Death to VH-1! Death!

I’m going to pop on my music critic hat here to say something painfully, painfully obvious, which is that VH-1’s list of the 100 Greatest Songs of the last 25 years (That would take us back to 1978) is so horrifyingly wrong on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to begin. Even factoring in that this is VH-1 we’re talking about, which means that the songs under consideration a) have to be mainstream pop; b) usually have to have a video involved, this list reeks. It gets props for tagging “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the greatest song since 1978 — a totally debatable choice, but inarguable that it’s up there — but everything else about this list is bad. To put it succinctly, any list of music which places Britney Spears’ “… Baby One More Time” above “Born in the USA,” “Brass in Pocket,” and “Beat It” is a list whose creators must be rounded up for the good of society and placed in cages surrounded by rotted produce which all right-minded persons could fling at them.

Other major errors:

* Guns “n’ Roses “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at #3 — Totally wrong G’n’R song. Replace with (duh) “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Paradise City,” neither of which is in the Top 100.

* Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” at #8. Aside from the fact that the song dates to 1974 (written by Dolly Parton, don’t you know), in neither this nor any other world should it outrank Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” by 11 places.

* The presence of any of the following artists: Celine Dion, Britney Spears, Shania Twain, Meat Loaf, Backstreet Boys.

* Poor song selection for the following artists: Def Leppard (“Photograph” rather than “Rock of Ages” or “Pour Some Sugar on Me”), Janet Jackson (“Nasty” instead of “Miss You Much”), Aerosmith (“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” rather than any three tracks off of “Pump”), John Mellencamp (“Jack and Diane” rather than “Pink Houses”), Hall & Oates (“I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” rather than “Maneater”)

* Low chart rankings for Devo, Oasis, Metallica, Radiohead, The Ramones, LL Cool J, Chic, and Marvin Gaye; dumbfoundingly high chart rankings for TLC, No Doubt, Cyndi Lauper.

* The absence of the following songs: “Let’s Dance,” “The Boys of Summer,” “Come on Eileen” and/or “Walking on Sunshine,” “Bizarre Love Triangle,” “Sledgehammer,” “Jungle Love,” “Been Caught Stealing,” “There She Goes” (the version from The Las), “Groove is in the Heart,” “A Million Miles Away,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Save it For Later,” “Today,” “Head Like a Hole,” “How Soon is Now” — for starters.

Anyway, at the very least, the sequencing on this list sucks. Allow me to rearrange the top 20 songs, using only songs from the current list. These top 20 songs are in no particular order:

Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
U2, “One”
Public Enemy, “Fight the Power”
Prince, “Little Red Corvette”
Grandmaster Flash, “The Message”
Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.”
Pearl Jam, “Jeremy”
Peter Gabriel, “In Your Eyes”
The Clash, “London Calling”
Michael Jackson, “Beat It”
Marvin Gaye, “Sexual Healing”
Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime”
Pretenders, “Brass in Pocket”
R.E.M., “Losing My Religion”
Culture Club, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”
Eurythmics, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”
Metallica, “Enter Sandman”
Nine Inch Nails, “Closer”
Madonna, “Ray of Light”
Journey, “Don’t Stop Believin”’

Yes, that last one made the VH-1 list (#49). Yes, I know it’s a credibility-destroying choice. Bite me. We all have our weaknesses. Be that as it may, this Top 20 beats VH-1’s by a considerable margin.


49 Comments on “Death to VH-1! Death!”

  1. How did ‘Photograph’ get 9 spots higher than ‘Living On A Prayer?’

    (Hey, if you can defend Journey, I can bicker about where Bon Jovi ended up on the list.)

    And Springsteen since 1978 would also cover ‘The River,’ meaning ‘Hungry Heart’ should probably be on there.

    And if we’re going to pick a Prince song it should be ‘Purple Rain,’ surely not ‘Little Red Corvetter.’

    And where’s ‘Modern Love’ or ‘She’s A Beauty?’

  2. Good Lord! Hanson made the list with that god awful MMMBop. Gather the pitchforks and light the torches. The monster must be destroyed!

  3. Actually, I’d defend the choice of MMMbop for its catchiness and ushering in of the new era of pop.

    And no, I can’t believe I said that either.

    I’m sorry, but a list of the top 100 greatest songs of the past 25 years should not have more than one entry from ANY artist–much less Eminem, for the love of god.

    I will give them props for including “When Doves Cry” in the top 10 though.


  4. Nah, I’d give MMMbop a pass, for the following reasons:

    1) It’s the best Jackson 5 song in the last 30 years,

    2) They wrote it themselves (with help, sure, but even so).

  5. No “Love Shack”?!? It’s *clearly* top 100, and I’d say it compares favorably to any of the top 20, too…

  6. I think these sorts of lists are pretty pointless. They are largely exercises in marketing — in this case, VH-1 wanted to draw some viewers to their weekend countdown show — and are entirely based on either a consensus vote or one person’s opinion. Regardless of how the results are achieved, those results will inevitably displease someone, if not everyone. Just as John expects to get flak for including Journey on his list (a wise choice, I think, but that’s just me personally), any choice on any kind of Top 100 list is going to be an invitation for someone else to say “that sucks, you should substitute X.” It’s all a matter of taste. I wouldn’t include Britney on this list but then I wouldn’t include Nirvana either. I don’t find either of them appealing or significant to me personally. You can make an intellectual argument supporting any artist’s inclusion on a list or about their impact on society, but the bottom line is, if I don’t like ’em, I ain’t listening to ’em.

  7. Not only is this list just an exercise in marketing, it’s also a successful one, at that. In the original post itself, you mentioned VH-1 no less than 5 times. Sure, their list sucks. Their job was to craft a list that was a commercial success. To do that, they had to leave of some of the less-mainstream songs. Just one more side-effect of the increasing corporatization of our culture.

  8. And with two of his own songs and two he wrote for others in the top 25, Prince seems to be king of the era, no?

  9. Mmmmm….Peter Gabriel…you know he’s touring now, yes?

    I know everyone got all worked up about the version of In Your Eyes that “Say Anything” made so popular, but seriously? the live version on Secret World Live is a bazillion times more stirring.

  10. I’ll say my favorite song of all time is ‘Unchained Melody’, but I have to ask why you really wanted Meat Loaf off the list?

    I know he can have kind of a weak voice, but something like ‘Bat out of Hell’ just really gets my motor running.

  11. I’m with Tripp – How can you not love “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights?”

  12. The fact that Elvis Costello fails to appear on the list even once is sufficient reason to set fire to those who compiled it. I’m less surprised by the absence of Kate Bush, though I’d argue for her inclusion. Supertramp? B-52’s? Dire Straits? There’s any number of artists who could reach into their catalog at random and have a 50% chance of pulling out something better than a number of items on this list.

    Cleansing by fire, I say.

  13. Of course I mentioned VH-1 By name. I wanted people to be able to clearly identify the root of this particular evil.

    Clearly, lists like this are marketing exercises. But that doesn’t mean they should go unchalleneged. Otherwise humans from the far future will believe that all of us thought Britney Spears outranked Bruce Springsteen or Chrissy Hynde. And they would wonder what the hell was wrong with the lot of us.

  14. My only question for you John is this:

    How on earth did you muster up the ability to sit through *any* VH-1 show that counted down 100 of *anything*???

    I once tried to force myself through one of their Top 100 lists, and after about an hour and a half I began to cry, realizing all too late that I would never be able to recoup the hour and a half worth of lost life.

  15. Bowler asks:

    “How on earth did you muster up the ability to sit through *any* VH-1 show that counted down 100 of *anything*???”

    No, no. I just read the list. I gave up on VH-1 quite a while ago, although I do enjoy the VH-1 Classic channel for its fundamental cheesiness.

    Bill: Elvis Costello. Of course! Silly of me to miss him. Not to mention the Pogues.

    Regarding Mr. Loaf: I’m just not at all a fan of Jim Steinman bombastic rock (Jim Steinman being the writer of all of Mr. Loaf’s big hits).

  16. John, your comments on “Mr. Loaf” — which really made me smile, incidentally — pretty much sum up my point. One man’s greatest is another man’s “eh, not so great.” Of course, these Top 100 lists do serve one important purpose: they spark (hopefully) interesting conversations and debates, and that’s always a good thing. Or at least a fun thing.

  17. At least you know who Jim Steinman is!

    Personally I’m a big Steinman fan but, for some reason, I think placing ‘Paradise’ on the list seems odd. I don’t know why. I think going back to 1978 was a strange choice as you get these random late 70’s rock tunes (‘Paradise,’ and ‘Surrender’ for example) lumped in with all the somewhat more cohesive 80’s and 90’s pop songs.

  18. Yeah, they just wanted to give a shoutout to the early 40somethings, I suppose.

  19. Lists that are based on “The Best X in the Past X Years” are always skewed for not only the reasons above, but also it’s similar to forecasting weather. I’ve never known of one of these list-makers to go back and correct themselves. For instance, “Yeah, that Top Ten of All Time list we put out fifteen years ago…it shouldn’t have had New Kids on the Block listed. Sorry about that. Won’t happen again. Here’s our newest list, though, and debuting at #1 is (insert random pop-star of the week).” Just like I’ve never heard a weatherman come out and say, “Sorry, I told all you beach-goers that it was going to be sunny all day yesterday.”

    They should do lists in the format of, “The Best Songs from 1970-1995,” so that the songs are somewhat entrenched in people’s minds and not just sketched onto the surface from constant radio play over the past couple weeks.

  20. Less R.E.M? Philistine! (Though I’ve not heard of Devo; perhaps they’re so good they warp ones mind and turn one against otherwise brilliant bands…)

    I’m not sure I’d include Nine Inch Nails in *any* listing of pop songs; they seem somewhat antithetical to pop somehow. And, purely in the “personal taste” category, I don’t get why so many people like “In Your Eyes” — it’s the only Peter Gabriel song I can’t stand (I even put up with “Games Without Frontiers”, FFS, just because it was Peter Gabriel!)

    You’re right about many non-included bands/songs: New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle”, pretty much anything by David Bowie (I’d stick “Modern Love” ahead of “Let’s Dance”, not because it’s better (it’s not), but because it’s more pop), and yes, “Come on Eileen” and “Walking on Sunshine”, while annoying in the way that reminds me (perhaps unfairly) of the Worst Pop Song Ever Written[0], were *huge* pop songs.

    [0] “We Built This City”. Just the inane lyrics, aggressively chanted to strong music.

  21. “We Built This City” is in fact the ANTI-Song, the song which, when it comes in contact with other songs, causes both to erupt in a white-hot flash of cosmic annihilation.

  22. The moment I see a “Best of…”, whatever network/magazine/person doing the ranking automatically loses credibility with me. TV Guide always screws up it’s list of best TV shows and stars, Entertainment Weekly always screws up their music and DVD lists, and now VH-1 comes up with this.

    First off, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re factoring in a song’s popularity/how well it’s known. Because if it’s just pure song value, then only a small hanful of these songs would make such a list. But even as a Top 100 under their own guidelines, it’s pretty weak. “Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing?” As a guy from Boston, let me say that every other Aerosmith song is better than that thing (not to mention it’s from one of the worst flicks of the past 25 years). Madonna has better songs than “Like A Virgin,” though it’s hard to argue that song wasn’t important, to her and to the 80s. “Jump” by Van Halen? Egads. Good to see Cyndi Lauper up there, though as much as I love “Time After Time,” “Girls Just Wanna…” was a bigger hit and more influential. As for Dr. Dre, Naughty By Nature, and No Doubt being in the Top 100, well, that just shows how out of touch I must be. This list needs more Police! More REM! Marshall Crenshaw!

    Though John I’ll have to say do like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” better than the other GNR. For that groove and tasty guitar solo. (As for “MMMBop”…that’s a fine song, actually).

  23. My first cassette tape ever was the Starship album with “We built This City” on it. This could explain a lot of my ongoing neuroses.

    I still continue to be mystified that the same band that brought you “Somebody to Love” could come out with that. Of course, ive never really understood the progression from Airplane to Starship, so there you go.

  24. Since we’re up to True Confessions About Bad GNR Songs, I’ve always had a soft spot for “November Rain”.

    (ow! hey! you’re meant to throw *rotten* fruit!)

  25. Agreed, the list is crap. I spent way* too much time rearranging them in my head and adding others. I’m a youngin’ compared to most and I practically spit up my fruit roll-up and pop rocks when I saw eminem on the list. The very thought of trying to rank these songs is rediculous. Oddly, the Def Leppard song selection might be the most baffling thing on there to me. The obvious of Pour Some Sugar on Me aside, what of Rocket, my friends…what of Rocket?

  26. I have to immediately doubt any list of something that claims to have the “best” of something if Brittney Spears is on it.

    I’ve watched a couple of VH-1’s top 100 things, mostly for the cheese factor. Ehh. They’re always going to be the source of contention. So was A&E’s list of the most influential people of the millenium, though I think they did a much better job with their top 10 than VH-1 will ever do.

    And I positively hate Hall & Oates, so I’d never put them on a list. That leaves more room for good songs, like “Turning Japanese” or anything by Blondie or REM.

  27. Errata:

    For U2, “One” substitute U2, “Pride” or “New Year’s Day”

    For Prince, “Little Red Corvette” substitute Prince, “1999,” “Baby I’m A Star/I Would Die For You” or “It’s Gonna Be A Beautiful Night”

    For Grandmaster Flash, “The Message,” substitute Grandmaster Flash, “White Lines (Don’t Do It)”

    For Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.” substitute Bruce Springsteen, “Hungry Heart,” “Pink Cadillac,” “Glory Days,” or even “Dancing in the Dark”

    For The Clash, “London Calling” substitute The Clash, “Train In Vain” or “Rock The Casbah”

    For Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime” substitute Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime” or “Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place)”

    For R.E.M., “Losing My Religion” substitute R.E.M., “Fall On Me,” “Superman” or “End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”

    For Madonna, “Ray Of Light” substitute Madonna, “Into The Groove,” and then slap yourself for having made the mistake in the first place

  28. That’s What They Call Music?!

    VH1 has come in for a pummeling from readers at the Gothamist and Whatever, thanks to the network’s botched attempt to rank the top hundred songs of the last 25 years. All you need to know is that TLC came…

  29. The list should actually be called “The 100 Most Currently Popular Songs from the last 25 Years”.

    I can excuse some of the low-quality-yet-catchy choices like Meatloaf on the basis that even if Meatloaf is not producing high art, at least he has shown staying power. What I don’t get is the inclusion of choices like Britney Spears, Enema, and No Doubt. Ten years from now will we even remember these bands? I would give them about even odds.

    Hanson is the real clincher though. This is more a best-seller list than a best songs list.

  30. There’s no comparing “Walking on Sunshine” or “Come On Eileen” to the execrescence that is “We Built This Piece-of-Crap Song.” No comparing at all.

    Totally agreed with those who’ve noticed that the absence of Costello makes this list essentially worthless. Even if they went the easy route and chose “Everyday I Write the Book,” they had to acknowledge his greatness. Britney Spears makes it and EC doesn’t? That’s just wrong.

    I agree on “Naive Melody.” Just a lovely, lovely song.

    And this is probably not one for this list, but I was disappointed that VH1’s recent one-hit-wonders list didn’t include “I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz. I have a real soft spot for that one.

  31. “Less R.E.M? Philistine! (Though I’ve not heard of Devo; perhaps they’re so good they warp ones mind and turn one against otherwise brilliant bands…)”

    Actually, I was exposed to (and learned to loathe) R.E.M. long before I found Devo.

    Devo does warp minds; I am proof. But if R.E.M. is a brilliant band, it’s no wonder Britney Spears is appearing in pop-100 lists.

  32. Okay, regarding G’N’R. I can’t agree that “Sweet Child of Mine” is the correct choice. After all, it’s a refurbished Neil Diamond song (Sweet Caroline). Not that refurbished songs can’t be appropriate, it’s just that I can’t believe that a Neil Diamond song is the quintessential GNR.

    Unrelated, but true: London Calling is a fine song, to understate, it’s far better than Rock the Casbah. I personally would go with This Is Radio Clash though.

    Also Unrelated: The absence of Tupac and Massive Attack are traumatic.
    Possibly “Keep yah Head Up” and “KarmaComa” would help. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure quite where the line for “Pop” is drawn. But if the Notorious B.I.G. counts, then ‘Pac is close enough.
    No NWA either. Hmph.

    Even filtering for VH1, I have to complain about the lack of Massive Attack.

  33. Back in late 1999 radio stations were doing “best 100 songs of the millenium”, which I thought was funny because they were invariably from the last 35 years. I mean, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a great song, but y’know Bach did some pretty good stuff last millenium, too.

    And for Clash songs, I personally would have picked Rudie Can’t Fail, but I don’t actually expect anyone to agree with me. Mmmm.. I think I’m gonna go listen to that now.

  34. First off – ” (Jim Steinman being the writer of all of Mr. Loaf’s big hits).”

    Are you telling me all singers don’t write their own tunes?

    And then – referring to Mr Loaf as “low-quality-yet-catchy”, well, well, I’m pretty good at holding my temper during a political arguement, but this is really taking the cake.

    Next thing you know someone will be making an argument FOR Sondheim’s pretentious “Out of the Closet” or whatever the heck that impossible-to-sing-musical was called which was performed, poorly, by-every-overly-ambitious-cummunity-theatre-in-America in the 1980s!

    I mean, really!

  35. Why don’t y’all admit that I’m right and you’re wrong. This thread will be so much quicker to read.

    First, I will admit that leaving EC out has to be due to them at VH-1 smoking lumps of chalk dust instead their usual crack. Even if you don’t like his rabble rousers like “Radio, Radio” and “Oliver’s Army,” he wrote a number of tunes that Linda Ronstadt and others covered.

    But the “Bat Out of Hell” album, in addition to selling jillions of copies, encapsulated the pathetic dreams of your typical 13-year-old hormonally challenged preteen of that era. Utterly cool in so many ways; it’s the musical equivalent of “Silence of the Lambs,” which was yer basic slasher flick with an A-list cast. Meat was in the best voice of his career, matched and backed up by Ellen Foley, and Todd Rungren’s “motorcycle guitar” on the title song (said guitar, to my feverish imagination should have looked like something with gears inside and sending off sparks and smoke, sort of like a Great White concert.)

    And no manly-man singer would have had the guts to sing through to the end of “Dashboard,” when the heroes gets hoisted by his gonads and trapped in marriage (which is also how a 13-year-old would look at it). Can you imagine Rod Stewart singing it? Mick Jagger? As we say down South: sheeee-it, no.

    So admit it, your all wrong.

    Next time, I’ll defend Eminem as the reincarnation of Poe (check out “Bonnie and Clyde” sung by Tori Amos). Seriously.

  36. Everyone jumps on the anti-song and MMM-Puke!, but no one jumps on Culture Crap? God, now I have the damn refrain from “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” stuck in my head, and all I can think is, “yes, Yes, YES!” Now I have to go have my frontal lobes sterilized with a gigawatt laser before I go completely insane.

    As far as Madonna goes, how about “Material Girl” instead of “Ray of Light”?

  37. Mmm, no. That bit in “Material Girl” when all the impossibly deep-voiced men jump in with that creepy “living. in-a-material. world.” just freaks me out every time…

  38. Hi–this is my first-ever post here. It could have been induced only by a thread about a music poll!

    Duran Duran made it? I’m glad, but ‘Planet Earth’ and ‘Ordinary World’ both leave ‘HLTW’ in the dust.

    Oasis? Great, but ‘Live Forever’ should have made it, not ‘Wonderwall’.

    This is all pointless, though–any ‘best of’ list that omits Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ (a 20th century standard courtesy of Mr. Neil Finn) isn’t worth taking seriously in the first place.

  39. Mark: You’ve almost certainly heard Devo. At least “Whip It!”. And I say, Devo yes!

    But I also say R.E.M. yes, although certainly just about any track from any of their first four albums would be better than “Losing My Religion.”

  40. Bill: yes, of course! How silly of me. And whip it good!

    I’ve even watched the music video. My psychologist tells me I’m recovering nicely…

    As for REM, I quite like “Losing My Religion”, although to be honest I’m not sure *why*.

    (Say, why hasn’t anyone mentioned support for the Violent Femmes?)

  41. JPB writes:

    “This is all pointless, though–any ‘best of’ list that omits Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ (a 20th century standard courtesy of Mr. Neil Finn) isn’t worth taking seriously in the first place.”

    Hear hear! Neil Finn is indeed perhaps rock music’s most criminally underappreciated master song craftsman. He *is* capable of writing a bad song (“Chocolate Cake”), but they are so few and far between that they’re almost like statistical outliers.

  42. I think the less obvious but more incorrect choices are the ones from people who used to be good but did nothing good in the last 25 years. I love Eric Clapton, but Eminen’s Lose Yourself is a better song than Tears in Heaven. John Lennon’s Starting Over is just embarrasing. And then there are some marginal ones like Start Me Up. I think the list was about marketing, yes. But specifically it was about target marketing. That’s why there is music for old people (Journey), music for young people (Hanson), music for black people (Public Enemy) and music for dumb people (Britney). But they didn’t get any of the target markets quite right. Especially hip-hop. Every rapper on the list wishes they wrote Fuck tha police (except Dr. Dre, who did write it).

    Radiohead only at 84. Argh! And make it anything from OK Computer instead of Creep. No Pixies!? How about Sublime? And someone said Prince had two plus wrote two more in the top 25. Nothing Compares 2 U is one. What’s the other?

    Lastly, speaking of lists, I’m always amused by the IMDB top 250. With Shawshank Redemption as the second and Fellowship of the Ring as the fourth greatest film of all time, it’s amusingly biased toward the very recent.

  43. In best Mr. Garrison voice: “Holy poop on a stick!” My first-ever post here gets a follow-up from Mr. Scalzi himself? Who NEEDS to win the lottery, I say!

    I’m happier, though, that yet someone else appreciates N. Finn. Don’t even get me started re: the health of an industry that prizes utter bilge like Twitney Sneers yet can’t/won’t even effectively market Neil’s most recent CD, ‘One All’ (go buy it, y’all–you WON’T regret it. And if he comes to your town, go see him and thank me later).

    As for ‘Chocolate Cake’, I seem to be one of the ‘statistical outliers’ who actually liked that song (not one of CH’s best, of course), but credit/blame for that one must be shared with Tim (Neil’s older bro) who co-wrote it. BTW, Neil and Tim are going to work on a second Finn Brothers CD as we speak, according to his website, to be produced by Tony Visconti (yes–THAT Tony Visconti).

    Sounds like you and I could talk for a good long while about music, Mr Scalzi! (And I have a sneaky liking for ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, as well…)

  44. Henry,

    [QUOTE:Radiohead only at 84. Argh! And make it anything from OK Computer instead of Creep.:QUOTE]

    I’d stick “Paranoid Android” or “You And Whose Army” ahead of “Creep” any day of the week; but I think VH1 were going for pop value. Okay, so my choices are probably too popish for the average Radiohead fan too, what can I say, I’m not really a fan, I just know and love a few of their songs.

    Oh yeah, “Shawshank Redemption” and “Fellowship” are both *excellent* films. SR maybe even worth a top-25 spot (“Fellowship” was a wonderfull film, but, dunno, it just doesn’t seem right somehow… I guess that could be part of the reason for the anti-SF bias in many of these lists?), albeit definitely not number 2.

  45. SO MUCH MISSING!!!! That list is sick. Just plain sick!

    I mean they didn’t even credit Aerosmith with any part of “walk this way”

    I mean you might as well put Weird Al at number one!