I had fun with this video. At twenty minutes in length it asks for more of your time than you are likely willing to give, so if that is the case, jump ahead to minute 7:00 where Thoughty2 discusses modern songwriting. He credits most of the big hits of our era to two men, a Swede named Max Martin, and American Lukasz Gottwald, or Dr. Luke. Sure enough, a quick search shows that these two men are acknowledged to be behind many hundreds of songs.
Thoughty2 talks about many other aspects of our modern music scene, why the tunes and lyrics seem so mediocre, why LOUDNESS drowns out lack of quality. Last year my wife and I were in a station on a mountain side in Switzerland waiting for a tram. We had about forty minutes before it arrived. Even though we were the only people there, loudspeakers were blaring popular tunes. It was horrible! I now consider it to have been a near-death experience (NDE). I had to leave the building.
Several things I noticed, however: Drums were canned – drum machines. Singers projected their voices, but did not have much in the way of vocal quality, the lyrics were simplistic and the tunes one-dimensional.
Below is a video of the British group Badfinger singing No Matter What, circa 1970. You don’t have to spend much time with it to realize how bad it is, but what struck me most is that the lead singer, Pete Ham … cannot sing! It is my opinion, and that of my ex-blog mate Straight, that Ham faked his death and now goes by the name “Bill Maher.” I can only imagine that he spent hours in vocal lessons to become Pete Ham, and those lessons consisted mostly of having him pretend his audience was on a faraway cliff, and that his voice had to reach them. That is why most of us think we can sing in the shower, as we do not have to both hit the right notes AND project our voices. The shower walls project for us.
I happen to like classical music, but that is a conscious choice I made because of all of the above – I could not find anything I liked in popular culture. I kept going back to Pink Floyd and the Beatles, but I was very tired of them too. It took me quite a while too, as I do not like most classical music, only some of it. If I made a list and played the tunes, no doubt you would recognize them, as I am very conventional. For instance, Barber’s Adagio for Strings … take a moment to listen here to the opening bars. You’ll recognize it instantly. I am no expert on music, classical or otherwise.
That piece evokes such sadness, which is why it was used in Oliver Stone’s Platoon. I consider the classical composers (only a few of whom have survived the ages) to have been immensely talented, as they had to convey complex and deep emotions using only sound, and no words.
Back to modern music, if I were to go back to the 60s and 70s, no doubt I would find that most of the songs on the radio suffered from the exact same defects as those we experienced that day in the tram station. In truth, only a few songs survive from each era, most blow away like fluff from the cottonwoods in late summer.
One final thought – the idea that most of our music comes from just a couple of song writers … consider the following: What does a pop music star have to have?
- Singing ability, at least to a degree. (Let’s all agree that Britney Spears cannot sing. She is aided by sophisticated computer programming that corrects her as she goes.)
- Stage presence.
- Good looks.
- The ability to play one or more instruments, though instrumentation too can be ghosted while a performer is on stage.
- The ability to write catchy music that people like.
Now think of all of the people you know, including yourself. How many have one of those attributes? I’ve known a good piano player or two. I know some good-looking people, and I know people who can stand in front of a group and hold its attention. I’ve known hundreds of lousy guitar players, and was once part of that group. (I gave up the guitar, by popular demand.) I have never known anyone who could write good music.
The point is that to have all of those attributes wrapped up in one person is extremely rare, in fact, so rare that I would say it might happen once or twice a generation. So that the idea that two (and kind of a third) of the Beatles not only wrote and played all of the complex melodies and wrote the complex lyrics on Sergeant Pepper is … ludicrous. I think they supplied the voices, with heavy coaching going on all around them, and that the musical instruments were played by studio professionals. I suspect they never attempted any of these songs on stage for the simple fact that they could not play them behind the scenes either. That sound could not be replicated in public.
The Beatles were, in my view, a committee of far more than four.
PS: Here’s a topic I have long wanted to revisit: go to this comment under the post The John Lennon Twins: Six Beatles and Counting for a discussion of the possibility that the famous Rooftop Concert was lip-synced.