Monday, November 5, 2012

Poll Results: "Rolling Stone recently updated its '500 Greatest Albums of All Time' list . . . but none of the following albums appeared on either the 2003 or 2012 list. Which in your opinion are the most glaring omissions?


I'm a little late in posting these poll results - pardon. There's a lot here to go over.

When Rolling Stone first compiled "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" in 2003, a lot of critics rightly pointed out that it seemed that the list was heavily weighted towards 'classic' rock releases from the '60s and '70s.  Nine years later, they decided to give the list another go, I assume to correct the earlier mistakes in judgement and bring a new, fresher, hipper take to the compilation by bringing more modern sounds into the mix.  All in all, I can't say that their attempt was completely successful - their latest album list looks remarkably similar to the earlier one, with what are for the most part only minor changes and deletions.

Rolling Stone cheated a little in updating their list - they had to make room for new artists and albums, but at the same time it was as though they couldn't bear the thought of reducing the level of recognition previously afforded to those older artists/groups.  So in many cases, what the magazine did was to reduce the total number of albums a classic artist had on the list and consolidate their music onto a representative compilation album, which they would then rank just as highly as the artist's previous albums on the '03 list.

For example, in 2003, both volumes of Robert Johnson's King Of The Delta Blues Singers were included, at #27 and #424, respectively. But for the 2012 survey, the magazine replaced both albums with The Complete Recordings, a single release containing all of Johnson's music. For Robert Johnson, this move makes sense - he never did any albums, so The Complete Recordings is the definitive compilation from a music pioneer. But they made similar moves that made less sense - like deleting Creedence Clearwater Revival's Green River and Cosmo's Factory discs, replacing them in 2012 with the Chronicles, Vol. 1 compilation - but still retaining the band's album Willy And The Poor Boys on the new list. The magazine did a similar sort of thing with Otis Redding, Linda Ronstadt, The Byrds and James Brown, reducing their multiple entries on the 2003 list to one or two representative (and highly ranked) albums/compilations on the 2012 list - a backhanded, BS way for Rolling Stone to have its cake and eat it too.

Anyway, let's get to the REAL changes in the polls . . .

Losers:

The two bands that apparently suffered the biggest loss of reputation between the 2003 and 2012 lists were No Doubt and, most especially, Nick Drake - and deservedly so, in my opinion.

Nick Drake died in 1974 and for nearly 25 years was virtually unknown; posthumous awareness of his music really didn't begin to rise until the famous Volkswagen Cabrio TV commercial in 1999, featuring his song "Pink Moon".


His mainstream popularity peaked in the early 2000s - just about the same time that Rolling Stone began its initial album survey. So, without a doubt, that wave of Nick Drake adulation/nostalgia found its way into the 2003 list, which featured all three of his studio albums (Bryter Layter at #245, Five Leaves Left at #283, and Pink Moon at #320). By 2012, only Pink Moon remains. Personally, while I am impressed with Drake's guitar technique and lyrics, after a while, all of his stuff starts to sound a little bit samey. Frankly, a little bit of Nick Drake goes a long way . . . I'd always felt that his newfound glorification was just a wee bit overblown, so I can fully support Rolling Stone cutting back on recognizing his music.

As for No Doubt - well, I never understood the attraction for this group in the first place. In my mind, this band was an inferior doppleganger of the more superior West Coast "Third Wave Ska" bands in whose wake No Doubt developed - bands like Fishbone and The Untouchables. I remember when Tragic Kingdom came out - I was living in Cambridge, MA during the summer of '96, and the local alternative station played songs like "Just A Girl", "Spiderwebs" and "Don't Speak" to death. Every time I heard one of those 'blah' songs, that was my cue to change the channel. I felt that the band brought nothing new or particularly exciting to the table, and their links to ska were tenuous, if at all. At their top-dollar best, No Doubt was a 'OK' pop band with an attractive lead singer - not exactly a groundbreaking formula, and especially not one deserving of multiple "best album" recognition. The 2003 list had both Rock Steady (#316) and Tragic Kingdom (#441) - both are gone from the latest list. Good riddance.

Other artists taking a drubbing between the 2003 and 2012 lists include Roxy Music (Avalon and Country Life deleted, Siren and For Your Pleasure dropped three spots each, to #374 and #397 respectively), Alanis Morrisette (Jagged Little Pill removed - thank God), and Hank Williams, Jr. - apparently the 2012 committee didn't take to kindly to Junior's recent politically-charged comments; his compilation, formerly at #225, is completely out.

Winners:

If anything, the 2012 poll is Radiohead's critical coming-out party. Five Radiohead albums now grace this chart, with Amnesiac and In Rainbows joining the three band albums that made the 2003 list (The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A). Kid A made the most remarkable improvement in its critical reception between the polls, rising more than 350 spots, from #428 in '03 to #67 in '12. The other big gainer in the new poll is Kanye West. Three of his albums (Late Registration at #118, The College Dropout at #298, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at #353) are all new entries.

It seems that for the new poll, Rolling Stone made a rather obvious attempt to show itself to be eclectic in its selections, and tried to move away from honoring the usual hoary rock chestnuts considered "classic" by its aging editors and critics. In some cases, this works - for instance, it's good to see The Arcade Fire's Funeral (at #151), Sleater-Kinney's Dig Me Out (at #272) and The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs (at #454) on the list; recognition of these great works are, in some cases, long overdue.

But in other instances, the magazine goes too far in its attempt to be hip and modern. In my opinion, it's a big stretch to believe that albums by Vampire Weekend, The Arctic Monkeys, LCD Soundsystem and M.I.A. somehow rise to the level of "The 500 Greatest". And some new entries, like Manu Chao's Proxima Estacion Esperanza, Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linux, and the compilation The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto, just leave me (and I'm sure many others) scratching my head in bewilderment. In my mind, it helps if the music you're calling the 'greatest ever' has been heard by more than a couple of music critics  . . . especially if these albums replace deleted ones by The Beatles (With The Beatles, a shocking removal), Massive Attack (Mezzanine) and Roxy Music (Country Life), or rank higher than Gang Of Four's Entertainment! and Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. If it's not something that a reasonably informed and open-minded music lover is aware of, then it simply shouldn't be on the list.  Poorly done by RS, in my mind; there are plenty of other albums that are probably more deserving of honor . . .

The Poll:

. . . all of which leads back to my question: what omitted albums do you feel should have been on the updated list? I listed an number of albums for this poll, selected according to their renown, influence or representation of a specific genre of music. Here are the results:
10 (58%)   Combat Rock - The Clash
8 (47%)     Skylarking - XTC
8 (47%)     Boston - Boston
4 (23%)     The Specials - The Specials
4 (23%)     In My Tribe - 10,000 Maniacs
4 (23%)     Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes
4 (23%)     Broken English - Marianne Faithful
3 (17%)     My Life In The Bush of Ghosts - Brian Eno & David Byrne
3 (17%)     The La's - The La's
3 (17%)     Standing On A Beach/Staring At The Sea - The Cure
2 (11%)     Signals, Calls & Marches - Mission Of Burma
2 (11%)     United States Live - Laurie Anderson
2 (11%)     Swordfishtrombones - Tom Waits
2 (11%)     Technique - New Order
2 (11%)     Diesel & Dust - Midnight Oil
2 (11%)     The Stax Story (Vol. 1-4) - Various Artists
2 (11%)     Colossal Youth - Young Marble Giants
1 (5%)      The Trinity Session - Cowboy Junkies
1 (5%)      The Rise & Fall - Madness
1 (5%)      Atlantic Rhythm & Blues, Vol. 1-8 - Various Artists
1 (5%)      Hitsville U.S.A.: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 - Various Artists
1 (5%)      Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944 - Billie Holiday
0 (0%)      Emperor Tomato Ketchup - Stereolab
0 (0%)      Computer World - Kraftwerk
0 (0%)      Only The Lonely - Frank Sinatra
0 (0%)      Heaven Or Las Vegas - Cocteau Twins
0 (0%)      Labour Of Love - UB40
0 (0%)      1979-1983 (Vol. 1 & 2) - Bauhaus
0 (0%)      Bustin' Out: The Best of Rick James - Rick James
0 (0%)      The Whole Story - Kate Bush
I completely concur with these poll results. Combat Rock, I've already said more than enough here about how great I think this album is. Boston is the second-best selling debut album of all time in the U.S. (just behind Guns 'N' Roses Appetite For Destruction), with over 17 million units sold. And Skylarking, whether accidentally or not, is one of the most perfect 'song cycle' albums ever made, and one of the few discs I can listen to from start to finish without skipping over songs - everything just fits. I would have liked to have seen more votes for Computer World, hugely influential in the worlds of electronica, early rap (listen to the beat in "Planet Rock" again sometime) and alternative music (I'm looking at you, Coldplay), and for My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, another influential album that's also one of my personal all-time favorites.  But I guess you can't have everything.

Anyway, here's a link to the overall 2003 and 2012 RS500 lists that I put together, showing the differences between the two polls: album movements, deletions and additions. Thanks to everyone who participated.  I'll try to come up with another poll topic very soon.

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