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A Grownup Critic Responds to Apple’s Youth-centric Top 10 Albums of All Time List

Does Apple think popular music was born yesterday?

spinner image The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album cover
The album cover for "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."
AARP; Ruffhouse Records

What the world needs now is lists, sweet lists! Or so Apple thinks. It released its Top 10 Albums of All Time on May 22 (along with its Top 100), joining a perpetual parade of greatest songs/singers/guitarists lists from Rolling Stone, Spin and every music site imaginable. And who could be more appropriate to generate a top albums list than the company that did more than practically anyone to make people stop buying albums for all time, and switch to hearing individual songs and curated playlists as downloads or streams?

The whole point is to rile up fans and round up readers for rankings that spark transitory outrage. One typical response May 23: “Screw Apple Music for not including country in their top 100 albums!” growled Saving Country Music. “Get pissed. Get mad. Be personally offended.”

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AARP members, too, have particular reason to be at least annoyed about Apple’s list. We respect history and vividly remember albums, first made in 1948 by Columbia Records and called Vinylites — for the first time, up to 45 minutes of music on one disk!

Apple honors one measly album from the 1950s and just 10 from the 1960s on its Top 100. The most-represented decade is the 1990s, with 23 albums.

The 21st century? Thirty-one albums. This tallying might politely be called “recency bias,” reflecting the tastes of what we’d have to guess are mainly millennials. For them, Sly & the Family Stone, Simon & Garfunkel, Willie Nelson, both Elvises (Presley and Costello), Creedence Clearwater Revival, Al Green, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Television, Parliament-Funkadelic, R.E.M. and the Ramones are all kinda old and meh.

Apple’s best album of all time? That would be the one and only solo album by Lauryn Hill, the former Fugees singer, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It was a genre-bender of an album — highly regarded in 1998 (though Hill’s star has fallen amidst personal crises over the years), and certainly a precursor to Beyoncé’s Lemonade and Cowboy Carter. But is this the one album that deserves to be saluted as the best the galaxy of musicians could come up with over 75 years?

spinner image The record cover for The Beatles Abbey Road album
The front of the record cover sleeve for the 12-inch vinyl LP of "Abbey Road."
Hugh Williamson/Alamy

Rounding out the vaunted Top 10, from 2-10: Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the Beatles’ Abbey Road, Prince & the Revolution’s Purple Rain, Frank Ocean’s Blonde (if ya gotta have a blonde, why isn’t it Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde?), Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, M.a.a.D. City, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, Nirvana’s Nevermind and Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

I can’t dispute the worthiness of any of these. But I question some of them being in the Top 10 at the expense of, well, a boatload of others I could name.

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Who made these choices? Apple put together what it calls “a team of experts,” including Maren Morris, Pharrell Williams, J Balvin, Charli XCX, Mark Hoppus, Honey Dijon and Nia Archives, as well as various unnamed songwriters, producers and industry professionals.

It’s not that they were tone-deaf in their choices. But how about more representation of our g-g-generations? Boomers can’t get no satisfaction from this list, because while classic rock albums are scattered around the 100 picks, they’re conventional, almost obligatory, choices. You get the feeling the Apple folks said, “We don’t know this album, but every best-of list in the world has it, and we must be inclusive — up to a point.” It’s inconceivable there’s nothing by The Who.

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spinner image The Eagles Hotel California album cover
The album cover for "Hotel California" by the Eagles.
RLFE Pix/Alamy

There’s no mention of one of rock’s best debut albums, 1980’s Pretenders. Fine to choose Drake’s 2011 Take Care, but why not go out on a limb and pick one of late English folk singer-guitarist Nick Drake’s brilliant albums, Five Leaves Left (1969) or Bryter Layter (1971)? And Take Care is number 47, while Hotel California — the third-bestselling album in history — is number 99, second from last? Granted, I can’t listen to Hotel California anymore, but it just seems odd. At least The Velvet Underground & Nico is at number 60, behind Arctic Monkeys’ AM and ahead of Sade’s Love Deluxe, which seems at least defensible.

spinner image The Rolling Stones album cover for Exile on Main St
The Rolling Stones album cover for "Exile on Main St."
RLFE Pix/Alamy

The most-represented genre in the Top 100? Hip-hop and rap with 21, trailed by rock (however the Apple deities define it, which they don’t say) at 18. The Beatles have just two. The Rolling Stones — triumphantly touring America, sponsored by AARP — have just one, Exile on Main St., at 53, as does the indefatigably-touring-but-seldom-playing-the-hits Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited at 14.

spinner image The album cover for Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan
The album cover for Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited."
CBW/Alamy Stock Photo

What were they thinking? Apple’s statement includes a comment by Rachel Newman, Apple Music’s senior director of content and editorial: “100 Best brings together all the things that make Apple Music the ultimate service for music lovers — human curation at its peak, an appreciation for the art of storytelling, and unparalleled knowledge of music and an even deeper love for it.” To which one might add, “Blah-blah-blah.”

Where oh where is Taylor Swift on this list, you wonder? Fans can relax. Well, sorta relax. Her 1989 (Taylor’s Version) comes in at number 18. But where is The Tortured Poets Department? That issue must be lighting up the Twitterverse. It was released just over a month ago, surely enough time to crack the Top 10, if not zoom to number 1. Unless these lists were set in stone before the drop date.

Well, there’s always next year. Because really, isn’t that when we’ll find out what the best album of all time is?

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