Thursday, October 13, 2005

Music--Today vs.Yesterday

God...I can't believe I'm going to write what I'm about to write. It's going to make me sound exactly like my dad...and his dad...and his dad. But here I go anyway.

"You call that music? How in the world can you listen to that stuff? It's just a bunch of unintelligible noise"

It was said about the music of Scott Joplin, Benny Goodman, Bill Haley, Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Run DMC, and so on. Pick your era. I can almost still hear those words coming out of my dad's mouth...and Grandpa's. Isn't that how it goes? Today's music sounds like crap to most people over the age of 35. And so they complain about it and yearn for the "good ol' days" when music was music. I guess I might as well make my case and get it over with.

I'm thinking that what I'm looking for in music must just be different than what others (especially those significantly younger than me)look for. I'm looking for a melding of beat, melody and lyrics that tells a poetic story while pleasing your ear musically. It seems to me that most, not all, but most of today's hit music is going for "the hook"...a beat, melody and tag-line type lyric that is memorable..not a good poem or story set to music. Having a vocalist seems to be silly because you usually can't understand a thing that's being said/sung anyway.

Especially in Rock, Top 40, Rap and Hip Hop..(I'm not even sure of all the categories any more)..you tend to get mostly a beat, or a musical nuance that is memorable. Lyrics are far from the most important thing. In soft-rock and country you tend to get more of a poetic approach where the lyrics meld with the melody better...but it still seems to be more about what notes the performer can hit...or what kind of cutesy guitar riff...or synthesizer riff...can be dropped in to sell the song. The interpretation of the story...or lyrics...seems to have little, or no value. I'm obviously over-generalizing here, but it seems to me to be the way it is.

I heard an example of the singing aspect of this on the radio today. The remake of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" George Michael (live) with a guest shot from original performer Elton John. The instrumental part is a pretty true-to-the-original cover. Michael's performance, though, was all about stretching out the voice...doing little scale runs and variations on the original melody to call attention to his singing ability. He seemed disconnected from the lyrics. When Elton John came in halfway through the piece...it suddenly became about performing THE MATERIAL...not calling attention to himself. John's inflections and intonations were for the purpose of telling the story behind the lyrics. I could cite many more examples of this phenomenon, but this song,with the different generations performing, seemed to exhibit my thoughts well. Listen for what I'm talking about next time you hear it.

I guess that's my bottom line problem with most of today's performers. It seems to be all about ME and my cleverness....not the melody...the material...the story...the communication between performer and audience. I know the bottom line...as always...is "What will sell?" But, it seems there should be enough garage studios around that you could get some sincerity out of somone once in a while. Josh Groban can't be the only young person in the world with a great voice and a desire to communicate musically to someone other than kids can he? I'm sure, because of my age, I'm out of touch.

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