Review: ‘Paul Simon: The Life’ by Robert Hilburn

Paul Simon: The Life by Robert Hilburn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t know whether you’d call “Paul Simon: The Life” an authorized biography, but it sure is polite.

Simon did sit down with author Robert Hilburn for many interviews, but according to Hilburn, he didn’t have final say over the result. Nevertheless, Hilburn frequently pulls his punches, giving Simon the benefit of the doubt even when he’s being a prick.

The controversial journey to apartheid South Africa, then being shunned by many artists, to record songs for “Graceland”? Simon ran it by a number of interested parties, including at least one group that stabbed him in the back. Later, when Hilburn talks with Steven Van Zandt – still opposed to the trip years later – Van Zandt comes off as angrily wrongheaded. (Update: And Van Zandt helped save his life!)

The writing dispute with Los Lobos over “The Myth of Fingerprints,” which was credited solely to Simon? The band from East L.A. is still angry, but the incident is shrugged off.

The relationship with Simon’s father, Lou, which came off as difficult in a 1990 “60 Minutes” interview with Ed Bradley? Well, he could be hard to please, but he was still Paul’s hero.

I’m not saying Hilburn got it wrong. I think Simon went out of his way to do the right thing in South Africa, and I wasn’t in the studio with Los Lobos (though what Steve Berlin describes in the link above sounds plausible). Nor did I ever meet Lou Simon.

But boy. Hilburn’s Simon is admired by almost everybody – I can’t tell you how many times Quincy Jones is quoted when Hilburn needs a reference to an “artist on a challenging path” – and though Simon is lightly criticized for his perfectionism (to which, frankly, he’s entitled), he’s also overly praised for his generosity. I mean, the guy actually gave Warner Bros. their money back when the film “One Trick Pony” tanked, according to the book.

Still, you can’t deny Simon’s artistry, and Hilburn – who’s been writing about popular music for decades – captures it well. Simon did not emerge fully formed with “The Sound of Silence”; he was a fan of doo-wop who lucked out on a middling, early rock ‘n’ roll hit, “Hey, Schoolgirl,” with a grade-school buddy, Art Garfunkel, and never really strayed from the music business, scraping by for years.

Some of Hilburn’s most interesting stories are in the period between 1957’s “Hey, Schoolgirl” and the sudden takeoff of “The Sound of Silence” in late 1965 after producer Tom Wilson added electric instruments to an acoustic version off the failed album “Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.” Simon was a hustler, writing and song-plugging for music publishers in Manhattan with little success while halfheartedly attending Queens College. He worked Village coffeehouses – awkwardly – and kept hustling when he got his shot with Columbia Records, bringing Garfunkel along with him. (Art actually stayed in school well after the duo became stars, earning an M.A. in mathematics from Columbia in 1967. You know, in case the rock ‘n’ roll thing didn’t work out.)

Simon also benefited from connecting with the right people. He made friendships, and improved his chops, during a 1965 stint in England that paid dividends for years. Later in 1965, with “Sound of Silence” rising on the charts, he asked Columbia’s debonair president Goddard Lieberson to recommend a manager. Lieberson suggested either Albert Grossman (who already represented Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary) or a man named Mort Lewis. Simon went with Lewis, who turned out to be a scrupulous guardian.

And the songs. There’s no question Simon is one of the great American songwriters, capable of clever melodies, haunting lyrics, and unusual ideas. If his work had ended with Simon and Garfunkel, he’d still be considered one of the greats: “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “The Boxer,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – that’s a career, right there. Add in “American Tune,” “Still Crazy After All These Years,” “Stranded in a Limousine,” “The Late Great Johnny Ace,” even several songs from the unfairly maligned “The Capeman,” and he’s up there with the legends.

Hilburn has a fondness for quoting entire Simon compositions, something I thought would be tedious – Look! Poetry! – but turns out to be wise, as Simon’s later work, in particular, offers a delicacy and care often missing from capital-S Songwriting. His lyrics take unexpected turns and actually work as verse, though the music does help.

But Hilburn could have been sympathetic to Simon, who sounds like a mostly decent guy, and still been more dispassionate. I can’t help comparing Hilburn’s book to the recent biography of Mike Nichols, a Simon friend who had his own long, successful career. Nichols biographer Mark Harris is hard-pressed to find an actor who doesn’t praise Nichols to the skies, but at the same time what comes across is a sometimes-tortured gentleman who really could be an asshole and make poor decisions – and yet it makes him all the more human and sympathetic. I seldom got that feeling with Simon. He’s an artist, usually a gentleman (and certainly generous), but Hilburn buffs his flaws to a fine sheen.

However, Hilburn does seem fair about one characterization in particular: Art Garfunkel, who comes across as smart, but also petty and truculent, holding grudges for 50 years. Simon earns our sympathy at those times. He seems almost saintly.

Though maybe I’m just being polite.

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Sunday read: Sing a song of Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett. Photo via the Palm Springs Desert Sun/Gannett.

Tony Bennett struggles to remember.

Faces can prompt blank looks. Words don’t come easily. Events from his past — a career that’s included Number One hits, success across the decades, praise from Frank Sinatra — have apparently vanished in the recesses of his mind.

Tony Bennett has Alzheimer’s disease. He was diagnosed in 2016, when he was 90. He’s 94 now, and though he still has many moments of clarity, the isolation of Covid hasn’t helped his condition.

But do not weep for Tony Bennett. He is actually an example of what staying active can do to keep the disease in the background. He even performed right up until last March, when Covid brought the curtain down on live performance, and his pianist, Lee Musiker, comes to Bennett’s apartment twice a week to rehearse. (Musiker succeeded Ralph Sharon, who worked with Bennett for five decades.)

Bennett is the subject of an extensive profile by John Colapinto, “Tony Bennett’s Battle with Alzheimer’s,” in the current AARP The Magazine. It’s my Sunday read.

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Sunday read: The past and future of ‘Be’

The Beatles on the set of “Let It Be,” from denofgeek.com.

I was going to write something about the events at the Capitol last week. I thought it was interesting how they provided a perversely tragic bookend to the inauguration of the president’s other favorite president, Andrew Jackson, an occasion when mobs overran the White House and Jackson himself had to sneak out a window. (“The reign of King Mob seemed triumphant,” said Supreme Court justice Joseph Story.) To paraphrase Karl Marx, history repeats itself, the first time as farce, the second as tragedy.

But I’m still too angry and upset to deal with it. So I’m going to go to my Happy Place: talking about the Beatles.

You’re probably aware by now that Peter Jackson is taking the raw material of the “Let It Be” sessions and refashioning it into a new documentary, one that appears to be much happier than the sometimes bitter original film, which ended up as the group’s official swan song (and, in fact, appeared after the group had broken up).

I can’t help but think: Is this revisionist history? Or is it closer to the way things were?

And what impact does re-editing our memories have on their impact?

So I bring to you a pair of Sunday reads: “Let It Be” director Michael Lindsay-Hogg on Jackson’s project, and Francis Ford Coppola on the changes he made in “The Godfather Part III” (now retitled “Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone”).

“Let It Be” hasn’t been easily available since the VHS era; I can remember seeing it in a midnight showing at the Abalon Theater in New Orleans sometime around 1980, when midnight movies were a common way of showcasing older or outre works. Its reputation had preceded it: the Beatles seemingly trapped in a different studio than the familiar Abbey Road, constantly surrounded by cameras (in the days before that was a thing), with John bringing Yoko into the inner sanctum and Paul and George bickering over guitar parts.

Harrison, in fact, quit the band during the sessions. He didn’t return for more than a week, but when he did, he brought Billy Preston with him, and the rest of the sessions were calmer.

It’s Harrison’s attitude, along with Lennon’s opinion of the music, that’s colored opinion of “Let It Be” over the years. But McCartney and Starr have their own memories, and with more than five decades gone, we’re apparently going to see a more even-handed take of the era.

Does that mean Lindsay-Hogg’s original version is wrong? Not even he thinks so.

That argument was a small thing but it suggested there was certain amount of tension between them at this time in their life and indeed, why wouldn’t there be tension? They’re musicians and artists and they’ve known each other since they were teenagers and so they got married very young.

And you have to remember the time: the band is past its days of novelty. There are many things amazing about the Beatles, but for me, what often stands out is their energy — an ability to bring the joy of live performance to the studio. Just yesterday, I was listening to “I Want to Tell You,” a Harrison track off “Revolver,” and you can hear the thrill of musicians discovering new parts of themselves, and their love of doing it together.

By early 1969, though, they’d become businessmen and spouses and, above all, more cognizant of their individuality. The White Album, released just a few weeks’ before, showed they could still bring it, but it also showed they didn’t need each other as much as they did a couple years previous.

The White Album has been criticized for its sprawl, which brings up the question: What would you cut? What would you change? That got me pondering the value of good editing. I happen to love John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces,” but a recent article in The New Yorker mentioned that famed editor Robert Gottlieb wanted Toole to cut some of its set pieces. (Fortunately, they survived.)

In Hollywood, editing can make or break films. In his interview about “Godfather III,” Coppola talks about how “Godfather II,” which some critics consider superior to the first “Godfather,” was originally received at a screening.

When we previewed The Godfather Part II in San Francisco, we had a tepid reaction. And it was a mixed movie, meaning the sound and everything was done. That night, I made 121 changes, which is unheard of, because to make an editorial change when the film already has music and everything is really hard. We went three days later and previewed it again in San Diego, and the difference was night and day, which was the version that generally people value, which is Part II.

I’m reminded of a line told me when I was working on a story about film editor Kevin Tent, who’s done most of Alexander Payne’s films. Another editor said that his position is the most optimistic he knows; editors always think they can save the movie.

“Godfather III” appears to have been improved by Coppola’s changes. What will “Get Back,” the Jackson “Let It Be,” do to the image of the late Beatles? I’ve got a feeling it will add another facet to one of the great stories of recent years.

You can read the Coppola interview here and the Lindsay-Hogg interview here.

Sunday read: When Paul was still a Beatle

Paul McCartney recording “Abbey Road,” July 1969.

I was surprised how gleeful I was to read a new interview with Paul McCartney — or, should I say, another interview with Paul McCartney.

Because I’ve read and seen many interviews with Macca, whether in magazines, excerpted in books, or broadcast on air. And yet I never get tired of them, even when it’s obvious he’s playing to the camera (so to speak).

He comes across as a working-class lad made good: still slightly stunned by the success of the Beatles, still trying new things (his new album, “McCartney III,” is due out December 18), still taking great pleasure (perhaps greater pleasure) in his family and friends in this, late in the eighth decade of his long, rich life.

I remember reading a comment by U2’s Bono that, upon arranging to meet McCartney and expecting him to pull up in some priceless overly large car with a chauffeur, McCartney himself pulled up in some little runabout. He tries to keep himself down to earth, even though much of the public would be willing to literally roll out red carpets for him to walk on.

And yet, he’ll always be a Beatle. That’s the way most of us think of him, despite 50 years of him being a non-Beatle, and also despite the perhaps apocryphal story of the 1970s teenagers who found a Beatles album in a record store and said, “Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?”

Well, yes he was, and it was a miracle.

At the time, though, who knew that almost nothing would ever compare to the music and the impact of the Fab Four? Certainly not the Fabs themselves.

So, for my Sunday read, I dug through the endlessly interesting archives of beatlesinterviews.org. In there there’s this everyday chat with one Mr. P. McCartney, conducted by the BBC’s David Wigg in September 1969. “Abbey Road” was about to be released, and McCartney took the opportunity to talk about his favorite songs on the album, the relationship between the Beatles, and what else was going on in his life. You would never know that the band was just months away from its official split, and the cracks had already started widening. (This was not long before it was revealed that McCartney had died and been replaced by the mysterious William Campbell, but that’s a very different story.)

McCartney has generally been a sunny, optimistic type, and in many respects the tone in this interview is little different from the one he gave The New York Times’ David Marchese. Still, there are nuggets of recognition for future scholars. My favorite is this exchange, when Wigg asks Paul about his just-born daughter:

DAVID: “How is the baby?”

PAUL: (proudly) “She’s fantastic, yes, she’s beautiful. She’s about the best looking baby I’ve ever seen. Nicest. Just started on cereal, took every drop!”

DAVID: (laughs)

PAUL: “For all the mothers and fathers listening.”

DAVID: “And now, are we going have a ‘Mary’ song?”

PAUL: “I don’t know.”

DAVID: “Soon?”

PAUL: “I don’t know. There’s, we did a song which has Mary in it, but it was written before she was born.”

DAVID: “I see.”

That song may sound familiar.

We now know that “Mary” was a reference to Paul’s mum, and that the idea for the song came to him in a dream. And as he tells the NYT’s Marchese, he’s a big believer in dreams.

Which I find charming, since pretty much all of his dreams came true — enough, in fact, for the rest of us to indulge in them.

You can read the 1969 McCartney interview with David Wigg here.

Review: ‘That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound’ by Daryl Sanders

That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound: Dylan, Nashville, and the Making of Blonde on Blonde by Daryl Sanders

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclosure: “Blonde on Blonde” is my favorite album.

In the 39(!) years since I first bought Bob Dylan’s 1966 classic as a curious 16-year-old who’d read about it from best-of lists, it has rarely failed to seduce me. There’s an energy about it that is equaled by few other records in my estimation – “Revolver,” “Moby Grape,” maybe Television’s “Marquee Moon” and the Clash’s “London Calling.” As with those albums, there are unpolished instances where things threaten to go completely off the rails, but that unpredictability only makes the music more powerful and transcendent. I can think of few moments more sublime than, say, the big G chord near the end of “Got to Get You Into My Life,” or the headlong rush into the last chorus of “Brand New Cadillac.”

But “Blonde on Blonde” has something more: Dylan’s lyrics. Opaque, imagistic, funny – “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” always makes me laugh – I don’t read into them as much as the budding A.J. Webermans of our time, but there’s no question that they provide a bottomless well of metaphor for those who seek that kind of thing. (For the rest of us, they just sound good.)

I wish Daryl Sanders’ chronicle of “Blonde on Blonde,” “That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound” – the title comes from Dylan himself, expressing a yearning for what he was hearing in his head – had the same kind of energy and unpredictability. Instead, it’s an adequate biography with some interesting detours, but on the whole simply an extended magazine article.

Sanders does do a service by pointing out that the key to understanding the sound of “Blonde on Blonde” is Nashville, where Dylan relocated after some abortive New York sessions after the success of “Like a Rolling Stone.” That single had peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, making Dylan an unlikely hitmaker after years of others, such as Peter, Paul & Mary and the Byrds, streamlining Dylan’s voice-guitar-harmonica songs into Top 40-friendly pop hits. Though “Stone” was produced by Tom Wilson, Dylan had switched afterwards to Bob Johnston, a Columbia Records staff producer who both gave the bard more freedom and had a better sense on how to record his roughest rock ‘n’ roll edges. (Compare the clanging “Maggie’s Farm,” off the Wilson-produced “Bringing It All Back Home,” with the richer Johnston-produced “Tombstone Blues,” from the follow-up, “Highway 61 Revisited.”)

Johnston had a feeling Dylan would mesh well with some of Nashville’s top session men, including multi-instrumentalist Charlie McCoy, drummer Kenneth Buttrey, pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins, bassist Henry Strzelecki, and guitarists Joe South, Wayne Moss, and Mac Gayden. With some established Dylan sidemen, notably organist Al Kooper and guitarist Robbie Robertson, in the mix, “Blonde on Blonde” ended up making Nashville more than the country music capital it had been, with other rock musicians visiting town to get some of the Dylan magic.

In the detail that surprised me most, that magic often came at the end of long – very long – nights. The Nashville session guys would gather in the afternoon at Columbia’s Studio A and Dylan would arrive, usually with songs unfinished. So the session men would get paid for one three-hour session, then a second, sometimes more, as they waited in the canteen, smoking cigarettes or playing pool but not actually playing music. Finally Dylan would emerge and recording would start in earnest, the group, in Sanders’ telling, palpably exhausted.

This is how we got “Fourth Time Around,” “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” and “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” among others. It’s as if the group flicked a switch and the electricity flowed through them.

Another surprise, to me, was how young the Nashville pros were. Perhaps because Music City didn’t seem rock ‘n’ roll friendly in the mid-‘60s, I’d pictured McCoy, Buttrey and the others as mildly grizzled guys in their 30s and 40s, Hank Williams veterans resistant to Dylan’s style. Instead, McCoy was the leader of Nashville’s top rock band, the Escorts, and all of 24 when he started recording “Blonde on Blonde.” Buttrey was 20. The others were only slightly older. (Dylan was 24.)

For all this, Sanders’ book somehow lacks the same electricity – or even the ghost of electricity — that the album has. He goes into minutia about takes and studio chatter, great for a Dylan completist but adding little to the story. He quotes from clippings and other memoirs in a way that seems separate from his story (this is what sometimes makes the book feel like a long magazine article). He turns to people like Robyn Hitchcock and Dave Marsh for commentary; Marsh, who is very much capable of investing his prose with electricity, would have been better off writing his own book.

And the Nashville cats themselves are a rather modest bunch. Dylan surprised them and stretched them, but they are, at bottom, professionals – not wild-eyed Keith Moons shoving TVs out of hotel windows. Making music was, and for many still is, their job, as regular as punching a clock at a factory. They just happen to be very, very good at it, but they’re less good at talking about it.

The phrase “that thin, wild mercury sound” brings to mind a medieval alchemist, combining ingots of rare earth, the fur of feral dogs, and bits of Scripture an igniting it with a literal fiery passion. Perhaps that’s what makes “Blonde on Blonde” so special, a chemistry that can’t be recreated, and Sanders – as the old comparison claims – may as well be dancing about architecture in trying to write about it.

Dylan, of course, doesn’t need to say anything. “Blonde on Blonde” has said it all for him already. Sooner or later, we all know that.

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Sunday read: Behind the scenes with Milli Vanilli

The Best New Artist Grammy winners before it all came crashing down.

I recently found a tongue-in-cheek 1990 column from a long-defunct music magazine, Request, about “Why Milli Vanilli Is the Best Band Ever.”

Among the reasons: Neither the Beatles nor Bob Dylan ever placed a song in MTV’s “Top 20 Music Video Countdown”; unlike Dylan, “who has done entire albums with just acoustic guitar and harmonica,” Milli Vanilli’s use of sequencers and synthesizers put them at the cutting edge of music technology; and Milli Vanilli doesn’t “subject its fans to the uncertainty of bad sound systems or sore throats,” instead using pre-recorded vocals to ensure seamless performances.

The column was titled, “World, You Know It’s True.”

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Sunday read: Swingin’ on the flippity-flop with Nirvana and Pearl Jam

Image from Classic Album Sundays.

(h/t to Will Leitch for the tip)

Sometime in the early ’90s, I remember going into my local Atlanta Macy’s and seeing a large display of overpriced flannel shirts.

Grunge had gone mainstream.

Hell, grunge had gone past mainstream. “Mainstream” is usually acceptable and ignored. This was a shameless attempt by some middle-aged clothing buyer to impress suburban Georgia kids by nodding in their direction — and failing miserably.

The New York Times had been there. In late 1992, the Paper of Record did a piece for its featherweight Styles section on grunge culture. Accompanying the article was a “grunge dictionary,” featuring such commonplace Puget Sound vernacular as “harsh realm” (bummer), “Tom-Tom Club” (uncool outsiders), and my favorite, “swingin’ on the flippity-flop” (hanging out).

Sounds like the bee’s knees, right? I mean, whaddya want, wicker?

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Eddie Van Halen, 1955-2020

Image from Getty via Rolling Stone.

I was not a Van Halen fan.

This made me unusual among my generation. I entered high school in 1978, when the band released its debut album, and their music was inescapable well into my college years. The local AOR station played “Dance the Night Away” and “And the Cradle Will Rock” enough to wear holes in the grooves; MTV pretty much ran cuts from “1984” nonstop. Van Halen was one of the towering groups of my demographic.

But, in general, it wasn’t my kind of rock. I thought it sounded kinda dumb and flashy and not at all what a ’60s/New Wave-besotted teen listened to. (At least this one.)

But I was, and remain, an Eddie Van Halen fan.

How could I not be? The guy was a genuine guitar wizard, capable of making sounds only imagined by his peers, with speed and dexterity to burn.

And underneath those chops — on display in “Eruption,” “Hot for Teacher,” and the solo to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” among many others — there was genuine soul. He wasn’t a speedfingers for the sake of speed; there was real heart underneath that tapping and bending.

Van Halen died Tuesday of cancer. He was 65.

His work may have been dazzling, but the man himself was rather reserved. My friend Denise Quan had the opportunity to interview Van Halen more than once, and reported that, in person, he was the antithesis to the image of a hard-partying rock star — thoughtful and soft-spoken. (Indeed, he was known to spend hours on tour simply playing guitar in his hotel room. David Lee Roth, on the other hand …) Indeed, he even invented an indestructible instrument, the Wolfgang, to resist the wear-and-tear he gave conventional (that is, non-Eddie Van Halen-created or -altered) guitars.

So I may not have had “Van Halen II” on repeat, but I had (and have) a huge respect for the band’s lead guitarist. He loved the music, and spoke best through his work.

As he told Denise, “Believe it or not, I really don’t have much to say — ’cause the equipment speaks for itself. And so does the music.”

No question about that.

Sunday read: The (maybe, could be, if you say so) greatest albums of all time

Image from Lonnie Timmons III/The Plain Dealer via AL.com.

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I purchased a slim book called “Rock Critics’ Choice: The Top 200 Albums.”

I was already vaguely familiar with the book, compiled by writer Paul Gambaccini, thanks to a list of the top 10 (or 20, I forget) having already appeared in one of the Wallace/Wallechinsky “Book of Lists,” if I recall. It was released in 1978, and reading it today — when pop music has spread out in countless new directions — gives you an idea of what would become the hardened canon for years to come:

  1. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the Beatles
  2. “Blonde on Blonde,” Bob Dylan
  3. “Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan
  4. “Astral Weeks,” Van Morrison
  5. “Rubber Soul,” the Beatles

And on down the line: “Revolver” at No. 6, “Exile on Main Street” at No. 7 (surprising for the time, given that it was considered one of the weaker Stones albums until later), Love’s “Forever Changes” at No. 16, “Led Zeppelin IV” at No. 29, et cetera. You could already see some trends rising thanks to the coming of punk — lots of Velvet Underground, the Stooges’ “Funhouse” at No. 114 — and some (a lack of funk, high rankings for “Frampton Comes Alive” and Supertramp’s “Even in the Quietest Moments”) that would wither.

(The Supertramp ranking is almost entirely due to critic Ritchie Yorke placing it at No. 1 on his personal top 10. Yorke would later be listed as No. 6 on Greil Marcus’ list of “10 Worst Rock Critics” in “The Book of Rock Lists.”)

“Rock Critics’ Choice” was one of many best-of/ratings works I’ve purchased or read over the years. The first “Book of Rock Lists,” co-edited by Dave Marsh, did a nice job in a closing chapter that consists of nothing but Top 40 singles and albums for the each year between 1955 and 1980. The various editions of “The Rolling Stone Record Buyer’s Guide” cemented its own canon with its 5-star ratings — some of which were vastly changed from previous or in future editions. (The Doors, in particular, were knocked down a peg between the red first edition and the blue second edition.) Spin magazine leaned towards the contrarian; Rolling Stone, no doubt thanks to Jann Wenner’s heavy thumb on its scale, favored the tried and true (and white and classic rock).

I learned from all of them, even if I didn’t buy or listen to the albums they touted. They’re the reason I love Thunderclap Newman’s “Hollywood Dream” (a Record Guide 5-star work), that I’m familiar with Brian Eno’s “Another Green World” (avant garde for its time), that I question the fondness for Sonic Youth (“Daydream Nation,” which was hailed as one of the best albums of the ’80s, has always left me cold).

So now here’s Rolling Stone with a new list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It’s my Sunday read — which I mean literally, as I’ve just dipped into it myself.

Right away, of course, I found entries I vehemently disagree with. Alanis Morrisette’s “Jagged Little Pill” at No. 69. ahead of “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols” and “John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band,” among many others? Gotta be trolling. Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True” at No. 430? That seems way too low. And what the hell is any Britney Spears album beyond her greatest hits (because she made some amazing singles) doing here?

Which is the point, of course: argument starting.

To give RS great credit, the magazine surveyed a wide variety of contributors — artists, industry figures, journalists. (Too bad we can’t see their individual lists — that would be revealing, I imagine.) I don’t see Wenner‘s thumb anywhere, which makes sense, given that he doesn’t own the magazine anymore. And these lists should be a starting point, not a final say. There’s no reason “Sgt. Pepper,” influential as it is, should always be No. 1. (It’s not even in my personal top five Beatles records, which goes “Revolver,” “The Beatles,” “Rubber Soul,” “Please Please Me” and “Abbey Road,” if you’re wondering. At least as of today.)

Anyway, take a gander. Get angry. Go, “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that.” Figure out what your favorites are. And if you want to make “Even in the Quietest Moments” No. 1? It’s OK. Ritchie Yorke died a few years ago, so the slot is yours for the taking.

You can read “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” here.