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. 181
    Gavin Wright on 17 Mar 2010 #

    “One way to look at reality TV pop shows is as a battle for ‘canon formation’”

    Absolutely – one of the most revealing (and often dispiriting) things about X Factor is that you get The History of Pop as seen through the eyes of Simon Cowell.

    The hip-hop canon may be less visible but it definitely exists – MattDC is correct to point to lyrical references, think of all those ‘Juicy’-type songs where a rapper lists their formative influences. Dance and r’n’b canons would be trickier to pin down I think.

  2. 182
    Matt DC on 17 Mar 2010 #

    I would totally accept the existence of a pantheon over a canon in hip-hop as well, but to answer Mark’s point about a centre for canon establishment, or a media space, or whatever, I’d say it’s the one music I can think of where the exercise/debate/battle is acted out within the verses of the music itself. In other words a much wider audience than any rock music writing.

  3. 183
    Tim on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Country music did (and does) that too, Matt.

  4. 184
    Mark M on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Re 174: So essentially what we have here is a case of mistaken identification – instead of this being about a amiable bunch of folks sitting around in various boozers making a gentle, reasoned and often funny stand for their right to listen to Britney without being look down upon, Lex thought the whole Freaky Trigger/Poptimism thing was the opening salvo of the pop revolution. Whereas, while I’m always happy to spend some time drinking with Tom and Pete and Sinker and co, I’m not sure I’d follow them onto the barricades…

  5. 185
    Tom on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Let the record show that on the one demonstration I have attended with fellow FT writers, our participation ended after the marching route made a foolishly close pass to a Sam Smiths pub.

  6. 186

    I have been on many marches and was not draw into the pub with ^^^this political lightweight on this one!

    (I was drawn into a coffeeshop with Dr V!ck’s family.)

  7. 187
    Tom on 17 Mar 2010 #

    Time to listen to a Doors album.

  8. 188
    Mark M on 17 Mar 2010 #

    My very belated responses to the original questions:

    1) Dark Side of the Moon, although in some ways What’s Going On annoys me more, because Gaye could be terrific on his day.

    2) Remain In Light – an obsession when I was 13.

    3) Highway 61 Revisited, as an actual album, I guess.

    My main reaction to the list was surprise at how much of this stuff I really like – I would never describe myself as some who likes Classic Rock (admittedly Last.fm does tell me that I do). My argument would be along the lines of guitar pop being at its consistent best in the 1960s, from when the bulk of the stuff I like on the list dates. I have little (Nevermind) or no (Joshua Tree, OK Computer) time for the post 1980 rock albums.

  9. 189
    Pete on 17 Mar 2010 #

    I have been on plenty of marches, almost being whisked down river by a banner from Waterloo Bridge, and resent being lumped in the same category as those political flibberty-gibbets Sinker and Ewing. Though I will not be manning the barricades for a pop revolution any time soon, I am happy to protest till I am blue in the face for the abolition of 3D films (or at least until they manage to invent a 3D world).

  10. 190
    Lex on 17 Mar 2010 #

    I have never been on a march, though I might consider attending one if people volunteer to carry me on a litter and feed me grapes. And champagne.

  11. 191
    Steve Mannion on 17 Mar 2010 #

    “I am happy to protest till I am blue in the face for the abolition of 3D films”

    *golf clap*

  12. 192
    rosie on 17 Mar 2010 #

    The last march I was on was the 15 Feb 2003 Iraq demo. I bailed out at Piccadilly Circus with an urgent need to find a loo, which I eventually found inside Hamleys (the loos in the Merciless McDonwalds being heavily oversubscribed)

    I will happily march against 3D films but as London is now a long way for me to come can I march up and down Walney beach instead?

  13. 193
    lord darlington on 18 Mar 2010 #

    I’m wondering what people make of the three Big Star albums. If we’re talking about ‘personal canons’ Sister Lovers figures very prominently in mine. RIP.

  14. 194
    Tom on 18 Mar 2010 #

    My one-liner summary of them was that #1 Record is the great party, Radio City is the boozy 4am intense conversation and Third is the hangover and the tender feeling of recovery after it. This is obviously glib but it pretty much reflects the mood(s) I’d listen to each in. Just paid my respects to Alex Chilton on my Tumblr in fact. RIP.

  15. 195
    wichita lineman on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Going back to the list written by the forgotten US journalist in Tom Hibbert’s The Perfect Collection (on the Starship thread? I’ve lost track) he included Five Leaves Left, Pet Sounds, Forever Changes, Astral Weeks and 3rd/Sister Lovers (very much a favourite of mine). His one-line summary was that the list included “an awful lot of nervous breakdown albums”. I think this element of the clearly personal being communicated in a unique, unfaked* way is frequently what creates canonical work. Thus, Blackout was bound to end up as the critics’ Britney choice (it’s mine too). Doesn’t explain U2 or Doors, obv.

    As for 3rd/Sister Lovers, it’s the only record I can think of that documents a breakdown, with the earliest songs recorded for it aiming commercially high (Thank You Friends, Jesus Christ) before gloom descends and a few weeks later you end up with the devastating and very beautiful Kangaroo, Big Black Car and Holocaust. There’s nothing like it. I’m very sad. RIP Alex.

    *I’m no authenticity freak by any stretch, but I’m baffled when people can’t see a line between Sister Lovers and, say, Tom Waits or Nick Cave. Is it the method acting? But again I’m happy with the art school types. I can’t work out why it seems so black and white to me. Look at Shane Magowan – the vast majority of alcoholics attempt to hide their problem rather than flaunt their ‘problem’ by slurring all vocals and swearing as often as possible in every interview.

  16. 196
    Gavin Wright on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Re: #193, I like all three original Big Star albums but Radio City has a special place in my heart – it’d make my own Top Ten, no problem. I’m a fan of power pop anyway but there’s a fragility to that record which really works for me. RIP Alex.

  17. 197

    The Nick Cave method-acting arc has been a bit like the Michael Caine or Jack fkn Nicholson arc, though, hasn’t it — a once-startling bit of observation and originality trotted out ten billion times too often. (Waits I have more time for, since he introduced at least one significant swerve into his game…)

  18. 198
    wichita lineman on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Re 197: Yes, I’ve got so used to his schtick that I’d almost forgotten how much I used to play Release The Bats in 1981. Haven’t heard it in ages but I imagine it would still bring me to the verge of tears (something in the odd chords, can’t explain, feel all the better for not being able to explain).

  19. 199
    koganbot on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Mark – Lex is primarily a critic, not a journalist, even if his bread comes from the journalism. The journalist tries to sell you on the importance of what he’s covering; Lex wants to grab you ’cause it’s fascinating or awesome. Sometimes Lex will play the importance card – “why aren’t you discussing/voting for a towering figure and crucial influence like Mariah rather than this indie shit/old shit?” or some such – but that’s really because he has something to say about Mariah qua Mariah, not simply her importance, and he wants us to get it and be part of the conversation. (Obv journalism and criticism don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but they often are. And obv the critic should think about what makes things important, i.e., what makes them matter to people, but this isn’t the selling point it is in journalism, which, regarding cultural items, usually botches the mattering in favor “it’s important because it has an impact on important people, or important people are talking about it,” etc., the important people usually being someone other than the reader or writer.) I don’t see how you can possibly read what Lex has to say about Paris and Nicki and Trina and Electrik Red and think that he any less than you or I is digging into the why and the what of what we’re loving. I’d argue that he’d do it better if he delved more into the sort of history and sociology that you and I delve into, but then again I didn’t publish anything beyond the fanzine level until I was something like six years older than Lex is now, so he has time. (Nonetheless I’m offended that he’s never been drawn in by anything I’ve written about Dylan or the Stones. When Lex praised Paris for her shamelessness on one of Dave’s Paris threads, I immediately thought of Jagger singing “No excuses offered anyway” in “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”)

  20. 200
    koganbot on 18 Mar 2010 #

    As a writer I rise and flourish when I can get involved in a conversation, which often requires me to get people involved in my conversation. I need attention and I need prodding to help generate ideas and to find the words for the ideas I already think I have. But a brutal fact I have trouble adapting to is that sooner or later I’m always the only one in the room still talking, while to my mind the subject has been barely started. And, to mix my metaphors, alone in the room I’m left facing a desert, and I have to cross the desert alone if I’m to get anywhere; and then if the conversation is ever to resume, and not have to go back and reinvent its own wheels, it’ll be because people like me did solitary work. It’s not in my nature, but it’s necessary.

    So what I’m seeing in Lex is someone who is a genuine thinker and a genuine original who’s having trouble facing the fact that inevitably this throws him into isolation, from time to time.

  21. 201
    koganbot on 18 Mar 2010 #

    it should be remembered that Syd Barrett/(very) early Pink Floyd had a big enough following even in 1974 to have kept a Barrett fanzine/appreciation society going since the start of the 1970s.

    I think it was Craig Bell who started the Society (in Cleveland he was in Mirrors and Rocket From The Tombs, then moved to New Haven and was in the Saucers iirc). I met him in 1981 when he was visiting some friends of mine in NY. One reason that Cleveland punks in the early to mid ’70s were more interesting than subsequent punks is that the Cleveland punks didn’t hate Pink Floyd.

  22. 202
    koganbot on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Crystal Bowersox and Didi Benami on Stones night on American Idol, and for the second week in a row I thought that, although Bowersox’ vocals were stonger and richer and more self-assured, it was flighty quirk-and-curlicue girl Benami who managed to burrow deeper into the music, even while flubbing and flying around it too. It helps Didi that I way prefer “Play With Fire” to “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” On the latter, Crystal didn’t really communicate much beyond “good voice” and “jazz-soul command,” nothing about wanting and getting; she has and will do a lot better, whereas Didi is unsure and unformed but she’s already done three gripping performances, this and “Rhiannon” last week (which you’d think would have been a suicide choice) and “Terrified” during Hollywood week.

    The thing about the Stones’ best material, which sold big because it meant a lot of different things to different people, is that, paradoxically, for me the material isn’t open to a lot of interpretations, and I rarely like to hear it covered. If you can’t do Jagger’s tensions – e.g., “Heart Of Stone,” which is the Stones’ real can’t-always-get-what-you-want song – can’t totally deliver strength and menace while writing lyrics that expose the strength and menace as a fraud, with the singing and playing forcefully counteracting the lyrics and being as convincing as the supposed unmasking… if you can’t prance along that balance beam, then what’s the point?

    Since this time it’s Didi’s voice, you get the sense that, though as the singer she’s the narrator, she as much as the person she’s singing about can be menaced and played with, but nonetheless she’ll display bits of vocal strength that make the “don’t mess with me” credible; and because the song’s lyrics own the weakness a lot less than “Heart Of Stone”‘s do, Didi’s actually brought something to the song, walks along her own borderline between not getting what you say you can, and getting what you say you can’t, and not knowing what you need.

  23. 203
    ace inhibitor on 18 Mar 2010 #

    mulling over the historian/critic v. reviewer/fan distinction for the last couple of days – obviously for some of you these are jobs/roles/positions to defend, but I wonder whether for the rest of us they capture something of the ambiguity of our musical consumption, that we listen both wanting to contextualise and to experience-as-fresh, that we want to hear something like we’ve never heard before and have it take our breath away AND immediately identify the lineage, place it somewhere in our/the tradition (if not the canon)…

    And we take stuff we’ve known for 30/40 years and bury it somewhere on an mp3 player amongst 2000 songs on shuffle so when it comes up it will startle us and sound anew

    (the ‘we’ in all this = me obv)

    And i’m also thinking about Popular and the ways people in the comments box seem to USE Popular (one of its fascinations) – the way some people are clearly using it to live through the experience of hearing these songs for the first time again, and by extension and often quite explicitly the experience of living through that moment of their lives for the first time again – critics/historians reaching back to their reviewer/fanselves, or holding the two in tension…

    Me, I work as a counsellor. I think a lot of my work is about people holding those two things in creative tension, trying to re-engage with their pasts as they felt then as well as how they look now, and trying to re-imagine their presents from a historian’s distance. You’d be surprised how often music crops up in people’s attempts to do this. (actually you lot probably wouldn’t)

  24. 204
    thefatgit on 18 Mar 2010 #

    Wow! I’m getting so much pleasure from this thread as the dialogue moves on from “what is canon?” to historian/critic vs reviewer/fan onto the borders of the metaphysical and how music surprises and astounds, evokes and pricks our subconscious and what it means to have a real passion about something. What I’d like to add at this point is why for years without even realising it, I have had this continued dialogue with popular music. Reading Popular, you occasionally come across someone who admits they “got off the bus” at a particular juncture in the Popular story, for reasons of losing touch or being disillusioned with the direction the music was going, or simply immersing oneself within one genre or period in time and investigating it more, at the expense of engaging in the pop dialogue of the time. There are times when I felt I might have gotten off the bus, only to find myself getting back on board somewhere further down the line.

    However, the “getting off the bus” process is immensely harder to do when so much music is out there still waiting to be discovered. Pop isn’t necessarily a linear story, beginning at one point. One thing you can guarantee is there will be something that will take you down an interesting path. You might even find other avenues of interest that lead into labryinthine spaces where you’d think you could linger for an eternity, only to find a doorway back into some space that is familiar or even stranger than the previous space. That’s the beauty of pop. I don’t think I could get off the bus, even if I wanted to. I’m proper hooked!

  25. 205
    swanstep on 18 Mar 2010 #

    @ thefatgit204. I like your idea about ‘getting on the bus again’ – it affords a different and interesting way of thinking about sensational figures and cultural forces from Madonna through to Gaga. You’ve *really* done it, *really* gone nuclear when you’re so compelling that you make large numbers of those with fairly jaded palates get back on the pop bus.

  26. 206
    Lex on 19 Mar 2010 #

    I’d never really thought of historian-critic vs journalist-reviewer as a particular divide, though it makes sense. As a freelancer my modus operandi is generally “I will write about anything from whatever angle is needed if there’s £££ involved” – I actually really enjoy going out of my comfort zone to write about eg travel, politics etc; the more strings to one’s bow the better.

  27. 207

    Absolutely to the last, Lex — and it’s invaluable when you can bring strong knowledge and wisdom from elsewhere back into music-writing, however highspeed and bills-related that writing necessarily is a lot of the time: getting distinct disciplinary realms to speak to each other is some of what the best journalism can start to do…

    And plus just to note that I agree with Frank’s “genuine original” also – though I want to argue a bit about some of the other stuff he says, I think — or anyway open it up for argument.

    But not right this second, as I have work and admin demands eating into my own dalliance here :(

  28. 208
    Rory on 19 Mar 2010 #

    Great to see life in this thread still – I can only echo thefatgit’s #204 comments about what a treat it’s been. A few days ago I was mulling over possible responses to Lex’s position, while completely acknowledging his point that there’s so much more to music than the particular canon this thread started off being about; but things have moved on a fair bit in the interim. The ‘what are canons for’ angle really struck a chord with me, though, because I spent half of my twenties (as a postgraduate student of political science) thinking about what tradition is for, and there’s a close relationship between the concepts. The formation of the above canon was essentially an Invention of Tradition moment for rock music (it would be hard to claim that it was about pop music, despite a few token inclusions), when the swirl of formative ideas and narratives solidified into an edifice that successive generations have had to deal with one way or another. That doesn’t mean that successive generations are bound by it – traditions change all the time, are tinkered with, supplemented, and sometimes abandoned and reinvented entirely. But purely because of demographics and where/when we are, the moment of wholesale overthrow of that canon hasn’t quite arrived. Too many older music fans – and perhaps more relevant, too many music buyers – are still too invested in the 1960s and 1970s, because that was their time, their music, and to overwrite it with a bunch of 1990s and 2000s releases would be to sideline them. But they’ll be sidelined eventually, just as we don’t see any Sinatra or Glenn Miller on the list above.

    (On the music buyer angle: the stores selling physical music are naturally still going to push every repackaging of Beatles and Stones albums they can, because the CD buyers walking through the door are 40+, 50+, and are disproportionately interested in them. That’s just business. And perhaps that shapes our perception of the music business still being dominated by the old guard. Anyone can get a sense at a glance of what’s selling in physical format just by wandering around HMV; we can’t do that as easily online, where the teens and 20-somethings are buying – or not buying.)

    In the meantime, though, younger music fans have had to deal with and respond to the rock canon much as the baby boomers had to respond to the legacy of the second world war. I grew up having to think and talk about the Vietnam War and its legacy (not least in music) even though I was four when Australia’s troops were pulled out of it. The Thatcher years no doubt cast a similar shadow over today’s UK 20-somethings. We can’t escape what’s gone before us, and we shouldn’t expect to, because it’s how a culture perpetuates itself: by handing on what it values the most, and hoping that later generations will want to preserve it, or some of it. That doesn’t mean that later generations are bound by a tradition or a canon, because we get to pick and choose, to modify, supplement and discard. But that process is a contested one, because you have different generations all taking part, arguing about what’s worth keeping. That argument inevitably involves the exposure of fresh young minds to old ideas (and artifacts), because they have to know what it is they’re rejecting or accepting. I can’t say anything about whether some entries on the list above are still worth exalting, because I haven’t heard them.

    So in that light, a thread like this is still valuable, even if it’s an old debate. Or is it so old? In Internet years, in pop years, sure; but in generational terms, historical terms? Not that old, really. And we can’t know whether we’re still halfway through it or actually close to the end of it. These may be the last days of the 1970s rock canon, for all we know, and our discussions and polls could be part of the formation of a new one. Look at the bottom ten of that list and we see some once highly venerated albums (Who’s Next, Kind of Blue, Are You Experienced) that are lowly ranked by this audience, either because they haven’t been heard or they’ve been heard and rejected – either way, they’re less likely to form part of the next canon, if this audience has any say in it.

    How much of a say we’ll have in shaping the next rock music canon is debatable, though, because many of us come to it as tourists. Tom framed the thread in just that way: “which bits of the canon have ‘taken’ with a broadly pop-positive audience such as we have here”. For some of you, rock music was never your thing, so it’s no surprise that you don’t express particular love for Hendrix or the Who or whoever. Personally, I don’t think of myself as a tourist when it comes to rock, because rock was where my head was at from ages 16 to about 24, and alternative rock from 24 to 30, and it’s only since then that I’ve woven other musical threads more strongly into my musical tastes, to the point where I no longer think of myself as mainly a rock/alternative-rock guy. That’s why I found this canon poll and discussion so valuable: it gave me a nudge to re-think, re-explore and even explore for the first time some of these “classic” albums, because I value the tangential, rock-outsider take on it all of many Popular readers and know that I’m not getting the same old boring “classic rock is unquestionably good” line that I know all too well from years of reading Rolling Stone. I read far too many words about the genius of Dylan, the Stones and Brian Wilson in RS in my 20s, and none of them spurred me to actually sit down and listen to them the way this thread did, and to determine for myself that: I actually enjoy early Bob Dylan; listening to Beggars Banquet suggests that I might also enjoy 1968-1972 Stones; and Pet Sounds hasn’t made a convert of me at all. I used to stand outside the whole process of cultural transmission of those examples, either for or against; now I can and will be a part of it, thanks to this thread.

    But I digress. What I really wanted to say was that Popular itself is in the canon-formation business. Here it is, a popular music (not rock music) canon as seen through the lens of UK number one singles. It’s just unfinished business, that’s all; we’re only up to 1987. In ten years’ time, that page will cover everything up to the then-present day, and will continue to evolve as new members sign up and add their votes. I would bet, though, that it will ossify just as the 1970s rock music canon has, because once the initial list is complete only the occasional outstanding later entry will crack the top 20. Even now, while I don’t expect a-ha to hang onto their number 17 position for long, I’d be surprised if any of the top five were knocked out of the eventual top ten; and it would take a truly stunning track to displace the current number one. A track that the entire body of Popular readers to date has ranked so highly has to be a pretty good bet: if new readers don’t know it they’ll be inclined to check it out just because it’s number one, and there’s a strong chance they’ll fall under its sway too, because it’s already demonstrated its ability to transcend the years and convince a newer generation. Unless, that is, the next generation is looking for something else entirely in music, and rejects everything that Popular readers of the 2000s value. That’s always a possibility. (It would be valuable to take a snapshot of that list every now and then, to be able to follow how the rankings change over time.)

    Which brings me back to this 1970s-dominated rock music canon, and Popular’s rejection of it. Out of 100 voters exactly (as of today), only three of these albums are loved by the majority. How many of the fifty will Popular’s readers by enthusiastically promoting in our various spheres of influence in years to come? Just as traditions die when people stop learning about and practising them, albums are forgotten when people stop being told about them and listening to them. Albums drop out of canons when they lose their champions.

    Taking the long view, Lex, you have nothing to worry about.

  29. 209
    Rory on 19 Mar 2010 #

    Trust me to post that mammoth screed just after Mark bails out!

    Nice point @205, swanstep.

  30. 210

    i’m not bailing out forever, just the next couple of days!

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