One of my earliest blog posts was about the definition of the word “classic” within the realms of pop culture. I never did answer my own question. More accurately, I never answered it within my article. I am going to rectify that.
At one time or another, I have asked this question to all of my friends. Not only did I not get a consensus, I did not get a single answer. I suppose I am the only one who ever thought about this. Because no else had. Well, at least two other people had. I read one article in Parade magazine back in 1993. If I recall, the author suggested 5 years as his benchmark. But here’s the best part – he did not look back at 1988 artists (5 years prior), he wondered if certain current artists would considered classics five years later (e.g.: in 1998). And one of the acts he mentioned was Hootie and The Blowfish. Pearl Jam – that’s a good guess. I will tell all you Millennials right now: NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT FRICKIN’ MIND IN 1993 EVER THOUGHT HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH WOULD EVER LAST THE TEST OF TIME! (Then again, in 1993, I was in college, and I knew several folks not in their right mind.) The problem with five years is that it is a bit too soon. There is a reason why schools do not hold 5-year reunions. Memories are still too fresh.
The only other answer I ever heard was from a radio DJ. I don’t remember which one. It would be a subject Matt Pinfield or Eddie Trunk would talk about, but it may have been someone else. What I do remember was that this particular DJ placed the benchmark at ten years. Ten is a nice, even, round number. My only qualm is that at the ten-year anniversary, we either put on our collective nostalgia or backlash goggles. We tend to overvalue and undervalue our 10-year-old pop culture.
I am not looking to place the whole past in its proper place here. I am just looking for the creme de la creme. I am looking for the timeless. The immortal. The no-doubters. The Hall of Famers. And while sports Halls of Fame lean towards five years, and nostalgia wanks in the media (newspapers and certain cable channels) prefer ten years, I will split the difference. If you read the title, and know elementary subtraction, then you realized my answer is seven.
For this though exercise, I went to the Billboard Top 100 of 2009 for my list of candidates. To determine which ones deserve the status of “classic” I not only had to pick which ones were still being played by radio stations today, but which ones sound like they could be top the charts today and tomorrow. So there are many candidates that we all remember, and in certain cases still love, but there are not many that instantly recall memories of a particular memory during that calendar year. This is why we do not define The Beatles as “60’s music,” or Led Zeppelin as “70’s music.” But we will always date acts like The Black Eye Peas, Lady Gaga, Flo Rida, Brittney Spears, and Miley Cyrus as “late first decade of the 2000’s” “music.”
Under my admittedly subjective criteria, I nominated ten songs from the Top 100 for the status of “classic”. Three are undeniable locks for immortality; three more I am confident will hold up; and then there are four I am less confident, and may be rescinded three years from now. And here they are… the class of the Class of 2009.
INSTANT HALL OF FAMERS
- “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” by Beyoncé (Billboard rank: #8)
- “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z + Alicia Keys (Billboard rank: #62)
- “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay (Billboard rank: #55)
There is no discussion on these. Spoiler alert: “Empire State of Mind” was also Billboard’s #21 song of 2010, which may explain its low ranking in 2009.
LEVEL UP! STATUS UPGRADED TO CLASSIC
- “Sober” by Pink (Billboard rank: #38)
- “21 Guns” by Green Day (Billboard rank: #78)
- “Green Light” by John Legend Featuring Andre 3000 (Billboard rank: #92)
“Sober” may be upgraded to Immortal status. Nowadays, we only hear the acoustic version, but I enjoy the fast-tempo version better. The fact it works both ways certifies its greatness. “21 Guns” may not be the best song from the album “21st Century Breakdown,” but it is the one that got the most airplay. So I couldn’t consider the other singles. It’s not as popular as their other older classics, like: “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” or “Basket Case.” But do we penalize “Miss You,” “Start Me Up,” or “Waiting on a Friend” by The Rolling Stones because they are not as popular as “Sympathy for the Devil” or “Gimme Shelter”? No, they are all classics. Same goes for Green Day’s discography. In regards to “Green Light,” I feel this song is currently criminally underappreciated, and that future listeners will appreciate it more than we do now.
THE JURY IS IN, BUT STATUS IS ON APPEAL.
- “Use Somebody” by Kings of Leon (Billboard rank: #14)
- “Hot n Cold” by Katy Perry (Billboard rank: #25)
- “Sweet Dreams” by Beyonce (Billboard rank: #66)
- “Disturbia” by Rihanna (Billboard rank: #77)
There is a saying in sports talk radio regarding potential Hall of Famers, “If you are not 100% sure, then the answer is ‘No’.” But this lingering doubt I have is mostly due to these songs are currently in their backlash phase of their life cycle. Except Beyonce. There is a reason she is called “Queen Bey,” and the Queen was at the top of her reign of pop music in 2009. This was also the time before Rihanna started to mail it in, which it seems like she has been doing most of the 2010’s. Finally there is the curious case of Miss Perry. Her songs are still in heavy circulation in the lite-music/variety format radio stations, but she is by far and away the least regarded critically amongst the artists on this list. Her over reliance on auto-tune places her several levels below all the other singers. Every Hall of Fame has their own questionable inductions. And The Rock N Roll HOF is no exception. Yet Katy has an appeal that spans beyond the Millennials. And I have to take that into consideration. She has not been relegated as just another pop idol singer… yet.
Before I go, I feel I must disclose if any of the “I, Omnibus Top Ten Songs of 2009” have reached “Classic” status. Now 2009 might have been the last year I used my entire quota of guilty pleasures songs. It may be the second-to-last-year I listened to top 40 music for extended periods of time. That being said, only 3 of my top ten have withstood the past seven years. One is aforementioned “Sober” by Pink (my #9). The other two are “Ain’t No Rest For the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant, and “Panic Switch” by Silversun Pickups (my numbers 1 and 2, respectively). This is not a humble brag – it’s more of an exception. My music tastes are eclectic, and lean toward the obscure and alternative rather than the mainstream. Even if you consider Classic Alternative a thing, my year-end top ten lists for the past decade have only had 2 or 3 future classics on them.
I will do a Pop Song ’10 Classic post next year. I may or may not go back to look at the years 2006 – 2008.