Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Another Critical Establishment

I looked at Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest" songs of all time. Very revealing.

First, they obviously mean recorded songs, from the rock era. Otherwise, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin,, & Co. would be on the list.

Even so-- when Del Shannon's "Runaway" is #472 and Joan Jett's "I LOve Rock N Roll" #491, you know something is severely wrong with the list and with those who made it.

One could write a volume on everything bad about the list, from the underrating of artists like Janis Joplin ("Down on Me"?), Jackie Wilson, and Bill Haley, to the many songs which don't belong on a rock n roll list ("Wichita Lineman"; "Penny Lane"; "Mack the Knife"; "Piano Man"; "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain"; etc.), to the promotion of musicians favored by the intellectual establishment who weren't very good and scarcely rocked (Bonnie Raitt; Jackson Browne; James Taylor). The list, you see, is a POLITICAL list. It's all politics. One quesions whether Joy Division would've made the list had not two recent movies made the band acceptable to elites. Or, Johnny Cash, a mere country singer in the 1960s, gained cred by recording Bob Dylan songs.

What the list truly reflects are the biases of rock's intellectual establishment-- the professors and magazine writers who compiled it. The list is centered on the years 1964-65, which happens to be when the nation's intelligentsia at long last embraced rock after many years, if not decades, of scorning it. Being intellectuals, they favor intellectualized rock, not seeing that the two words are oxymoronic, or that the intellectualizing of rock n roll was the first step in the form's artistic death.

The list is top-heavy with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles, as would be expected, in that these artists, for the intellectual crowd, marked the birth of rock n roll. Not rock's actual birth in the mainstream culture, which happened in 1955, but the late birth of rock n roll in the intellectual head, when the form was so popular there was no choice but to accept it.

Methinks, though, that they still don't understand rock n roll, which is why they overvalue songs which moved away from it like "Hey Jude." Sacrilegious to say, but a fun ditty like Herman Hermits' "Henry the Eighth" is more in the spirit of rock n roll than the McCartney-penned standard.

Because the intellectual mind promotes the myth that rock died before Beatles arrived, monster hits pre-Beatles like Chubby Checker's "The Twist" (#457) and Ricky Nelson's "Hello Mary Lou" (not on list, despite having just enough cowbell) are undervalued.
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The real greatest rock n roll song? I'd nominate "Gloria," possibly the most played-by-garage-bands song ever, and which boasts four classic versions: Them's great original; Shadow of Knight's smash hit cover; The Doors' amazing live version; and Patti Smith's 70's punk vision version, which goes beyond, and is the culmination of, just about every other rock song. recording.

1 comment:

King said...

(One wonders if there's a trace of sexism in the list-- other dissed artists include the Supremes, whose version of "These Boots Are Made for Walking" has to rank near the top of any list of best rock n roll songs. Or maybe the critics are just clueless.)