Hop on pop: ‘Best of’ lists downplay newer music
It was 40 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper told the band to play.
OK, you’ve got me. That anniversary is tomorrow. But I haven’t even introduced the topic yet, and you already know where this is headed.
That’s how important The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is in the annals of music history, not just rock history.
As someone who wasn’t around at the time, I think the short version of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” story goes like this: The Beatles arrival in America was the musical equivalent of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs. “Sgt. Pepper’s” was the extinction event.
But it’s too predictable to write about how brilliant that record is and how richly it deserves its place as one of the all-time greatest. Countless other critics will tell you how indisputable its place on such lists is, and those critics are right.
My beef is with the people who put together those lists. They almost always eschew any post-1980 music, placing it under the seemingly unspoken music critic umbrella that says anything after Led Zeppelin dissolved doesn’t measure up.
The top 10 of these lists is almost always comprised of rock records issued in the 1960s and 1970s. Sure, “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Blonde on Blonde,” “Pet Sounds” and “Exile on Main Street” are great. But isn’t it a little irksome that in 50 years of rock history, the same records are always near the top of that list?
You’ll always find that these lists show a token appreciation for something more modern to give the impression the lists’ creators aren’t ignoring the latest music.
The first thing to note is that any such list usually becomes more of a popularity contest. Just because 104 million people worldwide own Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” doesn’t make it a good album.
Also, it’s a highly subjective quest from the start. How does one measure impact, quality and importance? You can’t. But those are standards to which these lists continually are held.
So, if you want an album that broke the rules and put rock onto a new playing field, Radiohead’s “OK Computer” from 1997 is a fine choice. Sure, many find it gasp-worthy to even suggest it has a place anywhere near “Dark Side of the Moon,” but its importance is almost as difficult to deny.
If your sphere of importance goes beyond rock ‘n’ roll, Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below” from 2003 is a genre-crossing, career-defining, two-disc epic also deserving of a spot. Again, in terms of influence, impact and redefining the rules, you’d be hard pressed to find better.
But as far as hip hop is concerned – largely a post-1980 movement – you can’t even think about ‘Kast’s landmark without mentioning NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton,” Notorious B.I.G.’s “Life After Death” or Eminem’s “The Marshall Mathers LP.”
The magnum opus of rock ‘n’ roll in the last 25 years was Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which came off of the stellar “Nevermind” record. Its success was a little bit of right-place-at-the-right-time-ism, but the rock world still is dealing with its inability to measure up to Kurt Cobain’s songwriting strength.
How about Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut? That’s a group that combined the political passion of folk rockers with the flow of hip hop and bombastic, tasty, heavy rock riffs to invent something totally new.
I could keep going on, as there are plenty of examples. We need to understand how albums end up on those greatest-albums-of-all-time lists.
Stronger consideration needs to be given to records that built off of those 1960s and 1970s’ albums to create something new and exciting. I understand the argument that you can’t have any of those post-1980s’ records without other things coming first. And there is a ring of truth to that.
But to ignore a nearly 30-year window of records just because they didn’t come first borders on lunacy.
The name Hop on Pop is the title of a 1963 book by Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel. Nick DeCicco is copy desk chief and pop culture columnist for The Union. He may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 477-4270.
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