Classics are classics for a reason. Which puts me into kind of a contextual quandary.
I believe that the cream rises and the best of literature, film, music and the like are what last in our culture.
Yet there's no predicting the role critics play in those decisions.
Consider Citizen Kane, which won ecstatic reviews when it was released in 1941 and went on to have a lengthy run atop the list of critics' choice as the greatest movie of all time. The Wizard of Oz and It's a Wonderful Life make the list as well.
And yet all three were commercial duds when they were first released (and both Wizard nor Wonderful Life suffered critical opprobrium). It is only through the test of time and the continued beating of critical drums that they've had the staying power to embed themselves as part of popular culture, venerated for quality rather than commercial success.
On the other hand, when The Sound of Music came out, it was savaged by critics. Of course, it went on to become one of the top-grossing films of all-time. It remains a historic commercial hit, but its critical standing also has risen -- not because the movie has gotten better but the standards apparently have gotten more lax.
There are a number of possible reasons for that, just as there are reasons why bands as middling as Heart and Rush could get voted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame. Or Queen. Or any number of bands that critics disdained (and, in some cases, continue to disdain) since they first came on the scene, but which had hits that were synonymous with an era for a certain group of people. Why not just induct Hall & Oates?
It's not that Rush didn't have fans early on - and have even more of them now. It's just that the band itself was always pretentious and arty and hard to listen to. I'd put them in the same category as Journey, another group that certainly doesn't deserve Hall of Fame inclusion.
There are a lot of things that are popular and commercial, but aren't very good. Or are just good enough. Consider Justin Bieber: It's not that the kid isn't talented; it's that he's only just talented enough.
This commentary continues on my website.