Book #44: The Pitchfork 500

Pitchfork Media, the über-hip music web publication that acts as the Final Word on music for an entire generation of hipster/indie/underground/annoying kids, has put out a book. A list of the 500 greatest songs from 1977 to 2006.

A little history on my relationship with Pitchfork: It was brought to my attention via a couple of friends whose passions coincidentally mirror the very music Pitchfork was created to champion. My friend mentioned in passing that one of his friends was annoying him, because every musical opinion he had seemingly stemmed directly from whatever Pitchfork was touting at the moment.

Pitchfork? What was this? I'm immediately set on edge. Despite my all-encompassing love for lists, reviews and the like, I pride myself on (hopefully) being able to use them for what they are - opinions and guides to direct me to find interesting and new expressions - whether it be music, film, or anything else. This, coupled with the fact that at the time (roughly three 3 years ago) my exposure to what I'll call "independent music" for lack of a better term was limited and based largely on music I was adverse to in the first place caused me to shun the site and the people who read it as petulant elitists who weren't worth my time or energy.

Yes, I understand the inherent hypocrisy in the above sentence.

Anyway, time, fatherhood, and more (and better) exposure to many different types of music from my friends started to wear me down, and about a year ago I started casually reading Pitchfork to check for any mention of the bands I was being introduced to. And, lo and behold, I started to warm up it. In a world where mainstream publications like Rolling Stone are increasingly losing touch and becoming the dinosaurs of the critical world, Pitchfork and other online publications are rising up as distinct voices, unafraid to firmly state their opinions in language that is unencumbered by politeness or stodgy standards. I still wasn't fully embracing Pitchfork, but I was happy to let it exist and not get offended. Just as long as they didn't fall into the trap of considering themselves an authority by releasing some type of Best Of...

Aw, crap (gleeful Hellboy reference, as HELLBOY II was released yesterday Yipee!).

Let's (finally) get to the book, which is the point of this increasingly long missive. The cover lacks any pretentious statement like "The Definitive" or even "The Best." Instead, they come across as just a bunch of easy-going folks, claiming that the list is simply "their" guide to the greatest songs from roughly 1977 to 2006. Still, the bossy, opinionated little person I typically manage to stuff down deep (only to explode whenever there's talk about, well things like this) was bursting forth, ready to throw down the glove and sever any and all ties with this young upstart who had the audacity - nay, the balls, the cojones - to publish a list of the best songs without including what I knew in my soul to be mandatory entries like Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" or Radiohead's "Paranoid Android."

Ah... oh. They're in there. In fact, "The Passenger" is the second song listed in the book. Fine. Kid gloves are coming off. Time to get a little more personal. After all, everyone loves those songs, and both Iggy Pop and Radiohead are standard entries in any "best of" list. But if there's no Elvis Costello in there I'm going to throw this right in the...

Holy crap. Two songs make the list! "Radio Radio" is the obvious choice, but frickin' "Beyond Belief?" Besides being an awesome song, they actually get why it's so good, and why Imperial Bedroom was a career-changing album for him.

Hopefully you're starting to see what I'm getting at. I was startled by how much of what I wanted to see was in there, sometimes surprisingly so. For metal you have the real obvious entries like Metallica and current media darlings Mastodon, but to also include Napalm Death and Darkthrone? Darkthrone?! Even I was shocked. Bands you expect to see, you do, but sometimes the song choice is surprising (Sex Pistols are represented by "God Save the Queen"). And every genre is considered, with special attention being paid to the innovators and masters of established sounds, so seeing Italian Disco mixed with lo-fi rock or Top 40 sitting in the same book as Boogie Down Productions is exciting and just goes to show how wide Pitchfork's embrace actually is.

It may not tickle the music itch you have, but I was incredibly surprised at the thoroughness and diversity on offer in the Pitchfork 500. For the record I have approximately 165 songs on the list (yes, I counted), and plan on checking out more of the selections. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there are also entries on my favorite Björk song of all time ("Joga") and three of my contenders for Best Pop Song EVER ("There She Goes" by the La's, "She Bangs the Drum" by the Stone Roses, and "Mr. Blue Sky" by ELO).

Pitchfork, you have used your wily charms on me. Just don't push your luck for a while, okay?