Frustrated songwriter

Why The Rolling Stone List (or Any List) Doesn’t Really Matter

I’ve been reading all sorts of commentary, both civil and uncivil, about the latest incarnation of the Rolling Stones list of the 500 Best Songs of All Time, released this month. Predictably, most people have something negative to say about it all. If you’re one of the ones who takes issue with which songs are on the list, and what number they come in on, my message for you is: this list, like all lists, don’t matter much.

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In music, it’s impossible to say which songs are the best ones. As members of the human race, you love some songs, and you dislike other ones. That’s normal. It’s impossible for the songs you love to all make it to the top of any list. Music, like all the arts, just doesn’t work that way. If you’re a songwriter, you hopefully know that every song you write will have lovers and haters. That is normal.

You need to realize why this kind of list exists in the first place: Rolling Stone is a business. They sell products (lists, articles, subscriptions, advertising) like practically any other online entity. They make a list called The 500 Best Songs of All Time because they want to make money.

That’s why if you click on the link “More On How We Made the List and Who Voted”, you find out that that information is only available if you subscribe. It’s a money maker. It’s why they make the list: they’re a business.

I like this list for one main reason: I get to familiarize myself with songs I don’t really know. But as to which song is best, I can’t think of anything less relevant to me. There is probably someone right now weeping into their coffee because they can’t handle the fact that “Blowin’ In the Wind” isn’t the best song of all time. But I hope it isn’t you.

Because for you, “Blowin’ In the Wind” may be the most significant, powerful song you’ve ever heard. It may have moved you to become the songwriter you are. There’s nothing better than that.

So how Rolling Stone ranks a song should be no more important to you than how anybody ranks a song. It’s merely information, and may not be very important information.

So if you’ve been stressing over how Rolling Stone compiled their latest list of 500 best songs, you’re losing proper perspective. It’s just a list, compiled by considering the opinions of some professional musicians. Opinions, by definition, can’t be scientific.

So rest assured, your opinions of the best songs out there are still as completely valid — to you — as they’ve always been. Nothing has changed. Rolling Stone is making money.

And that hasn’t changed either.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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One Comment

  1. Re: Rolling Stone Magazine and lists … what could possibly be more subjective than trying to rank songs in this way. You may as well try to rank paintings or sculpture. Everyone is going to have a different perspective on the relative merit of a piece of art and music is most certainly an art! I absolutely love John Prine, and would rank “Hello in There” as one of the best songs of all time, however someone who thinks “”Welcome to the Jungle “ by GnR is great, would almost certainly disagree. Personally, I like both songs, but i would never throw them both into any sort of ranking.

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