Bitches Brew wus robbed
November 8, 2014 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Ranking a catalog the size of Miles Davis’ is an impossible task. There are so many lavish boxed sets, live releases, compilations issued during his hermit period, etc., that in order to make this article at all manageable, major cuts had to be made before it could even be begun. So here’s how this is going to work: I chose studio albums only. But to truly understand Davis’ catalog, there are a bunch of essential live releases, including Live-Evil, In Concert: Live At Philharmonic Hall, Dark Magus, Agharta, Pangaea, and The Bootleg Series Vol. 1: Live In Europe 1967. So consider the 30 albums below a starting point. There’s so much more.
For Stereogum, Phil Freeman ranks Miles Davis albums from worst to best.
posted by MartinWisse (52 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dang, Birth of the Cool at #20? That's even more egregious than the ranking given Bitches Brew.
posted by enrevanche at 10:02 AM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Hey, where is Live-Evil?
posted by louche mustachio at 10:15 AM on November 8, 2014


Ah, never mind.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:16 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I liked "Star People" at the time. John Scofield was groovy. I'd certainly put it higher than, oh, "You're Under Arrest"
posted by thelonius at 10:22 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


Well, obviously it's a ridiculous list to anyone but Freeman, and maybe even to him (01. On The Corner? seriously? I suspect he's just trying to piss people off), but more importantly, the whole idea of such a list is ridiculous. Miles is the American equivalent of Beethoven or Picasso—a stupendously great artist who kept using up entire styles, tossing them away, and inventing others to use up and discard in turn. You can't arrange Miles albums in order of quality any more than you can do the same for Picasso paintings; you can just say "At this point in my life, these are my favorites." I've cycled between passionately loving the mid-'50s quintet recordings (Walkin', Cookin', etc.), the late-'50s classics like Miles Ahead and Kind of Blue (and no, Kind of Blue isn't the Greatest Miles Album Ever, let alone the Greatest Jazz Album Ever, wonderful as it is), the mid-'60s quintet recordings (E.S.P., Miles Smiles, etc.), and the late-'60s classics (In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson), with respectful nods to the later stuff that I still haven't assimilated (but wouldn't dream of putting down on that account). And of course Birth of the Cool is magnificent, but 1) Miles is just getting started, and 2) it's not a "Miles record" in the sense the others are. I mean, I love the Classical Symphony to death, but it's not "great Prokofiev" in the way his later masterpieces are.

In general, I think the linked list is way too heavily weighted toward the latest phase of Miles, whether from personal preference or desire to look cool or sheer ignorance I have no idea. And the omission of live albums is absurd—The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel blows out of the water most of the albums he lists. But like I said, the list is an inherently dumb idea. Go listen to Miles, as much as you can, and form your own preferences... but be aware that in a few years those preferences will probably change. Miles is a lifetime project.
posted by languagehat at 10:22 AM on November 8, 2014 [28 favorites]


The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel blows out of the water most of the albums he lists

Very true, Socrates!
posted by thelonius at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


On the Corner will always be my favorite, but that's because I tend to require rhythm and bass.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, lots and lots that is bad about this list -- even for someone whose personal favorite came in at #1 (lots of love for On the Corner).

And yes, lists are ridiculous, and yes, Pitchfork talking about jazz is dangerously close to Down Beat talking about alternative ("Muse prove that they're the most radical and talented artist in the world of indie rock," I can imagine the line going), and yes, the concept of "studio" albums even being brought up on a jazz list reveals just how misguided this particular exercise is, and yes, Miles is the Beethoven of jazz (or America, for that matter), and yes, so much bad late-period work in there, and Get Up with It even showing up in the top 25 is laughable.

Anyway, aside from On the Corner, my other personal favorite is Filles de Kilimanjaro -- dig the electric piano, and the odd time-signatures but also very catchy themes and solos, deep grooves but avant sounds, etc., etc.

Here's how it would've gone for me (late-'60s bias very evident):
#1 On the Corner
#2 Filles de Kilimanjaro
#3 In a Silent Way
#4 Bitches Brew
#5 Sketches of Spain
Also, Jack Johnson, Live-Evil, Circle in the Round, Big Fun, Kind of Blue
posted by saintjoe at 10:41 AM on November 8, 2014 [5 favorites]


Any list that puts Bitches Brew at 12 deserves to be laughed out of the room. Although I'll admit that the tough thing about Miles is that it's virtually impossible to rank his best stuff and it's possible to find great moments even on supposedly "worst" albums like Decoy. The "worst" period of his career was supposedly the mid-1980s but one of my first introductions to Miles Davis and one that still sends chills down my spine is his performance on "The Struggle Continues" from Sun City.
posted by blucevalo at 10:56 AM on November 8, 2014


I'd rank Star People a bit higher. But that's just me. My two faves are Kind of Blue and Round About Midnight, which was the first Davis album I ever bought, more that 20 years ago,. I still listen to it fairly often. And, what blucevalo said.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:05 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I came in here to compare Miles to Picasso, but languagehat got there first. If you can't find something he recorded that you like, you're not really trying.

Obviously — although I just pulled it off the shelf recently, to listen again — On the Corner is listed as #1 just to get people annoyed. Bitches Brew did get robbed, too, in my opinion. Likewise E.S.P.; no way they deserve to be listed below Get Up With It. And I never was much of a Kind of Blue (or Sketches of Spain) fan either; I prefer Milestones and Sorcerer.

He also doesn't mention the first Miles Davis album I ever got, In Europe (more than 50 years ago now!), another live recording superior to many of the ones on the list.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:11 AM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


”Doesn’t mention” in the list of what he's not going to mention, I mean.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:16 AM on November 8, 2014


Reading through the list, I'd say Blue Moods was really, truly robbed. Reading the synopsis, the only negative thing the reviewer has to say about the record is that it's only 27 minutes long. Which, I suppose, is a knock against it. Though, I'd much rather have 27 minutes of amazing, than close to an hour of mediocre.

From the review:
There's not a lot of music here, but everything that is offered is stellar.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:24 AM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is incomplete and, naturally, wrong.
posted by steganographia at 11:36 AM on November 8, 2014


> Here's how it would've gone for me (late-'60s bias very evident):

Your love and appreciation for Miles are so evident I can accept with equanimity your giving the #1 slot to On the Corner. Miles is a land of contrasts, and each shall have its champions!
posted by languagehat at 12:15 PM on November 8, 2014


This list is relevant to my interests but its 2014 and websites are still pulling the bullshit of burying articles in slideshows? And even if you click through there is a fucking "read more" links on each item. Kind of Bullshit.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:44 PM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Several people in this thread have named On the Corner as their favorite so I think that's good evidence the airport wasn't trolling.

I also have no problem with skipping the live albums in a list like this; it's already unwieldy due to Davis' long career, variety of styles, and consistent excellence. Including the live albums would make it an even more impossible task and would not leave people any more happy with the results.
posted by mountmccabe at 1:00 PM on November 8, 2014


Nobody's going to talk about your listicle if you don't put a surprise at #1 and give a low ranking to a popular favorite. It's almost formulaic by now.

Anyway, one of my favorite Miles albums isn't a Miles album. It's Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else. Miles is simply incredible on it.
posted by rocket88 at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


Kind of Blue is awesome, but mostly because of Bill Evans.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 1:25 PM on November 8, 2014 [3 favorites]


I think that's good evidence the airport wasn't trolling...

Although it's possible that the bicycle was cajoling.
posted by goethean at 1:29 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


We can all agree that You're Under Arrest is the greatest album cover, right?
posted by saul wright at 1:42 PM on November 8, 2014


I love this feature at Stereogum. They've got Fugazi, XTC, Aphex Twin, practically every classic rocker, Prince, Nick Cave, and a ton more. Even though there's always something you'll disagree with, I generally think the lists are well made and have reasons for their choices. It's a useful tool if you're starting out new with an artist who has a ton of albums.

and it's In a Silent Way for me.
posted by saul wright at 1:51 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


> Several people in this thread have named On the Corner as their favorite so I think that's good evidence the airport wasn't trolling.

True, and I am (obviously) surprised. MetaFilter is a land of contrasts!
posted by languagehat at 1:52 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


On The Corner at #1 may be the perspective of a non-jazz music nerd looking back from a 21st century context, but that's my perspective and I have zero problem with that choice. There's nothing like that album - I just put it on and it's blowing me away all over again. I'm a little surprised about Bitches Brew too because I think that's another "oh, holy shit" album. Though I like In A Silent Way more personally. I'll admit that I don't know nearly enough about the early Miles, but not being a true jazz aficionado I don't think it will ever register to me as obviously changing the face of music like some of his stuff does.
posted by atoxyl at 1:59 PM on November 8, 2014


Nobody's going to talk about your listicle if you don't put a surprise at #1

I gentleman doesn't want people to talk about his listicle. That's between a man and his tailor.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:10 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


> On The Corner at #1 may be the perspective of a non-jazz music nerd looking back from a 21st century context, but that's my perspective and I have zero problem with that choice. ... I'll admit that I don't know nearly enough about the early Miles, but not being a true jazz aficionado I don't think it will ever register to me as obviously changing the face of music like some of his stuff does.

That reminds me that Robert Christgau absolutely flipped his lid over Sonny Rollins's G-Man back in 1987; he gave it an A+ and said "I haven't enjoyed a record so much all year." Now, I love G-Man, it's a blast to listen to, but no jazz fan coming from a purely jazz perspective would put it anywhere near the top of the Rollins canon. Christgau is upfront about his own perspective; he starts by calling the record "jazz for rock-and-rollers to cut their teeth on." Which is fine, and it's always good to be reminded how many different perspectives there are. I should give On The Corner another listen.
posted by languagehat at 2:13 PM on November 8, 2014


Milestones (#3) is my usual soundtrack when working on my hobbies in the garage. I can listen to it several times in a row as it's unobtrusive yet never gets old.
posted by neuron at 2:14 PM on November 8, 2014


All this makes me think back, decades ago, to when I ran a 'coffee house' in a church basement in Central PA. (I don't remember that kids in high school drank coffee in those days, at least not in that neighborhood.) As one weekend approached we had nothing planned for entertainment, until somebody said, "I know this guy across town who plays the organ. He just sits in his house and practices all night; he could come here and be on the stage and practice, while we listen."

"Tell him we'll give him whatever money gets collected at the door," I said, and lo and behold, Cedric Lawson (also then in high school) showed up that Friday night, along with his Hammond B-3 that we had to lug down the stairs. And he did play for a few hours, quite remarkably, and – after we lugged the organ back up the stairs – I did give him the night's take, somewhere between $15 and $20.

Then he went home, and the next time I heard anything about him, five or six years later, he was playing organ (and electric piano) with Miles (On the Corner, In Concert, Get Up With It).
posted by LeLiLo at 2:24 PM on November 8, 2014 [13 favorites]


Christgau is upfront about his own perspective; he starts by calling the record "jazz for rock-and-rollers to cut their teeth on."

I do think this is the thing. To me the way On The Corner brings together polyrhythmic funk and sound collage in 1972 is hugely ahead of its time , and presages hip-hop and all sorts of more or less experimental music to follow. And at the same time I don't find it at all "difficult" listening because it's all rhythm and solos - as a non-jazz-person I'll freely admit to having a limited understanding of the intricacies of jazz harmony. But having grown up listening to Public Enemy and Public Image Ltd. and DnB and metal I totally get "thumpa-wumpa-tabla-thumpa bwaarp [chopped up John McLaughlin solo]."
posted by atoxyl at 2:42 PM on November 8, 2014


This list is in random order. 'You're Under Arrest' ranked higher than both 'Filles de Kilimanjaro' & 'Sorcerer?' Come on.
posted by univac at 3:17 PM on November 8, 2014 [4 favorites]


Languagehat has it right. Miles really is a lifetime project.
posted by Jode at 4:30 PM on November 8, 2014


Kind of Blue is awesome, but mostly because of Bill Evans.

You got something against Wynton Kelly?
posted by thelonius at 5:18 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


The soundtrack from "Ascenseur pour l'échafaud" may have been deemed unworthy of the listicle, but I like it. "Twin Peaks" homaged it very heavily, I think.
posted by thelonius at 5:41 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I love MF jazz discussions. I couldn't pick a top album. I love his Prestige stuff. I love his early Columbia stuff, Milestones, in particular. I equally love his early second quintet stuff through about 1967.

In conclusion: love.

And:Wynton Kelly was amazing, but Bill Evans is my fav jazz pianist.
posted by persona au gratin at 5:52 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Slightly off topic, but it's worth hearing Bitches Brew in Quadraphonic / Surround if you can. It's really great.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 6:05 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Marcus Miller, btw, is a cousin of Wynton Kelly. When Miller first played for Miles, he got the Zen Master stick treatment ("the bass plays F, Eb, and Db" to "Man, is that all you gonna play? I heard you was bad" to "Just shut up and play F, Eb, and Db" - that kind of thing). He said that one of the only conversational things Miles said to him was to ask "Did you ever play with your genius cousin?" Miller said, no. And Miles said "His touch....."
posted by thelonius at 6:24 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


My dad was a massive jazz fan, who played trumpet and vibes semi-professionally back in the 40's and 50's. His favorite artist was Lionel Hampton. Several years ago, when he learned I really liked Miles Davis, he surprised me with the Davis/Coltrane, Davis/Gil Evans and On the Corner box sets. They're all loaded with great stuff and the packaging is beautiful. I treasure them. My dad died Christmas Eve 2010. This post has made me think about him and Miles Davis and I plan to dig into those box sets again this coming week.
posted by davebush at 6:55 PM on November 8, 2014 [8 favorites]


Freeman's always been an ass.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:59 PM on November 8, 2014


Life is short. So here: let me de-listicle this article for you.
(all hail De-Slide: http://deslide.clusterfake.net/ )
posted by Fupped Duck at 7:10 PM on November 8, 2014 [7 favorites]


I don't have much to add other than to agree that this list seems ahistorical and written by someone who appreciates Miles mostly outside of a Jazz context. I love On the Corner, but it isn't top 5 Miles Davis. It's cool for sure but in terms of music... Not Miles' best!
posted by cell divide at 8:08 PM on November 8, 2014


List schmlists. There is a 20 disk box set that currently sells for between £20-30 with most of the albums on that list. Amazing value even if you've never heard of the guy, or even if you have a handful of the albums already.
posted by lilburne at 8:10 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just listen to all of them and forget this ranking horseshit.
posted by Wolof at 8:26 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I prefer Dizz
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:52 PM on November 8, 2014


I just came in here to say that "Go Ahead John" off Big Fun completely melts my face every time. When that John McLaughlin solo takes off, blammo. I get that the production on that track isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it is mine, and it is like ionizing radiation in jazz form.
posted by the painkiller at 9:12 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't know how Miles in the Sky became my gateway to Miles Davis, Head Hunters and Brubeck were my only knowledge of jazz before then, but boy am I glad I started there, it lets me comfortably navigate the meridian that divides jazz and fusion.

Still, I think people continue to undervalue Miles in the Sky. This is fusion (guitar, keyboards, bass) without the psychedelia. This is post bop, but all the fusion cues are there. Beyond the introduction of electric instruments you find the jam length tracks that Miles would not deviate from for years to come. You get Tony Williams showing that he is a god of drumming at the age of 23 without ever being pretentious or self-indulgent, and all with a 4/4 beat. I think his prodigy is what made it possible for the quintet to sustain 17 minutes tracks without succumbing to exhaustion (after Tony left Miles literally had to double his rhythm section to make up for it). You also get the acceptance of electric instruments, and for Miles, the acceptance of guitar, but all of it with so much subtlety that other than in retrospect the changes mostly go undetected.

I like to wonder, if John McLaughlin had been the guitarist on Paraphernalia would the world hang its hat on Miles in the Sky as the ground zero of fusion instead of just a subtle transition album.
posted by furtive at 11:13 PM on November 8, 2014 [2 favorites]


Worst / Best : could you give us a break ? Miles is proteus himself. Discovering his back catalog is for everyone a wonderful trip, always a new and original one.
posted by nicolin at 12:29 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


I love articles that announce something like 'Ranking a catalog the size of Miles Davis’ is an impossible task' before going on to do exactly that. I'm old enough to remember when On The Corner was pretty much hated by everyone, except one Miles nut I knew, who claimed it to be his greatest work but so hated the cover he kept it in a plain white sleeve. I think I've heard it too many times to even be able to have an opinion about it anymore, but I do know I wouldn't willingly listen to it ever again. Nice to see Jack Johnson in there - worth having for possibly Miles' best solo ever on Right Off, and even better, McLaughlin's monstrous facemelter of a solo at the end...
posted by peterkins at 3:25 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


According to Robert M. Price, the Song of Songs of Solomon was somewhat controversial among first century rabbis due to its overtly sexual language (to say nothing of its origin in the wedding ritual between Tammuz and Ishtar). But the reaction from other rabbis was to say "On the contrary, this is the most sacred book in the canon!"

I suspect that ranking "On the Corner" as Miles number one album is a similar overcorrection by the faithful.
posted by Pararrayos at 6:17 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Jack Johnson
posted by Che boludo! at 7:48 AM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


> so hated the cover he kept it in a plain white sleeve.

I hate the cover of Mal Waldron's Our Colline's a Tresure (a great album) so much I taped a Tony Millionaire panel (showing a cigar-chomping dude typing away at a desktop computer with a framed portrait of Hitler and a framed sign reading "we will fill the sky with a rainbow of hate" on the wall behind him) over it right after buying it.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


On the Corner remains a vital listening experience for me, both within the Davis canon & within music as a whole.
posted by On the Corner at 1:07 AM on November 10, 2014


I was browsing around following themes from this post, and found this funny story from guitarist Pete Cosey:

Following up on the crossover success of Electric Mud, Marshall Chess decided to apply the same psychedelic formula to another legendary blues artist on the Chess roster, one Chester Burnett (aka Howlin’ Wolf). But the Wolf was not having any of it.

As Cosey says of that memorable session: “Wolf was outraged when we were cutting. Muddy only showed a bit of doubt during his sessions but the Wolf was furious. I had all my gadgets at the session—a Jordan Bosstone distortion pedal, a couple of wah-wah pedals and an Echoplex—and, man, he didn’t want to hear that at all! I have some pictures of that session and he was scowling pretty bad at me in a few.

“Anyway, I had a really long beard during those days; it was like down to the navel and I’d sometimes braid it. So on one occasion during the session, Wolf walks up to me and says in that raspy voice of his, ‘Why don’t you take them wah-wahs and all that other shit and go throw it off into the lake on your way to the barbershop?’ I mean, he just wiped me out with one stroke, man! Covered all the territory—the long hair, the beard, the wah-wahs and the whole deal.”

posted by thelonius at 3:23 AM on November 10, 2014 [2 favorites]


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