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Another Spin
A blog by Scott E. Shepherd · A continuing look at popular music, past, present and future.


Friday, September 1, 2006

What Makes These “Greats” So Great?

Since I haven't written in a while and I haven't stirred up enough controversy, I thought I'd shake things up by attacking some of rocks most beloved icons, particularly those whom I just don't get. I understand a lot of people love these acts and most have been canonized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I just don't get their appeal. I'm not saying they're not worthy of their status - who am I to argue against the vast majority? I'm just saying their appeal still eludes me.

Let me first defend myself - I grew up in a house with several older brothers who grew up listening to the music of the sixties and seventies. I'm sure their interest in the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other British Invasion bands influenced my taste. I'm not saying I would learn to appreciate these bands on my own, but my brothers' regard for their music certainly gave me a stronger bent to similar bands.

That being said, I'm sure I'll offend my brothers when I say I don't get Neil Young. Not as part of Buffalo Springfield, not as a sometimes member of Crosby, Stills, Nash, not as a solo artist. It took me a long time to appreciate the nasally twang of Bob Dylan, but I just can't handle Young's high-pitched whine. He seems to have a real affinity with the baby-boomer generation, and critics claim CSN just isn't as good without him, but you couldn't prove it by me. Maybe it's a generational thing - you had to be there.

I'm not saying Young can't write good songs - I kind of like "Cinnamon Girl", and it was great how he was able to put out "Ohio" just weeks after KentState. But the vast majority of his singing just sounds like someone whining. Like I said, it took me a long time to warm up to Dylan (although he wrote some great Byrds' tunes), then one day I heard "Highway 61 Revisited," and it just clicked. I'm still waiting for it to click with Young.

Pink Floyd is another band that eludes me. Okay, I kind of understand the post-Syd Barrett stuff - The Wall was huge in junior high and high school, but why is Pipers at the Gates of Dawn so revered? I know Barrett was a key member and his work with the band and subsequent demise into mental influence greatly influenced everything that followed, but some people put Pipers on the same pedestal as Sgt. Pepper, and I just don't see it. Maybe it was another one of those "you had to be there" things - it was revolutionary at the time, but now it just seems quaint.

I was there, for the most part, for Bruce Springsteen. "Born in the " was a huge hit of my adolescence, but I never got into "the Boss." I can't say why his music doesn't appeal to me - there's just something about his voice. "Pink Cadillac," "I'm On Fire," "Dancin' in the Dark," none of it appeals to me. Maybe it's too Jersey or something.

Finally, there's the Grateful Dead. I know this wasn't a "you had to be there" acts, because the Dead stayed pretty much the same up until the demise of Jerry Garcia. Maybe I just never did enough pot to understand the appeal of the Dead. Then again, if most of your followers have to be (or prefer to be) high to enjoy your music, what does that say? I did (and still do) like "Touch of Grey," though it's no surprise considering it was the band's only hit single.

Now I'm not saying any of these acts are bad, nor am I saying they don't deserve their revered status or place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I like at least one song by each artist, and most are good at writing songs (especially when played by others). If you're one of the legions of followers, don't be offended by what I wrote. Even the most popular acts can't appeal to everyone, and anything you write to me won't change my opinion of them.

I'm not even saying I'll never like any of the above - I'm just saying despite their mass appeal, the "magic" still eludes me. But it's okay - I have a very good friend who hates the Beatles, and I'm okay with that, because I know one day she'll realize how wrong she is. In the meantime, I just crank Revolver a little higher and smile.


Posted at 4:25 pm ET