Last time you heard from me dedicated listener’s I roughly touched on a party I was at. If you recall it was the party in which my ex sent me a picture text the day before Valentine’s Day and almost ruined my holiday. Thankfully she didn’t, but this isn’t about her. I’ve decided love and sex enough; it’s time for me to move back to what I love talking about. Pop Culture.
While at this party in which the text was received I was sitting on the couch with various individuals. Being that I was the only sober person at this entire party it’s quite possible that I’m the only person to recall this conversation but that’s not an important detail. The discussion we had was about “great’ vs. “best”.
Is there really a difference? I strongly believe that there in fact is a distinct different between the two. This conversation was triggered by me stating that ALL was a better band than the Descendents. Everyone seemed to think I was talking crazy talk when I stated this but people are clearly getting a band’s “greatness” confused for musical quality. While Descendents are extremely influential to the punk music scene, musically they don’t hold a candle to ALL. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these bands, The Descendents is a punk/hardcore band from the late 80’s (however they’re still around today); ALL was a side project of all the members except the lead singer. ALL was a much catchier and a far more marketable punk band that also managed to do something that few bands can do which was hold on tightly to their punk ethics. As much as I love Green Day and Blink 182 they weren’t able to do this… Rancid was.
This theory doesn’t end in the realm of punk music. To make a drastic example… The Beatles are not a better band than Queen. While a lot of people will scream Blasphemy at me, there’s probably an equal amount of people who will agree with me. You see, without fail the Beatles are the most important band in music history. Their music is classic and their influence is forever stretching. In fact I would say that you can pick out any hit single by the Beatles and that song alone will be better than any song your favorite band has ever written. The Beatles are the Neil Armstrong of rock Music. That being said, anyone who picks up a guitar can play the entire Beatles Catalogue in less than a month. Their music is simplistic and in many cases, dare I say it, boring. Queen however wasn’t a revolutionary band, they just took something that was already there and built a whole new foundation off of it.
Anyone can sing a song and sound like Paul or John or George or Ringo (but who would want to?) but nobody can sing like Freddy Mercury. Anyone can play the guitar lead on In My Life, not everyone can play the lead in Killer Queen. I’m not saying that Queen is a collection of the greatest musicians ever (that would be Primus or Anathallo) but their individual pieces made catchy, marketable pop songs that are timeless.
Even the greatest band to come out of the 90’s grunge sound Weezer creates this paradox. Everyone is so quick to say that Pinkerton is their greatest album, and they’d be correct. Pinkerton is the greatest album Weezer has ever recorded, but it’s not their best. Their best album is their self-titled album from 1994 (now just known as the Blue Album). The reason once again, it’s fun and catchy. Pinkerton does some amazing things, but the first half of that album doesn’t have great re-listen ability, not like the Blue Album which is so timeless that 15 years after its’ release, I can still listen to it from start to finish and sing along with every song. This argument led to one of the people at the party stating that I was completely wrong because “the green album was both their greatest and best album ever.” I suppose it’s okay for me to say that this particular person was baked out of his mind thus making his opinion completely moot.
Perhaps I’m the anti-hipster because to me there is nothing wrong with having a good catchy pop song, NOTHING. I am the proud owner of *Nsync, Hanson and Lou Bega CDs and not in that ironic “it’s so bad that it’s good way.” The fact is that those musicians all made money making songs far catchier than what I can ever write. They knew what they were doing; they did a great job at doing what they set out to do and made great music as a result. I find nothing wrong with that. I find bands like Nickelback making crap and pretending that it’s not crap far more offensive.
I have nothing wrong with bands like Radiohead being able to make money making the most unmarketable stuff ever but their few and far between, if you go out of your way to make your music un-marketable your simply signing yourself off to be just a foot-note in music history. This is why out of hundred’s of 80’s hardcore bands the general public only knows (if you’re lucky) Minor Threat, Bad Brains and Black Flag. But I suppose that’s PUNK RAWK!
I hate punk rawk. I love punk, but I hate punk rawk. And not because the purposeful misspelling (although it doesn’t help), but I hate this idea that if you’re a marketable punk band then you’ve lost your punk ethics. Meanwhile the godfathers of punk (the Ramones) never wanted anything more to be back on the radio. There’s no bigger headache than the “what started punk rock” question.
People say Sex Pistols, but that band got formed because they were fans of The Ramones, but if you look at the Ramones they weren’t doing anything more than going back to the 1950’s style rock and roll. So based on that was Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Bill Haley Punk Rawk? I’d like to think so to be honest. At the same time, if you want to discuss punk being a “movement” of Anarchy inside the system (Anarchy in the UK) then I want to be the first to claim that the Marx Brothers were the first group of “punk rawkers” (seriously, rent Duck Soup, it’s Anarchy on Film).
But let’s say that Punk Rawk IS an unmarketable sound, then perhaps it was Thelonious Monk and all other free jazz musicians who started this musical movement years before Johnny Rotten or Joey Ramone were even born. Now this raises an even more interesting question because if we go back to the Chuck Berry is the granddaddy of punk theory then we have something going here. 50’s rock is an extension of country mixed with Rhythm and Blues, which itself is an extension of Jazz. Without Jazz, we couldn’t have rock, which means we couldn’t have punk, which gave us grunge, which gave us Weezer. We wouldn’t have had Jazz if it weren’t for slavery (so I suppose one good thing came from that) so Jazz came out of Africa, which makes me even more curious why there are, so few Black Punk Groups.
Perhaps that’s why Bad Brains is the greatest punk group of all time, but The Ramones will forever be the best