On Pitchfork’s Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s

So these are the best tracks of the 90s. Something's missing.
Nick Sylvester | September 8th, 2010
Pavement

Pavement, champions

All last week, the music recommendation website Pitchfork.com rolled out their “Top 200 Tracks of the 1990s” feature. My guess is things haven’t changed much since I last contributed to one of their lists, which means there were a series of rounds in which reviewers suggested possible tracks, then the top editors whittled down the list to about 1000 or so nominees, and those were the ones the reviewers voted on in the end. The list cuts across genres and has a definitive feel, but by the very non-definitive nature of lists, it functions mostly as a conversation-starter, traffic generator, that kind of thing. The top ten, of course, would be more or less predictable, as it always is: “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, “Are You Gonna Go My Way” by Lenny Kravitz, and so on. But I spent Monday through Thursday clicking through the list, looking for songs I hadn’t heard before or simply had forgotten.

But then I must have hit refresh on my browser hundreds of times Friday morning, waiting for the site to correct one blatant error: no Kravitz in the Top Ten? I could name at least 200 songs that “Are You Gonna Go My Way” was better than; somehow all 200 of those songs were on this list though. To be honest, when I clicked “Next” to go from the Top 20-11 to the Top 10 that morning, I half-expected Pitchfork to have made room for various live cuts of the song too, to say nothing of the original demo, which has more of a lo-fi/”indie” feel to it. Instead “Are You Gonna Go My Way” appeared in no form whatsoever on this list.

It has been a confusing few days. Over the weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about the matter, discussing it with friends in the music recommendation industry, trying to understand how this might have happened. Was “Are You Gonna Go My Way” just too obvious? I can see reviewers on the staff board saying something to that extent. Everyone already knows how “Are You Gonna Go My Way” is the best song/”track” of the 90s. Why put out another boring old list with Lenny Kravitz at the top of the list like he always is? (He’s not always or really ever on the top of any list, but my sense is that most “Best X of the 90s” type situations deliberately leave off Kravitz for this reason. It’s simply unfair for the other artists to be compared to a stone-cold classic.)

Another hypothesis is this: Maybe people don’t know that “Are You Gonna Go My Way” came out in 1993. I imagine this is a problem with most timeless rock and roll masterpieces. What year did it come out? It’s always very unclear, what with the track being timeless. So it seems entirely plausible that it didn’t even occur to the editors and contributors that this song was even eligible.

I admit I didn’t like “AYGGMW” the first time I heard it. Electric guitars, awesome singing, epic solos–same old, same old. This is just what we’ve come to expect from Lenny. But then I saw the music video. Lenny Kravitz is wearing platform shoes and something like a hybrid jumpsuit/expensive woman’s dress. He is in an enormous circular room filled with people, and refuses to play his guitar until the producers lower down a flashing ring-shaped chandelier that he probably picked out on his own. The chick from the Lenny Kravitz video is playing drums. Near the end of the video someone jumps from the second-floor balcony and lands on the ground at the exact moment it’s time for the guitars to come back in. And turn this planet back to one! Now the song was making a lot more sense to me. That said, I can see how Pitchfork might have been worried about giving it top honors. You’ll notice that not a single artist on the list wore platform shoes in his music video. It might have reflected poorly on the site.

What would my list look like? Probably a lot like yours. Here are the top five tracks of the 1990s:

5. Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way (Live On Top Of The Pops)

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4. Robbie Williams and Tom Jones – Are You Gonna Go My Way (Lenny Kravitz cover)

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3. Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way? (Live at the MTV Awards 1993, featuring John Paul Jones)

[youtube id="3xW84u4DOzE"]

2. Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way (Studio Version)

tied with:

2. Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way? (Live On TV 3Sat)

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(Note: This is more of a bluesy take. The slower tempo lets Lenny sell that chorus: “Are you gonna go my way?!” It seems like he really doesn’t know whether or not you will this time, whereas in the original cut the chorus feel is more “You’re probably gonna go my way.”)

1. Jamiroquai – Virtual Insanity