I just saw this on Pitchfork:
Pitchfork is making the leap from pixels to the page: On November 11, Simon & Schuster imprint Fireside Books will publish The Pitchfork 500: Our Guide to the Greatest Songs from Punk to the Present. This handy paperback chronologically explores Pitchfork's 500 favorite songs from 1977-2006, constructing an alternate history of the past three decades of popular music-- one that extends beyond the typical Baby Boomer-approved canon of the Clash, Prince, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Outkast.
From art-rock and proto-punk godfathers such as Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie to today's leading lights such as the Arcade Fire, the White Stripes, and Kanye West; from superstars to cult heroes; and from punk, indie, and pop to hip-hop, electronic music, and metal, we've created the ultimate playlist. Interspersed throughout are sidebars on the most vital subgenres from electro to grime to riot grrrl, along with pieces like "Career Killers: The Songs That Ended It All" and "Runaway Trainwrecks: The Post-Grunge Nadir."
A few preliminary points:
-I think bashing Pitchfork is, at this point, tiresome (sorry guys-- I know it's one of our favorite activities) because at this point, they've clearly descended into self parody on some points and have proven to be a clearly useful site on other points.
-This is, in and of itself, exciting to me because I used to LOVE Big Rock List/Review books. For better or worse, I seriously grew up on the Rolling Stone Album Guide, the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, and the original print version of the All Music Guide (not to mention the Rough Guide, Music Hound, Spin Alternative Guide, and others I just browsed in the Tower Records and Borders Books on Rockville Pike). I say "for better or worse," because while it is undoubtedly what made me the music-obsessive I am today, it also made me the music-obsessive I am today. And it reinforced certain what I guess I'll call "rockist" (though I hate the term) biases that it has taken a very long time to shake off. (Broadly speaking, a basic preference for white male bands with guitars over all others). There hasn't been a new book like this that anyone cares about in a long time-- and why would there be? The action is all online anyway. So the fact that Pitchfork is trying to enter the print world is kind of exciting just on that basis.
Anyway, what actually struck me was the juxtaposition between the two lists of artists. To wit:
the typical Baby Boomer-approved canon of the Clash, Prince, Public Enemy, Nirvana, Radiohead, and Outkast
art-rock and proto-punk godfathers such as Brian Eno, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie to today's leading lights such as the Arcade Fire, the White Stripes, and Kanye West
A few things strike me about this. But in short, I'm not sure I see a difference between the two lists in terms of either alternative "cred" or acceptance by the critical establishment. Honestly, they could have swapped out any artist from one list to the other and it would be equally meaningless. In the first place, it's one thing if they were contrasting the Baby Boomer canon of Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Jimi with people like Bowie and Eno. But I don't see how, at this point, championing the Arcade Fire or Kanye West brings you so far outside of the mainstream critical establishment that boosts Radiohead and Outkast. They're just slightly newer artists. It would also be one thing if they said, "Damn the man, but Boyz II Men, Bush, and Offspring were the secret artistic leading lights in 90s music" or something like that. That would actually subvert the critical canon in a meaningful way too. But to force you Clash fans to think outside your narrow boxes and embrace David Bowie?? What does that even mean?
Anyway, the point is not just to bash Pitchfork's slippery sense of genre and the critical establishment. I also just find it interesting how the idea of a rock "canon" changes. The aforementioned Illustrated Guide to Rock and Roll (See here) went a long way towards establishing the rock and roll canon. I still remember it fairly vividly-- the article on the Band, for example, made me truly appreciate them for the first time. There were chapters on all of the usual suspects (Beatles, Stones) and genres (rockabilly, soul, girl groups). And though this is partially because of when it was first written (mid 80s I think), it is so strongly tilted towards the 60s, with full articles on overrated 60s bands who, at this point, could almost qualify as underrated because no one cares about them anymore (The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane) that I remember, as a young burgeoning music geek reading it (and watching the multi-part PBS documentary with all the great talking head interviews with people like Jeff Skunk Baxter and Bob Geldof) that upon the calendar turning to 1970, All Good Music Stopped.
Pitchfork's guide doesn't start until 1977 (which is actually consistent with the old establishment line that that was the year that Good Music Started Again, only to end in 1980, but then start again with the release of Nevermind in 1991), so it won't have the same problems regardless. But I think the canon has already shifted to embrace the figures they're writing about anyway. Also, the Whites Stripes are overrated.