Last week, Rolling Stone, trotted out another of its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time lists. The list is suspiciously similar (and for some stretches — including the top ten — completely identical) to a list issued in December 2004.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll save you the trouble. Here’s the top five: 1. Like a Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan; 2. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction/Rolling Stones (Hmm. The top two songs mention “Rolling Stone”; 3. Imagine, John Lennon; 4. What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye; and 5. Respect, Aretha Franklin.
Without question, these are fine songs. But in Rolling Stone’s view — a magazine mired in the ‘60s and ‘70s — no one has been able to write a better rock song since John Lennon woke up one morning and plunked out Imagine before breakfast. That was 39 years ago. Even Homer Simpson was more progressive (Everyone knows that rock attained perfection in 1974!)
The most recent song is Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit at No. 9. The rest of the list is dominated by the usual RS suspects: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and The Beach Boys.
If I were King of the Lists, my top ten would be substantially more ecumenical. I’d include One from U2 (RS has it at No. 36), Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns ‘N Roses (No. 198), Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees (No. 385) and Killing in the Name Of by Rage Against the Machine —which inexplicably didn’t even make the cut, apparently so that 99 Problems by Jay-Z and Do Ya Think I’m Sexy from Rod Stewart could.
I’d also make sure that London Calling from the Clash (RS’s No. 15) and the Sex Pistols’ Anarchy in the UK (No. 56) was in there, too. Zeppelin’s Kashmir should surely rank higher than No. 141. There’s no way you can’t have Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up in any top ten, yet RS thinks it’s worth just No. 302. And Nirvana can stay in the top ten. I might even argue for some White Stripes.
And my No. 1? I’ve long maintained that the greatest rock song of all time is Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who. Timeless social/political commentary? Check. Energy quotient? Off the charts. Awesome scream? Maybe the best ever recorded. Does it still sound fresh? Absolutely. And where does Rolling Stone rank it? No. 134.
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