Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Trouble with Lists

Leave it to Rolling Stone to once again put out a contentious list, more noted for its glaring omissions than who the editorial staff chose to include.  It was probably a foregone conclusion Bob Dylan would be ranked number one, universally hailed for his great lyricism, but he owed a lot to Dave Van Ronk, who didn't make the list.  But Dave is in good company.  The only early folkies to make the list were Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen.  Amazingly, not one of Crosby, Stills and Nash was mentioned.  I guess they thought Neil Young wrote all the songs. Where were these editors from -- Canada?

It's not just "one real problem," but a whole host of problems with this list, the most glaring of which is that it was sponsored by Apple.  How else to explain Taylor Swift and Kanye West?  I suppose this was a tip of the hat to today's teeny boppers who have vaulted these two to the top of Apple i-tune charts.

You begin to see that this list was more about demographics than anything else, but how to explain the omission of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, who co-wrote much of the Led Zeppelin discography.  Or, no mention of David Gilmour and Roger Waters who gave us the bulk of the Pink Floyd discography.  Eric Clapton, who along with Ginger Baker gave us the ground-breaking Cream, gave us a huge body of personal songs but similarly failed to make the list.  These are rock and roll giants.

The San Francisco sound was referenced only with the Grateful Dead.  No mention of Paul Kantner and Marty Balin who created Jefferson Airplane.  They were a bit of a thing at one time.  The Allman Brothers, which originally hailed from Jacksonville, but made their impact in San Francisco, similarly got no mention.  Current jam bands like the wildly popular Phish and Widespread Panic were also overlooked.  I guess the RS staff felt this sound was more about the music than it was the lyrics, so took a pass.

This would also explain why there isn't a single jazz or classical composer.  No Duke Ellington, Miles Davis or John Coltane.  You can forget Aaron Copeland or modern day composers like Steve Reich.  Instead you get Burt Bacharach and Hal David for their wistful tunes of the 70s which Andy Williams and Dionne Warwick sang, along with an obscure reference to Ellie Greenwhich and Jeff Barry, which even the staff writer seemed to indicate was a bit of a stretch.  You would think at least Rodgers and Hammerstein would get an honorable mention.

Among the odder notes, Stevie Nicks gets a nod, but what about the collaborative effort of Fleetwood Mac?  That's right, no Mick Fleetwood, much less Peter Green, and for my taste Christine McVie wrote much better songs than Stevie Nicks.  All the ground-breaking work of bands like John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers also goes unrecognized.

The other factor is that you obviously had to write songs in English to even be considered for this list.  The songwriting team behind Abba crept in at 100, but there isn't a single French artist on the list, nor any other European artist of note, other than Bjork, more noted for her wild outfits than her lyricism.  Not a single Brazilian or anyone from Central and South America, despite the profound influence Latin music has had on American mainstream music.  Only Bob Marley is mentioned from the Caribbean.

Make of it this list what you will, but it is hardly a fair representation of the great songwriters who have given us so much memorable music over the years.

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