A pop music odyssey

February 18, 2014

I suppose that everybody (with the exception of those who buy those confounded iPod Shuffles) has some way of structuring their music listening. I myself am partial to listening projects: I pick a certain period or genre or artist and focus on it or him or her for a while. I have in the past dwelt at length on Schubert’s songs, Josquin’s masses, Mahler’s symphonies, and Wagner’s operas, to name a few.

This year I’ve decided to embark upon a new listening project: a pop music odyssey. I’ve chosen a handful of singers whom I admire, or think I ought to admire, and I’ve decided to listen to their collective discographies in chronological order.

The cornerstone of this project will be the music of Bob Dylan, starting in 1962 and extending, over the course of 50-odd albums, to the present day. Interleaved with his albums I am also including the discographies of the Beatles, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and (the dark horse) Nick Cave. Actually, I’m only committing to a few of Nick Cave’s records because I’m more curious than fond, and I don’t think I’ll want to shell out for all of his records.

I thought of including Bruce Springsteen as well, but I did a Springsteen listening project three or four years ago, and I feel like there’s too much music there. This odyssey is going to be a long journey even without him.

For the record, here is the list, in order, of the records I am intending to include:

Bob Dylan – Bob Dylan (19 March 1962)
Bob Dylan – Live at the Gaslight (1962)
Beatles – Please Please Me (22 March 1963)
Bob Dylan – Freewheelin’ (27 May 1963)
Beatles – With the Beatles (22 November 1963)
Bob Dylan – The Times They are a Changin’ (13 January 1964)
Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (26 June 1964)
Bob Dylan – Another Side (8 August 1964)
Bob Dylan – Live 1964 (31 October 1964)
Beatles – Beatles for Sale (4 December 1964)
Bob Dylan – Bringing It All Back Home (22 March 1965)
Beatles – Help! (6 August 1965)
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited (30 August 1965)
Beatles – Rubber Soul (3 December 1965)
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (22 May 1966)
Bob Dylan – Live 1966 “Royal Albert Hall” (25 May 1966)
Beatles – Revolver (5 August 1966)
Beatles – Sgt. Pepper (1 June 1967)
Van Morrison – Blowin’ Your Mind! (Sept 1967)
Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour (27 November 1967)
Bob Dylan – John Wesley Harding (27 December 1967)
Leonard Cohen – Songs Of (27 December 1967)
Neil Young – Sugar Mountain [Live] (10 November 1968)
Neil Young – Neil Young (12 November 1968)
Beatles – White Album (22 November 1968)
Van Morrison – Astral Weeks (November 1968)
Beatles – Yellow Submarine (13 January 1969)
Bob Dylan – Nashville Skyline (9 April 1969)
Leonard Cohen – Songs From a Room (April 1969)
Neil Young – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (14 May 1969)
Beatles – Abbey Road (26 September 1969)
Van Morrison – Moondance (Feb 1970)
Neil Young – Live at the Fillmore East (March 1970) [2006]
Beatles – Let It Be (8 May 1970)
Bob Dylan – Self-Portrait (8 June 1970)
Neil Young – After the Gold Rush (31 August 1970)
Bob Dylan – New Morning (19 October 1970)
Bob Dylan – Another Self-Portrait (1970)
Van Morrison – His Band and the Street Choir (15 November 1970)
Neil Young – Live at Massey Hall 1971 (19 January 1971)
Leonard Cohen – Songs of Love and Hate (March 1971)
Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey (October 1971)
Neil Young – Harvest (14 February 1972)
Van Morrison – St. Dominic’s Preview (July 1972)
Tom Waits – Closing Time (March 1973)
Bob Dylan – Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (13 July 1973)
Van Morrison – Hard Nose the Highway (August 1973)
Bob Dylan – Planet Waves (17 January 1974)
Van Morrison – It’s Too Late To Stop Now (January 1974)
Van Morrison – Veedon Fleece (February 1974)
Bob Dylan – Before the Flood [live] (20 June 1974)
Neil Young – On the Beach (16 July 1974)
Leonard Cohen – New Skin for the Old Ceremony (August 1974)
Tom Waits – The Heart of Saturday Night (October 1974)
Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (17 January 1975)
Neil Young – Tonight’s the Night (20 June 1975)
Bob Dylan – The Basement Tapes (26 June 1975)
Tom Waits – Nighthawks at the Diner (October 1975)
Bob Dylan – Live 1975 “Rolling Thunder Revue” (November 1975)
Neil Young – Zuma (10 November 1975)
Bob Dylan – Desire (16 January 1976)
Bob Dylan – Hard Rain [live] (10 September 1976)
Neil Young – Long May You Run (20 September 1976)
Tom Waits – Small Change (September 1976)
Neil Young – Chrome Dreams (1977) – unreleased
Van Morrison – A Period of Transition (April 1977)
Neil Young – American Stars ‘n Bars (13 June 1977)
Tom Waits – Foreign Affairs (Sept 1977)
Leonard Cohen – Death of a Ladies’ Man (November 1977)
Bob Dylan – Street Legal (15 June 1978)
Van Morrison – Wavelength (September 1978)
Tom Waits – Blue Valentine (September 1978)
Neil Young – Comes a Time (2 October 1978)
Bob Dylan – At Budokan (23 April 1979)
Neil Young – Rust Never Sleeps (2 July 1979)
Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming (20 August 1979)
Van Morrison – Into the Music (August 1979)
Leonard Cohen – Recent Songs (September 1979)
Neil Young – Live Rust (19 November 1979)
Bob Dylan – Saved (20 June 1980)
Van Morrison – Common One (August 1980)
Tom Waits – Heartattack and Vine (September 1980)
Neil Young – Hawks & Doves (3 November 1980)
Bob Dylan – Shot of Love (12 August 1981)
Neil Young – Re-ac-tor (2 November 1981)
Van Morrison – Beautiful Vision (February 1982)
Neil Young – Trans (29 December 1982)
Van Morrison – Inarticulate Speech of the Heart (March 1983)
Neil Young – Everybody’s Rockin’ (1 August 1983)
Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombone (September 1983)
Bob Dylan – Infidels (1 November 1983)
Van Morrison – Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1984)
Nick Cave – From Her to Eternity (18 June 1984)
Bob Dylan – Real Live [live] (3 December 1984)
Van Morrison – A Sense of Wonder (December 1984)
Leonard Cohen – Various Positions (December 1984)
Bob Dylan – Empire Burlesque (8 June 1985)
Neil Young – Old Ways (12 August 1985)
Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (30 September 1985)
Neil Young – A Treasure [Live] (1985) [2011]
Van Morrison – No Guru, No Method, No Teacher (July 1986)
Neil Young – Landing on Water (28 July 1986)
Bob Dylan – Knocked Out Loaded (8 August 1986)
Neil Young – Life (6 July 1987)
Tom Waits – Frank’s Wild Years (17 August 1987)
Van Morrison – Poetic Champions Compose (Sept 1987)
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man (February 1988)
Neil Young – This Note’s for You (11 April 1988)
Bob Dylan – Down in the Groove (31 May 1988)
Van Morrison – Irish Heartbeat (June 1988)
Nick Cave – Tender Prey (19 Sept 1988)
Bob Dylan – Dylan & The Dead [live] (6 February 1989)
Neil Young – Eldorado (17 April 1989)
Van Morrison – Avalon Sunset (6 June 1989)
Bob Dylan – Oh Mercy (22 September 1989)
Neil Young – Freedom (2 October 1989)
Neil Young – Ragged Glory (10 September 1990)
Bob Dylan – Under the Red Sky (11 September 1990)
Van Morrison – Enlightenment (October 1990)
Van Morrison – Hymns to the Silence (September 1991)
Neil Young – Weld (22 October 1991)
Neil Young – Arc (1991)
Tom Waits – Bone Machine (8 September 1992)
Bob Dylan – Good As I Been To You (27 October 1992)
Neil Young – Harvest Moon (27 October 1992)
Leonard Cohen – The Future (27 November 1992)
Van Morrison – Too Long in Exile (June 1993)
Neil Young – MTV Unplugged (15 June 1993)
Bob Dylan – World Gone Wrong (26 October 1993)
Tom Waits – The Black Rider (2 November 1993)
Van Morrison – A Night in San Francisco [Live] (May 1994)
Neil Young – Sleeps with Angels (16 August 1994)
Bob Dylan – MTV Unplugged [live] (25 April 1995)
Van Morrison – Days Like This (June 1995)
Neil Young – Mirror Ball (27 June 1995)
Van Morrison – How Long Has This Been Going On? (June 1995)
Nick Cave – Murder Ballads (5 Feb 1996)
Neil Young – Dead Man (27 February 1996)
Neil Young – Broken Arrow (2 July 1996)
Van Morrison – Tell Me Something (October 1996)
Van Morrison – The Healing Game (March 1997)
Nick Cave – The Boatman’s Call (3 March 1997)
Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind (30 September 1997)
Van Morrison – The Skiffle Sessions [Live] (1998)
Van Morrison – Back On Top (9 March 1999)
Tom Waits – Mule Variations (16 April 1999)
Neil Young – Silver & Gold (25 April 2000)
Van Morrison – You Win Again (25 Sept 2000)
Bob Dylan – Love and Theft (11 September 2001)
Leonard Cohen – Ten New Songs (9 October 2001)
Neil Young – Are you Passionate? (9 April 2002)
Van Morrison – Down the Road (May 2002)
Tom Waits – Blood Money (4 May 2002)
Tom Waits – Alice (4 May 2002)
Neil Young – Greendale (19 August 2002)
Van Morrison – What’s Wrong with this Picture? (21 Oct 2003)
Tom Waits – Real Gone (3 October 2004)
Leonard Cohen – Dear Heather (26 October 2004)
Van Morrison – Magic Time (16 May 2005)
Neil Young – Prairie Wind (27 September 2005)
Van Morrison – Pay the Devil (7 March 2006)
Neil Young – Living with War (8 May 2006)
Bob Dylan – Modern Times (29 August 2006)
Neil Young – Living with War (19 December 2006)
Neil Young – Chrome Dreams II (23 October 2007)
Van Morrison – Keep It Simple (17 March 2008)
Neil Young – Fork in the Road (7 April 2009)
Bob Dylan – Together Through Life (28 April 2009)
Neil Young – Le Noise (28 September 2010)
Tom Waits – Bad As Me (21 October 2011)
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas (31 January 2012)
Neil Young – Americana (5 June 2012)
Bob Dylan – Tempest (11 September 2012)
Van Morrison – Born to Sing (2 Oct 2012)
Neil Young – Psychedelic Pill (30 October 2012)


I have no idea how long this project is going to take, but I hope there is a reasonable chance of my finishing before I die. I am looking forward to hearing not only how each individual singer developed, but how they influenced one another, if indeed they did. I don’t think many would disagree that Dylan was an important influence on everybody else, with the possible exception of Van Morrison.

When putting this list together, I was surprised to learn that the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, and Cohen’s Songs Of were released on the same day. What a day that was!

It is fair to say that most of these folks, great as they are, have declined in creativity as they have aged. I suppose there is a possibility that I might abandon the project once I reach the desolation of the 1980s, but at the outset I have the wind in my sails and a song in my heart. Happy sailing to me.

8 Responses to “A pop music odyssey”

  1. What fun! I’m pretty sure I’d never make it through Neil Young’s entire body of work. Not so sure about Van Morrison, either, as much as I love his best stuff. I think Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen are exceptions to the declined-with-age rule. Well, Cohen up to Ten New Songs, anyway.

  2. cburrell Says:

    You’re right: if somebody has to get the axe along the way, I expect that Neil Young will be first. But here in Canada he’s a legendary figure, and those albums that I do know (perhaps 6 or 8) I like quite a bit. But I have the feeling that in his lacklustre efforts the lustre is more absent than merely lacking. We’ll see.

    About Leonard Cohen I would agree, and even Dylan pulled out of a tailspin that lasted for most of the 1980s and beyond. The last Tom Waits record that I really loved was Bone Machine (1992), though there are things on the later albums that I enjoy.

    I actually think Van Morrison will be quite consistently good. He has a couple of fine records in every decade, at least.

  3. At the recommendation of a friend I watched a recent concert video of Neil Young, and to my taste everything that wasn’t pretty old was pretty dull. But I admit I haven’t heard much of his recent stuff, and “recent” in my book is later than 1980 or so. I have heard some of Morrison’s stuff up into the ’90s sometime, and although it wasn’t bad I just didn’t get excited about it. I guess in both cases what they did after their initial half dozen or so recordings seemed such a falling-off that it no longer stood out from the crowd. Whereas for me Waits’s more recent stuff suffers only in comparison with his absolute best. I love Real Gone.

    I am probably pretty unusual in being really fond of Neil Young’s first album

  4. cburrell Says:

    The last Neil Young records that I know well are Sleeps with Angels and Harvest Moon, both from the early 1990s. I like them both quite a lot. I have the impression that in recent years he’s become more political in his music, rather like Steve Earle has done, and that doesn’t appeal to me at all.

    I like quite a lot of Van Morrison’s stuff from the 1990s — Enlightenment and Hymns to the Silence are among my favourite of his records — but in the last 10 or 15 years he’s been spotty. There are usually a couple of great songs on each record, but more than a couple of forgettable ones. Still, that voice!

    Tom Waits is an interesting case, because he basically became somebody else in the mid-1980s. His post-Swordfishtrombones material I like quite a lot more than his earlier stuff and, as you say, his muse has never really abandoned him.

  5. kathyB Says:

    Since christmas, Daniel has undertaken a pop music oddysey through Rolling Stone magazines top 100 albums of all time, and top 500 songs of all time. so far we aren’t all that far in the list, but there is a lot of beatles and bob dylan.

    Bob Dylan is something i hadn’t really heard a lot of before. What i find surprising about Dylan is how appealing his music is despite the fact that technically speaking he is a terrible singer.

  6. cburrell Says:

    That is so funny — I mean that we’ve both started pop music odysseys without consultation. I think I have seen those Rolling Stone lists at some point. If I had to guess, I would guess that the Beatles hold the #1 album spot (maybe Sgt. Pepper?) and that Dylan holds the #1 song (Like a Rolling Stone?).

    Dylan may be a terrible singer, but he knows how to use the limited instrument that he has. I’m in 1965 in my odyssey now, listening to his amazing songs from that period, and loving every minute of it.

  7. You guessed right both times!

  8. cburrell Says:

    And so I did! Just lucky.

    Hmm. Those blurbs at Rolling Stone have given me an idea…

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