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.
As it stands, it makes none. After all, when it comes down to it, a list such as this without one Brian Wilson composition in the top 50 songs is complete bullshit. At best. It's a perfect example of Rolling Stone's complete absence of credibility these days, when songs by the Backstreets, Britney Spears, and 'N Sync are ranked higher than anything by Wilson, whose "God Only Knows" was once deemed "the best pop song I've ever heard" by none other than Paul McCartney. "God Only Knows" didn't even rate a mention here. Ten years ago, apparently, this list would have included New Kids on the Block and Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.
Do not mistake this as a rant about ignoring the past in favor of the future, because that is beside the point. Actually, it's exactly the point. MTV doesn't believe history extends beyond, like, 1980, and Rolling Stone, for years, has been little more than toilet paper with a bar code, kissing more music-industry ass than a hooker at an RIAA convention. They are two organizations with very different ideas of what pop music is, and neither of them very good. MTV has made the singer and the song less important than the kids begging for them on TRL. It is now the domain of 13-year-old, chubby Hispanic girls, uncontrollably weeping and/or whoo!ing at the slightest mention of virtually any band's name. And Rolling Stone is only marginally better, capable of the odd surprise but usually slightly more obsequious than an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio. ("Britney, why are you so pretty? And talented? And pretty?") Label-approved press biographies have tougher questions.
Maybe someday, someone will ask tougher questions, and this is certainly far from the final word. More than anything else, it raises more questions than it answers. Such as: Is "Yesterday" even the best Beatles song, let alone the best pop song ever? Did the producers at MTV and editors at Rolling Stone pick half the list from one of those soft-rock collections they sell on basic cable at 2 a.m. (e.g., Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" and Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time"), and the other half from one of the more recent installments of Now That's What I Call Music? And just who gets Carson Daly's soul when he dies? Is it Satan, or Nick and A.J. from the Backstreet Boys?
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