Friday, June 7, 2024

Apple Music 100 Best Albums

 Wikipedia Entry

I've put the Wikipedia entry for the list right at the top in case you want to look at the list.  I've been thinking about this list since it came out and what I wanted to say about it and I think I finally have landed in a spot.  

I think the list should be titled, Apple Music 100 Important Albums for Americans aged 15 to 35 In the Year 2024.  Something like that.  I think by renaming it, you get a pretty good idea of what I think of the list and where the problems are with the list.  

It's interesting to me that they have used the term Best.  Best can imply so many things.  I have albums that I love, albums that I may think are the best album by a particular artist and so if I were making a list of best albums it would be on that list.  But here is what they wrote on their website, "Welcome to 100 Best Albums—our definitive list of the greatest albums ever made."  

OK so really they should have used Greatest not Best. Greatest has a completely different connotation.  If it's the greatest album, then it needs two things.  It needs to first be a great album that people love to listen to.  It also needs to be something that defined the genre or had a major influence on the genre.  

I love the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the album that they ranked number 1.  On a best of list it wouldn't be my number 1 but it is a great album that I never tire of listening to.  I'm sure I'm underselling it here, but I'm not sure how influential the album was.  I'm sure it has been more than I'm thinking, but certainly not to the degree of many other albums.  

OK so let's think about the idea of greatest, and the idea that we want an album that is a good listen and also an album that was hugely influential.  It doesn't have to be an album that was popular.  I think we can move past that, but that could play a part.  

OK if I'm going to do a greatest album ever list, first thing I'm going to do is break it down by genre.  Rock, Country, Rap, Jazz, R&B, Blues, etc.  Then I'm going to begin by looking at the albums that are considered to be the cornerstones of those genres.  

So for Rock you have to go to the Beatles.  They have influenced essentially every genre of Rock that followed.  For country it gets a bit tricky because I'm not sure Hank Williams, for instance, ever made an "album" that would fit this list, but you could certainly focus on people like Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson.  People who helped to define modern country.  For Rap you have to go back and look at some of the early acts who really impacted the acceptance of rap into mainstream, like Run DMC.  

That is where I would begin my process and build out a web of albums and genres so that you could see how things grew and evolved over time and what albums played what critical roles for what genres and changes in music.  For instance if we want to put Nirvana on the list, we need to connect Nirvana back to the Beatles through albums in a way that we can understand who their influences were to bring us to that point in time.  The albums that influenced Nirvana may have been surpassed by Nirvana in their own influence or in how good their album was, but you first need to understand that connection.  

I believe if you make a top 100 greatest albums list and you end up where the Apple Music list ended up, what you are essentially saying is that almost all modern music has far surpassed those who influenced them.  That points to a tremendous recency bias.  

This is a bit of an aside, but I feel that it is important here.  I have loosely followed the discussion and the acceptance of Caitlin Clark in the WNBA.  Her entry into the WNBA was mirrored by Angel Reese from LSU.  Clark is the hero for white fans while Reese is the villain for white fans.  This reminds me of something.  I believe I recall something very similar to this back at the end of the 70's.  It brought many more eyes to the NBA and had almost the exact same storyline.  Problem is I haven't heard anyone make this connection.  It's like our history has been completely forgotten.  Maybe people have made the connection, but I haven't seen it.  

I feel that Apple has approached this list in much the same way that the current media is approaching the Caitlin Clark story.  They only see it for what it is now.  They don't understand that this is a repeat story in much the same way that Bird and Magic were.  The same undertones, the same frustrations from players in the League.  The same hate and anger from white fans.  

When the people who put together this list for Apple looked at an album they really liked, like Robyn at number 100 on the list.  They don't seem to understand that Robyn came about because of Abba and New Order.  They don't understand that Taylor Swift found her voice because of artists like The Dixie Chicks.  

I see a real problem in this.  Especially when entire genres are not represented at all.  That to me points to the people making this list not even representing the full music community.  

Let's look briefly at country music.  In 1975 Willie Nelson had an idea for an album.  It was to be a concept album.  His label didn't want to make it, many people thought it was a mistake.  Yet it became a huge hit album.  In this case the popularity of the album became an important piece of the puzzle.  People thought country fans just wanted a bunch of singles and would never have interest in something more.  With the success of Redheaded Stranger though, there were country artists who started thinking maybe there could be more to their craft than just trying to write the next hit song.  Should it be on this list, I don't know, but I can't imagine anyone sitting in that room discussing this list even mentioned the album.  

All in all I found the list to be very disappointing.  Even though it contains a lot of albums I really like, I just feel like they left out too many important artists and too many important albums.  

What do you think?


  1. I did not see the Caitlin Clark turn coming.

  2. On that score, my feeling is, call fouls that are fouls. But trying to broker what players are saying about her or what they’re clapping for or whatever… that’s silly. I would lay money there are 100 different current college and pro players, marginal league talents otherwise, who see an opportunity to have roster spots for 10 years if they can just get themselves to Indiana and be bodyguards on the court for Caitlin Clark. That, a year of rest and bodybuilding for Clark and other roster building around her … then we’ll see. But for the league to bend over backwards to soften her entry would absolutely snuff the surge in interest in the sport (and be a disservice to Clark herself).

  3. On the album list, this one and so many others, I think the issue is that the parameters are just way, way too broad. I can't imagine sitting down and thinking, "Hmmm, I want to listen to a record; now, which one is better, Miles Davis or Taylor Swift?" Sometimes I might want to listen to Miles Davis, and sometimes I might want to listen to Taylor Swift. But they are never within a category of my brain where I'd prefer one to the other--in the same way I wouldn't think to myself, "What do I want for supper, pot roast or a big glass of orange juice?"

  4. That said, I always enjoy these lists because I invariably run across albums and artists I know zero or virtually zero about:

    — Blonde, Frank Ocean
    — Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar
    — Back to Black, Amy Winehouse
    — The Blueprint, Jay-Z
    — Discovery, Daft Punk
    — The Low End Theory, A Tribe Called Quest
    — Kid A, Radiohead
    — Enter the Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang Clan
    — Illmatic, Nas
    — Homogenic, Bjork
    — Take Care, Drake
    — AM, Arctic Monkeys
    — All Eyez On Me, 2Pac
    — Baduizm, Erykah Badu
    — Dummy, Portishead
    — SOS, SZA
    — Un Verano Sin Ti, Bad Bunny
    — Norman Fucking Rockwell, Lana Del Rey
    — Golden Hour, Kacey Musgraves
    — Blue Lines, Massive Attack
    — The Frame Monster, Lady Gagga
    — Flower Boy, Tyler the Creator
    — A Seat at the Table, Solange
    — Untrue, Burial
    — Pure Heroine, Lorde
    — Astroworld, Travis Scott
    — Body Talk, Robyn

    1. You should give the Solange album a listen I think you would like it. HP Review.

    2. I have Astroworld, 1 star when I reviewed it. Robyn's Body Talk was my album of the year. But I wouldn't put it on a list like this. I gave Pure Heroine 2 stars.

  5. My daughter came home from the library the other day having checked out No. 17, What's Going On, by Marvin Gaye (I didn't have the heart to tell her). We put it on during lunch while we played Mille Bornes, and it's good! Here were my favorite 10 songs that I heard in the seven days that ended June 3, 2024:

    1. "God Is Love," Marvin Gaye
    2. "Expert in a Dying Field," Beths
    3. "Hell Yeah," Lake Street Dive live at Lockwood 20151112
    4. "Goodbye," Patty Griffin
    5. "If You Want Me," Billie Jo Spears
    6. "Happy in the Sorrow Key," Indigo Girls
    7. "Run," Willow
    8. "What’s Happening Brother," Marvin Gaye
    9. "Two Dollars in the Jukebox," Eddie Rabbit
    10. "Best Friend," Staves live 20200403

  6. Here are the albums on the list that I have:

    3. Abbey Road
    4. Purple Rain
    8. Back to Black
    9. Nevermind
    11. Rumours
    14. Highway 61 Revisited
    20. Pet Sounds
    21. Revolver
    22. Born to Run
    27. Led Zeppelin II
    31. Jagged Little Pill
    38. Tapestry
    49. The Joshua Tree
    78. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
    81. After the Gold Rush

    To me, it looks like a list of albums -- from a variety of different genres -- that are all popular with critics. And then they took the genres and mushed them together to get a total list of 100 albums. Like Matthew said, they made a decision to exclude country music, which strikes me as silly, but maybe they didn't feel like they knew enough about it.

  7. Now when you put out a list covering so many different genres and sub-genres, of course you're going to have odd mixes -- and I agree with Eric that the list sort of cuts against the way most of us listen to music. But did they do a bad job on the particular genres that I listen to? Not really. Led Zeppelin IV is better than Led Zeppelin II, and I think Sgt Pepper's is better than Revolver, but I think their rankings reflect the way most critics think these days, and the other picks on the list are all very solid.

  8. So if they did as good a job on the other genres as they did on Classic Rock, then the list is defendable, but any time you try to mix this many genres together you will get some odd results.

  9. I think a lot of people who we classify as experts these days are struggling with issues related to history. How many sportswriters under 40 could really explain the difference between, say, Don Shula and George Allen?

  10. I'm also interested in how the rankings of individual classic rock acts have changed. I can remember when "Who's Next" was in the running for greatest rock album of all time, and now the Who aren't even on the list. And I think almost everyone from 1985 would be surprised to see only one Springsteen album, and to see that album ranked well below Fleetwood Mac.

  11. Also, I think it's a shame that R.E.M. didn't make the list.