Elvis Costello’s List of 500 Albums That Will Improve Your Life

Pho­to by Vic­tor Diaz Lamich, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Ask a few friends to draw up suf­fi­cient­ly long lists of their favorite albums, and chances are that more than one of them will include Elvis Costel­lo. But today we have for you a list of 500 essen­tial albums that includes no Elvis Costel­lo records at all — not least because it was put togeth­er by Elvis Costel­lo. “Here are 500 albums that can only improve your life,” he writes in his intro­duc­tion to the list, orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Van­i­ty Fair. “Many will be quite famil­iar, oth­ers less so.” Costel­lo found it impos­si­ble “to choose just one title by Miles Davis, the Bea­t­les, Joni Mitchell, Dylan, Min­gus, etc.,” but he also made room for less well-known musi­cal names such as David Ack­les, per­haps the great­est unher­ald­ed Amer­i­can song­writer of the late 60s.”

Costel­lo adds that “you may have to go out of your way” to locate some of the albums he has cho­sen, but he made this list in 2000, long before the inter­net brought even the most obscure selec­tions with­in a few key­strokes’ reach with stream­ing ser­vices like Spotify–on which a fan has even made the playlist of Costel­lo’s 500 albums below.

And when Costel­lo writes about hav­ing most­ly exclud­ed “the hit records of today,” he means hit records by the likes of “Mar­i­lyn, Puffy, Korn, Eddie Mon­ey — sor­ry, Kid Rock — Limp Bizk­it, Ricky, Brit­ney, Back­street Boys, etc.” But when he declares “500 albums you need,” described only with a high­light­ed track or two (“When in doubt, play Track 4—it is usu­al­ly the one you want”), all remain enrich­ing lis­tens today. The list begins as fol­lows:

  • ABBA: Abba Gold (1992), “Know­ing Me, Know­ing You.”
  • DAVID ACKLES: The Road to Cairo (1968), “Down Riv­er” Sub­way to the Coun­try (1969), “That’s No Rea­son to Cry.”
  • CANNONBALL ADDERLEY: The Best of Can­non­ball Adder­ley (1968), “Mer­cy, Mer­cy, Mer­cy.”
  • AMY ALLISON: The Maudlin Years (1996), “The Whiskey Makes You Sweet­er.”
  • MOSE ALLISON: The Best of Mose Alli­son (1970), “Your Mind Is on Vaca­tion.”
  • ALMAMEGRETTA: Lin­go (1998), “Gramigna.”
  • LOUIS ARMSTRONG: The Com­plete Hot Five and Hot Sev­en Record­ings (2000), “Wild Man Blues,” “Tight Like This.”
  • FRED ASTAIRE: The Astaire Sto­ry (1952), “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”

How many music col­lec­tions, let alone lists of essen­tial records, would put all those names togeth­er? And a few hun­dred albums lat­er, the bot­tom of Costel­lo’s alpha­bet­i­cal­ly orga­nized list proves equal­ly diverse and cul­tur­al­ly cred­i­ble:

  • RICHARD WAGNER: Tris­tan and Isol­de (con­duc­tor: Wil­helm Furt­wan­gler; 1952); Der Ring des Nibelun­gen (con­duc­tor: George Solti; 1983).
  • PORTER WAGONER AND DOLLY PARTON: The Right Com­bi­na­tion: Burn­ing the Mid­night Oil (1972), “Her and the Car and the Mobile Home.”
  • TOM WAITS: Sword­fishtrom­bones (1983), “16 Shells from a Thir­ty-Ought-Six,” “In the Neigh­bor­hood” Rain Dogs (1985), “Jock­ey Full of Bour­bon,” “Time” Frank’s Wild Years (1987), “Inno­cent When You Dream,” “Hang on St. Christo­pher” Bone Machine (1992), “A Lit­tle Rain,” “I Don’t Wan­na Grow Up” Mule Vari­a­tions (1999), “Take It with Me,” “Geor­gia Rae,” “Fil­ipino Box-Spring Hog.”
  • SCOTT WALKER: Tilt (1995), “Farmer in the City.”
  • DIONNE WARWICK: The Win­dows of the World (1968), “Walk Lit­tle Dol­ly.”
  • MUDDY WATERS: More Real Folk Blues (1967), “Too Young to Know.”
  • DOC WATSON: The Essen­tial Doc Wat­son (1973), “Tom Doo­ley.”
  • ANTON WEBERN: Com­plete Works (con­duc­tor: Pierre Boulez; 2000).
  • KURT WEILL: O Moon of Alaba­ma (1994), Lotte Lenya, “Wie lange noch?”
  • THE WHO: My Gen­er­a­tion (1965), “The Kids Are Alright” Meaty, Beaty, Big and Boun­cy (1971), “Sub­sti­tute.”
  • HANK WILLIAMS: 40 Great­est Hits (1978), “I’m So Lone­some I Could Cry,” “I’ll Nev­er Get out of This World Alive.”
  • LUCINDA WILLIAMS: Car Wheels on a Grav­el Road (1998), “Drunk­en Angel.”
  • SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON: The Best of Son­ny Boy Williamson (1986), “Your Funer­al and My Tri­al,” “Help Me.”
  • JESSE WINCHESTER: Jesse Win­ches­ter (1970), “Qui­et About It,” “Black Dog,” “Pay­day.”
  • WINGS: Band on the Run (1973), “Let Me Roll It.”
  • HUGO WOLF: Lieder (soloist: Diet­rich Fis­ch­er-Dieskau; 2000), “Alles Endet, Was Entste­het.”
  • BOBBY WOMACK: The Best of Bob­by Wom­ack (1992), “Har­ry Hip­pie.”
  • STEVIE WONDER: Talk­ing Book (1972), “I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be For­ev­er)” Innervi­sions (1973), “Liv­ing for the City” Ful­fill­ing­ness’ First Finale (1974), “You Haven’t Done Noth­in’.”
  • BETTY WRIGHT: The Best of Bet­ty Wright (1992), “Clean Up Woman,” “The Baby Sit­ter,” “The Sec­re­tary.”
  • ROBERT WYATT: Mid-Eight­ies (1993), “Te Recuer­do Aman­da.”
  • LESTER YOUNG: Ulti­mate Lester Young (1998), “The Man I Love.”
  • NEIL YOUNG: Every­body Knows This Is Nowhere (1969), “Down by the Riv­er” After the Gol­drush (1970), “Birds” Time Fades Away (1973), “Don’t Be Denied” On the Beach (1974), “Ambu­lance Blues” Free­dom (1989), “The Ways of Love” Ragged Glo­ry (1990), “Fuckin’ Up.”
  • ZAMBALLARANA: Zam­bal­larana (1997), “Ven­tu.”

Zam­bal­larana, for the many who won’t rec­og­nize the name, is a band from the Cor­si­can vil­lage of Pigna whose music, accord­ing to one descrip­tion, com­bines “archa­ic male polypho­ny with ele­ments of jazz, ori­en­tal and latin music as well as the inno­v­a­tive way of play­ing tra­di­tion­al Cor­si­can instru­ments such as the 16-string Cetrea, the drum Colom­bu and the flute Pivana.” That counts as just one of the unex­pect­ed lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ences await­ing those who fire up their favorite music-stream­ing ser­vice and work their way through Costel­lo’s list of 500 essen­tial albums. It may also inspire them to deter­mine their own essen­tial albums, an activ­i­ty Costel­lo endors­es as musi­cal­ly salu­tary: “Mak­ing this list made me lis­ten all over again.”

via Far Out Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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Lou Reed Cre­ates a List of the 10 Best Records of All Time

Tom Waits Makes a List of His Top 20 Favorite Albums of All Time

Elvis Costel­lo Sings “Pen­ny Lane” for Sir Paul McCart­ney

The Stunt That Got Elvis Costel­lo Banned From Sat­ur­day Night Live (1977)

Songs by David Bowie, Elvis Costel­lo, Talk­ing Heads & More Re-Imag­ined as Pulp Fic­tion Book Cov­ers

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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