June 4, 2014
Rearranging Christgau’s A Lists: 1994

I’m part of a lively Facebook group called Expert Witness. It’s named after music critic Robert Christgau’s blog at MSN, which ended last fall. We all got to know Christgau and each other in that blog’s comments section, and since then many of us have gone out to dinner with each other, or met at concerts, etc. Our Facebook group is a great place to nerd-out about music, and especially music brought to our attention by Christgau.

Within that context, I ran a poll asking participants to rearrange Christgau’s A List of albums from 1994. As you may know if you’ve read this far, Christgau compiles a long Dean’s List of his favorite albums each year, in order of preference. The lists from the seventies, eighties, and nineties were revised and printed for posterity in each of his Consumer Guide books (there was no book for the aughts). When revised, these lists were called A Lists. 

As members of our group learned when we each got to know Christgau at the original EW (he does not participate in our Facebook group), his preferences change over time. (I had intended to discuss this in last week’s  blog post, but alas, I did not write last week’s post as I had promised; I learned while writing that that topic is going to require far more work than a weekly blog post allows.) Beyond Christgau’s tastes changing, each of our individual tastes also differ by some degree from this critic that we so faithfully follow, especially if the contexts of our individual lives help us find greater meaning in an album than someone who has had a different set of life experiences. So I thought I’d document those degrees of difference in a casual manner by hosting this poll: each participant sent me their top 20 albums of 1994, with the caveat that they could only choose albums from Christgau’s A List. Here are the top 20 results, followed by some analysis, the results for albums 21-60, and some concluding thoughts:

There were 17 total ballots. The top 20 is listed below; here is a key: [artist], [album title] [total points] ([total mentions]). Points were assigned per their ranking on each top 20 ballot: number 1 on each ballot got 20 points, number 2 got 19, and so on. Christgau’s A List from the 1990s Consumer Guide book is available here.

1. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York 271 (17)

2. Iris DeMent, My Life 220 (14)

3. Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain 214 (16)

4. Beck, Mellow Gold 201 (14)

5. Latin Playboys 184 (14)

6. Hole, Live Through This 174 (14)

7. Sonic Youth, Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star 134 (11)

8. Sugar, File Under: Easy Listening 107 (13)

9. Garth Brooks, The Hits 101 (6)

10. R.E.M., Monster 99 (12)

11. The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die 98 (9)

12. Archers of Loaf vs. the Greatest of All Time 80 (8)

13. M People, Elegant Slumming 79 (6)

14. Sebadoh, Bakesale 75 (7)

14. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Sleeps With Angels 75 (7)

16. The Bottle Rockets, The Brooklyn Side 70 (7)

17. Beastie Boys, Ill Communication 69 (9)

18. A Taste of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto 69 (5)

19. Cachao, Master Sessions Volume 1 67 (7)

20. Aretha Franklin, Greatest Hits (1980-1994) 66 (7)

As you can see, everyone voted for Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged—it received both the highest number of points, as well as the greatest number of mentions (it was included on all 17 ballots). Each album in the top 10 received 11 or more mentions, except for the Garth Brooks, which only got 6. This means that though Brooks was mentioned on fewer ballots, his album ranked very high on those particular ballots. Similarly, the number 2 by Iris DeMent got fewer mentions than Pavement at number 3, but those who voted for My Life tended to rank it high on their ballots, and thus it earned more points.

Comparing ours to Christgau’s A List from 1994 (published 13-14 years ago now), we see that though he graded the somewhat-obscure dance compilation Handraizer an A, and placed it at number 16 on his own list, it was mentioned by only one of our participants and therefore ended up at number 48. Conversely, an album Christgau graded as an A- placed all the way up in our top 10: R.E.M.’s Monster. Similarly, the albums at numbers 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, and 19 were all also graded A- by Christgau (all albums listed in Christgau’s A Lists are graded A- or higher, hence the title). Comparing top 10s, Monster and Sugar’s album are not in Christgau’s, and A Taste of the Indestructible Beat of Soweto and Aretha Franklin’s Greatest Hits are not in ours. Latin Playboys and My Life are graded A+ by Christgau, and though My Life ranked number 2 on both lists, Latin Playboys only made number 5 on ours.

In the grand tradition of Christgau’s annual essay which once accompanied every year’s Pazz and Jop poll (but is now published at Barnes & Noble Review each year), here are some stats he would likely bring to our attention: the rap album with the highest number of points is Biggie’s Ready to Die. Though it had fewer points, the Beastie Boys actually received the same number of mentions. More data: every album in our top 12 can be claimed as American, whereas Christgau includes South African musicians at number 6, and a UK group at number 11. Of the 73 albums listed in Christgau’s A List, we voted for 60 of them. Here are the rest of the results, followed by concluding thoughts:

21. Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, and the Furious Five, Message from Beat Street

22. Public Enemy, Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age

23. Soundgarden, Superunknown

24. Green Day, Dookie

25. Ass Ponys, Electric Rock Music

26. Soul Coughing, Ruby Vroom

27. Jimi Hendrix, Woodstock

28. Khaled, N’ssi N’ssi

29. Cumbia Cumbia 2

30. Caetano Veloso e Gilberto Gil, Tropicalia 2

31. Digable Planets, Blowout Comb

32. Jimi Hendrix, Blues

33. Dave Alvin, King of California

34. Marshall Crenshaw, My Truck Is My Home

35. White Country Blues

36. L7, Hungry for Stink

37. Victoria Williams, Loose

38. John Fahey, Return of the Repressed

39. Pearl Jam, Vitalogy

40. Howlin’ Wolf, Ain’t Gonna Be Your Dog

41. Built to Spill, There’s Nothing Wrong With Love

42. Bill Frisell, This Land

43. FU-Schnickens, Nervous Breakdown

44. Backbeat soundtrack

45. Hüsker Dü, The Living End

46. El DeBarge, Heart, Mind and Soul

47. Jon Hassell and Bluescreen, Dressing for Pleasure

48. Handraizer

49. Etta James, Mystery Lady

50. Matthew Sweet, Son of Altered Beast

51. Dark City Sisters and Flying Jazz Queens

52. Ahmad

53. Heavens to Betsy, Calculated

54. Joseph Spence and the Pinder Family, Spring of Sixty-Five

55. NOFX, Punk in Drublic

56. Sam Mangwana, Rumba Music

57. House of Pain, Same as It Ever Was

58. Beat the Retreat

59. Henri Bowane, Double Take - Tala Kaka

60. Moe Tucker, I Spent a Week There the Other Night

What does this all mean? A few observations: where our top 10 seems to lean rockist and towards albums over compilations, it’s important to note that while we tended to agree upon the rock touchstones—hence their higher ranks—a look at the entirety of the results demonstrates the variety of each ballot. Similarly, the 13 albums no one voted for don’t fit into a particular pattern either: in fact, no one voted for Veruca Salt’s American Thighs, despite the fact that it was a hit, and that it could have been a token vote for female performers. Like the Dean’s own list, our results don’t break down easily into ideological categories.

However, it is telling that Christgau’s bottom two albums are in our top 40: Ill Communication at 17 and Vitalogy at 39. These were definitely hits in their day, and remain touchstones to many, which makes their higher ranking in our poll expected. That said, I’d rather not conclude that they rank higher just because they’re more popular. Christgau, hearing each for the first time at age 52, likely sitting in his New York apartment, will receive each differently than those of us who first heard them in an all-male dorm as a freshman in college (this guy right here). An argument can be made that the latter camp is drawn to these albums because we associate them with specific moments in our lives—it may be less about the music, and more about where that album fits into our personal narrative. However, it’s also possible that those of us who memorized each in college were able to hear more in them than Christgau, who inherently has a built-in distance from both the artists and their expected audience.

Though I agree that we can approach objectivity when discussing art, I don’t agree that we can achieve it, and neither does Christgau. So though I personally agree with him that these two albums are good but not great, despite my own immersion in both, I also concede that there may be more meaning to them than I have experienced, and that a good writer could convey that meaning to me and perhaps change my mind. Christgau has certainly done that for many of us over the years and decades we’ve collectively followed him. Why else would Latin Playboys be number 5? And if you’re that writer, the one who could change our minds about Pearl Jam or Beastie Boys and who knows who else, please keep writing. We’ve been waiting for you. And we’ll find you.

May 22, 2014
Making Plans for Bradley

Friends, when I rebooted my blog six weeks ago, I also started tracking my readership with Google Analytics. And I’m pleased to report that for the last three weeks vistors to my site have increased significantly. For example, last Friday I had 84 visitors providing 93 sessions, with an average session duration of 1:29; 60% of this readership was new to the site. These numbers tell me that 84 people at least glanced at my essay, and, given the minute and a half duration, some may have thought it was tl;dr, but many others in fact took the time to read it. This makes me very happy. I assume many of my new visitors reach this site because each of my articles has been reblogged on Tumblr, shared on Facebook, or retweeted on Twitter by friends and former students; I love having a reasonably sized audience, but having friends repost these essays is especially flattering. Hey, I just want to be loved, and I feel loved, so thank you.

But now you’re thinking, Bradley, 84 readers… that’s not very many. Within the larger media landscape, perhaps that’s true, but as a former academic, I consider this an accomplishment. For one thing, I’ve worked much harder on various graduate-level papers that had been read by exactly one person: my professor. Of course, that’s the nature of course work, so maybe that example shouldn’t count. However, I’ve also published book/media reviews in two academic journals, and both reviews went through the peer review process and therefore required several drafts to bring to completion. While I am very proud of those pieces, I know for a fact that more people read the Moby album review I posted than any of my academic work, even when that review was written and published seven months after that album’s release—well after any reasonable sell-by date within in our culture’s hype machine. This fact made academic work very hard for me—at the end of the day, my labor didn’t seem to matter very much because not very many people read what I wrote. As you likely know, to succeed as an academic you need to publish, publish, publish, and there are therefore many academic journals available to make that happen. However, given the paywalls, the prohibitive pricing of individual issues and subscriptions, and the esoteric nature of so much academic work, relatively few people actually read the material in these journals that are the result of this professional need to publish. As I am a resolute populist, this breaks my fragile heart.

So for me, 84 readers is a lot—I hope that number grows, of course, but it’s enough of a readership to keep me going. Except for this week: this week I got lost down a research hole for an article that I’ll publish next Thursday. So the main purpose of this week’s post is to give my readers (hello!) an idea of the research I wish to publish in the near future—sort of a coming-attractions feature. Though I enjoy sitting at my desk, chin rested in my hand, lost in thought, scratching my beard… in other words, though I enjoy writing music and cultural criticism, my greatest passion is parsing the ways people think about music, and, further, how professional critics write about music. That was the premise of my academic work, and now I wish to present those ideas and that writing somewhat frequently on this weblog. Next week concerns how and why critics and institutions rate or grade rock albums. As he is considered the instigator of this practice in recent popular culture, much of next week’s article will focus on critic Robert Christgau and his life’s work, the Consumer Guide, and will include research that is otherwise unavailable to the public. Given how much my research, and his writing, means to me, I’ve decided to ruminate on it a little longer rather than just dash it off in a couple of days. So that’s what’s coming next week. I also have several other related research plans that I expect to tackle over the summer, but have decided to wait to tip my hand to you, reader, until the time in which those plans are closer to their fruition. May you wait with bated breath.

So thank you for reading, and thank you for your patience. I’ll see you again next week!

January 8, 2012
Liner Notes

This Christmas I handed out two homemade mix CDs to friends and family: one has the unoriginal title “Alternative Nation,” and the other, “Robert’s Robyn,” recreates critic Robert Christgau’s preferred version of Robyn’s Body Talk. Three years ago I handed out fun single-CD histories of both rap and jazz, and this is my attempt to make it some kind of holiday tradition. I also asked my friend, visual artist Wes Stitt, to provide album covers for this year’s selections; the cover for “Robert’s Robyn” is posted above.

As you may expect, “Alternative Nation” is an overview of early ‘90s rock, which we called “alternative” back in the day, though that label doesn’t seem as necessary or descriptive now as it once was. Here’s the track list:

1. R.E.M., “Pop Song 89”

2. Nine Inch Nails, “Head Like a Hole”

3. Sonic Youth, “Kool Thing”

4. Pixies, “Velouria”

5. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

6. Pearl Jam, “Alive”

7. Ministry, “Jesus Built My Hotrod”

8. L7, “Pretend We’re Dead”

9. Radiohead, “Creep”

10. Smashing Pumpkins, “Today”

11. Liz Phair, “Divorce Song”

12. The Breeders, “Cannonball”

13. Beck, “Loser”

14. Soundgarden, “My Wave”

15. Hole, “Miss World”

16. Pavement, “Gold Soundz”

17. Veruca Salt, “Seether”

18. Green Day, “Burnout”

19. Elastica, “Connection”

20. PJ Harvey, “Down by the Water”

Perhaps it would have been hipper of me, and maybe even easier, to compile mostly lesser-known favorites for this CD. But I decided instead to stick with the fairly obvious stuff, presented chronologically. Except for “Down by the Water,” the songs end in 1994, which is the year many of my friends and I graduated from high school. I expected the CD to be nostalgic, and I expected it to rock, but I didn’t expect so many of the songs to be feminist and political, and then, further, to present these lyrical themes so baldly on each song’s surface. While I read plenty of press at the time concerning the “apathy” of such songs and performers, I didn’t remember this apathy carrying so much philosophical and political weight. And where hits by Tracy Chapman, Midnight Oil, Springsteen and Mellencamp from the ‘80s brought attention to the Other who struggled to get by both emotionally and economically within a large, relatively wealthy Western society, these ‘90s writers scoffed at the validity of the entire Western system and presented mainstream society as the Other. They naturalized what was once considered the margins, both musically and lyrically. And many of them were funny about it. And smart. Super smart.

None of this is news, of course, but I was surprised to realize just how present this ideology remains in the musical artifacts. R.E.M. parodies small talk and the basic assumption that verbal communication is inherently effective in “Pop Song 89.” Sonic Youth ends the bridge of “Kool Thing” with the sarcastic, “when you’re a star, I know that you’ll fix everything,” which digs hard into the self-righteousness of such late ‘80s star-activists as Sting and Peter Gabriel. L7’s “Pretend We’re Dead” is a call to political action: the title hook is set up by, “they’ve got us in the palm of every hand (when we)” and continues, “they can’t hear a word we said/when we pretend we’re dead.” And I’m convinced Veruca Salt’s “Seether” is about the very real fear surrounding the untapped power of the feminine spirit.

And so on. Even less direct songs such as “Loser” and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” are wracked with disillusionment, and yet the speakers do not come across as powerless. At the time I figured the apathy discussed was a kind of resignation. But now I don’t think so. I think it was an assertion that a better world requires changes at a fundamental level. And in retrospect that fundamental change seems to have been a dislodging of the primacy of modernism in our daily lives. Not that we aren’t still trying to do things better, faster and stronger. But modernism isn’t the driving engine of mainstream society like it once was. Formally marginalized boutique cultures have an economic and social validity now that was not present in the 1980s. And I think this music provided a commentary for that change.

The second CD, “Robert’s Robyn,” was originally a gift to me from Robert Christgau. I met and interviewed him just after Christmas 2010, and before I left he handed me a couple of mix CDs. (I think these are CDs he was mailing to friends and family for Christmas that year.) Besides Robyn, he also gave me a Das Racist mix alluded to in the title of his review of their first two mixtapes. Anyway, I wanted to share this with my own friends and family because meeting my idol was a big deal, and I consider this gift from him a symbol of what I now consider a friendship. So here you have a small piece of an important moment in my life. The track list itself was later published in an essay for Christgau’s Rock & Roll & column at Barnes & Noble Review. Read the essay for an explanation of the CD.

Both mix CDs are burned from Apple Lossless files and are therefore CD quality. So enjoy! And Merry Christmas!

January 2, 2012
In Defense of my own Cockiness

To the apparent surprise of many of his readers, Robert Christgau posted a rather positive review of Rihanna’s latest album Talk That Talk on his Expert Witness blog two weeks ago. In the comments section, several of Christgau’s fans complained of how R.’s music is beyond terrible because 1. it is hopelessly derivative of other, better music, and, 2. tracks such as “Cockiness” and “Birthday Cake” are too overtly sexual to be of any aesthetic value. Me, I immediately put “Cockiness” and “Birthday Cake” on repeat because I find them both exhilarating on a formal level, and, truth be told, crass sex talk doesn’t really bother me very much, especially when said sex talk includes puns and wordplay. So I posted a rundown of musical events in “Cockiness” that I find particularly meaningful, and I presented my analysis in the best way I know how: via terms and methods associated with academic musicology. Here’s an excerpt:

I have a particular skill set, and music like “Cockiness” and “Cry Me a River” and “A Milli”—to choose three seemingly unrelated songs—make my brain get a buzz on in a way that I don’t read about too often. I streamed “Cockiness” for a third time today just to see if its novelty had worn off, but I still totally love it. I typed some notes as I listened, and here’s the cleaned up version:

The first thing I love is the 3 against 4 “chop. chop. chop.” sample that underlies much of the song; you notice it most when it is left unadorned right at the end. I love when producers do this at the ends of songs—Timbaland does the same thing with “Cry Me a River,” when he strips away each layer near the end to reveal the song’s astonishing, effortless complexity. I also love the fanfare horns and the “YOU!” samples that punctuate the lyrics in the pre-chorus.

Another fun surprise is the song’s structure. When you map it out, it’s not like, “wow, such complexity!” But where the different parts fall in the series compliments the whole brilliantly. It opens with a brief intro, then we get the main refrain, a verse with killer call and response in R.’s trademark vocal effect, a “pre-chorus” with the aforementioned horns and “YOU!,” and then the “I love it when you eat it” before returning to the refrain again to repeat the sequence. Then we get a bridge or “development,” then pre-chorus, “love it,” and outro breakdown. Each piece is very different, but each also fits together with the whole perfectly, and with harmony that is never actually performed; it is only suggested by the melody. Listen close and there is very little toned music aside from the voices, some of the sound effects, the “chop.” sample, and the toned bass drum. Which is kind of like “Single Ladies,” but with elements that sound less disparate to these ears. It reminds me more of “A Milli.”

I didn’t intend my post to stir up too much controversy, but it did, and the subsequent debate concerning the value and assumptions of such formal analyses of music was compelling and valuable if you enjoy discussing aesthetics. On Christgau’s blog, readers are able to thumb up or thumb down comments if they wish, and within a few minutes I had already earned a thumb down. I expected a few of these, but what I didn’t expect is for Christgau himself to immediately, and sharply, criticize the aforementioned thumb bomber, calling him or her “a know-nothing and an imbecile.” In a later post he explained that what I had written could not be refuted with just a simple thumb-bomb: that he believed my formal discussion of favorite musical events was a list of facts, and that—as long as they are accurate—could therefore not be disagreed with.

Just as compellingly, however, the thumb-bomber in question, who goes by the handle Jackson Cage, fessed up to his crime and subsequently wrote a strong defense of his opinion. He complained that my post was arrogant because of how I introduced myself as a musicologist with special skills—a detail I included so as to justify my inclusion of a potentially controversial formal analysis (see Not. Milo. Miles. post for an explanation). Jackson C., however, thought I was simply showing off how I could complete an intellectual task I expected others were not intelligent enough to do on their own, which irritated him. But, ultimately, he seemed most frustrated by how my analysis did not add up to anything of value—that I simply stated information about the song rather than actually cracking open the song’s meaning and larger value. At first I disagreed with this—I explained that the musical events create musical meaning in and of themselves, and that the matter needn’t be elaborated upon further. “Sometimes sounds are pretty when put together in a clever manner,” was the extent of my reasoning. And I left it at that.

But now I think Jackson Cage’s criticism pointed out a serious flaw in my reasoning, and now I agree my analysis was indeed missing something important. I was making too broad of an assumption concerning musical meaning and how that meaning is produced in my mind grapes. Though I still believe the formal elements in R.’s song are what arouse my cranium’s spongy head, I don’t think it’s just the confluence of these events that provides for me such a reaction—by which I mean that it takes more than just the impressive and efficient combination of musical ideas to excite me as much as this song does.

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November 21, 2011
"[Ellen] Willis’s partisans aver that she got out [of rock criticism] while the getting was good, while [Paul] Nelson’s mourn the loss of his genius. I believe the opposite. Nelson was right to get out. Rock’s hero quest has been a dead end since circa 1980 — there’s Springsteen, that’s one, and then there’s, well, Bono, who it’s impossible to imagine Nelson taking seriously for a host of reasons good and bad. But I think Willis would have been better off staying. She was a powerful thinker, and though she never wrote enough she almost always wrote well when she did. But as someone who spent 15 years extricating himself from her politics and is so glad he did, I say continued attention to her beat would have changed those politics for the better, sensitizing her to mass pleasures, countercultural anxieties, class antagonisms, and racial contradictions she lost touch with. Mere attention wouldn’t have done it, though — she would have had to enjoy it. And it’s my guess that for writers as gifted as Willis and Nelson never to have found language to describe music means that in the end they didn’t enjoy music for all it’s worth. When Ellen and I were feeling our way through the music of the ’60s, we scoffed at such notions. But we were wrong."

— Robert Christgau, in his article “Pioneer Days,” just published online at the Barnes & Noble Reader. This leaves me completely breathless. He’s not my favorite writer for nothing.

November 1, 2011
EW Jazz Poll: Best Jazz Albums of the 1960s

Today I revealed the results of the Expert Witness community’s first-ever jazz album poll over at Robert Christgau’s MSN.com music blog. For this poll I asked voters to choose their ten favorite jazz albums recorded in the 1960s. Voters could define “favorite” and “jazz” however they wished, and were asked to allocate points to each of their ten albums as per the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop poll's points system. A full list of the EW Jazz Poll's rules is available here. I wrote some pre-game commentary here, and some post-game commentary and individual ballots are available in the comments section of Christgau’s MSN blog. Below are the results, compiled from 29 ballots. Please note that Robert Christgau did not vote in this poll.

1. Miles Davis, In a Silent Way 238 (19)

2. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme 233 (17)

3. Charles Mingus, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady 136 (9)

4. Miles Davis, The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel 92 (7)

5. Albert Ayler, Spiritual Unity 80 (7)

6. Eric Dolphy, Out to Lunch 79 (8)

7. Duke Ellington, Meets Coleman Hawkins 61 (6)

8. John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard 60 (5)

9. Duke Ellington, Money Jungle 58 (6)

10. John Coltrane, My Favorite Things 57 (6)

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October 29, 2011
"[Slim] Gaillard stands as jazz’s premier comedian-eccentric, the hepcat as novelty artist to end all novelty artists. Gaillard laughed in rhythm, barked in rhythm, clucked like a chicken in rhythm; he made up his own language, then adapted it to Spanish, Hebrew, Arabic, Incan; he was so fond of the suffix “rooney” (as in “You got the federation blues-o-rooney”) that when introduced to Mickey Rooney he asked what his last name was."

— Robert Christgau, reviewing the Slim Gaillard compilation Laughing in Rhythm: The Best of the Verve Years in 1994. “He was so fond of the suffix ‘rooney’ … that when introduced to Mickey Rooney he asked what his last name was”—that, my friends, is some funny shit. Like an idiot, I didn’t realize Gaillard is the Slim in Slim & Slam. You might know “The Flat Foot Floogie.” If you don’t know it, what are you waiting for?

October 20, 2011
"In the interest of bad vibes I have agreed to appear on a panel discussing ‘progressive music.’ I am booed when introduced; the booing continues when I utter the single word ‘Ramones’ into the microphone."

— Robert Christgau, reporting on Giorgio Gomelski’s “Zu Concert,” which was announced as a 12-hour “manifestival” of “progressive music” from Europe and America. Village Voice, Oct. 23, 1978. Every day is a battle; how we still love the war.

October 18, 2011
"Seth Rogen is a great American artist. He can think whatever he wants about Steely Dan far as I’m concerned."

— Robert Christgau, in a comment on his Expert Witness blog at MSN.com. He was responding to Ryan Maffei's remark that “the only truly objectionable part of Knocked Up… is when Seth Rogen says that Steely Dan can gargle his balls.” I suppose this could be considered objectionable except for the fact that Donald and Walter likely spit scotch and soda out of each of their respective nostrils when they heard Rogen’s line. An honor.

October 12, 2011
Vote in the First EW Jazz Poll!

I am hosting the first ever Jazz Poll for the online community active at Robert Christgau’s Expert Witness blog. The rules and parameters for this poll are available here, and the poll closes Oct. 30. This first poll concerns the best jazz albums recorded in the 1960s. If anyone wishes to vote—and I hope you do!—please be sure to read the rules carefully and submit your ballot to the email address listed there. Voters are asked to provide their ten favorite albums within the poll’s parameters (or the ten “best,” or however else you wish to define your ballot). You may either rank these using the Pazz and Jop points system (as explained in the rules), or weight them each equally; either is just fine.

Since a lot of jazz was recorded in the 1960s, I put together this list of recommendations culled from the texts of two book chapters by former Village Voice critic Gary Giddins: “Postwar Jazz: An Arbitrary Roadmap (1945-2001),” as reprinted in his book Weather Bird, and “Collecting Jazz Recordings,” in the appendix of Jazz, written with Scott DeVeaux. For a few of the recommendations below, Giddins had merely mentioned the existence of the album, or only explicitly recommends one song from the album (“Three Little Words” from Sonny Rollins on Impulse! for example). But I’ve sought out enough of these albums to know that when Giddins mentions one, it’s probably worth hearing.

Brief caveats: these are not the only great Jazz recordings of the 1960s. Notice Giddins does not mention Thelonious Monk’s work on Columbia, John Coltrane’s Ascension, or Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, nor any albums by Davis’s second great quintet in either of these chapters. Don’t get mad; he discusses and recommends each of them elsewhere, if memory serves, but just not in these two chapters. He doesn’t mention any singers either, except Armstrong with Ellington, nor any European recordings, unless you count the albums by the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Albert Ayler, each of which is identified with American jazz anyway. He recommends such contenders elsewhere as well, just not here.

If you’re not as familiar with Jazz as you would like to be, or just have some gaps in your knowledge of ’60s Jazz, you’re going to have a good time with this list. Check these albums out, share them with friends, and don’t forget to have fun. Because Jazz is fun, and polls are fun. Most will be available on any one of several streaming services. I use MOG. Now dig in! The list is after the jump (click “Read More”).

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