Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What have you done?!?

Greetings, one and all!

Everyone always talks about how music travels in cycles. Ok, well, maybe they don't always talk about it. It'd be pretty boring if they did... "So, John, how did your third date go with Jenna?" "Oh, it's getting kind of tiresome. All we talked about was how music travels in cycles...again..."

But getting back to the point - music does indeed travel in cycles, and as my friends and I are getting older, we're starting to eclipse the lifespan of such cycles, and actually see this phenomenon in motion. And let me tell you -
It ain't nothin' like I thought it'd be.

Before the rebuttals mount, I know there are many examples that disprove what I'm going to talk about. I know. Really I do. But let's consider this -

I walk into work, and the radio is on. The radio is habitually tuned to the station preferred by the first manager to walk in. Usually, it's a rock station. When one manager comes in, it's the hip-hop station. Now I am a fan of all good music - I love a lot of rock, a lot of rap, a lot of all sorts of different things. I believe that there are exemplary artists found in each and every genre of music. What's a shame is that a lot of the really good music is quite often pushed aside for the attractive, flash-in-the-pan stuff. While this practice is nothing new, it's become more apparent than ever that the powers-that-be seek out willing pawns to be sucked in, chewed up, and spit out, preferrably as fast and as profitable as possible.

Like I said, I'm listening to the radio at work. First, I hear a cover of Roxette's "Listen to Your Heart", a song that's barely a decade and a half old. I don't know who's singing it. This is probably her first big hit. More than likely, her last, too. Van Halen did a cover as one of its first singles, too - Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" (and quite good, I might add). But back then, musical artists' careers seemed to be designed for the long haul. How many bands or singers, or rather, what percentage of today's new bands, singers, rap artists, etc. will be here ten, twenty years from now? Honestly, the last big bands to come out and stay for a number of years were Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Live, and Dave Matthews, to name a few. Sean Puffy P (no P) Diddy Combs, Tupac, Biggie. (Even if Diddy's musical skills are questionable, his marketing skills are above par, and he's definitely in it for the long haul.)

But anyway, back to the radio. The next song I hear is a cover of Extreme's "More Than Words". Gone was the simplicity of the original; its organic vocal harmonies and rhythm replaced by a digital harmonizer, a drum machine, and a lead singer with a penchant for mellismas (which, for the 98% of you that didn't go to music school, is when a singer will stretch out a syllable and go all over the place with the melody. You hear it a lot in renditions of the Star Spangled Banner:

Oh, say.... can you see-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee( high note)ee-ee-ee...)

Was anything productive achieved in covering the song? They didn't exactly take the song into a new genre. Or give it much of a different flavor. Perhaps this would work as a performance at a live show, as a treat. But not exactly radioworthy.

The third song I hear is a cover of "Axel F". Now, to give credit (or point a finger?) where credit is due, they did take it into a new genre. And yes, it is only my opinion that the new version, well, stinks. But what they did was homogenize it to sound like all of the other four-on-the-floor songs that are played in the same DJ's sets. The groove that made that song as popular as it was was gone. FUBARed vocal tracks litter the song. It sounds like something I'd be into at 5 AM after dancing all night at the club. They'd play it when the part of my brain that makes good decisions on what my ears like to hear is off for the night.

Except I'm hearing this at quarter to noon.

What's worse is that these three songs weren't played back to back just for this write-up. They really were played back to back. In Real Life. Here I am, at work for twenty minutes, and "today's biggest hits" are really "sorry retreads of yesteryear's greatest hits".

At this point in American popular music culture, if the chances have become so slim to have more than 15 minutes of fame, why would any artist take that one chance and play someone else's music?


($$ that no one will teach them how to invest properly and prepare for a future that doesn't bring in the bucks that they're becoming accustomed to receiving now, but that's another topic for another day.)

How will artists ever get a chance to grow? Or will we see these folks, ten or so years from now, saying:
"Would you like fri-i-iii-iiiii-i-i-iiii-i-i-i-iiii-i-(high note)....iiiiiiii-i-i-iiiiiiiiiiii-i-i-i-ii-iiies with that?"
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