Acclaimed Music: Statistics and Critics’ Music Recommendations

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From one of my favorite blogs, Click Opera, written by the jolly and insightful Momus, discussing the “Acclaimed Music” website:
The Rise and Fall of Popular Music

“Henrik Franzon is a 34 year-old Swedish statistician who’s spent the last ten years crunching lists, and in particular those weird quantifications of the unquantifiable, critics’ lists. Franzon has taken all the music critics’ lists he can find, fed them into his computer, and come up with a website called Acclaimed Music, a list of lists which lays out “the 3000 most recommended albums and songs of all time”.”

My take:

This whole list just rubs me the wrong way, well, half of the time. It does a good job to a certain extent, where sales are so low that critical acclaim needs to be measured to give an accurate representation of cultural impact, such as for Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica–going by sales alone, that’s got to be in the bottom 10% of albums ever made I would suspect. So good job there.

But I mean, in other cases, based on my viewing of the the “All Time” list, Acclaimed Music simply serves to demonstrate that many music critics are jackasses, at least temporarily swept up in fads of the time. I mean, on the list, Nirvana Nevermind is the #3 album of All Time according to Acclaimed Music’s calculations.

Here is something for you: the invisible hand of the market place, supply and demand, trumps these “music critics” in my mind for estimating quality music in such cases as Nirvana’s Nevermind.

See: http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?table=tblTop100

The people have spoken with their wallets. Nirvana’s Nevermind (#3 Acclaimed Music All Time) is at 10 million sold according to the RIAA stats–far bested by Michael Jackson’s Thriller at 27 million sold (#33 Acclaimed Music All Time) and Guns and Roses’ Appetite for Destruction at 15 million sold (#62 according to Acclaimed Music’s All Time chart).

I whole-heartedly agree with people’s purchasing decisions and not critic’s recommendations in these cases–Nirvana’s Nevermind was a flash in the pan of sorts, it does not stand the test of time, and is nowhere near as musically significant and long-lasting as Thriller or Appetite for Destruction. Nevermind was wrapped up as part of a highly significant cultural event, but that overshadows the actual music–it is nowhere near as significant of a musical achievement, on its own, as Thriller and Appetite for Destruction.

Then there’s Led Zeppelin’s IV at 23 million (#28 Acclaimed Music All Time), and Prince’s Purple Rain at 13 million (#49 Acclaimed Music All Time). There is no way that anyone, other than hairbrained music critics swept up in a fad, recommended Nirvana’s Nevermind more than Led Zeppelin IV or Prince’s Purple Rain. In other words, critics are sometimes full of hot air, or push their own pet bands and projects–this Acclaimed Music site needs to be looked at in the context of the marketplace also, with stats based on what people actually bought, in order to give a more fleshed-out and useful picture.

Sidenote: In fact, I think that the sort of punk-rock disposability of Nirvana’s Nevermind and subsequent alternative music pap that has been put out there, compared to Thriller, Appetite, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles, is in no small part due to blame for the demise of people’s desire to buy albums. Nirvana’s simple punk, catchy but lacking substance in the long run, paved the way for the flavorless alternative and pop music we have today. There, I said it. I mean, the Cure, Morrissey, the Smiths, tailing off even with the Pixies…now that was quality. Nirvana–not so much. Lots of attitude, little substance. It’s been downhill ever since.

(also see “The Critics vs. the people“)

Photo by: Marco Wessel

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