The Silliness of Ranking Music

  • Its pretty simple. I picked albums and songs I like. I consider myself an "album guy". I like albums that play well as a unit, as opposed to albums with great songs, that otherwise have filler, weak moments, inconsistent styles, or tend to drag. An example of the latter might be Black Market Music by Placebo. When I first heard this album, I figured it was easily a top 50 album. There is so much great material on it. The problem is that it doesn't close strong, drags, and has too much filler. It still managed to come in at about #109, so it is worth picking up. This isn't to say that there are not great songs on these albums; in most cases there are. More importantly, tho, the weak moments are rare, brief, and work in the context of the albums, and the great songs don't overly overshadow the other moments.

  • As of 12/31/03, the AMG had 234,965 rock albums in its database. It would take 20 years of continuous 24/7 listening to hear all of this material just once. I'm lucky if I've heard 2% of it, so, despite being open minded and going out of my way to hear stuff off the beaten path, we are victims of label, radio station, and other social filters. This is sad, but this is life. And while there is plenty of obscure stuff that made the list, I've found in my listenings that most obscure stuff, in terms of percentages, is obscure for a reason.

  • Critics are often comittees who pick albums they have to pick. I pick albums that move me. Its more fun that way; I'm free to embarrass myself whilst critics must put aside personal taste. Not that the critics aren't smart people, but why to we keep seeing such mediocre to very good, but not great albums such as Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, London Calling, Nevermind, etc. on these lists?

    The reason is that these are breakthru albums, albums that opened a new style of rock to a wider audience. That doesn't make them great, just historically significant. These albums tend to get picked. Nevermind, for example, has one good song and lots of mediocre material that is no different but perhaps a cut above anything else that was going on in the alternative universe at the time. But that one song ushered in grunge/alternative to a mass audience and killed the mass audience's hair metal. But I don't think the album plays (nor has it aged), that well. The overplay of its material hasn't helped.

    So, these albums look good compared to their peers in the same style, because there aren't many peers in that style, and seem refreshing to what is popular (and hence stale). I think that is why they get picked; they seem better in a relative sense at the time. But in an absolute sense, I don't think they are great, nor compare well to the wider universe of rock albums outside their style, especially in more established styles. When I pick, I ignore style, so this effect doesn't help an album.

    When you think about it, a mature style will offer better material than a new style, or the first breakthru album in that style, as there are more artists (bigger talent pool), and more time of experimentation, growth, and refinement. That explains my picks of Iced Earth, for example, absolute masters of a refined, yet dead end or out of favor style, and why great material like this is overlooked by those who have to make a living in the music biz.

    I call this whole concept the "Beatles Effect" -- great and popular against peers and circumstance.

  • Being overplayed hurts. If an album or song has been so played to death that it has lost its magic, it falls down or off the charts. That is unfortunate, but it may indicate "failing the test of time". I'm not sure if truly great material can be played ad nauseum and remain truly great. Some of these albums I've played a ton, and they are still there, so they have survived against their weaker, overplayed peers.

  • For material to be considered, it must be listed in the AMG under "Rock", or, if listed under another genre, have at least one style that is in the rock genre (e.g., Folk/Folk Rock; World/Worldbeat). In these cases, the styles are fusions that use rock structures and arrangements to enough extent to be recognizable as rock music. I like lots of other music in other genres (most notable Celtic), but did not wish to go beyond rock for this. It is hard enough comparing against styles; rating across genres is too much.

  • All albums are the original CD versions (or vinyl where no CD edition is available) with the original track listings. Lately, the record labels have been reissuing some of these albums with lots of bonus tracks, sometimes alternates takes, mixes, and outtakes of the same songs on the albums. While there are often rare gems in these extra tracks, I tend to think that these additional tracks dilute the quality of the original recording, and are not exactly what the artist intended, so I ignore these versions, and recommend seeking out the original, pure versions, unless the sound improvement of the reissue is worth the additional cruft of all the filler that drags out the album. In most cases, these reissues would not make the top 100 cut, as I am extremely intolerent of cruft, drag, and filler.

  • I debated a bit whether to allow compilation albums. In general, I don't particularily care for compilation albums; they often don't play well, as the material is brought in from different times in the artist's development. However, if a compilation album sounds good and plays well as an album, why not include it? For example, C5's compilation of Caravan sounds so well as an album, and sounds like it could have been recorded in one session. The bottom line is that it is great, so it should be on the list. Allowing compliations also eliminates ambiguous situations such as what is Gordon by Barenaked Ladies, or Days of Purgatory by Iced Earth.

    I did have a couple rules: no box sets (must be 2 discs or less), and must be by the same artist (with compilations of a band and its principal member's solo material being ok).

  • The number after the date in the album listing is the highest chart position achieved by the album on the main Billboard chart of the time. 31 albums did not chart, leaving 69 to chart at #200 or better. Of those, 55 charted at #100 or better, 35 of those managed to make the top 40, 21 made the top 10, and 7 reached #1.

  • There is obviously a lot of great music out there that did not make the cut. I thought very long about making it a top 200 album list; the material is certainly out there, but I decided limiting at 100 forced harder decisions, and thus makes the list stronger.

  • These lists were put together 12/31/2003.

  • Please don't e-mail me asking me to sell or rip any of my albums.