The Greatest Musical Letdown

A few months ago, I blogged that WXPN‘s top 885 countdown this year — which has become somewhat of a tradition over the course of the past decade — would be the greatest songs of the new millennium. The only requirement for voting for a song this year is that it must have been released on or after January 1, 2001. Apart from that, it was an anything-goes list, not unlike the first one back in 2004 when they had the greatest songs countdown.

For a quick overview of how the voting works in these countdowns, each participant would vote for ten songs, ranking those songs from 1 to 10. The song that a person voted for as number 1, would get 10 “points”, 2 would get 9 points, and so on down the line. (Or, to use the formula that the computer software behind the scenes undoubtedly uses, if R is the rank on a particular voter’s list, then that song will get a score of 11 – R for the final tallying that, once it’s scrubbed for typos and other variations between different voters’ choices for what is undoubtedly the same song…)

In the end, the highest ranking song turned out to be “Rolling in the Deep”, from Adele’s second album, 21.

Don’t get me wrong. I like “Rolling in the Deep”. It’s a fun song. But somewhere long before the they revealed the number one song, I predicted that it would come out on top. By the time they entered into the top ten and this song hadn’t yet been played, I was certain that it would be number one.

But the countdown as a whole was more than a little bit underwhelming. I had one song I voted for make the final list: “Breathe Me,” by Sia came in at number 259, but the final placement of the songs that I personally voted for doesn’t really factor into how I feel about the countdown. After all, I’m not complaining about the fact that quite literally none of the songs I voted for in ’04 made the final list (a fact that I consider surprising considering that I voted for songs like “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats, “Hard to Handle” by Otis Redding and “Swan Swan H” by R.E.M. that year.)

No. It’s underwhelming more because of how monolithic the entire countdown felt. John Mayer was the artist most predominantly represented in the list, with 20 songs. If you want an artist whose music is virtually by definition unchallenging and poppy to the point of being boring, it’s Mayer. Yes, I respect that there’s a place and time for that kind of music, but more than 2% of a “greatest of” countdown really isn’t it.

Some really horrible music placed really high up on the list. Back in 2005, I blogged that the worst album of the year, I thought, was Coldplay’s X + Y. In that blog entry, I mentioned that the only good song from that album, was “Speed of Sound”. What I didn’t mention was that I felt the worst song from that album, was “Fix You”, an overproduced work that I’d be embarrassed to put my name on if I were Chris Martin or any other member of that band. (I did, however, mention that a couple of years ago when I listed my opinion of the songs you need to hear before you die. It placed at number 18.

There were way too many songs that got excessive airplay. These are songs that I don’t inherently dislike, but, by virtue of having been played excessively, I can’t really listen to them any more. The highest ranking of the songs that fall into this category was “Crazy,” by Gnarls Barkley, which came in at number 6. (It’s also worth noting that I considered the album from which it came, St. Elsewhere, to be the worst album of the year, primarily because of how poorly produced it was. The volume level on consecutive songs was horrible. One song was far too quiet and the next excessively loud. At the time, I had two young children, ages 2 and a newborn, and I couldn’t listen to the album in the car with them, the transition between tracks was just so jarring… And yes, that, too, brought down the song in my opinion…) Also in this boat was “Hurt,” as performed by Johnny Cash, and “Hey Ya” by OutKast.

Then there were the artists that were completely shut out of the countdown. Where were the Dresden Dolls? Cousteau? Tim Minchin?

And finally, there’s the really bizarre ranking of songs by artists that did make the final list. I happen to be a pretty big fan of the Decemberists, but I don’t quite get how “O Valencia” could actually place higher on the list than both “The Crane Wife 3” and “The Engine Driver”.

In the end, I fear that people who listen to the songs on this list will think that music over the course of the past twelve years was by and large uninspired, boring, and, well, not as stylish or artistic has previous eras in terms of musical accomplishment. The reality, despite the list itself, is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. You just need to look elsewhere.

My list of all ten countdowns, with my votes and how I fared, is below:

Year Topic What I voted For How many of my items made the list?
2004 Greatest Songs
  1. “Fallen Icons,” by Delerium
  2. “Idol,” by Amanda Ghost
  3. “Wicked Little Town,” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
  4. “Chimes of Freedom,” by Bob Dylan
  5. “Sniper,” by Harry Chapin
  6. “My Mistake,” by Marvin Gaye
  7. “Swan Swan H,” by R.E.M.
  8. “I Don’t Like Mondays,” by the Boomtown Rats
  9. “Caught a Lite Sneeze,” by Tori Amos
  10. “Hard to Handle,” by Otis Redding
None of them
2005 Greatest Albums
  1. Emmet Swimming — Wake
  2. Poe — Haunted
  3. Harry Chapin — Danceband on the Titanic
  4. Phil Ochs — In Concert
  5. Delerium — Poem
  6. Beth Orton — Trailer Park
  7. Tori Amos — Under the Pink
  8. Nine Inch Nails — The Downward Spiral
  9. John Lennon — Plastic Ono Band
  10. R.E.M. — Lifes rich pageanT
Five (Poe, Tori Amos, Nine Inch Nails, John Lennon, and R.E.M.)
2006 Greatest Artists
  1. Harry Chapin
  2. Tori Amos
  3. Delerium
  4. Phil Ochs
  5. Nine Inch Nails
  6. Portishead
  7. Idina Menzel
  8. Emmet Swimming
  9. Jen Chapin
  10. R.E.M.
  11. Marvin Gaye
  12. Def Leppard
  13. Alice in Chains
  14. The Who
  15. John Lennon
  16. Lennon Murphy
  17. Sarah McLachlan
  18. Hungry Lucy
  19. Hole
  20. “Weird Al” Yankovic

(Harry Chapin, Tori Amos, Phil Ochs,
Nine Inch Nails, Portishead, R.E.M.,
Marvin Gaye, Def Leppard, Alice in Chains,
The Who, John Lennon, Sarah McLachlan,
and “Weird Al” Yankovic)
2007 Most Memorable Musical Moments I didn’t vote N/A
2008 Essential XPN songs I didn’t vote N/A
2009 Desert Island Songs
  1. “The Blue Tree,” by Silverman
  2. “There Only Was One Choice,” by Harry Chapin
  3. “Don’t Follow,” by Alice in Chains
  4. “Wolves,” by Josh Ritter
  5. “Bus Mall,” by the Decemberists
  6. “Yes, Anastasia,” by Tori Amos
  7. “Swan Swan H,” by R.E.M.
  8. “Crucifixion,” by Phil Ochs
  9. “Crushing,” by Tapping the Vein
  10. “I Am the Walrus,” by the Beatles
1 (“I Am the Walrus”)
2010 Road Trip Songs
  1. “Daylight,” by Delerium
  2. “Out Here at Sea”, by Karen Kosowski (this includes the untitled hidden track after this song on the album
  3. “Glory Girl,” by Amanda Ghost
  4. “Danceband on the Titanic,” by Harry Chapin
  5. “Gimme Shelter,” by the Rolling Stones
  6. “River,” by Jen Chapin
  7. “Yes, Anastasia,” by Tori Amos
  8. “Float Away,” by Marah
  9. They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back From The Dead!! Ahhhh!” by Sufjan Stevens
  10. “Idiot Wind,” by Bob Dylan
1 (“Gimme Shelter”)
2011 World Cafe Artists I didn’t vote, although I vaguely remember doing something about Fisher’s performance N/A
2012 Greatest Rock Songs
  1. “Love, Reign O’er Me,” by The Who
  2. “Filthy Mind”, by Amanda Ghost
  3. “Holiday,” by Green Day
  4. “Coma White,” by Marilyn Manson
  5. “Change (In the House of Flies),” by the Deftones
  6. “Breathing,” by Kate Bush
  7. “Piece of My Heart,” by Big Brother and Holding Company
  8. “Instant Karma!” by John Lennon
  9. “Crazy on You,” by Heart
  10. “No One Like You,” by the Scorpions
4 (“Instant Karma!”,
“Crazy On You”, “Piece of My Heart”,
and “Love Reign O’er Me”)
2013 Greatest Songs of the New Millennium
  1. “Love & Bandaids”, by Karen Kosowski
  2. “Confessions”, by Tim Minchin
  3. “Heaven Must Be Boring”, by George Hrab
  4. “Hurry Up Sky”, by Jen Chapin
  5. “Sing”, by the Dresden Dolls
  6. “When the War Came”, by the Decemberists
  7. “Gravity”, by Vienna Teng
  8. “Hasa Diga Eebowai”, from The Book of Mormon
  9. “Breathe Me”, by Sia
  10. “Float Away”, by Marah
1 (“Breathe Me”)