STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
In 1971, New York's alternative weekly, The Village Voice, first published the Pazz 'n Jop music poll. That's pazz and jop, not jazz and pop. Back then, hundreds of rock critics voted for the best albums of the year. The founding father of the Pazz 'n Jop Poll was recently dropped by the new owners of The Voice. And in the current climate, there are challenges to the poll's supremacy. NPR's Jacob Ganz reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HELP ME (I THINK I'M FALLING)")
JONI MITCHELL: (Singing) Help me, I think I'm falling...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CLASH: (Singing) Something's calling through the...
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PRINCE: (Singing) Oh, yeah...
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LUCINDA WILLIAMS: (Singing) Car wheels on a gravel road...
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NIRVANA: (Singing) With the lights out, it's less dangerous...
GANZ: Joni Mitchell, The Clash, Prince, Lucinda Williams, Nirvana, Kanye West. Those are a few of the diverse list of winners of The Village Voice's Pazz 'n Jop Poll. Since its inception, it's been a place for critics to vote for the best recordings of the year and debate news and trends. The rise of hip-hop, grunge, even in 1997 a late career masterpiece by Bob Dylan.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "LOVE SICK")
BOB DYLAN: (Singing) This kind of love; I'm love sick.
GANZ: But The Voice has had a rough go of late. Long past its influential peak, the paper was bought in late 2005 by an Arizona newspaper chain. In August of last year the new owners fired Pazz 'n Jop's longtime overseer Robert Christgau.
INSKEEP: Sasha Frere-Jones, who writes about pop music for "The New Yorker," is one of the critics who will abandon Pazz 'n Jop.
SASHA FRERE: He was one of the three or four people who invented rock criticism. So when you fire Bob Christgau, you know, it's just, it's a slap in the face to so many of us in so many ways.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: I'm very proud of Pazz 'n Jop. I understand why people care about it.
GANZ: Robert Christgau, now contributor to NPR's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, increased the scope of Pazz 'n Jop each year. He added alternative weekly, fanzine and Internet writers who combined with established critics in a forum where commercial favorites vied with obscure critical darlings.
CHRISTGAU: The reason I kept doing it is that I think there is some value, although it's a diminishing value, in finding out what critics think.
GANZ: In 1978, Elvis Costello edged out the Rolling Stones. Bob Dylan crushed The Strokes in 2001. Next to the poll, critics debated the year in music.
FRERE: I like the argument part. I like the riot of voices.
GANZ: Sasha Frere-Jones says that the yearly event was something like a trade fair or convention for people obsessed with music, only more fun.
FRERE: Maybe at the end of the day everyone sort of throws down their hats and says, oh, we didn't figure it out. But it generated a lot of heat and light and it generally brought out a lot of really fierce writing from people.
GANZ: The Voice's newly appointed music editor, Rob Harvilla, is taking over for Pazz 'n Jop's deposed founder. He says he respects the decision of critics who've bowed out but that the poll will carry on.
ROB HARVILLA: Certainly no one, certainly not myself, is going to step into Christgau's shoes in any fashion.
GANZ: A critics' revolt isn't the only thing Pazz 'n Jop has to contend with. Like all newspapers, The Village Voice has seen its territory infringed upon by the growth of the Internet. It was only a matter of time before a similar poll popped up on the Web.
BRIAN RAFTERY: I feel like it makes a little more sense for an online property to be doing this.
GANZ: Brian Raftery is an editor for Idolator.com, a blog in the Gawker media network. In November, Idolator announced a critics' poll of its own. In a lower Manhattan cafÃÂ© with his co-editor Maura Johnston, Raftery argues that the Web has changed the very nature of music criticism.
RAFTERY: I think right now the world of music criticism, whether it's music blogs or alt weekly newspapers that are putting this stuff online for free everyday, the day to day, hour to hour metabolism of talking about music is only found on the Internet.
GANZ: So the question becomes, when everyone's a critic, what's the point of a critics' poll?
CHRISTGAU: Has the Internet made the rationalization of critical opinion easier? Not in my opinion. I don't think so, because there's simply too much for anybody to digest. You need gatekeepers.
GANZ: Jacob Ganz, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "SOMEDAY BABY")
DYLAN: (Singing) I don't care what you do. I don't care what you say. I don't care where you go or how long you stay. Someday baby, you ain't gonna worry poor me anymore.
INSKEEP: From NPR News, it's MORNING EDITION.
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