Spotless Recommendations for Listening Pleasure

By Rob Patterson

If you love music anywhere near as much as I do, dance not walk to the nearest bookstore (or do the proverbial online) and pick up Tom Moon’s 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die. And hope for a long life to do as it recommends.

Moon is the former longtime Philadelphia Inquirer music critic, also known for his work in mags like Rolling Stone and Blender as well as on NPR’s All Things Considered. His addition to the best-selling 1,000 … Before You Die series is as essential as the recordings it spotlights, and a book that you can avidly skim and dip into from cover to cover as I did when it first arrived, plop atop the toilet top for further delving over time in those private moments, and ultimately trust to guide your purchases and listening.

I like and also trust Moon — full disclosure and sad commentary here — because he is one of maybe two out of the dozen or so fellow journalists who has interviewed me and not misquoted me, and I consider him what I call a professional friend. He’s also a musician, accomplished saxophonist, in fact, which is an even bigger reason to trust his ears.

Most music critics — who are largely non-musical — love lists, but I despise them, have hated the “Year End Best” round-ups for decades, because music is not quantitative but qualitative. And I’ve lived long enough within the thrall of music to know that today’s Top 10 rave can change on a spin (of another disc) or with time and reassessment.

Yet as I perused 1,000 Recordings…, time and again on the genres I pretty much feel I know down cold—rock and its roots antecedents and relatives—I’d come across Moon’s choice of the best album by an artist to start with and think, yeah, Tom’s right, that’s the one (he also lists Catalog Choices to hear them further).

Like his choice of Lou Reed’s New York, for instance. Even if I’m currently in the mood for Lou’s monumental live Rock’n’Roll Animal, I remember wandering my old NYC Lower East Side neighborhood playing New York on my Walkman and being stunned by its Picasso meets Dos Passos depiction of reality and swooning to its terse yet pointed musicality and elemental grooves. Yep, Reed’s finest moment.

Sure, I can quibble a wee bit, being a critic myself. Where’s Squeeze, the new wave era British band who could truly have been the next best Beatles (or for that matter where’s Oasis, the next best Beatles after them)? But then Moon both cites and gives more than usual words to Solid Air, the transformative 197X album by the criminally-overlooked British folk expansionist and musical explorer John Martyn, a genius on the level of John Coltrane—who gets three album entries here, preceded by Patsy Cline, The Coasters, Eddie Cochran, Joe Cocker. Codona 3 (a Don Cherry project I now must hear), Leonard Cohen, Nat King Cole and—in one hell of a coincidental set-up—Ornette Coleman, and followed by The Comedian Harmonists, Ry Cooder, Sam Cooke, Alice Cooper and Aaron Copland.

You get the picture? This guide is spiritually comprehensive, even it’s its exclusionary by its sheer numbers nature. In preparing the book, Moon started with many thousands more albums—he also includes just songs, and the ones chosen are indeed choice—and the result of his paring is nearly perfect. And on genres I am certainly familiar with but hardly as engaged as I should be, like jazz and the classics, Moon is now my man to take me where I wish to go.

Like the 1,000 Places… guides to this miraculous and amazing planet, this collection of brief essays on recordings offers the most gorgeous, stunning, breathtaking, soul-stirring, heartrending, inspiring and thought-provoking entry points into the so utterly rewarding world of music. And the author writes his thoughts on the recordings like the smart and soulful jazzbo saxman he is: Adding his own tonal shades and accents to the chorus of acclaim that many entries have already earned, and also tossing in his own concise yet revelatory riffs that often for me burst open new facets of even albums I know so well that I can play them in my head.

So excuse me now, I must be going. I have much music to purchase (not steal on the Internet) and listen to in what little time I may have left.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2008

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