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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Why popular music sucks so bad

Popular music is subversive. Or it's supposed to be, at least. Not always in a serious way. Usually it's playful, fun, sexual, preposterous, free. Just by being these things it's subversive; it embraces the very things that are frowned on by our puritanical culture. And because of this, shortly after people began to make recordings, music was the dominant medium for the voiceless to find their voices. For a century now, young people and black people have been leading the charge, changing music and creating a permanent state of panic for the dominant culture. And popular music has stubbornly refused to go away. Selling records is big business, so censoring popular music out of existence is not an option. Instead, there seems to be a loose conspiracy of sorts to pretend that popular music, particularly rock music, springs from the soul of the most under-represented, voiceless people in history--white guys.
Rolling Stone magazine is the predominant periodical of the No, It Was Actually a Bunch of White Guys movement. Periodically, they release Best Of issues, not only to sell magazines but also to reinforce the mythology that has become so dear, that popular music is about White Guyness. And now they've done it again.
They've gotten better about throwing a couple of bones in the direction of those of us who know the true diversity of popular music. For instance, there is actually a black artist in the top ten greatest albums of all time! (#6-Marvin Gaye, who should definitely be many spots above the Beatles in a just world.) Noticeably missing is the artist who gave the stupid magazine its name with his song "Rolling Stone"--Muddy Waters. He does show up at #38, probably only because they remembered that they owed him a big one. But there's room for 4 Beatles records and 2 Dylan records! (Granted, it's pretty much impossible to include most recordings before the 1960's, as they didn't really make "albums" then. I'll give them a pass on that. It would be great if they did try 500 greatest recordings, though. "Good Golly Miss Molly" is worth the entire Beatles catalog, in my opinion.)
The first female-headed band or female solo artist doesn't show up until #30, and then of course it's a nice, safe Joni Mitchell. You finally get a female artist who pushes the envelope a little at #44, Patti Smith. The first hip-hop album doesn't show up until #48, Public Enemy. The Allman Brothers rank above Little Richard! It's a nightmare. Girl groups get their due in a Phil Spector box set, and isn't that enough?
It's not just that black musicians, non-Boomer musicians, and female musicians get the shaft. The great diversity of popular music is ignored in favor of elevating the wave of masturbatory cock rock. (In the top 100: 4 Led Zepplin albums, 9 Beatles records, 4 Rolling Stones records.) They seem to figure that Miles Davis and John Coltrane are all you need to represent jazz. Of course, punk rock is my favorite music and I always feel that it gets the shaft. Out of the top 100, there are only 7 punk or punkish albums, and that's stretching to include the Velvet Underground and Nirvana. The Ramones, whose music should be regarded as the equivalent of setting a bomb off in the middle of the guitar solo wank-a-thon that rock music was at the time don't show up until #33. The Rolling Stone has good reason to hate underground, punk and art rock, since all these are giving them the big ol' finger. Too bad. Yes, it's never sold very well, but these are often the only bands doing original work, reinventing rock music and keeping it alive.
I'm sure these criticisms would amaze the people who compiled this list. No doubt they think of themselves hip and with it because they know who Public Enemy is, and what more do you want? It was enshrined in the 1970's that the Beatles are the greatest band of all time, and even though time has shown that in the long run, they are of interest to musical history but don't really have alot of influence, no one sent the memo to the folks at The Rolling Stone.
The problem with lists like this is that by stating that the greatest artists of all time all played the same tired white guy rock, you justify record companies decisions to promote that music above all others and radio stations who play that music instead of anything else, even and especially on stations that comically call themselves "alternative". There is no reason to push the envelope, because fans read these lists and say, "Well music sucks now because the heyday of great music is over." There's a cycle where the record industries put out and promote nothing but identical white guy bands and the magazines, radio stations and therefore record-buying public reinforce them by only buying it and the music just devolves into the crap you hear on the radio now, every band sounding like a variation on Pearl Jam.
This cycle won't be stopped by jerk-off magazines like The Rolling Stone and certainly not by the record industry or radio stations, all predominantly run by middle-aged white men who have way too much ego invested in their belief that men like themselves are the only true rock geniuses of all time. The only way that music is going to get better is if music fans make the effort to diversify their own tastes and throw their support behind artists who step out of the mold. After all, black musicians have managed to keep putting out albums and selling them despite sometimes open hostility from the industry and only because their fan base stayed loyal.
I got the Rolling Stone link through a link to the forum for the band Ween that was sent to me. Some of the comments on there were quite telling. There was complaining, thank goodness, that the Beatles didn't need to utterly dominate the list and that kicking them out would have made more space. (I would post the link, but it's not working for some reason.) But sadly, there were people who were complaining about what musicians did provide some diversity on the list. What really startled me was a poster who complained about Prince reaching #73 for Purple Rain. If Prince was born with the same amount of talent, but as a white boy in England and was a little older, he'd probably be heralded as the Second Coming and would definitely be in the top ten. But he's black and not a little weird and he threatens straight white guys and he's pushed down to #73 and even that relatively low rank is being questioned.
Music is not going to get better unless the audience demands that it gets better. And the audience isn't going to demand it unless they get over knee-jerk hatred of anything weird or different than themselves. If you find yourself getting annoyed at the monotonous crap on the radio, go home and look over your record collection. How much funk do you own? Hip-hop? Real punk rock? Art rock? Jazz? How many of the musicians aren't white? How many women? How much of it is published on independent labels? It's one thing to have a particular kind of music that you like and lean towards that. It's another not to see how your own prejudice is helping contribute to the creative bankruptcy that is dominating the industry.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great post. I agree with you 100% about all of the annoying lists of "greatest" this or that that "Rolling Stone" is always putting out. Enough is enough.

Another thing that annoys me is how "Rolling Stone" keeps trying to ignore the 1950s in favor of the 1960s. I guess that everyone working for the magazine must be an aging Baby Boomer who can't remember when rock and roll was invented. That is sad, since black Americans arguably invented EVERYTHING back in the 1950s. These early geniuses of rock never get any credit whatsoever. Instead, we are led to believe that the ROlling Stones invented rock and roll.

I also find it really lame that they clearly have no appreciation at all for rap and hip hop. I guess that this entire genre does nothing for them, since it fails to remind them of their happy days of smoking pot out at Woodstock. It seems utterly bizarre to have a list of greatest songs on which the highest ranked rap song is an Eminiem song. Lame! Have they ever heard of Public Enemy, 2Pac or The Notorious BIG? I guess not.
Yet another problem with the list: No disco, pop music or New Wave. You would think that they would try to include other forms of music. Finally, what about innovative bands like Rush, Queen and Pink Floyd? I guess that "Rolling Stone" does not care much for really innovative bands.

8/30/2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree 100%

8/30/2007

 
Blogger spearfisher88 said...

nice nice nice. All wonderfully true and accurate statements. I linked to your blog because you inspired me.

10/07/2007

 
Anonymous joe, singapore said...

I really like your attitude and the way you cut to the core. But thanks for not dissin' Dylan. :) But you were right about the rest.

joe, singapore

12/14/2007

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so whats wrong with being white anyways? I agree with most of the things that you said and i do think that there are some black musicians are vastly under rated such as prince and muddy waters but if you take your own advice and stop listining to these "new Rock" Stations than you would realise that those are the people that real musicians listen to and if you think about it, is'nt that much more important. who cares what these sniveling, emo, trendy, wannabes that make up my generation think about the greats. its true, music sucks now because young "musicians" have lost touch with the best in their fields but it has nothing to do with race. You would be shocked to find out how many bass players I talk to who dont even know who Jaco Pastorious and Stanely clark are.
In case you havent noticed, it's cool to be black now. it's cool to sag your pants and wear your hat crooked. and how can you say that female artists dont get the recognition they deserve and than tell people to listen to hip-hop which openly refers to women as "bitches and ho's".
Music doesn't only suck in the white colture but in the black culture as well. All these Hip-Hop artists are capable of doing is sampleing the rythm or riff that "some white" spent time creating and then rapping over and reselling it.

1/11/2008

 
Blogger Runtime said...

Yeah pop music sucks.

I don't respect anyone who listens to Brittany Spears. Listen to rock, metal, hip hop (true hip hop, not the commercial kind), or electronic music (techno <3), but don't listen to pop.

Pop is for dumb lame people who have an attention span of three minutes, who love to sing along to lame happy melodies, whose IQ is less than 0, and who wants to listen to something with no musical talent.

3/09/2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

runtime, techno takes less musical talent than pop music. I strongly dislike the majority of pop, but i would hardly call techno music, even though it loosely fits the definition. And how can anybody suggest that the Beatles had hardly any influence on following artists? just because an artist is white, and writes catchy mellodies, doesn't mean his ideas should be less valued than a poor black female.

10/13/2008

 
Anonymous runtime said...

I wouldnt consider the Beatles as popular music, more along the lines of classic rock. Popular music as I see it is the upbeat cheesey stuff - there's no moral to the song, there's no emotional impact, besides a trivial one...

I'm not so much a techno head anymore but I think techno has more merits than pop music. Why wouldn't techno be music? I'd even go as far to say that instrumental music is the real music.

10/13/2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well if you construct a meaning of pop music that fits with music you don't like, it goes without saying that you won't like it, but pop music doesn't actually mean trivial music. Most of The Beatles music is best defined as pop music, not classic rock, so maybe you need to rethink your hate of pop. And as far as "the upbeat cheesey stuff" goes, Britney Spears is not that bad.

PS. Being commercial doesn't make music automatically crap any more than being underground does.

11/17/2008

 
Anonymous runtime said...

In my derision of pop music I am talking solely of the genre as I have defined it. If you want to call Beatles pop, so be it, but that's not what I'm trying to encompass when I am stating pop music.

Brittany Spears may not be bad music for some - but I find this sort of music trivial and superficial.

11/17/2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the author must be black...

3/22/2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The author was most definitely black. I don't see many people complaining about the fact that not 1 white artist gets any press by black publications or awards shows. I can imagine the hoopla there would be surrounding a WET network television show. Blacks make up just over 12% of the American population but complain if they're not represented to the tune of 50% in TV shows, movies, and anywhere else they feel left out. Why not just start your own magazine called "Rolling Bones" and only give kudos to black female artists, seems like it would solve your dilemma.

7/02/2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi five!! this is the kind of article i want to read...

yeah pop music sure sucks. not only its all about ass,grass and sex stuffs,
pop music kills music itself...

9/27/2009

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who cares. Black, white, red, blue ... music just sucks now, period. It's not a race thing. You sound ridiculous.

1/16/2010

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm 11 years old and I don't listen to Rihanna, Flo Rida, etc. I am the only one in my grade who is listening to like Heart, The Papa's and the Mamas (hahaha), the Rolling Stones, and The Killers. I feel old.

4/11/2010

 
Blogger fusion73 said...

Seems someone has put alot of effort into hatred toward "whitey" sounds like some self proclaimed pseudo-intellectual to me. Sure the Beatles really never meant anything to me, kind of mediocre. But at a time and a place they meant alot to a large number of people. Somewhat like a nirvana to me during the early 90s, kind of changed the direction of rock at the time. although I do like Muddy Waters as well as a vast majority of blues, as far as Marvin Gaye and Prince, the only reason they are on the list is because they are black. I think the lack of women on the list, make you like Marvin Gaye and Prince, because both of them sound like women when they sing. Sorry but true. As far as rap, even older black artists think it is very negative and degrading to blacks, and further more not very memorable.
To me you just sound like some self hating white person, who is trying to be "different" probably female, due to your man hating lingo.
If you really want make an arguement, why isnt there any aborigional, hawaiian, celtic, or asian music on the list. I guess your ideas arent as novel as you think they are.
Greatness is judged by each idividual person at any level of life, and if your personal opinion really mattered, you would be making the top 100 list by rolling stone, instead of them

4/20/2010

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So so so so so so so true. I seem to be the only person I know (besides my parents) that thinks today's pop music is worthless. Can you believe people actually think Lady Gaga is "unique" and "different"?? Blows my mind. My record collection is FULL of delta blues, 60s & 70s soul, classic rock & classical (with Tchaikovsky & Stevie Wonder if HEAVY rotation right now!).

6/24/2010

 
Anonymous Kieran said...

No, the sad thing isn't the hostility, racism, and sexism found in music today, but the fact that you make it sound like I'm doing something wrong by purchasing and listening to popular music. I could name several bands that are composed entirely of white guys that kick the crap out of many underground artists. Heck, just look at Linkin Park, Haste the Day, Eiffel 65, the Bee Gees, Hollywood Undead, and Korn. Am I the only one who remembers purchasing the Hybrid Theory album and thinking that it was the best musical purchase I had ever made? Come on, people, you talk on and on about the music bussiness is unfair towards blacks and women and then you turn right around and direct that same sort of racism and sexism back at white males who don't deserve it, which just means that you guys are no better than them; 2 wrongs don't make a right, people!

7/02/2010

 
Blogger joe said...

I attended ten concerts last year: two jazz; one bluegrass;one orchestral (a collection of theatre hits); one symphony (Mozart); one classic rock band;one punk; one contemporary urban pop; one rap/r&b;lternative rock band (new); and one country/folk. Now, I saw plenty of white people at all of these concerts but saw blacks at only three.

7/13/2010

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

id make a comment, but it appears this bitch has been pwnd enough.

7/17/2011

 
Anonymous David Kohler said...

I can understand how it's a streach to include the Velvet Underground in the punk catagory, but Nirvana. Although Grunge music is not the same as punk, there are many parallels. Don't think im just some guy who herd "smells like teen spirit" and fell in love with Nirvana. In fact, I prefer Bleach, Incesticide, and all their unreleased tracks to Nevermind. In Utero is pretty good though. Anyway, to me, punk music is about making good abrasive music, and I definitively think that Nirvana accomplished this with their music. Other than this small aspect, I completely agree with you.

9/10/2011

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn all of you. this stuff didnt help me at all. i needed help for my debate.

2/19/2012

 
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