8.22.2006

Fixing the Fork

As I sit here sipping on my Fuze White Tea and listening to The Gongettes "Gong Gong Song" -- one of the best '60s girl group songs you've never heard -- I'm pleasantly reminded of how I'm just soooo much fucking hipper than you. I may be turning 30 in less than a week, but I'll be damned if I'm not still going to be cooler than you -- all because of the music knowledge in my noggin. And thanks to such knowledge, I can tell you plainly that Pitchfork's recent countdown of the top 200 songs of the '60s is total bullshit. Complete, utter crap. A total waste of time. An exercise in jacking off. Good for several hearty laughs. Et cetera.

Okay, kidding aside (about me, not the Fork), the list is a ridiculous attempt to catalogue the best decade in rock music history, and flawed through and through. Pitchfork provides us with no real reasoning for how they selected the songs, other than stating they limited the list to five songs per artist, entirely fair to bands both prolific and superb like the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. We don't know if they polled their writers (as they've done in the past) for a ranked list of 100 songs and then tabulated the results to give us an overall ranking. Although, it's pretty clear by looking at the list that they did not. (They couldn't have possibly had enough critics vote for Ennio Morricone's theme song "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" for it to end up ranked No. 32. No fucking way. And if they did go this route -- wherein someone on their staff of, say, 30 peeps, selected that tune No. 1 or 2 on their list which in turn gave it enough "points" to earn a No. 32 overall rating -- then once again we're seeing a clear flaw.) So, we have to suppose then that they simply had some sort of a roundtable discussion, with certain people spearheading the decision making about how high certain songs should be ranked. And of course, that's what I think they did, especially considering how tailored and snobby the list ended up. Then there's the staff's obvious desire to be genre inclusive; instead of sticking to rock and excluding other genres, they attempt to incorporate jazz, country, electronic music, R&B, and other genres, which only leads us to contemplate apples and oranges. A bad decision I think.

Anyway, humor me while I debate some of the more, well, suspicious selections. The list is suspect from the start. Before we even make it out of the bottom 10, Nos. 200-191, we find trouble: Johnny and June's "Jackson" is No. 193. A song that is clearly considered by plenty to be among the finest tunes in Cash's catalogue -- and no I'm not just sentimental a year after seeing the flick in the theater -- and it barely cracks the list? Pa-lease! Or, how about song No. 200, The Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon", from their unfortunately overlooked 1966 masterpiece Face to Face? Sure, it's a good song. But name me a person with ears who finds it a more valuable asset to society than its record-mate, "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home", and I'll show you a red-faced liar. Sure, this is all up for grabs -- and my opinion shouldn't hold more weight per say -- but listen to the Fork's explanation for why this song made the cut: "While already rightly revered as bratty garage rockers by the time of this track's release, the Kinks truly excelled when singer Ray Davies took a more observational, wry approach to songwriting -- and "Sunny Afternoon" is one of his wriest on record." Oh, okay, so it's more wry than the rest. Gotcha.

Debates aside -- cause I could debate plenty on this list -- how does one reasonably say that "Sunny Afternoon" is a cut above "Dedicated Follower of Fashion" or "Tired of Waiting for You" or "David Watts", none of which made the list? And while we're on the subject of The Kinks (okay, fuck not debating this shit), what the hell is up with "You Really Got Me" at No. 88? Oh, let's just neglect the song that spawned punk and hard rock with one mighty swing of Dave Davies' axe. Eighty-eight? Gimme a break.

There's plenty of additional WTF moments throughout the list. MC5's "Kick out the Jams" at No. 176 when it was an anthem for rebellion in the anti-government climate of the late-'60s? The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" at No. 154? Oh, sure, cause it didn't kickstart a national garage rock phenomenon or anything (and besides that fact is a bitchin' song). John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" at No. 130? Sorry, but the song defined the man's greatness on so many levels. (And there's only three other "jazz" tunes ahead of it on the list -- Miles at No. 125, Ray at No. 52, and Vince Gauraldi at No. 43. Must've been a slow decade for jazz, eh?) Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" doesn't break the Top 100? Neither does Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" (which has no business on this list since it was originally recorded in the 1920s), or Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces". Simon & Garfunkel's classic "Mrs. Robinson" peaks at No. 94. Why, cause it's too popular?

Speaking of popular, "staples" like the Stones' "Satisfaction" and The Who's "My Generation" are totally absent. Meanwhile, did you know that The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus", "Tomorrow Never Knows", and "A Day in the Life" were the best three songs they ever recorded? Tis true! That's not eye-opening enough for you? How about this: there are four Beach Boys tunes in the Top 21, including "God Only Knows" at No. 1. Now that's a damn fine tune -- and works perfectly as the theme song to HBO's Big Love -- but I can't even say it's the best song on Pet Sounds ("I'm Waiting for the Day" or "Wouldn't It Be Nice"), let alone the best song of the entire decade.

As for how I would change this exercise: For starters, stick to one genre, like rock/pop. Adding in jazz and country (while mysteriously snubbing blues) just muddies up the water. (It's clear Pitchfork's intent was to focus on rock/pop, so do so exclusively.) Not to mention, each genre is worthy of their own list. You can't do any of them justice by sprinkling a few singles in amongst the majority of rock/pop cuts. And considering the decade, it's not like country tunes were competing on the charts with rock singles. So, keep 'em separate. That opens up slots on the list for obvious MIAs like Captain Beefheart, Wilson Pickett, the Small Faces, the Dave Clark Five, Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Doors, more early rock & roll artists from both sides of the pond, and more of the deserving (albeit one-off) garage rockers.

The big change I would make is to own up to the fact that your list is going to have a lot in common with Time-Life compilations: you can't get around selecting songs like "Satisfaction", "Purple Haze", "Mr. Tambourine Man", and "Blowin' in the Wind" simply because they're ingrained in our fabric. A song's timelessness is one of the biggest clues as to whether it warrants inclusion. So stop trying to inform people of how "under the radar" you can fly and instead try to create the best list, period. At least, that's my two cents.

7 comments:

Edna Million said...

and where'd you get that song? *cough cough*

amy l. said...

Preach it, brother, preach it!

greymatter said...

Damn fucking straight. That list is a heaping pile of shit, and I'm glad to see someone with REAL historical knowledge of music step up and say so. Nicely done!

thenoiseboy said...

Of course, the Gongettes was given to me by an even hipper, uber-cool lady who DJs at Mike & Molly's on Thursday nights.

greymatter said...

Ah, yes, sweet DJ Hellcat. She's a great friend and a fiend for music of that era. Always a fun set.

Edna Million said...

did I tell you I have the 45 of that Gongettes song - found it on ebay for $3. Huzzah. The B side is a cool instrumental called Trouble - found an mp3 link of it:
http://www.philxmilstein.com/probe/tracks/Gongettes-Trouble.mp3

thenoiseboy said...

The link's not working, unfortunately.