Thursday, May 2, 2013

After three days of admittedly brilliant posts, I got out of bed after a sleepless night with nothing. Nothing I say. Here were my ideas:

* "A Manifesto on Why Woodstock #5n 23099 Could Not Have Been the Hiss Family Typewriter," with 50 illustrations;

*Why Hasn't Anyone Written a Good Song About Bagels;

*What if Mao Had Rewritten the lyrics to "Meet the Mets"

*How would our lives be different, if Sal had decided to peddle underwear instead of music? Would a typical argument on the Burning Woolies forum be, "Anyone who prefers Hanes to Calvin Klein doesn't know anything." Or, Fruit of the Loom never put out anything better than their 1973 high rise pocket."

After carefully considering each of these and rejecting them, I was desperate. But then I reread the comments from yesterday's effort and was struck by something that William Repsher wrote about there not being any truly great music today, and voila!, I had my topic.

What he wrote made me think of something Abbie Hoffman once said about 1968: "They don't make years like that anymore."

Only, apply that to the music scene in 1969. My God, just think of the bands and artists who were at their peaks then: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Who, The Band, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Motown artists, The Doors, the Ohio Express (just checking to see if anyone is still with me), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell, Santana, The Dead, CCR. The list goes on and on.

In that context, of course Mr. Repsher's comments were right on.


*Is it true that there is almost no "great" music today?
*Is it fair to compare any contemporary music to what the Beatles were putting out back then?
*Was that music of the late '60s so great or was it that we were just younger then and took it to heart? Would we feel differently about contemporary music if we were teenagers today? I have always felt that the music someone listens to at 16 is the music that will dominate his or her taste for the rest of their lives. Is that why music from the bygone days always seems better?

And getting back to today's music, can anyone offer up a list of let's say five songs or acts that meet the criteria (whatever that is) of being truly great, let's say on the level of what was out there in 1969? And again, we're not talking good here or even very good, we're saying "great." Tony the Tiger great.

I'm thinking...........


Scott Kennedy said...

If there are any contemporary artists out there at the level of the artists you listed, I'm not aware of them. Believe me, no one will even know who Justin Bieber was in 45 years.
The best thing I've heard all year is by 66-year old David Bowie, who was also doing pretty well in 1968.

William Repsher said...

Man, forget about the 60s! (Just saying that rhetorically ... they were obviously a great time for music.)

The 50s ... Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lew Lewis, the whole Sun Records stable, the full flowering of electric blues ...

The 40s ... Duke Ellington, Glen Miller, Hank Williams ...

The 30s ... Cole Porter, any number of jazz greats (actually through all these decades leading up to the 80s)

Centuries of classical music of all sorts ....

Centuries of folk music that has passed down through the years, merging, African rhythms mixing with Scottish and Irish folk in the hills of Appalachia ... which birthed so much of what we listen to now ...

With music now, I have two questions: what will stand the test of time and why? And simply stated, there's not a lot I can hang my hat on ... which might just be me being a stubborn prick ... but I've been listening to music since the early/mid 70s. Shit, my home turf is Bo Donaldsen & the Heywoods and Captain & Tenille! I don't have a pot to piss in in that respect.

But I know good music when I hear it, and great music. Unless I'm totally cold on a genre (like hiphop, or many types of Latin music, or harder metal, most polka ... tip of the iceberg, really). I wish I could point to this band, and this band, and this band, going around today who fits that criteria of greatness, but in most instances, I just can't.

Which isn't to say there's no reason to listen ... I hear so much good music these days, music that genuinely interests me. But knowing my tastes, how refined they are in the sense of leaning towards smaller/hipper audience, I have to admit that a lot of what I hold dear and champion to myself and my friends ... is pretty good music. Not great. I flipped out when I heard the latest Dr. Dog and Jason Lytle albums, thought they were "great" ... but I know in my heart of hearts that they're good. Which is no insult, just how I hear it.

As a few people here pointed out there's so much to discover, going backwards in time and in real time. Once I got bored with pop rock, actually indie music to be more specific, a few years ago, I swung hard towards blues, celtic, African, mariachi, bossa nova, anything from Brazil, Asian folk music ... it made me feel pretty small as a pop rock fan. But let me know, I could spend the rest of my days listening to music all day and only scratch the surface.

In other words, I'm always hopeful about music, even if a large part of that hope implies going backwards and discovering things I never knew existed.

rick said...

there was a great article in 'the new yorker' a few years ago, comparing the top songs of 1970 to the top songs of whatever year it was, maybe 2010...and it was hard to imagine that 40 yrs on anyone would still be listening to the 2010 songs, while the ones from 1970 will still be considered great...of course i have musical arrested development and i rely on people like you and sal to point me towards great contemporary music. i sound like an old geezer (humming 'expressway to your heart' to myself)

rick said...

i'm recalling a bit more about that new yorker article; i must've mentioned the years wrong because i seem to remember it contrasting otis redding's 'dock of the bay' (1968) with blink 182's 'fuck a dog'(2001)....

Shriner said...

Argh -- my brilliantly composed reply got eaten, so here's another attempt...

Barring career meltdowns, I think artists like Adele and Justin Timberlake might be significant for a long while (but, then again, I thought that about Amy WInehouse...) "Locked Out Of Heaven" and/or "Fuck You" are great song by Bruno Mars. As is "Someone Like You". And even one-hit (?) songs like "Somebody I Used to Know" or "Pumped Up Kicks" might make it around. Hard to say.

The problem with "great" songs of the 60's/70's is that they've been played so often, that they have comfort factors associated with them.

The departure of the true "Top 40" stations and the balkanization of radio in general -- and oldies stations that have rarely progressed beyond 1982 -- really means that there is very little from the MTV era on (apart from the incredibly massive hits on MTV) that is "overplayed" any more.

"Call Me Maybe" -- which was either discussed here or at Simels' blog -- is an example of a great pop song that might still be played years from now (or not) -- same with some of the Taylor Swift stuff.

The *real* problem is -- where would you hear these new great songs a few years from now? When is the last time you've stumbled across any of the Top 100 hits from 2003 *on the radio*? Probably not that often?

But the Top 100 hits from 1973? You'll probably hear almost all of them on any oldies radio station out there (well, maybe most of them if you have a good programmer on that corporate-owned Oldies station...)

But do you even listen to the Radio any more? I don't. And that's probably part of the problem..

Anonymous said...

my teenage daughter answered this question after seeing Across the Universe: "Music was better back then." Still, I'm subjected to everything that Rihanna, Bieber and One Direction have recorded. This period reminds me a lot of the late 70's when music companies had so much money they seemed to release any over-produced piece of product that walked in the AR department, and also to that early MTV period dominated by bands like Saga, Loverboy, hair bands. Seems to come along every 5 years and lasts for another 5 years.

I agree with Shriner that the lack of formatted radio in the 60's made some of the great artists great. Whether they liked it or not, everyone heard "Rainy Day Women." If Bob Dylan were just starting out today, tho, he would be relegated to Todd Snider territory.

JAG said...

@rick mentions that New Yorker piece comparing music from 1970 (which I dimly recall feeling like a disappointing year in music, at the time) with that from 2010, or thereabouts.

When I read that article I thought, even if the music of today were as great, or better, would I recognize it for being so? I don't listen to music the same way as I did then, I don't expect the same things from it, and I sure as hell don't have the same reaction. But is that the music, or is that the (much older, played out) me?

So if the Next Beatles showed up on the radio, would I even recognize it as great?

buzzbabyjesus said...

I can't answer this in less than 300 pages.

Shriner said...

JAG said:

So if the Next Beatles showed up on the radio, would I even recognize it as great?

When I first heard Sloan on the radio (living in Michigan gives you access to all that great Canadian content) -- I recognized them as "great". But they are now a 20-year-old (!) band.

*Universally* great? Probably not. But *great* in my ears. Next Beatles? Not so much, but 4 songwriters in the band who can switch instruments? I like it.

The larger question would be one more like "could there ever be another band who's style changed so rapidly like the Beatles in 6 years and be popular throughout their entire career?" *That*, I doubt.

Ken D said...

Is "longevity" even a quality valued today? Can anyone remember a review that offered praise like "this a [book/film/album/artist] we will still want to go back to a decade or two from now"?
Now "greatness" is measured by opening week box-office, consecutive weeks in the top ten, how quickly it goes viral.
And even those who are quickest to declare this week's sensation eternally great, the words are barely out of their mouths before they're asking, "OK, what's next?"

And anyone know how we could find the New Yorker story mentioned above?

buzzbabyjesus said...

Here's a link to a weekend compilation, entitled "Now That's What I Call Bullshit 52". I made it awhile ago, but if you're missing the usual Sal mix, this is better. It contains not a single song by Todd Rundgren, or Wilco.

To read something about what is on it you can go here:

Have a good weekend.

Anonymous said...

going to put Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris out there as great - they did start in the 70's, but have a fantastic body of work and are still going strong.

if they hadn't died, i think we would be talking about Jeff Buckley and Elliot Smith as possible greats. they didn't seem to be one trick ponies. Might of put Jack White in here, but I'm not crazy about the post-White Stripes stuff other than his producer projects. jazz is still producing some future greats, such as Jason Moran and Darcy James Argue.

ot, a cutting look at the economic side of the Stones tour -

Sal Nunziato said...

Uh BuzzBabyJesus you do know I can still see the comments right? Okay Jeff you take over the blog permanently and Buzz you take over the Weekend Mixes. I'll stay down south and live peacefully on a riverboat.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Of course I know you see the comments, that's why I didn't say anything actually bad about Todd, Wilco, or Rush for that matter. They just aren't in the mix.

charlie c. said...

Music in 1969 was more organic, more in the moment – and as trite as those catchphrases are, they match what I am feeling. I don’t think the music business of today even faintly resembles the music business of yesterday. The distribution system is different is different, the distribution unit is different (Remember sides of albums? Which one was better? “Oh c’mon – we listen to side two all the time!”), the marketing is different. The Grateful Dead pulled up a flatbed on Haight street, grabbed some free power and started playing – no Budweiser sign, no Shell Oil banner. (I can probablt stop spell checking because 75 % of you just stopped reading.)
1969 – no music video (remember them?), no tour to support the album, no release an album to support the tour, no Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony dinner, no rap music on the Grammy’s, no rap music!
Anyway, those still with me – listen to “Turn on Your Lovelight” from Live Dead, or maybe Volunteers, which was a studio release by the Jefferson Airplane.
Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream . . .

charlie c. said...

Who's the moderator here, who's in charge?!? Sal - if you are dispensing with your earthly duties, can I at least do something?!? Pick a font, Call out for Chinese - anything?

charlie c. said...

Today's music?
The Mammals, My Morning Jacket, Joan Osborne, Tedeschi/Trucks, Keb Moe

Sal Nunziato said...

What about this approach?

In a recent interview with ?uestlove of the Roots he said something like "r&b is all about beats and grooves now. The melody seems to be missing."

This seems to be the problem I have with so much music these days. Even the great ones...the bands that seem to get the praise like Dawes or Alabama Shakes to name but two...there is a sound and a style but no hook or anything to grab you melodically.

Even the worst bands and worst pop hits of the sixties and seventies had more of everything behind them. Songsmiths, producers, studio musicians. Will "Knock Three Times" go down in history as a classic like "Like A Rolling Stone." Of course not. But you'd be hard pressed to find anything on the top 100 with a melody as memorable.

I listen to an incredible amount of music as do many of you and it may not be an oversimplification to say, it's just not as good as it used to be. I will stand by that.

Anonymous said...

A few random thoughts:

The 60s were an undeniably amazing time for music. Music, BROADLY speaking, isn't as good now, but it wasn't as good in the 00s, 90s, 80s, or 70s, either. Props to the rock and roll pioneers of the 50s, but I don't think music was as good then either. (Jazz and jazz pop a different matter...)

Sometimes art forms go through golden ages, like pop and rock did in the 60s, or Hollywood in the late 30s early 40s or the 70s, or TV now, that are obvious even at the time.

More often, it takes a while to realize what will endure and what won't.

One reason music is "less great" now is that music culture has become so diffuse. Everyone knows the great singles of the 60s because everyone listened to them at the time. That kind of mass audience barely exists, if at all, in music anymore.

Wonder if not even having the opportunity to reach a mass audience changes the way songwriters, producers, etc. work.

Off the top of my head, guessing in 30, 40, 50 years people might still be listening to Beyonce, Jack White, Taylor Swift, Kanye West. I was listening to TV on the Radio last night; they're pretty amazing. More people should listen to them now.

I'd take "Gangam Style" or "Call Me Maybe" over "Knock Three Times"

Bruce H.

Anonymous said...

Great topic and one that could be debated forever. One thing that cannot be questioned is how utterly mindblowing it is at how many true musical genuises emerged from the teeny tiny area of London, England in the sixties. Beatles, Who, Stones, Kinks, Clapton, Beck, Zeppelin, and on and on. These artists are the musical backbone of everything we reference today in regards to music. And they all had one thing in common - they honed their chops on American blues and R & B. That's what's missing in the new music today. New, young bands/artists have grown up without that influence and lack that swagger. Man, what was in the water back then.

big bad wolf said...

this is such a complicated issue. the surest way to find great music is to go backward. the two greatest discoveries i made this century were bing crosby and franco. i can't even begin to talk about how stunningly good each of them is. i can own up to how narrowly i did or would have perceived them in the 70s or 80s. i was always more open to jazz, which to my overeducated ears was cool and sophisticated. but i would be lying if i were to claim i grasped how astounding good people like sonny rollins, let alone hank mobley were.

and so my assumption is that there are wonderful talents out there who will stand the test of time and who i either haven't or can't hear right now.

that said, i think there are at least two things that contributed to the perception, which i share, that there was something like a golden age of rock/pop. the first was that there was a shared medium. lester bangs nailed this in 77, in the essay he wrote about elvis's death. he saw the fragmentation of the musical culture, the privileging of one form or another as widespread badge wearing,a way of being different, of being better. he wasn't wrong to see it happening then, but things moved so much more slowly in those days. many of us still even in 77 listened often to AM, and its commercially driven attempts to unite what never was unitable. FM, in its 70s glory, was tearing that apart. it seemed great at the time---it sounded like us, not like them, or even like that dweeby guy in english class or those girls who liked pop too much. but without that need to try to get played, to try to appeal broadly, maybe the drive to be great, as opposed to be clever, or right, or knowing was undermined? and sure most of what that broad spectrum produced was just okay, but maybe the pop was better and maybe the need to matter on a large scale brought out the best in those who had ambition. whereas now in a zillion fragmented genres it is enoguh to be the decemberists, who would have been scorned as narrow wankers back in the day? would bing ever have been as narrow as these guys? would the beatles? or the stones? or, whatever one thinks of his striving, would bruce? can one imagine joe strummer as self-satisfied as colin meloy? it is hard to hear most of today's music as great because it cannot address us broadly. if it tried, it likely would fail, but trying would create at least a chance of greatness. playing for the sure thing of genre success leads to fine, but unimpressive music, i think.

the second thing i would identify is the album and its length on vinyl. albums were long enough to allow talented folks from monk to the stones, from sinatra to dylan, from the beatles to the clash to try to formulate coherent, sustainable visions, but short enough to require discipline. the CD encouraged excess. there were almost no double vinyl albums that were actually good that ran much more than 80 minutes. the CD encouraged record companies and artists to loose 73 minutes on us every couple of years. that was not a good thing. editing is a good thing. process is a virtue in law, not in art.

damn, sometimes time really makes one understand the virtue of trying. i was in a microsoft store yesterday with my little boy. he was playing games i neither understand nor want to. but the store was playing sound and vision and i, who love bowie, was struck by how amazing and timeless and yet prescient the song sounded. it made me wonder why, in the 90s, i doubted him.

the diffuse nature of current music, and the return to single, evenif great ones, makes it hard to predict who from this era will be thought great. i'd bet on eminem and kayne, and a bleated recognition that sleater-kinney's "the woods" was one of the last great rock albums.