Has pop music radio gone to hell? Or have the young whippersnappers who used to find gold in the charts turned into crusty old farts who just simply prefer the things they’ve always liked. Here’s a look at the 1974 Top 10 of the Hot 100, compared to this year’s Top 10.
One Hell of a Woman, Mac Davis. Format: Adult Contemporary. Mac Davis was a singer songwriter and this is a professional song with a Middle of the Road appeal. “She’s soft when she loves me, like a kitten in my hand, and she makes me feel like a hell of a man.”
Roar, Kary Perry. Format: From Wikipedia: “An empowerment song, “Roar” is styled in power pop, and incorporates folk, glam and arena rock elements. The lyrics address standing up for oneself.” A standard modern pop tune, written by Max Martin, Dr. Luke and Cirkut. Martin and Dr. Luke have written scores of pop songs like this one, which use big bold hooky choruses and a mashup of tempos and sounds to entertain. This is pure formula. “You’re gonna hear me roar.”
BATTLE: Two professional pop songs ably delivered. Unbearably dull. NO WINNER.
Bennie and the Jets, Elton John. Format: Weird, kind of show biz story mashing up pianoman jazz with surreal storytelling. Noted for it’s stuttering refrain. “Oh this is weird and wonderful, oh Bennie she’s really kean, she has a electric boots a mohair suit you know I read it in a magazine.” Totally catchy and fairly irritating, by the end this is a dance groove thing harkening to glam but fairly genre busting.
Cruise, Florida Georgia Line. Format: Modern country. Two dudes with guitars tell the story of meeting a hot chick. “Baby you’re a song make me want to roll my windows down and cruise.” Poppy standard guitar solo, percussive banjo backup with a twang.
BATTLE: Quirky if klinky tinkly dance tune wins over absolutely mind-bogglingly boring dumb fake country tune. Winner: 1974
The Streak, Ray Stevens. Format: Country comedy. Standard pedal steel riff over a series of vignettes about a dude who runs nekkid through the supermarket and the gas station. “They call him the streak, likes to turn the other cheek.” Ripped from the headlines of the day. Total drivel.
When I Was Your Man, Bruno Mars. Format: Pop ballad. Mars is known as a professional singer in a variety of styles. This is a missing you type of ballad, a man looks back and regrets. Pure treacle. “I should have bought you flowers and held your hand, shoulda give you all my hours when I had the chance.” Compare to 1974’s The Way We Were.
BATTLE: Unfunny novelty against unconvincing formulaic ballad. NO WINNER
TSOP: The Sound of Philadelphia, MFSB. Format: Dance groove instrumental. Insipid elevator music.
Just Give Me a Reason, Pink featuring Nate Reuss. Format: Power ballad duet. Pretty stock format, with big drums and catchy chorus. I like Pink’s voice and Nate Reuss, from fun., is good. “Now you’ve been talking in my sleep, things you never say to me, that now you’ve had enough of our love.” Professional pop song, likeable and assertive enough to get really irritating after you’ve heard it enough times.
BATTLE: Insipid dance track versus formulaic duet with excellent singing. Winner: 2013
The Locomotion, Grand Funk Railroad. Format: Dance novelty sludge. Grand Funk was known for headbanging muddy rock, bad playing, worse singing, but scored a most surprising hit with Little Eva and Carole King’s dance novelty of the early 60s. “A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul.” Genre busting in its way, would seem to appeal to no one but instead piqued everyone’s interest. Really terrible.
Mirrors, Justin Timberlake. Format: Michael Jackson imitation. Danceable ballad, Timberlake’s producer layers the sounds deep, with the noticeable effect being the handclap rhythm track. “Show me how to fight for now and I’ll show you it was easy coming back to you once I fought my way out of it.” Terrible whiny pop dreck.
BATTLE: Terrible undanceable heavy rock band does have a tune with an excellent hook and they bring a fairly amusing guitar solo, while the other is just bad. Winner: 1974.
Dancing Machine, Jackson 5. Format: Dance. This is pretty standard Funk Brothers groove music, sounding as much like the Bee Gees as the Jacksons. “She’s a dancing dancing dancing machine, why don’t ya get down.” Pleasant, decidedly minor. Notable because it’s rhythm is just a bit slower and more wavery than what will become disco.
Can’t Hold Us, Macklemore and Ryan, featuring Ray Dalton. Format: Inspirational tribal dance pop. Modern dance sounds, including lots of layers of sound, plus the clear rapping of Macklemore leading the way. This sounds autobiographical and grandiose and inspirational. No part of it but the beat lasts for long, with arrangement changes, sonic changes, but the rhythm persisting. “Now they can’t tell me nothing, we give it to the people.” Ray Dalton’s singing of the chorus/hook, is very catchy, but then so is most everything in this insistent pop collage. Not so much a song as an earnest and engaging sales pitch for a story and some ideas.
BATTLE: Both are okay, neither is very good. Today I’d rather hear Can’t Hold Us because of the hooky refrain, but I don’t want to vote for it. TIE
Come and Get Your Love, Redbone. Format: Blue eyed soul/rock. Sounds like it should be a Philadelphia soul song, a Van McCoy joint, but instead it was the biggest hit of America’s first Native American rock band. “If you want want some take some. Get it together baby. Come and get your love.” Funny guitar sounds and fake strings say all you need to know about this irksome bit of ear candy.
Harlem Shake, Baauer. Format: Techno dubstep. Midtempo dance track built of disparate tracks of rhythms, clips and distortions. Utterly flat to my ear, but popularized by accompanying videos of people dancing to it, which went viral this past year. “Do the Harlem Shake.”
BATTLE: Both are irritating. NO WINNER
Love’s Theme, Love Unlimited Orchestra. Format: Easy listening instrumental dance track. Incredibly repetitive groove built on soporific strings and a guitar looped through a flanger. Sound track for a trip to a wedding hotel. Awful.
Radioactive, Imagine Dragons. Format: Rock Dubstep. Giant arena rock, with big heavy bass drums and mashing snares accompanying singalong chorus, connected with power ballad verses describing the apocalypse. “I’m radioactive, radioactive. All systems go, the sun hasn’t died. Deep in my bones, straight from inside.” Plus dubstep undertones and sound effects. Sneaky catchy, and pretty bleakly vacant.
BATTLE: Imagine Dragons get in my head, and while I’m not entirely happy about it, they earn it over Love’s Them. Winner: 2013
Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks. Format: Singer songwriter oddity. Notable for white reggae carousel sound, about death. “Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky.” Weirdly morbid and bizarre, but of course it is a French song by Jacques Brel translated into English. “The stars in our reach are now starfish on the beach.” A musical revue about Brel was very popular back then.
Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell. Format: Dance groove. One hook, over and over and over. Starts one place and never strays, with a sexual creepy vibe. “I know you want it, but your a good girl, but the way you grab me, want to do the nasty.” Awful.
BATTLE: Somewhat pretentious French lounge music versus appalling creepy dance music. Winner: 1974
The Way We Were, Barbra Streisand. Format: Soundtrack tearjerker. Big strings, Marvin Hamlisch written mush. “Memories. Like the corners of my mind. Misty watercolored memories, of the way we were.” Classic.
Thrift Shop, Macklemore and Ryan featuring Wanz. Format: Rap novelty. Incredibly hooky, genuinely funny, rap song. Clever saxophone. Like the other Macklemore, this is more essay than tune, more poem than dance track. “I’m gonna pop some tags, got 20 dollars in my pocket, I’m i’m hunting, looking for a come up, this is fucking awesome.”
BATTLE: The Way We Were is a horrible song, utter tripe, even though Barbra sings it wonderfully. That’s almost enough to call this one a tie, but I genuinely liked Thrift Shop the first 50 times I heard it. I’m over it now. Winner: 2013.
Popular songs are a mixed bag. There was always bad stuff and there will always be bad stuff, but there is some good stuff in the mix, too. Today’s sounds are definitely more highly-produced and engineered, but otherwise they’re making the same effort to engage the listener and worm their way into their head. Their aim is to please, and that is certainly a good enough reason to dismiss it all out of hand. Unless you’re into the Swedes.
TWO SWEDISH BANDS
1973: #20. Hooked on a Feeling, Blue Swede. Format: Caribbean groove, Lion Sleeps Tonight chanting, with Brill Building lyrics.
2013: #27. I Love It, Icona Pop. Mash up of thumping Eurodisco and thumping power pop nihilism, all fun.
This is a little more complicated than what I meant for Night Music to be, but so be it. Night Music was supposed to be music I was listening to in a bourbon mood, before the lights went out. What resonates, personal story and musical tune, in the dark.
Tonight I slide into Beyonce. She dropped a lot of tunes and video on the public this week. That seems to be good marketing, but really the test is does the product hold up.
Tonight I heard a song as I watched a video that was pretty good. My Remnants friends will complain, but they shouldn’t. The world is a big place, and this is a decent tune.
But it reminded me of a song I didn’t think of yesterday when I pledged my 2013 troth to Kanye. And that is Ellie Goulding’s Burn.
I’m not saying Beyonce was influenced by Ellie, but both songs have similar structures. And Ellie’s song burns Kanye and Beyonce both. And while it’s close, every time I hear Ellie Goulding’s Burn I tear up, because it hits the marks. Beautiful marks.
Beyonce’s excellent, in this case, Ellie is bigger. And bigger than Kanye. My fave tune of the year:
I just sent the Fantasy Baseball Guide 2014 off to the printer an hour ago. It’s looking sharp. Thanks to those who contributed. You know who you are. Now it’s time for something fun.
Nathanial nominated “Suspect Device” by Stiff Little Fingers.
Gene counters with the Clash’s “Complete Control.”
Steve says The Stooges “Search and Destroy.”
Rotoman says Richard Hell and the Voidoids “Love Comes in Spurts.’
Have a different fave, or a thought? Put them in the Comments.
Teddy Powell band with Peggy Mann on vocals “Joltin’ Joe”
The Treniers’ “Say Hey Willie”
At some point as I approached my teens I realized that there was more to music than the current pop radio hits spun by Cousin Brucie. I read in a magazine, maybe Hit Parader, about this guy Jerry Lee Lewis and his songs Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On and Great Balls of Fire. I went down to the local record store and asked if they had the 45s and they actually had an oldies release that had both tunes on the same disk. This seven minute version of Whole Lotta is red hot and kind of awkward and goofy, too. By this point the Killer had been playing this song for seven years, but he doesn’t seem tired of it at all.
The original idea was to narrow down the field to the greatest songs and performances of the pre British Invasion era.
Quickly it’s clear that we have an excuse to listen to fantastic tunes that we may have heard on Happy Days. Or maybe not.
Keep ’em coming:
I don’t dislike Big Joe’s coda: Before I get too old…
Rock the vote in the sidebar!
There has been a lot of banter among us about what really constitutes rock ‘n’ roll.
For those of us who have contributed to the site–as well I suspect to those who have been kind enough to read us–we all have our interpretations and definitions of the musical form that ushered our generation into control of the various airwaves.
For certainly no matter what else be said, when Led Zeppelin and Steppenwolf and even the Beatles Revolution are the sound backing mainstream TV commercials (for the cynics, note that Joni Mitchell has never let a song of hers be used for advertising purposes) then the influence of rock in our culture simply cannot be denied.
But, it has struck me with the first challenge tunes going back to the very early days of the genre Alan Freed so aptly named, the real soul of the music belongs to the African American community.
Not that I am the first to note this, but when we do talk about the music and its roots, and what it really means, Bill Haley always gets a nod. And, that is fine for Haley was a trendsetter, and had a great band and deserves some respect there.
But really it was Shake, Rattle, and Roll, recorded in February of 1954 by Big Joe Turner, five months before Bill Haley covered the same tune and three months before Rock Around the Clock was recorded and released, that probably owns the title of the breakthrough song pushing the then new form to the masses.
Of course, what cannot be denied is that irrespective of the quality of either version of Shake, Rattle, and Roll, it is the Haley version that got the ink and reaction and coverage in those days. It was also a much bigger hit, as was his cover of Rock Around the Clock.
However, it is important to remember the context of why, and the large reason Haley enjoyed more success than his African American counterparts was that in 1954, the civil rights movement was still in its infancy.
So, aside from the fact that Haley reached a bigger market, white America’s attitude to the African American community was such that music, styles, food, hell virtually anything from the rich culture that emerged from slavery, and to a large degree out of the notion that necessity is the mother of invention (guess whose band grabbed at that one?) was driven by evil dark forces.
It was in May of 1954, that the Brown v. The Board of Education case declared that segregation, and the notion of “separate but equal” was unconstitutional. And, that decision, was 15 months before Rosa Parks and her dog tired dogs, after a hard day of work, refused to step to the back of the bus.
Even with that, it was seven more years until James Meredith was granted admission to the University of Mississippi, the first African American to gain entrance to that institution, and one that met with a fair amount of violence at the time (I still remember reading the headlines, and not being able to understand who cared who went to what school as a then nine-year old). Mind you, that was almost a decade after segregation was ruled unconstitutional.
But, as with Pat Buchanan, inexplicably announcing before his dismissal from MSNBC a few years ago that America was built on the backs of white people, the real grunt work of the country–and like it or not, our current music scene–can completely be owned by that same African American community in the same sense that the Egyptians or the Romans can take credit for their great civilizations, but the building of the cities and the pyramids was completed by slaves.
And, while I can give that respect to Haley, for example, I can give none to Pat Boone for bastardizing the true rock ‘n’ roll of Little Richard. For, Richard, and Chuck Berry come as true to defining the form for me as anyone (and the truth is, it would not matter to me if they were pink Martians, they still rocked the shit out of what Boone and his ilk turned into pablum).
For Boone’s treatment of Little Richard was sanitized out of the fearfulness that the African American community–particularly their men–simply wanted to get white women drunk and/or stoned and then have sex with them, using music as part of the means to that end. And, if that sounds outrageous, try reading Daniel Okrent’s excellent narrative on Prohibition, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. (Also remember that the Volstead Act was repealed barely 20 years before the Brown V. the Board of Education decision.)
In fact, in reviewing Okrent’s tome to that troubled period in our history, Publisher’s Weekly notes that ” He unearths many sadly forgotten characters from the war over drink—and readers will be surprised to learn how that fight cut across today’s ideological lines. Progressives and suffragists made common cause with the Ku Klux Klan—which in turn supported a woman’s right to vote—to pass Prohibition.”
If you wonder about this, here is a vid of Boone’s treatment of Tutti Fruitti:
And, now, here is the man, Little Richard showing us exactly how it should be done:
But, essentially the blues form, and rhythm and blues, and Motown, can all be looked to as the seeds of modern rock and pop whether anyone likes it or not, for virtually all modern rock ‘n’ roll stems from that 1/4/5 chord motif that the blues presented.
Further, if you look to the British wave of music, that followed Haley and Richard by ten years, the bands who made a difference–The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, for example–all cut their early chops playing a heavy dose of Motown and Soul music.
In fact, it really was that amalgamation of American rhythm and blues and the Noel Coward sort of tin pan alley that formed the essence of the Brit-pop that invaded America and changed the musical scene around the world forever.
Oddly, despite now being almost 60 years beyond Brown V. the Board of Education and Shake, Rattle, and Roll being released, we are still essentially fighting the same stupid fights, with laws about immigration and diversity (which are the essence of America’s success) and voting rights.
It is easy to get sanctimonious about all of this, but, at the end of the day, as noted by another great freedom fighter, Mohandas Gandhi, “in the end, the truth is still the truth.”
Long live Chuck, Richard, Turner and rock! They started it all (with a little help from their friends).
Little Richard’s version of “Rip It Up” was the first release, followed later by Bill Haley and the Comets’ cover. Which do you like best?
The song was written by John Marrascalco and Robert Blackwell, who also wrote Good Golly Miss Molly and Ready Teddy for Little Richard.