Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Getting Your Haircuts From Dog Groomers, And Other Discontents (From 2006)

You're really not supposed to take pop music too seriously. That goes for the audience, too. It's just supposed to be fun, and ephemeral, and that's it. You're not going to save the world with your two minutes and forty eight seconds of foot-tapping goodness. And generally, introducing much more than foot-tapping to the proceedings brings the whole edifice down on your heads. You can't make bubbles out of iron.

The Beatles killed pop music, though it was not their intention. They could write very high quality pop, with just the right balance between sophistication and raucousness; and if you set up two boom mikes and their instruments, they could entertain you.

But they went searching for the holy grail of seriousness, and they began to put together pop confections by using the entire array of studio technology available at the time, and so made music that was not possible any other way --the studio album.

The records they made were almost uniformly wonderful, so where's the problem, you're asking? Well, everybody else is busy Not Being As Talented As The Beatles, but they're using the same techniques plus all the other aural spackle and visual wallpaper to make studio silk purses out of the sow's ear of their meager talents, and then compounding their errors by taking themselves seriously. And we have to listen to it.

There's a lot of potential to make interesting cultural artifacts with the studio system. But its been taken too far, and simply made it possible -- if not required -- for the most avaricious and outrageous among the already mildly inspired to elbow their way to the front of the pop music line. It's killed the thing that spawned them, for all intents and purposes.

A few friends got together in Wales forty years ago, and played in some bands together. They didn't take themselves seriously; their very name was an offhand joke -- The Iveys, after a street in their town, and a play on words referring to the pop group The Hollies.

They learned how to play their instruments and sing a little, and made friends with the Beatles. They changed their name to Badfinger, apparently a snippet from a working title of a Beatles song. And when you've got the Beatles helping you out -- at least the ones not named John Lennon, who thought you too, well, unserious -- you're likely to do OK. It doesn't hurt to have Paul McCartney singing back-up on your songs, like this one, (knock down the old grey wall) and George Harrison and his friends playing on your others.

Thirty-five years ago, simple, lyrical, happy, glittering pop used to come out of the radio every few minutes, like No Matter What. It didn't save the world, or grant any inner peace or enlightenment, it didn't rage against the... well, let's just say, there was no rage in it at all. It was fun and vibrant, harmless and marvelous.

Those Welsh fellers with the little knack it took to write tuneful nursery rhymes fell in with gangsters and lawyers, or the other way around; in the music business you need dental records to tell them apart anyway. They made all kinds of money and got all kinds of girls despite their golden retriever haircuts, bad teeth, and sunken chests. They managed to get their own sort of Yoko Ono. They took themselves very seriously, and two of them eventually hanged themselves over the idea that it all mattered a great deal more than it does, or should.

My friend Steve calls suicide "The permanent solution to your temporary problems." It was better, for everybody involved, when they were supplying us with the temporary solution to our permanent problems, at least for two minutes and forty eight seconds.


misterarthur said...

As Apple Records and Apple iTunes haven't yet reached an accord, (there a pun hidden in there, if you look)you can't buy Beatles or Badfinger songs for your portable music machine. I actually bought Def Leppard's version of "No Matter What". (My only Def Leppard music purchase ever.) It's a really good cover. And I do mean cover.

Thud said...

A little sprinkling of Beatle pixie dust never did any harm.

phil g said...

I love the sunny pop of the 50's and 60's. It died in the 70's with much of the rest of the popular culture that was good, decent, attractive and innocent. I blame the Beatle's Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band for the beginning of the end of great, fun, happy pop music. That's one of the most overated albums of all time. It is important no doubt, but for all the wrong reasons.