Let’s assume that what Entertainment Weekly means by the 100 “Greatest Albums Ever” is albums that came out since the introduction of the LP, so “ever” really is since the second half of the 20th Century and not the dawn of recorded music, and we can let the list slide for neglecting to include Robert Johnson and Louis Armstrong’s early sides and the material Billie Holiday cut for Columbia in the 1930’s. I’m not really ok with that — the magazine cover does say “All-Time,” and I don’t know how King of The Delta Blues can’t sneak on there if the collection from Elvis’ Sun Records sessions (which never were on one album originally) makes the cut — but for simplicity’s sake, let the counting begin around 1950 when people started to be able to buy music on discs that contained about a dozen songs, sequenced and released in what we now know as an album.
Who doesn’t like lists of best things? EW takes on the task of quantifying the cultural importance of movies, novels, plays, television, music (you’d be crazy to expect the same kind of critical acumen and perspective that you’d find in something like MOJO magazine’s roundup of the 100 Greatest Motown Tracks) and presents the results as collective wisdom. Is Citizen Kane really still the best movie ever made, or are people so used to calling it the best movie ever made that it’s stuck at #1 like a boulder no one wants to try and push? Just leave it there. I don’t know if The Wire is the absolute pinnacle of human achievement in all of TV seriesdom — maybe it is — but what’s the point in arguing whether it’s better than The Sopranos? They’re both officially great, and I can cut up my magazine if I want and reassemble the Top 100 however I please (and write in Sports Night for kicks). The fact that I agree with some of the assessments (Guys & Dolls is the greatest musical ever, The Great Gatsby is the greatest American novel) doesn’t make the hierarchy of awesomeness any less arbitrary.
But the music list. Oy vey, as my people say. Actually, their Top 10 isn’t appalling: the U.K. version of Revolver is as good a pop album as any to top a list (not mine, but I wouldn’t protest loudly), and then you get to Prince, The Stones, Michael Jackson, The Clash, Dylan, Aretha, The Beach Boys, Kanye West and Nirvana. How neat and how correct and judiciously balanced: Four black artists (‘60s through 2010), two iconic post-‘60s rock bands, the four acknowledged giants of 1960’s rock. And down near the end, we finally get to Sly & The Family Stone, The Dixie Chicks, Dusty Springfield and the Ramones, all trailing (at random) Hole, My Bloody Valentine, Elliott Smith, Pavement (not that they’re unworthy, but come on, some sense of proportion?).
Forget the lack of ‘60s Motown (no: Supremes, Four Tops, Temptations, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles), the almost total absence of ‘60s American Bands (no: Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Creedence Clearwater Revival [!], The Band [!!]…). I’m not sure how they’re among the missing; maybe the EW panel thinks the Motowners are singles acts, but that didn’t stop them from including a Chuck Berry best-of, and the other castaways might have been left off to avoid too much Boomer Music. What bugs even more than that is that the section is called “Music,” which seems broad and all-encompassing, but in practice is a pretty exclusive club: rock, R&B, hip-hop. You’re free to infer that in the Age of The LP, country artists such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and George Jones didn’t quite make the grade (Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and the Dixies were granted access), and jazz and blues singers and players and classic-pop vocalists, well, here you have a list of Great Albums that does NOT include Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday (the Verve and later Columbia years), B.B. King, Nina Simone, Muddy Waters. Oh, also no World Music, no James Brown Live At The Apollo, no Van Morrison, no Grateful Dead, no Steely Dan, and now you can fill in your own insane oversight here: _________________ .