Who doesn’t love to Google themselves? There is nothing more intriguing than staring into the still cyber waters of the internet and whispering, "Who’s the fairest of them all?"
In the world of rock and roll there are many narcissistic ponds which inform us exactly who is the greatest, the best, the most popular. Usually these take the form of end-of-year round-ups. Or increasingly, they take over an entire edition of a monthly whenever the editors have run out of offbeat angles to cover the stars of the moment: The Top 100 Reggae Albums of All Time! The Best 200 Singles of the 1990s! The 50 Best Overlooked Jazz Records You Must Own!
In 2005 the mother of all such compendiums landed in bookstores with the rather bossy title, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Music freaks and bass players all around the world drooled with excitement as they thumbed its 960 pages to count how many of the albums on this "ultimate list" they once owned, had lent to an ex-girlfriend or had downloaded on to one of several external HDs.
While 1001 AYMHBYD (which has been regularly updated) is certainly exhaustive it has its detractors. Partisans are aghast that their favourites are not included. Classical music and jazz snobs suggest the number 1001 is far too ambitious as no more than 75 rock and roll records are worthy of serious reflection. I’m somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to make a case of the top 10 or even 100 albums but what serious criteria separates 390 and 391? And why is there no 1002nd?
But these are just niggles. This behemoth of authority, unlike most gigantic things, is actually great fun. And full of brilliant trivia that you absolutely must know. South Asian music lovers can also get some enjoyment out of the list as several Indian/Pakistani albums make the list.
Let’s dig in then and discover to what subcontinental albums this elite cohort of Western "rock and roll experts" give the big thumbs up.
Nat Bhairav [Rank 127]
Pt Shivkumar Sharma, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pt Brijbhushan Kabra
Sandwiched between The Beatles White Album  and The Incredible String Band’s The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter , 1967’s seminal classical album The Call of the Valley, is the top ranking Indian album on the list.
The three Pandits (Sharma, Chaurasia and Kabra) were Young Turks at this stage and trying to break down the doors of the crusty Hindustani classical music establishment. Only problem was they each played instruments which the keepers of the flame dismissed as non-traditional: santoor, bansuri and guitar. Sharma had been approached to compose a "thematic" album based on ragas but one that would be more accessible to the non-serious listener. With his two friends he repaired to a Bombay studio for what they thought would be another small notch in their professional belts. A novel experiment. What they produced, however, astounded the world. Dylan, George Harrison and David Crosby all praised the album and it went out to be the first and probably only window into Indian classical music the hippies ever had. It remains a huge seller and truly one of the most loved "world music" records ever made. A definite worthy recipient.
Sindhi – Bhairavi [Rank 130]
Pt Ravi Shankar
A few rungs down the ladder sits The Sounds of India, Pt Ravi Shankar’s primer on Indian classical music. Complete with spoken introductions this record caught the attention of thousands of fans who knew Shankar as a friend of George Harrison's or that Indian bloke on the Concert for Bangladesh album.
Released in 1968 at the zenith of the Age of Aquarius, Shankar was the face of India for young America. Though many probably bought this and other Indian classical albums, one wonders how often they were actually played. Preceding Panditji at number 129 is The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds. Following him at number 131 is The United States of America by The United States of America.
Light My Fire [Rank 178]
Ananda Shankar, Ravi’s nephew, issued a clutch of albums in the 1960s and '70s that are best labeled Hindu-psychedelic. They were far more adventurous than anything released by his famous relative and pushed the sitar far from its classical shore. Seventeen years after his passing, Ananda Shankar’s contribution to the pop scene remains fresh, interesting and exciting. It is no surprise that his self titled album, Ananda Shankar makes this list. A step ahead of him at 177 is American Beauty by The Grateful Dead. Nipping at his heels at 179, comes Bitches Brew by Miles Davis. Illustrious company indeed!
One Two ChaChaCha [Rank 342]
Usha Uthup (RD Burman)
This inclusion is the most enigmatic. Listed as a single album and in violation of the editors’ rule not to include compilations, about a third of the way down the ladder at 342 comes Shalimar/College Girl. Clearly one of the editors had enjoyed grooving to the music on a double CD or cassette he’d picked up at a local grocery. Of course, RD Burman is now recognized outside of India as a stone genius and the subject of serious academic attention. So we include one of Shalimar’s many musical high points by way of posthumous appreciation
Pyar Mange Hai Tumhi Se [Rank 342]
Kishore Kumar (Bappi Lahiri)
Bappi Lahiri, while much ballyhooed in India, has yet to achieve the sort of respect Burman or Asha Bhosle get from international audiences. And whether his inclusion in this List of Lists is deliberate or accidental (see comment above) I for one am very happy for him. Kishore Kumar’s voice is always a wonder to behold. One step above at 341 our Bollywood friends is that original outlaw Willie Nelson’s album Red Headed Stranger. Breathing down their necks at 343 are funksters Earth Wind and Fire’s That’s the Way of the World.
Allah Hoo [Rank 713]
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
If the previous entry was enigmatic, this one is shocking. How could the mighty, the ultimate the stupendous and gargantuan Shahenshah of Qawwali just stumble across the line at number 713? This is where I find myself wanting to join the critics and partisans. Such a low ranking speaks not to the quality or value of the music of NusratFateh Ali Khan but only of the narrow tastes of the editors. So, if you agree with me, play this final inclusion of desi sounds in the Bible of Rock and Roll Lists, at top volume NOW. And then repeat!
If you’re interested: number 712 belongs to Copper Blue by Sugar and number 714 to Alice in Chain’s Dirt.