Today’s music rant

I was treated to an unusually good run of songs on the radio this morning during my commute. One of them was Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” It wasn’t the a capella version from her album Solitude Standing, but the one that came a few years later with the dance beat and synthesizers, extended to standard pop-song length by repeating her “do de do do” interlude as a refrain after every verse. I guess I’m glad I got to hear it; it’s a quirky little piece and I’m used to the padded-out version now, since that’s the only version they play on the radio. But it bugs me that there’s no way it got any airplay until they made it sound more like everything else on the radio.

Another example: The Dixie Chicks covered Stevie Nicks’s “Landslide” a few years ago. Probably a song that didn’t really need another cover version; I guess they were channelling their inner Welsh witches. (I mean that kind-heartedly. I like the Chicks.) They had a pretty good-sized hit with it, back before radio decided they were too outspoken to be allowed to have any more of those.* But it wasn’t till I acquired the CD that I realized the radio arrangement was different. There’s a string section on the radio version as a break (where Lindsay Buckingham played tasteful guitar between verses in the original), not fiddles but violins, and it continues through the rest of the song. On the CD, it’s just the Chicks and their band. Martie Maguire and Emily Robison play a nice, understated interlude on mandolin and guitar (if I remember right) that’s totally appropriate for the way their song was arranged. It would have segued nicely into an Alison Krauss + Union Station tune. But no, radio wasn’t allowed to have that, or radio wouldn’t take that, one of the two.

It just bugs me how it seems that it isn’t “music” unless it’s extremely highly produced, processed, and made to sound like everything else that’s been on the radio. No a capella tunes, none of that folkie crap. When was the last time you heard an instrumental tune on a pop or rock station? (Classic rock tunes don’t count; I mean a NEW one.) And, because that’s what radio gives us, a lot of people expect that. I sometimes feel that I get patted on the head when I play my simple guitar and vocal tunes, but most of my family and friends are waiting for me to put out something “real.” It’s pretty frustrating. Certainly doesn’t make me want to put myself out in an effort to try to “make it big.”

I’m not saying that Suzanne Vega or the Dixie Chicks should’ve held some moral high ground on their arrangements. There is value to getting heard and to getting residuals. I just don’t want everything to have to sound like everything else, that’s all. It’s supposed to be creative, after all.
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* Don’t get me started about radio.

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About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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5 Responses to Today’s music rant

  1. Totally agree.

    I was in a music store flipping through books of sheet music and saw one of Taylor Swift. I opened it up and the sheet music looked like an orchestra score. ~_^

    I thought – who the hell is going to play this?

    • songdogmi says:

      Exactly — another problem with music on the radio is, it’s hard for people to recreate these songs on their own. It shouldn’t be that hard if it’s not Mozart! Will people know of singalongs in fifty years, or will there be no music left that one could sing along to?

      (Mozart used only as an example.)

      • I don’t think that the old-fashioned sing-a-long is ever going to disappear. It might become something arcane like spinning your own wool, but people still do that, too.

        There’s always going to be people who are going to want to hear music played live.

        This generation, though, whooo boy. It kind of scares me how LITTLE they actually know how to do. I recently read a study that said almost 50% of adults don’t know what to do with a clogged drain. That kind of scares me.

        On the other hand, it makes us creative types more mysterious and magical.

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