Revisionist histories — EW’s “New Classics”, part 1

24 06 2008

It should come as no surprise that a pop culture-obsessed mind such as mine would drop some opinions on Entertainment Weekly’s recently published “New Classics” lists.

By some reasonable logic, the editors of the mag have submitted their picks for the best movies, albums, television shows, books, video games, plays/musicals, tech achievements and style moments of the past 25 years. They wind up batting about a .300. They get lots of hits…but still plenty of strikes.

The whole 25 years thing is arbitrary at best…I personally think it was done simply to keep Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” out of the top album spot — as it was released at the end of 1982.

So what takes that mammoth album’s place? Prince’s “Purple Rain” soundtrack from 1984. Now I happen to love Prince. I own “Purple Rain” on vinyl. It’s a solid record with no soft spots…definitely a top 10 record. But number one?!! Editors, you mean to tell us that “Purple Rain” was the greatest music put to tape over the past quarter century?

Is the album better than the mega-selling arena anthems of U2’s “The Joshua Tree” from 1987? Better than R.E.M.’s artful “Murmur” (1983), “Document” (1987) or “Automatic for the People” (1992)? Better than the crossover miracle of Lauryn Hill’s “Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998)? Better than the coked-up hard rock of Guns N’ Roses’ “Appitite for Destruction” (1987)? Better than Nirvana’s uber-influential “Nevermind” (1991)? Better than the Dr. Dre’s suburb-conquering “The Chronic” (1993)?

It’s a tough sell, in case you can’t tell.

There are lots of holes in the album list:

One R.E.M. album on the whole list?!! And it’s “Life’s Rich Pageant?” I dig that record, but it doesn’t boast the influence or the quality of “Murmur,” “Document” or “Automatic for the People.” It has been very uncool to like or even respect R.E.M. of late. Their last 15 or so years of output doesn’t help matters any. Their first 10 years remain undeniable.

Public Enemy doesn’t pop up until #55? The Beastie Boys’ “Paul’s Boutique” ranks only at #43? No NWA at all?

Radiohead’s “OK Computer” comes in at #62?

Two albums from 2007 in the top ten (Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”) seems excessive. There are five in the entire top 100…also excessive.

The list also betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of country music. Now I’m no country fanatic. But no Garth Brooks? The guy sold more albums than any other solo artist in the 20th century! Plus he redefined the whole country genre. The editors really missed the boat on this one. They only included two mainstream country artists: The Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain. Predictably, four alt-countryish acts found their way onto the list: Johnny Cash, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Ryan Adams. I’m a big believer that the best that country has offered the world over the past 25 years typically does come from outside the mainstream…but, c’mon

More on movies and tv soon.