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A Short History Of The Popular Song , or, Why Today's Music Sucks (Mostly)


Eric Carmen

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I don't remember if this was covered in the book but here's my take. Back in the 40's and 50's we had guys like Hoagy Carmichael, George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter and a they inspired Henry Mancini and Burt Bacharach and Hal David and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and then they inspired Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and they ALL inspired Lennon and McCartney, Holland, Dozier and Holland, Brian Wilson and all the great songwriters of the 60's. The song was king. And then FM radio happened. And instead of playing great songs, they were getting high and playing great solos. The golden age of the song gave way to the golden age of the technical virtuoso. First it was guitar solos (Hendrix, Clapton, Beck and Page) then it was any instrument( Ian Anderson, Jim Capaldi etc.) Music was now based on a "riff" rather than a song. A great song is much harder to write than a great riff, so this development encouraged a million lesser talents who couldn't write a great song, but could play a guitar lick ala Jimmy Page, to start bands. The last decade of really good songwriting was the 70's as the musical offspring of the Beatles,Dylan, Who, Beach Boys, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye etc. who were also THE LAST GENERATION TO BE BORN AT THE END OF THE 40's AND TO HAVE ACTUALLY GROWN UP HEARING ALL THOSE GREAT SONGS ON THE RADIO IN THEIR PARENTS HOMES stepped up to the plate. I don't think it's an accident that Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and I were all born in 1949. Elton is a couple of years older, I think. I'm not trying to equate myself with those guys on the success meter (they win) but to point out that the guys I consider to be the last of the really inspired songwriters are now all in their mid fifties. Why? Because when solos and riffs became more important than songs the whole game changed. It paved the way for Metallica and Poison and Warrant to became they guys that the next generation wanted to emulate. And they didn't need to be great songwriters. As each new generation gets farther away from great songwriting, the music continues to deteriorate. There's a whole generation of musicians out there now that never heard the Beatles. Their parents were playing Jethro Tull records and listening to Guns and Roses on FM radio. There's one more thing. Each generation has to find music their parents hate. That's the rule. How many of your parents saw the Stones on Ed Sullivan and said "Oh, I really LIKE THESE GUYS!" The problem is, if you parents grew up on Alice Cooper, how do top that? MARILYN MANSON! If your parents grew up and the Temptations and Earth, Wind and Fire, how do you rebel? FITTY CENT! Now we're talkin'! My old man HATES this stuff! BRING IT ON!!! And the next step down from hits based on great songs, to hits based on great riffs is....HITS BASED ON A GOOD BEAT. No music necessary! Just a computer generated drum and percussion groove or better yet, A SAMPLE OF A GOOD GROOVE RECORDED BY SOMEONE ELSE WHO COULD ACTUALLY PLAY. WHY LEARN TO PLAY OR WRITE WHEN YOU CAN SAMPLE SOMEONE ELSE? WHY WASTE YOUR TIME? WHY STUDY GERSHWIN OR LEARN HOW TO SING("This sh*t is hard!") when I can just mumble a bunch of four letter words over a groove I just sampled and radio will play it and people will buy it! Now all this doesn't mean that there aren't any more good songwriters or that the occasional great song doesn't sneak onto the charts, but there's a lot less impetus these days to do the hard work. Daine Warren wrote some great songs in the 80's and 90's and there are others doing it today, but we just don't seem to be getting any new Brian Wilsons and Paul McCartneys do we? I sure do hope things turn around at some point, 'cause I shudder to think of what the NEXT step down might be. That's my rant for tonight. Glad I got that off my chest. e

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Eric, you are on a roll! I love it! Good points all, and I think you've really got something there.

(And after reading that, I don't feel a bit of guilt about "force-feeding" my two daughters, who are 6 and 3, so much Beatles, Beach Boys, 'Berries, and some Elton.)

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Eric, as mentioned prior to this log in, the points you are making are all so true. I'm a 1956 guy so I do remember a lot of the music you are remembering from your youth. That's why when we heard Side 3 for the first time, it brought our ears to a new higher experience. By the way, my Mom loved your set with the Ringo All Star Band back in 2000, Taste of Minnesota. She must have forgotten the stretch of our stereo back in 1973. Congratulations on the "latest" hit, All By Myself!

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I keep thinking how I didn't realize how lucky I was to grow up when I did -when in any given week in the 60's you might have "California Dreamin',"Do You Believe In Magic",and "Good Vibrations" in the Top 40.Look I did not do research-I have no idea if these songs are from the same week-or even the same year.But when you see Billboard charts from the 60's the songs in any given week are amazing!Today ?-'nuff said.Eric said it profoundly.There's nothing I can add.-Ira.

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I agree with your account of historically how we got to where we are and why music sucks today. However, I think that there is an abundance of very talented musicians and songwriters now who have worked hard to study music and really are making great music - they just have too much integrity to fall prey to gimmicks and short-cuts, and because they don't play the game, the powers that be won't promote them properly. For these talents, XM radio is going to eventually be a godsend. Someone will get around to giving them air-time and people will be exposed to what they have to offer. The really outstanding won't become rich and famous, but they'll have a broader opportunity to reach a larger audience than over the last 20-25 years. I expect XM will someday become as much (maybe more) a part of every household and car as AM-radio was in the '60's. We'll probably hear worse noise than we've ever heard before... but we'll be able to change the channel to hear the really great stuff, too. I feel hopeful for the future. Greatness awaits us!

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Although, as much as things haven't worked out in an overall positive way, just one thought. When we were so pleased to see the Raspberries show in Waukesha last summer, Eric very graciously autographed my 9 year old daughter's T-Shirt. My son and daughter are both big fans of their favorite group, Bowling For Soup. However having grown up on the Raspberries, and for that matter the Chilton led Box Tops (Big Star too), they were in total awe of the great bands that played before the "storm." Just had to say it, as Bowling For Soup made some nice remarks about what they had also witnessed, Greatness!

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I was too young to have experienced the brilliance of the great songwriters of the 40's when the songs they wrote ruled the charts...All I would have known of them would have the scant sampling i've seen in old movies...or from television commercials that sold compilations of those great songs...

Until a few years ago when one of the stations i work at went to a nostalgia format...I had a chance to play on-air and enjoy the great music of the 40's and 50's...After getting over some of my rock 'n roll misgivings i grew in appreciation for the talent and creativity of the writers of that era...in addition to the writers you mentioned...I also was exposed to the songs of Johnny Mercer...Fats Waller...Irving Berlin and many more...A whole new world was opened to me...And i learned to listen to music with a new ear...One with a heightened sense of melody...And a great appreciation for the songwriters, performers, and music of the era that ended a little over a decade before i was born.

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Eric's on the mark. Look at the incredible success Rod Stewart is having with his American Songbook series of CDs! He said something very similar to Eric in that he grew up hearing this stuff in the kitchen of is parents' home where everyone would sit around singing it together. He said he had done extremely well with his rock music earlier on and that this was going to be a huge gamble. He also went on to say that the first Songbook CD was either going to be a hit or make a fool of him. He's up to #4 now I think.<smile> This stuff is selling NOW for a reason --- you can't find good music like this except in the past!

My husband, John, was determined to start our kids out right. While I was pregnant with our first son, Shaun, in 1978 he kept stretching a set of headphones over my abdomen and played Beatles to him.LOL It must have worked since Shaun chose "I Will" for his bride to walk down the aisle to! Each of our kids has an amazing knowledge of music all the way down to our youngest daughter, Annie (13), who can identify artists all the way back to the '50s which is pretty astounding for her age. She is a bit confused by the "segregation" she sees now, though. Annie is African-American and we adopted her and our youngest son, Brian, out of the Illinois foster care system. She was at a friend's house and made a comment about something in music and her friend stopped cold and said, "You black people listen to white people music!?!" Annie was so dumbfounded she finally managed to stutter out a yes. I told her she should have said that she listens to Mowtown, too, but it was her white father that introduced her to is as he sings along!LOL

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Eric,

I got a chance to do an interview with Wally, and he explained about how while writing songs, you had ideas in your head and how you would work with him to get the sound for the song in your head. He also talked about how when he worked with you how he would be on the same page as you when you would set up the songs. His son Jesse also told me about being more of a songwriter than just a guitar player. You are right, I miss the great songs that used to come out, songs in which a guitar or piano/keyboard solo was not a complement to the song, not the song being a complement to the solo. I miss the spirit of the late 60's and early seventies of the bands that were out and the singer songwriters who came into the forefront. Other people must feel the same way seeing the reactions from people at Raspberries concerts in 2005.

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I had parents who listened to big band music. My brother who is 13 years older than me was born in 1947. He was the reason why I knew about The Beatles and The Beach Boys in more depth than my peers while growing up. He often talks about the days of AM radio and how you would hear Johnny Cash, Henry Mancini, Ray Charles and the Beach Boys all on the same station. I remember WLS on the radio the strongest AM station, I think, in the nation. Now WLS is talk radio. One good sign is that 2005 top concerts included The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Brian Wilson, Elton John - there is still hope.

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Here's my test for determining if a song is good or not. Sit down with an acoustic guitar or at the piano and play the song. If it doesn't work with one voice and one instrument, then it's not a good song. Period. Everything that happens after that is just icing on the cake. It has to work without the icing. e

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I agree with Eric on today's music. I LOVED READING THAT POST! It said everything I've believed for many years...that most of today's music has no soul or staying quality.

I miss the great music from the 50's-60's. I grew up with a transistor radio with my 24/7, listening to WABC in NYC.

When my son was born in '78...I played constantly played my "oldies" and classical music (Peer Gynt Suite, Mozart, Beetoven) and had him take piano lessons,so he would have a well-rounded musical experience. He is now 27, he has XM Radio and one of his favorite stations is FRANK'S PLACE....he loves that stuff. Also, Barry Manilow's new CD (50's songs)is on the top of the Billboard charts. SO...maybe there is hope for the future.

Robin

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although I totally agree w/ Eric's point of view... these 10 "current" artists are reason enough to make me believe today's state of music ain't as bad as it was in 1988...

most of these artists have given us songs that move way deeper than anything Jelly Bowl (Billy Joel) has written & deserve to be seen as truly classic artists...

Joe Pernice (Pernice Bros.)

Trashcan Sinatras

Even Johansen (Magnet)

Ed Harcourt

Evan Slamka (Marjorie Fair)

Jon Brion

Ivy

Grant Lee Phillips

Richard Ashcroft

My Morning Jacket

Stephen Duffy

in today's musical climate the truly great artists are working on the fringe... mainly on indie labels... it's not to say they ain't as good as Elton John, because, in truth, they are... it's just that a guy like Jon Brion never got a deal w/ a major label (well, he didn't keep the one he had w/Atlantic, years ago) & so only those who seek him out get to hear him... Tommy Allen's got the "demos"

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Weren't we lucky?? For years,I've been trying to pinpoint what went wrong with todays music, and Eric nailed it! Of course,Eric, be thankful your parents encouraged your academic appreciation of music by enrolling you in C.I.M...I've always believed that anyone who could perform classical music, can play anything...because "anything" is below classical music! I think the opinion you have is also shared with todays television and movie products...why write an original screenplay when there's this old one from the 60's that no one today remembers(Dukes of Hazzard,The Parent Trap, King Kong,The Longest Yard,etc). Ahhh... savore the memories!

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