I’ve got a little list

January 22, 2009

Like Rob Gordon and his shopmates in High Fidelity, one of my musical obsessions is compiling song or record lists. I could rarely narrow things down to “top fives;” the best I can usually do is 10 or 20.

Before the advent of inexpensive home recording and internet distribution, it was possible to have a good idea what the best music was in any category in which you were interested. Record companies could only release so many records, so the total output was somewhat comprehensible. That has changed – for the better, – but keeping track of the “good stuff” has become an impossible task. Radio is a wasteland, print publications narrowcast to lifestyle audiences, and “music television” is extinct.

That leaves the internet as the best source of music information. I rely on Pitchfork for my daily dose of music news and reviews. And, much to my delight, they compile lists. Lots of lists. Every year ends with the top 50 albums of the year (here are the lists for 2008 and 2007). Each decade has a top 100 albums list. And now, they’ve released The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present, as a book, which I immediately bought.

The book is well-written and reasonably comprehensive in its coverage of different musical genres that might be considered “popular music,” the country/western/Nashville axis being a notable exception. There are omissions (insert your favorite band here), and some very goofy attempts to classify songs by genres (yacht rock? skatepunk?), but the list is fundamentally sound.

So what do I do with all of these Pitchfork lists? I compare them to my music library: “got it, got it, need it, got it, don’t want it.” Filling in the holes in my library using the lists as a guide has become a hobby for me.

Try it yourself. Buy the book, or start with these lists:

  1. Top 100 albums of the 1970s
  2. Top 100 albums of the 1980s
  3. Top 100 albums of the 1990s
  4. The 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s

Ultimately, it’s a losing game. There’s always someone out there more knowledgeable than you, probably wearing a “Your Favorite Band Sucks” t-shirt. But you can still have fun and learn about bands you might have never heard.

I’m losing my edge to the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties.

— LCD Soundsystem, “I’m Losing My Edge”

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