Editor's Note: Cannon Fodder | June 2023 | Editor's Note | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
click to enlarge Editor's Note: Cannon Fodder | June 2023
Album artwork for Blawan's Dismantled Into Juice.

This is really only half a column. Actually, it's closer to four-tenths if I do the math. (I did the math.) I'm in the process of listening to, in descending order, the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" as determined by the editors of Rolling Stone. I started this project in early April. I average four to five albums a day, five days a week. (I take off on weekends.) I listen while I'm here at my desk at Chronogram HQ. As of May 19, I'm on Al Green's I'm Still in Love with You (#306), which I have paused because Green's groove is too distractingly sexy and I need to make this half a column happen before 5pm. Given the pace I'm at, I should be listening to the number one greatest album of all time by Labor Day. (I'm guessing number one will be either Sgt. Pepper's or Pet Sounds. And no, I didn't look—that's my one rule. I'm trying to build suspense here!)

The reason I embarked on this sonic odyssey was threefold: I was bored of the recursive loop of my own taste, feeling alternately too busy and too lazy to seek out new music, and being nowhere near cool enough to like the uber-hip music that Pitchfork recommends. (I recently tried to listen to Dismantled into Juice, pictured above, a recent release by Berlin-based producer Blawans, but rat-a-tat electronica tracks like "Body Ramen" sound like they were made with dyspeptic machines in mind. Note to Blawans: Let the machines make their own music. They'll need something to do once AI turns on us and wipes us out.)

Listening to the RS 500 is also a form of auto-didacticism. Would I ever have sat through Alice Coltrane's dreamy jazz opus Journey in Satchidananda (#446)? Probably not. I might never listen to it again, but it's clearly stuck in my mind like a poppy seed between a canine and bicuspid. I'll likely dislodge it later. The list is a way to encounter old friends, like Tom Waits's Rain Dogs (#357) and Bon Iver's For Emma, Forever Ago (#461), as well as get schooled in artists I was never exposed to, like West Coast rap group the Pharcyde (Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, #482), Nigerian juju master King Sunny Ade (The Best of the Classic Years, #465), and psychedelic Kraut-rockers Can (Ege Bamyasi, #454). The list is the older brother I never had, giving me essential insider intel. I guess the internet is everyone's older brother now. And Big Brother as well.

When I started—inauspiciously, in my opinion, with Arcade Fire's turgid Funeral (#500)—I didn't think I'd stick with it. Admittedly, I don't have a great track record with this kind of thing. Ten years ago, I set out to hike the 35 Catskill high peaks and become a badge-wearing member of the Catskill 3500 Club. After bagging 15 peaks that summer with my bestie Shazam, my motivation stalled out. The dog was more than willing, but I lost the desire to drag my ass up one rocky hillside after another that more often than not lacked a scenic vista at the top. I mean, why even build the thing if it ain't got a view?

I feel like I may just see this RS 500 project through, however. For one thing, I'm not doctrinaire about it, and I've skipped a couple Neil Young albums because his catalog is no longer available on Spotify. (Can't blame Neil for hating the Joe Rogan Vaccine Misinformation Experience, brought to you by Spotify.) Number two: I can't shut up about it, and people are now keeping up with my musical journey, asking me what number I'm up to currently and what I listened to that day.

Since you asked, here's today playlist: Wire's Pink Flag (#310); Joy Division's harrowing Closer (#309); Brian Eno's first solo album, Here Come the Warm Jets (#308); and Sam Cooke's greatest hits compilation Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964 (#307). A pretty typical day, the albums hopscotching genres and decades.

I should probably say something about the history and methodology of the RS 500. Originally published in 2003, the list was updated in 2012 and again in 2020. (As you might imagine, it's a popular feature, with the list getting 63 million views in 2019 alone. Ranking art is as silly as hats on snakes, but we love it anyway.) The magazine's methodology: Ask 300 musicians, producers, critics, DJs, and record label execs for their 50 favorite albums of all time. Per Rolling Stone: "Votes were tabulated, with the highest-ranked album on each list receiving 300 points, the second highest 290 points, and so on down to 44 points for number 50. More than 3,000 albums received at least one vote." Among the cognoscenti were everyone from Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan and Ani DiFranco, to David Fricke and Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman. Even the Edge and Adam Clayton from U-fucking-2 weighed in.

I've discovered some really delightful songs along the way thus far, like LA punk band X's cover of The Door's "Soul Kitchen" (Los Angeles, #320) and reggae stalwarts Toots and the Maytals covering John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," with Toots changing the lyrics from "West Virginia" to "West Jamaica." Toots is my hero. I've also listened to some deeply forgettable stuff, like the Stone Roses' The Stone Roses (#319). Sorry, they weren't saving rock and roll. We'd have to wait for The Strokes for that. (I assume the band's 2001 debut, Is This It is on the list.) There was also the day that I spent listening mostly to the Magnetic Field's nearly three-hour-long 69 Love Songs (#406). Guess how many songs are on the album? Not a bad record, just a lot of one flavor, like eating a 22-ounce ribeye.

Because I'm listening on Spotify, I get to see how popular these canonical works of art are. For instance, let's compare a track from Billie Holiday's Lady in Satin (#317) and Billie Eilish's When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? (#397). The lead track off Holiday's 1958 classic has a respectable 18.5 million listens. "Bad Guy," released by Eilish in 2019, has 2.2 billion listens. My hunch is that we'll still be listening to Billie Holiday in a hundred years, not Billie Eilish. Or not. It may just be the machines listening to Dismantled into Juice in the 22nd Century.

Brian K. Mahoney

Brian is the editorial director for the Chronogram Media family of publications. He lives in Kingston with his partner Lee Anne and the rapscallion mutt Clancy.
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