As the name of this website hopefully suggests, we few who write for The Film Queue are avid lovers of cinema. However, as is the case with most people, our interests are not limited to the silver screen alone. In fact, a healthy knowledge of all mediums of artistic expression can and will deepen one’s appreciation of any other given work. Art is a continuum in which all practices commune and contribute. And so, with this most heavy-handed of introductions, I implore you to join me in this ongoing series in which I explore music, its contemporary history, and more than a few personal anecdotes.
In this section, I will attempt to answer the questions I believe you will have for me as we begin this series. If I do not adequately address one of your own inquiries, please leave a comment below or contact me via Twitter.
“What are The Lists?”
The Lists, as I have come to refer to them, are Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums (ranked 1 – 500) and 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die published by Universe circa 2005, listed chronologically.
“Circa 2005? So there’s no music from after that year?”
Correct, which means that monumental albums like Radiohead’s In Rainbows or Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy are nowhere to be found on either of these lists, as the version of Rolling Stone’s list that I am working off was also published circa 2005.
“Then why these lists and not something that encompasses all time?”
For that, we’ll have to get into some personal history.
What Ever Happened?
Our story begins in the year 2000 when the new millennium brought with it a sea change. The Y2K bug decimated entire nations, bringing world leaders to their knees, and overthrowing social order. And while none of that is true, it is funny.
In reality, life was as it had been, and whatever social and political upheavals may have been brewing at the time, they were far off the radar of a quiet 4th grader more concerned with grades than girls.
One day, the student teacher who would assist our primary instructor organized a little exercise. I forget the point of the lesson, but it was framed as a census of music fans: on one side stood all the students that preferred rock music, and on the other side, stood those who loved R&B/Hip-Hop. Now, as misguided as it seems now to divide the totality of music into two solitary genres, and as uncomfortable a realization it is that each of those genres has very distinct historical racial identities, what is important for our story is that there was actually a third category a student could place themselves under. When the two genres were written upon the board and we were asked to organize ourselves, I raised my hand for I was at a loss:
“Sir, I don’t like music, where should I stand?”
As laughable as the declaration that I didn’t like music might be, for music has come to define and guide me, it is useful in establishing where I was before The Lists would come to dictate my musical interests. Also, considering the context of the era, it is not so surprising that this would have been my opinion at the time. Computers, and the internet especially, were not as ubiquitous as they are now and so the only access a child like me had to the world of music was MuchMusic (the Canadian MTV), its sister channel MuchMoreMusic, and the occasional CD my parents or siblings would put on over chores or leisure activity. So, it being the year 2000, which as a reminder to those that lived it and a note for those who didn’t, was still practically the 90s, radio waves were dominated by the likes of ‘N Sync, Creed, Destiny’s Child, and the return of Santana featuring Rob Thomas with that fucking song “Smooth”. Suffice it to say, it was not the kind of environment in which a future Bob Dylan fanatic could foster his appreciation for the musical arts.
Eventually, I would get a computer, and with it, internet access.
(Sidebar: Because computers were still seen as somewhat of a luxury in 2003, I had to convince my parents to invest in a computer by telling them it’d make my studies so much easier. I mean, I wasn’t wrong.)
Once the internet, and in large part, The Strokes (but that is a story for another article), opened my eyes to the breadth of music that was available to me, I decided I desperately needed to catch up on everything I’d missed, and for that, I’d need some guidance.
Like A Rolling Stone
Thus, I turned to the publication that was there from the beginning (for pop music/culture as we understand it now, begins in the 60s). In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine published a special issue in which they ranked the 500 greatest albums of all time, and would later publish a related book in 2005 which would become the basis for the first list I would use to begin my collection. Wishing to commit as many of the entries to memory, I painstakingly wrote every entry down across ten pages of graph papered notebook which I would take with me to any and all record stores. Remember, I had just acquired a computer – smartphones were a long way off yet. However, as my collection slowly grew and my musical vocabulary expanded, I came to realize Rolling Stone’s list was deeply flawed.
Perhaps due to its owner’s noted biases, the list seemed to favour a handful of artists, including but not limited to Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin, and in doing so skewed heavily towards rock music of the 60s and 70s. This was a problem. I liked rap, a lot, and The Strokes, who were my favourite band at the time, had proven to me music hadn’t actually gotten any worse in the 90s and beyond, it just went into hiding.
The need for a second list was clear. Luckily, the same year Rolling Stone had published the book version of their list, another book hit the shelves, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, a list that seemed to also serve as a mission statement for this whole endeavour. And so, I picked up pen and notebook once more and took to writing down twice as much as I had before, at home or in class, it didn’t matter, The Lists needed to be written down and completed.
That was twelve years ago now but The Lists remain incomplete. As of this writing, the Rolling Stone list sits at 302 out of 500 albums owned, while the second list sits at 393 out of 1001. Over the course of twelve years, my relationship to The Lists has been defined by all the usual characteristics of any sort of relationship that spans that much time – I have worshipped at its altar, I have forsaken it, dismissed its contents as products of old minds and out of touch ears. But always, in the end, I pick up that gnarled notebook, with its back cover barely hanging on, and its pages slowly yellowing, and continue the quest to cross out each and every entry before I die.
I cannot speak for the future, no one ever can, but I can speak to the present, and I’ve come to see The Lists, not for their contents, which is to say misguided attempts to encompass all of music’s greatest moments and assign them each some arbitrary ranking, but instead see them as the one project I never totally abandoned – the education from which I never graduated but continue to learn from. It was this realization, and the slow, encroaching death of the CD, that I decided it’s time to go all in and aggressively pursue the end to this odyssey.
Music is at once a solitary and communal activity, and for over a decade I underwent this silly quest of mine alone, but for now if not forever, I ask you to join me in this journey, because there’s a lot to learn and I’m more than a little excited to get started.