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The Swedish Tax Agent Who Has Aggregated the Best Music of All Time

By day, Henrik Franzon is a tax agent in Stockholm, working for the Swedish equivalent of the IRS. In his off hours, the statistician uses his skills to sort through a much hipper set of data. It could be argued that more than anyone at Pitchfork or Rolling Stone or NME, this bureaucrat is the ultimate oracle of just how respectable your musical tastes are.  

Franzon collects music critics’ lists the way botanists collect seeds. Some are lists of the best songs or albums ever. Others are parsed by genre or country or era. He draws them from magazines, the ever-expanding online music press, and a few books. Using a complex algorithm, he has aggregated these to create massive lists of the most acclaimed albums, songs, and artists of all time. Since 2003, the continually updated results have been published on his website, AcclaimedMusic.net. Right now, the site contains ranked lists of the 1,000 artists, 3,000 albums, and 6,000 songs most beloved to music writers around the globe.

He admits his hobby is odd. “When I showed [my first aggregated list] to my friends, they thought I was insane,” Franzon recalls. But as a lover of both music and statistics, he kept refining his formula and collecting and inputting lists. “I like to work with this kind of data,” he says. “There’s no right or wrong,” as to which music is actually best, “which makes it different than other statistics.”

Franzon, 42, grew up on acts like Depeche Mode and The Cure during the blossoming of the print-media music press. He says he’s been interested in these lists since a retrospective on the best albums of all time in a Swedish music magazine expanded his tastes.

His aggregate rankings don’t simply measure the number of times a song or album winds up on a list. “There are a lot of parameters,” says Franzon. All-time lists count for more than more limited lists, like year-end round-ups or lists ranking the best of a genre. Lists representing the view of a publication or institution (like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll) count for more than lists of an individual critic (like Greil Marcus’ book The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ten Songs). Lists that come from a place that doesn’t produce a lot of lists (i.e., outside the critics’ bubbles of New York and London) get more weight. But lists that contain a bunch of picks not usually on such lists get less weight, as a guard against deliberately provocative musical musings. Newer lists count for more than older lists. A song or album’s place on a ranked list is factored in. The algorithm also incorporates ratings from sites like AllMusic and Metacritic.

To put it succinctly, Franzon gathers up critical accolades, factors in a few parameters to steer the results towards reflecting global critical opinion of the best of the best, and then crunches the numbers. AcclaimedMusic.net provides his footnotes. Click on an item and you’ll see which lists it’s on.

By design, the top results won’t surprise vinyl geeks quick to click such lists whenever they’re published by the likes of Rolling Stone.

The top 15 albums:
1. The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds
2. The Beatles, Revolver
3. Nirvana, Nevermind
4. The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground & Nico
5. The Beatles, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
6. The Clash, London Calling
7. Marvin Gaye, What's Going On
8. The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main St.
9. Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde
10. Radiohead, OK Computer
11. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
12. The Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks - Here's the Sex Pistols
13. The Beatles, The Beatles (“The White Album”)
14. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?
15. Van Morrison, Astral Weeks

The top 15 songs:
1. Bob Dylan, “Like a Rolling Stone”
2. Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
3. The Beatles, “A Day in the Life”
4. The Beach Boys, “Good Vibrations”
5.  The Rolling Stones, “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction”
6. Marvin Gaye, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”
7. The Ronettes, “Be My Baby”
8. The Beatles, “Strawberry Fields Forever”
9. Aretha Franklin, “Respect”
10 . Marvin Gaye, “What's Going On”
11. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
12. Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode”
13. Bruce Springsteen, “Born to Run”
14. The Who, “My Generation”
15. Elvis Presley, “Heartbreak Hotel”

The top 10 artists (as determined by an algorithm incorporating the number of their works in Franzon’s information matrix and the ranks of those works):

1. The Beatles
2. Bob Dylan
3. The Rolling Stones
4. David Bowie
5. Bruce Springsteen
6. Radiohead
7. Neil Young
8. Elvis Presley
9. The Beach Boys
10. Prince            

Expanding from there, the top few hundred songs and albums offer some more of the expected: seas of classic rock, vintage soul and work from ’50s-era pioneers, with a few islands for punk, early hip-hop, dance music, alt-rock, and the unclassifiable Prince.

But there are some surprises, particularly for American audiences. British rock from the alternative spectrum competes very well, even in the cases of singles that never got much U.S. airplay. Standing beside the Elvis and Dylan classics in the top 100 songs are Pulp’s “Common People” (#41), Massive Attack’s “Unfinished Sympathy” (#50), The Specials’ “Ghost Town” (#77), and three by The Smiths: “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” (#78), “How Soon Is Now?” (#83), and “This Charming Man” (#84).

This is because the British music press can be somewhat insular, and heavy acclaim within it can make up for obscurity, hence Portishead's four songs in the top 1,000 to AC/DC’s three. “In the U.K., they have a lot of famous magazines,” says Franzon. “But they don’t reflect the whole world.”

Alternatively, one could argue that American ears have been sadly deaf to much of the best stuff to come from across the pond since the ’80s.

Twenty-first-century acts do crack the upper echelons. The top 100 songs boast nine from the new millennium, and the top 100 albums have eight. Newer songs turn up on the year-end lists that music pubs churn out in droves. A single year-end list doesn’t count for much, but Franzon has refined his algorithm so that a song or album in the top of almost every such list rockets ahead. He argues that if a song like M.I.A.’s 2008 smash “Paper Planes” (#42) or Daft Punk’s 2013 international hit “Get Lucky” (#55) makes it onto almost every list for which they’re eligible, they should move ahead of older songs, which might show up on more best-of-all-time lists but then make a smaller percentage of other lists. Such an album or song will drop quickly if it doesn’t keep picking up accolades.

His parameters and ways of pruning his lists have been debated on his website’s forum, which Frazen says has stayed quite friendly by the standards of people discussing music on the Internet.

There are unlimited ways to divide and subdivide Franzon’s data, and AcclaimedMusic.net is full of sub-lists parsed by year, genre and country of origin. There are even lists of the most acclaimed artists from every state in the U.S. (In case you were wondering, the five most acclaimed artists from Pennsylvania are Nine Inch Nails, The Roots, Todd Rundgren, Stan Getz, and The War on Drugs, in that order.) The site is dotted with Spotify playlists to help you enjoy these miniature lists.

As a statistician, Franzon says he’d never allow his personal tastes to affect his data, but he does cheer when his favorite Depeche Mode song, “Enjoy the Silence,” goes up a rank. (It’s currently #415.) His favorite song of all time is “All Is Full of Love” by Björk (#3,636)—the single version, not the album version, he specifies—and his favorite album is Songs of Leonard Cohen (#149).

Even though Franzon says his coworkers don’t quite understand his off-hours obsession, they do sometimes use it to break up the tedium of a day at the Swedish tax office. He and his colleagues have developed a game: One will name a year and a number, and ask to hear the song ranked at that number on Franzon’s sub-list for that year. Franzon will cue it up on Spotify and the tax agents will try to name that tune.

“Usually, they don’t get it,” Franzon says. “A lot of them don’t even know Nirvana.”

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Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
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"Weird Al" Yankovic Is Getting the Funko Treatment
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Though the New York Toy Fair—the largest trade show for playthings in the western hemisphere—won't officially kick off until Saturday, February 17, kids and kids-at-heart are already finding much to get excited about as the world's biggest toy companies ready to unleash their newest wares on the world. One item that has gotten us—and fans of fine parody songs everywhere—excited is "Weird Al" Yankovic's induction into the Funko Pop! family. The accordion-loving songwriter behind hits like "Eat It," "White & Nerdy," "Amish Paradise," and "Smells Like Nirvana" shared the news via Twitter, and included what we can only hope is a final rendering of his miniaturized, blockheaded vinyl likeness:

In late December, Funko announced that a Weird Al toy would be coming in 2018 as part of the beloved brand's Pop Rocks series. Though we know he'll be joined by Alice Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, and the members of Mötley Crüe, there's no word yet on exactly when you’ll be able to get your hands on Pop! Al. But knowing that he's coming is enough … for now.

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11 Fun Facts About The Wedding Singer
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema

On February 13, 1998, Adam Sandler gave Valentine’s Day sweethearts a retro treat with The Wedding Singer, a 1980s-set rom-com about a heartbroken wedding singer named Robbie Hart (Sandler) who falls in love with a waitress/bride-to-be whose married name will leave her as Julia Gulia (Drew Barrymore).

At this point in Sandler’s career, he was known more for his puerile comedies like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, not as a romantic leading man. The Wedding Singer changed all that. After earning its $18 million budget back during its opening weekend alone, The Wedding Singer went on to gross $123 million worldwide—making it Sandler’s highest-grossing movie to date at the time.

Besides being a bona fide box office hit, the film’s two ’80s-heavy soundtracks—which included tunes by The Police, David Bowie, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, and The Smiths—were also popular. For the film’s 20th anniversary, here are 11 fun facts about The Wedding Singer.

1. THE DIRECTOR’S OWN REAL-LIFE HEARTBREAK ALLOWED HIM TO TAP INTO THE FILM’S EMOTION.

Longtime Sandler friend and collaborator Frank Coraci directed The Wedding Singer, and said that his own experience with having his heart broken was part of what allowed him to tap into the movie’s unique balance of humor and heartfelt romance.

“I remember lying in bed and not being able to move, so it was easy to tap into that pretty quickly,” Coraci told The Hollywood News of his own heartbreak, which happened a couple of years before the movie came along. “I think the distance between those two things was good. It let me look at it differently and allowed it to be funny. I think if had happened before, The Wedding Singer would have been one seriously depressing movie.”

2. THE IDEA TO SET THE FILM IN THE 1980S CAME FROM THE RADIO.

The Wedding Singer was written by Tim Herlihy, a longtime collaborator of Sandler’s who, in addition to writing for Saturday Night Live, wrote the scripts for Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy (among other Sandler-starring films). Sandler mentioned to Herlihy that he wanted to do “a film about a wedding singer who gets left at the altar.” For his part, Herlihy let the radio inspire him. “I was listening to the radio show Lost in the ’80s, and I said, ‘I want to do a movie set in the 1980s. So of course, we thought, ‘Why don’t we do a story about a wedding singer in the 1980s?’”

3. SANDLER WANTED TO MAKE A “PRO-LOVE” FILM.

While promoting the movie on Late Night With Conan O’Brien in 1998, Sandler said, “We wanted to make a romantic comedy that was heavy on the laughs. It was nice to do a movie that was pro-marriage and pro-love.” He explained men have a difficult time falling in love. “You got guys who say they don’t want to be in love, but those are usually guys who have been hurt before.”

4. THE MOVIE DOESN’T FEATURE ANY SEX SCENES, AND THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT.

In the same interview, Conan O’Brien asked Sandler why there weren’t any sex scenes in the film, which seemed odd for a rom-com. Sandler was candid with his answer: “The main reason for not having a sex scene is I’m not good at sex,” he said. “I started when I was pretty young and I was always like, you’ll get better. And I got older and it’s still not good.”

5. BARRYMORE APPROACHED SANDLER ABOUT WORKING TOGETHER.

Since the release of The Wedding Singer, Sandler and Drew Barrymore have gone on to star in 50 First Dates (2004) and Blended (2014) together, but their original collaboration was really the actress’s doing. Barrymore told Howard Stern she was interested in working with Sandler because “[I thought] I want to be a modern weird Hepburn, Tracy old Hollywood couple.” Sandler agreed to meet with her. “We looked like the worst blind date you’ve ever seen,” Barrymore recalled, referencing how she had purple hair and wore a leopard coat. Still, as Barrymore told The Huffington Post, she was convinced that she and Sandler were “cinematic soul mates,” and wasn’t afraid to tell him so. Soon after this meeting, the script for The Wedding Singer came along.

6. THE “RAPPING GRANNY” LIVED TO BE 101.

At the age of 84, Ellen Albertini Dow portrayed Robbie’s neighbor Rosie, a.k.a. “The Rapping Granny.” During a wedding scene in the movie, Rosie gets on stage and raps to The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” However, when the filmmakers asked Dow to perform the rap, she admitted she wasn’t familiar with that style of music.

In a 2008 radio interview, she recounted how Sandler and Coraci approached her with the idea. They told her, “‘We think it might be funny for an older woman to do rap,’” Dow explained. “And I said, ‘What is that?’ I had no idea what rap was. They took me to a soundstage and handed me this rap song. I went in the booth and it was very foreign to me. I said, ‘Can I move a little to it?’ They said, ‘Oh, sure.’ I’m not bragging, but I danced all my life, and I played the piano, so I know music. I started to move to it and I got it right it away. I got it very fast and loved it and had fun with it.” Her rapping success led to her rapping in a Life Savers commercial, and she even considered recording a rap record for children. In 2015, Dow died at the age of 101.

7. IT’S THE FIRST SANDLER FILM TO INCLUDE A FEMALE PERSPECTIVE.

In previous Sandler films, women mainly existed only as love interests. Herlihy, however, changed that with The Wedding Singer. “Drew elevated things for us,” the screenwriter told Esquire. “The scenes with her and Christine [Taylor]—the scenes with her without Adam—[were all great]. You look at the first movies and there’s not a lot without Adam because we did test screening and they said, ‘Get rid of that scene.’ But this time with Drew we were able to do that and have those scenes survive to the movie.”

8. THE CREATORS OF THE WEDDING SINGER BROADWAY MUSICAL KNEW IT WAS “BORN TO SING.”

The success of the film inspired a Broadway musical adaptation that ended up earning five Tony Award nominations and eight Drama Desk Award nods. Matthew Sklar composed the music, and Chad Beguelin wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book with Herlihy. It premiered in Seattle in January 2006 and then officially opened on Broadway in April 2006.

In the fall of 2007, the musical toured nationally, then eventually landed overseas in London, Abu Dhabi, the Philippines, and Australia. Beguelin said the musical came from him pitching a movie idea to New Line Cinema. “They asked me, ‘What would you do with our catalogue?’ Well, I thought The Wedding Singer was born to sing,” he said. They felt a musical could convey stronger feelings than what was on the screen. “In the movie, you get a close-up of Drew Barrymore looking distraught at her reflection in a wedding dress, but you can’t do that on stage,” Beguelin said. “That’s where you write a song.”

9. BARRYMORE WANTED THE AUDIENCE TO “HOLD THE BOWL OF LOVE.”

In a 1998 interview, Barrymore explained what drew her to the character of Julia: “She has an ease that follows her and that’s the energy that she exudes, and I really, really like that about her. And she’s a happy girl.”

Barrymore further said she wanted people to be happy and for the movie to cause the audience “to hold the bowl of love and have those hearts in their eyes and all of that good mushy stuff we live for."

10. BILLY IDOL STARRED IN THE FILM TO APPEASE HIS SON—AND TEENAGERS.

Billy Idol, whose song “White Wedding” appears on the soundtrack, portrays himself during a climactic scene on a plane. “My son loved Adam Sandler and I thought: ‘I’m going to have to see it anyway, so why not be in it?,’” Idol said. “I gained a number of diehard teenage fans through doing it, who are adults now and are still turning up to my gigs.”

“There’s something about Billy Idol hanging on a plane, knocking back champagne, and getting involved with my love life,” Sandler said of Idol’s cameo. “Everybody thought that’d be fun.”

11. BOY GEORGE WAS A FAN OF BOY GEORGE.

In the film, transgender actress Alexis Arquette played a character named George, who had similarities to the iconic Culture Club frontman Boy George. Wedding Singer George even sings the band’s 1982 hit song “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” at a wedding in the movie. Arquette passed away on September 11, 2016, and around the same time the real Boy George paid homage to the actress at a concert in Maryland. He dedicated “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” to Alexis and her family.

“Alexis played me in The Wedding Singer, very hilariously,” he said. “When I went to [see] The Wedding Singer, I didn’t know what was going to happen. When I saw Alexis doing an impersonation of me, I was rolling around on the floor laughing.”

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