Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why I Like The Pitchfork 500

Let's be honest: the Pitchfork 500 essentially overlaps with my taste in music. There are not too many of my absolute favorite artists from 1977-2007 who are not represented on the list. Sure, they left out some late '70s mainstream acts I would have included, such as latter-day Pink Floyd, latter-day Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, or even Supertramp. But we do get Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, ABBA, and the Electric Light Orchestra, so those bases are sort of covered by implication. Likewise, the Pitchfork 500 overlooks a lot of cherished '80s pop guilty pleasures of mine, such as George Michael, Janet Jackson, Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Billy Joel - the list is endless. But hey, they do include Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, Hall & Oates, and even Journey for God's sake. So the cheese is not completely unrepresented.

According to Pitchfork, between 1977 and 2007, country music did not exist. Unless you count Wilco or the Meat Puppets. I wouldn't argue with them too loudly, but one late '70s Willie Nelson song might have been nice.

They do a nice job with rap, which constitutes about 10% of the list, but I explored rap so thoroughly back in 2008 that there were few new discoveries for me here. Although there were a few, such as Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's "It Takes Two," Souls of Mischief's "93 Til Infinity," and the Geto Boys' "Mind Playing Tricks On Me."

More objectionable to my peers, I imagine, rather than myself, is the absence of many "significant" '90s American rock acts, such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But Green Day, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nine Inch Nails all make an appearance, so it's not explicitly anti-American mainstream rock per se. Mostly I think Pitchfork just wanted to make a "different" kind of list, for better or worse. Besides, I know from their other reviews that they do in fact like Pink Floyd and Pearl Jam and many of these bands. I understand; you can't include everybody.

And yes, if an alien landed on Planet Earth and asked me to give him a list of the 500 best songs between 1977-2007, I would not give him this list. But I'm not an alien, am I?

Maybe four or five years ago, I wouldn't have been interested in the Pitchfork 500. See, I used to get all worked up if I downloaded something that I didn't think was very good, because, man, it was such a waste of time to listen to something I didn't really like. But now...I've got time to waste. Sure, I'll sit there and listen to some post-punk album that kind of stinks. Because hey, what the hell else am I going to do?

I used to be an AMG Five Star Purist. If an album didn't receive five stars in the All Music Guide, I didn't want to have anything to do with it. The most enthusiastic four-and-a-half star review was not good enough for me. Was it essential? No? Forget it.

Then a funny thing happened. I finally heard just about every five star album in the All Music Guide. Now four-and-a-half star albums don't seem so bad. Maybe even some four star albums. Maybe even some three star albums! Two-and-a-half stars is pushing it.

So for someone who had run out of music to explore, the Pitchfork 500 was like a goldmine. And divorced from the actual writing, as simply a list of songs, it was terrific. It was like a big pile of eclectic, smartly-chosen music. That doesn't mean I don't think it could have been better. It could have been much better. But as a tool for exploring music from the '80s and '90s, it was pretty damn handy.

I decided to treat the Pitchfork 500, however flawed, as an opportunity - as a road map for further music exploration. I decided to take my time. If I came to a song on the list by an artist I was unfamiliar with, and I liked the song, then I would download an album of theirs, with guidance from AMG. Maybe I would download their whole discography. Who could say? Maybe I would download an album from a band not featured on the Pitchfork 500, but listed as a "similar" artist to a Pitchfork 500 band on AMG.

In this manner, I quickly found myself knee deep in the '80s.

And I quickly realized that my fear of someday running out of worthwhile music to acquire was unfounded. There are simply too many different little genres and subgenres to explore, particularly in England: New Wave, Post-Punk, Dance Pop, Jangle Pop, Pop Metal, Thrash Metal, Shoegaze, Lo-Fi, Industrial, Electronica, Sadcore, Neo-Glam, Post-Glam, Sad-Glam ... OK now I'm just making them up. And all the different record label "scenes," like SST, IRS, Rough Trade, 4AD, Creation, Sub Pop, Matador...dare I go on? Apparently there was a whole scene built up around Sarah Records. What the hell is Sarah Records?!

Ah, we'll find out soon enough. But first, a discussion of '80s music of an altogether different kind.

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