Everyone likes to talk about things they know nothing about. Watch cable news if you need proof. There's always some "expert" who makes a prediction that has a 50/50 chance of coming true. No one remembers afterwards, but if they yell loud enough and complain emphatically enough, everyone figures they must mean it and it must be true.
Most people don't have the time to really research a subject and offer up a strong opinion. People have lives to live and deciding who "The third best punk band of all-time" is should really be left up to us "professionals" who live in what some might call "dorm room style" or "squalor." We have the time to decide these things.
One thing I've noticed writing this blog is that there are a lot of different types of music out there. You could argue there are too many! With all the hyphens, it can go on forever. You say your brother is in a Jazz-Rock-Hip-Hop-Electronica Trio? Yeah, well, my sister sings in an Alternative-Classical-Folk-Metal-Post-Rock combo! The only thing they have in common is their music is uniquely lousy.
To make it easier for those of you who don't have the time to research each genre of music on your own, I've compiled a handy-dandy cheat sheet. So when you're at your next party and someone asks you if you like a certain type of music, you can say yes and then if they ask for a name you can give the one I list and you shouldn't get into any trouble. It will make you seem well-rounded and informed. Chances are the person asking you the question knows even less than you do.
Yanni--New Age: Anyone who asks you if you're into "New Age" music in the first place deserves this answer. Tell them you even went to the Acropolis to see him in person and that you've modeled your entire life based on the man's hair. Or what was once his hair. Make snarky Linda Evans jokes for no reason. Act bitter.
24) Ani DiFranco--Indie Folk: Sound a little shocked that she has a child. Say you always thought she was more alternative than that and let people wonder whether you're suggesting you thought Ani was gay. Tell people you've seen her perform in some real dives and they were the best since it was more "honest" back then. No one knows what this really means.
Nirvana--Alternative Rock: You can never go wrong name-dropping St. Cobain. Sure, some people will be contrary and say they never cared for Nirvana, but I'd venture that most people don't actually care for them anyway. Not that people don't enjoy their music, but they don't enjoy it as much as they say they do, because Nirvana never recorded enough of it and whenever you feel obligated to like something you never like it as much as the guilty pleasure you're not supposed to like. Chances are, most people think Journey's Greatest Hits makes for a better party mix.
22) Nine Inch Nails--Industrial Rock: Unless you're being quizzed by someone with three pounds of metal hanging from their face, in which case, excuse yourself and leave the party, most people don't know anything about "industrial" music except that it's loud and abrasive and it makes otherwise dull, middle of the road people seem like they have an "edge." They don't. They just own a Nine Inch Nails album from college or something.
Journey--Arena Rock: There was a time when these guys were considered to really suck. I mean, I remember reading interviews with their guitarist Neal Schon where he said he was regularly getting walked up to and told how much he sucked right to his face. Mass popularity will do that, especially when your old fans preferred the jazz-rock instrumentals you once served up. In retrospect, compared to much of what passes for popular music these days, these guys were innovative geniuses by comparison. You can hum their songs. You can dance to them. You can hit on women. You can feel the earth move. You can imagine yourself in the back of a 1982 Camaro saying things you hardly believe with people who believe in the power of the acid-washed jean! Take me home!
20) Barry White--Disco: Sure "Disco Sucks" was a cute, pithy putdown, but it wasn't true. Disco didn't suck. Lots of it was robotic and formulaic but you could say the same thing about any genre of music. The best of it, however, will do more for your social life than indie-rock! If you can't get it on with a little Barry White on in the background, you don't deserve to be in the game in the first place. Even if you have to wait till your date is asleep, you've got at least a working chance.
Madness--Ska: Ska isn't a music that comes up much in conversation, but if it does just stick with Madness. Everyone's heard of them but few people actually listen to them. If you need to go deeper, throw out The Specials. But really, what kind of parties are you attending?
18) The Ramones--Punk: First off, annoy everyone around you by calling them The "Ram Ones." Then go on at length at how C.J. Ramone was the heart of the band. Tell everyone you never cared for Johnny's guitar playing but his politics always endeared him to your heart. Declare Mondo Bizarro their best album and if someone asks you about their early work, tell them you heard the first album a long time ago and found it underproduced and traded it for a copy of Wings' Venus & Mars on cassette. If the person next to you doesn't start to get nervous, they bought their Ramones T-shirt at Hot Topic and deserve to be severely beaten by little children. Just saying.
Pink Floyd--Space Rock: True space rock fans might groan, but most of them don't attend parties to begin with and know better than to randomly ask strangers if they're into "space rock." Pink Floyd is a band that even my grandparents have heard of. How wrong can you go? If someone is unfamiliar with them, just tell them Floyd do that "no education" song.
16) Rush--Progressive Rock: In another era, I would've said say "Yes" or "ELP" but those bands haven't stuck it out like RUSH who have more dedicated readers of this blog than those other bands combined.
Mariah Carey--Divas: For some reason Mariah even has some hip cache with indie rockers. She's been around long enough that even people who are usually annoyed by these things have thrown their hands in the air and said she's ok. Is she? I have no idea. But this is the answer I give when I'm at an awful party trying to get down the hall to the bathroom where I hope the magazines will at least be entertaining.
14) Guns N' Roses--Hard Rock/Heavy Metal: If you're talking strictly metal, then go with Metallica. If you're speaking strictly hard rock, go with AC/DC, but if you need to straddle the line between the two, choose Guns. They only made one album worth talking about but it's one that every kid seems to have come of age with and I've seen this album in people's CD collections that only have 30 CDs to their name. It's like the Ray Conniff Singers of a new generation.
The Fugees--R&B-Hip Hop: Like GnR, Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill became household names with one album. They're old enough now that it sounds like you're speaking with "perspective" and you're open-minded and crossing genres. Need to sound more authoritative, say something about Arrested Development and hope to skewer the conversation towards the TV show of the same name or else you could get into trouble.
12) Kanye West--Hip-Hop: Lots of times you'll encounter people who like "all" music except either country or rap. But you don't want to be seen as a hater, so chances are you can get away with mentioning Kanye and how silly he is. And the conversation will turn away from music and onto celebrity misdeeds and you'll have a chance to walk away and find the cheese dip.
Public Enemy--"Old School Hip-Hop": Considering that their album It Takes a Nation Of Millions is now over 20 years old, you're going to sound a bit like grandpa if you namedrop these guys with the wrong age group. Just wait to hear that defining moment when the person you're talking to says, "I wasn't even born yet." At that point, extricate yourself from the situation or hire a good attorney.
10) Bob Marley--Reggae: This one is so easy. Because 93 percent of declared "reggae" fans can only name about four acts anyhow. Black Uhuru, Toots and the Maytals, Burning Spear and anyone named Marley. Everyone who's ever driven by a college or attended one has listened to his music at some point. Try selling your friend some oregano and use the word "Jah" a lot.
Bob Dylan--Folk: Yes, you'll get a few people who will tell you they never liked his voice but everyone respects his songwriting, even if they can't name a single song he wrote. Some people think his face is on our money.
8) Madonna--Pop: Everyone's heard of her and if you want to be a real schmuck, you can tell people how much you enjoy her movies.
Elvis Presley--50's Rock: Everyone's heard of him and if you want to be a real schmuck, you can tell people how much you enjoy his movies.
6) Otis Redding--Classic R&B: Otis had the bad fortune of dying young in a plane crash, which also turned out to be good fortune for his musical legacy, since he never lived to see his artistic decline. No one will argue with his voice. And everyone will bow their head and say "what a shame" and then reach for another drink.
The Rolling Stones--Classic Rock: Judging by their concert attendances, everyone in the free world has seen them twice. Why is beyond me, since no one I know has liked one of their live performances since 1973. But just the idea that they're still up there standing, playing the songs that once shaped a generation is enough. I guess.
4) Miles Davis--Jazz: Kind of Blue is the album that everyone seems to own. People who don't own another single jazz album own this one and speak respectfully about its auteur. If you want to start trouble, ask them what they think of Decoy. If they have no reaction, you can start making up names of jazz people and they'll continue to nod.
Willie Nelson--Country: As I've said, you'll meet lots of people who will say they like all kinds of music except country. But Willie goes beyond that. He's an American Icon and when you're that popular no one disagrees with you and plenty of people don't even know what you do. Crazy how this works.
2) Muddy Waters--Blues: Sure, you can tell people you're into Blueshammer. Or John Mayer, but c'mon. You want to sound informed and classy. You can even first refer to him as McKinley Morganfield and then say, ah, but of course, Mr. Muddy Waters. If you think this will be too sophisticated for your audience, just swallow hard and say Eric Clapton instead.
The Beatles--Popular Music: Unless you live in a house with no access to the outside world, you've heard of the Beatles. Their songs have been covered by enough people that everyone knows their songs even if they've carefully avoided the actual group. Saying you like the Beatles is like picking hamburgers or pizza as your favorite food. Or Coke or Pepsi as your favorite drink. Try asking other generic questions like "Do you like movies?" Or long walks on the beach? Not many people prefer root canals.