The Fifth Element #41 The Results Are In! July 2007

The Cultural Results Are In

In my April 2007 "Fifth Element" column I invited readers to submit their lists of 12 works or recordings that exemplify American musical life—music that people should be aware of, if they aspire to cultural literacy in American music.

The response was very gratifying—just about 65 entries. It was wonderful to see how many readers really know and passionately care about music! The overall quality of the lists was very good. Picking 12 winners was not easy. At all.

I must stress that my judging was entirely subjective and idiosyncratic. I gave points for breadth as well as depth. But on the other hand, an "academic survey" approach usually didn't excite me.

The lists I marked highest seemed to have the greatest number of recordings that made me say, "Darn, wish I'd thought of that." (Submissions have been put into a consistent format, and may have been edited to remove typographical errors or enhance clarity.) All opinions expressed are those of the persons quoted, and not of Stereophile or Primedia, Inc. All entrants have been notified that this Web-only special has gone up.

Winners: Please email Stephen Mejias to claim your prize. If this process ends up having introduced you to some great music, it will have served my purpose.

Here's an idea: instead of spending $100 on new pucks, cones, mats, wires, or tubes, how about spending $100 on randomly selected recordings from these lists that are unfamiliar to you? You might be able to pick up quite a few on eBay for comparative peanuts.

Worst case, you may decide you will never listen to something again, in which case you can donate it to your local public library and claim a charitable deduction. (If spending $100 is not within your comfort zone, just borrow recordings two or three at a time from your public library, listen intently, and add titles to your wish list.)

Thanks to all who entered. Perhaps before the end of the year, we can do this again, but for the canon of Western Music.—John Marks.

For ease of reference, here's my list again:

1. George Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
2. The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds
3. Willie Nelson: Red-Headed Stranger
4. Miles Davis: Porgy and Bess
5. Parkening Plays Bach
6. The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Are You Experienced?
7. Duke Ellington: Never No Lament: The Blanton-Webster Band
8. Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run
9. Roy Harris: Symphony No.3
10. Marvin Gaye: What's Going On
11. Joni Mitchell: Court and Spark
12. Steely Dan: Aja

The 12 winning readers' lists are here, grouped by tiers, and within tiers by alphabetical order: