The Playground

The Simply Music blog

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die – Book Review

Found in: Reviews

General Editor Robert Dimery

This book was first published in 2005. If it were published for the first time today, I wonder if they might be tempted to call it “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before They Die”, because, despite some efforts by the industry to prop it up, The Album seems to be becoming a 21st century dodo, or at best an object of appeal to a fringe market. As a member of the Album Generation, I mourn its decline as one of the downsides of the download era. The hours spent poring over every detail of a gatefold sleeve while sinking myself into the extended indulgence of a long saved-for LP, are among my favorite musical memories. I even loved the smell of them. The album isn’t dead yet, but even when you download a full album (which most people don’t) there’s more than ever the temptation to cherry-pick the tracks that have instant appeal and quickly reject the ones that, had you spent time immersing yourself in the whole package in the proper order, you might have eventually recognized as slow burners.

The passing of the Album is not entirely the fault of downloading culture. In the days of the CD, it had become bloated with alternate mixes and filler material that were the inevitable result of record companies’ desire to give us our money’s worth and ensure every moment of a 75 minute CD was occupied. Who hasn’t skipped a track that just didn’t seem to fit? How many albums have you bought with four or five good songs and a bunch of duds? That’s why a book like this is a handy reminder of what a great album is – a total journey in which you are picked up, transported to new places, and returned with a sense of completion and fulfilment.

The very eclectic selection covers the full glory days of the album, from the first LP records in the mid-1950’s to the mid-2000’s. It includes track listings and other helpful information. The selections are inevitably very much personal responses from the selectors, as they should be, so you’ll find plenty of surprises and probably a few opportunities to violently disagree. One of the things that makes it more than just another (albeit very large) list is that the number of contributors is large and diverse. No matter how knowledgeable you are, you’ll likely find things in here that you’ve never heard of, but that mean a lot the the writers. I would encourage you to explore the personal in the articles – read for historical context and musical background, but look out for where the writer shows you how they are touched by the music – that’s where the real substance is.

For a total immersion experience, I highly recommend this hefty volume. Buy it before The Book suffers the same sad fate as The Album.