By Hans Ebert
I forget where we were, but “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” was playing in the background- an odd choice for the lounge of a five-star hotel- and someone with us reminisced and mentioned how Joe Cocker had a great voice. He did, but that was Gary Brooker singing on the track, and soon we were onto what happened to each member of Procol Harum before returning to why very few can write and record music like this anymore and Old School Baby Boomers versus new school hipsters. There’s a slight snobbery on both sides of the fence- a pity if it’s to keep the love of music floating only on territorial waters. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and all the back stories behind it should be heard today and tomorrow and the tomorrow which nobody ever knows and where you turn off your mind and float downstream.
The problem with many Old Schoolers is living in the past- completely- when it comes to music. They’ve given up learning. They’ve given up trying to embrace the new. They’re engaging on social media, but not really sharing. They’re trying to hold on to some kind of exclusivity. Yes, some know, or else have made it their job to learn about new technology and apps and streaming to, one guesses, show that they’re still relevant. After all, if The Donald communicates via Twitter, the world better learn to tweet. Communicating in 140 words or less might be the new English, at least in America. Anyway…
Yes, many of us have been fortunate enough to grow up with so much great music around, which, in many ways, shaped who we are today, for better or for worse. The danger is becoming an old windbag stuck on Repeat. Repeat. Repeat and playing the same old song. Today, Calvin Harris is making some great music as are 21 Pilots, James Bay, Hozier, Rae Sremmurd, Weeknd etc etc. Chris Martin might not be a new artist, but whether he’s gone solo or as Coldplay is writing some of his best songs in a very long time.
Last week, a friend and I were sitting at a bar -we’re not always in bars- and on came what sounded like a standard written by Cole Porter or Hoagy Carmichael. The singer sounded incredibly familiar. We couldn’t place it for almost five minutes. Sometimes even the whiff of cheap perfume can dull the sense. It was Paul McCartney and a relatively new song of his titled “My Valentine”. After doing some research on the track, I was surprised to see Actress Natalie Portman featured in the accompanying music video and discover that the beautiful understated guitar solo was by Eric Clapton.
What I am trying to get to is that especially if one is making music, there’s a need to have an inquisitive mind. Frankly, in any industry, there’s a need to have an inquisitive mind, but, more so in music. And here, it’s this mind set that can help take a good song and make it better, understand how far the bar must be raised, what areas need to be improved to get from down here to up there, and, if nothing else, absorbing all this wonderful music around us as a source of inspiration and to block all the clutter constantly streaming into our lives and making a tweet a priority. Somewhere, all this new technology has led many to very dark places and where the player is being played. This needs to stop and the Pause button pressed before the mental engine is restarted.
It’s like giving up Le Vida Loca, following the crowd like a lost lemming and settling for whatever gets you through the night instead of searching out, finding, and living with the right partner, giving them unconditional love, having mutual trust and respect for each other, and really not needing too much else. Except for music.
We’re all different, but that restless heart surfaces when someone might tick all the boxes, but if music is not in one of them, the ties that bind eventually unravel, and emotion dissipates into commotion and a demotion of standards.
That bar set so that you just know you’ve met the one person whom you’ll enjoy growing old with and both of your favourite music being the soundtrack to each other’s life must never be moved. It’s what makes Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Your Song” so timeless for many along with everything from everyone like Sinatra and Nat King Cole and Chet Baker to the songs of the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, the Beach Boys and Queen to what Calvin Harris, Weeknd and Yuna are doing today.
What’s needed is a less is more approach to everything including music. We can’t keep going from one buffet table to the next sampling what each offers. In the end, you’re never satisfied because they’re only tasting sessions. Flirtations. Unfulfilled one night stands that carry on for years because standards have been lowered.
Today, we have access to more music than ever, but is this a good thing? Is this why all that music from when there were vinyls, then music cassettes and CDs, has lasted through all the political and social changes over the decades whereas whatever is being produced today is not created to have any lasting power?
It’s all about “pushing it out” and not wondering what that “sweet child of mine” might look like. It’s about “getting it out there”, but. when it’s out, wondering if it was a good idea to go through nine months of labour, because the end product has no real home, nor even any direction of home.
It’s often placed in that musical orphanage that’s getting bigger and bigger and with very few being adopted and given the care needed to grow. Music today is an orphan. Chris Martin is writing some of his best music, but how many know what’s what and what’s when? However, “Yellow”, “The Scientist”, “Fix You” and “Vida La Vida” live on.
Calvin Harris releases a brilliant track with Rihanna, and a few months later something new. But there’s not enough time to absorb anything that enters the mainstream consciousness. It’s Oompah Loompah land where there are a few thousand Willy Wankers dictating what we can watch and hear and consume.
Yes, content is king, but it cannot be every card in the deck. This reduces the importance of content. Content becomes simply adding more and more layers to everything else, so that in the end, it’s all buried under an avalanche of nothingness. Nothing stands out. It’s all Jello.
There’s a need to return to a more simple time when nothing was 24/7, and one had the luxury of time to absorb everything going around, and where one could pick and choose who and what was needed in life. Music was always the glue that held it all together- music from a band like Procol Harum, perhaps unknown to many, but with that one song which continues to resonate with everyone who hears it. There’s plenty more where that came from- but the problem and point is this: Who’s to know?
Off the top of my head, here are a very random selection of tracks that have been very sadly overlooked. But listen to them once- just once- and you’re hooked. And they live with you. At least, they live with me and those who still matter. To me.