Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Sharp Image Of A Fuzzy Subject

Why Is Music Bad Today?

Miss Pop Star, Can I Have Some Fries with that shake?

“The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world. In this long vigil he often has to vary his methods of stimulation; but in this long vigil he is also himself striving against a continual tendency to sleep.” -Marc Chagall

But what happens if the artists are force fed sleeping pills and Prozac?

Why is popular music in general devoid of quality today?
With only a few rare exceptions popular music stinks.

Some say that the 60's were a turbulent time in the U.S. and the world and created a perfect environment and culture for innovative and creative music. But aren’t these days turbulent as well? So where's the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young , or Country Joe & the Fish of today to sing about our involvement in Iraq? Or where is the Paul Simon of today to protest the government's stance on stem cell research? Where is the new Bob Marley to lift our spirits and encourage us to “Get up , Stand up”? All we get now is a Paris Hilton CD. Paris Hilton? Isn’t she famous for …what is she famous for? An extremely amateur porn flick? And a few dribbling morons actually gave her CD good reviews.

Before anyone accuses me of painting a broad brush stroke condemning all our current music, let me say that in contemporary times, there has been a small amount of music of quality. Phish, Mars Volta, Midnite, and many more I am overlooking . Even some politically-minded music has surfaced such as U2, or Lincoln Park’s latest, but nowhere near the creative zenith of earlier times. Remember when the Dixie Chicks came out against President Bush and the Iraq war. They paid dearly at the hands of big business for their outspoken views. That's a far cry from the politically-charged days of the 60’s when many artists were speaking out and having an impact.

There are only a few artists or bands that can reliably sell out huge arenas today. These tend to be the icons: The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Police, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Genesis and or Peter Gabriel, and The Eagles. In fact music and tour promoters, large venue owners and ticket companies are all worried about concert sales taking a plunge after these artists stop touring. They know it's going to be hard to sell out big arenas after the dinosaurs become extinct. Who are the artists of today who will reach that status tomorrow? I do not know. But let’s have a look at what is “popular” now compared to previous years.

The top sellers of 2006 (no data for 2007 yet) were:

1. High School Musical, A Disney TV show soundtrack
2. Me and My Gang, Rascal Flatts,
3. Some Hearts, Carrie Underwood,
4. All the Right Reasons, Nickelback,
5. Futuresex/Love, Justin Timberlake,
6. Back to Bedlam, James Blunt
7. B'day, Beyoncé,
8. Hannah Montana, Soundtrack ,
9. Taking the Long Way, Dixie Chicks
10. Extreme Behavior, Hinder.

Now lets look at the top sellers in 1968:

1. Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?
2. The Graduate, Simon & Garfunkel
3. Disraeli Gears, the Cream
4. Magical Mystery Tour, the Beatles
5. Waiting for the Sun, The Doors
6. The Who Sell Out, The Who
7. Bayou Country, Credence Clearwater Revival
8. Music from Big Pink, The Band,
9. Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones
10. Cheap Thrills, Big Brother & Holding Company (w/Janis Joplin)

I really don’t need to make the comparisons do I? There is more artistic quality in any one song on any one of those albums from 1968 than all releases since 2000 combined. Why? Certainly there is great music being made, there must be. But we are denied the exposure by business practices that are questionable for selling hamburgers, let alone art of any kind.

In an interview with Joe Walsh on Sirius Radio Joe said “there is not nearly as much improvisational rock anymore.” When asked what bands he thought were decent these days, he couldn't think of any for a while, and then finally said he thought the Goo Goo Dolls were good.
Maybe I'm some kind of pitiful aging curmudgeon, but does Kevin Federline really belong in the music industry? His nickname is K-Fed. Well I’m “fed up “. I think K-Fed, J-Lo, X-tina (Christina Aguilera, really, not a joke) and A-Rod all need to hear what real music sounds like and Fed- X themselves to Antarctica to entertain (or annoy?) the penguins.. I mean they might be talented but I don’t hear the evidence of it in their work, I want something more than a decent voice, an empty head and a jiggle or 2. Perhaps a little musical composition and gee wiz, some inspired performance, or maybe a little poetry or at least lyrics that have a little more depth to them then a stick man. Isn’t this supposed to be a creative art form? Where the hell is the creativity? Where is the art?

Where is the art in today's music?

Here are the top 5 recordings right now in the Summer of 2007:
1. T-Pain - Epiphany
2. Fabulous - From Nothin’ to Somethin’
3. Paul McCartney - Memory Almost Full
4. RiHanna featuring Jay Z - Umbrella
5. DJ Khaled - We The Best

Lets see what the top recordings of the summer of 1969 were.
1. Abbey Road -Beatles
2. Three Dog Night
3. Led Zeppelin
4. Tommy - The Who
5. Blind Faith
6. Let it Bleed Rolling Stones
7. Nashville Skyline - Bob Dylan
8. Johnny Cash at San Quentin
9. Crosby, Stills & Nash
10. Blood Sweat & Tears
11. In the Court Of the Crimson King - King Crimson
12. Kick Out The Jams - MC-5
13. The Allman Brothers Band (Debut)

And here were the top 5 albums of 2005:

- Mariah Carey - The Emancipation of Mimi
- 50 Cent - The Massacre
- Kelly Clarkson - Breakaway
- Green Day - American Idiot
- The Black Eyed Peas - Monkey Business

Here are some of the top albums of 1975:
-Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
- Still Crazy After All These Years - Paul Simon
- Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
- Physical Graffiti - Led Zeppelin
- Katy Lied - Steely Dan
- Siren- Roxy Music
- A Night At The Opera - Queen
- Another Green World - Brian Eno
- Young Americans - David Bowie
- Mothership Connection - Parliament
- Live! - Bob Marley and the Wailers
- 10 cc - The Original Soundtrack
- Captain Fantastic - Elton John
- One of these Nights - The Eagles
- Slow Dazzle - John Cale
- Blow By Blow - Jeff Beck
- That’s the Way of the World - Earth Wind And Fire
- Radioaktivität - Kraftwerk

Is it just me, or is there a glaring difference between the 21st Century lists and the 20th Century lists? To be fair, Green Day is a decent band and McCartney’s album shouldn’t count since he’s of the 20th century ilk. Monkey Business doesn’t suck, but does it hold a candle to anything on the ‘75 list? Am I bashing contemporary musicians? Not really. It’s not their fault. The bloody knife rests in the pale bony hands of Captain Commerce.
Applying McDonald’s fast food approach to art has really destroyed the business. Where there once were thousands of small labels owned and staffed by people who genuinely were interested in music choosing artists to record, there now are only a handful of giant corporations with no more interest or knowledge of music than of the cheap toasters they manufacture in countries without labor or environmental laws to impede their profits. It is the music industry itself that has transformed a series of free markets into a giant conglomerate monstrosity uninterested in the music or it’s creators. Only it’s profits.
In their rise to control the industry, they have nearly strangled it. The commerce side of music has changed so drastically that it is barely recognizable. I think that is one of the main reasons there is such a chasm between today's music and the creations of yesteryear. Like sports and medicine, music as an industry has been a casualty of big business and American capitalism.

No longer does the actual music quality drive the industry. Instead, the people with the money and power at the record companies notice some bad music selling to young people , and therefore decide that from then on they're only going to find and promote that type of bad music since it made a few bucks and cost little to produce. They've totally stopped listening to the music and instead only listen to the dollars.

Today's record company executives are clueless about music

No longer does the music they create determine the success of a band. Instead, entertainment conglomerates tell fans what to listen to, and that determines the success. They do this because they have such a strangle hold on the media. We only have the illusion of choice now. A vicious circle has begun where the whole industry is inexorably spinning down, unable to grasp the sides of the toilet they created, circling downward uncontrollably into the abyss of painfully bad music.

Some bands occasionally slip through the vortex relatively intact, sidestepping the institutionalized procedure of "success" set in place by corporate executives. Dave Mathews and Phish are great examples of this. They became hugely successful in spite of the music industry. Because they were so good and so tenacious in touring and jamming, they attracted a large fan base. The industry stepped in to claim a piece of their pie, plain and simple. The fan base Phish developed gave them a power that most artists today can never have. Most other artists have to do what the people with the purse strings tell them to do. And that more often than not, leads to bad music. Another thing that contributes to the poor music of today is technology. These days, Hollywood actors who can't sing can have singing careers. The engineers touch up their voices, and use every digital sound technique there is to make a below average product sellable, just like the magazines airbrush the models and actresses to complete the illusion. Those of us behind the mixing desk refer to this as “polishing the turd”.

Ashlee Simpson is a good example of this. I mean when did lip synching become and art form?
People have lost interest in this kind of nonsense. The industry blames their dwindling profits on file sharing and piracy. To some degree this is a factor, but I suggest not to the extent claimed. The corporate raiders who cooked the golden goose have been watering down the drinks and selling poor forgeries instead of originals. They have filled their art galleries with paint by numbers “Elvis On Black Velvet“, “Dogs Playing Cards“, and “Big-eyed Waifs.” While Van Gogh, Rubens, Goya, Chagall, Rembrandt, and Dali are discarded in the dumpster out back.

Real music is discarded, and meaningless drivel is declared wonderous.

I know that in any era there's going to be silly music acts like Ashlee Simpson, Kevin Federline and Paris Hilton. I realize that during Bob Dylan's time there were lots of feeble yet famous music artists as well. My complaint is that it seems like in any other era there was at least enough really fantastic and original music being created to balance things out.

“There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” -Ansel Adams

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