What I learnt from the Rolling Stone Challenge – Part 1

Now that the Rolling Stone Challenge is well and truly in my rear-view mirror, I figured it’s about time I looked back and took stock of what this two year exercise in pointlessness taught me. I kind of have to do this, for my own sanity, because if I can’t draw any half-arsed conclusions about the whole endeavour then the whole thing was a bit of a waste of time, and I listened to Bono for nothing. So, without further ado, here are my Top 10 things I learnt by listening to 500 albums on a two year long whim.

1. I am an idiot

This should come as no surprise. I have no idea where this compulsion to try and consume every single piece of music comes from, but I suspect I’m not alone in it. When I first started becoming a music geek, I used to genuinely worry about all the great music I couldn’t hear. Now that we’re in the time of easy music access, that old fear leads me to do stupid things, such as this. When I first started I genuinely thought it would take me ‘a few months’ to crack through the list, rather than the two years the whole thing actually took. There were times when it felt like wading through burning treacle, but, on balance, I discovered so much stuff I didn’t know, and expanded my musical vocabulary to such an extent that I think it was all worthwhile. I think.

That’s not the only reason I’m an idiot. I sat and belched 500 nuggets of half-baked opinions on art that obviously means a great deal to a lot of people, condemning or adoring based on nothing more than my own peculiar tastes. I frequently insinuated that anyone who would challenge my opinions is somehow beneath me. This is, of course, the default position of most hard-core nerds of any persuasion, and I’m fully aware of how ridiculous it is. There is nothing wrong with liking anything, unless it brings harm to others. End of story. You like The Smiths? Bully for you. You like dipping your genitals in florescent paint and dancing in front of the mirror with the lights off? Okay. Bit weird but go wild. You like U2? You… No. Can’t. Sorry.

But I do at least know how ridiculous that is. All of which is to say this is just my opinion. I genuinely think them, and they are the truth to me, but that doesn’t mean they should be for anyone else. In fact, I’d be worried if they were.

But…yeah. I’m an idiot.

2. Nobody talks about the benefits of streaming

I’ve been an apologist for streaming services for some time now, much to the consternation of my friends who believe that these services are choking the music industry to death. Colour me an ignoramus, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those who say streaming is killing artists, in the same year that music revenues have hit a peak, vinyl is back on sale in the supermarkets, and to my mind, there have been pound-for-pound more decent albums released than at any other point in the last decade.

What nobody really talks about in terms of streaming is just what a colossally brilliant thing it is for the end user. All of a sudden, you have access not just to the record collections of your mum and dad, tapes from your friends and whatever shit happens to be on the radio. No, now you have the whole world, presented in easily collated, often meticulously curated form. Quite simply, before streaming, there was no way to easily attempt this challenge. Well, not legally anyway.

3. You need to define what you’re doing

I’m looking at you here, Rolling Stone Magazine. If I were ever to try to create a list of this type at some point in the undetermined future, I would now have a pretty good idea of how to do it really fucking badly. Whichever badly paid intern was put in charge of collating this list in the bowels of the Rolling Stone Lair was not given enough parameters with which to do so. If it’s supposed to be the list of greatest albums of all time, it should be just that, albums. I believe I may have ranted about this at some length, already. *deep breaths*

4. Maybe don’t just ask a load of middle aged white guys

Even a cursory scan of the full list of 500 albums reveals the myopic lens through which attempts to refract the total history of music. You can practically hear the creaking joints and self-import of its authors as they twirl their greying moustaches and add yet another album by The Rolling Stones to the list. Yes, the importance of the British and American rock scenes of the 1960’s is undeniable, but it isn’t the only fish in the sea. The cursory and almost derisory attention given to Jazz, Hip Hop, Metal and a dozen other scenes means this reads less like a vital list of the greatest albums ever recorded, and more like a boring lecture from your Dad about how much better things were in his day.

5. Some sacred cows wear the emperor’s new clothes, or some other kind of mixed metaphor

If you take The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Springsteen, The Who, and U2 alone, you have 10% of the total list. That’s crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed albums by all of those bands who aren’t U2, but you can’t seriously argue with any credibility that with millions of albums to choose from that this makes any sense. While we’re on the subject, some of these huge bands who have multiple albums on the list just do not hold up any longer. Some things age, badly, and there are some sounds (*cough* the eighties *cough*) which simply sound ridiculous now.

I need to lie down. Join me next time as I try to find some positives to take from this thing.