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

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The main thing about music today is the songwriting, no question about it. On one of the other pages, there was a deal about "what was the #1 song on your birthday?"

Well, when looking at that list from Billboard, I could not recognize but a single song from this decade.......we're not talking all the charts, but the #1 song. And for a person that is somewhat musically knowledgable, I was a bit dumfounded not knowing any of the songs from the 2000-2005 period on that day.

Country music is not the only place that is getting the good writers. A lot are going to Latin music. However, keep in mind there is a certain amount of language barrier....quite a bit of difference on how the song is received in Casper, Wyoming, as opposed to Miami.

But by and large, the music scene is in sad shape.

Yes, the best songs are ones that everyone can cover and interpet. I've heard some interesting takes on Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", of all songs, including a jazz trio, as well as the a-capella version.

But even there are no songs that are "one-of", something that someone would never cover. "I am the Walrus" is one example......not a "coverable

standard" but still an innovative tune. Yet today nobody can come up with even anything like that..

Lemme see.....bad songwriting.....mindless/soul-less rapping.....talented singers that hit the notes but don't have any feel for the music....

nothing that is silly or fun.....

The engineers are the only people that doing it right...not the artists or writers....

I'm kind of fed up with the state of music today myself, just as with everyone else.

My neighbor is Thai, and I have been listening to their tapes. Although I don't understand the language, you can tell that the people have a feel for the songs, and know what a good pop song is.

It's kind of ironic that Thailand's music scene is in much better shape than ours....

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I don't know how many of you have actually heard Il Divo, and they may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I think it is very telling that a group of handsome, Armani clad young men with great voices singing beautifully arranged, classic songs could sell enough albums to debut at number one on the Billboard pop charts but can't find a radio station in America that will play their records because they don't fit precisely within any particual format. Meanwhile, in every city in the country, there's a radio station blasting rap music twenty four hours a day, making heroes and role models out of drug dealers, thugs and felons and MTV is playing Cribs and Pimp My Ride.

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Right on, Eric. What a surprise about Il Divo, and the lack of radio play, here.

I was watching the band Queen, on Koce.org, tonight(Saturday). I was reading, at the same time, but I think they are coming to Anaheim, California, on April 3rd, at The Arrowhead Pond. In the T.V. studio, they commented the same thing, about how Queen was more popular overseas. I scan the radio stations, sometimes, and I always skip the stations when I hear the Rap. I don't know how they can make a living at it.

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MCCartney that's "McCARTNEY" releases an album that barely goes gold. Why? BECAUSE NO POPULAR, MAINSTREAM, (NON- SUNDAY NIGHT SPECIAL LITTLE STEVEN QUIRKY SHOW-)RADIO STATION WOULD PLAY IT.Last night on a local AM station that plays "Oldies" I heard them play -on a Friday Night "Doo-Wop" show-2 cuts fom Gary U.S. Bonds new Cd "Back In 20". It is a "New song"-not a "Doo Wop" song. It was played because it belonged,because it was good radio-and because good Rock and Roll is art,and art has a history and, art matters.This was radio the way it used to be. And -by the way-"That's the way I ALWAYS heard it should be"-(C. Simon.)-Ira.

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Ah, Il Divo... hauntingly beautiful renditions of "Unbreak My Heart", "Isabel" and "Unchained Melody"..the vocals are just dreamy...

If you haven't given them a listen, I highly recommend it...and although, in my opinion, NO ONE can compare to Eric's "All By Myself", this IS the best cover I've heard. happy

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Eric - You talked earlier about the change in paradigm about how recording is done, distributed, etc. Roger McGuinn's been almost exclusively putting out his new CDs via his web site (NOT the Columbia reissues), and the two reasons he cited are: total artistic control, and the fact that he's pulling in 20-30 times the bread per CD doing it this way.

I also posted in another thread about the new Hollies comeback CD, "Staying Power". While it's on EMI, they recorded the entire album in bassist Ray Stiles' home recording studio...and it sounds as good, or better as any of their older releases.

P.S. What's wrong with "Pimp My Ride"? That's one of the few MTV shows worth watching....usually hilarious, even if I don't care for the background music/muzak (which a lot of gangsta rap has become nowadays)....

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I agree with Eric about the music that kids are listening to...and idolizing these "artists". I teach 5th grade and I always play classical music as the kids as they arrive into class each morning. We even took a field trip recently to the Virginia Symphony, and they loved it. I'm trying to expose them to better music.


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I agree that newer well written songs aren't as prevalent on the radio but there are still great songwriters out there steeped in the tradition. Many have gone to Nashville or are independent artists. (Much of today's country has heavy 70's pop leanings). We have to search them out since rock is no longer the pop music of today. My current fave "under the radar" is David Mead. His CD "Indiana" is awesome. What a tenor voice and great songwriting. I was born in 1956 and can remember seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. That must have inspired me because I've been a full time musician all my life. What's gonna inspire a 7 year old today? Children of Bodom? Maybe. That's too bad...

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All so very true. The business machinery behind all this knows that along comes the next generation of pimply teenagers that they have the opportunity to serve up the next "new" thing. They wrack their brains trying to figure out what gimmick or scene they can serve up next and push upon the public. Now you could say the same thing about glam rock in the 70's, as opposed to today's hip-hop gangster fare, but it's awfully clear that David Bowie etc. could write outstanding songs. I am still waiting to hear two hip hop songs that sound different, (or that use different obscenities even!) It doesnt matter whether the next new thing has intrinsic talent or ability to the people pulling the strings. And the same is true of the film industry, forwever serving up the next generation of "hip" young actors and actresses that are mostly useless. They want to convince the public how great they are while forsaking great actors of the recent past because somehow, aw shucks, theyve actually gotten older. I cant recall the last time Meryl Streep was given a lead in a big film but she's a genius. Jennifer Lopez, Fifty Cent, Brittany Spears, Ben Affleck...the list of crap goes on and on. Global warming and terrorism a bad sign for the future?, I think most today's popular musicians and entertainers are clear evidence that the culture is in free fall decline and that the apocalypse is near! Kidding ofcourse, but its hard to stomach. Thank God for the talents of the past. I dont care how many times they try to convince the public, Brad Pitt will never be James Dean, Brando, or Montgomery Clift.

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What an astounding little thread! I had no idea there were so many of us curmudgeons out there. wink

Just a few thoughts of my own: years ago I heard Ray Charles was asked why he couldn’t endorse hip-hop, and he replied something to the effect of, “I couldn’t learn anything from it.†Brief but eloquent.

One other thing that’s been indirectly touched on, but an element which I believe has caused much of the deterioration of music since 1980 – videos. To paraphrase the Buggles, it damn near killed the songwriter as well as the radio star. When hearing songs like those written by Hoagy Carmichael, Rogers and Hammerstein, Lennon and McCartney, etc., it does require a bit of concentration and IMAGINATION. You don’t have to take the same trip as the songwriter, but a good song will inspire intellect, emotion, and imagination on the part of the listener, and it becomes an intensely personal experience.. It’s why many of the great songs literally command your attention when they are played, and yet why people associate different images with the great songs of the 40’s through the 70’s depending on their personal experience and the way the songs may have affected them. Enter video – you have a graphic (at times maybe too much so) representation of a song, one which becomes imbedded in the mind of the VIEWER on a permanent basis, and since we humans are sensory hard-wired for sight over sound, the image is what sticks, rather than melody or lyrics. Page after page has been written on how TV ads and thematic tie-in’s on kids’ programming have affected their playtime and diet, but little gets said on how the tyranny of the tube affects America’s musical tastes. This is, I think, a good reason why you have to go under the radar to get to today’s better songwriters (and some DO valiantly endeavor to persevere), because you have to buck what the MTV/Sony/Universal/BMG/EMI guys think they can “sell†through mass marketing, and the visual medium is very definitely a pivotal technique for this.

Just recalling as well – back in 1964, I had a couple of friends who didn’t “get†the Beatles, thought they were dumb even after watching them on Sullivan, etc. Then I took them to see “A Hard Day’s Nightâ€. They came away certifiable Beatlemaniacs. The power of the visual image can be therefore used, I suppose, for good or evil. smile

As always, thanks to Eric and the rest of the gang for your thoughts, makes for some great reading.

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Alot of thoughts, from everyone, on this. I would think that in the future, Cable T.V., which has alot of viewers, can link-up with Satellite Radio, and put this on their channels, either with visuals, or just music. Maybe three or four times each day, or on the weekend, they could put better music on their stations to listen to, when a movie or show is repeated, on a separate audio channel. When customers browse through their shows, the Cable channel can let people know, before or during each show, at the top of the screen.

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There have been a bunch of great posts on this thread,.. 2 that come to mind are Eric Carmen and OldBlue's....I've gotten some great insight and learned. My take;

MTV is sh*t. It's a result, and a cause of the downward cultural trend. The pimp song being awarded an Oscar fits the same category.

When I was 6, my mom took me to see the just released "Sound Of Music". After Sunday dinner, a 6 year old today turns on the TV to see "It's Tough Out There For a Pimp" WINNING AN OSCAR FOR BEST MOVIE SONG OF THE YEAR. Our society/culture is doing a "job" on the minds and hearts of our kids,...and our generation has played a large part in this.

When we watch MTV etc. we support this engine of crap. What's in all our power is to stop watching and supporting.

I respect Darlene and Robin23 for how they go about their teaching jobs. I look back and remember some of the "higher culture" type things that were put on me by my parents, teachers etc., and how at times I resisted. I'm now not only glad these things were put in my head, but wish there had been even more "force feeding". Kids have parents and teachers to guide them because they're KIDS, and need guidance. More authority figures should be like Darlene and Robin23; ... care more about the welfare of the kids and less about being popular with them.

P.S. For some great old fashioned (but modern and not prudish) entertainment and music: "Prairie Home Companion", on public radio Saturday evenings. Garrison Keeler is a genius entertainer!

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Regretably MTV has hastened the downfall of music, IMHO. What was originally intended as a format for artists to express their songs in a video format has instead become nothing but a place for darn near X rated material to be played for our nations young people.

I find it interesting that it has fallen as far away from its roots as it has. I read some years back a biography of Michael Nesmith and remember how he created a music video for the single Rio from his LP From A Radio Engine To A Photon Wing . His label asked him to put together a promotional video because at the time Japan (I think) would play concert clips and the like on television to promote songs and Nesmith, like Eric, had a huge following over there.

He got permission to do something more artistic than a simple concert and it was huge! He and a couple of others got together and bounced the music television idea back and forth.

Nesmith was a staple on early MTV, and in fact won the very first Grammy Award issued for video work. But after producing for a few other artists and doing some of his own work, he saw that MTV was going more the way of being a production vehicle rather than an artistic venture. So he dropped out of the video business and moved into other ventures.

MTV continued their downward spiral. Once it was about art, but suddenly music videos were nothing more than commercials.

Eventually the young people the network was aimed at realized that the music video that they were watching was no more than a 3 and a half minute advertisement for a CD. How long would it be, or was it in fact, before the music started giving way to orignal programming? Not very long at all it seems...

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On page 3, Eric describes very well, what's happening in music. If anyone with good talent could get a higher royalty rate, and higher dollar returns on CD sales from the big music companies, it could easily become a one-man-show, where only one person or band, with better music, could turn the industry around, again. I, also, believe that music should have some songs that teach people something about life- About keeping it all in perspective, while learning something about others or ourselves. Not gimmicky(selling something that won't last), but more reality and about changes of heart, people, situations; morals, etc. Now, it's about who can top who with the worst standards in their own lives. And, making changes would start a new buzz. This will only happen if someone is creative with their music, I believe. But, it looks like there will be a buzz started soon over MJ's new CD. I heard it has a more spiritual, or Gospel, approach, and ear-catching melodies. Good timing on this, for him, and everyone helping to put out some good stuff. It looks like they are shifting into high gear on this one, for sure.

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"It has to work without the icing. e "

..................'nuff said................

although i was trying the envison an acoustic version of "Go All The Way" or "Overnight Sensation"--

some songs won't translate sans the icing... they could actually sound downright awkward & weird... or boring & dull...

GREAT songs like "All The Young Dudes" are impossible to cover because they were these INSANELY AMAZING singles that captured a band at a moment... take the icing away, they lose their magic... (i.e. take a gander at Bowie's demo of "All The Young Dudes"-- it's not the same, or even of any major significance without Ian's lead vocal & that guitar riff)

A lot of songs (mainly the standards like "As Time Goes By") fly without much altering

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Ann, I would have to agree with you. I came to turn on MTV to see music video, not other programming. Got sick of seeing "Singled Out" and "The Real World" every time out.

And let's not just blame the visual thing on MTV only....let's give the credit(or blame) where it is due.....Busby Berkeley was first, back in the 1930s. Some of the movies, as a whole, weren't all great. And neither were some of the songs. But nice entertaining dance routines.

Pierson, I know what you mean about "Overnight.."

, "GATW" and "All the Young Dudes".....that was the point I was getting then talking about "I am the Walrus" earlier in this thread. There are some songs that are great basic songs, that could be covered by a number of people.....and there are those there are in THIS category.....

Problem is, haven't heard much of either,lately.

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

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


see the artists I pointed out & MELODY is no f'n Dinosaur....

ALSO we can easily fall victim to the OLD AGE poo pooing of the younger genration sucks game...

TODAY there are more good quality artists making music than ever... problem is you are not being exposed them... and UNLIKE generations before it DOES NOT have the same cultural impact...

BUT it's not that there are not people writing good MELODIC music... that's just WRONG... YOU ARE NOT hearing it...

HEAR's A few more:

Chamber Strings

The Strokes




Rhett Miller

A Girl Called Eddy


The Veils

Ocean Colour Scene

Pitty Sing

Damien Rice


St Etienne


Kevin Tihista


Soundtrack Of Our Lives

Readymade Breakup

Hot Hot Heat


Brendan Benson

Mando Daio



Sleep Station

Howie Beck

Shelby Lynne

The 88

Nada Surf

Belle & Sebastian

The Tears

Louis Eliot/Rialto

General Store






Emiliana Torrini

Sufjan Stevens

Sun Kil Moon/Red House Painters

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Pierson, I wrote Go All The Way on the piano. I envisioned it with guitars and background vocals and all the rest but if it didn't stand up without all the stuff I wouldn't have even brought it in to the band. I could play it for you right now as a ballad at the piano and it works beautifully. It simply becomes more like Walk Away Renee or Don't Worry Baby. And even though the genesis of Overnight Sensation was the transistor radio breakdown idea, I can still play it on the piano, without all the production, and it still works as a song. And by the way, Bowie could play All The Young Dudes with and acoustic guitar and you'd still know it was a terrific song. It just wouldn't be a full blown record yet. There are lots of great rock records that were conceived as records, but if there's not a great song underneath all the layers of production it won't stand up years later. e

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I think that many a great song could be greater if some of the layers of varnish were taken off...Don't get me wrong...I enjoy records that are loaded with complicated bells and whistles...But a really fine song can hit the mark without all of that...It can be like hearing the song for the very first time...With it's unvarnished truth still intact.

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You know, I've got to comment on Eric's 3/12 post about rap music. This is one thing we've had to be VERY careful about in our house. Our youngest son, Brian, has substantial damage from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and cocaine exposure. When we adopted him we were told he would probably be retarded but have been fortunate that he isn't. Even so, he does not always have a good understanding of what is going on around him and he learns by imitation. Naturally he tries to imitate what's out there having no concept of WHAT he is imitating or what it means! We've had to put a parental lock on the music stations and my adult kids have warned us of the content of this music. Now what goes through my head is that if this is what Brian is doing with no understanding, what are other kids doing who have a better understanding (or at least think they do) with the "heroes and role models" as Eric said? Now I'm not trying to sound like our grandparents who told us not to listen to rock and roll "because you know where that leads", but we've got to be realistic in what they're exposed to and somewhere there needs to be some degree of responsibility. When you turn on the news and hear that another one of these guys has been gunned down what do we expect to be happening amongst our children if this is considered "entertainment"? Ok, off my soapox now. Sorry, it's just a subject that has the potential of hitting way too close to home if we weren't on top of things.

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Pierson, I wrote Go All The Way on the piano. I envisioned it with guitars and background vocals and all the rest but if it didn't stand up without all the stuff I wouldn't have even brought it in to the band.

well, of course i do believe that & the same for All The Young Dudes... but the difference between what it is stripped down and full-blown is monumental... more so, than say most pop songs

for modern purposes, I'd say a song like A Girl Called Eddy's "Heartache" is more proof of what you were originally referring to... a classic song that you immediately kmow needs no "band" & can BLOW YOU AWAY...

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sorry to go slightly off thread with that... Your post had me thinking all weekend about "songs" and newer artists who aren't getting the love & respect they deserve... I was also thinking about songs that really are brilliant and were pure "magic in a bottle" & seemingly impossible to cover or strip down like "Go All The Way"... but that's a different thread...

I do think your original rant about what took songwriters and bands away from "melody" and "song" was right on the money...

BUT just like the Raspberries themselves, there were bands who fought to get back to the basics... and this has happened time and time again with bands like the Ramones, R.E.M., Nirvana, and most recently, Strokes (although none are in the same league as a Brian Wilson, they did try to bring back some key basics to "rock" music: if you don't think a Nirvana song stands on its own check out Tori Amos' "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or Sinead O'Connor's "All Apologies").

and seriously, compared to the amount of great albums released in 1975 & 1976, 2005 and 2006 looks like a revolution... even though the GREAT stuff of that era is way more impressive (i.e. Patti Smith, Eric Carmen, Todd Rundgren, Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Led Zep, Neil Young) most of our faves were on the decline after the 1971-1974 BOOM and...

RIGHT now I can listen to more great pop songs made over the last two years than i could for those 2 years.

Really, if you're looking for Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney check out Ed Harcourt and the Pernice Brothers and Jon Brion... they may not be as revolutionary, but they reach the same heights...

also, here's a few more to add to the list:

Ben Kweller

Ben Folds

Lloyd Cole (still at it)

The Blue Nile


David Poe


Griffin House

Morrissey (still at it)

p.s. everyone needs to stop watching TV and seek out satellite radio where you will hear most of this music... that or check out KCRW

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