getz/Gilberto, we have officially reached my capacity for “Girl From Ipanema” bossa nova music, and I’m washing my hands of this Stan Getz character. Furthermore, Coltrane just destroyed what was left of saxophone music. Put it this way, no Stan Getz: no Kenny G.
The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones (1964)
This is bound to rankle some feathers, but you don’t need to start listening to the Stones’ albums until they started writing their own jams, which didn’t happen until 1966’s Aftermath.
And another thing. Chuck Berry basically wrote this record. If the Beatles thought enough of him to put “Roll Over Beethoven” on their first record, and the Stones’ very first single (“Come On”) was a Chuck tune, why isn’t Chuck on the list? Because he was a convicted felon? Can’t be. He’s got some company in that department. Because he was allegedly a dirty pervert? Half the fuckers on this list were needle-fiend degenerates. Chuck Berry was rock n’ roll before it existed. I’m not going to listen to this half-assed, second-hand Stones bullshit.
Net Reduction of Albums for the Period: 10
Suggested Alternatives: 1
Running AYMHBYD Total: 997
B.B. King – Live At The Regal (1965)
You read the Muddy Waters entry, right? Same deal here, except B.B. never really had Muddy’s raw magnetism. B.B. was more of a gentleman, I suppose. At any rate, this is as good as any record in his catalog. Shrug.
Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (1965)
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (1965)
OK, here you go, kids. Right here and now is where Bob Dylan starts to earn his keep. Both of these albums should be learned by heart.
Buck Owens & His Buckeroos – I’ve Got A Tiger By The Tail (1965)
If I could recommend a country album to spend an afternoon getting to know, this is it. Aside from the Louvin Brothers, at this stage, country and western music is still Hee Haw, the Grand Ole Opry, and Hank Williams’ rotting corpse in the back of a Buick. And besides, Buck Owens is singularly responsible for the “Bakersfield Sound” that you’re going to be real sick of by the time Merle Haggard puts out his third LP.
Jerry Lee Lewis – Live At The Star Club Hamburg (1965)
Jerry Lee Lewis should have had some kind of recognition about 30 albums back, but we’ll take this one in consolation. The guy might have been a miserable human being, but he brought the Rock. You’d be at a party and someone would say, “Who’s got the Rock?” And Jerry would say, “I do. Want some?” Other cats had a bit more Roll with them, but Jerry Lee brought the Rock, like I’d bring the guacamole dip to your next Super Bowl party. There’d be enough for the whole fucking subdivision, boss. Honestly, I’ve already made my way through Jerry Lee’s catalog several times over, so I won’t be listening to At the Star Club anytime soon, but it’s always with me, way back there in the closet of my musical memories, right next to Glenn Miller, Buddy Rich, and all the artists who won’t make this list for one reason or another.
Otis Redding – Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)
Otis Redding is “my” soul singer. As far as I know, Otis Blue was the only “soul” record my parents owned, and thus, very close to my heart.
The Beach Boys – The Beach Boys Today! (1965)
The Beatles – Rubber Soul (1965)
The Byrds – Mr. Tambourine Man (1965)
The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics (1965)
You may not have heard (of) the Sonics, but you have heard at least two dozen American punk and grunge bands that based their entire shtick on this album, including but not limited to the Dead Boys, the Cramps, Mudhoney, Nirvana, White Stripes, Eagles of Death Metal, the list could go on and on—even the Stooges owe almost everything*** they are to the Sonics. Think of this record as killing 36 birds with one stone.
*** See #74
The Who – My Generation (1965)
13th Floor Elevators – The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators (1966)
Hailing from Austin, Texas, 13th Floor Elevators were the first band to advertise themselves as “psychedelic.” A groovy band, for sure. Roky Erickson is a legend. The Elevators were at the forefront of psychedelic rock, obviously, which is great in theory, but problematic in practice. There’s no doubt in my mind that if they had Sgt. Pepper’s recording budget (and access to Abbey Road), Psychedelic Sounds would have been one trippy experience. As it stands, it’s much more garage rock than anything else. And that’s OK. Just don’t put this on and expect an early blueprint of Dark Side of the Moon, you know?
Bob Dylan – Blonde On Blonde (1966)
This record isn’t the easiest Dylan record to sit through, but there’s enough here to keep my interest.
Donovan – Sunshine Superman (1966)
Not a whole bunch of love for this Donovan cat, either. “Mellow Yellow”? OK. Nifty little tune. When people of the age referenced “hippie music,” this is what they were talking about. And it’s funny to me, but whenever I force myself to re-hear this album, which I do from time to time, I can totally imagine a bunch of British dudes sitting around a flat in Chelsea, listening exclusively to Bob Dylan while learning how to roll joints. At the same time, I picture the Manson Family during their idyllic period, all dressed in white Jesus robes, rolling around in a field of daisies, braiding each others hair and listening to Charlie preach. So Donovan gives me mixed messages, and I’m no longer taking his calls.
Fred Neil – Fred Neil (1966)
Fred Neil is a fine songwriter with a nifty baritone voice, best known for “Everybody’s Talkin’” (made famous by Harry Nilsson, featured in the film Midnight Cowboy), and “Dolphins” (covered by Tim Buckley), but he doesn’t deserve an entire album.
John Mayall’s Blues Breakers – Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton (1966)
John Mayall and Eric Clapton are everything that’s wrong with the Anglo blues movement. These cats didn’t have an original bone in their bodies.
Nina Simone – Wild Is The Wind (1966)
Nina Simone is an intriguing artist, but her shelf life on the turntable is 20 minutes, or exactly one side of Wild is the Wind. Pick one.
Paul Revere & The Raiders – Midnight Ride (1966)
Paul Revere & the Raiders would be interesting if they were the only band to release a record in 1966. Obviously, they were not.
Simon & Garfunkel – Parsley, Sage, Rosemary And Thyme (1966)
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)
The Beatles – Revolver (1966)
The Byrds – Fifth Dimension (1966)
We’re going to get a third Byrds record next year, so I’m suggesting caution at this point. To be brutally honest, I think the Byrds – especially on songs like “Mr. Spaceman” – are dangerously close to being over-rated. Fifth Dimension is definitely an experimental leap in a psychedelic direction, but they didn’t stick the landing.
The Kinks – Face To Face (1966)
Gotta get your Kinks while you can. They’ve got so many great records, they’re bound to get squeezed out down the line. Plus, they were killing it on Face to Face.
The Mamas & The Papas – If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears (1966)
The Mamas & The Papas – The Mamas And The Papas (1966)
When I first saw these two entries, I did a Scooby-Doo double-take. First of all, one M&Ps record is way way way over the threshold of necessity. They have three vaguely different jams (“California Dreamin’, “Monday, Monday”, “I Saw Her Again”) and everything else is a lesser version thereof. You might as well sit through the entire soundtrack to Hair.
Suggested Alternatives: None, really. Take up a hobby. Solve an intricate puzzle. Go for a walk without your iPod. Bake a batch of cookies. Spend the two hours doing something constructive.
The Monks – Black Monk Time (1966)
Remember what I just said about the Sonics? I’m telling you, this record will cut your head off. I don’t even want to talk about it. You must listen to this album. And when you’re done listening, put your head back on your shoulders and read the Monks’ biography. Bad. Ass. Dudes.
Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention – Freak Out! (1966)
The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (1966)
HERE is where you start listening to the Rolling Stones.
The Yardbirds – The Yardbirds aka Roger the Engineer (1966)
Holy Christ! Did I already go on a rant about these British Invasion “blues” bands? Not yet? OK. It’s coming, for sure. Anyway, this Yardbirds record is pretty cool and that’s Jeff Beck on guitar. But I don’t think anybody needs a history lesson here.
4 replies on “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die…Or Not – 1956 – 1966”
’56 to ’66 is probably richer for in terms of jazz and experimental classical music. For rock, all I have to do it seems is remember the Tap doing “Gimme Some Money” and “Listen to the Flower People” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-BYzaDwNoE, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrJlyapt6OY) and those practically slay everything else on the List for that period.
I’d throw in Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” for essentially closing the book on bebop for Kind of Blue to arrive. Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come” and Ayler’s “Spiritual Unity” cover 25 years of post-Coltrane jazz essentially. For classical you could say Stockhausen’s “Mikrophonie I”
(https://youtu.be/EhXU7wQCU0Y?t=103) pretty much covers everything up to Merzbow.
I’m in over my head with jazz. I came up playing jazz drums in school, but quickly tired of tapping along, and moved to guitar. Otherwise, I stick to what I know. Wes Montgomery is really the only jazz I still listen to on a regular basis. Coltrane is phenomenal, but like guitar, I loathe extended saxophone soloing. As for Stockhausen, it’s very interesting to see how far into the future he could see. Some may question it’s value as a listening experience. I made it through 7 minutes of the Mikrophonie video link you sent, mainly to see if anything would happen. Otherwise, it sounds a lot like what’s going on outside my window – which, I suspect, is the point.
The question of long sax or guitar solos is an interesting one. I know at one point Coltrane himself expressed jealousy at some of other jazz tracks where the songs (solos) were short and right to the point. He was like, damn, that cat states in 3 minutes what I need 30 for (3 minutes is short for Trane unbelievably enough). On the other hand, one could say that a solo (especially a truly improvised one) is an act of mining for gold, and the listener is following this quest for the “highs”. For this reason I got really into classical for awhile since I knew that those solo sections (“development” sections) were exactly how long they should be and were all the best parts of the composer’s sketches. I kind of became allergic to noodle-fests of the type you allude to. Lately tho I’ve eased up a bit, just to balance out the landscape.
As for Stockhausen, I guess it’s kind of the same thing. They call it “experimental music”, and that’s a cool name, but it took years before I realized that these are EXPERIMENTS in music making. More than half the time it doesn’t work. It’s like Graham Bell’s first phone or the first iPod. It’s fantastic that it was achieved and led to greater things, but as something to be experienced out of context it can be hit and miss. Having said that, Mikrophonie I has such a nostalgic meaning for me (I even once transcribed it entirely in phonetic syllables for a zine) I can never outright dismiss it. I rarely listen to it, but damn, I can’t deny it’s a “must hear”.
Great point about solos. Having taken up guitar with the sole purpose of writing songs, my attitude has always been if you can’t say it in 16 bars or less, you can’t say it.