Great albums are born, they are not made. Music that lasts over time requires not only skilled musicianship and song writing, but also vision and passion, elements that even the most talented producer can't create with a mixing board.
The Northwest is the land that birthed a thousand records that changed the face of rock 'n' roll. You don't see much acknowledgment for this fact in the national press (except when they are talking about Nirvana) but from the Sonics in the '60s to the first Love Battery single on Sub Pop or the last indie Dead Moon vinyl release, Northwest music has found a chapter in rock 'n' roll history, and the chapter keeps getting thicker and more important each year.
The occasion of the 200th issue of The Rocket was an appropriate time to reconsider the entire history of the Northwest music scene and to conduct another poll of the records, singles, 10-inches, tapes and CD's from the region that have had the most impact over time. The Rocket had last surveyed the top Northwest records back in 1989 on the occasion of our Ten Year Anniversary Issue (October 1989). Over five years had passed since then, and 80 more issues of The Rocket have been published, and the chapter on Northwest music history has been rewritten: Though those essential '60s psychedelic albums still have lasting impact, they are now joined by dozens of seminal releases that have come out in the last few years.
Last time we conducted such a poll, we quizzed our writers on the Top 100 NW Records of All-Time. This time around, in acknowledgment of the 200 issues of The Rocket, we've expanded the sampling to 200 releases, but even that couldn't begin to contain the Northwest records of merit: our two dozen critics were asked to list their 25 top records, and between them they came up with over 400 titles of note. To make it to the top 200 level, releases on this list had to have at least two critics supporting them, and many of those in the top ten had over a dozen boosters.
The parameters were rather simple: vote for the top Northwest releases of all-time, and "release" could include any commercially available music product, from CDs to singles to box sets. When a release was available in multiple formats, we've listed the format that first made an impact: i.e., though obviously most people will now be buying Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced? on CD, it first came into our world, and our list, as an LP record. Most of the items on this list--regardless of their original format--are now available on CD, though the few that haven't made the digital transition may set you back quite a bit in a collector's shop (money well worth it if the album in question is by the Sonics). The year listed is the year the format noted was first issued. As for geographic parameters, we let our writers define that as whatever they felt was "the Northwest" and you'll find releases from Idaho, Washington and Oregon listed here and even a few releases by artists that are usually not thought of as Northwest natives (Ray Charles recorded his first great record while living and working here, and there's always the huge debate on whether Hendrix learned everything he ever learned hanging out at the stage door of Northwest clubs even though he became a star in London). We listed what our voters chose and didn't editorialize. We also asked a few critics who weren't on our staff to contribute their votes including Marty Hughley, rock critic for the Oregonian, Hugh Jones of Cellophane Square, and Nils Bernstein of Sub Pop.
The complete list of voters included William Abernathy, Grant Alden, Patrick Barber, Nils Bernstein, Peter Blackstock, Peter Blecha, John Book, Glen Boyd, John Chandler, Charles R. Cross, Gillian G. Gaar, Jeff Gilbert, Scott Griggs, J.R. Higgins, Marty Hughley, Hugh Jones, Veronika Kalmar, Steve Manning, Chris Nickson, Kevin Rexroat, Adem Tepedelen, Tammy Watson, and Erick Zeidenberg.
The short notations that follow the top 50 choices should not be so much considered reviews but instead annotations from some of the supporters of these records as to why these particular releases matter. You'll obviously have your own choices and own ideas of what has been left off: even with 200 picks, there were many great Northwest bands that didn't make the list, either because they didn't have enough votes or because our critics thought their recorded output wasn't up to snuff. Remember this is a list of top recorded releases, not of bands or performances. In compiling these results, the performance of some bands was affected by having several different titles available (The Screaming Trees got votes for six different albums) and having so many different releases probably put some bands farther down the list than other groups that might have just one really big album. We did not compile all the votes for each group, we simply compiled votes for the releases.
Comparing this list to the Top 100 from the 1989 poll shows that the book of Northwest music history is being rewritten each year. Almost 45 percent of the releases voted for here came out since that last poll, either a reflection that current music is fresh on our minds or proof that some awesome records have come out in the past few years (or both). One eighth of the picks here are from 1994, proving that last year was indeed a bumper crop of Northwest gems. Surprisingly, there are more records from the '60s than the '70s on the list, and almost as many from 1988 and 1989 as from the entire rest of the '80s decade. The time line stretches back to the '40s, meaning this list represents more than 50 years of Northwest music.
You'll find the title of the release listed first, followed by the artist, then original format and label, and finally the original release year.
1. Nevermind, Nirvana (CD, DGC) 1991
I remember predicting at the record release party for Nevermind that the new album would sell 100,000 copies--people scoffed at me for suggesting such a high figure. I was only off by about seven and a half million, but if I was on "The Price is Right" I still would have won since my guess was closer than most at the time. From the first moment you heard the first chord you knew this was going to be a huge record: how important took pretty much everyone--Kurt, Krist, and Dave, too--by complete surprise. One of the reasons it scored so high here (a runaway first place, topping the next contender by almost two to one) is because not only was it an important album, but it was the kind of music that you fell in love with. Where Sonic Youth had been heralded for years by critics as "our music," Kurt was a populist with his melodies and as a result, Nevermind is one of the few pop albums that properly deserves the title masterpiece. Though we've only had this in our lives for four short years, it has aged well. I can't imagine a time when this pure vision won't rock. (Hometown bragging rights note: Nirvana's logo--in the Century Condensed typeface--was produced on The Rocket's typesetting machine, the same machine that set this magazine for more than 14 years.)
In The Rocket Top 200, Nirvana also scored #3 with Bleach, #19 with In Utero, #68 with Love Buzz, #82 with MTV Unplugged Live in New York, and #106 with Incesticide. For a complete list of the Rocket Top 200, refer to Rocket Issue #200.