The Futility of Rolling Stone’s Best-Albums List

‘In 2003, Wenner and Rolling Stone engaged in a complementary act of canon-building with a list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” a massive undertaking. The list’s flaws were apparent from the beginning. “Predictably,” Edna Gundersen wrote, in USA Today that year, “the list is weighted toward testosterone-fueled vintage rock.” Here was an institution, Rolling Stone, made up primarily of white men, saying that most of the best music ever was made by white men, and leaning on their authority as a counterculture icon to do so. A new Rolling Stone list was revealed last week, with a hundred and fifty-four new entries and some major moves in the rankings. It reflects an admirable attempt by Rolling Stone to evolve with the times and exhibit a more comprehensive consideration of music history. The resulting list was clearly animated by a critical push toward poptimism and an attempt to diversify the critical class.

In a column in the Guardian, from 2018, titled “Bland on Blonde: Why the Old Rock Music Canon Is Finished,” the critic Michael Hann accurately summarized the problems with the current canon: the inherent superiority of rock assumed in the long-standing hierarchy of popular music; the domination of the conversation by white men; and the construction of the canon with albums, a format that many of us still value but which is, quite frankly, obsolete. Hann predicted the rapid fading of the rockist canon and the rise of a new one defined by a more inclusive critical tribunal…’

— via The New Yorker

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