Monday, July 07, 2008

Scott on Who is the most overrated musician of all time?

[Guest Blogger Scott raises another one of his big questions. I chime in with a small point at the end.]

I was filling out a myspace survey on music this morning, when I came across a question that stumped me for a bit: "Who do you consider to be the most overated artist of all time?"

Now, there are quite a few artist that I feel are or have been overrated at one time or another and, I will even admit, that favorites of mine like U2 and REM can be overrated from time to time.... but "Most Overrated of All Time?" That is quite a daunting assessment for me to make. There are lots of bands that I don't think are any good but are quite successful (Nickelback, Daughtry, Train) but I don't hear anyone heralding these groups as "The Future of Rock" or as being on a par with any of the really great bands/artist of popular music. So, in that case, I would say that they are certainly more popular than they should be... but not really overrated. Other artists, like Oasis, have been 'overated' at one time or another (like when they were hailed as the new Beatles) but, over time, have settled into being rated a bit more conservatively (it's to the point now where Oasis, at least in the states, is quite a bit underrated) still, this doesn't fit the 'all time' distinction for me.

Most artists that are considered great are usually deserving of the praise they recieve. In fact, I am generally able to concede to the greatness of an artist despite my personal taste. For example, The Greatful Dead: I don't care for them, and they can certainly be overrated by Dead Heads, but they are a very important and influential band in the overall context of Rock music. Sometimes, I feel that an artist may be overrated in one respect (Jim Morrison as Lyricist) while completely deserving in another (Jim Morrison as frontman).

In order for someone to be "most overated of all time" they would have to be overrated in virtually every respect; everything that people would say is great about them would have to be false or, at least, they would have to be given far more credit than they deserve or, maybe, credited with being a much bigger influence than they were.

So, you can see why I was having trouble deciding... but then I remembered Dave Matthews Band : )

Seriously though, after mulling it over for a while, these are the contenders that I came up with:

First, and this one is personal,

Dave Matthews Band

Seriously, while it's not the worst music ever made I just never understood the devotion that people paid/pay to this band. It really just isn't that great. At his best, he's a poor man's Peter Gabriel. (and he ruined guitar playing for a while there... you have no idea how many times idiots broke my picks or strings trying to play like him on my guitar). At the end of the day, this just seems like music that shallow people listen to in attempt to be deep.

Led Zeppelin- Okay, definitely a great band... but are they as great as they're often made out to be? I mean the Who not only had better songs but they were also better live (at least from what I've seen/heard).

Bob Dylan- Okay... think about his one... his mid-60s trio: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde On Blonde.... how influential would he be without those albums? They were some of the most important and influential albums in the history of rock and their importance can never be overrated; however, much of the rest of Dylan's catalogue is overrated simply because he's Dylan. (remember that period in the early 70's where he fancied himself a crooner? And people think his regular singing voice is bad...)

and my final answer:

Elvis- Granted, he deserves credit for helping to break rock into the mainstream but the key word here is helping; there is often a misconception that he invented Rock N' Roll... he didn't; he was merely its first super-star. The work of other pioneers like Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and, my personal favorite, Chuck Berry (in comparison to Elvis... he was a better songwriter, guitar player and he combined country and R and B a good year before Elvis did with his own "Maybeline") were really far more interesting. Add to that the fact that his post-Army output, while not terrible, wasn't truly Rock N' Roll so much as some sterilized concept of what adults thought rock was supposed to be which, if you think about it, is the very anti-thesis of what rock should be. There was a point in his early career where he could righfully be considered the King of Rock N' Roll but he lost that crown long before he died.

[I imagine the context of the question is designed to limit us to 20th century music. But if it were not surely the answer would be some classical musician who exists only a cliche for genius now.

And let us always remember a key point in any discussion of "most overrated" anything: it is entirely possible to be the best at something and still be overrated (e.g. Shakespeare).]


Voice Of The Eagle said...

"And let us always remember a key point in any discussion of "most overrated" anything: it is entirely possible to be the best at something and still be overrated (e.g. Shakespeare)."

Oh you did not just say that.

There are a handful of things that cannot be overrated and overpraised. Shakespeare is one of them. (The Beatles are another)

scott91777 said...

Disclaimer: Just so no one hates me too much... I remember, as I state in the first part, that I generally don't consider anyone to be overrated, at least not to the extent of 'most overrated of all time', these are just the choices that I would make if pressed... except for The Dave Matthews Band... I sincerely don't like those guys :)

angelina ballerina said... said two things that made my day better. Oh my, can Shakespeare be overrated (i.e. don't think he can't write a bad play just because there are so many good ones--hi, Cymbeline).
And in response to this comment, "At the end of the day, this just seems like music that shallow people listen to in attempt to be deep": as one who has access to the AIM away messages of about one hundred sorority sisters and frat boys, I must agree.

scott91777 said...


Actually, my original line was "this seems like music that frat boys listen to to feel deep"... but I didn't want to be stereotypical :)

Marc Caputo said...

I'm going to shock everyone by NOT saying the Beatles (mostly because I DON'T think they're overrated; I just don't have an emotional attachment to them)

Two words:




Marc Caputo said...

I'm trying to come to the exact difference between 'overrated' and 'overpraised'; it flashes in my head, then it disappears.

I think I've got it. Overrated is when the fuss people make over you is not warranted. Then, overpraised is when the fuss IS warranted, but someone else comes along and says, 'Christ Amighty! Talk about something else for a bit, whyncha?'

If that is the difference, then the Beatles are overpraised, for sure.

But Janis Joplin is TOTALLY overrated.

scott91777 said...

Janis is a good one Marc.

Also, I think you've gotten to the heart of what people really mean when they say 'overrated' ... like you said it's really 'overpraised' or... ok, they're great... I just don't care that much for them.

Oh, I also forgot the Sex Pistols... I mean the impact they made was really huge... but, at the end of the day, they really were a crappy band.

Chad Nevett said...

Mostly good calls, particularly the additions of Janis Joplin and the Sex Pistols. I'd disagree with Led Zeppelin, but I'm probably one of those people who overrate them a bit, so...

I'd add Nirvana to the list. In fact, it seems a lot of artists who died early in their career wind up a bit overrated because the whole "taken too soon" factor. Is Nirvana important to the early '90s and a good band? Sure. But, Cobain's suicide kept the band permanently elevated in people's opinions when, I imagine, had he lived, they would have fallen a bit when grunge fell out of style.

Geoff Klock said...

VoE: You know I love Bloom, but Bloom claims Shakespeare as a personal god. That is just going to far. I accept that it may be impossible for you, a reasonable person , to not overpraise something, but you have to consider the range of praise out there. I seriously think I remember the title of a book that was like Gardening Tips According to Shakespeare. That is just silly.

Angelina Ballerina: thanks for the comment. Do continue to comment. We need more female voices here.

Jason said...

I'm not feeling this blog posting, Scott, no offense. I mean, most of the bands/artists you mention are guys I don't personally have a huge attachment too, but ... Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin meet your criteria for overrated, by the Grateful Dead and Jim Morrison don't? If it were me I'd flip those around fast enough to make my own head spin. (I have a grudge against people named Morrison, apparently ...)

And I should say, I don't necessarily have any huge amount of affection for Dylan or LZ ... but in terms of influence, they just loom so large. And I'd say your own words about Dylan disqualify him from consideration. Three hugely influential albums that can't possibly be overrated? THREE??? I mean, that's three more than you or I will create in our lifetimes, probably. (But maybe not. Hey, I don't want to put any limits on either of us! :)

Personally my first impulse to the question of overrated bands is to go back to the ones people were all a-twitter about in high school and still rave about, like Weezer or Radiohead. (The Onion recently referred to Weezer's first two albums as "untouchable." What does that even mean?)

But, I dunno. Music is so subjective. You know, I used to hear all my musician friends rave about Dave Matthews Band because they were "such good musicians." I sort of felt like I had to respect that, even though, like you, I always kind of hated their stuff. You know, like, can I totally write them off, when some of the most talented musicians I know have such respect for them?

Marc Caputo said...

Funny, but Johnny Rotten as the Pistols' frontman - meh.

But John Lydon as P/i/L's frontman - well, Second Edition is phenomenal and Album is pretty good, too.

scott91777 said...


You see... that's exactly why I was having so much trouble deciding. I wasn't saying Dylan was overrated because he ONLY made those three great albums... I was just saying that a lot of his work since then has been overrated simply because he's Dylan. Like the way Rolling Stone always ranks whatever album he puts out as album of the year... Like, with Modern Times, I thought it was a great album... but I don't think it was the masterpiece a lot of people made it out to be.

And yes, The Doors (even though I didn't pick them) could certainly be considered contenders for 'most overrated of all time'

Jason said...

That's interesting, the Rolling Stone thing. I didn't realize they always rave about every Dylan album and name it the best of the year, etc.

Now I see what you mean.

It's interesting, it seems like anybody's opinion on this is going to be colored by the opinions of who they spend time with and/or whose opinions they often read. i.e., I think Whedon and Morrison are overrated because I seem so often to frequent internet sites where they are praised to the skies. But if I didn't do that, I wouldn't call them overrated; I'd just say, "Eh, don't really like 'em."

Since I don't read Rolling Stone, I had no reason to think Dylan is overrated, because I don't read music magazines/websites, and I don't talk about music with any hardcore Dylan fans.

Andrew said...

I find that your definition of overrated/underrated also might help by being qualified through the distinction of lyrics and music. Early Dylan is a case in point - amazing lyrics, music that is good but not epoch making (and clearly following Woody Guthrie's example). Same with Dave Matthews Band. As you wonderfully describe, their lyrics are what "shallow people listen to in attempt to be deep," but musically they are incredibly tight, especially live when they are improvising and not just playing the same thing you'll hear on an album.

Marc Caputo said...

If you think RS creams over everything Dylan puts out, what about when Jagger puts out a solo album and they give it 5 stars?

The Doors: I don't know, guys. Personally, I love the Doors - the classic stuff. I don't drill down to the deep album cuts too much and none of the live stuff, but with the exception of 'Touch Me', I love ALL that music. I think most people go through a Doors/Zeppelin phase in high school, when they're more easily taken in by the whole picture - not just the music, but the mystique as well. They don't just have the albums, they're carrying around 'No One Here Gets Out Alive' and 'Hammer of the Gods'. I didn't hit that Zep/Doors phase until college, where I viewed the whole thing with a little more detachment (and I read the books, too.) So I have all the Zep and Doors stuff, but I'm a little more critical (honest?) about them. As in, Morrison was a great frontman, but also kind of a dick, too. Your average HS kid isn't going to see that.

Having said all that, I also think that Morrison/The Doors had a lasting influence, especially on the LA punk scene and the early Goth stuff. To a punk/post-punk band in the late 70s/early 80s, if they're being honest, they're going to name The Velvet Underground/Lou Reed, the Doors and Bowie as their influences.

Todd C. Murry said...

Who is overrating Elvis, exactly? It just seems an odd choice for your #1, because most of what you are probably refrencing is cultural impact, not musical regard. Are you saying monkeys in Elvis costumes in a cartoon are part of "rating" and artist? Maybe that's true and the rating idea takes in all this extraneous stuff, but then you have to judge Elvis on the strength of the metaphors and phenomenology, the quintessential dark side of the American dream stuff, and measure that against the strength of the cultural reaction to it (which is largely contemptuous if not negative), and not just use "he didn't invent rock'n'roll" as the reason to give him top honors.

I'm more interested, though, in the way cultural bifurcation (pretty strong in music since the sex pistols first showed up) can cause an artist/band to be simutaneously horrendously overrated and underrated (i.e. critically overrated, mass media underrated).

scott91777 said...

Actually, with Elvis, and with all the artist I mentioned, I was trying to take in much into account as possible... both in terms of cultural impact, musical ability, musical importance etc.

Christian said...

The Sex Pistols suck balls. There, I said it.

And while you "anarkeists" are welcome to disagree, you would be wrong.

jennifer said...

aerosmith tops my list. i cannot stand their music, and have almost physically hurt myself rushing to turn the radio off when one of their songs comes on, which seems to be at least once an hour.
other than oasis and dave matthews, who does have one or two good songs, i completely disagree with all the other mentioned artists.

Anonymous said...

the sex pistols suck so hard and they are treated like they invented punk witch is not true they simpley hopped on the band wagon at the right time and got hot.The Beatles were not even highly respected by anyone over 25 and new anything about music when they were new and there music is pretty sucky.Madonna is horrible but anyone with taste knows that so madonna cant really be overrated.