100 Bullets

MTV and Rolling Stone pick the 100 greatest pop songs ever, "from The Beatles to the Backstreet Boys." We demand a recount.

Maybe it was a bad idea to have DirecTV installed on that Saturday, but then again, how could I have known? After almost a year sans tube, I'd finally decided to jump into the 500-channel deep end, return once again to the magical world of nonstop Law & Order reruns (god bless A&E) and a full Time-Life set's worth of cooking and home-improvement shows every day. How was I to know that a mere 15 minutes after the dish was attached to my roof that I'd stumble into--and sit through--MTV and Rolling Stone's felony assault on modern music on November 20, camouflaged as their joint attempt to determine the 100 greatest pop songs ever, or at least since The Beatles invaded America in 1964.

Which is convenient, since the No. 1 pop song--as judged by the editors of Rolling Stone and a group of writers, producers, and researchers from MTV--turned out to be the JohnPaulGeorgeandRingo's "Yesterday." (A fact foreshadowed by the repeated invocation of the countdown's catchphrase, "From the Beatles to the Backstreet Boys." (You have to like an all-day show that gives away its ending two minutes into the broadcast. Good on ya!) In fact, "from The Beatles to the Backstreet Boys"--which host Carson Daly uttered more times than "the," "a," and his own name combined--was more than likely dreamed up well in advance, with the resulting countdown shoehorned into the existing marketing plan. It was an afterthought at best.

Ostensibly, lists like this one, and especially this one, are designed to get people talking, discussing, yelling, arguing. And, well, buying: Tower Records is capitalizing on the countdown in its advertising, and MTV's Web site, mtv.com, links directly from the list to CDNow (cdnow.com), just to make it more convenient for everyone. But it just doesn't make any sense for Rolling Stone and MTV to team up on something like this, because they have different ideas about what a pop song is and should be, and they should have different ideas. As Nicolas Cage's H.I. McDonough said in Raising Arizona: "There's what's right and there's what's right, and never the t'wain shall meet."

You think if MTV were doing this that The Beatles would've ended up in the top slot? Maybe, but it's more likely it would have started with Nirvana--after all, CNN had the Gulf War, and MTV had Nirvana--and Britney and the Backstreets and 'N Sync would've all ended up in the Top 10. And since the list is so future-minded, maybe even Destiny's Child, who are--in terms of talent and potential--probably the best of the bunch. In fact, they should've ended up somewhere on the list. Or, to put it in Total Request Live terms: "What up, Carson? This is Zac from Dallas, Texas, and I'm requesting 'Say My Name' by Destiny's Child, 'cuz, you know...uh...um...uh...they're from Texas. Like me! And, uh, they're cool and stuff. Wassup, y'all? WHOOOOOO!!!!!"

You could go on all day about the artists who weren't included, so, uh, I will: The Kinks! Elvis Costello! Simon and Garfunkel! XTC! The Smiths! The Clash! Save for The Clash, they were all singles artists first and foremost, and including The Clash, they came up with more than their fair share of unforgettable pop melodies. Really, Wyclef Jean's "Gone Till November" deserves more recognition than "Tired of Waiting For You" or "Alison" or "Mrs. Robinson" or "Radios in Motion" or "What Difference Does It Make?" or "Train in Vain"? Or how about a half-dozen other songs by any of those bands? No, sir, not under this administration.

It's not as if we're talking about including Pavement's "Cut Your Hair" here--although, hey, that was a pretty catchy song, now that you mention it. It's not as if anyone's lobbying for the inclusion of the Velvet Underground or the New York Dolls or Television or the Pixies or any other band that appealed more to critics and cults. The stuff that was left off--or left in the wrong places, in some cases--is unassailably cool, music that rattles around in your head like a .22-caliber pistol fired from close range. Guess they had to leave room for Blink-182 and Blackstreet and Garbage.

Or the Goo Goo Dolls. That the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" was even on the countdown was bad enough, but at No. 39? Ahead of, among many others, Abba's "Dancing Queen," which--if anyone actually put much stock into the title of the show--should have been in the single digits. So should the Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed" (No. 57), The Cars' "Just What I Needed" (No. 65), the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" (No. 70), Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" (No. 74), and Cheap Trick's "Surrender" (No. 85). Top 20, at least; after all, you can't really argue with a Top 10 that includes The Beatles (twice: "Yesterday" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand"), The Rolling Stones ("(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"), Nirvana ("Smells Like Teen Spirit"), Michael Jackson (his own "Billie Jean," and the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back"), Aretha Franklin ("Respect"), and U2 ("With or Without You"). Well, except for the Backstreet Boys' inclusion: I mean, seriously, "I Want It That Way" is number-fucking-10? Not bloody likely. Maybe of last year, but definitely not all time. And no, not last year either, actually. Maybe this was supposed to have been a list of the most popular karaoke songs; it makes more sense that way. Or at least some sense.

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