Editor-in-Chief Mike Mettler's Top 50 Albums of All Time
As I noted in one of the five entries I wrote for our Top 50 Albums of All Time list (actually, I also penned three of the uncredited entries for albums 41-50 - see if you can guess which ones once our master list posts), I became an audio journalist to extol the virtues of great-sounding recordings. Reading the music coverage in magazines like our predecessor, Stereo Revie, as well as Musician and High Fidelity - and specifically album reviews written by the likes of Lester Bangs, David Fricke, Bill Flanagan, Steve Simels (hi Steve!), and Ken Richardson (hi Ken!) - schooled me on how recording technology, musicianship, and emotion all need to come together to forge great music. But make no mistake - it's not all about clinical perfection. Deploying technology for technology's sake is a hollow pursuit when it comes to making, and listening to, music. The human element must be present, and felt, whenever you cue up a CD or LP (or, okay, fine, even an MP3 file) if you truly want to connect with what you're hearing.
And if there's one thing I know about lists like these, it's that everybody has an opinion about them. We've already gotten a ton of responses, ranging from "Congrats! This is what Rolling Stone has tried to do several times, with limited success" to "How old are you guys anyway?" to "That was the dumbest list of records I have ever seen." And you know what? It's all good. What the contents of our e-mailbag proves is that the S&V readership is passionate about music and how it sounds - passionate enough to wanna fight about it.
Like many of the dozen writers/contributors/staffers who voted for the Top 50, I wrestled with my choices. Constantly. I changed them again and again, wondering what I may have left out, what was too high up, what was too low. While on a business trip in Chicago back in July, I spent almost an entire day in front of a computer screen, just shuffling and revising the order, continually saying to myself, "No, wait, that's gotta be on there, and that's gotta be on there, and that's gotta be on there." When I took my hands off the keyboard long enough to see that my list had ballooned to 220 entries, that's when I had to say no mas.
One thing I realized pretty early on was that my list was heavily skewed toward what are genearlly considered "classics" - that is, most of my entries came from the '60s and '70s. Given that we were taking the long view here - it is a rock-centric "All Time" list, after all - albums that have stood the test of time and made indelible marks on music, recording and production techniques, and the culture at large have to be on the main list, IMO. More recent releases need the proper distance of time and perspective in order to gauge their true impact. Some of us call this the "Arrested Development" syndrome. Not to knock Speech and his Atl/Southern hip-hop crew, but 3 Years, 5 Months & 2 Days in the Life Of. . ., the 1992 album that spawned "Tennessee" and "Mr. Wendal" - and one that topped many a critic's best lists that year - hasn't exactly held up in the interim.
What are the names of more "current" albums that didn't make my Top 50 that have a chance to move up in the future, you ask? Okay, I'll note a few: Porcupine Tree's Deadwing (#66), Rage Against the Machine's self-titled debut (#96), Secret Machines' Now Here Is Nowehere (#117), My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves (#137), the White Stripes' Elephant (#143), Franz Ferdinand's self-titled debut (#210), Jeff Buckley's Grace (#215), and Green Day's American Idiot (#219).
Anyhow, that's just a taste of what is and what may someday be. Meanwhile, over the course of the next week or so, I will incrementally count down from 50 to 1 (an approach that will at least make reader Michael Angus happy) and comment on each album's impact and merit, along with any relevant personal anecdotes. Until then, happy listening.