Viva le Dean!

christgau.jpgThe Village Voice’s new management crossed a line that I shall never forgive. When they fired the Dean of American Rock Critics, Robert Christgau (photo: E.J. Carr) back in September, I stopped reading the weekly. Until Lester Bangs’s untimely death so many years ago, they were the yin and yang of rock criticism. Bangs was always the visceral, edgy writer, and Mr. Christgau the cryptic, cerebral scholar. As they offered up their craft, they helped to define unique rock criticism voices and set very lofty levels of professionalism that few rock critics after them ever scaled. (Well, those who actually began their writing careers in the late 70s onward. Legs McNeil had it going on for a short time.) Few young voices have impacted and inspired a young music-hungry generation to go out and explore fresh terra firma. (And don’t throw Pitchfork or Spin at me.) It’s inexcusable that the Voice could so casually disregard one the planet’s great music critics, relegating him to cyberspace without so much as a proper VV Special Music Career Ending send-off. And what would The Village Voice be without Christgau’s lovingly assembled annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll? He’s been supervising this must-read issue since basically 1974. But I finally got around to checking out his website and I was amazed at how vital and deep his content mines. He will resurface in other periodicals; soldiering on. And I hope he'll continue his must-read Consumer Guide on his website.

I read his 1978 list of 10 favorite records of all time, and while I expected him to offer some scientific formula for determining his selection of indispensable music, it offered something that I think most of us - even the casual listener - can relate to: “…playability, depth of expression, and avoidance of waste. There's not a bad cut on any of these albums, and almost all of them are good to great.” I think most music fans feel this way about their most cherished records, regardless of what outsiders think. I was also surprised by some of his choices, probably because they offer the reader a chance to see what has shaped his critical ear.

That got me thinking about my favorite rock records of all time. Records that I play often, have nary a bad cut, and almost all of them are good to great - my comfort food, if you will. But this was no easy task since I've been buying music since 1965. (The first record I bought - with the profits from a Koolaid stand - was The Beatles Second Album.) And so I set pen to paper to choose my lucky dozen.

1. Horses - Patti Smith
2. Déjà Vu - Crosby Stills Nash & Young
3. Hunky Dory - David Bowie
4. Abbey Road - The Beatles
5. Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
6. Quadrophenia - The Who
7. OK Computer - Radiohead
8. Wake of the Flood - Grateful Dead
9. Dixie Chicken - Little Feat
10. Another Green World - Eno
11. Crazy Rhythms - The Feelies
12. Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
13. Sweetheart of the Rodeo - The Byrds

I look forward to reading more Christgau online and digging up his archives to see what else he reviewed from the ’70s forward. I know that I will not be disappointed. And I know that I will probably own a good portion of those critically graded records.




Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 3 solo CDs and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was an agent at the William Morris Agency!

13 is so very hard to do

David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
Roxy Music - Avalon
Blind Faith
Tom Waits - Small Change
Jackson Browne - Saturate Before Using
Neil Young - After the Gold Rush
Joe Jackson - Look Sharp
Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees
Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow
Spirit - 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus
Rod Stewart - Every Picture Tells a Story
Marvin Gaye - What's Goin On
Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey

My Lucky 13

Nicely done, Dustbucket!

No easy task, and in no order:

1. Funhouse by the Stooges
2. Killing Joke by Killing Joke
3. Q:Are We Not Men?.. by Devo
4. Dressed to Kill by Kiss
5. The Modern Lovers by the Modern Lovers
6. Singles Going Steady by the Buzzcocks
7. The Spirit of Eden by Talk Talk
8. Peggy Suicide by Julian Cope
9. A Night at the Opera by Queen
10. Rattus Norvigicus by the Stranglers
11. Group Sex by the Circle Jerks
12. It'll End in Tears by This Mortal Coil
13. No Sleep `til Hammersmith by Motorhead

my two cents

When Christgau wrote his list in 1978, rock had existed for roughly 24 years. Now it’s been around for well over twice that (52 years). Here’s a baker’s dozen of my post-1978 favorites:

1. Double Nickels on the Dime - Minutemen (1984)
2. Music for Airports - Brian Eno (1979)
3. Doc at the Radar Station - Captain Beefheart (1980)
4. Buy - Contortions (1979)
5. Singles Going Steady - Buzzcocks (1979)
6. Sign o’ the Times - Prince (1987)
7. Murmur - R.E.M. (1983)
8. Disintegration - The Cure (1989)
9. Pirates - Rickie Lee Jones (1981)
10. Girlfriend - Matthew Sweet (1991)
11. Achtung Baby - U2 (1991)
12. Citrus - Asobi Seksu (2006)
13. Strange Times - Chameleons (1986)

The most recent album on Christgau’s list is from 1972 (Exile on Main Street). If I’d made my list post-1972, there would have been a lot of 1974 albums on it: On the Beach - Neil Young, Urban Renewal - Tower of Power, Red - King Crimson, It’s Too Late to Stop Now - Van Morrison, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - Genesis. Other 1972-77 favorites: Hejira - Joni Mitchell (1976), Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome - Parliament (1977), The Clash (English version) - The Clash (1977), Darkness on the Edge of Town - Bruce Springsteen (1978), Chairs Missing - Wire (1978). (That would make for a top 23 list, though, which is just not round enough.)

some additions to a good list

lists are the best -- as christgau knew. here's some of mine, off the top

led zep II
bookends -- simon and garfunkel
allman bros. live at the fillmore
steely dan -- gaucho
low spark of high heeled boys -- traffic
entertainment -- gang of four
dire straits -- communique
trust -- elvis costello
imperial bedroom -- elvis costello
get happy -- elvis costello
big pink -- the band

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