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1,000 Essential Recordings You Must Hear

From Marian Anderson to ZZ Top, 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die: A Listener's Life List covers all genres of music in its more than 900 pages. It's driven by the notion that "the more you love music, the more music you love."

"I didn't want to have a standard criteria. Within any given artist, you could go 10 different directions," says the book's author, NPR music commentator Tom Moon.

While artists like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis receive multiple entries in the book, Moon says the picks ultimately came down to his gut. But they were also selected for their unbelievable beauty, like Ahmad Jamal's But Not for Me: Live at the Pershing. If you listen closely, you can hear the clinks of gimlet and martini glasses in the background. For a live set recorded in January in Chicago, Live at the Pershing works surprisingly well as summer record.

"Ahmad Jamal is one of the great Zen masters of jazz piano," Moon says. "He plays just what is needed and nothing more. Every phrase is perfect."

Sly and the Family Stone's Stand! was the definition of the Summer of 1969. Seven of the nine tracks were hit singles, and as Moon notes, every one of them conveys summer.

"[The songs] have that radiant sense of energy to them," he says. "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."

When violinist Janine Jansen and a small chamber group play Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Moon says that each of the seasons is beautifully rendered — but especially summer.

"Summer is my favorite part of this piece," Moon says. "It does feel like August and it does feel very thick. It starts off in a slow mood and it becomes more playful as it goes along, but you sense that when these guys recorded this, they were thinking about humidity — that thing you can't even escape in air conditioning."

When it comes to summer records, though, Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run is one that can be put on at any time of the year and immediately evoke summer nights of endless possibility.

"As we approach the end of summer, I always get that thing of 'I've got to grab on to every minute of this great weather and this inspiring air,' Moon says. "Then I realize it's inside these records."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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