Mar 10

The Friday Fun Canon Discussion And Monster Poll

FT///234 comments • 14,987 views

People in the Popular comments boxes are talking about “the canon”. I’m always quite curious as to which bits of the canon have ‘taken’ with a broadly pop-positive audience such as we have here. So here’s a poll, very easy to fill in, just say which of the Top 50 albums OF ALL TIME EVER you love. You can interpret how strong an attachment you want “love” to be, of course.

The list of albums is from Acclaimed Music, a kind of ‘metacanon’ which lists the top 3000 albums.

To make it more interesting, answer these questions in the comments box:

1. What’s the WORST record on this list?
2. Which of the records you ticked did you love first?
3. Which of them did you start to love most recently?

Poll below the cut.

Which Of These 'Canonical' Albums Do You Love?

View Results

Poll closes: No Expiry

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  1. 151
    Tom on 16 Mar 2010 #

    This is why I like the Pop World Cup as a format – 10-15 comments on new (to people) stuff, the sports metaphors liberate people in a way. (They probably put other commenters off).

  2. 152

    I think the idea of a purely personal canon is as meaningless as that of a universal canon: what you’re doing when you’re getting people talking about a new record is webbing them into a territory of shared and communicable values, and one very effective way to do that is the identification of shared icons or indicators of values, ie the creation of a canon (but this canon has to be something that’s common to a group of people, and that in effect defines that group).

    Since I’m interested in the history of rockwriting, I’m interested in the history of the rock canon. But then I’m very old, and the salad of all my salad days is relevant to my interests: obviously it’s my job to make it interesting to anyone else — assuming something’s interesting just because I shout about it a lot would be a bit self-defeating.

  3. 153
    Lex on 16 Mar 2010 #

    The sports metaphors just confuse me! I hardly ever know whether something is a compliment or not.

    I’d just really rather be talking about the new Sade album or Erykah Badu singles or the polarising styles of Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj – first two are widely available and both have huge back catalogues anyway, second two have been increasingly everywhere for a year now – discussing this tedious old-white-man framework from whatever perspective yet again. I mean, what has the last DECADE of canon-talk been about except burying it, over and over again? We shouldn’t need to either heap more soil on to it or to exhume it. As far as I’m concerned it’s a critically bankrupt concept and there’s nothing left to say about it as a whole, but there’s PLENTY to say about other stuff.

  4. 154
    Kat but logged out innit on 16 Mar 2010 #

    You should start using tennis metaphors to doubly-confuse everyone!

  5. 155
    Lex on 16 Mar 2010 #

    I have thought about doing that but I just end up doubly-confusing MYSELF in trying to corral tennis metaphors into a football-scoring framework.

  6. 156

    If you’d rather be talking about something then you have to give people who haven’t heard it reasons to talk about it. If lots of people who’ve heard don’t want to talk about it, then you have to consider if
    (a) you’re attracted to music that people find it HARD to talk* about (and if so what are you going to do about this?)
    (b) you’re attracted to music liked by people who DISLIKE talking about it (and if so what are you going to do about this?)

    People mostly prefer to talk about things they find it easy to talk about. What are you doing to make things easier? In a sense this was the main problem I was addressing when I was at The Wire: where a lot of the music that’s written about is generally written about really badly, in ways that actively put off people who would really like it — or anyway this was true back when I was there of jazz and the avant-garde. (The latter is still badly written about, on the whole; the former is no longer an issue.) Rock is a music whose history and whose is intimately linked into its being written about and read about, by people who like to read about music; arguably more than any other music, actually. This isn’t something that can just be magicked away, because you can’t magic into existence a large enough new pool of confident writer-readers with different tastes (or tabula rasa tastes).

    *By “talk” we mean written-down conversations

  7. 157
    Tom on 16 Mar 2010 #

    I’d just really rather be talking about the new Sade album or Erykah Badu singles or the polarising styles of Gucci Mane and Nicki Minaj

    Go on then. Do it in a piece. Or if you can’t get a buyer do it in your blog. Or do it on ILM – lots of conversation there, it’s pretty good for that. I’m sick of people – not just you Lex – saying “Why aren’t people talking about X”. TALK ABOUT IT. Do it in a way that draws other people in too, not intimidates them or pisses them off or makes them feel stupid for not being on the train two stops earlier. I mean, unless you want to do those things – it’s a strategy.

    As I keep saying, starting conversations online that don’t fizzle out is REALLY HARD. Starting non-fatuous conversations is really REALLY hard. Sometimes you have to start a conversation about stuff that looks like it’s going to be fatuous and trust people to get somewhere interesting. Doesn’t always work. And even if you get “somewhere interesting” mostly nothing comes of it. Why do we WANT to talk about stuff anyway? Is the “talking about stuff” related to the stuff or an activity that’s fun in itself?

  8. 158
    Tom on 16 Mar 2010 #

    xpost with Mark who is saying the same thing rather less stridently!

    Just came up in my twitter feed: “it’s more about sharing than discourse. That’s what people really care about.” – said by Chris Weingarten apparently. This is true I think – we’re in a minority.

  9. 159

    “Rock is a music whose history and whose is intimately…”
    “Rock is a music whose history and whose MEANING is intimately…”

  10. 160
    Lex on 16 Mar 2010 #

    I have written a ton about all of those artists, in print and online, except Sade! I mean, every day of my life I talk about the music I’m enthusiastic about, and in many cases even provide direct links for people to hear it! And so do many other people – I mean, if the efforts of the So Many Shrimp dudes for the past year can’t get people to talk about Gucci Mane literally nothing can. And there’s no onus on anyone to talk about any of it obviously but then you see ~150 responses about the bloody fucking stupid worthless canon again and it’s like, what is the bloody point, let’s all be ostriches and talk about the Beatles forever rather than the cream of actual living music. And specifically I want to talk about it with YOU LOT because I enjoy seeing your perspectives on songs and artists, otherwise I would just go to ILM or the Jukebox; I find that I only get to talk about artists like these with “insiders”, so to speak, and as valuable as I find that I also want to read the point of view of intelligent outsiders, because that’s one that – as a fan of these artists – doesn’t come naturally to me.

    “Talking about stuff” is fun AND related to the stuff.

  11. 161
    Lex on 16 Mar 2010 #

    Rock is a music whose history and whose is intimately linked into its being written about and read about, by people who like to read about music; arguably more than any other music, actually. This isn’t something that can just be magicked away

    But I think everyone in this thread is smart and self-aware enough to make a bit of an effort to move beyond this highly unsatisfactory state of affairs!

  12. 162
    Tom on 16 Mar 2010 #

    #160 right, so it’s a case of finding the right mechanism for doing it – whether here or via some other project. To be honest I think Will and the Jukebox have taken a lot of the

    As the thread title suggests this thread was basically meant as a “kick back, relax, see if anything interesting comes of it” one-off – we’ve had a bunch of new readers of Popular recently and a more level-playing-field thread seemed worthwhile.

  13. 163
    thefatgit on 16 Mar 2010 #

    There’s nothing to stop a personal set of preferences being made communicable, indeed it can be viewed as a kind of Mandelbrot fractal picture, where lots of little canons focused outwards form a much larger, but strangely familiar picture to the one we started out with. You can allow for tonal and angular variations, so that the journey from point x to point y is not going to be a dull repetition of what has been viewed already. Fractals are tools that cleave order from a chaotic overview, and statisticians use them to macro a selective group’s responses to fit a wider field of study. And of course it’s not infallible or 100% accurate, but it’s measurable, and for the purposes of gauging the canon, it’s quite possible to apply a similar kind of logic.

  14. 164
    Steve Mannion on 16 Mar 2010 #

    “Bad” lists can as fun and interesting to discuss as “good” lists – at least the potential is always there and with any list you can decide how much attention to pay to either content or context when doing so. If Tom had done this as a “let’s talk about how awesome many of these albums are!” I doubt it would attract as many comments. Obv people like to moan and again can do so either about the content (several great albums here, many i’ve not heard…none i can really say i have real problems with beyond just the boredom with their canonical position which includes the LPs i like), context (definitely more of a sticking point and ties in to the issue of whether ‘more votes = more predictability and pedestrianism of results’) or both.

    Certain subjects get more posts. On Comment Is Free, articles about race, gender, climate change and anything mentioning the Nazis get far more replies than anything else. People will have the same arguments over and over again on these matters. Same goes for the canon/list-related subject in music criticism.

  15. 165

    Yes, Lex, “literally” the problem here is that nothing you have ever done is or can possibly be wrong or ever be done better, and that I on the other hand am unintelligent and lack self-awareness. Way to swing my vote, d00d.

    As I say, often the issue that is things that are potentially interesting is that they’re written about in ways that are misleading or offputting to people who aren’t yet attuned to them. You can indeed, as you routinely and impatiently do, take the line that anyone with interests and knowledge not identical to yours, those as yet unattuned, is clearly beneath contempt and not worth a second of your time or patience — it’s a very old and a very normalised avant-gardist’s stance — but you can’t then be all astonished when they don’t eagerly follow you where you want to take them. (Or rather, you can: but people will point at you and laugh!)

    Not only is your stubbornly underdeveloped skillset NOT actually homework that I’m supposed to be dropping all my own projects to substitute for*, the fact that I’m a historian and a critic, where you’re a journalist and reviewer, sets my ethos against yours, strictly speaking: I *don’t* live only in the present, noting and judging each new development as it descends. Indeed, professionally speaking, it’s of interest to me where your rhetoric, tactics and strategy begin to work against themselves, because it helps me understand where and how similar debacles happened in the past; it’s NOT really in my (professional) interests to shore this stuff up on your behalf — what I actually (very likely) want to be doing, or anyway should be doing, is seeing where the weaknesses take you and your project, and also seeing whether they’re intrinsic to the project and the aesthetic…

    *Exceot insofar as I’m a professional editor, and do indeed often have to put simnilar wheels back on similarly stranded vehicles

  16. 166
    ace inhibitor on 16 Mar 2010 #

    Szell: Is it canon?
    Babe: You’re talking to me?
    Szell: Is it canon?
    Babe: Is what canon?
    Szell: Is it canon?
    Babe: I don’t know what you mean. I can’t tell you something’s canon or not, unless I know specifically what you’re talking about.
    Szell: Is it canon?
    Babe: Tell me what the “it” refers to.
    Szell: Is it canon?
    Babe: Yes, it’s canon, it’s very canon, it’s so canon you wouldn’t believe it.
    Szell: Is it canon?
    Babe: No. It’s not canon, it’s… very anti-canon, be careful.

  17. 167
    Tom on 16 Mar 2010 #

    This latest tussle with the Lex has moved this thread into the only canon that really matters, the Top 10 Most Commented On Freaky Trigger Posts.

  18. 168
    rosie on 16 Mar 2010 #

    In the exalted company of JJ Barrie then, Tom!

  19. 169

    Just to amplify a bit less irascibly — i was tired and cross yesterday about the apparent vanishing of all my radio free narnia archives, which may or may not turn out to be rescuable — the ” stubbornly underdeveloped skillset” is of course a two-way thing: i am a terrible journalist, for all kids of reasons, and never made an effort to get better at it; even when it was my primary living i could never get worked upo about what’s NOW and what’s NEXT and what’s UPCOMING and WHY YOU SHOUDL CARE!! Which means of course that I entitrely rely on the skills of others to do this for me (and Lex is one, as he has an excellent ear and a cogent sensibility); I’m also quite a poor reviewer, in the sense that it’s easy to read reviews of mine and come away with all kids of info but no idea whether the thing is any good or not (again: not something I’m terribly interested in — I have my opinion whether I like it or not, but my tastes are intensely intrumentalised, so that “good” for me pretty much entirely means “can I write something entertaining or useful or provocative sparked by this)

    And to stress also, I’m not pulling rank re historian-critic vs journalist-reviewer, though I suspect it reads a bit like it: both are vital, and both need each other. What I mean is that the basic sensibilities, the “professional deformations” of these roles are quite at odds: so that my needs, to do my bit well, don’t necessarily overlap with Lex’s (for example, I basically don’t read newspapers at all, because they are an aggravating distraction; and ditto these days ILX, less because it’s aggravating than because it’s a massive enjoyable timesink where I’d get nothing of consequence done).

    So, anyway: don’t post when grumpy (note to self) and apologies if I nettled you. When you say “what more can I possibly do?” — one thing you can do is provide links to your various discussions (and enticing summaries!); I post here — in threads like this — precisely because the balance of digression and non-distraction with interesting enflaming of (my) ideas is about right. Because I’m trying to think about larger historical patterns: and getting too excitedly caught up in this week’s shiny excellence derails me.

  20. 170

    (for kids read kinds throughout: it is the anniversary of the arrival of my adoptive niece and i seem to be getting broody!)

  21. 171
    Matt DC on 17 Mar 2010 #

    The pile-on here is a bit unfair I think given that Lex isn’t saying anything that a lot of FT/ILM wasn’t saying around the turn of the decade. But “the canon – classic or dud?” isn’t a very interesting argument to be having at this stage and Tom’s initial “which bits of the canon do pop-minded listeners most relate to?” premise is a lot more promising.

    It’s actually a false binary that Lex is drawing here anyway – how many of these records actually dominated the critical or popular landscape when they were released? I’d argue that at least two thirds of them have grown into their position there. This is exactly what’s happening to Jay-Z’s earlier albums at this point in time, although they’re not up there yet, if indeed they’ll get there at all. If the great records of today aren’t being written about today, they might be tomorrow, and the writing tomorrow might be better.

    Actually if I had to pick one album here that really shows up quite how much canons leave out, it would be Blue Lines.

  22. 172
    Lex on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Yeah both Blue Lines and Blue make me think: “…and the rest? the other things like this?” It’s not even tip-of-iceberg, those are both small pebbles picked up from MOUNTAINS OF MUSIC LOOMING ABOVE YOU. Other sensibilities seem to have the entire mountain represented, of course. Room for multiple Beatles, Dylan albums but just ONE female singer-songwriter? Buuuuuuuullllshit.

    It’s funny, there was an ILX thread along the lines of “if you had to choose would you choose to listen to only music made in the future or the past?” and my strongest analogy for choosing the future was “would you choose to only read history books or newspapers (or – RIP print media – your news source of choice)?” This is in no way meant to denigrate the worth or entertainment value of history but if I was cut off from current affairs I would feel terrified in a way that not reading history books wouldn’t compare to. I’d feel unmoored and untethered and unable to be part of society.

    I only ever link to my stuff on twitter/fb/lj, it feels like doing it in blog comments or message boards would be breaking some internet etiquette rule of over-self-promotion.

  23. 173
    Matt DC on 17 Mar 2010 #

    But the old music vs new music isn’t like history vs current affairs because the point of recorded music (and for that matter art) is that it always exists in the present. I actually think this has become even more the case over the last 10 years as things like nu-Balearic, Optimo, etc, recontextualise the old in the space of cutting edge dancefloor music.

  24. 174
    Lex on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Lex isn’t saying anything that a lot of FT/ILM wasn’t saying around the turn of the decade

    this is exactly why I am finding it so frustrating and being so bullish about it – it feels as though we won that argument, we were right (by which I again mean YOU, because I didn’t get on ILX til 2004 and it was YOU LOT who were so crucial to my own development as a journalist) and yet here we are again?

  25. 175
    Matt DC on 17 Mar 2010 #

    This would only be the case if most of the people on this thread were focussed entirely on the canon at the expense of all modern music which is visibly and obviously completely untrue.

  26. 176

    Matt, there’s a distinction to be drawn between “this canon^^^: classic or dud” (which is well chewed over) and “canons: classic or dud,

    arguably at least, one of the problems the “why aren’ty more people reading us?” brigade are having is (arguably) that they eschew the deployment of canons — ie they disdain the establishment everywhere of THEIR canon, as a tool of education, persuasion, enticement and (bottom line) proffered comfort. Hence can only gather vanguard admirers, not the generalised mainstream attention they insist is their right.

    Obviously this is all something chewed over ten million years ago in a tiny way at The Wire — and right about now (1987-88) is the time I was deserting NME with its single canon for The Wire with its pagan pantheon of rival canons; I was totally THEN of the opinion that polycanonicity was the future and the that future would consist of the various canons bellowing mournfully or heatedly or affectionately at one another across sloughs of despond, establishing the metaconversation of the utopia to come. This utopia has not materialised: as the rival worlds took themselves off into their own media patches, the rock canon was able comfortably (and smugly) to consolidate, not as the preferred list of those who fought of it at the time,. but as the inherited list of those who didn’t know they were born (*waves arms about, snorts about national service and bring back the psychedelic birch*)

  27. 177

    Did I point out that this opinion was arguable?

  28. 178
    Matt DC on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Yes but then the Lex isn’t eschewing the deployment of canons really – he has very little problem with the (real and obvious) canons that exist in rnb, rap and dance music, for example. His particular problem seems to be this particular canon which is full of music he doesn’t like – that it’s the biggest and most prominent canon only exacerbates this.

    I’d argue that of the four canons up there the hip-hop canon is the one that most consistently reinforces itself through its new music, mostly through lyrical references.

  29. 179

    the (real and obvious) canons that exist in rnb, rap and dance music

    I am unconvinced. Where are these established and graven? Obvious to insiders or to outsiders? What’s struck me here, chewing over this thread, is that you can reach to a handy processed and hand-me-down version of the “rock canon” 30 years later, not even worrying about provenance, and it has remained surprisingly unshaken since Gambaccini (or whoever) established it; little varied at all stages, in fact, excepot the (quite brief) punk-rock interregnum, Obviously rap and dance aren’t so old, so the comparison doesn’t quite work — but I think what you’d get if you just googled “rap canon” is lots of rival claims. (Nothing wrong with this either: this may in itself be part of what’s valued — that the internal values are still being argued out…). And even if hiphop does have its own basically agreed-on Cultural Centre, it doesn’t function as the centre-of-centres, the canonic canon. It’s still — in effect — a rival or an alternative, even in its own estimation.

    (OK I’m bullshittting a bit towards the end; speculating to provoke, if you like — but canons require institutions to nurture them, and I don’t see that there aren’t as many of these in media as there are “(real and obvious) canons”…)

  30. 180
    Tom on 17 Mar 2010 #

    One interesting thing this thread has teased out is that the canon above is made up of a lot of 60s (and some later) artefacts but is itself a 1970s artefact, born out of the same kind of crisis of rock self-consciousness that produced punk, which was related to a wider crisis I guess. Maybe once we move on from ‘the 70s’ we’ll move on from the canon?

    A canon is a mechanism for regulating a music’s relationship to its past. Or rather, it’s rock’s mechanism: other musics have different ones. “Retro”, as lots of people have pointed out, works in rather different ways in dance music where nothing seems really to vanish. Hip-hop and pop have quite similar ways of relating to the past: can it be sampled? can it be covered? (One way to look at reality TV pop shows is as a battle for ‘canon formation’). Jazz, it seems to me, has a pantheon more than a canon – individuals rather than works. And so on.

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