Sunday, May 15, 2016

The day the music died

"Never talk religion or politics." 

Sound rule of etiquette back in 1879, but Ms. Manners' great-great grandma neglected to add one more topic: music.  That may be because of the lack of radio, CDs, and massed produced music back then and she figured the review of the folk singer around the campfire couldn't possibly spark heated discussions.

Today, people are generally as passionate about their music as they are about religion and politics.  Naturally, I'll jump right in and declare music dead.  Not just rock-n-roll or country (real country - not the pop, hip hop, and rock styles labeled country now) or any of the other styles people slap a name on to separate their listening tastes from the formulaic mainstream of the same music.

All music is dead.  Some genres, like rap, were dead before they even started.

Before I continue on, you might want to know what sort of music background I possess that would qualify me to make such bold statements.  Let me answer that.  In short, none. 

I'm one of the billions of people around the globe who feel the music and dream big, but who eventually come to the realization that only a handful of people are truly musically talented.  The rest of us are doomed to perform vicariously through those few.

For me, the realization hit me back in high school.  Every Monday evening after school, I took guitar lessons at two bucks a pop, if I remember correctly.  I took them for about a year, maybe a little more.  I could read any sheet music and pluck out the notes on my guitar.  I could even strum chords at the appropriate places, which meant I learned how to play more than one note at the same time.

But I could never make the guitar sing.

When I plucked out Mary Had a Little Lamb, it sounded like the song, but I couldn't turn those notes into music no matter how many times I plucked them.  If got the urge to sing the lyrics, I sounded like a monotone canary strangling Mary's little lamb.  It took me all of high school and part way through college before I faced the truth - I didn't have a musical bone in my body. 

Despite that realization, even to this day, when a song I love plays, I drift off into "concert mode", meaning don't talk to me and interrupt my performance.  My guitar mesmerizes the audience and my voice controls every emotion they experience.  The neat holograms that match the music helps, too.

With those impeccable qualifications floating around in my head, you, the reader, can believe me when I say music is dead.

First up as Exhibit A: plagiarism and copyright infringement. 

We all are familiar with the famous cases and there are many more we might not have heard about.  I mean, who would've thought an icon like Johnny Cash plagiarized Even Soft Kitty of The Big Bang Theory fame, although not plagiarized, isn't safe from copyright infringement.  As litigious as Metallica is known to be, one has to wonder why Avenged Sevenfold has been given a ticket to rip off  Metallica right down to the vocal sound.  (For non-heavy metal fans, the first 26 seconds is Metallica singing Sad but True and the remaining 30 seconds is Avenged Sevenfold singing This Means War.  Keep in mind that while Avenged Sevenfold readily admits Metallica is their iconic band that influences their music, there are no Metallica members in Avenged Sevenfold despite what they sound like.)

Maybe Pablo Picasso was right.  "Good artists copy, great artists steal." 

But then we have Exhibit B: cover songs.

Over the last couple of years, the music industry has become what Hollywood always was: an industry recycling the old and calling it new. 

Ok, it's one thing to hear a song and think, "I can do that better."  Sometimes, the musician can do it better.  Think of Nazareth's Love Hurts released in 1975. 

"What?" you ask, "That's a cover song?"

Yup.  Fifteen years earlier, The Everly Brothers recorded the song.  It didn't chart, which is why most people familiar with the song believe Nazareth was the original group to sing the song.  But Nazareth wasn't the first to cover the song, either.  That claim could probably be made by Roy Orbison, who recorded it a year after the Everly Brothers.  A handful of others covered the song over the years, including Cher in the same year Nazareth released their version.

Covering songs is nothing new.  In fact, I am up to eleven CDs worth of cover songs and even with my narrow repertoire of music, I could easily make at least a half dozen more.  The difference of covering songs then compared to now is groups covered old folk or gospel songs and "modernized" them (like Eric Burdon and the Animals did with House of the Rising Sun) or covered relatively unknown songs (like Nazareth did).  Today, groups cover iconic songs.

The reasoning might be that the iconic songs of forty or fifty years ago need to be redone so a new generation can enjoy them, but there's one problem with that line of reasoning.  Unless the musician can do the iconic song better than it was done forty or fifty years ago, he or she risks being demoted to nothing more than a cover band with no real talent of their own.  In the last couple of years, bands that have made the list of no talent cover bands - Godsmack for their cover of Joe Walsh's Rocky Mountain Way, Five Finger Death Punch for their cover of Bad Company's Bad Company, and the worst of the worst - Disturbed's cover of Simon and Garfunkle's Sound of Silence.

Disturbed's version of Sound of Silence is self indulgent karaoke at best; the death knell of music at worst.  Combine it with the library of other bad cover songs out there in recent years and it becomes pretty obvious we've witnessed the final death throes of music. 

Ok, the final death throes of Rock and Roll, but that's the only music that counts.

If you're holding out hope that real Rock and Roll talent will burst on the scene and revive the genre, bad news hit the airwaves shortly after Prince died.  Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame recorded a cover version of an unknown Prince song that was made famous by SinĂ©ad O'Connor.  That song, of course, is Nothing Compares 2 U, but she didn't cover the song.  Prince wrote it for her, which is why few knew it really was a Prince song.  After O'Connor made it a hit, Prince then sang it in his performances. 

Now think about that.  Prince writes a song for another singer, who makes it a hit, then he covers the hit because, after all, it really was his song.  Chris Cornell comes along and butchers the song in tribute to Prince by covering a song of another singer who originally performed it and made it a hit even though technically it wasn't even her song to begin with. 

Did I say "butchered it?"

Yes.  Chris Cornell doesn't sing.  He moans and whines his way through the notes.  I can cover Mary Had a Little Lamb better than he can sing any song - and remember, I sound like a monotone canary strangling Mary's little lamb.


So am I, but don't bother me.  I'm in concert again.

TL;DR folks:
There's a lot of covering, copying, and stealing going on in the music world.  Maybe that's because everything that could be sung has been sung and with only seven notes to work with (twelve if you count the sharps and flats), it's all bound to sound the same.  Heck, it's been said that anything that could be written has been written.  I hope not 'cause I'd be out of a job.  Musicians probably feel the same way.

For your listening comparison:

The known hit (1976)

With the first album recording (1975)

With the first single recording (1975)

Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks

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