Forget What the #885Countdown Votes Say: The greatest music of all time is happening right now
One of the funnier things I saw this week while on #885countdown hashtag-watch came in the form of a joke-hashtag from Twitter user @bob_perst: #roadtothunderroad. Before we even hit the top 10, the number one was a foregone conclusion: it was going to Bruce Springsteen, it was going to be “Thunder Road.” Because of course.
This speaks to the immense, immense love of The Boss not just in general, but particularly in the Philly / South Jersey region and doubly so among XPN’s audience. It also speaks, to a (somewhat dismaying) degree, of how easy these countdowns can be to predict. It’s going to be Bruce, or Bob Dylan, or The Beatles at the top, the latter of whom racked up an unfathomable 47 songs in the countdown this year.
Predictability sort of comes with the territory, though. When thousands of people are voting on their favorite songs, can I really expect the R.E.M. deep cut from my list to actually chart in a meaningful kind of way? Of course not. It’s the songs that scores of those voters have in common that, for better or worse, rise to the top. There’s also an element of familiarity bias. When they’re up against decades and decades of classic rock radio and pop culture cramming The Beatles down our throats (er, up our ear canals?) and telling us that they are Unquestionably The Best Band Of All Time Ever, are mass-audiences really going to objectively consider that maybe the Belle and Sebastian catalog could possibly be just as good if not better?
Some do. I certainly do. But for most people that’s not the case, and that’s reflected in the results, making those jokes on Twitter about “did WXPN turn into WMMR / WMGK / WOGL?” all the more apt as the countdown became a classic rock hit parade in the top 100. The highest ranking song from this century came in at No. 34 (Wilco’s “Impossible Germany”). The highest ranking song from the past 25 years (Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Hallelujah”) didn’t crack the top ten. The overall results leaned very, very strongly towards the 1970s. And in a way, that’s okay.
The countdown, when it comes down to it, is all about fun and a shared musical experience, not necessarily a barometer of true quality. And I’m here to remind you that, no, “Thunder Road” is not really the greatest song of all time – maybe. Much as I love it, and much I do enjoy me some Springsteen. Neither is “Like A Rolling Stone,” nor is “Imagine.” (DEFINITELY not “Imagine.”) The greatest songs of all time are being made right now, being recorded in some basement or home studio, played on a small stage in the Fishtowns of the world, starting out unassuming but ready to blow up, given the chance.
Part of the reason I love my job is because I love discovering this new music and the emerging artists that make it. Strand of Oaks’ amazing new record HEAL, particularly the anthemic “Shut In” and the slow burner “JM,” makes me feel the same feelings as anything from Born To Run (or Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night for that matter). Maybe you’re more of a U2 person? That same emotion can be found in Hozier’s breathtaking self-titled album. There’s no shortage of amazing contemporary punk music for fans of The Clash; try The Menzingers and their 2014 record Rented World, whichdefinitely shows up in my earbuds more often than London Calling. Or that point where punk and new wave intersect? Cayetana, ladies and gentlemen. Get to know that name.
There’s old music out there that’s been played over and over and over again. And there’s new music that’s constantly being created. The sound of classic rock in 20 years could still be “Thunder Road,” but more likely will be something that hasn’t even been recorded yet. And if you keep your ears and your mind open and listen closely, you’ll be able to hear it.