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pop music, 30 years ago
February 4, 2003 10:52 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday's post about Buddy Holly, spurred me to look deeper into the pop charts back when American Pie was in the top 40. I was fairly amazed at the list of songs charting that week. We've got Horse With No Name, Heart of Gold, Mother and Child Reunion with artists like Harry Chapin, Roberta Flack and Nilsson. Sure, there's some pop pabulum, but I was blown away at the litany of performers whose very personal songs, and not very pop themes, were all be charting together. When compared to today's chart, it makes you wonder - what happened to the pop performer as an artist? Is there room for a unique artistic voice in today's pop?
posted by pejamo (36 comments total)

 
No.
posted by thedude256 at 11:00 AM on February 4, 2003


What about Beck?
posted by Outlawyr at 11:01 AM on February 4, 2003


Hee. Donny Osmond. From the description of Tones: "Innocent, Earnest, Amiable/Good-Natured, Cheerful, Happy, Sweet, Sentimental, Romantic."
posted by krewson at 11:04 AM on February 4, 2003


Hindsight, perspective and nostalgia weight the past more, but they are essentially the same.
posted by corpse at 11:07 AM on February 4, 2003


Is there room for a unique artistic voice in today's pop?

Yes, there is. It's called Pro Tools 6.0.
posted by 111 at 11:10 AM on February 4, 2003


what happened to the pop performer as an artist?

Three words: M. T. V.
posted by bondcliff at 11:16 AM on February 4, 2003


Iron and Wine
posted by Outlawyr at 11:20 AM on February 4, 2003


If you're defining artist by how personal their songs are, then Avril Lavigne beats out "Horse with No Name" five times over.
In fact, most everything on the charts this week is dripping with sentimentality.
posted by destro at 11:22 AM on February 4, 2003


Well, pejamo, looking at that chart you linked to, I would say that the case could be made that Pink, Missy Elliot, Eminem, Nelly and Justin Timberlake are "pop performers as artists" with "unique artistic voices" -- particularly if the point of comparison is America's Horse with No Name. (And those are just the artists on that list I kinda like; maybe the same could be said for Counting Crows, No Doubt, Craig David, Shakira, Christina, Avril, etc.) Which is not to say that there's not Osmond-like product on the list -- the Celine and Mariah jump out at me, as do the J.Lo, Kylie and LeAnn -- but I'd like to see the argument that Harry Chapin was a master of "very personal songs [with] not very pop themes" more so than John Mayer, or that Sheryl Crow & Kid Rock's Picture (the country-est song I have ever
heard on Top 40 radio) is hopelessly outclassed by Heart of Gold. (I'm not saying it's not outclassed; just that the margin is much less than an order of magnitude.)

Seriously: If you really like pop music, you basically really like early Michael Jackson, and if you really like early Michael Jackson, you've got to give that Justin Timberlake album a spin. I mean, Timbaland and the Neptunes could turn Krusty into a charting artist, and they've turned Timberlake into a megastar.
posted by blueshammer at 11:33 AM on February 4, 2003


We've got Horse With No Name, Heart of Gold, Mother and Child Reunion with artists like Harry Chapin, Roberta Flack and Nilsson.
Back then I was 13, and I considered all 6 of these songs crap. I was listening to "Bang A Gong", "American Pie", and "Rounabout". Today as a musician of 25 years, of the songs on that list, I consider "Without You" and "Baby Blue" the most interesting.

As for today's pop chart, I have no doubt that the artists are in there, but since I haven't given pop charts any serious attention from 1990 on, I don't know who they are. The younger generation will always own the pop charts, and they will define the art from the pap.
posted by mischief at 11:38 AM on February 4, 2003


Most of today's pop stars are singing songs that were written for them, so how can they have an artistic voice? There's something to be said for interpretation (Elvis and Sinatra never wrote a song), but for me, the defining quality of a good musician is the ability to write the songs that you perform.

I expect that the next couple years will bring singer/songwriters back to the pop charts.
posted by waxpancake at 11:43 AM on February 4, 2003


Kristen Hersh
Low
Sigur Ros
posted by Outlawyr at 11:45 AM on February 4, 2003


Being a musician, and participating in several arts organizations/forums, I end up discussing this with people on nearly a weekly basis.

I think anybody could make a surprisingly long list of artists who've made it on mainstream radio inside the last five years whose work is surprisingly authentic and/or interesting. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Beck, Counting Crows, and Duncan Sheik, would top my list. Of course, relative to the push that Shania Twain and Brittney and boy bands have received, it seems a little weak, and I'm sure we could all make a much longer list of authentic artists whose music is top flight but will almost certainly never see the light of chart fame. Dar Williams leaps to mind.

I share the sentiments of a lot of other people -- the problem is the music industry types keeping the gates. A recent slashdot comment I read detailed the story of a band who decided to deliberately cater to radio-friendly sound, produced an allegedly quality recording in accordance with those ideals. Faced with the impossible task of trying to get airplay w/o a label to grease the palms of an "independent" radio promoter (who, when it comes to getting greased, take the whole case of crisco, believe me), they decided to buy airtime outright, like an advertiser would, at market rates. Long story short, industry types complained heavily and the music was pulled.

There's the Dixie Chicks recent stories, too.... producers don't think that banjo solo will sell, let's put in an Electric Guitar. They won creative control and proved them wrong. There was the comments of the radio industry after the O Brother soundtrack won awards -- "Don't think this means we're going to start plaing Nickel Creek and Allison Krauss" -- despite the fact that most people who can stand listening to an acoustic stringed instrument really like them. Dolly Parton's latest work happened because she was seen by the labels as outside their current direction and sortof a has been, so she started producing Appalacian roots music and it's revived her career, albeit outside the mainstream. I'm beating the acoustic/roots drum because that's the area I know. I have no doubt it's the same for any number of other areas.

I do think that the music industry biggies know their business model very well -- the promotion, the widespread promotability of an act, the image of the pop-performer, the cycle of boom and bust for a song, an act, or a sound. Not to mention milking the artists. They understand how to produce what they can make a hit. But there's a lot that they don't understand. The periodic runaway successes that aren't industry creations demonstrate that. Until the business model changes significantly, it's going to continue to be like that.
posted by namespan at 11:49 AM on February 4, 2003


I can see that Horse With No Name is a bit of lightning rod, and I am no great fan of that tune. However, you must admit that it was a very unusual pop tune, for that time or anytime, both in melody and subject matter. In 72, I was 8 and thought American Pie was fascinating. Now, I'd have to say that Dr. My Eyes is the best of the bunch, both in writing and foot-tap-ability. Still, can you imagine someone like Harry Chapin, a 30ish folkster, charting today?

The younger generation will always own the pop charts, and they will define the art from the pap.

I don't believe the youngsters were driving this chart. Weren't the youngsters listening to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin IV?

Fundamentally, I think this old chart shows what pop was like before the whole music industry fragmented into a million sub-cultures and genres. Al Green, the Osmonds and Neil Young all on the same chart. Holy Sh*t.
posted by pejamo at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2003


Being a musician, and participating in several arts organizations/forums, I end up discussing this with people on nearly a weekly basis.

I think anybody could make a surprisingly long list of artists who've made it on mainstream radio inside the last five years whose work is surprisingly authentic and/or interesting. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Beck, Counting Crows, and Duncan Sheik, would top my list. Of course, relative to the push that Shania Twain and Brittney and boy bands have received, it seems a little weak, and I'm sure we could all make a much longer list of authentic artists whose music is top flight but will almost certainly never see the light of chart fame. Dar Williams leaps to mind.

I share the sentiments of a lot of other people -- the problem is the music industry types keeping the gates. A recent slashdot comment I read detailed the story of a band who decided to deliberately cater to radio-friendly sound, produced an allegedly quality recording in accordance with those ideals. Faced with the impossible task of trying to get airplay w/o a label to grease the palms of an "independent" radio promoter (who, when it comes to getting greased, take the whole case of crisco, believe me), they decided to buy airtime outright, like an advertiser would, at market rates. Long story short, industry types complained heavily and the music was pulled.

There's the Dixie Chicks recent stories, too.... producers don't think that banjo solo will sell, let's put in an Electric Guitar. They won creative control and proved them wrong. There was the comments of the radio industry after the O Brother soundtrack won awards -- "Don't think this means we're going to start plaing Nickel Creek and Allison Krauss" -- despite the fact that most people who can stand listening to an acoustic stringed instrument really like them. Dolly Parton's latest work happened because she was seen by the labels as outside their current direction and sortof a has been, so she started producing Appalacian roots music and it's revived her career, albeit outside the mainstream. I'm beating the acoustic/roots drum because that's the area I know. I have no doubt it's the same for any number of other areas.

I do think that the music industry biggies know their business model very well -- the promotion, the widespread promotability of an act, the image of the pop-performer, the cycle of boom and bust for a song, an act, or a sound. Not to mention milking the artists. They understand how to produce what they can make a hit. But there's a lot that they don't understand. The periodic runaway successes that aren't industry creations demonstrate that, and they're solipsistic enough that what they don't understand is anathema. Until the business model changes significantly, it's going to continue to be like that. There'll always be the cottage local and moderately succesful indie industries, too, of course, but the charts will stay the same.
posted by namespan at 11:51 AM on February 4, 2003


what happened to the pop performer as an artist? Is there room for a unique artistic voice in today's pop?

Top 40 20 & counting down to the top money makers.

Notice how in the USA the radio stations are the same in large markets. Sure different genres but you can take 3 radio stations in one city and hear the top selling song on all three stations in unison. Play another cut off the album one of the three, please.

They have literally mixed the tunes dials on the radio.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2003


"Back in my day, music meant something, not this noise you hear the youngsters playing today!"

Why does every generation have to start saying this about he proceeding ones? I'm sure some kid was told to "turn that crap off" listening to the Osmonds or America back then by some old fart who's dad told him to turn down the Elvis or the Charlie Parker or whatever! Mischief is on the ball, pop belongs to the young, it speaks to the young, if it doesn't speak to you then keep listening to Neil Young and let the kids enjoy what they want to listen to. Its not like the 70's are even known or remembered for their great enlightened music, anyway, it WAS the peak of Bubble Gum after all! Oh, I suppose Leif Garret was an "artist?"
posted by Pollomacho at 11:52 AM on February 4, 2003


I'm beating the acoustic/roots drum because that's the area I know.
I have noticed that when I do switch to a current Top 40 or New Rock station, I hear a LOT more acoustic guitar than at any time since the early 70s. Then again, after about 3 songs, I am cussing 'em out, saying "This is the same crap I hated when I was in high school."
posted by mischief at 12:03 PM on February 4, 2003


Boy, that chart reminds me what depths pop music reached between Creedence packing it in and the rise of punk. "Horse With No Name"... Nilsson... Wings... run away! (Although "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" did give rise to a wonderful, if highly un-PC, parody beginning "Give Ireland back to the Irish, Give Lapland back to the Lapps..." on National Lampoon Radio Dinner, so I guess it was worthwhile in its way.) The only songs still worth listening to (aside from "Heart of Gold," which was a good song before it got played to death) are "Mother and Child Reunion" and "Let's Stay Together" (well, sure, throw in "American Pie" for kitsch value; who can resist that chorus?).

Can't speak about the current charts, since I haven't listened to current pop in a couple of decades.
posted by languagehat at 12:04 PM on February 4, 2003


what happened to the pop performer as an artist?

What namespan said.

Clear Channel

RIAA

Media consolidation in general

"I got two turntables and a microphone!"
"Bottles and cans, clap your hands!"
You go Beck!

And my recent contribution right here on Metafilter with the one and only "Ridin' with Osama" will never get ClearChannel airplay. I can't afford the payola.
posted by nofundy at 12:11 PM on February 4, 2003


If you're defining artist by how personal their songs are, then Avril Lavigne beats out "Horse with No Name" five times over.

Artless sincerity isn't often better than well-produced emptiness, of course, and it's funny how often that dichotomy comes up. Probably largely because it's easier to move one on axis (either artfulness or sincerity) than both. The best music obviously happens in the quadrant where you've got a good helping of both, though (and some of the worst happens when someone tries to make "important" music by wrapping an important theme in some standard pop metaphor).

I checked out an album called "Not Fade Away" from the library a week or two ago... it's a tribute to Buddy Holly. After digesting it, I can't say I'm a big fan, but there's some pleasant stuff there, and he sure wrote better than I did at his age. But then, back then, I was interested in Palestrina motets and lawn mower concertos.
posted by namespan at 12:15 PM on February 4, 2003


Pop Artist? Bjork.

"America" was the A-Teens of their day. Puhlease.
posted by BrodieShadeTree at 12:37 PM on February 4, 2003


I consider "Without You" and "Baby Blue" the most interesting.

Got a Badfinger jones, do you?
posted by kgasmart at 12:50 PM on February 4, 2003



I expect that the next couple years will bring singer/songwriters back to the pop charts.


I've read a couple of articles that indicate the music industry is considering this... predictably, they focus on the "with 9/11, everything has changed" meme. The idea is that now that we've had a tragedy, maybe the general public wants something deeper than "Oops I did it again" and "Larger than Life". Maybe it's Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising". Maybe not. Who knows.

"This is the same crap I hated when I was in high school."

You should get out a little more. I hate a different set of crap than I hated in high school. Variety is the spice of life.
posted by namespan at 1:38 PM on February 4, 2003


Gotta tell you that I've gotten more great music from the MeFiSwap then I've heard on the radio. I got everything from the Supreme Beings of Leisure to Wall of Voodoo versions of Johnny Cash songs (wall of fire) to Henry Rollins commentary on why he wishes he was gay. Brilliant I tell you!
posted by answergrape at 1:43 PM on February 4, 2003


If chart music is for the young, and I hate chart music, does that make me a grumpy old man at age 16? :/

There is occasionally some good stuff in the charts, but frankly I'd rather listen to my parents music, or modern day derivatives...
posted by Orange Goblin at 2:00 PM on February 4, 2003


Outlawyr, Iron and Wine are good (lovely haunting songs), but I'd hardly call them pop.
posted by jennyb at 2:22 PM on February 4, 2003


>to Henry Rollins commentary on why he wishes he was gay.

Total side note here, but could someone provide me a source for this? Is it on one of his CD's? I simply must hear this....
posted by dnash at 2:23 PM on February 4, 2003


If chart music is for the young, and I hate chart music, does that make me a grumpy old man at age 16?

No, it just means you are somewhat different than the largest segment of your peers. Fact is though that the largest market among young people is the top 40 group. I wasn't particularly into top 40 at 16 either, but that didn't mean that the largest group of 16 year olds were.

By the way, good for you, and I mean that, it means you aren't a sheep.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:27 PM on February 4, 2003


I guess I don't understand the question here --and to be nitpicky, this isn't really a proper MeFi FPP, but I'm enjoying the discussion nonetheless. :) -- but are we asking if there's room for a unique artistic voice in pop...

...as in can people make it? Sure, if they're talented enough.

...as in will people buy/listen? Well, that's up to you.

...as in will it get played on the radio?

'Pop' radio is very different today than in 1972. You see so many amazing songwriters of different genres on the 1972 list because radio at that time hadn't stratified into different channels superserving different audiences. There were far fewer choices for the consumer. So the few stations that existed played a pretty broad spectrum of music. As more players entered the market, every station started leaning in a different musical direction to carve out their niche. 'Pop' today refers more to a style than what's actually popular (although this definition always shifts)...plenty of Christian and Country music being sold and played on other radio stations, but rare to find a representative share of those styles on the 'top 40' chart.

For a little history in this particular city:
Here is a list of current Philly stations.
Here is a history of Philadelphia radio, station-by-station.

I'll be the first to admit that radio has come full circle in a weird way and that you can, by and large, hear the same types of stations in any city in America...a lot of the local flavor has been lost. And yes, the music-making machine has been refined to a ridiculous degree, and artists with a unique vision aren't allowed to develop at major labels the way they used to be.

But it's hard to argue with market demand. No radio station is going to keep playing a song that drives most of their listeners away, and no major label is going to continue to pay an artist that they decide will never make back the money that's being invested in them.

I've heard the 'radio sucks' chant so often on MeFi, and I'm sure it does suck for a lot of people who care deeply about music. Too frequently, though, this attitude seems more like musical elitism, like people with self-defined good taste wanting to create musical welfare for the culturally deprived. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him like the Danielson Familie.

Classical music lovers have been bemoaning the loss of classical music stations for years, but there just aren't enough fans out there to support commercial stations. No radio station is perfect for anyone; they simply hope to please enough people often enough that they become a frequent choice.
posted by teenydreams at 2:36 PM on February 4, 2003


I have to agree with most of what's been said on this thread, and it nicely coincides with an issue bugging me for the last week or two. Is it possible to say that there is something called a "classic pop song" in the same way we can say there is "classic Hollywood cinema"? [excuse the graphic quality] That is, are there standard conventions we see over and over again, but do not necessarily limit the subject of the song?

Not all pop music needs to be mindless pop music. Brittany Spears does not represent all of pop music in the same way that "True Lies" doesn't represent the full breadth of American cinema. It is possible to find good pop today. I mean *real* pop music, nothing alternative or otherwise sideways (aka. music that many of us tend to lend more legitimacy) to what is currently popular.

Two completely out of the blue examples:

Lisa Loeb's "How" is a well put together pop song that shows where her talent can go when it isn't fumbling over awkward lyrics.

Sixpence None The Richer's latest album. The first song "Breathe Your Name" is catchy, fun to speed down the highway to, and is backed up with enough good songs to satisfy your head that you didn't buy a glorified single CD. Some of them may be better than the released single.

Neither of the above are particularly trite. The emotions may not be as deep or hard hitting as a Neil Young cut but their presentations are not disrespectful to the listener. If you want to enjoy Loeb's "How", or "Breathe your Name", great! If you do not, then that is fine as well. They are just pop songs and don't break much new ground. But they are songs that you can have some guilt-free fun with.

No booty shaking involved.

Now back to my "Dave Brubeck Live" double CD set. I have to maintain my credibility somehow.
posted by Tystnaden at 2:59 PM on February 4, 2003


There's good music right now, it's just not necessarily topping the charts for whatever reason. But it's out there, and people listen to it. They buy the CD's, and a lot of the guys I really like now are doing OK even if they're only rarely anywhere on the radar screen of the top 20. So it really doesn't matter.
posted by dagnyscott at 3:33 PM on February 4, 2003


dnash...Henry is a big advocate of gay rights. Some of his thoughts on the subject can be found on at least one of his spoken word albums called Think Tank. You can get a snippet of it here. Do what you can to see Rollins do his spoken word act live cause he can make a person feel real uncomfortable, but then you don't want him to shutup. Weirdly effective.
posted by oh posey at 4:38 PM on February 4, 2003


> If chart music is for the young, and I hate chart music, does
> that make me a grumpy old man at age 16?

No, no, a grumpy young man.

What it mainly means is that when you're older the oldies stations will never play anything you like either. The pap you hate today will pursue you for the rest of your life, making you a grumpier old man than you would otherwise have been.

The last THREE times I have been to Kroger, "Kroger Radio" has played "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo" over the in-store P.A. Thank Ghod for mp3.
posted by jfuller at 4:48 PM on February 4, 2003


Only one man can save us, and that man is Tom Waits.
posted by Hildago at 4:58 PM on February 4, 2003


from the perspective of a 20 year old ar-Teest:

what we need is a WOMAN with BRAINS. a woman who does her own writing, arranging, playing, and singing. A woman who's into technology AND can whip up a three-chord acoustic classic out in a blink. A woman with such confidence in the charms of her femeninity, she doesn't have to wear slashed-up couture to show it -- it merely drips from her voice.

and nein, grumpy 16-year old dood, you're not dated at all. I refuse to listen to meaningless marketable drivel in exchange for acceptance into our generation's shared experience of pop culture, too. Know who my ears treasure?

Peter Gabriel. Tori Amos. Paul Simon. Sting. Tracy Chapman.

and i know i'm far from the only one of my peers who feels this way. we've just got to overbowl these musicmongers with our generation's capacity for creativity, coupled with our strong charisma previously used to cunningly control our parents. :)
posted by gsalad at 12:54 PM on February 5, 2003


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