Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The 100 Greatest?

In an effort to avoid the blizzard conditions and avoid getting stuck at work, I left the office early to work remotely from home. Instead of the usual play list or online music site, I decided to turn on the TV to provide background noise to break up the tedious work I had to finish. After some channel surfing I ended up on a VH1 countdown list. The "100 greatest hard rock songs" hosted by Bret Michaels was on; a musical countdown is a tolerable choice for background noise. I entered the list at number 59, "The Stroke" by Billy Squier was the song selected.

I'll be the first to admit I'm not a huge fan of 1980's glam rock (hair bands) or even of 1970s classic rock. I recognize my share of the "classics" but other than that my knowledge and appreciation of that musical epoch is extremely limited. Like most "echo-boomers," I prefer the rock music portion of the period to the disco scene; however, my musical palate is largely influenced by the chunky guitars of grunge music.

Without cable television growing up my music exposure was limited to what my parents listened to, which could range from Lionel Richie and Billy Joel to Alabama and The Moody Blues, and what the local stations played in Des Moines. I started high school in the mid-1990s, so it shouldn't be a surprise that grunge, post-grunge, and ska music were some of the first albums I purchased on my own. Fifteen years later my collection includes hip-hop and classical; yet, it's still largely focused on grunge and its derivatives. Despite my lack of training in musical history and my, relatively, young age, I thought I had a fairly decent grasp of the types of songs that would populate the VH1 list. However, as the enumeration of songs continued over the next few hours I realized that the category of "hard rock" isn't as definite as I had previously imagined.

Most "hard rock" stations these days play large samplings of AC/DC, Metallica, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Guns N' Roses, Black Sabbath, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, and the Seattle bands of the early '90s. Hair bands, grunge, and heavy metal bands defined my concept of "hard rock." Needless to say that I was extremely surprised to see bands like Foghat, Kansas, Cream, Lynard Skynyrd, Europe, Hendrix, Journey, and The Ramones listed as one of the 100 greats of hard rock. The Ramones are clearly punk. Europe is Euro-pop. Foghat, Kansas, Skynyrd, Journey, Hendrix, and Cream are certainly rock bands, but hard rock? The list also contained a smattering of current bands like Evanescence, Andrew W.K., Marilyn Manson, and The White Stripes that push the envelope to be included in the "100 greatest" anything.

Wikipedia claims "hard rock" is a specific genre of music that is a
sub-genre of rock music which has its earliest roots in mid-1960s garage and psychedelic rock and is considerably harder than conventional rock music. It is typified by a heavy use of distorted electric guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and drums.

According to this definition, I can accept including the aforementioned 60s and 70s classic rock bands and the 80s glam bands. The Who, Led Zepplin, KISS, Rush, Deep Purple... Fine. But how do you then include Pearl Jam, STP, Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, Foo Fighters, and Green Day? By the end of the list it seemed like all you need to do was have a good guitar hook/riff to start the song to be considered the one of the "top ten greatest." "Paranoid", "Whole Lotta Love", "Enter Sandman", "Won't Get Fooled Again", and "Back in Black" all have great guitar riffs, and according to VH1, all played loser to "Welcome to the Jungle" by GnR! I can acknowledge the importance of "Welcome to the Jungle", even a high ranking for hard rock, but number 1?! The only GnR song listed gets top billing? I'm sorry but The Who or Zepplin seem better choices for the title of "Greatest".

As I listened to the show I noticed another theme. The list not only lacked a definition of "hard rock," in the end it's clearly a plug for RockBand. A significant number of the songs on this list are big hits in the RockBand franchise. Sure enough, the Harmonix sponsored the countdown.

I would be interested to read what your top five "hard rock" songs would be. Based on the definition provided by Wikipedia, here are mine:
1. "Won't Get Fooled Again" The Who
2. "Tom Sawyer" Rush
3. "American Woman" The Guess Who
4. "Smoke on the Water" Deep Purple
5. "More Than a Feeling" Boston

1 comment:

C. T. Gilbert said...

5. "Barracuda," Heart
4. "Goin' Out West," Tom Waits
3. "Faggot," Mindless Self Indulgence
2. "Go Your Own Way," Fleetwood Mac
1. "Sleepless," King Crimson