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Panning the playlists

Recently, one of my good mates shared a link on Facebook: “23 songs that should be erased from music history.”

The article, from Spanish newspaper El Pais, collated the opinions of 23 music journalists on the songs “by talented artists with millions of followers” they would be happy never to hear again. Either because “we’ve heard them too much, time has devalued them, or their message is grating”.

In my younger days as a proud music snob, this was one of the favourite topics of conversation among my social circle. Which songs/bands/artists, beloved by our less sonically astute peers, were terribly over-hyped, and thus unforgivable crimes against the hallowed institution of music. Should anyone disagree, cue the shouting matches. Our music taste was inextricable from our identity, and any slight against our iTunes playlist was blasphemy in the extreme.

These days, I’ve mellowed. My playlists now contain everything from Leonard Cohen, to Dolly Parton, to Rihanna’s “B**** Better Have My Money”. Variety is the spice of life. Still, it’s fun to wade into the occasional rock n roll donnybrook. Nothing gets the internet riled up like “overrated” popular musicians.

So – what songs should be scrubbed from musical canon? Top of the list was Hotel California by The Eagles – which the “experts” agreed was “bland” and “unoriginal”. I mean…it’s decent. A biting commentary on consumerism, with a weirdly intoxicating sense of foreboding and some nice guitar licks. It is, however, overplayed – a recent report from a US consultancy firm found the 1976 ditty was played on American radio stations once every 11 minutes.

Scientists have some interesting observations about overplayed songs. According to psychologist Dr Michael Bonshor, the more complex a song, the more likely its longevity – despite initial overexposure. Take Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody: “Its longstanding popularity may be explained by its layers of harmonic, rhythmic and vocal complexity. Over 40 years later, it is still considered one of the most influential songs in recent history.”

The team at El Pais, however, disagreed. “Bohemian Rhapsody is a pretentious nuisance in the form of operatic rock…camp and bombastic artifice without any content.” Ouch.

Speaking of British rock royalty, two Beatles songs were included: Run For Your Life and Lady Madonna. The former begins with “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than be with another man” — sung over a deceptively upbeat chord progression. Not okay, in any decade. The latter, by contrast, is a shrewd commentary on the domestic drudgery of modern life — which mostly, let’s be honest, falls to women. Paul McCartney gets it — thanks, mate.

Not many women made the final 23 — though Someone Like You by Adele was thoroughly panned. “Adele, the gentlemen you’re crying for don’t deserve it. And neither do we,” scolded the journo.

Little harsh. How many over-wrought, break up songs are produced by men without anyone batting an eyelid? Blood on the Tracks, one my favourite albums, is basically Bob Dylan whinging away about his divorce. God forbid a woman does the same.

What, as a former music snob, would I want scrubbed from existence? Anything by Pearl Jam. Perfectly competent…just dull. And dredges up memories of University — crammed into overcrowded, sticky bars, unrequited longing glances across the dance floor and, eventually, huddled up alone in the back of a cab. So dramatic. I could make an album.

Honestly? It’s all just opinion. My music taste is individual to me. Based on my own preferences, life experiences, and associations. Like I’ve said before — it’s a tough old world and people should be free to like what they like. So, if we’re roasting “overrated” music, play the ball not the fan, yeah?

In summation: Overplaying songs can be dangerous, Queen is wonderfully camp, the Beatles wrote great and terrible songs, women have the right to whiny break-up anthems, and University was just awkward. And if you think a song should be erased from musical history? Good news — you can turn it off.

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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