My Year in Lists: Volume II
My Year in Lists: Volume II chronicles one blogger's masochistic return to the feature that got him hooked on sonics. This time around, the feature will focus on three genres that got short shrift during the original feature: country, hip hop, and jazz. All three are oft-dismissed genres this feature plans to grant a second chance at a first impression.

As I wrapped up the first volume of My Year in Lists, I asked my fellow staffers at Review to Be Named for one simple thing. Next time I proposed undertaking a weekly feature, I asked them (as politely as one can ask unpaid underlings whose tolerance one stretches daily), could they please shoot me in the head before they allowed it? I won't mince words here: the first volume of this feature changed my life, but my musical enlightenment did not come without a cost. I found myself fatigued beyond belief as I tried to balance several cross-country moves, a graduation, and my first semester of law school against the merciless onslaught of a weekly journey through three (but often many more) albums handed to me by my expert contributors.

So it is with open eyes and a heavy appreciation of the irony (and the consequences) that I submit myself to a second "Year in Lists." This time, though, I'm serious. The first volume of My Year in Lists functioned as a survey course to music as a medium, an attempt by an amateur to get my hands around the full scope of what music as an art form had to offer. If Volume I was the G.E. course, Volume II is a masters class, not for the faint of heart. This time out, I will be focusing on three genres that appeared sparsely, if at all in the first volume (which readers will recall was actually fairly comprehensive). These three genres were mostly ignored last time for a variety of reasons: selection bias (while I picked music experts I thought would give me a diverse selection, and I was right, it was still me picking, and knowing to a certain extent the type of selections I would get), reputation of the genre, and general cultural respect. There is a reason that when asked what music they like, most people will respond with some variation of, "I listen to pretty much anything, but I don't like country or hip hop." Those two genres are the least respected in the music realm by a long shot (jazz used to sit in that slot, though it has become respectable in the modern era), and so it is to those I turn for My Year in Lists: Volume II.

Things are going to be different this time around. Last time, I was fairly often writing about albums I knew, and at least occasionally covering some of my all time favorites. This time out, I have only heard (at this count) four of the albums that will appear over the course of this feature, and I came into contact with three of them during Volume I. Additionally, a lot of the first volume of this series was biographical: I researched the artists and the albums, and I reported what I found. That won't disappear entirely, and in fact, some weeks of this feature will look a lot like its predecessor, except focusing on genres that feature largely overlooked. Yet for this sequel of sorts, I hope to go further afield, to rely less on what any reader could find on Wikipedia and more on my own feelings and observations. As much as the next 52 weeks are going to be about the music, they are also going to be about me. This will be the tale of a city slicker wading into the honky tonk, the odyssey of a well-off white kid with no rhythm learning the ins and outs of some serious rhymes, the story of a geek soaking himself in a genre full of people cool enough to pull off playing a saxophone (and in public, no less). Yes, this will be a fish-out-of-water feature, and while it may be more discursive than its predecessor, it will also be more about the journey than the destination. As we did last time in the introduction, I want to close out with some words from the contributors that created the lists I will follow this year. Alex has been a steadfast friend and hip hop advocate since elementary school. Ryan is a former roommate and jazz aficionado who knows enough about enough to put me in my place pretty much anytime. And, in keeping with the spirit of this feature as a furthering of my musical education and advancement, I will be contributing the list on country, culled not from my own experience but from a system I will lay out in my introduction below. Below you will find the introductions from each contributor, and I hope you will join me (and them) on this, the next generation in My Year in Lists:

Jordan's Intro:

"How does a man writing a feature premised on his ignorance of a genre lay out a master's course in that genre for himself?" you may be asking (to which I respond, "Stop talking to yourself and keep reading. The real action is still ahead."). The true answer, though, is by setting up a system of verification and by cobbling together a variety of trustworthy sources on country music. To make my list, an album had to be on several reliable "Best Country Albums of All Time" lists, in addition to being referenced by country-obsessed friends I surveyed and passing a personal snuff test for importance. I cannot vouch for this list's comprehensiveness, only for the methods I used in aiming for an exhaustive look at country. If ever you feel I am giving the genre short shrift or missing out on a classic, let me know. Otherwise, strap on your ten-gallon hat, put yourselves onto the nearest horse, lean into the closest bottle of whiskey, and do other country-related clichés we may or may not be dispensing with over the course of this year, "˜cause this here is the wildest ride in the wilderness.

Ryan's Intro:

When I was seventeen years old, I was seduced by jazz while driving down a secluded New England road one winter's evening. I never saw it coming, but a turn of the hour on local NPR station 88.5 WFCR catapulted me from coverage of the day's news and into the capable hands of Tom Reney and his seminal program, "Jazz a la Mode." With a warm, effortlessly smooth baritone, Tom previewed the evening's performances, which often spanned a multitude of decades and styles - Count Basie and his orchestra leading off, followed by Stan Kenton and Sun Ra, for example. The program completely transformed my less than idyllic commute, and forever endeared me to the sound of jazz, which to my young ears was always half intellectual exercise and half soundtrack for some kind of noir film fantasy.

"Jazz a la Mode" gave me a great foundation in the genre; I learned the names of jazz giants, the musicians who accompanied them, and why their compositions were significant. However, despite this early exposure, there is so much about jazz that remains elusive. Though I cannot articulate the evolution of Miles Davis's music from 1960 to 1964, my brain still processes the subtleties, reinforcing the idea that these magnificent artists (many of whom never lived past their 30th birthday) were constant innovators, using their skills in improvisation to keep this music both a delight and a challenge to generations of listeners.

It with this in mind that I assembled a list of essential jazz albums for Review to be Named. This list is by no means conclusive, but it should serve as a good starting point for newcomers to the genre. It is also worth mentioning that since jazz music preceded the era of the album, many of its most influential recordings are necessarily excluded from this list (Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, and Bex Beiderbecke are just a few names that come to mind when talking about the early iterations of jazz, and while they will appear at intervals in this feature, I had to cheat a bit to get them there). Nevertheless, I hope this list inspires further exploration of the artists and styles that make up one of America's most treasured exports. Happy listening, everyone!

Alex's Intro:

I didn't create the definitive list of greatest hip-hop albums of all time, though this list definitely contains many of the all time greats. I didn't assemble a collection of personal favorite rap albums, though many of my personal favorites are represented. I didn't compile a showcase of the premier rappers in the history of the industry, though this list does highlight many of the industry's all time talents. I did try to stop writing self-referencing sentences but these self-referencing sentences kept writing themselves. Wait, what?
Point is, Jordan asked me to throw together a list of hip-hop albums and that's what I did. I don't claim to be an authority on the subject but for as long as I've actively loved music, I've loved hip-hop; so you bet your ass I know a thing or two. The criteria for this list includes: industry influence, time period, critical success, popular success, geography, originality, personal favorites and just some shit I thought Jordan would like.

This list is dismally incomplete, shamefully biased, and an injustice to one of the world's most beautiful and distinctly American art forms. But fuck you; make your own list then. I can't wait to hear Jordan's methodical analysis approach to pop culture aimed at hip-hop. It promises to be good reading.

Rock on.

This Friday on My Year in Lists:

The journey begins (again) as we look at the Godfather of country, examining Hank Williams' 40 Greatest Hits, dive into the early days of hip hop as Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five deliver The Message and tune into Sarah Vaughan with Clifford Brown.

Read more My Year in Lists here
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