As a guy who has not only written about, but also obsessed heavily — and some would say rather unhealthily — over rock and roll for the better part of five decades now, my own personal record collection has long been a source of personal pride to me. So much so in fact, that I consider it to be a unique part of my identity. But the truth is that I'm also guilty of that worst of music-snob crimes. I actually judge other people by their record collections.
Think I'm kidding?
There are a lot of reasons that at 53 years old I'm still single, most of which are probably best left unexplored here. But I'm reasonably certain that at least a few of them have to do with the numerous times I've gone over to a potential Mrs. Right's house for dinner, only to be promptly chased out on a rail for snickering a little too loudly at the Kenny G or Sting CD's sitting proudly atop her stereo.
Hey, I love to get lucky as much as the next guy. But all the candlelight and expensive wine in the world just can't warm me up to a woman who actually wears her Phil Collins albums on her sleeve like some kind of proud badge of adult-contemporary honor. Something about all that Su-Su-pseudo-hipness just really dampens the mood for me, okay?
Beyond my love life (or lack thereof) though, this affliction has likewise negatively impacted my professional career. The fact that I spend my unemployed days sleeping well into the afternoon, and my nights toiling endlessly over articles like this one, is no accident. Word of advice to the still employed: Never tell your boss his record collection sucks.
There is a true story I can now recount, about how I was once physically thrown out of the home of a former employer for making a snide comment about his choice in music. I believe the offending quote was something along the lines of how the seventies had called and wanted their 8-tracks back, once I examined his music collection and found it more than a bit heavy on artists like The Steve Miller Band, Styx, and Supertramp.
That guy who goes straight to your sound system when invited over for the big game on Sunday? Yup, that's me. Guilty as charged.
There is however a flip side to this sort of obsessive snobbishness, and that's when an equally musically snobbish friend turns the tables and decides to bust you on your own record collection.
One such friend (who is also a regular contributor here at BC) loves nothing more than to crash at my house after a night of heavy drinking and take over my CD player. He is also very predictable, and heads straight for the same CD's every single time. As a result, what used to be my favorite Alice In Chains album (Jar Of Flies) is now something I can barely stand to listen to.
The other thing this friend likes to do, though, especially if we've been drinking, is argue. One thing he especially loves to do is criticize and pick apart my music collection even as he has commandeered my stereo. The arguments usually start with questions about why I'm missing such "essential" albums as The Clash's Sandinista or McCartney's Band On The Run, yet own hits collections by such "disposable" bands as Duran Duran and Culture Club. From there, things usually end with my friend reminding me of how much my collection sucks, right before he passes out on my couch. I mean, what else are friends for, right?
So the question is, what exactly should the music collection of a so-called Rockologist in good standing contain? And conversely, what shouldn't be anywhere near my CD player? Since my friend has seen fit to freely express his opinion on this subject so many times over, I recently decided to take a closer look myself.
I have about 2000 CD's in my library, and in examining them I've actually discovered a lot about myself. For starters, I have way more records by Abba than I probably should. But going deeper…
Remember those "adult-contemporary" albums I mentioned? The ones I've kissed so many a night of sexual bliss away over? Well, I'm happy to report that I'm respectfully light on the Rod Stewart (at least post-Jeff Beck Group) and the Kenny G. But I'm also embarrassingly heavy in the Phil Collins and Sting departments (at least if albums by Genesis and the Police count).
Likewise, I also have to admit that although I'm a few Bob James CD's shy of a stint as music director for the local smooth jazz station, I own just enough Sade albums to earn me a spot on the playlist.
But since this is a Rockologist sort of thing we're talking about, let's get into the subject of actual "Rockology." What exactly are the albums that no self-respecting Rockologist should be without, and where do these albums fall within the confines of my own collection?
So let's see… Sgt. Pepper? Rubber Soul? Check. Blonde On Blonde? Blood On The Tracks? Check. Let It Bleed? Exile On Main Street? Check. Born To Run? Darkness? Check. On The Beach? Rust Never Sleeps? Check. Pet Sounds? Check. Nevermind? Check. OK Computer? Check. Dark Side Of The Moon? Double-check.
So far, so good. But hold on a second…
Where's Led Zeppelin IV? Where's Who's Next?
To be perfectly honest here, as much as I love both the Who and Zeppelin, both of these albums have been so overplayed by album-rock and classic-rock radio stations over the years, it sometimes feels like hearing them ever again would be like having razor blades driven deep into my eardrums.
Like I said, I love both bands. But I'll take side four of Quadrophenia over pretty much anything on Who's Next. Ditto for "Ten Years Gone" over "Stairway To Heaven." Come to think of it, lately I've been listening to the modern-day croak of Dylan far more than anything off of Highway 61 or Blood On The Tracks. Likewise, I much prefer the icy textures of Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac to anything off of OK Computer. I also liked Nirvana much better when the Stooges did it the first time around on Raw Power.
Looking a bit deeper into my own collection, there is also just enough genuine weirdness there to reveal more about my own personality than I'd probably care for most people to know. From the avant-feminism of Patti Smith, Vanessa Daou, and Julee Cruise, to the New Age somnambulism of Klaus Schulze and Bo Hannson, to the complex progginess of Crimson and Porcupine Tree — if anything my collection probably proves me to be a total musical schizophrenic.
So let's make a deal…you stay away from my record collection and I'll stay away from yours. And please don't tell anybody about the Al Stewart albums, okay?