We Built this City on Bad Lists - Part I
Everyone likes to make lists of things they like or don't like. I occasionally dabble with a list of my favourite films (Top 3: Carl Theodore Dryer's Ordet, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, and Werener Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God and not Police Academy I, II, and III as Stew claims out loud at dinner parties1). Popular music is an especially ripe vineyard for such lists, being that the average quality of any pop song falls in the range just below the Turducken2 on the class and sophistication scale, and just above steamed bile.
So, it comes as no great surprise that Generation-Y3, Rolling Stone wannabee periodical Blender has produced their own list. What is a surprise is both the number of fair to decent songs on it, and the large amount of musical offal missing... Also, that there were no receipes for orange smoothies anywhere in this month's edition.
Now, the first part of this criticism should be obvious enough. Magazine writers who literally ache for hipness and relevance, as the authors of Blender's list clearly do, are duty-bound to include a few popular favourites in amongst the skewering. Taking the mickey out of these beloved tunes is intended to demonstrate their cool, intellectual superiority to the average moron who subscribes to their magazine. As I've noted on occasion, such self-promulgated controversy also makes for ear-catching opening lines at cocktail parties. (As in, "Yeah baby, that was me who trashed the Beatles song in that 'Worst Songs' piece. Might I add that you look very foxy in that skirt."4)
Of course, this attempt never works, as ably demonstrated by Blender's over-ambitious, self-parodying choices in this vein. The average reader's retort is going to be along the lines of "'The Sounds of Silence' - one of the worst songs of all time? No, you're just an obnoxious, self-important jackass of a prat for thinking so." My own thoughts along these lines were that I could ask the writers in-person about the choices in a few years, just as soon as they shut up asking me whether I want to super-size my meal or not.
To back my argument, I could simply point to Blender's choice of "Billy Jean" as the "Greatest Song Since You Were Born."5 Sure, it's a decent tune with a nice beat from Michael Jackson's pre-Neverland, disturbing slumber-party days. It's still "Billy Jean" though - the song with enough verbal tics in it to give someone a non-dance related seizure.
However, for rock solid proof of the list's insipidness, here are just a few of the songs Blender felt compelled to name among the "50 Worst Ever:"
- The Heart of Rock-n-Roll - Huey Lewis and the News - All right, it's not Beethoven, but it beats the socks off of the latest Justin Timberlake, over-sampled, "I'm too sexy for Janet Jackson's brasserie," funk-wannabe tripe.
- Don't Worry, Be Happy - Bobby McFerrin - Yes, yes, it's completely annoying, but worse than Ricky Martin's She Bangs? Have some sense of proportion!
- Ebony and Ivory - Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney - Some of the blokes at Blender must be skinheads to find offense with this charming, inoffensive, if musically average tune. They are right in that the Eddie Murphy/Joe Piscopo parody is marginally better, if by better they mean "funnier."
- Kokomo - The Beach Boys - A classic example of the psuedo-hip airs put on by these types. Brian Wilson wouldn't have liked it, so nyaah. Wilson was busy recording "Baby, Let Your Hair Grow Long." Remember that classic? I don't, not even in Clairol adverts.
- Superman - Five for Fighting - A song based on a comic book character? Obviously, this one hit too close to home for the writers (and their libraries). Nonetheless, this quietly ironic song will long be remembered after unpurchased issues of Blender are filling New Jersey landfills. Oh, hang on a tic, that would be today.
- Shiny, Happy People - REM - Clearly, the boys at Blender don't get irony or satire at all. Also, anyone who trashes Kate Pierson's vocals needs to have their hearing checked. Sure, she can't grunt like Ashley Simpson or affect a cyborg with teen angst like Morrisette, but she does that whole singing gig extremely well.
This is exactly the kind of psuedo-bohemian, snobbish, claptrap one would expect from these uptight, Robert Christgau-wannabes. You simply can't get a truly coherent "worst songs" list from a bunch that's obviously busy taking hits of vodka and Mountain Dew, in-between turns at Halo3, and prank calling the International Celine Dion Fan Club (as entertaining as that last bit can be6).
At one point, not satisfied with brow-beating the musical establishment, they even describe evangelical Christians as "weirder" than kids with white hair. As if anyone is going to accept the social criticism of Maxim knock-offs whose idea of humor and taste seems to be centered around feigning disgust at the clumsy sexual references in the songs on the list whilst making up wanking euphemisms.Part II of this little rant will focus on what they missed in the process of poseuring, if indeed that is the word I mean.7
1. Persons having seen Mr. Miller, please write us at email@example.com, as he's not turned up in awhile.
2. Note to future receipe writers: Any dish with the letters "t-u-r-d" in the name is automatically suspect.
3. As in, "Y are we doing all this stupid crap?"
4. As an aside, it almost goes without saying that the worst possible follow-up line to that one is, "Oh, that's a kilt, you say? That does explain the hairy legs." This is usually followed by a quick trip to the cash bar for some variety of whisky that is anything but Scotch.
5. That would be "yesterday morning" from what I can gather of the article.
6. F. Johnny Lee has asked me to assure Ms. Dion's fans that it was not I who repeatedly called them between 4:00 and 4:30 a.m. last Tuesday asking where one might purchase the treacle used in most of her songs, given its exceptional sweetness.
7. With apologies to Wodehouse, of course.