Product: All-Time Top 1000 Albums - book
Author: Colin Larkin
Company: Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0-7535-0493-6
Approx. cost: MSRP 27 $/€
Reviewer: David Holgate - TNT UK
Published: September, 2003
The true audiophile is a music junkie. That's why we spend hours finding, fixing, tweaking, upgrading, and generally nurturing our gear. It's all for the big moment when we power up and
then relax to listen carefully. As the music hits the spot, we experience that
moment of bliss, and know that all our attention to detail has been
worthwhile--we can hear just how great this music is.
The only snag is that we start dreaming about all the other music out there that might be even better than this. Imagine a bigger high--all we need to do is find it. And that's a problem, because "it" is different for each of us. The next thing to send you into audio nirvana is out there, and if it's on vinyl it's probably affordable, but where? How are you to find it? Even if your local music store has listening facilities, the tackiness of the headphones can put you off! Again, if you're a vinyl-lover, the chances are you have to buy some of your stuff by mail order--no chance then to hear it first.
Help is at hand in the form of 1,000 pointers to the good stuff in Colin Larkin's marvellous guide. Imagine it: 1,000 suggestions, ranked in order of the votes cast by a couple of hundred thousand informed music lovers of all kinds and ages. Whether or not you care where these albums stand in his list, what makes this book so valuable is Larkin's ability to write entertainingly and provocatively about each album. He has the ability to sum up matters, accurately and concisely, leaving readers eager to check the albums out for themselves. Here are a few examples:
"A gigantic leap from the frail folky to a major writer of breathtaking depth." (Joni Mitchell's For the Roses)
"Pretty much the definitive soundtrack to the US urban environment of the early 90s, Dre's choppy soundclash mix-and-dash approach (and prodigious sampling of P-Funk era black music) founded a whole new genre, G-Funk. It also launched a few careers that should have been stillborn." (Dr Dre's The Chronic)
"If this is modern day rock and roll, then the 80s were almost worth living through. A spiffing 42 minutes full of glorious riffs." (Everclear's Sparkle and Fade)
"Its sales and chart position are an insult--this is a sublime record of gigantic proportion." (The Beach Boys' Sunflower)
I could go on quoting all night, but when I look at what he says about The Band, I want to stop reading and go and listen to it again. And that's the point of this book.
Larkin is best known as the editor of a whole range of guides to various areas of popular music as well as the comprehensive, multi-volume Encyclopaedia of Popular Music (volume
by volume reviews to come). This means that he has the background to offer
informed comments on each album, comments that usually make you want to know
Apart from a black and white album cover photo with the album title, artist name and release date, he also provides track listings. It's been carefully and accurately prepared too. I only found one typo (Janis Joplin's name is not listed as the artist for Pearl). He also notes the position of these albums in relation to his last two polls, a useful indicator of whether the album is a long-standing people's favourite, or just the flavour of the month. There is no snobbery about which decade is the best here: the albums selected come from every decade from the 50s to the 90s.
What makes this book of lists stand out from the crowd, is that it is also a book of loves. Many of the albums listed here are close to Larkin's heart, and therefore enthusiastically recommended to others. Some of his favourites, such as David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name and Moby Grape's first album, have gained whole new audiences just on the basis of his enthusiasm for them. Equally, he makes clear which albums he won't be asking to have played at his funeral! But, he lists and discusses them because they are special to others. If we don't know the album, this gives us the chance of investigating for ourselves.
The heart of the book is his personally annotated list of the 1,000 albums. The first ten are given a page each, the next forty half a page. It's three to a page from fifty to one hundred and then down to four to a page for the rest of the book.
Apart from this main section, there are a number of other tasty bits to browse through. After some statistical analysis of his data ranking the artists, decades and genres with the most votes, we get a whole range of top fifty lists according to genre, and some great suggestions from Larkin for albums that should be there. On a personal note, I am sad that folk as a genre just fails to get enough votes for Larkin to list the top 50 folk albums and provide a list of forgotten folk gems. Perhaps this omission could be rectified in the next edition, if only because folk music is one of the important roots of popular music and shouldn't be dismissed just on the basis of numbers.
Overall, I appreciate Larkin's willingness to stick his neck out and say what he likes. At the back, following his personal list of all-time top 100 singles, he provides a table of the all time top five albums by one hundred key artists.
This review is of the 3rd edition, published in 2000. A new one is due out soon as he promises to bring out a new edition every two years as long as there continues to be a market for it.
I owe my return to music to the pocket version of the previous edition. It was so useful that I bought this 3rd edition as soon as it came out. Three years later, the pages are thumbed, torn and stained. It's probably not my all-time favourite music reference book, but I think it was £16.99 well spent. Go on, get hold of a copy! Then check out your music collection and see what you're missing.
© Copyright 2003 David Holgate - www.tnt-audio.com