Listening To History: The Fine Print

Okay, just for old times’ sake, here’s the introduction to this new project, explaining my terms, goals and the general structure of things. It’s a bit rambling, but I promise this is the last technical, dry thing I’ll post. I don’t even care if you read it or not.

Hello, readers, and welcome to my next project, Listening To History, wherein I briefly and (hopefully) interestingly summarize notable and revolutionary albums from the 1960s onward! I will be posting every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday until I run out of finished entries.

Now, when people talk about revolutionary music, it’s hard to clarify whether that term means “the first to do something”, “the first to do something in a popular and noticeable way which became the norm”, or “the first to do something while also doing it well”. So it was hard to decide between albums that were ahead of their time but ignored, albums that were influential but hesitant or primitive about their experimentation, and later albums that integrated the innovation perfectly into a band’s sound.

In that regard, some of these choices will not necessarily be the first to pioneer an innovation, but rather the first to merge it successfully with good songwriting, or the first to make it very popular and influential. Here’s an example: you could argue that punk music started in 1969 with the Stooges’ debut. But it had some weaknesses and was missing some elements of that genre that are impossible to ignore. Therefore, I instead selected the band’s next album, Fun House, for its importance to punk. On the other hand, one could make a case that John Lennon’s solo debut perfected the political and critical sides of the punk ethos, whereas the Stooges birthed its sound and nihilistic attitude. Both advancements deserve recognition, and so both LPs get their own entries. (In this case, The Stooges would be an album that was ahead of its time, while Plastic Ono Band added elements to what would become punk music. Finally, Ramones tied the whole package together into the gestalt whole that is familiar today.)

This feature serves as an objective (at least as much as possible) beginner’s guide to all the numerous developments and changes rock music has gone through over time. I will strive to present every possible musical development without getting too redundant or tangential. I will be adding to this list over time, and may even change a few choices.  I will only be covering albums I have heard. Some records in a genre might be far more influential than the ones I picked, but if I don’t have first-hand experience, then I won’t vouch for them. If anyone requests it, I can provide lists of other landmark records, however. I am also continuing to discover new music, so if I finally listen to an old classic, expect me to go back to its year of release and update the list. In each entry, I will also be picking a key track that best showcases what makes the record innovative, influential, popular or just plain entertaining. Double albums get two key tracks, one for each LP. I will try to provide audio links to these whenever possible. Finally, I will suggest further listening: other albums that did similar things, later successes based on the same formula, more records by the same artist, etc.

This is meant as a purely historical dissection of modern music (although, towards the rehash-happy ‘90s, I may have let a couple personal favorites slip through on nebulous terms). Since records only became dominant over singles in the mid-1960s, I’ll temporarily ignore important compilation releases from 50s artists. To streamline the choices, I tried to give the earliest and most revolutionary example of each “style” of music, and if I ran across a must-listen classic whose style was already roughly represented, I just picked the better record. Almost every last one of these is massively influential, artistically adequate, very accessible, diverse in style, mood and arrangement, and modestly popular.

For those of you who avoid my admittedly long-winded and quirky digressions, you’re in luck! By its very nature, this column is very concise, and explains the bigger picture of all the disparate pieces, aided by a brief overview of each decade covered. I’ll also explain any relevant technical or cultural details that come up. I hope you enjoy reading this, and you haven’t become disinterested because of my way-too-long 2000s reviews. Anyway, without any further ado, let’s begin – in chronological order.

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