Why Rolling Stones' 'Top 500 Songs of All Time' list is BS

(For reference, the list in question can be found here )

Ah 'Best-of' lists, how utterly useless you are. Sure, they're awesome when chatting with one's mates in the schoolyard, but anything beyond that is a pointless. Which is why Rolling Stones magazine publishes one every bloody two weeks. I have a long list of complaints for why music journalism sucks in general, and this is a main part of it: Lazy journalism.

If I pound my head on the keyboard often enough, words will come out
If I pound my head on the keyboard often enough, words will come out

Seriously, these lists are the most futile thing ever attempted since resistance. The obvious point is that, at every stage of the list's process, everything can be called out as bullshit. Who decides the list? Is there a public vote? Is there a cut-off date? Will any songs/artist be purposely excluded? Will we change the list to suit our audience? Will we suit the list to suit ourself? Hmm... good question, me.


Clearly Windows ME is the best and smartest OS ever.

I'll get back to that implication later. First I'll deal with this problem. Lists like this can never be as definitive as they claim to, especially when you have 500 spots up for grabs. It's all fine and good having a problem with the top 5 or whatever, but you know people will have a problem with Weezer's Buddy Holly only being number 499, being beaten by such classics as "Push It" by Salt n Pepa and Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone (yes, that sentence was difficult to type), which were listed at 446 and 482 respectively, which is an absolute tragedy. Even a friend of mine who isn't a fan of Weezer agrees this is a disgrace.


What have I ever done to you?

Let me talk briefly (ha) about the top 5 spots, with particular emphasis on the top 3:

  • Number 5: Respect- Aretha Franklin
  • Number 4: What's Going On- Marvin Gaye
  • Number 3: Imagine- John Lennon
  • Number 2: Satisfaction- The Rolling Stones
  • Number 1: Like a Rolling Stone- Bob Dylan

I have no real qualms with any of the artist in the top 5 being there, however I do have a theory. Information on how songs were voted in is pretty lapse, and I couldn't find my copy at the time of writing, but I recall it was voted on by a collection of artists from different genres of varying quality, and I'm certain they didn't refer to people more on the technical side, but I could be wrong. Not that it mattered. Have a look a the the top two songs there. Go on, I'll be back in a minute, I'll just leave this picture that reminds you who published the list.


It was Rolling Stone magazine, if you couldn't get it

Although the magazine was apparently named after the Muddy Waters 1948 song (which featured at number 465, btw), it is my opinion that the vote may have been 'muddied' (see what I did there) a little bit by the magazine to save face. Both songs, Satisfaction and Like A Rolling Stone, are not their respective artist's best work, and neither are they better than Imagine. To insure that this opinion wasn't just my own, I asked a few members of the Nerd Vice team (and conducted a brief search on google) about this. None of them said any of the above two song's were their artist's best work, a few not even mentioning them at all. When I asked about the placement, it was universal: no way is Imagine 3rd to the others.

It's obvious why that Dylan song was chosen, not a lot of Dylan songs have "Rolling Stone" in the title. I was honestly a little surprised the Muddy Waters song wasn't higher, if not in the top 25. Hendrix, who as well as being incredibly talented had the "fortune" to die young and therefore be completely and totally idolised, did a... decent cover of it, although it was called Catfish Blues, the song's original title, by the way. Curious then is the choice of the Rolling Stones song. My brief poll (and my own opinion) decided that Sympathy for the Devil is likely the best Rolling Stones song. The song choice wasn't as crucial as the Dylan one, the band's name already supplying the Rolling Stones name. So why Satisfaction? Well, it was their first number one. So laziness is why Satisfaction was chosen. Ugh...


Using the same picture in one article? LAZY

So to summarise, Rolling Stone magazine fuddled up a list so that songs either by or called Rolling Stone came on top, and Imagine is in fact the greatest song ever. Any arguments? Feel free to pelt them at me at light-speed.

CircleGuy

(note: this article was written, in haste, at 5am, as my website needed an article short-notice. I do apologise for any poor spelling, grammar or journalism)

iWINuFAIL's picture

I noticed the 'rolling stone' theme a while ago and it made me laugh.  However, while I agree Satisfaction is not the RS' best song, I think Like A Rolling Stone is Dylan's best.  And even if it isn't, the song has become an American icon, way more than almost any other song on the list, which is probably why it was chosen.

I would replace Satisfaction with either Sympathy for the Devil or Gimme Shelter.  I would also replace Hey Jude at #7 with A Day in the Life, and then I would switch that with the RS spot at #2.  Then I could agree with their top ten.

Overall RS lists tend to be a bit on the random side.  Their re-released top 100 guitarists made necessary improvements, though I still don't see how people put Clapton ahead of Page.  Probably their most spot-on is their top 500 albums, though Dark Side at 41 is an absolute disgrace.

Mason_M's picture

I think one of the big problems with top whatever lists are that every one has a different opinion. For example, in this list I wouldn't put any country songs because it's not to my taste.

On a side note: I find Rolling Stone's love of the Beatles annoying. I understand the Beatles were a great band but I personally only like Sgt. Peppers. There is no way that they have 5 of the 10 best albums in history.

@iWINuFAIL I prefer Clapton to Page. Clapton may not be as technically skilled as Page but his style is (in my opinion) better to listen to. Then again, I never was a big Led Zeppelin fan.

PigheadedBobobo's picture

@iWINuFAIL I don't see how they can put Randy Rhoads as low as 36

CircleGuy's picture

@iWINuFAIL And Rory Gallagher didn't even feature on that list, which is disgraceful

@Mason_M I disagree :P

Johnny Lightning's picture

Seriously, these lists are the most futile thing ever attempted since resistance. The obvious point is that, at every stage of the list's process, everything can be called out as bullshit. Who decides the list? Is there a public vote? Is there a cut-off date? Will any songs/artist be purposely excluded? Will we change the list to suit our audience? Will we suit the list to suit ourself? Hmm... good question, me.

I have always felt that "Top X' lists are all about humor or nostalgia. The order of the list is, ultimately, pointless. The idea is to provide either humorous anecdotes or fond tales of bygone days for a subject matter the person reading hopefully cares about. 

And writing a 'Top X' list is anything but easy. I have sat staring at a screen for hours trying to come up with a joke or a witty sentence to put in my writing, and it can be difficult after just a few. And even once I have finally hit submit, I still am never satisfied with my final product. I always see bits I wish to change or jokes that need tweaking. 

Perhaps the 'Top 10 list' is just not a style of article you enjoy, but to call it lazy and pointless feels unwarranted.

I have not read the Rolling Stone list, so I cannot attest to it's quality. I know that any list I write, I ultimately am striving for entertainment. Are some people going to find them painfully unfunny? Sure. Will they find them lacking in entertainment value? I hope not, but it is possible. Will some people hate it? Sure, but haters gonna hate....

And to be more cynical perhaps, is not all writing for public consumption an ego stroke? My lists, your blog post here, reviews by Kowbel, News posts on Gamespot, it is all for our own benefit as much as anyone else's.  It is enjoyable to have people read and enjoy things you have written, I imagine that the same goes for the people at Rolling Stone. 

CircleGuy's picture

Seriously? Lists are the easiest things to write. Writing them well is tough but they're rarely written well. They can be entertaining (I find some of the lists on Cracked.com ok) but they are NOT good journalism, or journalism at all. Rolling Stone is a "well respected" long-running publication, and we expect more from them, even in these cheap lists.

 And come on mate, that "Good question me" is obviously a joke

Johnny Lightning's picture

I feel as though you might be using the word 'journalism' in different ways. Journalism can be

A: writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine (in which case this is obviously journalism); 

B: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation (in which case the list is not trying to be journalism because it does not present a songs place on the list as anything more than opinion)

C: writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest (in which case the list is journalism because it is trying to appeal to public interest...and the public loves lists)

And if you want to take issue with the quality of the writing and feel as though the Rolling Stone should be held to a higher standard , I agree and that is certainly something worth writing an opinion piece about. What I am taking issue with, more than anything, is your blanket statement that all Best-Of lists are "utterly useless".

And take this criticism with a heaping grain of salt I am sure, but as a reader, I find it off-putting when someones writing begins with a blanket statement condemning an entire subset of opinion pieces. As the reader after a line like "Ah 'Best-of' lists, how utterly useless you are. Sure, they're awesome when chatting with one's mates in the schoolyard, but anything beyond that is a pointless." it makes me think...:well...don't read it then.' and the valid points you do make become hidden behind a barrier of what feels like a pre-determined opinion. e.g. your point about songs featuring 'rolling stone' in them is an excellent point, but it is buried beneath 'nerd-rage' about the validity of 'best-of lists'.

CircleGuy's picture

Thanks for the valid criticism btw, it is hard to come by on the internet sometimes.

Eh I probably agree that line was not the best, and I've got to work on that in the future.

Thanks mate!

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