Listen to the Music

I’m a culture snob.

There’s no getting away from the fact; I like to think that my tastes are, well, quite frankly, superior to everyone else’s. When it comes to music, film, television, books – anything which might be deemed to come under the column ‘zeitgeist’ (and, yes, I only tend to read newspapers which refer to the world of popular culture as ‘the zeitgeist’) – I believe that my choice of what should be listened to, watched or read is the only definitive list.

Where did this self-belief come from? Who knows. It certainly wasn’t something which I came to after spending time immersing myself in a varied collection of songs and movies. I’m fairly sure that, aged 11, the breadth of my knowledge was narrow. Yet, from as far back as I can remember, I have looked down on those who have made different decisions to me when it comes to their tastes. And I have scoffed at those who think that, at any point, my own taste is perhaps questionable.

Admittedly I’m on firmer ground with movies; over the years I’ve built up a working knowledge, matched with a background in theatre that means I can pull apart a film with at least some sense of critical understanding. Plus I’m always aware of other critics’ views that, to be honest, can colour my own thinking. But I can barely strum a guitar and my voice is certainly nothing special. So why do I think that my musical taste is so much better than everyone else?

In an effort to prove that I’m a man who is willing to push his own narrow preconceptions and attempt the new and unknown in an effort to find something exciting, I have decided to take a trip down the road of the ‘best’ albums ever made. I use the word ‘best’ in inverted commas for the principal reason that I have not been the one to determine whether the album should be on the list. I am at the mercy of other people.

Being a fan of lists, I purchased many years ago a copy of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. A brave title, but one that I have read and re-read many times. And while I know of many of the artists and even the discs they had made, I had never ventured too far into actually putting my money where my mouth was and discovering whether they deserved this accolade. Of course, those were different times and when I first bought the book, it would have cost a small fortune to purchase every album listed on CD. Now, with access to a handy Spotify account, the majority of them are available at the press of a button. So, given my self-proclaimed belief in my musical taste, do I agree with the list? There is only one way to find out…

Over the coming weeks and months (and, quite probably, years), I intend to work my way through the book and listen to every single album (hopefully without dying too soon after the ending). It will be a musical odyssey that will take me around the world, sampling the musical sounds from the 1950s to the present day.

So what are the rules? There aren’t many and, for what they are worth, they’re fairly simple. I must listen to EVERY album in the book. They may not be to my taste. I may already own it and be bored senseless by it. They may last a couple of hours (or, even if they don’t, they may feel like they do). But, nonetheless, I must hear them all – and from beginning to end. So, while I will doubtlessly get to discover some hidden gems that I may never have experienced, I will also have to endure such “classic” artists who I have grown to loathe such as Abba, Sister Sledge and The Smiths (and I’m aware that my dislike of this Manchester group is likely to get me lynched before I’ve even started).

Where possible, I will try to opt for the original album – any ‘bonus’ tracks added after the event will be dismissed. There will be exceptions to this rule; some albums have only been added to the list after an extended cut was released. But for the most part, I want to hear them as I would have done when they were first released (although without the scratches and hisses of the original vinyl).

Finally, I will listen to each album once in completeness, without any distractions. Only then will I will pass on my thoughts – was it worth it? Should people really listen to it before they die? Or is it over-rated nonsense? What really interests me is the context of the albums – what influenced them and how do they compare to other records released at the same time. But ultimately I hope to prove that, from a musical stand-point at least, I have impeccable musical taste.

My edition of the book 1001 Albums To Hear Before You Die is almost 10 years old and, as a result, finishes in 2005. Given that it begins in 1955, I have no problem in not continuing past the final date of the book – a nice round 50 years seems a pretty good number to go for. Besides, my musical knowledge from beyond the turn of the Millennium is pretty dire, and I have no desire to show myself up because I can’t tell my Miley from my Taylor. So this will be a musical journey from 1955 to 2005.

But enough of this chatter. Great music awaits us – along, no doubt, with some dreadful wailings. I will wallow in the depths of those albums which I have listened to and loved for many years; I will stop in wonder as the melodic sounds of unknown tracks wash over me. Heck, I may even learn to finally love The Smiths. So, let us grab our dancing shoes and step back in time, to a moment when the concept of albums had not even begun. Play that funky music…