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Revelations–Music Criticism

May 12, 2008

As I began my *fun* endeavor to listen to all of the albums on the 1001 greatest albums of all time list, It occurred to me to a) question who the hell made this list and b) question who the hell I think I am to give myself the authority to judge these albums.

So instead of spending the last week or so listening to the albums and writing about them as I did for the Sinatra album (April 30), I’ve been reading books on music criticism, trying to find out a little bit more of what music is all about and why exactly it is so indispensable to our society that people actually devote quite a lot of energy toward rating and ranking albums, and exactly what I’m supposed to be considering as I attempt to rate and rank these albums.

here are my discoveries thus far:

1) These lists (top 20 albums of all time, top greatest artists, etc etc) are all the same. Every single one of them includes Sgt. Pepper and the White Album, Dark Side of the Moon and/or the Wall, Zepp IV, Pet Sounds, LA Woman…etc etc. I’m sure you can probably fill in the rest.

2) Just because the Beatles top every list known to man doesn’t mean they’re the greatest artists of all time. Nor does the fact that Michael Jackson’s Thriller sold 50million copies automatically make him the greatest artist of all time. The worth of music is not really defined by what some egocentric, industry-controlled critics think, or how it represents its time period and the context in which it was made, or how many records were snatched up by the (overwhelmingly ignorant) public, or even how much the album or artist inspired others in the field. When you sit down and judge a piece of work for yourself, all that matters is what YOU hear when you turn on your CD player, and what that album means to you personally. As one author pointed out, for those who love Punk music, the Ramones are going to be much more important than the Beatles, and for those who love hip hop Run-DMC is more influential than Jimi Hendrix.

3) Along those lines, if you listen to Bob Dylan and find that he seems overrated to you, it is ok–you don’t have to like him! Just like many are abandoning the idea of having a single canon of great literature (all written by white European males…you know…) we ought to also abandon the idea of having a single canon of music. For as many people who actually think Sinatra was a fabulous artist, there are also people who strongly dislike him and have good reasons for doing so. If something is tauted as a great piece of music but doesn’t do anything to you, so what? You don’t have to agree that it is a great piece of music. Go ahead–admit you find it boring and uninspiring and conservative. Whatever. be rebellious and think differently. After all, isn’t that what Rock and Roll is all about?! They don’t call it the devil’s music for nothin’.

I think all to often we get pulled into the idea that there are certain artists and albums that are the “greats” and anyone who knows anything about music likes them. And in order to truly appreciate music, you have to like these albums. I don’t think it is truthful to think that way. I do believe there was a lot of good music made in past decades, but I also think there is still a lot of good music being made now (contrary to popular opinion) that is discounted and overlooked by those who are overrun with nostalgia and waste their lives living in the past. More than ever, I think my project to listen to all 1001 albums is incredibly important because it does give me a chance to explore and discover a wide variety of albums ranging from the 1950s through the present day, and covering a wide variety of genres. It also gives me a chance to think critically and carefully about each one, decide for myself its importance, and then present my ideas to you and give you a chance to think about it for yourself as well. Now, I know my project isn’t unique in concept, but nevertheless I hope that I will be able to present something to the world-whether it be a new perspective or a fresh opinion, or maybe just a few words that encourage you to try something you might not have tried before. Maybe I won’t have anything to offer you. I guess that is ok too. All that really matters to me is that I’m learning something, and I’ll be able to walk away from this project feeling satisfied with my work.

Alright, enough chatting from me–I’m out. Rock On, y’all!

~Jenn

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