Tuesday, 27 October 2015

A post about lists about songwriters

OK, so I'm almost sucked back into the habit of reducing everything to some ludicrous competition based on my own underqualified views ... but not quite.

I saw Rolling Stone magazine's list of the Greatest 100 Songwriters of All Time and immediately thought I'd be able to do a better one. But, thankfully, in this case "doing a better one" means not doing one, just talking about how unutterably rubbish their one is. Got it?

So this was the point along the path of the illusion of objectivity and judgement I could not kid myself into crossing.

At least with "Songs", "Albums", "Footballers" etc, one has an actual complete product to judge if you're so inclined. You see the thing and you say whether it is good. Whereas you do not see or possibly understand the process of songwriting, you just get the product.

There are so many parts of judging a "songwriter" which are unknowable. Who did what? What role did the producer play? What effect has the singing and playing had on our assessment of what was "written"?

And, of course, the term Songwriting is biased against people making certain kinds of music. Who is a songwriter? Fatboy Slim? Is Dr Dre a songwriter? Is Brian Wilson only half a songwriter?

You get my laboured points ... I'm taking the high ground now but of course, despite all these points, I nearly did have a go at making this list, it just got too silly.

It didn't take me long to be bothered by the Rolling Stone list. I looked for one name - Damon Albarn. Nowhere to be seen in the Top 100. That was sufficient for me.

Of course, one can just point out that Rolling Stone is catering to its demographic, and why would it do anything else? But it's just a bit depressing. I hope, if you ever read my lists, it comes across that the "truth" of it all is a wonderful and hopeful thing I haven't progressed to a state of grasping yet but I'm trying my best to get there in a fair-minded way which takes into personal bias and the things I don't understand. Well, it probably doesn't come across, but I promise, it is a bit like that.

What I mean is, if you crunch the numbers on the Rolling Stone list, you find (taking into account partnerships),

There are
90 Men 16 Women
71 White Songwriters 29 Black
81 North American 3 European 15 British and Irish 1 Other
and, if you ask me, worst of all
84 whose main work was pre-90, 16 post-90 (and I was generous about this, eg Madonna was called post-90).

How ghastly that something to do with rock'n'roll is so conservative and deathly. British music of the last 25 years was represented solely by the nebulous "Radiohead"  (who, exactly, in Radiohead?).

OK, after all that, and promising i'm not actually going to do a list, what would one try to take into account if such a list needed to be made?

-Is one classic worth 10 quite good songs?
-Are their fine songwriters hidden inside dodgy bands/dodgy voices?
-Are we to judge it as they used to judge ice dancing, on artistic impression combined with technical merit?
-How does Joni Mitchell stack up against Pete Waterman?
-What's the most important bit of the song?
-How far back would we go?
-How would we define and limit what a song is?
etc etc

Of course, there are probably many many masterful songwriters who've never been heard of, who've quietly worked as ghosts behind the scenes for many years, just as their probably a few stars acclaimed as songwriters whose role in the creation of songs is actually rather limited.

You should check out the Rolling Stone list, it's really depressing

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