An Eye On Culture
The Cream Of The Crop
Published: Sunday, October 28, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people make grand, sweeping claims about fine art. Things don’t always work in absolutes: Renoir isn’t the best Impressionist to have ever lived. Some art scholars or historians might argue he is, but others, like myself, wouldn’t. The essential subjectivity of art makes it fundamentally impossible to work in extremes.
I’ve always been a black and white kind of gal, however, and I might make some big, grand, even more sweeping claims of my own. Despite the fact that music is just as subjective as, if not more than fine art, people are constantly categorizing songs or bands as the “best of the ’90s,” or “the best to have ever lived.” One needs to have a significant amount of knowledge about music to make these claims. For example, one source that no one can really argue against is a publication that I have praised in the past (i.e.—last week’s column).
Rolling Stone is famous for its lists, which it makes a point of continuing sporadically: The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and if that wasn’t difficult enough, The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. I’d like to be a contributor to these lists because I, just like many people might, have issues with the song choices and placements on the lists. I’ve read most of them, and sometimes mentally develop lists of my own. Let me give you a little systematic sampling, which I also realize might combine a few past column topics of mine.
Question: What are the best guitar solos of all time?
I have finally concluded that there are three. “Down by the River” by Neil Young, “Old Love” by Eric Clapton (the unplugged version) and “Machine Gun” by Jimi Hendrix (Live at Berkeley). There’s not much I can say about them on paper—to really understand them you have to spend time listening to them properly. What I can say is this: Young’s solo might seem simple to some the first few times you listen to it, but its simplicity predicates its beauty. Clapton’s solo, which might be the best of the three, is an eerily haunting accompaniment to a tragic song about a lingering lost love. Hendrix’s Vietnam protest song (11 minutes and 22 seconds long) famously mimics the sound of actual machine guns using a Univibe pedal-based guitar riff. The three are strikingly different, but all equally impressive.
For consistency’s sake, I’ll stick to threes.
Love songs are staples of music. Love is why people listen to music, which leads me to my other curiosity.
Question: What are the most poignant love songs of all time?
Like above, I have finally concluded that there are three. “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, which I have sufficiently raved about in a previous column, “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, and “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green. What’s great about these love songs is that they’re happy. Green’s soulful song depicts a beautiful, long lasting relationship and is a song that crosses generational boundaries—it will always be a classic. While “In Your Eyes,” famously featured in the ’80s film Say Anything, is extremely moving and could result in a tear or two for the average emotional listener, it’s a song that you can belt out in your car with your friends (true statement, I’ve done it) just as easily as you can think about the one you love while listening to the amazingly touching lyrics.
While people may argue that there’s no way to categorize, quantify, or compartmentalize songs or music, sometimes there is. There are some masterpieces that are undeniably just that, regardless of subjectivity. While Whitney Houston may not be your cup of tea, no one can deny the fact that she was a talented vocalist. Like a piece of art that is undeniably masterful, some songs boast a certain artistry that cannot be ignored.