“Rolling Stone” Gets (Somewhat Predictably) Vocal

anonocritic | November 14, 2008 11:00 am

Once again, we present Rock-Critically Correct, a feature in which the most recent issues of Rolling Stone, Blender, Vibe, and Spin are given a once-over by a writer who’s contributed to many of those magazines, as well as a few others! In this installment, he looks at the new issue of Rolling Stone:

Your Boy guessed that this week’s Rolling Stone would have been the special “ha ha, our candidate won, blow it your ass if you don’t like it” edition, and as such would bear the image of the President-elect on the cover for what would have been the fourth time this year. Thus, YB wasn’t inclined to be the hundred millionth person to contribute to an ocean of commentary regarding the election.

And to be sure, the Nov. 27 issue includes “Requiem for a Maverick,” Matt Taibbi’s National Affairs column, in which he describes John McCain’s comportment in the last months of the race as such, “with Sarah Palin on his arm and Karl Rove’s cock in his mouth.” YB supposes that it’ll be a little while before “progressives” decide its okay to like McCain again, although perhaps the Senator will be in no hurry to hug up to RS after articles like this.

But Editor/Publisher Jann S. Wenner employed uncharacteristic restraint w/r/t to Obama, and instead chose as this issue’s cover centerpiece “The 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.” And thank goodness for that, as YB much prefers throwing pseudonymous spitballs at the mag’s self-appointed role as popular music’s canon-keeper to finding himself agreeing with Mr. Wenner’s limousine liberal posturing. Here ‘tis, in all its terribly predictable glory.

YB will only briefly note that he suggested this spring that the mag cool it with compiling lists of the greatest guitarists and greatest guitar songs, and instead emphasize, among other things, singers. Which isn’t to say that producing a list of vocalists, typically the musician in a recording with which the average listener will best identify, is particularly bold.

Unlike May’s “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time” compendium, this list was not picked exclusively by a bunch of RS staffers and selected freelancers. According to an explanatory note therein, 178 individuals—121 artists (15 of whom are ranked on the list, and one of whom is the father of an RS staffer), 18 RS staffers, 24 music biz machers and 15 non-RS journos and academics— were asked to “list his or her favorite singer of the rock era.” (That contradicts the package’s “of all time” claim, don’t it)

Furthermore, “those ballots were recorded and weighted according to methodology developed by the accounting firm of Ernst and Young, which then tabulated and verified the results for Rolling Stone.” That kind of settles it, huh? If anyone suggests that the list reflects RS’ institutional predilections, then the imprimatur of a respected accounting firm will shut down any debate: this is true consensus, if one arrived at by music biz elites WHO are in collusion with the mag anyhow.

But! Ernst & Young also verified the mag’s 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Therein, ranked at No. 432, was Peter Wolf’s Sleepless, released in 2002. The list ranked neither any J. Geils Band records, nor Wolf’s first solo record, 1984’s Lights Out. This seemed mucho fishy to YB: it strained credulity that an album unnoticed by anyone outside Wolf’s core of diehard fans would make it into a list otherwise composed of albums that could credibly fit various definitions of “classic.” Of course, Wolf is a longtime Wenner crony, and Wenner has been known to crowbar his friends’ work into his mag’s various canon-building exercises. What’s more, the capsule review of Sleepless was probably written by Mr. Wenner, who has been known to write album reviews himself when staffers resist his whims.

Anyway, the list in this issue is apparently free of monkey business: YB can only point to Art Garfunkel, ranked at No. 88, as a possible beneficiary of Wenner’s interference. But while he’s a Wenner pal, he sang the original version of a pop-gospel standard known and loved by your grandma, your mailman and possibly your five-year old nephew, so YB won’t cry foul.

And of course, Prince is the only performer in the list’s top 30 to have debuted in the last thirty years—Bono follows two places behind at No. 32. Post-Springsteen, Boomer-approved artists like Kurt Cobain (No. 45), Bjork (No. 60), Axl Rose (No. 64), and Thom Yorke (No. 66) all place behind YB’s beloved Jeff Buckley (No. 39).

YB guesses that most of RS’ respondents who voted for Whitney Houston (No. 34) and Christina Aguilera (No. 58) and Mary J. Blige (No. 100) are of the “her music is terrible, prefabricated slop, but that bitch can SANG” variety. And Morrissey, a guy who’s been treated with near-Springsteenian levels of reverence in the United Kingdom but has been long considered by RS as far, far too removed from the mag’s preferred notions of “rock and roll” to earn its full-throated advocacy, gets at in No. 92—this is probably due to his increasing influence over the likes of the Killers, Conor Oberst, and Phil Anselmo.

But YB is most pleased to report that Steve Perry, a man who introduced Sam Cooke’s melismatic stylings to thousands of poodle-headed prom-goers while in a band that RS and fellow baby-boomer gatekeepers regarded as a particularly vile communicable disease from 1978 to 1985, is rated at No. 76. Ah, the wonders bestowed by including an unjustly maligned pop-gospel standard in the final scene in the final TV program most beloved by the petit bourgeoisie! If David Chase had gone with, say, “One on One,” then Daryl Hall would have likely appeared on the list in Perry’s stead.

But wherefore art thou, RS BFFs Sting, Eddie Vedder, Elvis Costello, Billy Joel, and Jackson Browne? The latter two pen paeans to Ray Charles (No. 2) and John Lennon (No. 5), so YB assumes that both aren’t cheesed off about not being included.

YB has made it a standard practice not to cry like a little girl that his fave artists are not included on this list or that. He’ll just say that he’d rather RS emphasize the vastness and variety of the history of music, and not continually present one canon-building exercise after another. For instance, Mr. Wenner wasn’t evidently satisfied with his pre-existing wretched pit of favor-trading, so RS presented this redundant package in 2004.

But YB’s preferences are not foremost in the minds of Mr. Wenner and his underlings. “The Greatest Singers of All Time” has been mentioned twice on Howard Stern’s show in two days, has been picked up all over the place, and is probably starting an argument in a bar somewhere as YB writes.