We can't truly understand 2011's place in music history until we weigh it against its counterparts from decades past, preferably in some sort of arbitrary jerk-off critical exercise. Hey, here's one.
1951 | I'm pretty sure music was still total horseshit at this point, so let's just give it to 2011 without thinking about it. Sorry, Johnnie Ray. Winner: 2011
1961 | There were some killer jams in '61 — "Runaway," "The Wanderer" — but I'd choose 2011 by a mile. Rock tech just wasn't sufficiently advanced yet. "Love Me Do" didn't come out till the next year, so I'll bet the radio was still all gooped up with "Baby Elephant Walk." Winner: 2011
1971 | This is when the classic-rock format solidified into something huge and eternal, like petrified dinosaur shit. We must acknowledge the necessity of dadrock staples like "Black Dog," "Behind Blue Eyes," and "Riders on the Storm," but only out of joyless, grudging reverence. Listening to all '71's hits back to back would be about as grueling a musical hell as I can imagine — I'd be looking forward to Badfinger — but we still have to keep giving this stuff props for "importance," I guess. Winner: Draw, but I'm mad about it
1981 | And now, one of the least boring years in rock history; thinking about it right after '71 almost made my head blow up. It was a pinnacle of post-punk, with the first singles from New Order and R.E.M. and great stuff by the Bunnymen, Bauhaus, the Cramps, and the Gun Club. A bit of a stinker in terms of square pop, but isn't every year? Winner: 1981
1991 | There were plenty of revolutionary records: my Bloody Valentine's Loveless, Nirvana's Nevermind, PM Dawn's Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, etc. But really, it all comes down to one track: "Motownphilly." It came out in 1991, and not in 2011; obviously, this means 1991 was an empirically better year for music. The science is compelling. Winner: 1991
2001 | I almost forgot to include 2001, and I wish I had. It was a truly nauseating time to be alive: Dido, Linkin Park, Creed, Staind. You know what Spin magazine listed as the best album of 2001? Toxicity by System of a Down. This was the worst era in the history of rock; in the future, they'll look back at the 1998-2008 rut and wonder how we even survived. Winner: 2011
ROY ORBISON'S "CRYING" VS. COLDPLAY'S "EVERY TEARDROP IS A WATERFALL" | No matter what you think of Coldplay — and I just happen to hate the everloving shit out of them — this is just an unfair match. There needs to be a handicap to even it out, like Coldplay vs. Roy Orbison and getting punched in the spine. Even so, '61 wins.
THE ROLLING STONES' "BROWN SUGAR" VS. MAROON 5'S "MOVES LIKE JAGGER" | Adam Levine, God should only strike you dead for letting Mick Jagger's name flounce around in your cursed mouth. I don't even like "Brown Sugar," but jeez. '71.
DEPECHE MODE'S "JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH" VS. THE BLACK EYED PEAS' "JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH" | DM easily prevails over the scatological fetishism of the Peas: "Honey got her sexy on steaming/she give a 'hot mess' a new meaning." Gross, guys. '81.