Saturday, 15 December 2007

+++++ Intermission +++++

We have reached the halfway point in the countdown, making it as good a time as any to pause for reflection on a number of matters.First off the top of my head, many of you who have been following this countdown (and I hope there are more than I imagine) will have been bemused by my choices on a number of occasions. Only the only day, I got into a discussion with a Dylan fan after I reviewed Time Out Of Mind (#53) quite scathingly. Why, he asked, if I am so critical of Dylan's work, did I plump for that album instead of something like Blonde On Blonde (1966) or Blood On The Tracks (1975)? A few of my choices have been compilations, and there are a few more to come, which many would not count as proper albums and therefore not eligible for the chart.

Sometimes, I admit, the choice comes from ignorance. In the case of Dylan, when I compiled this chart I had had little contact with his earlier work, no great sweeping knowledge of his oeuvre - that album simply happened to be in that position. Other times, my tastes would change as I wrote the entries, either because of new albums coming in or just changing my mind about songs upon closer inspection. It's an interesting process, even for someone without considerable technical knowledge such as I, to go through your music collection and justify to tastes, as if all the world were a jury.

This brings me on to the matter of late entries. I compiled this chart in August 2007, around the date of the first entry, funnily enough. Being a slow writer and an even slower critic, I did not expect to finish it by Christmas, as has become plainly obvious by the fact that, on December 15th, we are only at #51. I had to devise a system therefore to accomodate new music that I would doubtlessly absorb while this rundown was being completed. New albums coming in were scored and examined in the same way as every other, the rating derived by giving each song a score out of 5 and then averaging over the number of tracks. To have included new entries on the chart, as they surpassed existing ones, would have been both unfair and impractical, until it would have gotten to the stage where I had lost count of how many albums I had reviewed because the numbers would not correlate.

Looking at my current music collection - which stands at a meagre 4,165 songs - there are so many records which I have come to in the past few months which I wished I could have included. My fascination with Pink Floyd has led me to the solo work of Roger Waters (and David Gilmour, for entirely different reasons). Once you have experienced the psychosis of The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking (1984) or the acrid, poetic treatise that is Amused To Death (1992), you are compelled to share it. David Bowie's "Heroes" (1977) was another step into the unknown - I have referenced it before but only once you have heard Eno's soundscape on that album do you really get a sense of how important an album it is. Then there is The Blue Nile, whose later efforts - Peace At Last (1996) and High (2004) - are both sublime; alas, too late. Finally, only yesterday I was exposed to Janis Joplin for the first time - I fell in love with Pearl (1971) and am scouring the net for more.

What is more, many will question the omission on my chart of so many albums which are considered 'classics'. Precisely which classic are missing I shall not say, for fear of giving the game away and thereby making the second half pointless. But I will say this. I am a great believer in subjectivity, especially when it comes to music. I don't believe that you can differentiate between songs according to absolute rules of melody, rhythm and production. These are all useful guides in their own right, but if they become the rules they serve only to mechanise music, removing all the life from it and rendering the whole process of music rather anodyne and dull.

What matters to me is what music says to different people. A piece of music, a good album for that matter, should resonate with you, describe you, challenge you and engross you. It is much the same with the choices on my chart. Some of the albums have blown me away at a single listen; others have summed me up at a particular point in my life and thereby have an historical quality; others still are good occassional listeners and mood setters. What connects them all is that they have an emotional resonance, an empathy or shock value, which puts them and keeps them close to my heart. All have their foibles, for there is no such thing as a perfect album - none of the records on here have the coveted '5 out of 5' rating. But these flaws, which become all the more miniscule as we climb, only serve to keep me interested.

The great thing about this is that people can get away with having completely incompatible tastes, both within their own collections and between each other. Some people might have a CD collection crammed to the brim with country & western - the kind of music I shudder to when it comes on. But that's okay - if they can justify their choices, just as I have done in my own small way here, then that's fine. Anything goes for anyone, so long as we accept that we have a right to be different and to disagree.

This chart, then, is not designed to be an all-encompassing, infallible judgement on music - no-one ever has or ever will manage such a feat, which is why these endless polls by the likes of Rolling Stone produce such endless and wonderful debate. This is designed to explain to you, if you will let me, my musical tastes and why these albums mean so much. I chose not to write in a personal tone ('I like this because...') since that might come across as preachy and petty; I like to have a professional air to my work, even if I have no aspirations (as yet) to pursue this field as a career.

Having got that out of the way, we must press on with the chart...

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