Friday 21 Oct 2016

Fossilized List
David Simmonds

I was recently given a gift certificate to buy a book, and I chose "The Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of all Time Special Collectors Issue." I'd like to say that this was because some earnest treatise on the collapse of the global economy was out of stock, but I can't, because it wasn't. I just felt like being self-indulgent.

Of course, any list is subjective. And although it doesn't come right out and say so, Rolling Stone is a rock music publication, so the list is almost completely skewed in that direction. Nothing from the J.S. Bach repertoire makes it. Nothing recorded before 1950 seems to count: Fats Waller doesn't get even make it to the starting gate and the late Clyde Gilmour’s favourite Jussi Bjorling is nowhere to be found. The top rated jazz artist is Miles Davis, whose "Kind of Blue" sits at number 12, followed by poor old John Coltrane, who sits at number 47 well behind the 41st ranked Sex Pistols. Country fares even worse: no George Jones, no Kris Kristofferson. The top ranker is Johnny Cash’s “At Folsom Prison,” which stands at number 88, almost 30 places behind some outfit called “Guns N’ Roses.”

The list is a combination of a poll of 271 "artists, producers, industry executives and journalists" conducted in 2003, combined with a similar 100-person poll conducted in 2009 to update the list. The Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones top the list at 10 entries apiece, followed by Bruce Springsteen (eight) and the Who (seven); although if you combined all of Neil Young's various incarnations he would be tied with Bruce Springsteen.

The publishers of this tome have no doubt succeeded in doing what 'list' publishers count on: generating discussion and controversy. So the selection of the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" as number two behind the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" and ahead of "Revolver,” "Rubber Soul" and Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" is sure to generate all kinds of heated debate; as will the placement of “Revolver” ahead of “Rubber Soul”. But that's not quite what happened in my household.

My first reaction was to say "yeah, the Beatles, the Stones, the Who; but who the heck are these other guys?" I'll just take a page at random to show you what I mean. Number 357 (from 1967) is "Between the Buttons" by the Rolling Stones. Okay, I've heard of that. Number 358 (from 1960), "Sketches of Spain" by Miles Davis; okay that one too; and ditto Number 359 (1972), "Honky Chateau" by Elton John and Number 364 (1971), "L.A. Woman" by the Doors. But as for the others - "Singles Going Steady" by the Buzzcocks (1979), "Stankonia" by Outkast (2000), "Siamese Dream" by the Smashing Pumpkins (1993), "Substance" by New Order (1987), and "Rage against the Machine" by the band of the same name (1992) - I might as well have been on Mars. And the same was true of all my friends who have thumbed through the compilation.

All of which makes me a little philosophical. Either I am, and am surrounded by, rock philistines. Alternatively, buying this little publication tends to prove to me that we're passionately connected to the music we grew up with; and that at some point along the way, we just disconnect with popular musical culture and get stuck in a time warp, to which we demand to be taken back. All of which is why, I suppose, they have those 'formula' stations on the radio which no doubt have bulging demographic surveys to back up their choice of repertoire: 'EZRock92.3, featuring the hits of the 80s and 90s' , and '106.6TheGrind - all heavy metal all the time' and so on.

Anyone who has spent much time with me knows I am fond of saying that there has been no great music since Freddie and the Dreamers (and the Dave Clark Five, the Searchers, the Hollies and the Kinks). There's probably someone out there 30 years younger than me saying exactly the same thing about the Buzzcocks, the Smashing Pumpkins, Outkast and Rage against the Machine, although I derive some consolation from the fact that of the 500 albums ranked by decade, the 1960's come in a close second to the 1970’s, and that together they constitute almost 300 of the 500 choices.

It occurs to me, as I think of the irrepressible Treat Hull and his confreres who have been beavering away on a licence application for a CountyFM radio station, and are looking to sign up another 75 members this month: good luck to you. Your first annual meeting is being held tonight, May 30. It will take a lot of imagination and patience to program a station that keeps everyone in the County reasonably contented.

A note to the CountyFM people: my survey indicates there is heavy public demand for a short program every week, during waking hours, that features Fats Waller and Freddie and the Dreamers.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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