Lists. There are hundreds of them, most notably in the authoritarian sense from Rolling Stone; Top 100 guitar players of all time, singers, bass players, drummers, records, songs.. The List goes on.
But at this point, since rock is over 50 years old, how relevant, necessary or even practical are rock lists? Does it contribute to debate or is it merely filler?
4 thoughts on “Question of the Week: Who Needs Lists?”
I’ve always been list-obsessed, and that will probably never change, and I disagree with people who say that making lists is by nature an inherently lazy activity (an interesting list can open up all sorts of avenues of thought, writing, etc.). That said, I really only care for lists by individuals–the more esoteric in a way, the better–rather than by committees. Consensus kind of bores me when it comes to things that have already happened and been established. *Rolling Stone* has not published an interesting list in… well, have they *ever* published an interesting list? Mojo, Uncut, all the rest–I don’t even peak at those kinds of lists anymore.
I don’t think list-making in this field is “inherently lazy” — for me as a practicing rock critic, it was just the opposite, too much extra work after I’d already said in my polished prose exactly why someone might like or dislike a particular album. Where it should “rank” in the whole scheme of things was up to that listener. Voting in the Pazz & Jop was often kind of a chore for me — in fact, some years I solicited suggestions from Teresa and Sarah to fill out my list. (I’m pretty sure Dean Christgau can’t have me disbarred for that confession, at this late date.)
The “100 Best” lists in Rolling Stone and suchlike mags always strike me as testosterone-fueled, as intended for those guys (always guys) who obsessively study comparable lists of fast cars in Road & Track, to make sure that their vehicle has more horsepower (& implied penis length) than the next fellow’s. They’re the contemporary equivalent of those swinging bachelors who read Playboy in the ’60s and ’70s to make sure they had the RIGHT wine, the RIGHT stereo system, etc.. Sure these guys could study the offerings on their own, but why fool around when one’s consumer correctness is on the line? The experts at Rolling Stone will tell ’em exactly which albums they *should* have, to reflect their “pitch-perfect” taste in spending all those bucks evidently burning holes in their pockets. Wenner take all!
I’m a product of a Quaker education, which only reinforced my inherent distrust of hierarchies — I’ve always refused to take my hat off for King Elvis. Even so, some days I tell myself that the Music Machine’s “Talk Talk” may be the greatest r’n’r single ever. (Warning to compulsive RS list-consulters: Do NOT buy er . . download this one for your applied-hipster bachelor pad, your “curb appeal” could go down the tubes for good then!)
Like Richard, I’ve grown weary of filling out my P&J poll each year… Once upon a time, I would spend several days trying to come up with really “deep” comments to make about the year just past, presuming that those oh-so-pithy and/or poignant blurbs that get printed each year in the Poll represented the height of affirmation. But seriously… several days?!? Was I fucking insane?!??!!!
Now, I just fill the forms out for whatever magazines want polls, and if I happen to have some essays that I wrote recently from which I can excerpt a stray comment or two, I do so. But I don’t think anyone reads these things other than the rest of the rock critics who are submitting to them. Talk about a closed loop.
What IS fun is when you have goofy/precise/themed lists. When I was the music editor at the Charlotte weekly paper in the ’80s and ’90s, we’d periodically do a cover story along the lines of “The 100 Greatest…”. The one we had the most fun doing was “The 100 Greatest Introductory Guitar Riffs,” which had in the top 10 stuff like “Shake Some Action” and “Daytripper,” including 50-word blurbs about WHY those riffs turned our knees to silly putty. Got a lot of “how could you leave out…!” letters to the editor the next week, which meant we’d done our job right.
I once loved year-end lists but I do as few as possible now. Where we once could look at a number of year-end lists and see the two or three recordings that were consensus picks, now the lists are so different that they say more about the writer than the music. That’s a natural function of the growth in the quantity of recordings, subgenres and writers addressing those subgenres, but the byproduct is a bunch of lists whose purposes now elude me.