Mad About Pop

Give me a glass of wine, and I will scream and shout about the sorry state of music for hours. Last night’s rant was prompted by my friend playing me the vocal track (no music) of Lindsey Buckingham singing “Go Your Own Way.” And then a young Michael Jackson ad-libbing at the end of “I Want You Back.” And then Martha & the Vandellas harmonizing on “Jimmy Mack.” I could barely breathe. And by a quarter past wine o’clock, I was begging a table full of friends for the answer to the question that plagues my life, WHAT HAPPENED TO POP(ULAR) MUSIC? The music that allows a band like Fleetwood Mac to sell out arenas worldwide thirty years past their prime. Every single top ten hit from Motown. The Bee Gees. Abba. Phil Spector. The Beach Boys. The songs and artists that were equally adored by four-year-olds and 70-year-olds because they were SO FRIGGIN’ GOOD. The voices like Lindsey Buckingham and Michael Jackson that just overflowed with passion and personality. The undeniable pop song that even the staunchest pop-hater couldn’t resist.

Please don’t mistake my love of music from the past as my dismissing the present. I nearly fainted when I first heard Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” And Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black is one of the most played records in my collection. Jay Z + Alicia Keys’ “Empire State Of Mind.” Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Hell, even “Gangnam Style” is a brilliant pop record, loved by nearly everyone in the entire world. But how many do we get a year? One! Two at the most. In the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s there wasn’t enough room in the charts for the number of brilliant records being released. 

A couple of nights ago I watched NINE-year-old DJ Fulano play a set of Earth Wind + Fire, Diana Ross, the Commodores, and Jackson Five. I don’t think he played anything past 1985. Sure the internet’s all-access pass to music’s back catalogue has made it easy for kids to listen to whatever takes their fancy, but the point is that they are listening to music of the past. My 25-year-old friend was just telling me that she rides her bike to Barbra Streisand. I can guarantee that 25-year-olds in the 1970s were not digging up records from 30 years earlier. And then there’s the dreadful news of declining record sales. And this year’s Coachella being headlined by the Stone Roses, Blur, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And the success of Glee. And you very quickly realize that this is not a generational issue, but the cold, hard fact that the pop music of today is well and truly shit. 

When I share my pain and outrage with friends, they’ll often direct me to an artist or band they think is pretty great. And I listen, and 100% of the time it’s the same decent music that’s being churned out by everyone, everywhere. It’s fine. Listenable. Maybe with an element of something just slightly above mediocre. But who wants music decent, fine, mediocre??!!!!! I want my spine to tingle. I want my hair to stand up. I want my blood to boil from over-excitement. I want music so good that I want to do nothing else but listen to it. And I want true artists. Not a beautiful girl with a so-so voice that a record label exec has a crush on. Flesh and blood. A presence that makes you weak at the knees. A voice that renders everything else meaningless. 

I’ve toyed with the idea of going back into the music industry, until that feeling of dread creeps in and I remember that I will have to work with crap artists and crap records and people all too happy to work over-time promoting mediocre junk. I have been responsible for some truly mediocre music, and I just can’t bear to do that to myself and to the world anymore. 

So here’s what I’m trying to figure out….. is it that the music industry has become so profit oriented, so reliant on PR, so obsessed with perfection that the reason for its existence (THE MUSIC) has long been forgotten? Or have the future Michael Jacksons decided to take up computer programming and software design instead? Or maybe they’ve gone into hip-hop or electronic dance music, where there are less rules and more creative freedom? Or perhaps the musical genius was dropped from his/ her record label when the first single tanked, and has given up for good? Has the lack of artist development killed the artist? Or maybe everyone’s just so goddam fame hungry that artists and labels couldn’t care less about quality songwriting and true artistry. 

What I do know is that I am being short-changed, tricked by the all-hype, no-substance music machine, starved of the songs that get to my very core. And all I can do to satisfy my musical needs is continue to troll through music’s vast past, turning up treasure after treasure, whilst waiting another year for a gem from the present to come along. 

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