Saturday, April 14, 2012

Overrated Songs?

I do three different things on this blog, mostly anyway. First, I try to point out cool things about music that people might not know about. Then I do some music criticism, which is criticism of the music itself and occasionally the performance. Third, I do meta-criticism, or criticism of other people's criticism. That's what this post will be. I just ran across a list of overrated songs here. This is on Big Hollywood, a division of founded by Andrew Breitbart who recently passed away. Now I am all in favor of popping bubbles, but I think you need to know what you are doing. There has been a culture war in the US for quite a while now and I think the folks on the right are trying to make some inroads into what they see as the left's domination of media and culture. OK, fair enough. But this isn't the way to do it. Go read the article and we'll talk about why.

Back? OK. First of all, it is not enough to just pick some well-known songs and say they are overrated. Take the first one, number 10 on the list, by Lady Gaga, which has racked up 125 million views on YouTube. If you are going to trash a hit that big, you had better have some significant things to say other than "Her songs are awful." And the accusation of autotune? This is one of the few current singers who probably does not use autotune because she can actually sing! I can't call myself a big fan of Lady Gaga, not this song anyway, but there is no doubt she is talented: she can sing, dance and write good songs. She is also a master of self-promotion, which is why she is so popular. Bad choice of target.

Number 9 is U2 and I pretty much agree. U2 are, I think, phonies and I mentioned this in this post and this one. But Ben Shapiro really undercuts himself by saying "U2 is second only to The Beatles in the pantheon of overrated bands." Really, if you can't distinguish between the quality of U2 and that of the Beatles, you can scarcely call yourself a music critic. One simple indicator of the Beatles' place in history is the astounding number of serious books written about them and their music.

Number 8 is "My Generation" by The Who, one of the really great songs from the 60s and the one that was the classic statement of youthful rebellion. Ben doesn't get it. Like a lot of his examples, if you click on the link to the song, you are likely to enjoy it. His critique: repetitive and he can't understand the words.

Number 7 is"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen and I'm going to recuse myself because I have never gotten into his music to any extent, but I know a number of thoughtful listeners who think he is great.

Number 6 is the warhorse "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin and I agree with the choice and part of the criticism. Yes, it's long and overblown and pushes the melodrama too far.

Number 5 is "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, another of the great classics of the 60s and this is where I really start thinking Ben Shapiro is an idiot. He says, "It's got a memorable bass line." Yes, pretty good bass line, but he is mistaking the great fuzz guitar lick, which is very famous, for the bass part, which is not. He just can't tell the difference.

Number 4 is "London Calling" by The Clash, which was pretty important for the freshness it brought to the scene when it came out. I'm not sure it will remain a significant song, but it certainly isn't a bad one.

Number 3 is "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, which is another song and scene that I never responded to. But this is the iconic song of the Seattle grunge scene, for whatever that's worth and again, the problem with Shapiro's critique is that it lacks specificity and shows no signs of knowing anything. He calls the song, "jarring" and "kooky". Well so is Pierrot Lunaire!

Number 2 is "Like A Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan and he really couldn't have chosen a less-appropriate target. I can just see hundreds of readers clicking through to the song and going "wow, what an amazing song". Which it is. Have a listen:

If that song doesn't give you shivers, I doubt there is much in the world of popular music that would!

And finally, number 1 is "Imagine" by John Lennon. Not his greatest song, certainly, and a frequent target for conservatives who don't agree with the political sentiments, but it has Lennonesque charm and is beloved by many people so if you are going to trash it you need better ammunition than Ben Shapiro can muster. Just calling the song "evil and terrible" won't cut it.

I think I will make my contribution by putting up a post on ten pieces of music that are underrated or scarcely known.

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