Dissing 50 critically acclaimed classics of pop music
December 20, 2003 8:27 PM   Subscribe

First Tuesday in January, I'll be starting a weekly column in Blitz the main Portuguese music newspaper, called "Revisions", where I'll be debunking, dissing and giving a thorough, admittedly exaggerated "going over" to 50 critically acclaimed "classics" of popular music which, due to excessive reverence or routine citation, have an undeserved place in the officially-sanctioned pantheon. This is a bit of a homework assignment plea, I know - but does anybody have any suggestions? I'm not just talking overhyped and overrated here - I'm talking deep historical and musicological errors, crystallized by unthinking repetition and misplaced respect. What, among the hallowed records and artists out there, is ripe - just asking - for review and revision? Thank you for any ideas you may have.
posted by MiguelCardoso to Media & Arts (32 answers total)
Can you give an example that doesn't fall into the overhyped and overrated bucket? Not following you...
posted by machaus at 8:47 PM on December 20, 2003

Use the ones in the 1969 thread on the front page, and add every dylan and neil young album. (springsteen's overhyped too, and I would also add any post-breakup solo beatle album, too)
/just my opinion : >
posted by amberglow at 9:05 PM on December 20, 2003

Howzabout Floyd's The Wall? I remember people raving about Leftoverture by Kansas (!!) when I was a kid, which I've never understood.
posted by WolfDaddy at 9:13 PM on December 20, 2003

Response by poster: Machaus: I'm thinking of records like the MC5s' "Kick Out the Jams"; Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks"; the Smashing Pumpkins' "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness"; the Beatles' "Revolver"; anything by REM... You know, records regarded as "classics" which are due some reappraisal.

Amberglow: thank you. "Rust Never Sleeps" really sucks - and I love Neil Young.

WolfDaddy: "The Wall"! It's in!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:16 PM on December 20, 2003

Well I guess it depends on who is doing the overhyping, but I'd say Kurt Cobain's musical messiah status is way off. Nirvana made some quality music, but they weren't gigantic revolutionaries so much as they were one interesting indie band among many that somehow got pulled into the blinding light of the mainstream. I think people are just lazy here and see Cobain as the Jimi Hendrix, or maybe Jim Morrison of this generation, more because of the circumstances of his death than his musical output. I think in this case, it's MTV types that have canonised the man though.

Additionally, for overrating in the hipster scene, I'd nominate Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot". This album had indie critics acting like teeny-boppers screaming for a boyband. It's a good, solid album, but I really don't see what all the fuss is about. It was embarassing watching these normally snide and disaffected people start gushing over something so non-earth-shattering.
posted by picea at 9:25 PM on December 20, 2003

this should cover you for a few years. : >
posted by amberglow at 9:43 PM on December 20, 2003

This may be out of line but I'd much rather read a re-examination of albums nobody reviewed. Lost classics, so to speak. Whether positive or negative is there anything anyone can say about Dylan, Beatles, Stones, et. al, that someone somewhere hasn't already said? Tell me about music I've never heard that I should own and I'll be your puppy, so to speak.
posted by dobbs at 9:52 PM on December 20, 2003

Oh, don't go anywhere near Astral Weeks. I bet Lester Bangs' ghost is a mean motherfucker.
posted by machaus at 10:05 PM on December 20, 2003

Response by poster: Thank you so much, dobbs, for throwing, in Lennon's words, a Spaniard into my works. Nah - thank you kindly - I'm still in time. I'd thought of it, but I personally hate it when critics mention forgotten masterpieces that we sorta shoulda known already. Then we go to great lengths and expense to obtain them and, almost always, they entirely deserve to withdraw their sorry selfs to the deserved obscurity from wherein they emerged. Besides, it's much more difficult! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:14 PM on December 20, 2003

Miguel, I wasn't necessarily looking for "shoulda known alreadies" as much as I was "you probably didn't hear beause of X" (poor distribution, fell through the cracks, only available in country X, etc.). Perhaps it's six of one and half dozen of the other. Unlike yourself, I almost always prefer the records on the "10 albums you didn't hear in 200X" lists to the "top 10 albums of 200x". No offence meant. I'll still be your puppy. :)
posted by dobbs at 10:37 PM on December 20, 2003

Response by poster: Dobbs, this is even better (read: more difficult) than what I'd thought you'd said! :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 10:51 PM on December 20, 2003

Anything by the Beatles. Seriously. Too many people seem to think that without the Beatles, civilization would have crumbled and society would have reverted to some sort of Paleolithic state.
posted by davidmsc at 11:00 PM on December 20, 2003

For some albums it would seem hard to justify the downgrading of classic status. It's possible that something like the beatles or the beach boys no longer sound innovative to us today, but that because these are different times and their sound has been incorporated into so many commercials and movie scores that we just can't hear the novelty anymore. Once the aural landscape has changed, it's hard to hear the albums the way they sounded then.
posted by milovoo at 11:22 PM on December 20, 2003

Pretty much anything from the 90s is fair game. Whiny grunge, like Pearl Jam, or flannel-and-espresso crap, like Dave Matthews Band. But I don't know if those acts have had enough time or staying power to crystallize into "classic" mode as has Nirvana.
posted by PrinceValium at 11:51 PM on December 20, 2003

The Smiths - initial release
Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica
Sex Pistols - Never Mind The Bollocks
Def Leppard - Pyromania
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Elvis Costello - My Aim Is True
Pearl Jam - Ten
David Bowie - Ziggy Stardust
Eagles - Hotel California

I still like some of those above, but if you are looking for sacred cows to sacrifice...
posted by mischief at 12:20 AM on December 21, 2003

damn, why the negative attitude anyways? i mean, the way i see it, by ripping into "overrated" albums you're looking to piss people off. in that case, just get the rolling stone top 500, as amberglow suggests, and say that they all suck. or, on the other hand, you can make yourself mofe useful and find a group of albums that maybe no one has heard of but might enjoy. sure, it might be a lot easier than looking at already popular albums and pointing out their flaws, but it would be a better article, in my opinion...

I'm not just talking overhyped and overrated here - I'm talking deep historical and musicological errors, crystallized by unthinking repetition and misplaced respect.

in other words overhyped and overrated. give me a break.
posted by joedan at 4:09 AM on December 21, 2003

anything by elvis costello and sonic youth, sonic youth are awful.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:48 AM on December 21, 2003

Miguel, I think you need to re-frame your question.

You've referenced "popular" music but is this "pop" or music that was popular?

If the former, was it popular in Portugal, europe or the world? (If europe, I would venture to guess that the measure of popularity is going to be wildly off the mark for many North American and British answers here.)

Some popularity has been cross-cultural and world encompassing: the Beatles, Madonna and Michael Jackson spring to mind. Of those, while one might readily recognize the genius of Lennon and McCartney as songwriters, there certainly must be something to pluck (I'm not going there though).

On the other hand, Madonna and Michael Jackson, are, from a musicological point of view, easy pickings, although they obviously have enjoyed (or are enjoying) a certain flash of brilliance which I, personally , have not been able to comprehend.

I make this suggestion primarily in reaction to seeing Elvis Costello's name on this list. Not because I disagree about the quality of "My Aim Is True" or want to disagree with anyone else's poinion of his work but because I do not imagine any listing of "popular classics" to include anything by Elvis Costello. Don't misunderstand me, I love his music, think he is brilliant, blah, blah, blah and listen to his stuff all the time. But within the classics of popular music? Never. I will add that I saw him in Paris a few months back and the show was fantastic.
posted by Dick Paris at 5:13 AM on December 21, 2003

Response by poster: Damn helpful that, Dick Paris. Re-framing the question is what it's all about - I've already suffered two jolts, both healthy and undeniable, so far. You're quite right.

Though I've suffered a lot since confessing Joe Jackson did nothing for me, both here and elsewhere, from members whose handles have to do with soy, I have to confess sgt.serenity must be a lost half-brother of mine, because everything he says I find myself agreeing with. I sort of like Elvis Costello but, come to think of it, I don't. At all. Who does he think he is? Burt Bacharach? Yes, I know...

At least EC is himself - provincial English nerd with Irish blood trying to sound American and not succeeding. But Sonic Youth I already despised - so much that I'd forgotten about them. I did try to understand the point of them, repeatedly. I suffered their antics and, let's face it, antiques. Sonic Youth, in my book, was a preface to better bands who didn't exist yet, or an afterword to those we should already have known.

Thanks all for the marvellous suggestions. There's nothing like a question on AskMe to rip initial ideas to threads. ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:12 AM on December 21, 2003

Response by poster: I shall, of course, nor only retain but perpetuate your brilliant coining of the word poinion for all those contentious beliefs which are not absolutely certain (hence the "po" prefix) but should be expressed all the same! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:16 AM on December 21, 2003

I don't know if this helps but I think the first ten years of Bowie's career is pretty overrated (there were lots of people doing similar genre music but with slightly less 'charisma') and the last ten years is completely misunderstood and underrated (we constantly complain that our favorite artists get complacent and lazy in old age and don't take chances but when people like Bowie actually go out on a limb we saw it off behind them).
posted by victors at 12:14 PM on December 21, 2003

What a great idea for a column! I wish there was some way I could follow it, but my Portugese is a little too non-existent.

I've been waiting a long time for someone to pop the holy bubble bouying up:

1) The Grateful Dead,
2) The Beastie Boys, and
3) The Doors (!)

Special mention goes to the Ramones, but you might get death threats on that one.

All false, gimmicky, and unoriginal in their own manner. Let me know if you need any help elucidating the ways . . .
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 12:29 PM on December 21, 2003

I'm thinking of records like the MC5s' "Kick Out the Jams"; Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks";... the Beatles' "Revolver"

Oh, you mean you want to pretend great albums are actually overrated so as to get plenty of outraged response. I hate those columns. Like the man said, do something useful by turning people on to good music they didn't know about.
posted by languagehat at 12:39 PM on December 21, 2003

Who ever said music journalism had to be useful? As long as you're witty and clever, I say rubbish away, Miguel.

My vote: most overated pile of tosh in the history of music criticism ever: Prince - Sign 'o' the Times.
posted by dydecker at 1:17 PM on December 21, 2003

Miguel, as an act of penance for your using the AskMeFi collective mind to help you write your music columns, you should post an English-language version of every column somewhere on the web other than MeFi.

As for your original question, the recent TV ads for the 'Big Fish' movie using the Yes song "Your Move" reminded me of my collegiate flirtations with Really Pretentious Rock. You could get a lot of mileage out of Yes and its various spin-offs and re-incarnations, but for ultimate 1970's pretentiousness, I have three words for you: Emerson Lake (&) Palmer. I only recently heard the entire 19 minutes of "Karn Evil 9" without having to flip over a vinyl album for the first time, and Weird Al has never made me laugh at music more... ELP truly jumped the shark for me when I heard one of the synthesizer solos on "KE9" being used as the News intro for a Fresno TV station...

But if you want an example of truly undiscovered under-rated POP music, listen to the pre-Pina-Colada-Song first two albums by Rupert Holmes. Brilliant lyrics, some hilarious, some tear-jerking, with orchestrations that would make Sinatra jealous: "Widescreen" (re-recorded by Streisand - don't go there), "Our National Pastime" (sung to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner), "Second Saxophone" (the ultimate Big Band deconstruction), "Brass Knuckles" (film noir in a 4-minute song), "Letters that Cross in the Mail" (the low-tech and far-superior precursor to his 'Answering Machine' song), "I Don't Want to Hold Your Hand" (yes, he dared), "You Burned Yourself Out" (gut-wrenching), "Too Scared to Sing" (too close to home), "The Place Where Failure Goes" (a fresh theory on the afterlife in 3:05). He also wrote the only top pop song about cannibalism to make the Top 40: 'Timothy' by the Buoys. I've been meaning to do a FPP about him for months, but couldn't find lyrics to his good songs on the web.
Warning: this is the opinion of a music listener who has occasionally enjoyed Joe Jackson.
posted by wendell at 2:17 PM on December 21, 2003

Bowie is overrated. Especially "Ziggy."
Prince is overrated.
The Grateful Dead were overrated.
Madonna is the spawn of Satan incarnate. (errr, make that "overrated", overhyped, and damn overexposed.)
King Crimson were overrated.
Led Zeppelin were overrated, especially when they were trying to be Lightin' Hopkins-by-way-of-Middle-Earth.
Dave Matthews Band is overrated.
Rod Stewart, Elton John, and Billy Joel are way overrated.

And don't you be talkin' shit about Elvis Costello, or I'll have to smack you down. ;-) With copious detailings of his amazing wordplay, attitude changes, and general songwriting oomph. (E-mail me privately if you want to discuss. Really.)
posted by Vidiot at 3:08 PM on December 21, 2003

bring it on - IN THE THUNDERDOME !
with bells on !
posted by sgt.serenity at 5:14 PM on December 21, 2003

If I understand your question at all, Miguel, why don't you just write about any big name band/person who has achieved super-stardom? CSNY, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, etc. are all worthy of your pen.

How about Matchbox 20 and Nickelback? Moby? Massive Attack?

How about this: why don't you take an album by some group who's hugely successful, explain why it's all a sham and not worthy of their legions of fans, then offer an alternative album that people should listen to? That way you kill two birds with one stone and maybe more people read the column.
posted by ashbury at 10:15 PM on December 21, 2003

Thing is, how are you going to argue someone should have been bigger? Who are you going to take up and hold out as a could-have-been popular favorite? I did once hear an article on NPR about someone who got close -- Dan Hicks -- but I'd think these stories are remarkably hard to get a hold of and by and large you're going to end up bringing up niche artists who, though talented in their own domain, probably couldn't have broken through to popular fame.

Then again, with a marketing budget/push equal to Brittney's, who knows what people like Dar Williams could do?
posted by namespan at 11:03 PM on December 21, 2003

Do you plan to diss these albums outright, Migs, or give them a fresh review with a contemporary ear, iow comment on how well they have aged whether positively or negatively?
posted by mischief at 12:26 AM on December 22, 2003

Then again, with a marketing budget/push equal to Brittney's, who knows what people like Dar Williams could do?

Man, have you been within 30 miles of a 12 year old, ever?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:51 AM on December 22, 2003

Response by poster: Hiya mischief - no, I'm planning to listen to supposed "classics" as if for the first time, taking into account the music that's being produced now and what I consider to be the current listening habits of those interested in new music.

They'll be revisions, reevaluations - which can go either way, of course. This thread has been really helpful inasmuch as, to tell the truth, I haven't heard most of this music in ages. I hope to be surprised by a few records. Positively or negatively. Times and tastes do change. I simply won't be writing about works that didn't surprise me either way.

Thanks all - I owe you! Except that sceptical, pessimistic doom sayer languagehat, of course. :)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:43 AM on December 22, 2003

« Older The Simpsons and US Culture   |   Techno Radio in Portland? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.