Raihala: Let’s talk about what’s wrong with Apple Music’s 100 Best Albums list

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Minnesota’s own Prince and Bob Dylan landed a total of three entries in Apple Music’s new 100 Best Albums list, a self-proclaimed “modern 21st-century ranking of the greatest records ever made” that’s set the internet ablaze during its rollout over the past 10 days.

As someone who has written about music for my entire professional career, I’ve compiled any number of best-of lists over the years. I was also one of the more than 300 people invited to share my own picks for Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, which is probably the highest profile of such lists out there.

I fully understand both the appeal and the absurdity of such endeavors. The word “greatest” can mean any number of things, from biggest sales (a measure of sheer popularity) to artistic accomplishment (a metric impossible to measure). The album as a format was invented in 1948 and the notion that the 76 years worth of LPs that followed can be whittled down to a mere 100 of the “best” is obviously ridiculous.

RELATED: Prince and Bob Dylan land in the Top 10 of Rolling Stone’s new ranking of the 500 greatest albums of all time

Also, it’s kind of rich for Apple to proclaim itself the arbiter of taste when it comes to albums. In 2001, the company introduced the iPod, which took aim at destroying the very concept. Thanks to MP3s, and later streaming, listeners could easily pick and choose songs from here and there. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but there’s a huge difference between spinning a series of tunes and listening to an album in full. (It’s worth noting that the still-growing comeback of vinyl LPs has roughly coincided with the rise of streaming services.)

But, of course, the ridiculousness of these lists is also what makes them so fun to argue about. With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts.

Before I start, though, Apple has been somewhat opaque in revealing its methodology here beyond its official line that it was “crafted by Apple Music’s team of experts alongside a select group of artists, songwriters, producers, and industry professionals.” Maren Morris, Pharrell Williams, J Balvin, Charli XCX and (of all people) Mark Hoppus are among the artists Apple has said contributed to the project. Apple also made it clear that it’s an “editorial statement, fully independent of any streaming numbers.”

Prince and Bob Dylan

OK, then, Minnesotans. Prince’s masterpiece “Sign o’ the Times” landed at No. 51, ahead of two wildly adored and acclaimed rock albums, the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” and Guns ‘N Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction.” “Purple Rain” made it to No. 4, a fitting place for a record that changed everything. If it hit the top of the list, few would question it. (The Purple One is one of just five acts with two albums on the list, joining the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce and Radiohead.)

As for Dylan, his landmark “Highway 61 Revisited” made it to No. 14. That would be fair enough if Dylan had two albums on the list, but since he only had one, choosing it over “Blood on the Tracks” is a real head scratcher. While Dylan has denied it’s a divorce album, pretty much everyone else — including his own son Jakob — knows that’s exactly what it is. It’s so raw and intimate and honest, anyone who has experienced emotional turmoil can understand that it’s one of the most important pieces of art from the 20th century.

The bottom 10

Apple Music began revealing the list, 10 songs each day, on May 13. The bottom 10 selections speak volumes about what Apple got right and what it got wrong. It includes some disparate, yet vital, acts performing at their peak: Eagles (“Hotel California,” No. 99), Travis Scott (“Astroworld,” No. 98), Rage Against the Machine (“Rage Against the Machine,” No. 97) and Usher (“Confessions,” No. 95).

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It was also a pleasant surprise to see Robyn’s seminal “Body Talk” — a record dear to the heart of many a gay Gen-Xer — make it in at No. 100. And due to his start as the pretty boy leader of Wham and his ongoing series of unforced errors as an adult, George Michael never really got his proper due in this country until his 2016 death (the same year we lost Prince and David Bowie). Follow the instructions in the title of his No. 91-ranked “Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1” to understand what a genius the guy was.

On the other hand, Lorde’s “Pure Heroine” at No. 96? It’s a fine effort for sure, but its ultimate legacy seems to be that the artist was just 16 years old when she made it. And I get that Apple attempted to give nods to many genres, but naming the obscure electronic act Burial’s “Untrue” at No. 94 in favor of, say, anything by Aphex Twin is an odd choice.

Missing titans

Odd choices abound throughout the list.

Get a load of the acts that didn’t make the cut: the Who, Pearl Jam (aka the American Who), Queen, Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Police.

Beyond the Clash (“London Calling,” No. 35), punk is ignored, meaning no Fugazi, no Ramones, no Television, no Sex Pistols, no Stooges, no Green Day.

And since the idea of an album being something more than just a collection of songs didn’t really take hold until the late ’60s, many early titans got skipped, like Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.

Black artists

One thing that probably stands out among the also-rans I just rattled off, they’re almost all white men. What Apple’s list gets right is its strong representation of Black artists. Nearly all popular music of the past 70 years has roots in genres created and/or popularized by Black people, including jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel and country.

I’m totally cool with losing the likes of the James Taylors of the world in favor of OutKast (“Aquemini,” No. 41), Public Enemy (“It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back,” No. 34), Sade (“Love Deluxe,” No. 61), Erykah Badu (“Baduizm,” No. 64) and Drake (“Take Care,” No. 47). Wait, maybe not Drake.


The inclusion of more soundtracks beyond “Purple Rain” would have been nice. Certainly there’s a place for much-loved monster sellers like “Saturday Night Fever” or “The Bodyguard.” (Early disco, which was largely created by Black and queer people, is notably absent from the list.) It also seems at least one Broadway cast recording should be there, given “Hamilton,” “West Side Story” and “Rent” stand among the many obvious choices.

Countless quibbles

Apple’s list gives countless entry points for quibbles about who did make it, particularly if one gets mired in the rankings. Sure, Billie Eilish’s “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” was a game changer, but does it really deserve to be No. 30 when Carole King’s “Tapestry” is at No. 38? Would anyone consider Led Zeppelin’s finest effort “Led Zeppelin II” (No. 27)? Yeah, Kacey Musgraves’ “Golden Hour” (No. 85) is terrific, but it’s the rare entry from a country artist (who veered toward pop on the record) on a list lacking Dolly Parton, Garth Brooks, Brandi Carlile, Loretta Lynn, Eric Church and Shania Twain.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is sitting at the very top of the list, Lauryn Hill’s “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” It absolutely deserves all of the acclaim it has received, from its record-breaking 10 Grammy nominations and five wins to its blockbuster worldwide sales.

But in many ways it also destroyed Hill, who was sued over the album’s credits — some combination of the label and Hill herself insisted it be presented as a Prince-style one-woman show — and spent many subsequent years in hiding while trying to raise her family and deal with her own mental illness. She has never released a proper second album and has earned, fairly or otherwise, a reputation as an erratic and unreliable live performer. It is, perhaps, a bittersweet victory.

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