The albums we really listen to

Published September 01, 2010

If you're really into hows, whens and wherefores of pop music, like I am, you will probably have perused a number of lists of Best Albums of All Time and similar rundowns. If so, you will also have a fair grasp of which albums are considered the best ever made. Some of the usual suspects are a number of albums by The Beatles, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, and so on.

While such lists can be both interesting and useful, I can't help wondering if there is one single person out there who would embrace every album on, say, Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. Which in turn makes me wonder about some albums on such lists, which you may admire or at least acknowledge to be an important part of music history but never really feel the urge to listen to.

I remember a few years ago when I had bought a number of CDs off an internet shop. Among them were several classic albums, special editions and so on - staples of the serious rock/pop fan's record collection. Almost as an afterthought I threw in a budget-priced collection by Gerry Rafferty as well. After I had received the CDs and played them all, it wasn't those worthy, classic albums I wanted to return to. Instead I found myself thinking, "Hmm, I'd really like to play that Gerry Rafferty collection again". I don't think it left my CD player for several days.

I also started thinking about this phenomenon while I was listening to The Monkees a while ago. Although today most people love all the groovy hits and will acknowledge their first four albums as brilliant pop music, it's rare to find any champions for the commercially unsuccessful 1969 Instant Replay album. It's got great songs by Brill Building maestros such as Gerry Goffin & Carole King and Carole Bayer & Neil Sedaka, several tunes by 'Last Train To Clarksville' and '(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone' maestros Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart, and Neil Young plays guitar on the track 'You And I'. And for my money, The Monkees' version of 'A Man Without A Dream' far outshines the original too-soul-brother-y version by The Righteous Brothers. All in all, it's just a very good pop album, perhaps disregarding Mickey Dolenz' experimental album closer 'Shorty Blackwell', which even he himself is embarrassed about.

I was given the Instant Replay album when I was five years old, giving it a two-decade head-start on, for example, Astral Weeks, which I didn't hear until about 1989. But as classic as Astral Weeks may be, I know I enjoy Instant Replay infinitely more and will go on listening to it more than I will several bona-fide classic albums.

There are lots of "hidden gems" out there, meaning albums that were never popular when they were first released and have never beem elevated to classic status since. But for me, personally, I can never think of Instant Replay as "hidden". It's been there all along for me, in plain sight, even though others may not have discovered it. I'm sure all music fans have albums that mean a lot to them, although most people may not even know they were ever recorded and they will never be voted onto a classic albums list. It may be that the fact that it's not a "pop music milestone" only increases the enjoyment of it, since the listening experience won't be tainted by any perceived weightiness - it's just enough that the album is there for you when you want to hear it. For some reason, the vision of millions of people all over the planet listening to non-classic albums in the privacy of their own homes fills me with a deep sense of satisfaction.