And Crossing Off Lists

The 200 Best Songs of the 1970s
Pitchfork Magazine
(Originally published August 22, 2016)

I thought long and hard about taking this week off–I even took out the ingredients to make chocolate croissants. After all, the last thing any of you need is another opinionated epistle that has no external point of reference.

At least with books you get to decide if you want to read it yourself to see if what I’m saying is true. But that requires me to finish a book every week or so. Sometimes I just jam myself up and so I take off or try something else.

Having rejected a day off I’ve only one alternative.

Last year, I wrote a few posts about music that happened to be recorded during the 1970s. One was about an artist. One about an album. And one was about a list. That last one was really an extended complaint given what was being ranked.

Dig the Peter Max-ish typography. (We said things like ‘dig’ at the start of the 70s.)

Yet here I am, writing about another list. I like to think I’m not like everybody else but that’s an illusion. (A widely held one, evidently, that continues well past middle age. See here.) It’s hard to pass up a list. That’s why so many editors turn to them.

Before I get to the list at hand I should note that one way I do differ from other people is that I have always been as likely to discover new music by reading as by listening. That’s harder than ever to do. Back in the 1970s, when I started getting my ears on, it was easier.

Robert Christgau (l), rock critic of The Village Voice with Geoffrey Stokes back in the day.

In those days Rolling Stone had not yet become an embarrassing simulation of a music magazine. We had Robert Christgau‘s short reviews (and annual list) in the now defunct Village Voice where you could also find Gary Giddins.

At decade’s end there was also Musician magazine, which sported both typical reviews as well as J.D. Considines short takes and Stereo Review, which seemed to take the software as seriously as the hardware for a while. Even the local tabloid, Newsday, sported Wayne Robins a couple of times a week.

It’s different now. Discovering what’s mainstream requires a slog on the Internet. (I have one friend who believes that assertion demonstrates why current ‘cool’ music fans obsess over Top 40 in a way that would have chagrined and dismayed us back in the day.) If, however, you must slog, you could do worse than to end up at Pitchfork.com.

Gary Giddins, keeping track of the jazz side of things since 1974.

This isn’t a commercial for Pitchfork and I only know two things about the site: it was founded in Chicago and Condé Nast bought it. Oh, and last year they published a list of the 200 best songs of the 1970s. I’ve been savoring it these last couple of weeks.

Although it had the potential to be one, this isn’t a crude exercise in nostalgia. Instead, each song is accompanied by a short narrative recounting why it made the cut. There’s also a link for the song and two related songs.

I’m going to refrain from talking about individual entries or ranks or even which song they picked as number one (it’s a bit surprising). What I will do is commend the editors for putting together an impressively broad list. In many ways, we’re still living off the fruits of that decade.

J.D. Considine
I’m always shocked to discover who is more or less my contemporary.

Sure, everyone loves to argue about a list. What songs made the grade and what ones didn’t. Which song should have ranked higher than another. Which gem was overlooked. That’s part of the fun.

The best case, though, is a list that reintroduces you to songs you forgot and reminds you of what otherwise risks being lost.

Anyone who grew up in the 70s has ample reason to complain about the decade. So isn’t it  grand to recollect there was plenty of great stuff, too. Happy listening.

 

 

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