1001 Albums I Will Try To Hear Before I Die

Published May 01, 2012

Are you familiar with the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die? It was first published in 2005 and the idea behind the book is straightforward enough: capsule reviews, in chronological order, of 1001 popular music albums from 1954 to the present day – assembled by a group of editors and critics – that one should lend one’s ears to before one shuffles off this mortal coil. Compilation albums and Various Artists albums have not been allowed as inclusions, which means there is no Saturday Night Fever, for instance. It seems the starting point of 1955 was chosen because it was 50 years before the book’s original year of publication (the book has since been updated a number of times, the latest edition being published in 2011) and also because 1955 is roughly when the “rock era” started.

A book that purports to present a “canon” will always be controversial – I’m sure the people behind the book have been subject to exclamations such as “how could you include this album but exclude that album???” and similar cries of outrage. Personally, I feel there are at least two different ways to approach a book like this: expecting to have your own tastes in music validated and reflected, and feeling offended and incensed when it fails to do so; or taking its title with a pinch of salt (as I’m sure the people who thought it up do) and use it as inspiration to look up albums that may pique your curiosity.

Being an anal sort of person I, of course, had to count the number of albums in the book that I’d already heard. It was actually no more than (or, depending on your point of view, as many as) 216 albums, which accounts for 21.6 per cent of the titles in the book. Unless you’re a music critic/journalist/historian or the kind of person who tends to listen to what music critics/journalists/historians tell them are truly important or significant long-players, I’m guessing your count wouldn’t be much higher.

Most of us do tend to listen to the music of a fairly limited number of artists, and to explore the discography of those particular acts in-depth, and also, perhaps, stick to a few select genres – if you’re into, say, heavy metal and grunge, perhaps you don’t own many albums by disco acts or easy listening crooners. In my opinion, for instance, many lives out there would be enriched if they lent an ear to albums by “sunshine pop” acts such as Harpers Bizarre, The Free Design, The Association and The 5th Dimension – I have all their albums (or at least most of them), but none of them are represented in the book.

Also, some of the albums included in the book I don’t exactly recall if I’ve heard in their entirety or not, so they couldn’t be counted. And although I don’t have any memory of listening to, say, Madonna’s Like A Prayer album from start to finish, I seem to remember she released a gazillion singles from it, so I’ve probably heard most of it.

What I intend to do now is to embark on an insane project: to listen to each and every of the 1001 albums in the book (well, the ones I haven’t heard before or not very recently at least) and to list my impressions in this blog. I will also write a few lines about the albums I’ve already heard. I will use the most recent edition available at this moment in time, which is the 2011 edition.

Will I make it to the end? How long will it take me? Will I actually endure listening all the way through to albums that I actively dislike? And, more pertinently, will I be able to access all the albums I want to hear without facing financial ruin? I’m sure Spotify will be a great aid, and perhaps also the album collections of friends and acquaintances. Join me on this journey and we’ll see how it goes – wish me luck!

I expect to post my first album impressions in a few days. Watch this space...


1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.