Saturday, September 28, 2013

Presidents and producers

I’m reading Yeah Yeah Yeah, Bob Stanley’s history of pop music from the first UK charts to the dawn of Napster and while – being as I am a terrible geek about this sort of thing – I’m pretty familiar with the overall story arc, there are plenty of nuggets that are new to me. Or maybe I did know them once and they’ve slipped out of my brain and have been hiding on Mr Stanley’s hard drive for the past couple of years. From the section about Phil Spector, for example, I really ought to have known that the first use of the phrase “wall of sound” comes from 1884, in an article about the redesign of Wagner’s Nibelungen Theatre in Bayreuth. And I wasn’t aware of this line by the horrible genius (Spector, not Wagner, but I’m sure he said something similar) defending his own art, in an interview with Tom Wolfe of all people:
...people are always saying the words are banal and why doesn’t anyone write lyrics like Cole Porter any more, but we don’t have any presidents like Lincoln any more, either.
And obviously this gets me thinking about the music (and presidents) we have today and whether we get the product (and specifically the producers) we deserve. I can certainly see the attraction in ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Blurred Lines’ the two pop hits that will almost certainly turn out to define 2013 in the end-of-year polls but they’re both essentially catchy hooks extrapolated almost to breaking point into full-size songs. And I know I’m a middle-aged fart and my younger friends tell me they simply don’t understand the controversy provoked by Robin Thicke’s sleazy/rapey lyrics because the hip-hop they listen to contains stuff that makes ‘Blurred Lines’ sound like so much low-fat yogurt. But it’s not just about the words; I can’t help but think that lots of people currently nodding their heads to Thicke’s minimalist schtick would simply be unable to process the sheer batshit let’s-see-what-this-sounds-like sonic invention of Spector or Joe Meek or Brian Wilson; or what Bill Laswell brought to the party, a few years before they were born:


Tuesday Kid said...

That's a really fair point about rap lyrics. That said, Pharrell Williams who is on that rapey song is one of the leading producers of today, and most of his stuff sounds like re-hashes of older songs, rather than boundary pushing.

Steerforth said...

The Robin Thicke song is a vapid, postmodern überriff for the GTA generation, and it's irritatingly catchy. As you say, where are the Brian Wilsons?

The last thing I heard that sounded vaguely original and innovative was Micachu. Interestingly, she's now joining the revived Radiophonic Workshop.

Tim F said...

Pharrell is clearly talented, Tuesday Kid; but maybe we've got to the point where the only viable outlet for such talent is rearranging what went before.

Steerforth: a revived Radiophonic Workshop is just retro futurism gone crazy. We'll all be wearing Courreges go-go boots next and re-eneacting of favourite scenes from Barbarella.