Polls, polls, polls: the Brits seem to be into them even more than we are. The Observer has come up with the 100 Greatest British Albums of all time. They have taken this thing seriously, even publishing their methodology here (they list the 100 wankers - "critics, industry figures and pop stars" - who did the voting).
The pretentiously unpretentious intro by Paul Morley is here:
- Lists. Don't you just hate them. And yet, don't you just love them. Hate them because they're all wrong, they're biased, they're fixed, they miss too much out, they're in the wrong order, they're utterly arbitrary, they try to cage musical beasts that should be allowed to run free in our imaginations without the indignity of being branded with numbers. And whatever comes top is usually going to knock you speechless.
You also love them because whatever comes top is going to knock you speechless. And because without them we wouldn't really know where the Gordon Ramsay we were. They're not complete maps of anything, they're the edge of a map that features the entrance to a universe that is so vast and complicated that in the end you have to make your own way through it. The list helps you begin. It's not the Complete Book of Anything, it's like the contents page. It's the start of something, in the ridiculous but necessary disguise of being definitive.
It is the definitive nature of the list that always unnerves me. The idea that the list is stating once and for all, this is it. But lists keep coming, ordering music in specialist sections, in time, in genre, in space, lists that sometimes support previous lists, as if there really is any kind of rock music canon, lists that often undermine previous lists, as if to say rock is always on the move and cannot ever be pinned down. The story is always changing.
Lists in one sense, the boring sense, try and make things safe and organised. Ultimately, in a good sense, they keep breaking things up, they keep reminding us that behind and beyond the obvious, the regulars, the usual suspects, there is more and more to discover. It is in a way what is outside the list, music that is just beginning to make its way into the list, and indeed up the list, as well as the music that is slipping away, that makes them so fascinating. In this list, guaranteed, as the best lists are, to send you bananas, to get you reworking them in your own image, the Clash are joining the Beatles on the saintly stage, Public Image Ltd nibble at the Stones in the bad boy tent. Massive Attack trip past Floyd, Oasis have left Blur for Britdead. Elsewhere Nick Drake, Robert Wyatt, John Martyn and Vashti Bunyan drift in from the outside, inscrutably repre senting all that music yet to be discovered. Richard Thompson, Peter Hammill, Kevin Coyne, Roy Harper ...