05 February 2004

Of Course They're on Drugs...

… it's Rolling Stone! The excessively venerated editorial staff at Rolling Stone—many of whom make Hunter S. Thompson look positively sober, based on their questionable judgment—has released its list of the top 500 albums of all time. Yeah, right. Unlike Jeralyn Merritt, I do not have 40 or so of the top 50 in my basement.

It's been clear virtually forever that musicianship is not one of the criteria used in the popular music press—RS being a repeat offender, but far from the worst recidivist—in determining the "value" or "greatness" of an album. Consider, for example, the number two album on the list, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. Sorry, guys, but one cannot call a studio album filled with off-pitch notes and inconsistent (and apparently accidental) syncopation "great," particularly given the opportunity to correct things present. Work of that quality at a dress rehearsal, or even a practice session, would get a classical musician fired from a middling-or-worse post-romantic orchestra. We'll leave the banality of the songwriting out of it.

At least a couple of RS's long-running obsessions seem to have much less influence than one might otherwise expect. The highest Springsteen—the overblown Born to Run—doesn't appear until number 18; the highest Lead Balloons Led Zeppelin—the waste-of-dead-dinosaurs eponymous album—holds off until number 29. On the other hand, very much as expected, the top 100 contains nothing from the Moody Blues, or Genesis (or, for that matter, Peter Gabriel), or Dire Straits (or, for that matter, Mark Knopfler), or Renaissance, or Jethro Tull, or Procol Harum, or Al Stewart (the highest placing for any of these artists is 187!); the first few Alan Parsons Project albums are notable by their absence; only one Simon & Garfunkel and one solo Paul Simon; and so on. On the other other hand, four of the top ten albums are from the Beatles, including two on which one can hear studio-producer bitching and moaning and dropped instruments in the background. My guess is that the reviewers were completely incapable of distinguishing performance from songwriting (which, come to think of it, explains a lot about Bob Dylan's prominence and Joan Baez's absence). True greatness requires both; they thought it only required one.

Either that, or I didn't do enough LDS back in the 70s.