The Too Obvious Rule

Simply put, the Too Obvious Rule states that if an item is such an obvious contender for a certain list that it both (a) bears mentioning and (b) goes without saying, it’s stricken from the list.

An easy example is provided by the film version of High Fidelity: For his top five “side ones, track ones,” Rob offers “Smells Like Teen Spirit” off Nirvana’s classic Nevermind. Fellow audiophile and contrarian eternel Barry damns the choice as too “obvious” for the list and accuses Rob of having no interest in music.

Sounds like typical rock snobbery, sure, but there’s an ethos at work here that’s important if these frivolous little lists are to remain interesting. It’s not that Rob shouldn’t like Nirvana; it’s that everybody likes Nirvana. And if everybody already likes something, there’s no sense of discovery in giving it yet another victory lap, no matter how inconsequential the conversation. “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” for instance, while deserving of praise, is certainly in no need of more praise.

The Too Obvious Rule carries a high degree of subjectivity, but often it comes down to common sense. If I offered you, say, my top 5 Bob Dylan tracks, the inclusion of, say, “Like a Rolling Stone” would tell you nothing about me or my relationship to Bob Dylan’s music, regardless of whether the song is actually one of my top 5 faves. Even if it’s an honest choice, it’s just too easy. I’d rather be the four-millionth person to sing the praises of “Gates of Eden” than the four-billionth person to draw unneeded attention to a song everyone already pretty much agrees on. And speaking of shit we all agree on…

The Beatles Rule

A sort of offshoot of the Too Obvious Rule, the Beatles Rule attempts to correct for the fact that picking the Beatles in any list of the best anything ever is almost always too goddamn obvious. For this reason, I try (and often fail) to keep them at arm’s length when making lists, unless:

  • the list in question is strictly Beatles-specific;
  • the category is not one in which the Beatles are automatic shoo-ins (see the Too Obvious Rule); or
  • the category is broad enough (e.g., not limited to the sixties, not limited to rock music) that the Beatles have to work extra hard to make it.

As with the Too Obvious Rule, this is a common sense deal. If I’m making a top 5 love songs list, it’s way too easy for the Fab Four to just torpedo that shit. It’s a self-evident truth that “Something” is one of the best love songs to spring from the human mind, so what do we gain by merely reiterating that fact? To use the Beatles Rule effectively, we must dig at least as deep as “Oh! Darling,” though even that’s stretching it. I’d opt for “Got to Get You Into My Life,” since it’s also about drugs. Basically, if the Beatles are to hang out, they must at least bring some intrigue to the party.


Like the aforementioned rules, exemptions work to narrow the criteria of lists to make things more interesting. Of course, this doesn’t always mean striking materials on a too-obvious basis. In fact, sometimes it’s the opposite. For instance, if and when I do a top 5 Beatles deep cuts list, certain parameters must be established. Are we talking any non-single tracks here? Or only really obscure stuff?  Exemptions work to clarify the internal rules of each individual list.

Does that make sense? It makes sense in my head. We’ll see what happens as we go along.