December 3, 2008
Last week I went to an event at a bowling alley in Greenpoint where a DJ played tracks from the book, and it seemed like a great selection. With 500 tracks to pick, they covered everything--some huge hits that probably appear in the majority of our planet's CD collections ("Holiday" and "Push It") as well as a Stereolab B-side ("French Disko") and a Magnetic Fields song released on a tiny label from Chicago that I mailed a check to in 1995 to order the album and they never sent me the damn thing ("Take Ecstasy With Me"). Justin Timberlake appears right next to Luomo. So it's a really eclectic list and a lot of fun to peruse.
They organized the book chronologically, starting in 1977 with "Heroes" by David Bowie, a song that on some days I think is the best song ever. It would probably be in my Pitchfork 1. Anyway, it's the perfect year to start with for anyone who is in my generation and doesn't want another rehash of how great our parents' music was. Pitchfork says they picked that year because it was "the birth of punk and independent music".
The book then travels through chunks of years that represent sort-of distinct periods of popular music with little blurbs about each song selected. There are also lots of pull-out mini-lists about notable (or made-up) sub-genres that might be the most compelling part of the book. They've got a section on Yacht Rock (which of course includes "Sailing" by Christopher Cross), Career Killers, and something like Bleep Rock which includes a personal favorite, I-F's "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass".
Listening to selections from the book as they were played leads me to guess that a significant number of the editors that chose the songs were mid-90's college radio DJs who happen like all the same stuff I liked when I was 20. Including some I've hardly thought about since I was 20 (Felt, Unrest). But there are many moments of recognition. My favorite Pavement song ("Summer Babe (Winter Version)") my favorite Kate Bush song ("Running Up That Hill", of course), AND my favorite Orange Juice song ("Blue Boy")! Whoa.
As with any "best of" list, there are going to be a lot of selections in there that you'll strongly disagree with (for example there is NO WAY that "Setting Sun" is the Chemical Brothers' best song) but the book is a pretty fascinating flip-through. And it would make a great gift for music fans, provided you are prepared to accept their refusal to leave the house, talk to you, or do any activity apart from read that book for several days after they get it. If you choose to give it as a gift, expect total engrossed silence, punctuated by outbursts of impassioned ranting about "Highway to Hell" vs. "Back in Black" and how just because Bon Scott was dead doesn't mean that they didn't record some of their best stuff post-1980.
Here's the full list.
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