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The Vinyl Countdown

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The 100 Best Albums of All Time by Toby Creswell and Craig Mathieson, Hardie Grant, RRP $49.95, ISBN 9781742703015, pp256

By John Flannery, Manager, AMA Public Affairs

Putting together a list of the best albums of all time is a big ask and a big task. It is also guaranteed to spark argument and debate among rock music lovers of all ages. And that is probably reason enough to do it.

Who better to craft this colossal ‘mix tape’ of classic hits than veteran music writers, Toby Creswell and Craig Mathieson? Creswell is a former Rolling Stone editor, and both did time editing another iconic music magazine, Juice. They have both written books about music and musicians.

To make the job easier, they limited the genres to “rock and roll and its near neighbours”, while “all time” means something like the last 50 years, and legendary performers like The Beatles and Bob Dylan were only allowed limited entries in the top 100. As it turns out, The Beatles have three and Dylan has two. The only others with multiple entries are Bruce Springsteen (two) and The Rolling Stones (two).  Beatles members, John Lennon and George Harrison, also have a solo entry apiece – Harrison with All Things Must Pass (48) and Lennon with John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (20).

The beauty of this book is that the albums are not necessarily the ones you would expect to be in the list for various artists. This is certainly true for The Beatles. Sgt Pepper’s does not get a mention, with the Fab Four making the cut with Revolver (2), The White Album (18), and Abbey Road (45).

Bob Dylan grabs Number One spot in this fascinating collection with Highway 61 Revisited.  His other entry is Blonde on Blonde (23).

Springsteen scores with Darkness on the Edge of Town (12) and Born to Run (44), which is probably not the order with which these albums are rated by diehard fans of the Boss. The Stones make the cut with Sticky Fingers (7) and Exile on Main St (40).  No Born in the USA or Let it Bleed in this collection.

That leaves 89 spots for other artists, and what a wonderful and diverse array of albums from across generations and genres – everything from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Aretha Franklin to Devo, Kraftwerk, and Gang of Four.

The allure of this collection is that it is all about the album. Not a couple of catchy singles with a load of filler. It is all about the ‘album’. That is why it is full of surprises. And absolute delights. These albums are full of songs that hang together on a theme or a style, or they mark an era, a milestone, or a turning point in rock and roll.

You get the expected – Van Morrison with Astral Weeks (5), the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (11), Pink Floyd and Dark Side of the Moon (51), and David Bowie’s Hunky Dory (33).

You get the unexpected – the Monkees with Headquarters (56) and Crooked Rain (79) by Stephen Malkmus’s enigmatic ‘90s band, Pavement.

Then there are pleasant surprises like the Joni Mitchell classic, Blue (6) – the only female artist to make the top 10 – and sublime choices such as Patti Smith’s Horses (41), Nevermind (4) by Nirvana, and Neil Young with On the Beach (28). No sign of Harvest or After the Gold Rush, which will surprise many.

Rap gets a mention, with Public Enemy making it into the top 10 with It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (10) and Eminem with The Marshall Mathers LP (61). There is jazz with Miles Davis and Kind of Blue (42), reggae with Burnin’ (55) by The Wailers, and the Sex Pistols lead a surprisingly strong punk charge with Never Mind the Bollocks (24).

From a personal perspective, I am delighted that Joy Division, the Modern Lovers, the Pixies, the Smiths, Talking Heads and Television all have albums in this list.

Rock purists will love the fact that Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, and Queen are there, too.

Folkies can take heart that Fairport Convention are recognised, and Australia is represented by AC/DC and Midnight Oil.

The writers lovingly describe the stories behind these albums and their reasons for including them in the Top 100. It is clear they hold strong affection for the album as an art form – the embodiment of rock and roll.

Underneath it all, though, is more than a hint of nostalgia – for vinyl records, record stores, and cult music magazines – and a yearning for an era when there was ‘real music’ and rock and roll ‘gods’.

This is a great book for music memories … and starting fights.