Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Overrated? or just over played?

Overrated Songs
(via Robert of the Radish, posted on blogcritics.)

Occasionally, the music blog community comes together for one communal playlist and posting. This time, courtesy of Robert of the Radish, the challenge was to name the most overrated song. After a lot of himming and haahing (and after consulting my very wise wife) I chose "American Pie" and I'll defend it here.

First off I'll say that it wasn't my first choice, and perhaps I created my own criteria for eliminating my top four. I eliminated any song that wasn't digitally available, thus eliminating my selections "Stairway to Heaven," "Hotel California," "Enter Sandman," and "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Now before you all gasp, remember, this isn't a 'playa hata' list, but instead a check on reality vs. perception of how good a song is rated.

Perhaps the problem with doing a list like this at all is how to judge what's rated and not. There aren't a lot of song reviews out there, as it's the album that gets the ink as far as ratings go. So we're left with a lot of spotty coverage as far as how a song is rated. Generally, we have to refer to lists... which makes it all the more troubling as we're making an arbitrary list of songs based on the position these songs are placed in other arbitrary lists of songs. Lists like Rolling Stone's Top 500 Songs, Stylus top 50 songs 2000-2005, and similarly Pitchfork's top 100 singles of this decade's first half.

I ended up choosing Don McLean's "American Pie," (my only hesitation in choosing it is that I'm not sure how highly it's rated.) The easy and quick criticism of the song is that it's too long. Seems simple enough... but there's more to it then that. The song symbolizes, to me, the epitome of the singer-songwriter taking himself too damn well seriously. The song is filled with it's allusions to cultural icons of the 60's, and defenders of the song will site this as their reason for liking it, but it's about as cryptic as a Monday's crossword puzzle.

And again about the length... I don't want to sound trite on this. There are many songs that are long that I appreciate and like a lot... but they usually have musical interludes or some change or break in the narrative to warrant the length. But Mclean's "American Pie" becomes so fascinated with the levity of it's own lyrics that can't be bothered with a guitar solo, or drum break, or anything that would interrupt the song's lyrical nature.

Honestly, though, I do like the idea of the song... it comes off at first listen like a protest song with an interesting narrative, and the chorus, well... the chorus is everything, isn't it? Problem is, McLean understands that too well, and thus we're given it eight times. I think if he had to do it again, perhaps he'd scale it back a bit, step back from the chorus and lyrics a bit to let the levity hit home a bit more. McLean has cited frustration with the shadow the song has made on his career, how no one remembers or listens to anyting else he did.

Instead of levity with brevity, the song becomes a parody of itself by the end. It's naturally low hanging fruit on the parody tree (see Weird Al Yankovic,) but there's not really a lot of joy in parodying a song that's this close to parody. Perhaps most telling is the lack of covers of the song. Madonna is the only one I can think of, and her version certainly put a nail in the song's coverage coffin.

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drake leLane said...

Most overrated songs playlist

1. American Pie - Don McLean
2. Light My Fire - The Doors
3. Free Bird - Lynyrd Skynyrd
4. Hey Ya! - Outkast
5. Pour Some Sugar On Me - Def Leppard
6. Wonderwall - Oasis
7. Memory - Andrew Lloyd Webber
8. Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
9. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - U2
10. Totally Wired - The Fall
11. Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen
12. Chewing Gum (Vocal mix) - Annie
13. Imagine - Richie Havens

uao said...

It was pretty funny to see what happened to that thread. It's currently #10 on Technorati's top-10 searchlist.

I picked "Imagine" because I hate to see the wide breadth of Lennon's talents pigeonholed into one of his most derivitive lyrics and musically unadventurous recordings. I pointed to the next track on the album, "Crippled Inside" as closer to the Lennon essence.

Got a number of intended skewerings, including one chap who persistently tried to nettle me on my blog before accusing me of an "abominable lie"

My favorite at Blogcritcs was the guy who said I ought to go to hell for accusing Lennon of ever doing anything "bad".

I told him I imagine there's no hell below us, and above us only sky.

Cheers, drake. It was fun to be a part of the abominable 13.

Andrew said...

I'd forgotten all about "Hotel California" until you mentioned it here. It surely deserves to be on the list. I'd make a case for replacing "Bohemian Rhapsody" with it. Like "American Pie," "Hotel California" suffers from the too-often repeated chorus, along with that interminable, redundant guitar solo at the end.


P.S. I mentioned your site at bloggedy blog.

Anonymous said...

Not an overrated song. As you shall see.

Terry Jones said...

I'll give the last commentator this: Hotel California is way overplayed. So's Stairway to Heaven. Much as I love both songs, I hear them way too often. Radio over play can ruin any song. (Except maybe Macarena...I just can't get enough of that one...)