In Quisterflaang’s Canon, longtime professional rock critic, journalist, and author Peter Quisterflaang reviews the most critically celebrated songs of all time as compiled by aggregator acclaimedmusic.net. Quisterflaang does not make himself open to contact through conventional means but will appear in the comments below to discuss his invaluable contributions to the discourse.
#021: Led Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven (R. California, 1971)
Yes, this is the ultimate classic rock cliché. In some ways, it’s surprising how highly it still ranks on professional rock critics’ best-of lists. You would almost think someone would wake up one morning, full of piss and Pringles, looking to take “Stairway” down a peg or two. Yet, this never happens. Because the truth of the matter is this: professional rock critics so frequently have to write at length about absolute rock-bottom depression music about failed romance1 or absolute rock-bottom depression music about politics and the miserable state of the world today.2 So we keep “Stairway” around because it’s nice to talk about a ridiculous epic rock song with lyrics that are absolute gibberish. There will be plenty of time in this week’s edition to talk about political commentary; for now, however, let us focus on a world where your most pressing concern is a “bustle” in one’s “hedgerow.”
#022: Otis Redding – (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay (S. Cropper/O. Redding, 1967)
This is a wonderful song, and naturally you want to know more about it. However, the facts around its composition and recording are surprisingly muddled. Historians disagree on precisely when this song was written and under what circumstances. There are conflicting details on what days it was actually recorded in the studio. There is even debate on whether the song’s iconic whistling was planned as part of the arrangement from the start or whether it was merely a fortuitous ad-lib caught on tape when Redding forgot the lyric that was supposed to go there.
We cannot ask Otis Redding himself, because he died shortly before it was released. I often wish that this were one of the many facts that we could not verify about this track. It would be nice if some accounts claimed he was killed in a plane crash but others claimed he walked away and today has retired to sunny climes to be able to read all the nice things people say about this song of his, and we all could decide which version of the story we would rather believe.
Sadly, the facts in this one instance are perfectly clear. And what’s worse: he died in Wisconsin. Not the end I’d wish on anyone.
#023: John Lennon – Imagine (J. Lennon/Y. Ono, 1971)
#024: Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five – The Message (C. Chase/E. Fletcher/M. Glover/S. Robinson, 1982)
This track, with its depiction of urban life as a hellscape in which the underprivileged are boxed in on all sides by a cruel and brutal society, charged hip hop with political consciousness and signaled a shift in the genre that brought the emcee front and center. However, did you also know the following true and important facts about this track?
- “Phil Collins […] described […] how ‘The Message’ helped shape the hook of the band’s 1983 hit single “Mama.”
- “In the 2006 computer animated film Happy Feet, Seymour raps the chorus line from this song to impress Miss Viola and other penguin students.”
- “In 2010, Melle Mel and Scorpio appeared in an Australian commercial for the Kia Sportage in which they perform ‘The Message’.”
- “It was used, with altered lyrics, in a 1983 British Government-commissioned public information film on road safety.”
#025: Sex Pistols – God Save the Queen (traditional, arr. G. Matlock/J. Lydon/P. Cook/S. Jones, 1977)
It’s very strange that this band, pioneers in anti-establishment punk, should have chosen to record a respectful note-for-note rendition of the United Kingdom’s national anthem. And yet, it appears they did.
Incidentally, did you realize their national anthem had such incendiary lyrics? I was really surprised; everyone talks about the British being so reserved. Punctures a hole in that stereotype, eh, guv’nah?
Peter Quisterflaang is the author of several books of professional rock criticism, including 101 Backhanded Compliments About Paul McCartney & Wings (1999, Tonky-Honk Press).