Written by 7:00 am Audiophile, Audiophile Music

The Fallacy of Best of Lists

Paul Wilson wonders if best of lists are all they’re cracked up to be…


AR-Bestof450.jpgCall it a homework assignment. Call it an experiment. Call it whatever you like. What I would ask is for each reader to compile a list of the ten greatest guitarists in rock and roll history. Or the ten best drummers. Or singers. Or ten best songs. The substance of these lists is irrelevant. All that is required are the ten best of something in high performance audio and / or music. Then ask a friend to do the same. Compare lists and see how closely they match. 

I was recently, and admittedly wasting time scanning the Internet for, well, nothing at all. I spotted something that immediately drew my attention – a list of twenty-five one hit wonders.

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Despite my earnest conviction this was nothing more than an exercise to bombard me with advertisements, which it absolutely was, I was curious and took the plunge. 

Starting at number twenty-five was the song “San Francisco” written by John Phillips and sung by Scott McKenzie. Immediately I was singing the refrain in my head – “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” Frankly, I didn’t even realize it was a one hit wonder. 

I was also surprised to see the song by Tommy Tutone – “867-5309 /Jenny.” When this song was popular, rumor was, the phone number was written on a public bathroom wall in Gastonia, NC, and only thirty minutes away from my home in Charlotte. However, the song’s authors, Alex Call and Jim Keller, have differing opinions.

AR-TommyTutoneJenny225.jpgAccording to Keller, Jenny was a real girl whose name was indeed found on a bathroom wall. Keller purportedly, on a dare, called her and the two actually dated for a short time. According to coauthor Call, he made up the number and music in his backyard one afternoon. Perhaps this is an enduring mystery? Then again, maybe today it doesn’t quite rise to that level. 

A list of the best of something is much like a political or religious discussion. For every opinion on one stance there are equal numbers in opposition.

I have little doubt there are many who even disagree with the number one, one hit wonder on the list I found – “Macarena” by Los Del Rio released in 1995.

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Oddly enough I enjoyed the song – and why not, the lyrics and melody were catchy and the song’s immense popularity sort of drew you in. I did not, absolutely not, ever bother to learn the ridiculous dance. I do have a line in the sand I won’t cross. 

Best of lists are most often centered around music. I do not typically see such assessments of audio components. Imagine the disagreement if someone, anyone, were to publish a list of the twenty-five greatest high performance speakers of all time? Or amps? Or any audio component? I cannot even imagine the acerbic disputes that would incite. 

AR-JohnBonham225.jpgAnother issue are the standards by which these lists are created – sales, popularity, positive reviews, or by some other metric. As it applies to music, sales might be a logical barometer. However, the list I saw was not based on sales, or a time frame, rather, it was based on only one hit song for the artist. Other compilations are not so transparent. 

This is, perhaps, one of the principal fallacies of a best of list in our little hobby. There will never be unilateral or even marginal agreement as to what comprises the list, what ever it might be. If I were to release a list of the best rock drummers and proclaim Keith Moon at the number one spot, there would be a chorus of declarations for any number of notable drummers, like John Bonham, for instance. Or the dozen or so others with a rightful claim to being considered the “best of all time.” 

AR-KeithMoon225.jpgTherein lies another issue with best of lists. They are always in the past. “San Francisco” was released in 1967. That was fifty-three years ago. It is long ago enough that many who might read the list were not born when it came out. It is also a legitimate question that something popular in the here and now does not have the relevant longevity to be considered a best of anything. Does that therefore imply age and longevity are required for notoriety? How can a song released two weeks ago possess a higher best of ranking than a fifty-three-year-old song? 

Despite all the hyperbole, despite all common the disagreements surrounding the question of who or what is and who or what should not be, these lists are, at their base, certainly entertaining.

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They are only really relevant to whoever created the list. While reading the one hit wonder list, and actually finding a half dozen or more entries under the same umbrella, I found it mildly entertaining to see others ideas – regardless if I agreed with their assessments or not. 

I will, almost certainly, continue to read these lists, probably disagree with them to some point, and endure all the voluminous advertisements along for the ride. Whether I accept or fully dispute the findings in any of these compilations remains to be seen. However, I can be secure in one thing. I won’t be bouncing around my home doing the Macarena. Some things remain sacrosanct. 

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