Just kidding! No, as many a frustrated country fan would expect, the famed music magazine’s Best of 2008 lists adhere to same unspoken code that seems to have been in effect there for the past few years, whereby any country artists included typically fit one of the following “excusable” models:
- The Un-Ignorable and Somewhat Guilty-Pleasure-ish Commercial Wizard
- The Critically Adored Mainstream Act Who is Ignored or Otherwise Underappreciated by Mainstream Fans
- Lucinda Williams
You can probably guess how the three slots are filled out this year: Taylor Swift’s unapologetic teen pop slides into the first (Carrie Underwood found her way in last year with “Before He Cheats”), Jamey Johnson into the second (which was Miranda Lambert’s last year and the Dixie Chicks’ in 2006), and then there’s that third (which repeats itself from last year).
It’s a bit of a shame to see things so limited, really, since Rolling Stone remains (in my opinion and Blake’s, at least) one of the better sources out there for insightful reviews of just about any other genre. What little the magazine and others like it do say about country is pretty dang influential on public opinion of the genre, too; Chet Flippo got 70’s rock fans into the Outlaw Movement as a Rolling Stone senior editor, and you can bet that the well-studied non-country fan knows who Miranda Lambert is after seeing her name thrown around like a golden, cancer-curing frisbee over the past year-plus.
There is one semi-surprise among the Singles list, at least: Lee Ann Womack has been cited for “Last Call” at a surprisingly decent #52, with the staff even dubbing it an “instant classic.” Aww. Womack admittedly fits the second “model” mentioned above with Johnson, but given that her set didn’t receive nearly as much critical love as his this year, it’s a bit of a pleasant shock to see her represented at all.
Of course, it’s nothing too unexpected from there: Williams’, Johnson’s, and Swift’s latest studio offerings come in at #18, #32, and #39, respectively, on the 50-strong Albums list. Likewise, all three artists appear on the 100-strong Singles list (where “singles” appears to be something of a relative term, since only Williams’ was actually released as such), with Johnson clocking in at #38 with “High Cost of Living” (the sort of song, it should be said, Rolling Stone goes gaga for), Swift at #46 with “Fifteen,” and Williams at #95 with “Real Love.”
I like a lot of songs on their singles list! While browsing I’ve seen “Warwick Avenue”, “So What”, “Bleeding Love”, “Last Call”, “Bust Your Windows”, “Viva La Vide”, “Disturbia”, “Fifteen” “LES Artistes”, and “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” which happens to be my alarm clock right now.
Sorry, there were too many that I liked to put the artist too. xD
Rolling Stone has been out of touch for ages. While it’s horribly biased towards emo and and hip-hop.. Blender is scarily a much better read. That’s not saying much though.
Blender can also be had for $10 or less a year. Good.. uhm… alone time reading when you’re stuck on a.. uhm.. seat for a little while.
Granted Rolling Stone is not the most objective music magazine as it once was in the past (I have issues with it in the way some of my favorites have gotten treated there [Linda Ronstadt, especially).
But with respect to Lucinda Williams, she has always been a favorite with critics and, more importantly, with her peers; and she has also had a really lengthy career without necessarily having huge album sales. And in defense of this supposed “fawning” over Lucinda, who admittedly may not have that great a voice, she does make consistently good, genre-pushing albums year in and year out, so I really have to give her credit.
Oh, don’t get me wrong; I have no beef with Lucinda whatsoever as an artist, and I think most of her continual praise is very well-deserved. I just think it’s sad that mainstream music magazines don’t typically dig any deeper into country than her (and let’s face it; she’s not uber-country, not that that means much today) unless an album has been super hyped, like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or That Lonesome Song, or has sold more than most pop records do, like Swift’s albums. Most of the time, Rolling Stone‘s country reviews are like some kind of tasteless joke (witness: they gave the Chicks’ Home 2 stars and Gary Allan’s Tough All Over 3, while Carnival Ride got 3 1/2).
I agree with you, Marc, that Blender has recently started showing up Rolling Stone in a lot of ways; I certainly prefer Blender‘s articles to Rolling Stone‘s, although I still agree with RS’ reviews more often. I don’t know if I’d agree that they’re biased toward emo and hip-hop, though
I’m not so sure about giving “Single Ladies” the top single spot (the video, on the other hand, is phenomenal), but I agree with Chris D. that there are still some pretty solid inclusions on this year’s lists, the country oversights notwithstanding.
Wow. What a great piece of writing. Your list of ‘excusable’ inclusions of country acts in RS is just brilliance. Brilliance because it’s so dead-on accurate.
Dan, yeah, I agree my assessment of bias towards those two “themes” of music is a bit strong, they do carry more “popular indie” and the like than they do Country. That said, it’s understandable as Country is still seen by outsiders as a smaller genre.
Blender is by no means a world class magazine, as its roots in Maxim show. But Blender has gotten me addicted to some random different music that I wouldn’t have otherwise immediately picked up on, Paramore being one. It’s a guilty embarrassing pleasure, but a pleasure none the less. :)
1.What country records/singles/artists do you think warranted being included on RS’s list?
2. I know you recognized this, but Lucinda’s new record was really, really good.
*RS needed to follow a certain criteria with the “Singles” list. Swift and Johnson were both included for album cuts.
*Like Dan, I consider country music to be a broad entity, and Williams fits in my definition. I love Lucinda Williams, but Honey is not quite up to her standard. However, with its flashes of brilliance, I understand its high placement on the RS list. Her 1998 disc, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road is a masterpiece, and I would suggest Lucinda Williams, Sweet Old World and Essence as well.
*Johnson deserved a higher rating than #32.
*RS is primarily a rock-and-roll publication, and the writers typically come from that perspective, but a publication of that stature should hire writers with specific niches so that all popular music is better represented. With quality of writing and depth of knowledge about the genre, the Nashville Scene has a terrific, although not perfect, poll each year.
RS readers and editors don’t consider country to be a “mainstream” or “popular” format or that i sells them magazines except when someone like Garth, CU or Taylor comes along. They see country fans as primarily dumb ass hicks who wouldn’t read their magazine. So why put anything about country in it other than sarcastic commentary.
@Matt B.: Let me live in my perfect world for a little while! ;)
Thanks so much for that. Writing this kept me up pretty late last night, so I certainly appreciate it!
I don’t want to just tick off the upper end of my personal Year-End list, but I really wish Rattlin’ Bones had been noticed by them, along with some other indie releases by well-regarded country and bluegrass artists. It’s somewhat understandable, given the scope of the material they have to weed through, but they seem to give indies a fair shake in just about every other genre. Johnson’s set and a few others aside, I don’t think it was a great year for the majors. I actually think Swfit put out a very solid pop album, all things considered, but I probably wouldn’t rank it among the top 50 in all genres.
As for singles…again, just wait for my personal Year-End list.
I’m pretty sure I saw Rolling Stone recently call country “the only genre that still sells albums,” so while it may not have a lot of respect for the music itself, it does recognize its commercial viability.
They may have said that about CDs still selling but they’d most certainly think that has to do with country fans being ‘un-hip’ or some stupid reason like that. I’m just commenting on their idiocy and ‘better than everyone’ attitudes.
allmusic.com, a site I use heavily when tagging or researching an artist’s catalog has their best of 2008 as well. I have to say I agree with a bunch of their recommendations:
Los Campesinos!, Jenny Lewis and Robyn amongst others stick out.
As noted in the comments, despite getting rave reviews from them, Rattlin’ Bones didn’t show up on this list. Still waiting on their “Country” list though.
On average, I tend to disagree with Rolling Stone, but that’s a fairly solid top 50. Although not completely country, there are a number of leaning-country acts on that list that haven’t been mentioned (e.g., Mudcrutch, Dylan, Adams, Mellencamp). Some of those albums have definitely gotten extensive play in my car. I’ll also admit that the first half of Dylan’s bootleg double CD may be the best thing I bought this year.
I am happy they ranked Adams so high, even if Cardinology isn’t very country-influenced.
I agree Dan, “Single Ladies” was misplaced at the top, but I can’t really think of what song would be best since I haven’t heard so many songs on the list.
For fun trivia, did you know the “Single Ladies” video was shot all in one take? If they made one mistake, they had to start over, which is mind-boggling to me.