If asked to pick 10, 50 or even 100 records to be stranded on a desert island with, I would curl into a ball. The decision would eat away at me. How could I live the extent of my life with such a limited number of records? Bob Dylan has released 35 studio albums. Maybe they aren’t all worth listening to, but the bulk of them have held answers to many of life’s questions. That’s what great music does. It speaks to the you, instead of at you. It appreciates that a listener is a human being trying to struggle through the complex situations and emotions that musician may also be working through. That connection can be therapeutic. On the large scale, music has inspired movements that have shaped history. On the smaller scale, it has given lonely, depression-crippled souls reasons to live.
The LP has existed for more than 6 decades, and each year, it is a struggle to decide which is my favorite. Picking the most influential or best is impossible, unnecessary, and simply an act of pretention. Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and the elitist critics of the world will spend their time, your time, telling you why Vampire Weekend’s debut is greater than Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain. I will not argue. There’s no point. It’s an argument that cannot be won, because in the end it’s just two converging opinions.
And what does any of it matter? “Greatest” lists fail to offer personal context. Each listener perceives an album differently, because each listener is vastly different, affected by a different range of emotions. I respect and occasionally love rap, but I have a much harder time relating gangster rap than a troubled teenager whose life is reflected in the music. I’ve also never been inspired by the squeaky clean moments of disco, or the more aggressive metal bands. They surely speak to others, but not to me. No, I am the white middle class male whose upbringing was positive, artistic, intellectual, but occasionally crippled by depression. I live in New York City. I admire the avant garde, grit, but also long for bright colors and peace. Struggles with depression can leave me without feeling, so much of the music I admire most is loaded with soul and emotion.
The Beatles were the band whose music was most present in my house while growing up. My mother owned all of their records, so their songs quickly became familiar, laying a foundation for what I would accept as music. My older brothers were musicians, introducing me to a vast variety of bands, from Pink Floyd to Mr. Bungle to The Pixies to James Brown.
At thirty years old, I cannot remember a time when music wasn’t essential to my well-being. Like oxygen, I do not think it’s possible for me to live without. For the last decade, I’ve been photographing bands, writing about them, and even started a small label to help promote some of my favorites. It has consumed me. The search for the next great band was enchanting. But for the last couple years I’ve grown exhausted by the race towards the next big thing. Instead, I’ve turned back to the past to explore its history. I’ve been listening year by year, allowing for context to shape the listening experience. The significance of Mothers of Invention is more clear when listening only to the music that existed before them. But, as mentioned earlier, it is not significance that makes an artist speak to a listener. It’s something far more complicated.
Deep within the history of music, you’ll probably find the meaning of life. But far more importantly, I think you’ll find inspiration to continue living.
After months of listening, writing, and chronologizing, I’ve decided to begin publishing what I’m calling In Search For The Meaning of Life: A Chronology of The Modern Album. Over the upcoming months, I will be publishing a long list of albums that are significant on a personal level. Many will are universally loved and appreciated, others are forgotten relics of another time. The chronology will begin with the year 1957. I picked 1957, because the year features debut LPs by three very different artists whose music has been deeply inspiring.
Every day, I will post a different album. At the start of each new year, the first album posted will represent my favorite from that year.
The end purpose of this all is not yet 100% clear, but I believe the result will be a self-portrait. Contained within will be reflections of who I am that I’m not even aware of yet. But beyond personal and therapeutic reasons, I have to believe that some of those who discover this project and dive deep into these albums will find something special.
On a desert island, I could maintain sanity if allowed access to the following albums…