What’s Your Favorite?
Jerry Lucky Commentary November 2014
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2014 All Rights Reserved
Years ago, when my daughter was still living at home, I would enjoy the opportunity we created to share our musical interests. At the time she was really into Japanese hard rock, or as it is known, Visual-Kei. These are colourful bands that write music with a very creative flair and dress in pretty spectacular fashions. Bands with names like Alice Nine, An Café, Kagrra and Psycho Le Cemu. We would regularly sit down and watch a new video of a band she just found, but it was understood that we would then watch one of my prog bands. It was an opportunity to share music and talk about it.
Oftentimes she would ask what my favorite Progressive Rock band was and I would try to explain as best I could that I didn’t have ONE favorite band. I think it was difficult for her to understand. We shared these musical experiences through her pre-teen and early teen years, a time when for her, it was easy to pick your “favorite” band. For me, with a “few” more years under my belt and a “few” more bands listened to, it was difficult. I would say to her, that my favorite changed on a regular basis; it depended on what day it was and perhaps more specifically how I felt that day.
I’ve come to feel it must be “human nature” to think about ranking our likes and dislikes. We have the things we like and the things we hate, we have the things we love and the things we are indifferent to. From a very young age we love to participate in ranking things, whether it’s the local radio’s Top 40 songs of the week or the favorite movies of all time. Its part of life, isn’t it? All of which brings me to Progressive Rock Polls. I see these ranking polls on certain websites, or conducted by magazines all designed to present “the Best…” or “Most Popular” bands or albums. But you know what? At best these are a photo-shopped-snap-shot in time. I use the term “photo-shopped” because they aren’t totally real; they become representative of something that isn’t accurate in the first place. They are at best a doctored - representation of something so much more ephemeral.
Recently my good friend in Quebec, Jean Roby took some time to analyse the results of Prog Magazines poll of the “Greatest Prog Albums of All Time” and some of his findings were, shall we say, interesting. Among his many observations outlined in amazing detail over the course of sixteen pages, let me bring to light just a few: he found there were no Italian Symphonic prog albums on the list, apparently only six countries were represented in the list, of the 16 entries from the United States – 11 were actually Prog Metal albums, there were also a goodly number of recent albums that have hardly been heard by many people let alone stood the test of time. To my understanding there was no indication of sample size or number of people who responded. Perhaps the strangest part of the Poll was who and what were missing. There was no listing for Anglagard, no entries from Italy, France, Japan or South America, while many sub-genres were recognized there were none from the Jazz/Rock Fusion category, only two from the Canterbury Category, and on and on.
So what are we to make of this? Having worked in the radio industry for over forty years, two-times each year I would have to use the ratings results of who listens to which station conducted and presented by the independent Bureau of Broadcast Measurement. It’s a set of numbers that every station has and it is the same numbers for every station. Each station is measured the same way. I remember one day talking about these numbers and the client replied; “So of the people who like to complete surveys this is where your station ranks?” I asked him what he meant and he went on to say that not everyone likes to participate in surveys and so we don’t really know where the station ranked with those people, only with the people who like to participate and complete surveys. And you know what he was right.
As for the results of the Prog Magazine poll, my friend Jean and I are both mature prog music veterans, but we didn’t respond. Did you? This kind of non-participation radically skews the results; more so when the sample size is smaller. From what I know about polling statistics responses from hundreds or even thousands is hardly representative of a group of millions. The margin-for-error becomes huge. In the end the best you can say is…of the people between this age and that age, who like to respond to surveys and took the time to do so…these are THEIR favorite albums. But they are hardly the “Greatest Prog Albums of All Time” are they? Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with taking a small snapshot of a group of people to see what they like. The problem as I see it is making that small snapshot stand as representative of something that it’s not. In this particular case, an alien landing on the planet looking to discover the “Greatest Prog Albums of All Time” would leave with a very skewed view of what’s out there. At least that’s what I think.