Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The sad, sad state of music today.

So SAWB linked us to Drudge Report in his latest post. While there, I saw something so depressing that it almost made me want to cry. Barry Manilow is poised to take the #1 spot on the Billboard charts this week. The saddest part is that he's doing it with an album of cover songs called ‘Love Songs of the 50’s’. How bad is today's music that Barry Manilow of all people can cover songs that are least 47 years old and come in #1 on the charts?

Here is my take on the situation. Feel free to make your own comments:

There is a serious lack of diversity in today's music. I've felt for a while now that the horrible-to-me genre of adult contemporary died out almost completely while there was still a pretty big audience for it. All of this positioning every album to garner the most mainstream popularity possible is really cutting off viable but non-mainstream opportunities for the larger record labels.

And it's not helping that the already established genres have watered down or even in some cases changing entirely. Using the example of Avril Lavignesjdgkasghj, she claims to be "punk." Maybe I've missed something but if she hung out around really real punk rockers, they'd probably beat her, and each other for that matter, senseless. The only difference is that they would enjoy it and she would not. I don't know what punk means nowadays, but I remember punk rockers who kill their girlfriends on heorin binges and stuff them under the sinks of hotel bathrooms and punk rockers who take pieces of a broken bottle that someone threw at them onstage and use the glass to cut their arms and throw the blood out into the audience. I just can't see this girl doing that kind of thing or even going somewhere where that sort of thing happens. If wearing dark eyeliner or listening to Green Day nowadays make you "punk," it's no wonder the really real punk rockers have left the genre entirely for recording industry purposes. The same can be said (though usually to a MUCH smaller degree) in most genres today. Where do you classify Beastie Boys? Are they rap? They used to be but not really anymore.

The music industry is in trouble and they don't even seem to really know why. They can blame their plight on pirating if they'd like but if a has-been covering songs twice as old as their target audience can sell more records than their new showcase talent, I have to think there's more to it than that.


dadvocate said...

A couple of weeks ago I had four kids in the car with me. I usually listen to a radio station that plays mostly 70's rock with some 60's and some 80's as long as it's real rock. Out of curosity, I asked the kids, ages 11, 12, 13 and 17, what their favorite groups ere. The answers included The Beatles, Metallica, AC-DC Lynard Skynard, Lead Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, well you get the picture.

One of the happiest days of my life was when my daughter finally got tired of Brittany Spears. And Barry Manilow is terrible. I once read an article about him titled "He Writes the Sludge." The fact that he's number one is scary. The end times are surely near.

Dante said...

Can you blame them? If you like anything resembling rock, your choices are very limited in modern music. Weezer, Bowling for Soup, SR-71, and Beck are the only bands I can think of in recent memeory who have put out albums that could even conceivably be slotted under the rock category and none of those really fit the bill. There has been a bit of a metal renaissance lately, but there aren't exactly any new bands coming out of it. Just some older bands trying to cash in on the nostalgism that's been rampant lately.

Personally, I'm pretty varied in my musical tastes. There's usually at least one performer I like in each musical genre but when it comes to newer music, I can ususally count the songs I've liked from a particular year on one hand.

Even country music is denegrating into a big pile of sameness and has been for some time. It took Johnny Cash's dying breath to do anything resembling something new in the genre and that was just a cover of a techno/industrial song. Where's Kenny "My Condition" Rogers when you need him?

Meredith said...

Relax . . . "poised" usually means that the label and managment are just putting some spin into the hype. Manilow has a cult following, no question, but from the chart listings this week alone things look doubtful for Barry taking a #1 spot.

But then again, stranger things have happened in music.

Laddi said...

It's a confirmed deal as Manilow tops the charts according to Billboard. Now THAT may be cause for burning stuff.

(Joke. Haha.... ... )

Dante said...

It would be cause to burn stuff but then Pat would just write a letter about what an American Liberal would say to the anti-Manilow music lovers of the world ;)

S.A.W.B. said...

While there has been a mini-revival of sorts of 80s era metal bands, there is still loads and loads of new, and in most cases quasi-interesting, metal being forged in the vast, dark, empty wasteland that we like to call Europe.

Seriously, though. There is no more metal 'scene' in the States. Metallica still draws a zillion people per tour, but they've crossed over into other audience bases. Slayer will still pack the house, but it's a smaller house than in, say, '91. Iron Maiden doesn't even bother to tour here anymore.

But, if you go over to Europe, especially in the late Spring and Summer, it's a literal, mobile, Heavy Metal Summer Camp. It seems that every country has a festival or three, that is attended by upwards of 50 THOUSAND people. Wacken Open Air in Germany is one of the biggest. Dynamo in the Netherlands is big too. Reading/Download Fest in the UK always brings in a huge crowd too.

Metal also appears to be the last bastion of creativity, or at least the last bastion of people effectively merging old and new techniques. It appears that people are getting away from the 'Cookie Monster' singing, and getting back to more of the operatic styles of old Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The musicianship gets stronger every year too.

petallic said...

Funny, another thing that upsets Patrick doesn't upset me; a pattern emerges. I find bashing Barry Manilow far too de rigueur for words. He doesn't really do anything for me personally, but I'd rather he were at the top than Avril Lavigne, or say, God forbid, Ashlee Simpson. At the very least Manilow is an established songwriter, not a pair of Ugg boots with vocal chords. For that I can appreciate him. True, he's doing cover songs, but they're probably pretty decent covers of songs I liked the first time, so why should I object to them a second time? After all, Johnny Cash's album of cover songs blows my mind. To compare the two seems ill-advised, but I'm just saying that cover songs aren't inherently evil...unless you're the Atomic Kittens covering Blondie's "The Tide is High," and then it's evil coated in satanic debauchery.

Punk hasn't existed in the States for years, but that's largely because all the punk kids grew up and bought houses in nice neat subdivided neighborhoods. Avril is not punk; she borders on skater music but can't quite pull it off with her shishifafa eyeliner. Too bad the emo kids won't have her.

I went to the music festival in Leeds in '02 and experienced the music scene SAWB mentioned. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Europe does far greater justice to the punk/rock music scene than we have in years. Their pop music, however, makes my ears bleed.

dadvocate said...

Yes, please Pettalic, don't compare Johnny Cash and Barry Manilow. Cash is the only person whose autograph I have. Got it at a concert in 1971 and after that realized I had all the autographs I needed. He's the only person who's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Country Music Hall of Fame and the Song Writer's Hall of Fame. Barry Manilow's in the wrote a jingle for McDonalds Hall of Fame, "You Deserva a Break Today."

patsbrother said...

Thankfully for me, I don't care about metal. And while I like punk songs, I can deal without the bottle-blood-letting.

Also, thankfully for me, I lived in Athens long enough as a townie that I started to receive CDs for free and developed a taste for music I would never have listened to before.

So I will say this: there is good music out there; just don't look for it on Billboard or at Borders. I for one am not one of those pretentious indie-freaks (I listen to the actual radio far too often for that). However, bluegrass, folk-hippy, townie rock, singer-keyboard, and garage bands are out there. Granted, you likely don't like that kind of stuff; I didn't either. I do now. (Remember, I live in Athens and I worked at Jittery Joe's Five Points. You adapt or you can't 'bide.)

And popular country has been pretty homogenous for a long damn time. Perfect voice, perfect "twang", all the bells and whistles and the hoo and the hey, and no semblance of a human soul. I'll forget I like real country for a couple of months, then I'll hear an old Dolly Parton song on the radio. Then I'll curse the crap I'm forced to hear driving in middle Georgia, and life goes on.

petallic said...

Fair play, dadvocate, but again I was only making a point about cover songs. Johnny Cash is in a league of his own, I realize.

Just to back up the part about music having a soul, I wept last night during the Grammy's all the way through Bruce's performance of Devils and Dust, and I sat agog like a child through McCartney's entire performance of Helter Skelter. Real music should do that. To my recollection, I've never cried during a Manilow song, but I've danced the hell out of Copa and crooned my way through a few Mandys. I suppose I'm just saying that there are far worse alternatives.

I, however, am a fan of older music. I'll take the Mamas and the Papas over System of a Down, Nina Simone over Alanis Morrissette (though somedays Alanis is merited), or Willie Nelson over just about anyone. I do think, however, there is room enough on the billboards for all kinds, and Manilow has a niche. His presence on the chart doesn't really upset me. Kelly Clarkson's presence, on the other hand, does.

Dante said...

"Funny, another thing that upsets Patrick doesn't upset me"

Petallic, I know that the use of two "really real"s in one post make it look like a dead ringer for a Pat post, but this one was Dante all the way. It looks like Pat hasn't even weighed in on the subject.

For what it's worth, I feel there's no shame in taking shots at Manilow but the thing that really bothers me about his #1 hit is that it wouldn't have happened if the recording industry would've even bothered to keep the pilot light going on adult contemporary. It's yet another music style that doesn't have full mainstream support so it was abandoned entirely. Unfortunately for the fans of that particular style (myself NOT included), there aren't too many college kids in garages trying to come up with the next adult contemporary hit.

Also for what it is worth, NOBODY can cover Debbie Harry (except for maybe the greatest cover band of all time: DEVO, but they haven't tried last time I checked).

And as far as "perfect twang" goes in country music, it's more like "same twang." I find it far far from perfect and that is the biggest thing that keeps me from listening to newer country. There's actually a classic country station on the AM dial out in South Carolina that I can pick up. I listen to it more than any other music station right now, but to be fair I've abandoned the FM side of my morning and evening commutes and listen primarily to sports radio now. It's still good the get the occasional Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, Juice Newton, or Dolly Parton song in.

petallic said...

Oh wow, thanks for pointing out it was your original post, dante. I missed that one completely.

Patrick Armstrong said...

Heh heh. I was wondering when somone was going to notice.

My litmus test for good music is: can you dance to it? can you sing along with it? and does it make the car ride a little more enjoyable? That way, I can enjoy all kinds of music.

Modern music is always awful because we haven't had a chance to filter it yet. For all the glamour that producers put into 'the next big thing' if it is awful music, people will stop listening to it. If it is good, it will have some staying power. Even if good music never got much hype, it has a chance, down the road, to get much more play based on good musicians it influences.

Think about Oldies Radio and why every Oldies station rocks. They've taken the very best songs, from pop, rock, r&b and Motown from 1950 to 1969 and play them continuously. But if we lived between 1950 and 1969, I bet we would have thought there was some junk on the radio. But everything on Oldies radio is good. (which perhaps explains the Manilow thing).

Ditto every Classic Rock station, but they're using all the best rock songs from 1970 to 1994. But I remember listening to the radio back in the day, and there was a lot of crap on then too. Does anyone remember the second EMF song? Didn't think so.

99X in Atlanta had so much listener outcry they had to change the format of the station to include "The Best of the 90's."

Take, for example, Top 40 radio and Britney Spears. Three and four years ago, you couldn't get away from her. Today she's a tabloid punch line, and I haven't heard a Britney song on Top 40 radio in forever. I do still hear Eddie Money, Tracy Chapman, the Police, INXS and "Sweet Child o' Mine" from GNR.

Take, for example, modern country radio. There's a lot of mass produced junk to be heard there on any given day, but pleny of the new stuff is good (I finally had to become a Toby Keith fan after "I love this bar," and "Not as good as I once was"), but country radio can never get too far away from George Straight, any Johnny Cash, Alabama, Garth Brooks, Dolly, Reba etc.

R&B stations are usually the same way. I don't hear a whole a whole lot of Whitney Houston these days, it what I'm sayin'. But Luther Vandross & Sade show up.

Hip Hop stations are the exception. I love Hip Hop. Love it. I don't quite know what has happened to it recently, but I am what would be called Old School. I heard Young MC's "Bust a Move" on the radio a few days ago and almost wrecked the car. (I still know all the words.)

Then there are the musicians who become more important later on because good musicians today are influenced by them. They never got much radio play when they were out, but their music affected others, who claimed so and so as an influence, and influenced listeners to look for said music. My examples here are Robert Johnson (blues), Jeff Buckley (rock) and Uncle Tupelo (indie rock).

But the moral of the story is that music seems better from the past because, with the exception of VH1's "Where Are They Now" series, we have edited out all the bad music from the past.

Dante said...

It is very easy to pump out a lot of good music given 20 years or so of material to work with, but there's more to the lack of good new music than that. 99X (and Power 99 before it) lasted a LONG time playing music that was generally less than 5 years old. Now they have to also rely a LOT on music that is 5-15 years old to fill in the gaps for decent radio play.

And condensing it down to the hits does have it's drawbacks. When's the last time you GNR's "Mr. Brownstone?" What about the Bangles track "In You Room" which is interestingly enough off of an album that outsold the one with "Manic Monday" on it and was almost as big a hit as a single? If it weren't for mp3, I wouldn't even hear any "Love and Rockets" anymore. They used to be on "new rock" stations all the time when they were actually new.

I used to LOVE the 80s weekend on B98.5 in Atlanta because they had to cover an entire weekend every week and actually had to resort to playing lesser songs that were played on the radio during the 80s. It was like I was actually listening to radio in the 80's instead of listening to a short best of show. They couldn't get away with Safety Dance, Come on Eileen, Sweet Child of Mine (which wasn't played NEARLY as often as Paradise City in the 80s I remember), repeat for a whole weekend. Then again, maybe they could since 96 Rock in Atlanta gets away with Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Eagles, repeat all day every day now making it the very first classic rock station I ever pulled from my presets (not counting the ones that went under like 102.3 and 104.1).

Laddi said...

Some quick replies to previous posts:
Pat, EMF's second song was "Lies." It got sparse radio play here, but was on MTV's 120 Minutes for maybe a month if that. Yes, I'm aware no one is surprised that I am the one writing this.

Dante, the only Bangles I hear is "Walk Like an Egyptian" though I wish they'd play more of the Simon and Garfunkel cover "Hazy Shade of Winter."

And lastly, about DEVO, they won't be doing any covers soon since they've sold their soul to the debbil and partnered with Disney to produce...wait for it... DEV2.0...

I'm feeling sick.

Anyways, petallic is right. At least Manilow understands music and composition. While the end result may not tickle my musical fancy, I can't deny that the orchestration generally is pretty well done. Sappy, but well done. Christina Aguilera, Brittney, and boy bands -- I just don't get them, but then again, I'm not the target audience, as I'm neither 13 nor female nor do I buy music anymore in general.

Dante said...

I didn't know "Lies" ever got any airplay. It's a decent track.

I think the second post of the blog Laddi linked to sums up my feelings about the new DEV2.0 venture.

This is nothing new though. DEVO has been targeting kids at least partially for about 10 years now. Does anyone remember the "Adventures of the Smart Patrol?" album/software. Probably best that you don't remember (except for their most excellent "Secret Agent Man" cover.) It's also no secret that the members of DEVO don't particularly like recording music anymore and they HATE playing concerts.

At least DEV2.0 is living up to the goal of devolution. Soon, these five kids will be replaced by primates and then eventually by former members of Menudo.