Steven Wells on Music That Makes You Dumb and what your musical taste says about intelligence

Whatever new website Music That Makes You Dumb says about intelligence and record tastes, so-called clever music has always sucked

Following the massive internet success of the website Books That Make You Dumb comes Music That Makes You Dumb, which has been put together by unscientifically comparing exam results with people's favourite bands as declared on MySpace.

Some of the results are predictable. Classic rock fans fare badly. As do people who listen to gospel (religious belief being an absolute benchmark of stupidity apparently). Others are just, well, wrong. Pop, reggaeton, soca, Aerosmith, jazz, hip-hop and Beyoncé are all towards the non-swotty end of the scale – and perhaps an indicator that MTMYD is a more accurate indicator of social class and race rather than intelligence.

Some of the acts that flourish at the 'clever' end of the chart also baffle. The pop act whose fans have the highest SAT scores is profoundly rubbish Christian acoustic poomonger Sufjan Stevens.

Also scoring highly in the swot stakes are Counting Crows and Radiohead. Now I know this evidence is merely anecdotal, but the two thickest music journalists I have ever met were huge fans of, respectively, Counting Crows and Radiohead. The latter once told me that Thom Yorke never wrote happy songs (easily his biggest failing as an artist) because writing happy songs is easy, while writing songs that make willfully depressed teenagers even more depressed "is incredibly hard". I immediately wrote this down in my notebook as the most profoundly stupid thing anyone had ever said to me.

Thing is, in my experience, the dumbest fans I have ever met (as opposed to the merely daft, cloth-eared, ugly or too sexually smitten to understand that their idol can't sing for shit) are without exception those of reputedly clever bands.

When I was but a nipper, the kids who left school at 16 were all into Slade and Black Sabbath. The kids who stayed on and ended up going to college were into Yes and Genesis, proving that in one way at least they weren't half as smart as the proles. Of course, by the time I reached that age, everyone was into punk rock, especially the really cleverly dumb stuff like the Damned and the Ramones. And thus swot rock died for a pop-generation.

By the time I started writing for the NME, the swots were back with a vengeance. Not one person on the entire staff was capable of not mentioning Nietzsche at least once every 750 words (whatever the subject). One chap went as far as to compare a gang of south-London skinheads partying to Sham 69 records on a Lewisham rooftop unfavourably with the very book-learned industrial band Test Department (who beat on the "found" detritus of an increasingly post-industrial society and, like the skinheads, also dressed in a consciously cartoonish proletarian manner). Test Department would of course later serve as the inspiration for both Stomp and the Blue Man group, which must have broken their postmodern hearts. Or perhaps not. You can never tell with postmodernists.

Later, of course, many of these young intellectuals would literally destroy their minds by trying to write about the then popular form of disco music known as "rave". Sadly, despite (or perhaps because of) their cleverness, they never grasped that there really is nothing clever to say about music that is designed to be twitched to by people who've taken a drug that makes them want to twitch to music that's been designed to be twitched to by people on that drug. Thus, their brains – softened beyond saving by ketamine and ecstasy – literally dribbled out of their ears, leaving them unfit for anything except working as feature writers for Mojo and Word.

Is swot rock alive and well today? Is that what math rock and pronk are? Who knows? Perhaps a young person could write and tell us. Meantime …

How smart are you really?
Take my exclusive pop quiz

• Do you agree that the reason Big Star never made it was because they were basically rubbish?

• Do you honestly – cross your heart and hope to die – not prefer Meatloaf to Springsteen? Really? Seriously?

• It goes without saying that Petula Clarke's Downtown is vastly superior than anything ever recorded by Bob Dylan – right?

• Do you agree that I Kissed a Girl was one of the top five songs of 2008?

• Do you worship Joan Jett as a living god?

• Would you, given a choice, listen to Jet Generation by Guitar Wolf rather than anything by Jacques Brel or Leonard Cohen at any and every opportunity?

• Wouldn't it be great if Radiohead produced an album of happy songs entitled I'm So Full of Sunshine I Make Rainbows When I Cry, featuring upbeat and uplifting songs with titles like Mustn't Grumble; Woah, Dude, I Just Checked My Balance; I Like Cheese and Beer; I Love Love and a cover version of The Nolan Sisters' I'm in the Mood for Dancing?

How did you do?

Yes to all? Damn but you're smart.

No to all? Here is a pointed hat with a big D on it. Go stand in the corner.


Steven Wells

The GuardianTramp

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