Jump to content

What's in a song?


Argus

Recommended Posts

I am not sure that Mozart would be a great example for your argument, August, as his father brought him into music, or his love of it did, rather than any material reward.
For a commoner, Mozart was famous and adored. What motivates anyone?

I merely make the argument that without recognition, many creators don't create. Or more exactly, without the potential for recognition, many creators don't create.

As they say, many young men become musicians because they believe that it'll help to score with chicks. Well, what happens when the chicks prefer bankers and engineers?

A grandparent once explained to me that The Tennessee Waltz was the greatest song of all time. I have no idea if it's true, but he told me it's been recorded by more artists and topped the charts more times than any other song. But ... heard it on the radio lately?
The Tennessee Waltz is a wonderful tune. Mike Nichols used it in Primary Colors. (If you haven't seen this movie, I strongly recommend it. It's a Hollywood "sympathetic" portrayal of Clinton. The book is a good read but Nichols made a better movie.)

The Tennessee Waltz is as southern as "You Are My Sunshine" and "Swanee River". Some melodies, like

, just seem to last.

BTW, the Tennessee Waltz is 3/4 time like Hip Hop, and Strauss. The Beatles and Beethoven are, to my knowledge, entirely 4/4.

Edited by August1991
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 148
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

I don't think I or anyone else has ever claimed that in any era, any decade, by far the largest chunk of music which comes out isn't - forgetable. Much of it is of a style, however, of a genre where the great songs among it continue to live on for decades, if not generations afterwards, keeping that particular genre alive.

The one sort of music I am certain will never go away is this: songs that can be played by a single performer with a portable, non-powered, instrument that leaves the player's mouth free to sing as he plays. There are obvious practicalities as to why. Songs that lend themselves to this style are more likely to survive than those that don't, I think. I have not heard anyone sitting around a campfire playing "Immigrant Song," but I have heard someone playing "Going To California."

But even now, you're probably more likely to hear somebody singing Pearl Jam than Bob Dylan around the campfire or on the street corner.

And... a lot of music translates really well, by the way. Recall the MTV Unplugged performances that used to be very popular. Or recall Johnny Cash turning Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden songs into instant classics in the final years of his life.

And you know, there are eras and decades where even the so-so music, which doesn't live on, is still better than almost everything which comes out in other eras or decades. I'm betting that almost anything which came out in the sixties would be more ear catching to me than almost anything which came out in the last few years.

That's just one opinion. "Better" is unquantifiable.

I'm reminded of the old gag where somebody is asked what kind of music they like, and respond "Both kinds... country AND western!"

If you were going to play some "so-so music" from the 1960s, I'd be almost certain that you'd take out some pop tunes.

If you're comparing it to the music of the past 20 years, what would you pick to compare it to? What would you consider "the so-so music of today"?

You Belong To Me is 57 years old. There have been over 75 recorded versions of it since 1952. And it's been on the soundtracks of three major movies since 2003, and a new version seems to be recorded by someone every couple of years. Good music lasts.

Sure, and there are sea shanties that are hundreds of years old that are still around today too, but they can't be said to be a part of our culture anymore.

One can go to museums and still find flint-lock pistols that are probably in fine working conditions, centuries-old garments that are in like-new condition... but the fact that they still exist is not evidence that they have enduring intrinsic value. They're just curios someone hung onto, and we can go back and look at them and see that this is what things were like once upon a time.

I mentioned The Tennessee Waltz because it strikes me as the likely fate of "Hotel California" and most or all of the other songs you mentioned. The Tennessee Waltz was hugely meaningful for my grandparents, I gather. Grandpa was convinced of its enduring significance. But someone growing up today has no attachment to it at all. Probably many people my age have never heard any version of it, and few who have would bother to play it a second time. The song certainly still exists, but just as a curio. "This is music that people liked once upon a time." If The Tennessee Waltz has come to such a fate, what chance has Hotel California got?

-k

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sure, and there are sea shanties that are hundreds of years old that are still around today too, but they can't be said to be a part of our culture anymore.

Well not YOUR culture, perhaps, but how many fishing villages have you been to lately?

I get your point but it's mistaken. Recall that when this particular song first became a hit neither of us had even been born yet. You didn't discover a dusty old album in grannie's attic. Bob Dylan sang it many decades later and it was released anew on a movie soundtrack. I have never even heard Dylan sing it and hadn't been aware that he had done a version. I "discovered it" when I heard Vonda Shepherd sing it somewhere, on the radio or maybe an album I was given. No doubt others first heard it as part of the Shrek soundtrack or some other movie, or encountered it on some other release. As long as this song continues to be re-released by new artists who hear it and like it the song can continue in perpetuity to be music people know and appreciate.

There is a lot of music from that era which is similarly being rediscovered, remade, re-released, decades later. And in most cases, what attracts people to it are lyrics and melodies today's artists don't usually put much effort into.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A very good chance.....as it was reborn again to young and old alike most recently with "Guitar Hero" as a playable track. Not bad for a 32 year old memory.

I've personally always suspected that it was the catchy guitar chords at the end that made the song popular, not the "classic" lyrics.

(Likewise, "Hey Jude" and the "naaaa, naaaa, naaaa, na-na-na, na.")

There is a lot of music from that era which is similarly being rediscovered, remade, re-released, decades later. And in most cases, what attracts people to it are lyrics and melodies today's artists don't usually put much effort into.

Why is the Mona Lisa ubiquitous even today, while thousands of ostensibly similar paintings are unrecognized, and thousands more probably didn't even outlive their painters?

The premise that you started the thread with... proposing that the songs you'd mentioned have enduring popularity because of their lyrics... was flawed from square one, as most of the songs you mentioned haven't survived at all. The notion that they've endured in any meaningful way outside of your own living room is just a conceit.

So now we're talking about one particular song-- "You Belong To Me"-- which does indeed seem to have a kind of immortality that few songs achieve. What separates that song from any of dozens of ostensibly similar songs that'll never be recorded again? I suspect that if we could come up with an answer to that question, we could be rich.

-k

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Something else occurred to me this afternoon.

You said there have been over 75 recordings of "You Belong To Me" in the 57 years it's been released.

How many recordings of "Hotel California" have been made in the 32 years since its first release?

I looked this up, and learned that there have been a couple of Reggae versions, a Spanish version, a French version, a Romanian version, a Ska version, a couple of comedy versions, and a version called "Hotel Macedonia" done for a tourism bureau.

It is one of the most commercially successful songs of its era... but nobody wants to do a faithful English-language recording of it.

"Stairway to Heaven"? One of the most revered songs of your lifetime, with lush, evocative lyrics... but nobody wants to do a faithful English-language recording of it.

Why the difference? Why are there dozens upon dozens of sincere, earnest recordings of You Belong To Me or The Tennessee Waltz, but nobody will touch Hotel California or Stairway to Heaven?

I would suggest that there has been a marked shift in the perception of singers and songs.

Once upon a time, many popular recordings were simply the artist of the day recording traditional songs in a traditional interpretation. Other than the vocalist and orchestration, there would be little to separate one version from the next, and one version is as legitimate as the next. And contemporary recordings of the day seem to have been treated no differently: the Jo Stafford recording of "You Belong To Me" is no less legitimate than the Patti Page version; the audience is assumed to know that neither woman created the song or has any particular claim to it other than providing a voice for the words. The song seems to have been part of the public domain from the moment it was penned. It seems as though it was not just accepted, but expected that if a song was popular, other artists would record their own versions of it in short order.

At some point, far be it from me to guess at when it occurred, we arrived at a state where a song is so strongly identified with an artist that it's of little benefit for some other artist to record it. What could an artist gain by attempting to record "Stairway to Heaven"? Outrage from long-time Led Zeppelin fans, unfavorable comparisons to the original, the appearance of trying to make a buck by cashing in on a classic, accusations of not being creative enough to come up with your own stuff... who'd want any of that?

(then again, taking on a work that is strongly associated with another performer is an entirely different game if the original performer is not particularly admired. A Scottish band called Travis

.)

-k

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well not YOUR culture, perhaps, but how many fishing villages have you been to lately?

Good point, Argus! The Newfoundland band Great Big Sea is HUGE! My wife's been a fan for years, which is surprising for a girl of Italian descent. Through the fan network she met another woman from Italy and they've gotten to be good friends. We've had her stay with us for some vacations.

Through her I've learned that the band also has a large following across Europe, which I never would have expected!

More germane to our argument, the band's success seems to have mostly been built on traditional songs, or 'sea shanty's", as Kimmy would say. They've had only limited success with originals and the audience is always yelling out for more 'trads', or 'traditionals'.

Then again, I don't get out much any more so I'm more easily impressed...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think right now is one of the most exciting times in music. The absolute sheer amount of music (of all genres) out there right now available to the average person is certainly unprecedented in human history thanks to the internet.

Several years ago i thought rock was dead as every band on the radio sounded like a Knickelback ripoff. It was depressing. But now with MySpace, internet radio, and the huge surge in Indie music popularity, i've discovered an amazing number of really good musicians & continue to do so constantly. It's almost overwhelming how much good music is out there right now if you're just willing to look around a bit. I can ask friends who their favorite musicians are and odds are good i've never heard of half of them.

The power of record companies has weakened drastically, and now virtually anybody can record their own music at a fairly high quality with just a computer and a small bit of equipment, and stick it on the internet through Myspace or Youtube etc.

i think it's wonderful that record companies, marketers, and MTV/radio stations no longer have such control over what kind of music people listen to.

Edited by Moonlight Graham
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think right now is one of the most exciting times in music. The absolute sheer amount of music (of all genres) out there right now available to the average person is certainly unprecedented in human history thanks to the internet.

Several years ago i thought rock was dead as every band on the radio sounded like a Knickelback ripoff. It was depressing. But now with MySpace, internet radio, and the huge surge in Indie music popularity, i've discovered an amazing number of really good musicians & continue to do so constantly. It's almost overwhelming how much good music is out there right now if you're just willing to look around a bit. I can ask friends who their favorite musicians are and odds are good i've never heard of half of them.

The power of record companies has weakened drastically, and now virtually anybody can record their own music at a fairly high quality with just a computer and a small bit of equipment, and stick it on the internet through Myspace or Youtube etc.

i think it's wonderful that record companies, marketers, and MTV/radio stations no longer have such control over what kind of music people listen to.

Yeah, I guess I'll agree that there is more choice today. However, it is not all good news.

The bad news is that few musicians make any money!

Back when I was a roadie (early 70's, or Neo-Pleistocene Era) there was a thriving industry in playing clubs and high schools. The money was not bad for the times. We were only a C level cover band and yet we would go on tour for months on end, playing from town to town with 3 and 6 night gigs.

We earned perhaps $1600 or more for a 3-nighter and $2400 for a 6 night gig, often including a weekend matinee. Our high school rate was $800.

This was when gas was around $0.20 per GALLON!

Playing clubs provided an invaluable opportunity to hone your craft. When you play to a live audience almost everynight you can't help but improve! This was often an entry path to higher levels of success. You'd progress from doing covers to offering originals, to small and then larger concerts and eventually attract some record label or higher management attention.

Those days are long gone! Today the average band is lucky to find a single Friday or Saturday night gig. The going rate in my town is $200, if you're lucky!. It's $200 if you're a solo act. If you're a 5 piece band it's still $200. Each guy gets $40 after the split.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Clubs have shrunk from drinking and dancing halls for several hundred people down to corner pool and chicken wing pubs that might have a crowd of 40-50 people on a peak night. People won't travel too far to such a pub for fear of RIDE programs. Although the anti-nicotine people told us that businesses wouldn't suffer 'cuz there were thousands of non-smokers who only stayed away because of the 'awful smell' and that as soon as the smell was gone they would fill up the clubs and spend far MORE money, in actual fact that turned out to be crap! Most non-smokers never went to clubs anyway, while many smokers 'drifted away' to other activities where they could practice their habit.

The smoke cleared out and you could now see all the empty tables!

Polticians reacted in predictable fashion. Virtually all of them had jumped on the nico-nazi bandwagon to pick up the votes but none of them wanted to shoulder any blame for hurting the city core entertainment industry. So they changed the bylaw to let clubs stay open till 2:00 AM instead of 1:00 AM, trumpeting how they were doing owners a big favour. Owners of course were thrilled to have to stay open to an empty house for an extra hour, paying staff and overhead!

I believe this is a major factor in why modern music often seems to be 'dumbed down' from the days of what I know call 'geezer rock'. The kids just don't get the same opportunity to develop their skills, in most cases. If they are a 'manufactured' band or artist the labels will provide session men and studio technology that can electronically 'pull' a bad voice into the right key. That's fine for some but what if you're not a 16 year old pole dancer with great fashion sense?

Many younger bands actually have to sell beer tickets to be able to play on stage. If they sell enough, the club will allow them to play for one set. Of course, there's no mention of any pay. It's also quite common for a more successful band to have an opening act that also plays for free, often not even having their expenses covered! I know one stage mother that got very frustrated driving her son from Hamilton to a concert in Toronto, along with his other band members and some equipment, for free! Just so that they could open for a name act.

I find the club scene today to consist of old guys playing for the love of it (while complaining about the lack of money) and young, naive kids with stars in their eyes who live (and practice!) in their parents' basement.

So does today's music offer more choice? Probably. Are they quality choices?

Well, I guess it depends on what you find good enough. Kimmy gave us a list of some better stuff but I still think it was also a list of what 'slips through'. Enough monkeys at typewriters, I guess.

Oh well, back to my 'Pentangle' vinyl LP.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Stairway to Heaven"? One of the most revered songs of your lifetime, with lush, evocative lyrics... but nobody wants to do a faithful English-language recording of it.

Don't know about faithful....but....

My favourite elvis inspired led zep cover band

Link to comment
Share on other sites

<Interesting Story>

That was a nice read, Bill, but I have to wonder if, at its core, it is really much different than any story that utilizes the "fathers used to be able to support their families alone" narrative. The market back then was just different, and entertainment was not immune to change.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That was a nice read, Bill, but I have to wonder if, at its core, it is really much different than any story that utilizes the "fathers used to be able to support their families alone" narrative. The market back then was just different, and entertainment was not immune to change.

Of course there are parallels with other situations. Common factors in changing times have common outcomes. So what?

Doesn't mean that it's not true. Musicians still are making 'mice nuts'! Club gigs are still few in number and low in pay. Kids are still playing for free and practicing in bedrooms before going on stage.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Of course there are parallels with other situations. Common factors in changing times have common outcomes. So what?

Doesn't mean that it's not true. Musicians still are making 'mice nuts'! Club gigs are still few in number and low in pay. Kids are still playing for free and practicing in bedrooms before going on stage.

Maybe they should start a guild.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don't know about faithful....but....

My favourite elvis inspired led zep cover band

:o:blink::wacko:

What in the blue hell was that?!

:blink:

Still, sort of illustrates what I was getting at. People might do a cover of such a song for the sake of comedy or irony, but nobody is going to attempt an earnest version because they believe there would be commercial or artistic merit in it.

I have heard thrash/punk versions of S&G's "Mrs Robinson" and Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal". Why? Probably the same reason the Sex Pistols did their own version of "I Did It My Way". I don't know what that reason might be, exactly, other than the fun of saying "we just jacked your $#^*!"

-k

{"...out on the road today, I saw a Black Flag sticker on a Cadillac."}

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why is the Mona Lisa ubiquitous even today, while thousands of ostensibly similar paintings are unrecognized, and thousands more probably didn't even outlive their painters?
Kimmy, I suspect that you don't understand Renaissance art. The Mona Lisa is remarkable. The Last Supper in Milan is even more remarkable.

Maybe you are confused. Original people are quickly imitated and without knowledge, they all seem the same.

At first, to my ear, The Monkees sounded very much like The Beatles - until someone explained the difference.

----

In the spirit of this thread, I'm curious about something else. Why, for example, is Arthur Bennett unknown while Somerset Maugham is still in edition, known to readers and generating revenues for his copyright owners.

What's in a song? I'd ask rather: How will the future choose among the creations of the present?

Edited by August1991
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Still, sort of illustrates what I was getting at. People might do a cover of such a song for the sake of comedy or irony, but nobody is going to attempt an earnest version because they believe there would be commercial or artistic merit in it.

-k

Well, here's a cover done by Danyl Johnson, a contestant on Britains 'Idol':

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FA5DkFUSxk

It's a cover of "I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends", the old Beatles/Joe Cocker tune.

'Crankbag Simon' called it the best first audition in the history of the show.

It proves that modern talent is still there but leaves the question about what's a classic and what contemporary songs compare with such classics.

The guy DOES do an unbelievable job! BETTER than Susan Boyle!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, here's a cover done by Danyl Johnson, a contestant on Britains 'Idol':

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FA5DkFUSxk

It's a cover of "I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends", the old Beatles/Joe Cocker tune.

Yeah, they do cover versions when they're contestants on American Idol. They don't do cover versions once they get a record contract. Once they get a record contract, they go about singing original material (some of them quite well and quite successfully, judging from the careers that Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson have had.)

I'm sure you can probably find me more cover versions if you look hard enough. I'll spot you one: Celine Dion is not the first to record "The Power Of Love". It was recorded at least once before, in the 1980s by a one-hit wonder named Jennifer Rush (whose vocal puts Dion's later version to shame.)

There might be cover versions from time to time, but most are genre-bending efforts where the intent might be to create something completely different from the original. (Marilyn Manson recording "Tainted Love" and "Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This". Johnny Cash recording folksy versions of "Hurt" and "Rusty Cage". Weird Al producing polka meddlies of recent hits...) Most recent attempts to take on other recent songs are marked by an effort to put an original twist on them.

I don't believe this was always the case. It appears to me that once upon a time it was accepted and expected that if a song became popular, more artists would record it. I do believe there has been some sort of shift in this attitude, and that might have a bearing on the use of subsequent recordings of a song as a measure of its enduring appeal.

-k

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Kimmy, I suspect that you don't understand Renaissance art. The Mona Lisa is remarkable. The Last Supper in Milan is even more remarkable.

Maybe you are confused. Original people are quickly imitated and without knowledge, they all seem the same.

At first, to my ear, The Monkees sounded very much like The Beatles - until someone explained the difference.

I'm curious... what did they explain?

If ones' greater appreciation of The Beatles over The Monkees requires that one know the Beatles are the original and the Monkees are the copy, are we still comparing the merits of the music?

In the spirit of this thread, I'm curious about something else. Why, for example, is Arthur Bennett unknown while Somerset Maugham is still in edition, known to readers and generating revenues for his copyright owners.

What's in a song? I'd ask rather: How will the future choose among the creations of the present?

Well, this is kind of what I was getting at.

I gather that Patti Page was the first performer to make "You Belong To Me" a big hit. I read that it was the "B" side of a single that was at the time a much bigger hit for her, called "I Went To Your Wedding". (can anybody here hum a few bars?)

At the time, "I Went To Your Wedding" was apparently the more popular song... but "You Belong To Me" is the one that has endured.

-k

Edited by kimmy
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, they do cover versions when they're contestants on American Idol. They don't do cover versions once they get a record contract. Once they get a record contract, they go about singing original material (some of them quite well and quite successfully, judging from the careers that Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson have had.)

I'm sure you can probably find me more cover versions if you look hard enough. I'll spot you one: Celine Dion is not the first to record "The Power Of Love". It was recorded at least once before, in the 1980s by a one-hit wonder named Jennifer Rush (whose vocal puts Dion's later version to shame.)

There might be cover versions from time to time, but most are genre-bending efforts where the intent might be to create something completely different from the original. (Marilyn Manson recording "Tainted Love" and "Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This". Johnny Cash recording folksy versions of "Hurt" and "Rusty Cage". Weird Al producing polka meddlies of recent hits...) Most recent attempts to take on other recent songs are marked by an effort to put an original twist on them.

I don't believe this was always the case. It appears to me that once upon a time it was accepted and expected that if a song became popular, more artists would record it. I do believe there has been some sort of shift in this attitude, and that might have a bearing on the use of subsequent recordings of a song as a measure of its enduring appeal.

-k

It's money, Kimmy!

If you do a cover, you have to pay royalties to whoever holds title. In the 'old days' that was often the record label themselves. Artists were often ripped off shamelessly for the rights to their songs.

So if a label could get several artists to do the same song even more money would come back to the label.

Today, it's not quite the same situation. Most old material has its rights locked up by old record companies, who are still struggling to adjust to today's business model. After all, these are the same guys who think their ticket to continued profits is to sue 12 year old kids for pirate downloading of songs.

Only a much smaller fraction of artists today are with old label companies, so there is nobody to push them to do covers. If you pay attention, most covers of old songs today are done by the young new 'Britney Spears' type artists, manufactured by those old labels.

Modern artists know that they make more money doing original songs, since they will receive revenue from performing, media sales AND authorship royalties!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, here's a cover done by Danyl Johnson, a contestant on Britains 'Idol':

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FA5DkFUSxk

It's a cover of "I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends", the old Beatles/Joe Cocker tune.

Here's a translation of Joe Cocker at Woodstock, singing "A Little Help from my Friends". He was definitely enjoying the "ambiance" of the day!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

When I first hears this fellow, I'd thought Neil Young had put out a new album.

Willow Tree: Chad VanGaalen

Sleep all day

Just waiting for the sun to set

I hang my clothes

Up on the line

When I die

I'll hang my head beside the willow tree

When I'm dead

Is when I'll be free

And you can take my body

Put it in a boat

Light it on fire

You can use the kerosene

Take my body

Put it in a boat

Light it on fire

Send it out to sea

(Woo)

Yeah yeah yeah

Sleep all day

Just waiting for the sun to set

I hang my clothes

Up on the line

When I die

I hang my head beside the willow tree

When I'm dead

Is when I'll be free

So you can take my body

Put it in a boat

Light it on fire

Use the gasoline

Take my body

Put it in a boat

Light it on fire

Send it out to sea

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I find the club scene today to consist of old guys playing for the love of it (while complaining about the lack of money) and young, naive kids with stars in their eyes who live (and practice!) in their parents' basement.

As one of the aforementioned, the gigs around here largely dried up on account of the D.J. factor. A huge portion of the market for weddings and privates went to canned music. All we have left are a few c&w bars that pay peanuts. Classic rock is still the main type of live music here if you can find a gig. So now I pluck instrumentals on my git box, which will assure me of a view of my basement for years to come. Jam anyone?

Edited by scorpio
Link to comment
Share on other sites

.....I gather that Patti Page was the first performer to make "You Belong To Me" a big hit. I read that it was the "B" side of a single that was at the time a much bigger hit for her, called "I Went To Your Wedding". (can anybody here hum a few bars?)....

Yes....."I Went To Your Wedding" can be remembered by many people over 60 years of age.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Unfortunately, your content contains terms that we do not allow. Please edit your content to remove the highlighted words below.
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Tell a friend

    Love Repolitics.com - Political Discussion Forums? Tell a friend!
  • Member Statistics

    • Total Members
      10,770
    • Most Online
      1,403

    Newest Member
    Akalupenn
    Joined
  • Recent Achievements

  • Recently Browsing

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...