“…and you should feel bad!”
The Onion’s AV Club is a massively irritating website. The Onion, of course, is satirical, but for some reason it has this pretentious sister site which has serious reviews of music, TV and films. The music reviews are easily the worst part; they heap far too much praise on every new album. I’m sure that forty minutes of children crying would get an A Minus grade, especially if all the children involved were from Portland and wore thick-brimmed glasses. But in their rush to praise all things Hipster, they’ve accidently been providing a public service.
A while ago, The AV Club launched a new video series called “Undercover”. They invite Hipster bands into their studio, where they perform a cover of a song. The resulting videos are a three act tragedy of Awful…
As a music fan, I get irritated by those “best albums of all time” lists that magazines produce. I think that they’re actually trying to be provocative to try and sell more magazines. But “best” is a subjective term, so I suppose I can’t get too upset. More annoying however, are lists of “most influential albums of all time”. This is a topic that I think you can approach somewhat more logically and get an informed set of choices. However, the lists produced by magazines are generally weak, because the records chosen are far too modern. The Ramones were influenced by The Stooges, who were influenced by The Rolling Stones, who were influenced by Howlin’ Wolf. So why include The Ramones? I made my own list by trying to find “oldest common denominator” albums. I came up with the following Top Ten, in order of release:
- Lead Belly – Rock Island Line (1951)
- Bill Haley & his Comets – Rock Around the Clock (1955)
- Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley (1956)
- Jerry Lee Lewis – Jerry Lee Lewis (1957)
- The Crickets – The “Chirping” Crickets (1957)
- Little Richard – Here’s Little Richard (1957)
- Muddy Waters – The Best of Muddy Waters (1957)
- Chuck Berry – Is on Top (1959)
- Robert Johnson – King of the Delta Blues Singers (1961)
- Howlin’ Wolf – Howlin’ Wolf (AKA The Rockin’ Chair Album) (1962)
I’d tell you the detailed scientific process I used to come up with these, but unfortunately I don’t have room to show you my working out. If you look at the track listings on Allmusic, or even better Wikipedia (!), you should see where I’m coming from.
Most of these aren’t “rock”, at least not in the sense that we think of it today, but I think they are the albums that have had the most influence on today’s rock music. It is a bit of a cheat though. The Robert Johnson and Lead Belly records are made up of songs that predated the 12” LP, but were repackaged onto that format. But it’s important to remember that the vinyl album was introduced in 1948: long after the era of the classic Delta Blues singers, who were incredibly influential. Perhaps someone should make a list of the most influential 78 rpms of all time. However, that someone would have to be more knowledgeable than myself.
Recently, all the critics and bloggers have been discussing the music of the year 2009. More on that story later. However, with my usual disregard for following the trends; I’m going to talk about an album from not 2009, but 1989.
The Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique wasn’t well received when it was first released, but over the years, it has been re-evaluated by critics and the general public. It’s now considered by many to be a great Beasties album, and possibly one of the best albums of the Eighties. I’m here to argue that it’s about time for a re-re-evaluation, with the conclusion that it was, in fact, rubbish all along.
The main problem I have with the album is that it contains no original music. By that, I don’t mean that the music is derivative: I mean that all of the music is sampled from elsewhere. I find that hard to believe, but both Allmusic and the (ever accurate) Wikipedia confirm this. It’s not that I hate the concept of sampling. Quite recently I got out my copy of The Avalanches – Since I Left You and marvelled at how old songs and bits of ‘found audio’ could be woven into a new piece of art. I think the problem is that, unlike with The Avalanches, I’m familiar with most of the songs that were sampled for Paul’s Boutique, and I prefer them in their original form. I wouldn’t be morally against taking the same tunes, sampling them and/or mixing them together into an Avalanches-style musical piece. It’s just having three idiots shouting over the top of it that I object to!
That’s what annoys me most about this particular Beastie Boys album: The Beastie Boys. Their shrill rapping makes me cringe. These guys must have the highest vocal registers in rap (or even rock) history. It makes for an insane counterpoint to the bass-heavy hits from the 70s that they sample. And don’t get me started on the lyrics! I said don’t! Is there some rule that that all raps should be filled with ridiculous similes and metaphors? All the verses go something like this:
I’m an MC,
I don’t play the fiddle,
I’m short on charisma,
like Jimmy Kimmel
I’m no expert on Hip-Hop; but it’s said that it was originally a musical, rather than a vocal genre. The DJs would mix the tunes together and the Emcee (MC) would be the announcer and rally the crowd. Over the years, it seems that the vocals became more important than the music. Maybe it’s time to change that back. Whatever happens, Hip-Hop can’t carry on its current form. More on that story even later…
P.S. – I have one further point to make about sampling, before I rest my spleen. I believe that sampling can work for the benefit of the new song, but it is bad for the old one. When I first heard a Curtis Mayfield album, I had heard a lot of the music before, in the form of samples. It was disconcerting, and I felt that it cheapened the original record. It was like when I first read The Importance of Being Earnest: I thought Oscar Wilde had just strung a bunch of famous quotations together!