Bland on Blonde: why the old rock music canon is finished

The 1970s brought about the idea that rock was important – and needed a canon of greatest albums to match. But in a digital age, is definitive musical excellence a ridiculous notion?

Rock’s flight into seriousness in the 1970s had many ill effects. There was prog rock, jamming, not releasing singles – and the idea that the couple of decades since Elvis had produced enough music of sufficient worth to produce a canon. In 1974, like a university English department sending out a reading list to undergraduates, NME polled its writers and published its list of the top 100 albums of all time. The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was No 1, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde was No 2, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was No 3 – you could imagine just such a top three being published today.

A few period pieces aside – it’s a long time since Spirit, Frank Zappa, Johnny Winter, Joe Cocker or Country Joe and the Fish featured in a generalist greatest albums list – it set a template for the pop canon that has remained largely untouched for more than 40 years, by adhering to certain rules.

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