The greatest albums from the Bay Area

From Dookie to Charlie Brown

Thanks for joining me for this week’s Golden Stats Warrior, a newsletter with data-based insights about the Bay Area. If this is your first time reading, welcome! If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do that here.


This week, let’s turn to a lighter subject. After looking at demographic change and inequality, I could use it. In this edition, I’ll try to identify the Bay Area’s greatest albums.

For more than two decades, I’ve used the website AllMusic to discover new music. It’s probably the most thorough database of music reviews in the world. For nearly any album of renown, AllMusic has given that album a 0-5 star review. A five star review suggests the album is a classic.

In addition to a ton of other information, AllMusic lists the city where an artist was born or the band was formed. There are also pages listing the artists from every city. It’s an excellent resource for understanding a place’s music history. It can also be a bit unwieldy. For a city like Richmond, California, it’s pretty easy to use, as there are only 11 artists listed as originating there. For San Francisco, with over 750 artists, it’s tougher.

In order to try to find the Bay Area’s five star albums, I did a little bit of programming. I wrote code that collected the names of all artists that AllMusic claims are from Bay Area cities, and then I collected the scores for each of their albums. (I included the 32 Bay Area cities with over 60,000 people in 2010.)

This left me with about 1,260 artists that made about 6,700 albums, of which around 3,400 were given scores. Only 55 of the 3,400 albums received five stars, 35 of these albums were not classical. (I’ve excluded classical because these are mostly recordings of music written hundreds of years ago). It’s not a perfect methodology, but it makes for a fun list:

Much of the list is familiar to me. How about you?

I was an En Vogue fan at nine years old (my sister had their albums), and Sly and the Family Stone, the Grateful Dead and DJ Shadow were big parts of my hazy teens.

There are also some surprises here. I actually didn’t realize Green Day had Bay Area roots. Their first show was in Vallejo! Perhaps I would have known if I, like so many others my age, had taken to Dookie in 6th grade. (I am told I should be embarrassed I didn’t know this.)

I also didn’t know the Bay Area created so many jazz luminaries. Jazz composer Vince Guaraldi—famous for composing the wonderful “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack—was born and raised in San Francisco. Oakland saxophonist David Murray has had five classics according to AllMusic, and I’ve been enjoying his stylings while writing this newsletter. Dave Brubeck, of “Take Five” fame, was born in Concord—though he is a good example of a person who spent little of his life in the area, but just happened to be born here.

A number of the Bay Area’s most well-known acts, like E-40, Mac Dre, the Steve Miller Band, Xiu Xiu, Smash Mouth, the Doobie Brothers and others, made a number of 4 and 4.5 star albums, but never quite made a five star one. My favorite artists to recently emerge from the Bay, the indie rockers Jay Som and Madeline Kenney, also didn’t make the list.

If you would like to see a searchable table with every artist that had at least one four star record, click here.

Using this data, I was also curious which Bay Area cities make hits above their weight. I took the share of artists from a city that had at least one album with 4 stars or more and divided that by the city’s population in 2010. By that measure, Berkeley edges out San Francisco in producing critically lauded artists. Palo Alto, a university town like Berkeley, also sits near the top of the rankings.

Bay Area media recommendation of the week

The most informative journalism I read about the East Bay every week is the East Bay Express’s “Seven Days” section. Usually written by Associate Editor Steven Tavares, the article is a remarkably efficient run down of the last seven days of news. This week I learned about the trouble the city of Oakland has had interpreting a bill that would tax vacant lots in the city, and use that money to address homelessness—many are worried the tax will impact poor residents more than rich ones. There was also at least twenty other nuggets in the rundown, including an update on the threatened strike by Kaiser employees, as well as the status of Warriors star Klay Thompson’s knees.

(If you read or listened to something great about the Bay Area this week, please send it to me!)

Dan’s favorite things

Each issue I also want to mention one of the activities that I recommend for anyone living in the area.

I can say unequivocally that my favorite place in the Bay Area is the New Parkway Theater. The New Parkway is a two-screen second run movie theater that also shows classic movies and sports. This last Saturday they played The Craft and The Truman Show, in addition to more recent fare like The Farewell and Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood. The theater is mission-driven, paying staff a living wage, profit sharing with staff, and holding fundraising events. They also have the best popcorn toppings of any theater in the world.


Thanks for your time, and see you in a couple weeks.

If you think a friend might enjoy this newsletter, please forward it along. You can follow me on Twitter at @dkopf or email me at dan.kopf@gmail.com

The Golden Stats Warrior logo was made by the great Jared Joiner, the best friend a nervous newsletter writer could have. Follow him @jnjoiner. Also, thanks to the brilliant and supportive Natalie Nava for copyediting.

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