Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Greatness and Respect

Rolling Stone's updated version of its 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time hits stores this week, and not much has changed.

The Beatles, as to be expected, have twenty-three songs on the list, more than any other artist. Dylan and the Rolling Stones also feature prominently, and duh, it would be naive to expect anything less. The "youngest" song in the top ten is Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," nearly two decades old. There were some interesting additions since the 2004 version. Amy Winehouse's "Rehab," and M.I.A."s "Paper Planes" scrape the bottom, but having finally seen the list, it's mostly the same songs that have been appearing on best-ofs since cavemen carved the first list: lots of dude bands and dude songwriters. When women do figure prominently, it's as singers rather than producers or songwriters.

Bitch's Susan Glen said of women's exclusion and the concept of "greatness" in the original 500 Greatest:

"... mainstream rock is judged on some similar measure of its maleness, and this maleness is what constitutes greatness. This is why it's so important to focus on who actually write the songs on these best-of lists. This could explain why more female vocalists than songwriters appear on these lists. In an ironic twist on the usual maternal riff, woman are praised not for creating, but merely interpreting a man's creation." (Bitch #28)

As a longtime Rolling Stone reader and music fan, I think I have a pretty good understanding of how songs are chosen for these "best-ofs." Greatness is often confused with influence. And a song has to be old enough for its influence to have been filtered through popular culture; hence, the mostly twenty, thirty, and now forty-year-old songs. Rock music, as a medium, is nearing its AARP years, and like so many baby boomers is grumbling its way through the 21st century, resistant to change. It would be easy to make this a case of discrimination, but it's not as simple as that. Glen adds:

"This isn't about a blatant conspiracy, it's about a culture so inundated with sameness that when faced with difference it can do little more than throw up its hand in fear and confusion."

I know people get angry when I or other bloggers continually point out  women's abscence in various facets of pop culture, but sexism doesn't have to be blatant or overt to be, well, sexist. Most people, rock critics included, don't question who gets the respect, the accolades. I'm reminded of Silvana said at the end of her post for Tiger Beatdown's Ladypalooza series:

"I don’t have a pat lesson or theory to take from all this. But I think it’s important to remember that what you’re doing when you assert your taste in music, when you choose women artists, or choose to make music yourself, you are acting as an authority, and are therefore subverting male authority. Think about that. And then do it more."

Maybe one of these days we'll be making the lists.