Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “The Beatles”

Music that lasts

I was recently having a discussion about Zeitgeist. No, not the concept of a spirit of the age or spirit of the time, I mean the 2007 album from the (not) Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve been a massive fan of the Smashing Pumpkins’ music since about 1994 (wow, 20 years!) but have to say that Zeitgeist was the last of their albums I bought and I don’t listen to it, Ava Adore (1998), nor Machina (2000). Essentially, I’m no longer a fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, I’m a fan of their early work only.

What amazes me is you can listen to Gish (1991), Siamese Dream (1993), Mellon Collie (1995), even their b-sides album Pieces Iscariot (1994), and they still hold up really well. With the exception of the song Untitled (from their retrospective Rotten Apples, 2001) and maybe Tarantula (from Zeitgeist), the Smashing Pumpkins haven’t released a song or album that compares to any of the material on those early albums. With the more recent material the songs sound unfinished. When old b-sides sound better than your new a-sides, you really have to question what you’re doing.

But this isn’t just about the Smashing Pumpkins, name a Rolling Stones song released in the last 30 years (i.e. everything post Dirty Work from 1983). Can’t, can you!? They’ve released 5 studio albums and countless – well you can count them, but who cares to – live and collection albums in that time. Fans everywhere dread this announcement at a Rolling Stones concert, “And here’s a song from our new album.”

There are a few factors at play here: the idea of talent and inspiration meeting, the idea that even great artists can’t continue at that elite level indefinitely, and the idea that some art is transitory whilst some is timeless. I’ll leave the first two points for another day, the latter point gives me an opportunity to insult pop music.

Some art, music, TV, movies, books, etc, rise through the charts, become hugely popular, and dominate the media. Then a few years later everyone is embarrassed to talk about those artists and art, digging a deep pit of denial to throw those pieces of crap where they will never be found again. I’ve discussed this before in my article on Good versus Popular, suggesting that popular music/art/things aren’t necessarily good and that time and perspective sort the wheat out from the chaff. Some of the music we enjoy is just because it is played everywhere we go. Some music just filled a hole in the age bracket or life journey, such as Limp Bizkit for all the angry teens, or Placebo with their dark depressing (teen) angst music. A decade on and you’d battle to find anyone who would admit to having bought a Limp Bizkit album, and when I recently relistened to those albums I wondered how I ever listened to that junk.

So what music (or art) lasts? Is it immediately obvious? What lasts isn’t easy to define, because I would never have picked Yellow Submarine to last in the same way that Get Back has. A kid’s song versus a satire of attitudes to immigration in the UK. Would we even listen to Yellow Submarine now if it hadn’t been a Beatles song or bland and inoffensive enough be played to us as kids in primary school? I digress. I think the answer to what will last is often, but not always, immediately obvious. And what lasts is rarely categorised by the prefix* pop.

Take for example everyone’s current objects of pop music derision: Justin Bieber (or Miley Cyrus, whichever you prefer to hate more). Bieber’s music is popular, he’s famous as a result, and I don’t think anyone would argue that his music will be forgotten in 5 years time and laughed at in 10, much like The Spice Girls. Remember them? Me neither. We** already know his music won’t last. And how about an example of something that will stand the test of time…. Wow, this is the part where I admit I’m a metal fan and haven’t listened to ‘commercial’ music in over a decade. I’d say Daft Punk’s most recent work will last, but they have been around for over a decade now, so hard to call them a new artist.

But I will give you another prediction, Pearl Jam will be my generation’s Rolling Stones. They will be still touring long after anyone has realised they still record new albums. And people will go to see them live because of those first few albums that everyone loved and still loves.

Essentially I think that lasting comes down to quality. I’m not talking about the recording studio, production values, or hair gel and dance routines. I’m talking about the quality that arises from talent and inspiration meeting. Bob Dylan’s songs had terrible production and his voice sounds like someone gargling gravel, whilst strangling a cat as their foot is fed into a wood chipper. Yet he had talent and inspiration, subsequently capturing the zeitgeist and lasting (see what I did there). But that music/art has to find a fanbase, whether immediately, or growing it over time as Led Zeppelin did. Now the only question remains: which is better, to last or to grab the headlines for 15 minutes?***

* Yeah, I know, not actually a prefix, more of a noun or adjective dependant upon the context.
** Having not ever heard any of Justin Bieber’s music and only accidentally heard part of a Miley Cyrus song at the gym, I can’t actually judge how good or bad their music is and how long it will last. I’m basing my judgement upon what has happened with previous pop stars.
*** The answer is easy: to last. If everyone forgets your 15 minutes did you even have those 15 minutes?

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Song Dedications

Radio and Wedding DJs like to dedicate songs, but rarely do they get past the “This one goes out to all the ladies.” or “This one’s for all the lovers.” It seems odd to me that DJs don’t mix it up a bit and play some songs for more specific groups of people. For example:

This one is for everyone who loves kids.
Michael Jackson – Beat It – because Michael Jackson loved kids too.

This one is for anyone at home playing with rope.
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart – because rope lovers identify with the Joy Division front man.

This one is for those who are having a good day.
Dimmu Borgir – Burn In Hell (Twisted Sister cover) – because a DJ is never having a good day.

This one is for everyone arguing on the comments of Youtube.
Jackson 5 – ABC – because clearly no one commenting there have learnt them.

This one is for everyone driving slow.
The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love – because you aren’t buying love on the street.

This one is for the Westboro Baptist Church.
AC/DC – Highway to Hell – because that is exactly where this church belongs.

This one is for all the politicians.
Guns ‘n’ Roses – Get in the Ring – seriously, one round, no holds barred, no tap outs.

Mythtaken: Good versus Popular

popular-good-and-bad

Plenty of what’s popular isn’t good, and plenty of what’s good isn’t popular.

There is a school of thought and snobbery that says anything good is not popular and anything popular is not good. I regard this as a myth. I can’t remember any good stuff that wasn’t popular, because who is going to remember stuff that wasn’t popular and good? Well, it is a little more complicated than that.

Back when I was in high school the music scene changed. No longer were pop bands like New Kids On The Block acceptable on the radio, now it was Grunge and heavier, alternate styles of rock that ruled the airwaves. In 1991  Nirvana released the seminal Nevermind, Pearl Jam released Ten, Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger, and thus the reign of Seattle and Grunge music began. Add to that the release of Guns ‘n’ Roses last decent album, Use Your Illusion (1 and 2), and the cross-over metal album that forced the Grammys to include a new Hard Rock/Metal category, Metallica’s black album, and you can see that it was a good year to be a pimply teen music fan.

At the time you couldn’t talk about music without talking about Nirvana or Grunge. With the release of Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, the follow-up albums from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and the influx of punk bands like Greenday and The Offspring, alternative music like Grunge was KING. Unless you looked at the charts.

The best-selling song of 1991?
Bryan Adams – (Everything I do) I Do It For You.

Best selling album of 1991?
In Australia, Daryl Braithwaite – Rise; in the USA, Maria Carey – The Human Dog Whistle.

Okay, so some easy listening pop music snuck through with some sales, but Nevermind and the single Smells Like Teen Spirit must have been top 10, right? Nope. Nirvana’s single didn’t make a dent in the charts until 1992, and even then it only cracked the top 50 in Australia (#46) and was #32 in the USA. Of course, rock and metal have never sold singles as much as albums, but Nevermind still only got to #17 in Australia and was beaten by frikin Garth Brooks and Michael Jackson in the USA.

Alright, maybe this is just a once off. The Beatles were huge, right? They combined good music with popularity. Well, in the UK, yes, but in the rest of the world, not so much.*

Before I end up beating you over the eyeballs with this example further, I’ll come to my point: popular has nothing to do with good. Sure, there are examples of good art also becoming popular. The examples I used were still very popular music acts whose influence will continue long after we’ve forgotten what a Bieber is.  But people were still more likely to own an album by Garth Brooks or Vanilla Ice than Smashing Pumpkins.

This is why I think that good art is often remembered more fondly after the fact than at the time. Good art stands the test of time, influences others and finds new audiences. Popular art is often shallow, or is transient, which means the audience has forgotten it when the next popular thing comes along.

To quote Neil Gaiman, make good art. Make good art and popularity will be someone remembering your work long after you’re gone.

NB: Sorry for not including other countries’ album charts, more can be found here.
Some other blogs on the same topic: http://americantaitai.com/2012/11/02/good-vs-popular/
http://scottberkun.com/2009/being-popular-vs-being-good/

NB: This article is referring to Survivorship Bias, which is a form of sampling bias, and can be a form of logical fallacy.

* I wasn’t aware when I wrote this article of the actions of the US record label Capitol Records. It appears they did their best to make sure The Beatles weren’t popular in the US. I’d like to say I’m surprised by the things done by The Beatles’ own US record company, but tales of this sort seem to be all too common.

Terrible music I enjoy

Not all music can be as awesome as AC/DC or Steel Panther, some of it has to suck like Nickelback and *inset generic pop star name here*. The problem is that amongst all of that suck there is the occasional gem that rises above its mediocre origins and digs deep into my skull like a Ceti-Aal. So here is some of the music that is on my iPod despite how bad it is.

Katrina and the Waves – Walking on Sunshine
This saccharine peppy pop song revels in its bouncy good-times vibe: how can you not enjoy it? Little known fact: Nine Inch Nails were created to counter the peppiness of this song. During my aspiring musician days (also known as my terrible poetry phase) I was actually trying to develop a cover version of this song that took all the peppy pop and blend it with my favourite dark-angst driven rock music. This would have been the music equivalent of dividing by zero.

Dragonforce – the entire Sonic Firestorm album
At some point you have to turn off Dragonforce to remove the copious build up of cheese from your ears. The insanely fast riffs, the power metal vocals, the lyrics inspired by too many fantasy novels, the video game inspired guitar sounds, all add up to something everyone should be embarrassed to listen to. Still rocks.

The Beatles – most of their career
She loves you…. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah… Need I say more? The Beatles are awesome, but you really have to cringe when you step back to look at some of the banal pop music they produced. Not to mention their drug phase which produced such gems as I Am The Walrus and Dude, Where’s My LSD? My favourite Beatle moment was the guitar duel between Clapton and Harrison over Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd. Now you’d battle to find two great musicians who wouldn’t just resort to a threesome.

Dream Evil – The Book of Heavy Metal
It is a good thing these guys don’t take themselves seriously, because otherwise the joke would be all on them. They absolutely rock, are made up of fantastic musicians from metal bands across Europe, and are doing the “we love metal” fandom with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Creed – Higher
A bunch of God botherers form a band and produce pretentious pop-rock albums swamped with FM-radio friendly rock-ballads. They should suck. Actually, they do. But in among the trash is this little gem. Now if only a decent band would cover it.

Bon Jovi – Wanted: Dead or Alive
The highest praise that can be heaped upon Bon Jovi is that they wrote a couple of songs that didn’t suck. Sam and Dean even cranked out a rendition of Wanted: Dead or Alive. The main thing is that the Northern Kings did a cover of this song so you don’t have to listen to Bon Jovi to enjoy this song.

Poison – Unskinny Bop and Nothing But a Good Time
If there was an iconic example of everything wrong with hair metal of the 80s, it was Poison. Before there were metrosexuals, there were hair metal-ers wearing eye-liner, lip gloss and getting their hair permed so that they could jump around on stage in crotch stuffed spandex pants. At least they knew how to party.

MC Hammer – U Can’t Touch This
A guy I used to know was in a band that did a cover of this song. Before I heard them do their cover I couldn’t stand this song. After hearing it, I now don’t cringe when I see Hammer-time jokes on the internet.

Only if you feel the need for more aural abuse:

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