By Hans Ebert
One friend was wondering if we’d ever hear what he termed “real songs by real songwriters”- tunesmiths like the teams of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and Lennon and McCartney.
There were then those songwriters who wore their hearts on their sleeves led by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Jimmy Webb, Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the musical stories of Dylan, the Brill Building commercialism of Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Sedaka and Greenfield, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Boyce and Hart, Neil Diamond and so many others.
Another friend had listened to, apparently, the forty most popular songs today- “apparently” because it’s become extremely difficult to believe anything that’s reported out there- and couldn’t find anything with even a modicum of longevity as there just weren’t any strong melodies.
I was thinking how, since the release of the last Justin Bieber album, which worked extremely well because of the songs’ catchy simplicity and memorability highlighted by stripped down production, so many have followed- and copied- a similar musical direction- producing tracks where simplistic melodies often sounding like nursery rhymes have been “sung” over beats with the main lines repeated over and over again like a record stuck on the same groove, same groove, same groove.
What we all agreed about is that there’s nothing out there musically of any substance and wondered if and when there will a new artist or even one song that will have that Wow factor- that feeling some of us had when we heard for the first time tracks like “Life In A Northern Town” by Dream Academy, “Cry” by Godley and Creme, “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc, Supertramp’s “Breakfast In America”. Not much later would come Queen Freddie. Bless.
These weren’t the usual buffet of hits from those whom we always EXPECTED something great. These were still relative newcomers to music though 10cc was really a group of gifted songwriters and music makers whose home was the recording studio, where they wrote and produced some of the greatest pop music of that time or anytime.
Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, who went on to become one of the most innovative music video directors, and Lol Creme had great music to inspire them to go one better from the Beatles, “Pet Sounds,” Brian Wilson’s masterpiece credited to the Beach Boys, the Kinks, Bowie, the Zombies, those “real songwriters” mentioned earlier and those real producers who doubled as brilliant A&R people and helped create Pop/Rock classics.
If only some of those churning out their idea of music went Back To The Future, and left their massive egos at the door, they might see how their current product has been written before- Ed Sheeran, anyone?- and that much of what they’re producing wouldn’t make the grade. It’s just not good enough. It’s been heard before. There’s also no place for it to stand out today even if good. Let’s not go down the Spot A Fly route. Ever wondered why Ed Sheeran has had to settle so many plagiarism suits? There’s gotta be a reason.
Away from Sheeran whose success is baffling to these ears, there are and have been a few gems, but most are cobbled together hack jobs. But we’re living in very different times and it’s style over substance. Music plays a very small part in selling “celebrity” and creating a brand. Just ask Pharrell Williams who was always ahead of the curve even during the N.E.R.D days and diversifying his business portfolio until he became the billion dollar global brand that he is. Think he needs a hit record?
Now in his late Forties, his endorsement of young singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers has been enormously helpful to her. The name Pharrell Williams can open doors that are shut to everyone else.
Selling “celebrity” is a business involving so many other components- a clothing line, sponsorship deals, product endorsements, buying entire basketball teams and along the way dropping the occasional track just to keep “musician” as part of the overall branding.
Hip Hop has been the most successful in creating those who are the new entertainment moguls with probably Russell Simmons seeing what lay ahead IF presented properly and with timing being all-important.
Once Diddy, Fiddy, Jay Z, Kanye, and today, Drake, got their foot in the door, they kept their street cred while learning all the time from the powerful Jewish music executives before morphing into businessmen and going legit. They banded together and created an unofficial Hip Hop corporation that filled a void.
They wore sharp suits, they hung out with Kobe and LeBron, they dated every Kardashian, they married “right”, they were feared and were happy to show off their champagne supernova lifestyles.
They became power brokers. They took over while those who thought they had these gangstas on a tight leash looked away. It was payback time for all the Black artists who had been screwed over, sometimes by their own brothers.
This is where the NEW music BUSINESS model came into play. It’s the only one that works today. It’s about power and control. The music? It’s somewhere there but it’s not really important unless accompanied by a hashtag like #blacklivesmatter.
Though still holding all the power, Jay Z and Co have made sure that the baton has been passed. Rightly or wrongly, the new swagger posse epitomises Cool, and no one argues. It’s like Trump and Yeezy. Most of the world knows they’re so out there that they’re beyond stupid, but they’re allowed to carry on and own that social media space.
These are not stupid people. These are opportunists. If dating Kendall Jenner is going to further their careers, they do it. Have a kid with Kylie Jenner? Why not? That door swings both ways.
Has Kris Jenner pimped her daughters? Sure she has and has created a dynasty.
What’s any of this got to do with music? Everything because music has become the background noise to all these distractions. It’s all very black or white. Lionel Ritchie is safe and white, okay. That’s why he was the token “black” judge on the appalling reboot of “American Idol”. Hear ANYTHING about it? Care who won? Lionel Richie is a nice guy who gave me a lovely interview years ago with some maudlin hits to his name from thirty years ago, but he’s no Jay Z.
There are the Simple Simon television singing competitions and Ed Sheeran for the latter group, and there’s everything else for everyone else. Are the two Simons- Cowell and Fuller- relevant anymore? Maybe to housewives and fans of Susan Boyle.
There’s no creativity involved today. Who needs it? More to the point, where is it? It’s disappeared from advertising, movie making, marketing and day-to-day thinking. There little or no creativity in romance. Tinder and online dating sites are the new Love machines. They are the new heartbeat. Gawd, make it stop…
Today, it’s all about the money, money, money. It’s the fame game and how good you are at playing it. Most are lousy at it because they’re flat broke. So it comes down to keeping up pretences and where Facebook “fame” and reality collide.
The rest are trying to “find themselves”. By doing nothing. For years. And their stupid partners go along for the ride by paying for it and believing Googled mumbo jumbo.
When musicians today tell you that it doesn’t matter if the lyrics don’t make sense because no one listens to lyrics anymore, it tells you much about not just the future of music, but where this world is heading.
We might get there. There was some hope just a few years ago because of the always creative Beck, Fleet Foxes, Ben Folds, and a few others. But then, hello, we suddenly ended up with Adele, the new Susan Boyle, wanting to get to the other side by rolling in the deep.
#music #musicindustry #creativity #hiphop #power #Pharrell