Wednesday, May 28, 2014
"Schlock" Is Schlock, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying About Bad Taste and Embrace Pop Music
"Schlock, at its finest, is where bad taste becomes great art. The qualities traditionally prized by music critics and other listeners of discerning taste — sophistication, subtlety, wit, irony, originality, “experimentation” — have no place in schlock. Schlock is extravagant, grandiose, sentimental, with an unshakable faith in the crudest melodrama, the biggest statements, the most timeworn tropes and most overwrought gestures. Schlock is Rodgers and Hammerstein, not Rodgers and Hart. It’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” not “Manhattan” and “My Funny Valentine.”
This is a very small part of an exhaustive piece in New York Magazine Online by Jody Rosen entitled "In Defense of Schlock Music: Why Journey, Billy Joel, and Lionel Richie Are Better Than You Think."
It's a terrific essay with dozens of button-pushing subjects and keen observations. In the wake of Steve Perry's return to the stage on Memorial Day after 20 years, it comes at a perfect time and I'd like to thank Kevin M. for the tip. I highly recommend taking some time and reading it through.
When I was a kid, I either liked a song or didn't. In many ways, I am still the same, though I have now the resources to express myself with more words and emotion than "This sucks." I don't often, but it's there when I need it. I don't ever recall listening to the radio and using the word "schlock" to describe anything in the Top 40.
I had many friends who were fans of the band Styx. I was not. I wasn't then and I am not now. But if "Too Much Time On My Hands" or that treacly slab of love we know as "Babe" came on the radio I only thought "I'd much rather be listening to David Bowie or Led Zeppelin." The hip-factor, at least the way it's become so prevalent now, didn't take precedence over the simple formula of hook and melody, two things that arguably, Styx songs have in spades.
And why should a songwriter with the talent to write Tin Pan Alley standards, 60's pop pastiches and straight forward rock and roll get labelled as schlock? Billy Joel's name is part of the article title, for Pete's sake.
"The rock-critic consensus on “Don’t Stop Believin’” was unsurprising: Disdain was the order of the day. Critical conventional wisdom cast Journey as doubly deplorable. They were not merely (to use the period’s choice epithet) “corporate rockers”; they were cynical corporate rockers — erstwhile San Francisco hippies who had shelved their prog-fusion ambitions and hired a cornball singer, Steve Perry, to chase Foreigner and REO Speedwagon up the pop charts."
I had many friends who were fans of Journey. I wasn't then and I am not now. But if "Who's Sorry Now" or that monster power-ballad "Separate Ways" came on the radio, I only thought, "When are they going to play David Bowie or Led Zeppelin?" As a matter of fact, I owned both of those Journey songs on 45s, never once thinking their sinister rise to the top was more important than just how exciting the production and chorus of "Separate Ways" sounded whenever I heard it.
I am probably over-simplifying as usual, but it never fails to strike me as bullshit when critics become so blatantly contrary to pop music. I'm not talking about today's pop music, which is by and large, not really music, so much as it is faces and computers and files. There is a world of difference between Aloe Blacc and Lionel Richie and Kurtis Blow and Jay-Z, at least to my ears.
“Endless Love” is a tissue of clichés — which Lionel Richie folds into a gorgeous origami swan. If, as critics and canon-makers, we can’t find a way to hallow a song like “Endless Love” — if we can’t see fit to put Richie in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Springsteen and Michael Jackson and Madonna, the only ’80s hit-makers on his level — we may need to ask ourselves if our critical criteria are out of whack: if on some basic level we’re missing the point of the art form we purport to critique."
It could be that it has existed forever and I have been too much in love with pop music to notice, but somewhere...(I blame R.E.M.)...we started to take more notice of other things than the "record." Making a record is easy. Making a good record is not. And with the exception of "We Built This City," the records we recognize as "schlock" are good "records." There are thousands of better records, but living in a world where The MC5 and Foreigner can coexist shouldn't be a sin.