Klinger: As we consider the ways in which the Great List has evolved over time, with various opinions forming a general canonical consensus, I often find it helpful to go back and look at the ways these albums and artists were initially received by the critical community. No example is more curious than the case of Australian hard rockers AC/DC. In the first pressing of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, published in 1979, all of AC/DC’s albums received no stars. Zero. A little square where the number of stars would be. That was before the death of lead singer Bon Scott, the release of this album, and an additional 30-plus years’ worth of albums, tours, and general sticktoitiveness. Rock and roll may not be noise pollution, but AC/DC clearly understands that it’s a war of attrition, and if you stick around long enough, respect—even the grudging kind—will eventually have to be paid.
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Mendelsohn: Van the Man is back. How long has it been since we talked about Astral Weeks? Seems like forever ago. Last time around, as you may recall, I wasn’t a fan of Van’s sad-sack pining and we ended in a bit of a stalemate. This time, though, I think things will be a little different. Moondance is a different monster, Klinger, and I’m not ashamed to simply tell you that I love this record. Even when we descend into the pit of pining that is “Crazy Love”, I remain undeterred in my adoration because “Crazy Love” is achingly beautiful without being a complete downer.
I find Moondance to be so much more well-rounded than Astral Weeks, so much more fun to listen to. I know we have other things to talk about and I know we aren’t supposed to compare an artist’s output against itself, but I can’t help but feeling that the Great List got this one wrong and Moondance should have been in the Top 20 instead of Astral Weeks. Care to take the bait?
Klinger: For a certain type of Beatles fan, one that wasn’t overwhelmed with grief or consumed by inter-Beatle battles, 1971 might have seemed like a year when things could end up turning out OK after all. Paul McCartney had just released Ram, which had its share of high points (and is now being reassessed as a classic), George Harrison had just dropped the three-LP explosion of songorrhea that is All Things Must Pass, and even Ringo Starr was cranking out enjoyable pop singles. Meanwhile, John Lennon’s Imagine seemed to suggest that the brainy Beatle was ready to knock it off already with the experimental noisescapes of his first efforts—and the primal scream soul-baring of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band—and start making albums that folks could actually enjoy. I could see people might have had reason to be optimistic.
Of course, that wasn’t really the case. Almost no one could resist choosing up sides in the apocalyptic hellscape of the post-Beatle world, critics included. (After all, “things are pretty much OK” doesn’t sell a lot of papers.) Lines have to be drawn, good guys and bad guys must be called out, and blame has to be assessed. And rocker Lennon spoke those early critics’ language. So the angsty Plastic Ono Band album has garnered the lion’s share of the acclaim, while Imagine was seen as something of a retreat into pop (in the early editions of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, it received a pretty tepid three-star review). Imagine only appears to have taken on its cachet after Lennon’s murder as the title track has become a universal anthem of idealism. But you were pretty lukewarm to Plastic Ono Band, so I’m interested in hearing your take on this more accessible effort.
Mendelsohn: Sometimes we get to a record and I have to wonder if anyone ever really listens to this album or if it’s just on the list as a joke or as an attempt to build cachet. I get that feeling with Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express. I’m not trying to say this record isn’t worthy of any accolade it has ever received, nor the immense amount of influence it has had across seemingly every genre since its release in 1977. I just have a hard time listening to it and thinking there are real people who might go to their record collection and pull this off the shelf because they just need to listen to Kraftwerk’s seminal album. I could see Mike Myers doing it as some sort of psych-up before he went on stage to do the whole “Sprockets” thing, but no real people who are normal. Do you think normal people listen to this record, Klinger?
Klinger: It’s hard to believe, but there was once a time when the concept of sampling was highly controversial, and not just from a legal standpoint. There was a vocal segment of the pop world that refused to acknowledge that reshaping existing recordings into an entirely new sonic collage was a legitimate art form in and of itself. I know this because I was one of them. Growing up in the 1980s meant that hip-hop and its musical accoutrements were basically optional, especially for those of us who came of age during the Springsteen administration, and I was quite mistrustful of any music that didn’t involve human beings playing actual musical instruments. My position has, of course, evolved along with the culture’s. Nowadays just about everyone recognizes the legitimacy of sampling—much in the same way that we all now accept that the Earth is round and the moon landing was faked. And part of the reason sampling is undeniably accepted is because of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…
Endtroducing… is apparently formed entirely from samples, making it the first such album to appear on the Great List that our hero over at the Acclaimed Music site has compiled, using every GOAT list he can get his hands on. And since you’ve established yourself on these pages as a champion of this sort of thing, Mendelsohn, I’ll leave it to you to give me a greater sense of this album’s overall importance. What’s your take on our Mr. Shadow?