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5 Questions So We Can Figure Out the Cream of the Crop In Popular Music Genres

Heavy metal, country, hip-hop, punk: let the debates begin.

PJ Lifestyle Pop Culture Debates!


May 25, 2014 - 11:00 am
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In partnership with the new fiction publishing platform Liberty Island, PJ Lifestyle is going to begin promoting and co-hosting a series of debates and discussions about popular culture. The goal is to figure out what works and what doesn’t so that in the future we can promote and create better fiction and culture of our own. These are public brainstorming sessions for writers and culture advocates interested in developing a more vibrant popular culture. You’re invited to submit your answers to any of these questions — or a related one of your own! — that interests you:

A) in the comments

B) Via email to PJ Lifestyle editor Dave Swindle.

C) at your blog, then let us know in the comments or via email. 

The most interesting answers may be linked, crossposted, or published at PJ Lifestyle. 

Also check out the previous weeks’ writing prompts and email in your thoughts on any questions that strike your fancy: 5 Geek Questions To Provoke Debates About the Future of Sci-Fi and Fantasy5 Controversial Questions To Inspire Spirited Debates About Music.

1. Are Black Sabbath and the Rolling Stones Better Than the Beatles?

2. Who Are the Greatest Country Music Artists Everyone Should Have In Their Collection?

3. Who Are the Greatest Female Vocalists Of All Time?

4. What Are the 5 Essential Rap and Hip-Hop Albums?

5. What Are the Most Badass Punk Rock Songs?

What pop culture questions do you want to debate and discuss? Please leave your suggestions for upcoming pop culture debates also in the comments or submit via email.

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All Comments   (12)
All Comments   (12)
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I began listening to Sabbath when I was 12 years old or so, after discovering Ozzy's Blizzard of Oz and Diary of a Madman. I was always interested in the history of music, wanting to know where artists and genres came from...and luckily my older sister had left a collection of Sabbath albums behind when she moved out.

Was Sabbath a great band? Yep...and for a lot longer than most people think. The Dio years were arguably better than the Ozzy years (Dio is certainly a better singer), the album with Ian Gillan is extremely underrated, and Iommi continued to make good music with Tony Martin on vocals and a revolving door of bassists and drummers.

Was Sabbath a progenitor of heavy metal music? Yes. You can talk about Hendrix or Zeppelin, but Hendrix smacks of hippie peace and love (and that's not exactly metal), and the members of Zeppelin (Plant especially) seem embarrassed by the label - but Sabbath accepts it and is proud of the bands who proclaim them a big influence. To many, Sabbath IS heavy metal. Lots of bands follows, but few actually create a genre, almost out of whole cloth.

Better than the Beatles or Stones? Err...probably not. The Beatles brought a wider variety of influences into rock than Sabbath. Sgt Pepper alone proves that. They were far more diverse, and while songs like "Iron Man" and "Paranoid" remain popular, Sabbath never made as huge an imprint on the landscape of popular music with such a wide variety of songs as did the Beatles.

As for the Stones, I wouldn't say they have an edge over Sabbath as musicians, but they DID manage to maintain a high level of success and popularity for a longer period of time than Sabbath. If they sunk to the depths of Never Say Die or Technical Ecstasy, I'm unaware of it.

Meh...I'd say the Beatles are superior to Sabbath, but that isn't saying much - they are superior to MOST bands. However, the rest is a "matter of taste" - at least once you get to the giants like Sabbath, Zeppelin, the Who, Deep Purple, the Stones, etc - a matter of degrees that boils down to personal preference and opinion. They were all great bands. I might like one more than the other, and someone else might swear by someone else.

And I'm fine with that.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Music is way too subjective and can't be put into a box. I remember living in Berlin, Germany in the '80's and African pop music was the big rage. Youssou N"Dour was popular and his music was good. Kronos Quartet brought out a cd called "Pieces of Africa" that made waves. And time moves on. In the '90's, Berlin produced groups like Jingo de Lunch, a fine punk band. America is not the know all, be all of the music world.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Absolutely so.

I had a passing fancy for a time with a similar West German band, "Lem Chaheb/Sahara Electrik."
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
You can't figure out the cream of the crop - it's a question of taste. Dinah Washington could be the greatest jazz singer who ever lived and someone can say, no, Fitzgerald and someone else say I hate them both. People are going to like what they like because it moves them, not cuz someone tells them.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Everybody's taste isn't equal. And sometimes if people explain why and how to appreciate something then it can provide a way to develop a new taste. By arguing over which is better we can improve our tastes.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
To say we can improve our tastes implies some higher standard by which to judge them. I believe very strongly such is the case when speaking of concepts such as truth and ethics, but aesthetics is on much thinner ice.

There simply does not seem to be a higher standard for music than what someone likes vs. what someone doesn't like. Stravinsky famously said, music signifies nothing. It took me years to believe that, but I finally do.

There is stuff that I love. Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade". Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" Symphony. Hindemith's "Symphony Mathis der Maler." Leos Janacek's Slavonic Mass. The singing of Nat King Cole, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Ella Fitzgerald, and Burton Cummings. The Beatles. The Doors. Nelson Riddle. Bill Watrous. Chet Atkins. The London Brass Ensemble. Johnny Cash. Hector Berlioz. Wagner. Sinatra.

And there's stuff I hate: rap, hip-hop, the really cheesy disco-era stuff, old pre-Sixties R&B, all the out-of-tune Motown bands (but I do like the Spinners), the super-twangy country stuff from before Johnny Cash, Baroque-era music (except Bach), Classical-era music (except for Mozart), early Romantic music (except for Schubert), most Impressionistic pieces (except for La Mer), the unlistenable atonalism and intellectual pretension of Schoenberg and the devil's spawn of intellectual crap it left in its wake. Deep into-the-culture bebop jazz a la Miles Davis. Bob Dylan...

But it's hard to come up with a good rule as to why what I like is good and why what I hate is crap. If I could call God on my iPhone, I'd ask Him and we'd settle the discussion. Until then, I don't know the difference between good and bad, but I know what I like.

20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is true that everyone's taste isn't equal, but one has to be careful not to become so enamored of one's own taste so as to become out of touch and the critics at Rolling Stone and the people who run the RRHOF.

21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's true some people are open to arguments about music appreciation, if for no other reason than to be given examples of the cream of the crop. That's especially true if it's a genre unfamiliar to Americans like pop samba. How would you even start to wade through that? Or sometimes you'll say, "This is the best" and some people will at least wonder why someone said that, even if they'd heard that artist and previously never thought of the artist like that.

My vote for the greatest musical artist of her generation, and one of the greatest jazz singers ever, is Amy Winehouse. It's a nuanced and historic argument, so some amount of trust is required to give that idea a shot. The thing is though - if you don't like her, you don't like her. But maybe if one is convinced, they might cultivate an appreciation, knowing the fault doesn't lie with Winehouse.

I will say this: to people in the know, people close to that music and steeped in its history and touring for decades, the massive consensus is that Winehouse was the gold standard - the real thing, and in every sense. She was an innovator, never had a single inauthentic moment on stage, a great technical voice unsurpassed in the industry, was herself steeped in jazz vocal and music history, wrote her own songs and lyrics, and would amaze 60 year old veterans with her knowledge of old and obscure albums.

If you watch her on shows like the European Jools Holland on youtube, the amount of respect she has from all the other musicians is obvious. And she started doing that show at 20, promoting her first album Frank. When Winehouse sings, she is giving you a history lesson, referring to obscure cultural markers the audience may be unaware of.

Winehouse is not senselessly warbling or doing spur of the moment improvisations like Christine Aguilera. Winehouse does improvise - she never sings a song the same way twice - but her improvisations are within a jazz vocal structure well-known to connoisseurs, outside of which she never strays

That woman was smart about musical notation and constructing songs within an historic context - and I mean whip-smart.

If you want to know what gold is, that's gold.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I believe you're *both* right.

Yes, I like what I like. If someone presents me with a piece of music, there's no guarantee I will remotely like it, but I welcome for them to try. And yes, can probably participate in an infinite argument about who is the better (fill in the blank here) in any given genre I like.

On the other hand, there have been times when I've been somewhat musically "set in my ways," and someone has introduced me to something new and unexpected. A moveable feast.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm with Jim M. Workingman's Dead is a masterpiece.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm a bit uncertain here. Is this simply a recap of those 5 articles, or is this a request for more data for each category?
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
Recapping the week's question's, but I'm always up for more great recommendations from you, Allstonian. Thanks for the ideas via email btw. I'll run with those.
21 weeks ago
21 weeks ago Link To Comment
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