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Answers From the Dean
Online Exchange with Robert Christgau, Part V

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Editor's note: Several of the participants in this survey asked Robert some variation on one of the following three questions: 1) What are your favorite albums and singles of the '90s? 2) What are your favorite albums of the '60s? 3) What are your all-time favorite jazz records? Here, he tackles them all in one shot, along with a few other list-oriented queries. (Thanks to the following participants who asked for lists or were beaten to the punch with their questions: Scott Bassett, the Betatronix Gang, Charles Bromley, Joe Elsa, Kurt Jaeckel, Jim Ross, Vic S., John Tiglias, and Joe Yanosik.)

I'm gonna deal with the rest of the list questions here, but first I'd like to say a few things about lists in general. I love lists, and that love is a source of my own peculiar cult status. It's the reason I started Pazz & Jop, the reason I started the A lists in the back of the CG books. But let's be clear--as Nick Hornby has made a mint proving (hey, give me some), lists are very boy. You should have seen me arranging my baseball cards, keeping Peter Tripp's top 40, devising my pathetic top 10s of girls in Flushing High School at a time when I'd never had a single date (which, for the record, was all of my time in Flushing High School). This is why Greil Marcus attracts fans who write avant-garde theater pieces based on his critical fantasies and I get guys asking for my favorite albums by knuckleballers. Second, done properly, lists are work (as are grades, you think I just know about lots of records I don't tell anyone about?). The reason I didn't do a '90s core library, much to the dismay of my editor and many reviewers, is that we were on a tight deadline and I wasn't about to squeeze one out in less than the week I didn't have, which is what the '80s core library took. I'm not about to do that work here, either, except for some relistening on the '90s and then '60s top 10, which was fun. I love excuses to play records I love.

Robert Christgau after a hard session of listmaking

'90s albums
I will note, if you do not, that four of these albums put together previously uncompiled old music and one reconstitutes even more obscure thrift-store stuff. Only the Sonic Youth and Nirvana, plus maybe the heavily sampled Latin Playboys, are "new"/"progressive." I will not generalize from these odd facts until I think about them for a few months, however, and would urge a similar caution on the part of my readers.

  • Guitar Paradise of East Africa (Earthworks)
  • Latin Playboys (Slash/Warner Bros.)
  • Sonic Youth: A Thousand Leaves (DGC)
  • Elmore James: The Sky Is Crying: The History of Elmore James (Rhino)
  • The Music in My Head (Stern's Africa)
  • DJ Shadow: Endtroducing . . . DJ Shadow (Mo' Wax/FFRR)
  • Nirvana: Nevermind (DGC)
  • Tom Zé: Brazil Classics 4: The Best of Tom Zétom (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)
  • Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (Mercury)
  • Iris DeMent: My Life (Warner Bros.)

    Didn't make the cut, that doesn't mean others wouldn't come in higher if I made a project out of this:

  • Arto Lindsay: Mundo Civilizado (Bar/None)
  • Public Enemy: Fear of a Black Planet (Def Jam)
  • Tricky: Maxinquaye (Island)
  • Fluffy: Black Eye (The Enclave)
  • The Magnetic Fields: 69 Love Songs (Merge)
  • Oruj Guvenc & Tumata: Ocean of Remembrance (Interworld)

    '90s singles

  • Fatboy Slim: "The Rockafeller Skank" (Astralwerks)
  • Backstreet Boys: "I Want It That Way" (Jive)
  • Public Enemy: "Welcome to the Terrordome" (Def Jam)
  • Eminem: "My Name Is" (Aftermath/Interscope)
  • B-Rock & the Bizz: "MyBabyDaddy" (LaFace)
  • Boogie Down Productions: "Love's Gonna Getcha (Material Love)" (Jive)
  • L.L. Cool J: "Around the Way Girl" (Def Jam/Columbia)
  • Los Del Rio: "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)" (RCA)
  • FU-Schnickens: "Sum Dum Munkey" (Jive)
  • John Prine: "In Spite of Ourselves" (Oh Boy)

    Second 10

  • Kris Kross: "Jump" (Ruffhouse/Columbia)
  • Cher: "Believe" (Warner Bros.)
  • Fugees: "Fugee La La" (Ruffhouse/Columbia)
  • Beck: "Loser" (DGC)
  • Geto Boys: "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" (Rap-a-Lot)
  • Coolio: "Gangsta's Paradise" (Tommy Boy)
  • Puff Daddy & the Family: "I'll Be Missing You" (Bad Boy)
  • R.E.M.: "Losing My Religion" (Warner Bros.)
  • MC Hammer: "U Can't Touch This" (Capitol)
  • MC Lyte: "Ruffneck" (First Priority)

    Box sets
    Fuck box sets. Of course I have a lot of boxes, they come in the mail, but unless they come in yours why should you? They're for completists, collectors, scholars, not living music fans, and in general I suggest buying individual CDs or, often with the good guys, two-disc sets. My few active favorites will be no surprise because most are in the '90s Consumer Guide book: James Brown's Star Time, Louis Armstrong's Portrait of the Artist, Janis Joplin's Janis, the reggae comp Tougher Than Tough, Hip-O's The Funk Box, The Essential Johnny Cash is about the right size, and maybe Rhino's first doo wop box, though even there there's a lot to be said for the individual CD route. I once wrote something nice about the B.B. King but never play it because I've got single CDs. The Etta James I crack occasionally. I like the cornball Armstrong triple MCA put out. And hey, I once bought the Richard Pryor as a present for my sister's family. Gave them Star Time, too. And at least three times I've purchased the Armstrong as a wedding or birthday present. Voting with your wallet, always a good test.

    Jazz albums
    Note how many of my jazz selections date to the late '50s and early '60s, when jazz was what I listened to:

  • Thelonious Monk: Misterioso (live at the Five Spot, Johnny Griffin's six-minute solo on "In Walked Bud" has been just about my favorite "moment" in music since I was 18, have never connected deeply to a single other thing he's done).
  • Duke Ellington: Flaming Youth ('20s stuff, way out of print on RCA's Vintage imprint, played it to death in the '70s, one-disc Decca best CD substitute I know but not as good).
  • Any decent Charlie Parker Dial comp.
  • Louis Armstrong's Portrait of the Artist.
  • Louis Armstrong's 16 Most Requested Songs if that counts (really a pop record I suppose).
  • Miles Davis: Kind of Blue(Why fucking not?)
  • Miles Davis: Jack Johnson (His best electric record.)
  • Ornette Coleman: Of Human Feeling (Change of the Century my favorite classic.)
  • Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners
  • Sonny Rollins: Silver City
         I play recent CD comps on Coltrane, Coleman, Monk, Fitzgerald. Play Holiday less because she's so bleak but love her as much. I'm still exploring the Ken Burns Jazz comps.

    Most "listenable" albums
    Let it be said that when I play music for pleasure, it's usually recent music. I love The Immortal Otis Redding and doubt I've heard it three times in the past five years. Also, I almost never listen for pleasure when I'm alone. Carola my love (and to a lesser extent Nina), welcome aboard. This one will be even more off-the-cuff than the other lists herein, and for sanity's sake it'll be in alphabetical order.

  • Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Columbia)
  • Aretha Franklin: Spirit in the Dark (Atlantic)
  • Al Green: Call Me (Hi)
  • Guitar Paradise of East Africa (Earthworks)
  • Latin Playboys (Slash/Warner Bros.)
  • The Marvelettes' Greatest Hits (Tamla) (MCA cheapo CD omits "Twistin' Postman," boo.)
  • Thelonious Monk: Misterioso (Riverside)
  • Steve Reich: Music for 18 Musicians (ECM)
  • Sonic Youth: A Thousand Leaves (DGC)
  • Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic)
  • Tom Zé: Brazil Classics 4: The Best of Tom Zé (Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

    '60s albums
    (In order, but with no artist repetitions and no jazz, that would be too hard, and by the way, I paid cash money for numbers one, three, four, and ten.)

  • The Beatles' Second Album (Capitol)
  • The Velvet Underground (Verve)
  • The Shirelles' Greatest Hits (Scepter)
  • The Rolling Stones: Aftermath (or maybe Let It Bleed) (London)
  • Dusty Springfield: Dusty in Memphis (Atlantic)
  • Otis Redding: The Immortal Otis Redding (Atco)
  • The Beach Boys: Wild Honey (Capitol)
  • Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia)
  • The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M)
  • The Marvelettes' Greatest Hits (Tamla)

    Five favorite albums by knuckleballers:

  • Michael Hurley/Unholy Modal Rounders/Jeffery Frederick & the Clamtones: Have Moicy! (Rounder)
  • The Insect Trust: Hoboken Saturday Night (Atco)
  • Ian Dury: Juke Box Dury (Stiff)
  • DeBarge: In a Special Way (Gordy)
  • Arto Lindsay: Mundo Civilizado (Bar/None)

    Click here to go back to part 1 of the Dean