(Editor's Note: The "Sunday Morning" essay does not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc. or its affiliated companies.)
Editorial Director Michael Goldberg writes:
Rolling Stone magazine has published "The Essential Recordings of the '90s," and it's not a moment too soon.
I don't know about you, but with a mere eight months left until the decade ends (certainly nothing worthy of the list could be released in the remaining months -- right?), I can breathe a sigh of relief that the best of the best now have that soul-satisfying Rolling Stone stamp of approval.
There are so many things I love about "The Essential Recordings of the '90s" that I don't quite know where to start. But here I go.
Some bright boy at RS (I figure it was a guy 'cause, well, the top decision makers at RS have, historically, been of the male gender) figured that rather than have one big list mixing the various genres of pop music (you know, like the way real people actually listen to music), they would segment them into an "Alternative" (alternative? In 1999?) list, a "Rock 'n' Roll" list, a "Hip-hop + R&B" list, a "Dance + Pop" list and so on.
Now some people might wonder about this. Why ghettoize hip-hop, for example? Why shouldn't Lauryn Hill's chart-topping, multimillion-selling The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill sit side-by-side with Nirvana's Nevermind and Prodigy's The Fat of the Land (one of the best rock albums of the decade, but nonetheless banished to sit alongside Hanson on the "Dance + Pop" list)? But you
have to hand it to RS. They took a lesson from commercial radio
(and we all know how good commercial radio is) and created a slew of
genre lists. I say, hats off to RS!
And how about a little applause for RS Editor in Chief Jann Wenner for devoting his valuable time (which could have been spent on his pet Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum project) to putting his personal stamp on the project? I can only assume Jann had his editors give him their "Essential 150" list so he could carefully go over it and -- based on his own love of '90s music and
intimate knowledge of all the music released during the first nine years
and three months of this decade -- tweak the list.
Only Jann could have insisted on including some of the offbeat gems that make the list uniquely special. I think of course of such decade-shaking (mind-blowing?) masterpieces as the Spice Girls' Spice. Or Peter Wolf's Fool's Parade (RealAudio excerpt of "Roomful of Angels"), Mick Jagger's Wandering Spirit (RealAudio excerpt of "Put Me in the Trash"), Eric Clapton's From the Cradle, Hootie and the Blowfish's Cracked Rear View, Sheryl Crow's Sheryl Crow, Annie Lennox's Diva, Lenny Kravitz' Mama Said, Van Morrison's Too Long in Exile, Guns n' Roses' Use Your Illusion I and II and not one, but two -- two!! -- albums by the Rolling Stones (Bridges to Babylon and that definitive live effort No Security).
(It's worth noting that Mr. Wenner's friends include Jagger and Wolf,
as well as Billy Joel, whose River of Dreams, thank God, is also among the "Essential 150." I mean if you can't give your friends a heads-up on a list like this, what kinda friend are you?)
The RS writers and editors (and freelancers) who worked on the "Essential 150" project are a truly accommodating bunch. Congrats are in order to my old buddy Anthony DeCurtis, currently employed by CDnow apparently to -- among other things -- ensure that no negative reviews are posted on the CDnow website.
CDnow reviews "run the spectrum from neutral to positive," DeCurtis told Spin magazine recently. Why no negative reviews? DeCurtis said that would be akin to "walking into a record store, wanting to buy an album, and a clerk just says, 'You know, that sucks.' "
Working from that, uh, critical vantage point, I'm sure it was no sweat for DeCurtis to pen (or hack out on a computer) these surprisingly nonjudgmental words about Mick Jagger's Wandering Spirit: "The singer avoids the trend-mongering that marred his two earlier solo projects and with a hard-edged sound to match the honesty of the songs." You would think higher praise would be heaped on an album that is included among the "Essential 150," but RS works in strange and mysterious ways.
One of the more amazing things about the list, particularly the "Alternative" section, is that it includes so few albums released by independent labels. The list includes nothing by Bikini Kill. Or Cat Power. Or the Make-Up. Or Fugazi. Nothing on the amazing Estrus label, or Amphetamine Reptile or K or Lookout or Kill Rock Stars. But then, after more pondering, I figured that when you've only got space for 150 albums, the powers at RS just didn't have room for such clearly lesser artists in the face of Mick Jagger and company.
Just four indie albums made the "Alternative" list: Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted, Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville, and Yo La Tengo's I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One -- all released on Matador Records -- and Sleater-Kinney's Call the Doctor.
Of course, lists like these are always somewhat arbitrary, and I'll be the first to admit that one person's favorite album is another's worst nightmare. And I'm sure the editors and writers whose names are attached to the "Essential 150" are proud to stand behind it.
It's really just a shame that the list was limited to 150 albums. I guess that's why none by Guided by Voices, Solex, Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, the Apples in Stereo, Tom Waits, the Scud Mountain Boys, Sonic Youth, Beth Orton, the Need, the Mono Men, Idaho, Cracker, Morphine, Soul Coughing or the Flaming Lips were included. I could go on of course. So many bands that didn't have brand names as established as the Rolling Stones or Eric Clapton or Peter Wolf released great albums during the '90s: Dandy Warhols, Jack Logan, Palace, Rancid, Sugar, Spiritualized, Primal Scream ...
But hey, enough of my back slapping. Don't let me take up any more of your time telling you about the "Essential 150." Get yourself up, buy a copy of RS, then take the plunge and give the "Essential 150" a chance. Happy listening.