Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rock Critic's Choice: The Top 200 Albums Rock Critic's Choice:
The Top 200 Albums

Compiled by Paul Gambaccini with Susan Ready
1978, Omnibus (A division of Book Sales Limited)

Note: This book polled a number of prominent rock critics to compile a list of 200 rock albums. Robert Christgau's top ten list was published on pp. 83-84, and is reprinted below. The editors wrote:

A senior editor of the Village Voice, Robert Christgau is responsible for all music reviewing and writes a monthly Consumer Guide that has been widely imitated.

The parenthetical numbers refer to the album's rank in the cumulative Top 200 list.

1 Exile on Main Street (7)
The Rolling Stones
2 Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (15)
Derek and the Dominoes
3 The Immortal Otis Redding (33)
Otis Redding
4 More Chuck Berry (75)
Chuck Berry
5 12 Songs (95)
Randy Newman
6 Moondance (22)
Van Morrison
7 The Velvet Underground (191)
Velvet Underground
8 Rubber Soul (5)
Beatles
9 The Rolling Stones Now
Rolling Stones
10 Wild Honey
Beach Boys

My criteria were playability, depth of expression, and avoidance of waste. There's not a bad cut on any of these albums, and almost all of them are good to great. The only one I don't still play often is 12 Songs, because it's not a casual kind of record.

I decided not to "vote" in this poll, but to rely on the records I've liked best over the years. I know everybody who votes for Chuck Berry is going to vote for Golden Decade, but I've always preferred More, which includes "Come On" and "Let It Rock" and avoids dubious (if pleasant) novelties like "Too Pooped To Pop" and "Anthony Boy." Likewise, The Best of Otis Redding, a remarkably well-constructed anthology, is a more obvious choice than Immortal, but Immortal happens to be a record I've played obsessively for almost a decade. If I'd followed this logic I might have selected Something New, one of six or seven Beatles albums that was in the running, but a final comparison with Rubber Soul (never an emotional favorite) was decisive. (I don't own the British versions of the Beatles LPs, but I love the Rubber Soul outtakes on Yesterday . . . and Today, which was also a contributing factor. Yesterday . . . and Today was in the running itself. Wild Honey vs. Endless Summer was also this sort of problem.

I think it's interesting that three of my six favorite albums came out in 1970 and that my favorite is also the most recent on my list. I haven't been listening to much Steely Dan lately or they would probably have made it, Pretzel Logic most likely; I also wonder about Al Green's horribly underrated Call Me. Too bad Motown never made good albums (Marvin Gaye's Super Hits was the only one with a shot). With a few years more perspective I might find a place for Eno's Another Green World, which I've been playing twice a week or so since it came out; I might also vote for one of the New York Dolls albums, which function in my life the way Randy Newman does--indispensably rich and evocative music for certain moments. And who knows how much I'll end up liking Television's Marquee Moon, which I'm OD'd on at the moment; I haven't been so enthusiastic about a new record in a very long time. "One more thing--if I were making a list of my favorite albums, they wouldn't all be rock, not by a long shot. Duke Ellington's Flaming Youth (deleted, on RCA Vintage) would make it for sure; also, I think, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.

Rock Critic's Choice: The Top 200 Albums, 1978