How popular music has gone horribly, horribly wrong
“You consider me the young apprentice, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis…” – “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” the Police, 1983
“She got a body like an hourglass, but I can give it to you all the time/She got a booty like a Cadillac, but I can send you into overdrive.” – “Bang Bang,” Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj, 2014
Both of those quotes came from popular song lyrics, spanning about 30 years. In those three decades, we have gone from Greek mythology references in a song about control in relationships to… well, booty like a Cadillac. And if you think “Bang Bang” is bad, you really should Google the lyrics to “Lifestyle” by Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan, or this week’s No. 14 song by Big Sean featuring E-40 (we can’t actually print the song’s title in this newspaper).
Perhaps I should sound the Old Curmudgeon Alert sirens now, but if anyone can claim with a straight face that most of this crap that passes as Billboard Top 100 music today is as good as the Billboard Top 100 of decades past, I would be surprised. I’d really love to hear that argument. I would be ecstatic if I could witness someone defend the identical production, similar beats, lack of musical sophistication, and sheer lyrical misogyny that characterizes much of today’s popular songs.
I am not for a minute suggesting that popular music from the 1950s through, say, the end of the millennium was all great art – far from it. There was surely a fair share of stinker songs that polluted the Top 100 for as long as there has been a Top 100. Or 40. But there was so much that was infinitely better – intelligent and sophisticated music that actually got radio airplay. Concepts that were uplifting and inspirational. Artists trying to make a difference, wanting to better the human condition. And those days seem to be long gone, a remnant of history like much of what was good about the music business.
Record making was an art form when I was coming of age in music. Before a performer or musician ever got to see the inside of a recording studio, he or she would already have to know how to sing in tune or play an instrument with some level of competency. Songs would have to be composed and arranged. There was no sampling (at least until the ’80s). There was no auto-tune to tune recorded vocal tracks. There was not much “fixing it in the mix.” If the performance wasn’t there, it wasn’t there.
And the radio airwaves were filled with songs from artists like the Beatles. Steely Dan. Pink Floyd. Motown (so many great artists and records!). Jackson Browne. The Alan Parsons Project. Joni Mitchell. Jethro Tull. Stevie Wonder. Yes. Kansas. James Taylor. Al Stewart. Rickie Lee Jones. Led Zeppelin. Bruce Hornsby. Jimi Hendrix. Dire Straits. Songs were musically alive and sophisticated. Records were carefully crafted, and that special art form that is music was captured from the air and preserved on tape and vinyl and compact disc.
Now, anybody with a computer is a producer. All a person needs to do is lay down a (sampled) beat, maybe add some loops, and spew out some thuggery-celebrating woman-hating lyrics about fast cars, stacks of hundreds and gold chains… and booty like a Cadillac. If popular music is truly representative of where we are (and where we’re going) as a society, then all our booties are in a Cadillac headed straight to Hell.
- • • • •
Come out and celebrate the City of Marathon’s 15th Birthday – Saturday, Nov. 28 from noon until 5 p.m. at the Marathon Community Park. It’s hard to believe that our Middle Keys City is a decade and a half old already. And there’s going to be a big party! We’ll have loads of family fun and games, contests and prizes, live music, and refreshments – and it’s all free.
John Bartus is a singer/songwriter, former Mayor of Marathon, as well as a Chamber Board member and president of the Rotary Club of Marathon. Catch John with Storm Watch tonight at the Sunset Grille and tomorrow at the City Birthday celebration! Thursdays John performs solo at Sparky’s Landing, and Saturdays at the Key Colony Inn. www.johnbartus.com