60 at 60 – what to expect
There will be sixty albums at the end of this process, and – all things being equal – I’ll post them once a week in the sixty weeks leading up to my 60th birthday in October 2022. They may well appear in more than one place, but the definitive version will be here on these blog pages.
The albums will appear in chronological order; I’ve wrestled with this for a while now, but finally settled on the simplest order. This means that some albums will be wildly out of sync with when I first heard them, or first owned a copy, and others will appear exactly as they did in my life. This won’t, therefore, be a linear story, but I think that themes will appear naturally as we go along.
There won’t, however, be one album for each year of my life. I did start from that point, but picking only one album from, say, 1978, would not only be impossible, but would not tell the full story of what it was like to be 15 going on 16 at that extraordinary time for popular music.
I have, however, applied a couple of restrictions, to keep some variety in things (but see the disclaimer below):
- One album per artist. I’m slightly flexible on this, as we’ll see – some artists appear on more than one album – but there’s one Beatles album, for example. This, as you might imagine, has caused some sleepless nights, but as I write this, the list hasn’t changed for about a month, so I’m probably happy with it now. Also, you’ll only have to hear me ramble on about one Rush album, not all 19 of them.
- No classical albums. If you read the previous memories, you’ll notice that this is a Mahler-free zone. Perhaps it’s too restrictive – I don’t know, but getting this down to sixty was extraordinarily difficult; I had to ditch anything which wasn’t what we might call ‘rock and pop’ after the first couple of days of wrestling.
- No ‘greatest hits’ or equivalent (although yes to live albums, for reasons we’ll get into later). No ‘Various Artists’; no career retrospectives, entertaining though those could be. There is – I think – only one album in here which bends this rule; we’ll get to it in due course (some time next April, at the current rate).
I’ve left out so much, including several bands and artists I’d consider among my favourites (fourteen year old me would have been horrified to find no Deep Purple on this list, for example). Sometimes, I’ve left things out because I’ve already written about them exhaustively; others just wouldn’t fit (there are six albums released in 1978, for example, so no room for about a dozen others which I’ll talk about when we get there.)
On the other hand, there are some things in here I have written about before (including the very first one), and I’ve left them in because they are important to my musical journey, or because perhaps I felt that I’d like to see if I can get a wider audience for some of that writing. The majority of what’s to come is new writing, but apologies in advance if you feel I’ve said something before – I probably have.
The other point to make here – and I’m sure I’ll say it a few more times before we’re done: these aren’t my sixty favourite records, or even the ones I consider the sixty best; they are, for the most part, sixty albums I have something to say about, or which correspond to a significant part of my life, or which just couldn’t be left off this list for one reason or another.
A word or two about the composition of the list is in order, however.
When I completed my first pass at a list of sixty albums to represent my life, I was struck by just how much of it was by, for want of a better expression, ‘white boys with guitars’. Not all of it, to be sure, but seeing the list of names written down was a little sobering. Are my musical tastes really that narrow?
Well, in a way, yes they are, and I think there are a number of reasons for that.
Firstly, and there’s no getting away from this, I’m a middle-class white boy. I grew up in comfortable suburbia and wanted for nothing. The music I heard, and the music my peer group listened to, reflected that. We listened to music made by people like us. It challenged and tested us in the ways we wanted to be challenged and tested, but it ultimately reflected our lives back to us in one way or another.
When I wasn’t listening to my treasured collection of early seventies Prog albums (might as well get that one out of the way now; there’s going to be more than a few Prog albums, especially early on) I was, like everyone else I knew, glued to my transistor radio tuned to Radio 1. I’m old enough that I was tuned to 247 on the Medium Wave at first, and what I heard through the static and fuzz was a broad selection of what everyone else in the country was listening to. It didn’t really reflect what I was buying, but it was just as much part of my life.
1974 on my list is represented by the albums I bought around that time, but it’s just as much represented in my life by Sweet Sensation’s Sad Sweet Dreamer or the Three Degrees When Will I See You Again. I didn’t buy albums by any of the acts I heard on Radio 1, though.
So if you’re holding out to see which classic soul, R&B, reggae or hip hop albums I’m going to review, you’re going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. It’s not that I didn’t or don’t appreciate all those forms of music, and many others; it’s just that I never bought or loved any of those albums – not even Maggot Brain, which would have blown my pre-pubescent mind..
Still, it’s never too late to start.