ROLLING STONE: ‘F*CK IT, LET’S NOT NAME WHAT’S GOING ON THE GREATEST ALBUM EVER’ Editors Choose Mediocre Television Lp For Top Spot Just To Piss People Off
(New York) — The latest Rolling Stone “100 Greatest Albums” poll was set to feature Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic What’s Going On in pole position, but a last-minute, arbitrary change-of-heart lead editors to instead select Adventure, the disappointing sophomore release from New York new wave band Television, just to annoy its readership.
Saying that list issues were “basically a bullsh*t way to pad out a magazine anyway”, Rolling Stone‘s editor-in-chief, Jann Wenner recalled, “We were like, ‘F*ck it. What’s Going On always get picked, let’s choose something random and really piss people off.”
And yet, in order to fulfil the promise of the wilful, infuriating decision, the music bi-weekly couldn’t simply substitute Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, Horses or any other record in the accepted canon, never mind inevitable muso favorites like Sister Lovers or Liege & Lief. But nor did the editors wish to settle on an obvious stinker and tip their hand.
Said Senior Editor Ben Fong-Torres, “Once we decided against a properly good ‘classic rock’ album, I was up for nominating Under Wraps [by Shaun Cassidy] or maybe Milli Vanilli’s The Remix Album or, indeed, anything by Billy Joel as the best ever record but I was persuaded that choosing such utter crap would be too obvious.”
Rolling Stone staff then wondered about selecting a poor record by a well-regarded group. They were spoiled for choice: Islands by The Band, The Beach Boys Love You, Down In the Groove by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work, Tin Machine II, the post-Lou Reed Velvet Underground album Squeeze, etc., etc. “Yeah, that list goes on and on and on,” said Wenner, shaking his head. “But there again, it felt like we were trying too hard and it’d backfire.”
Eventually, writers and editors alike felt that a mediocre record by a relatively (but not too) obscure or critically lauded cult artist would suit best as it might confound readers into thinking that perhaps they’d misjudged the given Lp. “When [editor] Jenny [Eliscu] used the word ‘mediocre’,” beamed Fong-Torres, “we knew the way forward.” The short list of middling albums included the Byrds’ Byrdmaniax, Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets, Pointing And Shouting by Mott the Hoople, Give ‘Em Enough Rope by The Clash, The Envoy by Warren Zevon, the Replacements’ All Shook Down and Talking Heads’ Naked. “I’m sure these records have their supporters, but no-one should confuse them with a top 100 greatest, yet alone number one best album ever,” explained Wenner. “Still, we thought there would be just enough doubt in people’s minds to think that maybe they did belong there.”
The ultimate choice of a weak 1978 Television album was seen by Wenner as a masterstroke. “Perfect choice–many music fans have heard of the band, but never actually heard them. And even if they have, chances are they’ve only heard Marquee Moon and could be fooled into thinking Adventure‘s brilliant.”
“Wait till they get it home!” he laughed. “It really is a pale imitation of the debut.”
Wenner said he hopes Rolling Stone‘s next issue, featuring the Top 100 Prog Rock Bassists of All-Time, will stimulate as much debate.
Editor’s note: Obviously, not a vinyl edition of WGO, but I was so stoked about this £1 Cancer Research find that I decided to post anyway. I haven’t broken the rules for a while and the tree of democracy must be nourished with the blood of tyrants periodically. Prior to this purchase, believe or don’t, I only had a really shitty looking What’s Going On/Let’s Get It On CD two-fer.