Another column about lists

March 17th, 2008

“Best Albums and Songs of 2008.” 

That’s the first link to a new discussion forum on the ever-evolving rollingstone.com home page.

When I saw that, my blood started to boil.

Readers of this column might remember last November when I complained about music publications jumping the gun by a month on their end of the year lists—and how utterly predictable they are.

If talking about “best of the year” in November is jumping the gun, then what’s “best of the year” in March?

(A certain scene with a foreign exchange student from the original “American Pie” comes to mind).

The rollingstone.com discussion thread is only two pages long so far, featuring opinions of readers such as “imnottaduck,” “estoner” and “gordonthemoron.”

A moderator, “RSEditor”, started the thread. This begs the question: Will Rolling Stone writers such as David Fricke or Rob Sheffield pop in and offer their opinions? It’s too soon to say, but at least rollingstone.com had the sense to give them their own blogs. These are guys whose writing I really like — and I hope they have the sense to stay the hell away from these messageboards and the hell away from speculating the year’s best before St. Patrick’s Day.

But let’s be honest. Whoever posted the thread to foster discussion about the best albums of the year isn’t really interested in what “gordonthemoron” thinks. Whoever posted the thread (or whoever brainstormed up the idea in a meeting) is more interested in keeping readers on the rollingstone.com page for as long as possible, as data to pass along to advertisers.

There’s nothing wrong with this. As every publication (including this one) adapts to the Web, they’re looking for ways to engage readers by providing a diversity of content across various platforms. I’ve been a fan of Rolling Stone movie critic Peter Travers’s writing since I was in high school. Now, thanks to rollingstone.com, I can also watch videos of Travers discuss movies, show clips and read his blog.

But there is something inherently rotten with discussion about the year’s best three months in. Take the new We Are Scientists single “After Hours.” It’s a fantastic song. I reviewed their album, “Brain Thrust Mastery” a couple weeks ago. I’m not going to lie – part of me was tempted to call it “the first great song of 2008.” But, I didn’t, because that’s not entirely honest. I haven’t heard every song released in 2008. Even if I did, how would I have time to actually digest everything I’ve heard? I’d rather enjoy “After Hours” on its own terms, to keep spinning it until I get tired of it, or until I realize that I’ve been listening to it non-stop as New Years rolls around. Music is best when it lives, breathes and dies on its own terms.

However, I’ll be the first to admit that making lists is great fun. I’m guilty of it—but I think a year is too short of an interval to appraise music. It’s 2008 and I’m still slowly phasing The Hold Steady’s 2006 album “Boys and Girls in America” out of my frequent listening rotation. If we want to rate and rank music (and we do, it’s part of the fun), it makes more sense to consider decades, not years. 10 years is enough time to take into account cultural, technological and artistic changes that influences the way music is recorded and consumed. Each decade has it’s own distinct sound.

I never cared for lists like “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” because it makes absolutely no sense to compare “Stankonia” to “Pet Sounds.” But, the top 100 albums of the ‘60s makes a lot more sense, because The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were playing and recording within very similar cultural and social contexts. (And fans today have the benefit of hindsight).

I’d be much less annoyed (but still slightly annoyed) if rollingstone.com posed the question “What Are The Greatest Songs and Albums of the Aughts?” It’s too soon to make any definitive list, but I think music fans have a general enough sense as to what defined this decade so far: there was no Kurt Cobain type-figure to define an entire sound. Digital music and distribution caused genres became more pigeonholed. Listeners now prefer singles to albums, generally speaking.

But there’s still nearly two years for surprises (not surprises in the sense that Tupac could come back, but that new artists might create new and exciting sounds). So, crank up those speakers and enjoy. Don’t worry about rating and ranking.


Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072


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