When Mix was launched in 1977, founding editor David Schwartz didn't know whether to show up at work wearing a skinny tie — to show his solidarity with the burgeoning new wave scene — or giant platform shoes and a gold disco necklace. My recollection is that he might have tried to wear both, but the point is, it was a very confusing time in music — rarely had the split between the mainstream and the underground been so acute.
What a quarter century it's been in the music world! Why, when Mix got its start, there were more than three major record companies! Not only that, they had real A&R staffs and publicity departments and promotional budgets. Most major cities still had an adventurous radio station or two. Selling 100,000 copies of a record was considered really good. Ticket prices were reasonable — yes, there really was a time when regular working stiffs could afford to go see a top band in concert.
Stop me, please! Is there anything worse than some old-timer rattling on about the “good old days”? After all, it wasn't all good times, was it? I did shell out my $3.50 to see the disastrous movie Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys nearly barfed on me at a show at the Mabuhay Gardens punk club in San Francisco. And I might've even gone to see that overblown ELO tour with the giant spaceship — I'm not telling, but if I did go, I'm pretty sure I had comp tickets. God, I hope I did.
But I digress. We want to salute the artists, producers, engineers and studios of what we will pretentiously dub The Mix Era! We've highlighted 175 albums — seven from each year from 1977 to 2001 — to show some of the range of music that's come out during Mix's lifetime. We've adapted the format of our monthly “Cool Spins,” offering a couple of lines about the album and why it's significant, and then some info on who helped make it and where. Now for the caveats, and there are a whole bunch: This is not a survey of the “best” albums of the past 25 years. Some were big sellers, many were not. Some are here because they were groundbreaking albums within their genre. Others represent something important in the career of a particular artist. A few are odd but cool choices slightly off the beaten track. The list is overwhelmingly slanted toward rock and R&B, which, for better or worse, have always been Mix's primary orientation. There aren't enough jazz or country or world music albums on the list; there's no classical music on here at all. Many — perhaps most — of your favorite albums won't be on here. You will find that a few artists have more than one album on here, while hundreds of possibly deserving ones are not mentioned. The same holds true for studios and producers and engineers. This is not because we don't like you. It just worked out that way. Where's Joy Division and Toto and Sonny Rollins and Steel Pulse and Mary J. Blige and Brooks & Dunn and (fill in the blank)? Very good questions all. The thing about lists is they usually don't satisfy anyone except the people who appear on them.
But to accentuate the positive for a moment, our purpose was to try to represent a broad variety of styles and hit some of the musical and cultural high points of the The Mix Era. And it is a very impressive roster of talent — both in the studio and behind the board. One final caveat: We've made our best effort to get complete and accurate recording information, but it was not always available.