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


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Well said. We can still see some groups play that have been around 30-35 years, with songwriting obviously playing a large part.

I can come back from an Aerosmith concert and ask my teenage daughters, who do you think will around in 30 years out of your cd collection. Nelly, Usher, Fifty Cent, Eminem (horrible). They won't be here in 5 years, as Eric indicated todays music is too disposable, anyone can put a spoken third grade limerick to a drum machine.

Since it is so replicable, I think music popularity is more star based today , and the "music" is secondary.

The only bright spot is if I can get them captive like in a car or on a boat and force them to listen to "good music" they actually start liking it and there is no one there to tell them it's uncool. Otherwise kids today simply do not, or are not in a position to be exposed to it, becoming too far removed.

It's ironic that during the very period of tremendous advancements in technology that theoretically can enhance some aspects of music such as production, recording, live performances, etc, has, and is still, coming simultanouesly at the demise of good songs.

Somebody's still got to write them first, just like a computer ain't going to write another Gatsby on it's own.

I think Eric's pointing out the gradual generational distancing of great songwriting influences is right on.

It appears that this reverse musical evolution is creating today's modern day dinasaur... melody.

Seattle Steve

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Good songwriting is out there. It has to be searched for though. Blame the record companies and radio. Once upon a time record company people were people who loved music and knew how to find good music that people would buy. And disc jockeys who had an ear for hit records picked and played whats on the radio. Now the record companies are run by people who think music is just another commodity they sell and radio playlists are created through research polls to make sure nothing different that might not grab listeners from the very first listen don't make it on the air.

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Taste of the listener... I was kind of thinking along those lines myself. I think that part of the problem is the change in culture and what is permissible in society now. The lyrics and tone of songs are also disposable because the values and morals they're based on are just as disposable. If that degenerates, so does anything that is represented by it --- such as music, literature, movies, etc.

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I agree with the fact that commercial music has evolved is some pretty bizarre directions. But, time has always proven to be the best judge of quality. It is easy for me to imagine that there were a lot of folks writing plays around the 1600’s, but out of the many, only Shakespeare stood the test of time. Around the 1900’s, there were many musicals written, but how many had the longevity of Cohan’s work? I can also imagine in the 1930’s & 40’s there were many songs written that had some popularity, that had no staying power as well, I only have to look through my father’s old 78rpm records to see proof of that. The 50’s and 60’s had more than their share of trivial music as well. Only the best survive these era’s. It is hard for me to imagine that today’s great songwriters are not out there somewhere. They may not be getting a lot of commercial play (or an Oscar, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimpâ€, Arrrgghh!!), but I am convinced they are out there. The lineage from Gershwin-Mancini-McCartney-Carmen continues. We just have to keep looking for it. We have to, the record companies and radio stations are not.

I try to be a “glass-half-full†guy. Great topic Eric.

KC

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I have a feeling things will turn around eventually. Many people I know that have kids say that thier sons and daughters are now listening to 70's bands like Floyd, Zeppelin, Stones, etc. simply because they say today's music sucks! I was in Tower a couple of weeks ago, and noticed a kid that couldn't have been more then 16 years old, and he was searching through the Beatles bin!

Jeff

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I think we're coming to a day that "big commercial" radio and music is going to be really in the toilet, as Eric said. But we are also coming to a day when song writers and musicians who don't fit the mold can and do find audiences because of the technology available and the advent of the internet.

It used to be that a local band could never break out of their small geographic area unless they got a recording deal with a big company. Now it's easier; not easy, but not as impossible.

I also think that the vast majority of today's better songwriters are plying their trade in "Nashville" and providing music to the Country charts.

We're still not talking about the classic styles of the late forties and early fifties. Music itself has changed too much. But to find classic lyrics that are strong enough to drive a song with out being buried by the music, that's where you go.

Of course when today's "artists" need that classic tune to prove themselves as a performer, they have to fall back on the greats; like All By Myself ! And that is a very good thing! laugh

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Eric - Just to add my quick 2 cents, the advent of rap and hip-hop music, where a "songwriter" doesn't have to be able to play an instrument....they can just sample riffs or parts of someone else's songs/melodies, then add their own lyrics - hasn't helped with any sort of a natural progression for songwriting. (Not to mention that the "lyrics" are generally just rhyming couplets with no ties to any sort of a melody.) And this new music is reviled and hated by practically everyone over the age of 30 or so.....making, of course, the kids like it all the more.

Even some modern day rockers like Beck (who's critically acclaimed, and very successful) have fallen victim to this. Arguably his best album, "Odelay", is chock full of samples from the album "Them Again" (Van Morrison & Them's 2nd LP in the US). The intros from "I Can Only Give You Everything" and Them's take on "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" were just outright swiped!

I agree that the best way to judge a songwriter's chops is to let them just sit there with a guitar or piano and go to town with it.....if it works under that scenario, it's a good song.

P.S. Oh, and BTW, Chris Wood was the flutist/flautist for Traffic who did the long solos. Jim Capaldi was their drummer and later 2nd singer/tambourine player. Thankfully, we were spared lengthy solos from the late Mr. Capaldi!

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Eric, you are so right...we have indeed come to a point where music with melodies and harmonies is, as you said at the 'Berries' concerts, "alternative" music rather than "mainstream pop." Where all you need for success is some dirty lyrics and a good beat and some riffs you sampled from someone else's much better song...sad!

The good news is that the market for real, true, quality songwriting and musicianship will always be there, somewhere, and maybe it will be easier for it to find an audience thanks to the new media that have sprung up that don't force musicians to be dependent on instant, easy mass appeal to find an audience.

I think you'll find that every single one of your fans and the 'Berries' fans has come to you because of a love for that kind of music...music in which melodies matter and lyrics, if there are any, are more than just easy nonsense. It doesn't matter whether they grew up listening to Sinatra on their parents' record player, or taking violin lessons and dreaming of playing in an orchestra, or some other way...they have an appreciation for well-crafted music and what you do and what the Raspberries do speaks to that appreciation.

One of the reasons I fell as deeply in love with figure skating as I did is that it's one of the few sports in which the athletes perform to music. Now some people question whether something is a sport if it's performed to music--well, if that's the case, you'd better tell those guys at the ski moguls and the skateboard park to turn down the stuff they crank when people are performing. And if you don't believe it requires strength and athleticism to jump into the air, turn around three or four times and land on one foot on a blade the width of a pencil...and make it look as if you're not breaking a sweat...well then, you just don't get it.

Anyway, the thing about becoming a skating fan, or a skater, is that you get exposed to a LOT of music you otherwise might not hear. This is primarily true because with the exception of ice dancers (and this rule once held even for them), skaters are not permitted to use music with vocals including sung lyrics when they compete. This means they need to dip into the instrumental vaults to find something to skate to...whether it's an orchestral version of an opera, a symphonic work or a concerto, a piece of folk music, a Broadway show tune as performed by an orchestra, or an instrumental of some other kind--be it pop, classical, whatever.

What does this result in? OK, we have about 20 skaters at any given event skating to "Carmen." But...there are also other "big hits" that skaters find to use. And while the most popular ones still tend to come from ballets and musicals (because those pieces are usually written to be danced to), there are also some other classical works that get used over and over, including two biggies by Rachmaninoff: the Second Piano Concerto and the 18th Variation of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.

Why? Because these are damn good melodies! They get the audience with you and into your program. Most skaters want to use something the audience will like and the judges will like--they don't want to get too "out there" for fear the program won't get good presentation scores, no matter how well they skate it. So, while we've reached the point where skaters feel comfortable competing to instrumental versions of classic rock, like Led Zeppelin, and synthesized stuff used in the background of a Cirque du Soleil show or something, most of them still turn to the classics, the ballets and the musicals. Sometimes even in a nontraditional form--say, Beethoven as performed by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra with electric guitars. Or Vanessa-Mae playing "Nessun Dorma" or whatever.

What it comes down to is, there's something deep in people's bodies that wants more than just rhythm and more than just beat. It wants melody and it wants harmony. And as long as that want is there, there's going to be a market for people who know how to provide it. Even if it takes some people 10 years of listening to "Fitty Cent" before realizing how good an old Motown song is to the soul, or a decade of Poison before realizing "Hmm, those Beatles had something there," it will happen. I believe it.

And maybe one of the reasons I believe it is because of all those stories of metal rockers who supposedly worship the Raspberries. Even they can recognize quality when they hear it.

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Actually we are witnessing the end of the old paradigm ( Artists signing with major labels to get the money to record and album in a good recording studio, major labels promoting said artist to radio by means of payola in order to garner significant airplay to sell artist records and recoup what they spent, artist touring to support album, label paying artist very small royalty rate) aand the beginning of a brand new paradigm ( Artist records record at home using computer and digital technology, doesn't need big advance from major label to record, Major labels experience huge shift away from CD sales due to P2P, downloading, itunes, labels promote artists that can't write, can't play, can't sing therefore losing all credibility with music fans, FM radio listeners increasingly tuning out in favor of podcasts, XM and Sirius and My Space for finding new music, and new artists selling directly to fans via websites, podcasts and soon...giving music away free to build fan base and increase concert attendance. A totally new world! e

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I'm still uncomfortable with the thought of downloading songs via the internet. (even though I have done it a few times). I'm one of those people that like the idea of buying an album and going over the artwork, reading the lyrics (if any), and credits (songwriters, who played what and so forth) You just can't get that from going to iTunes and downloading the song. Not to mention loss of sound quality on an MP3 file.

Sony for example has made Cheap Trick's "Next Position Please" Remaster as a ITunes download only. So, no artwork etc.

Jeff

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And furthermore, I don't believe anyone, anywhere EVER got a chill listening to Snoop, Fitty Cent or Eminem. NOT EVER!!! Mumbling obscenities is just not chill inducing. Or exciting. Or emotionally moving to most humans. Never will be. Music has to touch the soul. 'Nuff said. e

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Phil Keaggy....Now there's a guy that would perform a guitar solo and instead of being dulled into a senseless stupor, you would pray that he would play on for awhile. Phil listened to the classics, as evidenced in his playing.Anyone who has never heard Phil Keaggy, should by all means hear him live! For those of you that don't know him, Phil was the guitar virtuoso of a Kent,Ohio band named Glassharp. I know Eric saw them many times down at J.B.'s in Kent. Here, you would have a hippy-collegiate-biker crowd listening in absolute awe at this master. Phil continues to be succesful, because of his classical musical roots and his christian beliefs. He's the one example that stands out of what I referred to before...if you know classical music, you can play anything(and compose!).

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Eric:

You are so right about the decline of popular music over the years.

Fortunately, there is a solution within your grasp! You, Wally, Dave, and Jim can start a crusade for better music by writing, recording, and releasing material that creates a new path to musical excellence.

What do you say? (Yes would be good!!!)

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Eric, what's your take on Rob Thomas and John Mayer? I think they fit the mold of singer/songwriters, and for the most part they pass your acoustic test.

Although Rob Thomas does have his share of throwaway pop, I think the songs will stand up.

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Kathy - are you sure it was the Ink Spots that did Sh-Boom? I had what I thought was the original and the group was The Chords. I believe they were on VeeJay (purple label). The Crew-Cuts (white boys from Canada) covered it - poorly (Mercury records). About 1955 - if the Ink Spots did it first, I sure would like to hear it.

My folks were big band enthusiasts. Since I was born before dirt was created I remember listening to Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Charlie Barnett (Cherokee), Benny Goodman, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman and of course Spike Jones (just wanted to see if you're paying attention) to name but a few. Oh, almost forgot the great Louis Prima. I have one of his CD's which just sets my toes a-tappin.

Nonetheless, it was THEIR music. when the Crows released "Gee" (1954) and then Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Dominoe and Jerry Lee Lewis hit the airwaves I couldn't get enough.

Alas, as Eric has eloquently stated, great songwriting was missing from this group. Outside of B. Wilson, B. Joel, E.John , J. Lennon and P. McCartney, lyrics were not paramount to get a song recorded and on the air.

There are hundreds of great songwriters but getting one's music to the ears of a recording artist has to be one of life's more frustrating endeavors. Besides, being good and talented has nothing to do with being successful in the music biz. If it did The Raspberries would be billionaires.

Ok, I'm getting off track but hopefully you get my point. Today's music is banal. There are few true singers, just youngsters that use vocal gymnastics and think they are singing. I tried to stay up on music as it changed but somewhere in the early 90's I just gave up. The stuff called music just wasn't.

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Eric, it amazes me that you were able to precis the entire history of songwriting and crystallize the essence of why it's all gone South. You are right on the button.

I grew up listening to artists singing the songs of those "good songwriters" of the '40s (and, of course, The Hungarian Hour, which accounts for the violin side!), and you're right. Kids haven't grown up listening to any of that stuff. Some of my students in school don't know who the Beatles are! But they can tell you all about some rapper. frown I'm working diligently to try to change that.

Beautiful, unique melody, rich harmony, masterfully written lyrics and mood are what I've always looked for, so there was no way any substandard crap was going to satisfy me.

I love your vision of the "new world" for songwriters, and I definitely believe it. I have no doubt that savvy musicians will begin distributing their own music and that of others and do what ArtistLed records, owned by cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, is doing for classical artists. Then the big labels will no longer have the hold on artists they've had far too long. I look forward to that! It sounds like you're prepared to lead the industry into a new age.

smile --Darlene

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