Two songs about Velcro relationships

June 2, 2023 • 1:15 pm

When I heard this old (and excellent) Dusty Springfield song the other day, the Fleetwood Mac equivalent immediately came to mind, though they’re 24 years apart (Dusty released hers in 1963 and Fleetwood Mac in 1987).  Both songs are about a woman who so smitten with a guy that she can’t bear to be apart from him.

Here’s Dusty supposedly singing “live’, though she may be lip-synching. (As a pedant, I have to note that the title really should be “I want to be with only you,” though that wouldn’t fit the tune.) Dusty is now almost forgotten, but was regarded as perhaps the best white “soul singer” of her time, and I’m a big fan. (And of course there’s also this great song.)

This is my second favorite Fleetwood Mac song written by Christine McVie (“Say You Love Me” is my fave). Both women died too young, and both of cancer.  These songs, however, live on.

“That’s What Friends are For”

May 9, 2023 • 1:30 pm

Who would have thought that combining Dionne Warwick with Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight would produce one of the best pop songs of the Eighties (a dire decade, to be sure)? One of the reasons the song is so great, besides its upbeat nature, the appealing combination of the voices, and Stevie’s harmonica parts (adding mouth organ was a stroke of genius), is that it came from the brain of Bert Bacharach, the best pop composer of our era. Normally Bacharach’s partner in such a song would be Hal David, but Bacharach’s wife Carole Bayer Sager was the co-writer here.

From Wikipedia:

It was first recorded in 1982 by Rod Stewart for the soundtrack of the film Night Shift, but it is better known for the 1985 cover version by Dionne Warwick,[ Elton John, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. This recording, billed as being by “Dionne Warwick & Friends”, was released as a charity single for AIDS research and prevention. It was a massive hit, becoming the number-one single of 1986 in the United States, and winning the Grammy Awards for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and Song of the Year. It raised more than $3 million for its cause.

You can hear Rod Stewart’s version here, but it’s not nearly as good as the Warwick et al. ensemble. His voice is simply not suited to the lyrics.

This may well be a lip synched version, but you can see that simply singing this song makes you happy and friendly: look at the interactions between the singers. I bet you’ll be happy when you hear it, too.

Rick Beato analyzes (and lauds) the music of Gordon Lightfoot

May 4, 2023 • 12:30 pm

In light of Gordon Lightfoot‘s death on May 1, musician, music analyst, and producer Rick Beato discusses Lightfoot, his music, and his musical legacy. This 28-minute video by Beato clearly shows that he worships the man and loved his music.

My only beef is that Beato doesn’t spend a lot of time on Lightfoot’s early songs, particularly those on his first album, “Lightfoot!”  To my mind, those represented his best work: simple (a bass and two guitars) but beautiful in their simplicity and honesty.  In fact, Beato gives no time at all to that work, which surely deserves as much time as the later music Beato favors.

Here’s a video Beato mentions: Bob Dylan inducting Lightfoot into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1986:

Gordon Lightfoot died

May 2, 2023 • 8:15 am

I’ll begin this day on a sad note: one of the favorite folk singers of my youth, Gordon Lightfoot, died Monday at 84.  I’ll give the details from the NYT:

Gordon Lightfoot, the Canadian folk singer whose rich, plaintive baritone and gift for melodic songwriting made him one of the most popular recording artists of the 1970s, died on Monday night in Toronto. He was 84.

His death, at Sunnybrook Hospital, was confirmed by his publicist, Victoria Lord. No cause was given.

Mr. Lightfoot, a fast-rising star in Canada in the early 1960s, broke through to international success when his friends and fellow Canadians Ian and Sylvia Tyson recorded two of his songs, “Early Morning Rain” and “For Lovin’ Me.”

When Peter, Paul and Mary came out with their own versions, and Marty Robbins reached the top of the country charts with Mr. Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness,” Mr. Lightfoot’s reputation soared. Overnight, he joined the ranks of songwriters like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Tom Paxton, all of whom influenced his style.

When folk music ebbed in popularity, overwhelmed by the British invasion, Mr. Lightfoot began writing ballads aimed at a broader audience. He scored one hit after another, beginning in 1970 with the heartfelt “If You Could Read My Mind,” inspired by the breakup of his first marriage.

In quick succession he recorded the hits “Sundown,” “Carefree Highway,” “Rainy Day People” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which he wrote after reading a Newsweek article about the sinking of an iron-ore carrier in Lake Superior in 1975, with the loss of all 29 crew members.

I came upon Lightfoot when hearing his debut album, “Lightfoot!”, in 1966. I was still in high school but haven’t stopped listening to its songs since.  Every song on the album is a masterpiece, and I count this as among the very best folk (or country; they’re hard to distinguish here) albums of our era. It came out of nowhere! At that time Lightfoot was a young man, impossibly handsome, and having unparalleled songwriting, guitar, and singing skills. Nobody else has occupied his country/folk niche since.

Here are the tracks, with all the songs but three written by Lightfoot. Note that there are only two guitars, Lightfoot’s voice, and a bass:

Yes, he became a certified star, especially beloved in Canada but popular worldwide, and produced other music; but beyond the songs above, the only ones I ever listen to are “Canadian Railroad Trilogy” (1967), “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (1976; see below), and “If You Could Read My Mind” (1970). (Note the NYT’s article, “How ‘The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ defied Top 40 logic“.)

I’ll put up a few of my favorite songs, three from the “Lightfoot!” album and then “Canadian Railroad Trilogy.”

First, two of his own compositions, but I think you should listen to every track listed above.

“Long River” from the first album,

“Sixteen Miles” from the first album:

Finally, one of my favorites on the album: “Changes,” written by Phil Ochs. Lightfoot’s rendition is simple and ineffably beautiful:

Here’s “Railroad Trilogy” recorded at the BBC in 1972:

And a 10-minute bio with video, celebrating Lightfoot’s getting the Life Achievement Award from the Folk Alliance International.

Gordo is gone, and of course he’s not “resting in peace,” but he made a lot of us happy while he lived.

Reader Thomas, who informed me in an early-morning email of Lightfoot’s death, gets the last word:

Sigh…my world grows lonelier seemingly by the hour.  Like the last line of his Canadian Railroad Trilogy:  “And many are the dead men, too silent to be real.”

McWhorter and Loury on equality vs. equity—and music

March 24, 2023 • 12:45 pm

Below is an hourlong of John McWhorter making his every-other-week appearance on Glenn Loury’s podcast, the “Glenn Show”.  The YouTube notes for this bit are indented (their bolding):

John McWhorter is back, and fresh off an appearance on Bill Maher’s Real Time that provides plenty of fodder for this conversation. It’s always an interesting experience comparing the relatively unrestrained version of John that I record with three times a month and the carefully crafted version of himself he presents on other programs, when he knows he only has a few minutes to make his point. This is something all of us who regularly appear in the media have to grapple with: How do we distill all of the thinking, reading, and writing we do within our areas of expertise into audience-friendly sound bites that will give some sense of our deeper reasoning? John has mastered this art, and I have to say, I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it, too!

We begin by discussing that Real Time appearance. John is turning into one of Maher’s regular guests, but he wasn’t always such a skilled communicator. He recounts an earlier Bill Maher appearance where he dropped the ball. John was invited on to talk about equity and equality, and we take the opportunity to talk more expansively about the difference between the two. We are both advocates for equality, and we both think that equity is a poor substitute. We also both think that black Americans have the potential to perform at the same level as everyone else, but the test scores tell a different story. So how do we know that potential is real and not just wishful thinking? It’s a tough question. The most zealous DEI advocates come from the ranks of educated middle and upper-middle-class blacks, and I’m reminded of E. Franklin Frazier’s classic critique, Black BourgeoisieWe move on to the question of standards in the arts, and John says it’s not such a big deal if African Americans don’t have proportional representation in classical orchestras and audiences.

We get a pretty unfiltered version of John in this one. Anybody who catches him only on TV or in the New York Times is missing out!

It’s a wide-ranging conversation, going from equity to music, and is well worth listening to. I’ll highlight just a few landmarks:

10:56: Equality vs. equity. McWhorter, who dominates this hour, argues that there’s a certain arrogance in pretending that “equity” just means “equality”, but it’s okay for the woke because the conflation “battles white power”.  He adds that only under equity is racial “tokenism” seen as okay, but the notion of equity creates a “wormy and arrogant social policy.”

16:57: Loury makes the devil’s advocate case for equity, saying that “equality” avoids the hard questions: how do you assess talent,  opportunity, and the moral obligations of society? What good, he asks, is equal opportunity if people start from different points of advantage and disadvantage? He then describes the cartoon below, which you’ve seen before:

19:30: McWhorter calls that cartoon not only misleading, but deeply insulting to black people, because it implies that people will think “black people are born dumb” (i.e., they start with a shorter box). My response is that the short box isn’t mental difference, but cultural difference that ultimately can be ascribed to slavery, oppression and bigotry and that results in lower performance on test scores.  McWhorter eventually does claim (and I agree) that black people are culturally rather than genetically disadvantaged. But his constant claim is that to overcome racial differences in achievement and test performance, black people must begin setting themselves standards and goals and meeting them—not kvetching that they’re disadvantaged by racism and need the compensations associated with equity.

It becomes clear that both Loury and McWhorter do believe that we should not relax standards of merit for promotion or achievement, but that black people, insofar as they don’t perform as well as whites, should simply work harder.  It sickens McWhorter, he says, to see the call for holding black people to standards different from those to which we hold white people.

McWhorter then mentions the tweet below, which I found on his website. He says he issued it deliberately, not to self-aggrandize but to make the point that “equity” is patronizing toward black people by holding them to different standards.  As he says (or maybe it was Loury), “we cannot exempt people from having to display competency.”

The last part of the discussion turns to classical music, one of McWhorter’s great loves. He deals with whether there should be equity in orchestras (no), whether symphonies should program music that more people of color would want to hear (no), and why classical music is so great.  But he then argues—and here I agree with him—that the only reason that opera is seen as more highbrow than many Broadway musicals is because opera is in a foreign language. He argues that there’s no reason to think Puccini any better than, say, the musical “Showboat,” and at that point I stood up and cheered.

Anyway, the hour is divided into two distinct parts: equity and music, and though they’re connected, it’s worth hearing the show simply because I love the way these guys interact.



And to show the greatness of musicals, here’s the inimitable Paul Robeson singing a song that always brings tears to my eyes. It’s “Old Man River,” and was written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, two white Jews. This is a scene from the 1936 movie version of “Showboat.”

Music: American girls

March 19, 2023 • 1:30 pm

I always see these two songs as a pair, as they both deal with American girls. But they’re very different: one’s by a Brit (David Bowie) and the other by an American (Tom Petty).  Further, Petty’s song is about American girls, while Bowie’s is about the relationship between American men and women, but with more emphasis on the women.  What they have common behond that is that they’re both good songs, and so I’ll pair them here. In fact, “American Girl” is the only Tom Petty song I really like, and “Young Americans” one of the few Bowie songs I like.

Tom Petty’s “American Girl” from 1976 always puzzles me: what’s so American about the American girl? Yet it still rings true, especially the line “raised on promises”, something that’s supposed to distinguish American girls from non-American girls. Perhaps it refers to the promise of the American Dream: if you work hard, you can get what you want.

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

. . . . Petty says that he wrote the song while living in California:

I don’t remember exactly. I was living in an apartment where I was right by the freeway. And the cars would go by. In Encino, near Leon Russell’s house. And I remember thinking that that sounded like the ocean to me. That was my ocean. My Malibu. Where I heard the waves crash, but it was just the cars going by. I think that must have inspired the lyric.

The opening line lyric “raised on promises” echoes a line of dialogue in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1963 film, Dementia 13. Referring to another woman, the character Louise says (at minute 17), “Especially an American girl. You can tell she’s been raised on promises.”

The opening is what gets me here: it’s driven hard by a great bass line, and the cymbal sound at the beginning (or a human “chhh” sound) is great, though you can hear it only on the original recording.)

Here’s a great performance of David Bowie’s “Young Americans“, a song released in 1975. It’s much more complex than the Petty song. As to what it means, well it seems to be a Brit’s pastiche about America in general (the lyrics are here)—a UIysses-like stream of consciousness about this country. Beyond that, and the several references to cultural and historical phenomena, I won’t even try an exegesis.

The song is tremendously energetic, and the sax work is great. It was composed entirely by Bowie, and they don’t write ’em like this any more.

Sadly, both Petty and Bowie are gone, both having died fairly young (Bowie was 69, Petty 66).


March 2, 2023 • 2:46 pm

Here’s some music; I am so racked with sleeplessness that I’m incapable of producing anything more than cutting and pasting. But I do love this song, “Badge“: my favorite piece by the evanescent three-man all-star group “Cream”: Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and the best rock drummer of all time, the irascible Ginger Baker.

This was performed in the Albert Hall in London in 2005, 36 years after it was issued as a single in 1969. It also appeared on their final album, “Goodbye.”

It’s not widely known that George Harrison not only played on the original song, here, but also gets cowriting credit with Clapton. As for the title, Wikipedia gives this version:

“Badge” was originally an untitled track. During the production transfer for the album Goodbye, the original music sheet was used to produce the liner notes and track listing. The only discernible word on the page was “bridge” (indicating the song’s bridge section). Due to Harrison’s handwriting, however, Clapton misread it as “badge”—and the song was titled soon thereafter.

Harrison remembered the story thus:

I helped Eric write “Badge” you know. Each of them had to come up with a song for that Goodbye Cream album and Eric didn’t have his written. We were working across from each other and I was writing the lyrics down and we came to the middle part so I wrote ‘Bridge.’ Eric read it upside down and cracked up laughing – ‘What’s BADGE?’ he said. After that, Ringo [Starr] walked in drunk and gave us that line about the swans living in the park.

Common legends or misconceptions are that the name came about because its chord progression was B–A–D–G–E (which is not true) or simply because the notation of a guitar’s standard tuning (E–A–D–G–B–E) can be arranged to spell “Badge”.

Clapton does a creditable solo in this version, but I prefer his solo in the original version, which starts at 1:38 here.

Rock music is the only art form that can be performed in the Royal Albert Hall with the performers wearing grubby street clothes, including untucked shirts.

“Can’t find my way home”

February 17, 2023 • 1:30 pm

To finish up the work week, here’s a lovely song with some great musicians whose playing blends together like honey for the ears. We have Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton (who had played together in two groups) on guitar and vocals, Derek Trucks on guitar, and I don’t know the bassist.  This song, “Can’t find my way home” was first performed by the group Blind Faith (original here), which included Clapton and Winwood—along with the great (and irascible) drummer Ginger Baker.

The song was written by Winwood.


What’s killing new music? Old music!

February 5, 2023 • 10:15 am

This article in a year-old issue of Atlantic was written by Ted Gioia, who, according to Wikipedia, has considerable music chops, as he’s

. . . an American jazz critic and music historian. He is author of eleven books, including Music: A Subversive HistoryThe Jazz Standards: A Guide to the RepertoireThe History of Jazz and Delta Blues. He is also a jazz musician and one of the founders of Stanford University’s jazz studies program

Part of Gioia’s thesis, which he substantiates with data, is that new music—and that includes rock, jazz, country, and classical music—is dying off, with people increasingly buying and listening to older stuff, and refusing to listen to the ton of good music supposedly being produced in these genres. As a result, the genres are moribund. What Gioia doesn’t document, not with a single example, is that there is a lot of fantastic new stuff being turned out in all four areas.  In the end, then, he supports his primary claim about the hegemony of old music, but fails to tell us why it’s taking over. I happen to disagree with him in the second point, but read on, clicking on the screenshot below:

Here’s Gioia’s documentation of the trend. Note that most of his article deals with popular music (the stuff that appears on Billboard), and the music-analytic firm he cites, MRC Data, is now called Luminate. Further, what’s considered “new” popular music is music issued in the last 18 months.  That said, below are the data showing the popularity of old versus new music. The total “catalog share” (sales of “old” music) is substantially higher than that of new music (“current share”), and even within one year (2020-2021), the consumption of old music substantially increased and that of new music substantially dropped.

As Gioia notes:

Old songs now represent 70 percent of the U.S. music market, according to the latest numbers from MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. Those who make a living from new music—especially that endangered species known as the working musician—should look at these figures with fear and trembling. But the news gets worse: The new-music market is actually shrinking. All the growth in the market is coming from old songs.

The 200 most popular new tracks now regularly account for less than 5 percent of total streams. That rate was twice as high just three years ago. The mix of songs actually purchased by consumers is even more tilted toward older music. The current list of most-downloaded tracks on iTunes is filled with the names of bands from the previous century, such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Police.

. . .Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact. In fact, the audience seems to be embracing the hits of decades past instead. Success was always short-lived in the music business, but now even new songs that become bona fide hits can pass unnoticed by much of the population.

Only songs released in the past 18 months get classified as “new” in the MRC database, so people could conceivably be listening to a lot of two-year-old songs, rather than 60-year-old ones. But I doubt these old playlists consist of songs from the year before last. Even if they did, that fact would still represent a repudiation of the pop-culture industry, which is almost entirely focused on what’s happening right now.

Remember, this article was written a year ago, but I suspect the trend continues, at least as judged by the continually shrinking audience for the Grammy Awards, which fell more than 75% over nine years (Grammy awards are given for the best music of all sorts—including jazz, country, and classical—that was issued in the year preceding the ceremony.  Clearly, people don’t much care about who gets awards for new music:

Here are a few of the other bullet points Gioia makes:

  • The leading area of investment in the music business is old songs. Investment firms are getting into bidding wars to buy publishing catalogs from aging rock and pop stars.
  • The song catalogs in most demand are by musicians who are in their 70s or 80s (Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen) or already dead (David Bowie, James Brown).
  • Even major record labels are participating in the rush to old music: Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music, and others are buying up publishing catalogs and investing huge sums in old tunes. In a previous time, that money would have been used to launch new artists.
  • The best-selling physical format in music is the vinyl LP, which is more than 70 years old. I’ve seen no signs that the record labels are investing in a newer, better alternative—because, here too, old is viewed as superior to new.
  • In fact, record labels—once a source of innovation in consumer products—don’t spend any money on research and development to revitalize their business, although every other industry looks to innovation for growth and consumer excitement.
  • Record stores are caught up in the same time warp. In an earlier era, they aggressively marketed new music, but now they make more money from vinyl reissues and used LPs.
  • Radio stations are contributing to the stagnation, putting fewer new songs into their rotation, or—judging by the offerings on my satellite-radio lineup—completely ignoring new music in favor of old hits.

I’m surprised about the growth of vinyl albums, as I always found CDs better, but to each their own. At any rate, Giao has a list of song rights sold since 2019: the purchasing of an entire catalogue of an artist’s music by a company. There are 24 of them on his list, and I recognize and love most of them, including Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Paul Simon, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, James Brown, David Bowie, and (unfortunately) Taylor Swift.

Now my explanation for this would be that great new music simply isn’t appearing, and that’s true for pop, classical, and jazz. In fact—and remember that this is just my opinion—I think that new music in general is on the way out, and people will continue to revisit the good old stuff: the Beatles, Neil Young, Ellington, Coltrane, Brahms, and Beethoven. The stuff played on the radio will get older and older as time passes.

I keep appealing to the readers to show me new groups that are as good as (or nearly as good as) the Beatles—in my view the apogee of rock music—and people proffer me songs. Some of them are indeed good, but they’re single songs, they’re rare, and there simply aren’t any groups as good as those who dominated the airwaves from 1960 to 1980.  Rock music is now simpler, more repetitive, and autotuned. Jazz, well, it’s now largely cacophony (believe me, I’ve listened).  I will leave it to the classical-music experts here to analyze why new classical music isn’t being promoted (that’s Gioia’s view, too), and when there are symphony concerts, modern classical music is thrown in as a filler among the greats just to get people to hear the new stuff. Rap music I can’t tolerate, even though I was a huge fan of its predecessor: soul music.

Now Gioia does give my explanation, but then rejects it entirely. Here’s how he characterizes the “geezer” reaction:

Some people—especially Baby Boomers—tell me that this decline in the popularity of new music is simply the result of lousy new songs. Music used to be better, or so they say. The old songs had better melodies, more interesting harmonies, and demonstrated genuine musicianship, not just software loops, Auto-Tuned vocals, and regurgitated samples.

There will never be another Sondheim, they tell me. Or Joni Mitchell. Or Bob Dylan. Or Cole Porter. Or Brian Wilson. I almost expect these doomsayers to break out in a stirring rendition of “Old Time Rock and Roll,” much like Tom Cruise in his underpants.

He mocks what happens to be true, especially in the second and third sentences!  But here’s his alternative:

I can understand the frustrations of music lovers who get no satisfaction from current mainstream songs, though they try and they try. I also lament the lack of imagination on many modern hits. But I disagree with my Boomer friends’ larger verdict. I listen to two to three hours of new music every day, and I know that plenty of exceptional young musicians are out there trying to make it. They exist. But the music industry has lost its ability to discover and nurture their talents.

Notice the gaping lacuna here: he does not name ONE example of great new music or exceptional musicians—not in popular music, not in jazz, not in classical music. Why no examples to help us judge the merit of his argument? Could it be that they exist, but only in a tiny fraction of the genre?

But let us proceed; why, exactly, did the music industry lose interest in discovering and nurturing new music?

It’s the copyrights, stupid!

Music-industry bigwigs have plenty of excuses for their inability to discover and adequately promote great new artists. The fear of copyright lawsuits has made many in the industry deathly afraid of listening to unsolicited demo recordings. If you hear a demo today, you might get sued for stealing its melody—or maybe just its rhythmic groove—five years from now. Try mailing a demo to a label or producer, and watch it return unopened.

The people whose livelihood depends on discovering new musical talent face legal risks if they take their job seriously. That’s only one of the deleterious results of the music industry’s overreliance on lawyers and litigation, a hard-ass approach they once hoped would cure all their problems, but now does more harm than good. Everybody suffers in this litigious environment except for the partners at the entertainment-law firms, who enjoy the abundant fruits of all these lawsuits and legal threats.

Okay, so why then did the environment become so litigious? At any rate, that explanation doesn’t ring true to me. But wait! There’s more! For some reason, which Gioia doesn’t describe, the industry has lost confidence in new music and won’t support it. Get a load of this:

The problem goes deeper than just copyright concerns. The people running the music industry have lost confidence in new music. They won’t admit it publicly—that would be like the priests of Jupiter and Apollo in ancient Rome admitting that their gods are dead. Even if they know it’s true, their job titles won’t allow such a humble and abject confession. Yet that is exactly what’s happening. The moguls have lost their faith in the redemptive and life-changing power of new music. How sad is that? Of course, the decision makers need to pretend that they still believe in the future of their business, and want to discover the next revolutionary talent. But that’s not what they really think. Their actions speak much louder than their empty words.

In fact, nothing is less interesting to music executives than a completely radical new kind of music. Who can blame them for feeling this way? The radio stations will play only songs that fit the dominant formulas, which haven’t changed much in decades. The algorithms curating so much of our new music are even worse. Music algorithms are designed to be feedback loops, ensuring that the promoted new songs are virtually identical to your favorite old songs. Anything that genuinely breaks the mold is excluded from consideration almost as a rule. That’s actually how the current system has been designed to work.

Okay, then, but why did this happen? After all, it happened before: rock started off from roots in gospel and black music, and then Elvis and Company shook up the world, and were promoted strongly, giving way to the great music of the Sixties and Seventies, psychedelic music and soul music (also interesting to music executives), then to disco, rap and hip hop (types of music that I’m lukewarm about).  A lot of these were radical changes in the genre, and yes, they were interesting to music executives. Everyone wanted to imitate what was popular: think of the erstwhile competition between the Beatles and Beach Boys, or Dylan and Donovan. Unless the loss in interest is due to the litigation mentioned above, I don’t see where it came from. (And Gioia argues above that the loss of interest was not due to litigation.)

Let’s not forget country music, jazz, and classical music. Gioai’s Theory (which is his) is similar:

This state of affairs is not inevitable. A lot of musicians around the world—especially in Los Angeles and London—are conducting a bold dialogue between jazz and other contemporary styles. They are even bringing jazz back as dance music. But the songs they release sound dangerously different from older jazz, and are thus excluded from many radio stations for that same reason. The very boldness with which they embrace the future becomes the reason they get rejected by the gatekeepers.

“Dangerously different”? I’d say “not as good as”! Yes, there is some good jazz-infused music around (I’ve noted this song, for instance), but by and large the days of great jazz are gone, killed off by the likes of Ornette Coleman, free jazz, and atonal jazz.  Dance music? Ellington, Basie, and Goodman used to pack the floors. Do we see that again?

As for country and classical, Gioai’s Theory (which is his) states this:

A country record needs to sound a certain way to get played on most country radio stations or playlists, and the sound those DJs and algorithms are looking for dates back to the prior century. And don’t even get me started on the classical-music industry, which works hard to avoid showcasing the creativity of the current generation. We are living in an amazing era of classical composition, with one tiny problem: The institutions controlling the genre don’t want you to hear it.

Actually, I have more hopes for country music than for the other genres, as there are some great young singers and players out there, including Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle.  But if Gioia is so high on the creativity of new classical music, why doesn’t he give us any examples? Where are all the “amazing classical compositions”? I know—not promoted by companies afraid of litigation. But one would think that the sweating writer could come up with at least a few examples to whet our appetites: classical music and jazz that we could go to, listen to, and judge for ourselves. He relies on airy and undocumented statements to make his case, which, in the end, I don’t find convincing.

Now I expect that most readers will disagree with me, and some will send me examples of great new music (I’m glad to listen to them, by the way, just don’t send a ton!). But in the end I think that Gioia is motivated by the desire to avoid pessimism about the End of Popular Music and to appear open minded, and so must leave us on an upbeat:

. . . I refuse to accept that we are in some grim endgame, witnessing the death throes of new music. And I say that because I know how much people crave something that sounds fresh and exciting and different. If they don’t find it from a major record label or algorithm-driven playlist, they will find it somewhere else. Songs can go viral nowadays without the entertainment industry even noticing until it has already happened. That will be how this story ends: not with the marginalization of new music, but with something radical emerging from an unexpected place.

My reaction to that is just nine words: “I surely hope so, but wouldn’t bet on it.”  Taylor Swift is not the salvation of popular music.

h/t: Andrea

Rap battle between Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 29, 2023 • 2:15 pm

Here’s a rap battle between Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, both vying to be the best nonviolent civil rights leader of all time. I thought it was pretty clever, what with “naan” violence and the double meaning of “hos,” among other things. Do note that the n-word (ending with the rappish “h”) is uttered by Dr. King, which is presumably ok because he’s a black rapper.

This comes from a site that has a whole series of “epic rap battle” videos, though this one was sent to me and I haven’t heard the others.