1,000 Essential Recordings You Must Hear Covering music from Marian Anderson to ZZ Top, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List covers all genres in its more than 900 pages. It's driven by the notion that "the more you love music, the more music you love." Author Tom Moon submits his picks for the best summer recordings.

1,000 Essential Recordings You Must Hear

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/93874490/93890811" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris, with a musical to-do list.

It's a new book called "1,000 Recordings to Hear before You Die." The author is Tom Moon, one of our regular music commentators. It's a big, fat book, about 900 pages. From Marian Anderson to ZZ Top, the book covers all genres and is driven by what Moon calls the notion that the more you love music the more music you love.

Tom says 1,000 was not an easy number to settle on.

TOM MOON: It was very hard, because I didn't want to have a standard criteria. But almost everything had to hit me on, like, the pleasure level. It had to be pleasurable music, it had to be beautiful, it had to be moving. And that helped clarify the list a little bit.

NORRIS: It would be almost impossible to do justice to all the music listed in this book in the time we have on this show, so we asked Tom to help us put together a playlist of songs that represent a late-summer soundtrack, the kind of thing you'd listen to during those last backyard barbecues, or during the waning days at the beach.

And the first song that Tom suggested is "Poinciana," a classic jazz cut from Ahmad Jamal. This was recorded live in 1958.

(Soundbite of song "Poinciana")

MOON: Ahmad Jamal is one of the great Zen masters of jazz piano. He plays just what is needed and nothing more. Every phrase is perfect. Miles Davis was a huge fan after this record, "Live at the Pershing," became a hit. It was actually on the charts for 107 weeks. And I love this as a summer record, too, because it shows the power of music. This was actually recorded in January in a club in Chicago.

So, they have this open, sauntering vibe, and they're probably freezing when they finished the set.

(Soundbite of song, "Poinciana")

NORRIS: Now, I want to include an album that for many people was the soundtrack of summer in 1969, the album "Stand" by Sly & the Family Stone. An amazing achievement here because seven of the nine cuts were all hit singles.

MOON: And like all of Sly's singles, they all feel like summer. They have that radiant sense of urgency to them. It's like he's taken the basic workings of Motown and amped them up about 10 notches. The band is on fire. These guys really captured the spirit of summer music, I think.

NORRIS: Now, we could choose almost any track on this album, but what to your mind is the standout cut?

MOON: Oh, boy, I don't know. I like "I Want to Take You Higher" because it's just - it just throbs. It feels like you're looking at the pavement and it's just vibrating and you're feeling the steam rising off of it.

(Soundbite of song, "I Want to Take You Higher")

Mr. FREDDIE STONE (Vocalist, Sly & the Family Stone): (Singing) Feeling's getting stronger.

Ms. ROSE STONE (Vocalist, Sly & the Family Stone): (Singing) Music is flashing me.

Mr. SLY STONE (Vocalist, Sly & the Family Stone): (Singing) I want to, I want to, I want to take you higher. I want to take you higher. Baby, baby, baby light my fire.

NORRIS: Fantastic horn section.

MOON: Everything. And it has the thing that so many other great singles did from Sly, which is that everybody gets a turn as the lead vocalist. And they just sort of go round robin and get the great bass voice, you get all the different personalities that made up that band. And, you know, when you think about pop music at that time, it was about different personalities.

And you really felt like you were looking at an aggregate of people that were individuals and worked together. And that's a great thing. And they were so unified. God, what a band.

(Soundbite of song "I Want to Take You Higher")

Mr. S. STONE: (Singing) Get higher. I want to get higher. Baby, baby, baby light my fire. I want to take you higher.

NORRIS: Now, Tom, our next choice - maybe obvious - I was thinking about Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."

MOON: Yeah. It's obviously a classic. There's a section devoted to each of the four seasons. And when played the way it's played by Janine Jansen, violinist and a small chamber group, each of the seasons is really completely nailed. They really get inside what it means to be in that thick of summer. And summer is my favorite part of this piece because it does feel like August, and it does feel very thick.

And it starts off in a very slow mood. And it becomes more playful as it goes along, but you sense that when these guys recorded this, they were thinking almost heat, humidity, that thing you just can't escape even if you're in air-conditioning.

(Soundbite of song "Four Seasons")

NORRIS: Tom, it would seem just wrong if we put together a late-summer playlist and we did not include Bruce Springsteen.

MOON: Yeah. He's one of those people - and his record "Born to Run" is one of those records where no matter what time of year you put it on, it sort of brings you back into that thing where you're out on a summer night and you can do anything.

(Soundbite of song "She's the One")

Mr. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Singer): (Singing) With her killer graces and her secret places that no boy can fill.

MOON: I think, you know, as we approach the end of summer, I always get that thing of, oh, I've got to grab on to every minute of this great weather and this inspiring air. And then I realize that it's inside these records.

(Soundbite of song "She's the One")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) That the thunder in your heart at night, when you're kneeling in the dark it says you're never going to leave her.

MOON: One great thing about this project has been the ability to go back and rediscover and learn more about records I thought I knew well. And the "Born to Run" story is a good one like that, because there was a documentary that was packaged with the 30th anniversary edition of "Born to Run" called "Wings for Wheels." And in that, Bruce talks about what his conception was for this record, and it totally makes sense.

He says, "Born to Run" has that feeling of that one endless summer night. That's what the whole record feels like. It could all be taking place in the course of one evening in all these different locations, all these different stories on one sort of long summer night.

(Soundbite of song "She's the One")

Mr. SPRINGSTEEN: (Singing) Oh, she's the one. She's the one.

NORRIS: Tom, it's been great to talk some music with you. Thanks so much and congratulations on the book.

MOON: Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Tom Moon, his book is called "1,000 Recordings to Hear before You Die: A Listener's Life List." You can read and hear more essential summer songs from this book at the music section of npr.org.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.