The Great Wall of Music: Me Vs. The 500, Part II (50 Album Check In)

Back in college I had a biology professor who lectured as if he had one too many shots of expresso. He’d march from one side of the room to other, head turned to you the entire time, speaking so fast you’d think he was dying and these were his last words. The man was a walking, talking energizer bunny. The best there was for sure but an energizer bunny nonetheless; and as intriguing as he was, as a professor and a person, I found myself fatigued watching this man go. Making my way through the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time feels a lot like being back in that class: exciting yet exhausting in its sensory overload.

If you’ve ever traveled overseas or entered into a completely different culture, you know the feeling. As enthusiastic as you are to take in the local culture and all its flavors, everything you experience has to go through an internal filter in order fully process the experience. In small doses, you don’t mind but when it’s constant, you find yourself expending more energy than you expected or intended. In your fatigue, you begin to search for signs of familiarity. You begin to miss little comforts. You don’t need much but it’d be nice to not have filter through cultural lenses for one interaction. For once, you’d like your comfort food. That’s kind of what it feels like.

Because so many of these past 50 albums have been new territory, it often feels like entering into a new culture with all the excitement and exhaustion that comes with it. One of the gifts of this whole experience has been discovering new artists but man, has it been refreshing when it’s been an artist or an album that I already know and love. In some ways, it feels like a job. I clock in at my desk at a certain hour, look up the next album on the list, and keep going until the end of the day comes or until I can’t take anymore.

So many of these albums are symbolic of an era in music (‘60s doo-wap, ‘90s hip-hop, ‘80s glam rock, ‘90s grunge). It’s been a blast to dig into the history and the context of when they were made. I feel more informed as a music listener already. I’ve found myself surprised at what I’ve liked and what I haven’t. I thought I liked ‘80s new wave until I heard the Eurythmics and Echo and the Bunnymen. I didn’t know how much I enjoyed the blues until I listened both B.B. and Albert King.

But perhaps the best part of it has been sharing the experience with those closest to me and watching their face light up as they too remember how great some of these albums are. In that way, I’m reminded of how unifying music is and how fun it can be to share in its discussion.

As intimidating it is to still have 450 albums left, I’m encouraged by the fact I’m already 50 in. That’s 50 more than where I started and if I’ve already made it this far I might as well keep going.

Ten Albums I Don’t Own But Would Walk Out of the Record Store With:

  • Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love
  • B.B. King – Live from Cook County Jail
  • Elton John – Tumbleweed Connection
  • John Prine – John Prine
  • Richard and Linda Thompson – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
  • George Michael – Faith
  • D’Angelo – Voodoo
  • The Smiths – The Smiths
  • Manu Chao – Proxima Estacion Esperanza
  • LL Cool J – Radio

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