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A Few Musical Musings

On Sunday, I went to a fruit market, and heard a man playing an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, and doing a very good version of the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satiin.” Rare to hear that! Unfortunately, he followed it a few minutes later with “Stairway to Heaven,” one of my least favorite songs of all time.

That is probably partly, though certainly not wholly, because that song was continually chosen by listeners on rock stations as the best song ever, for what seemed like twenty years in a row. They used to have these Top 100 countdowns, and they were fun, though my tastes do not often coincide with popular taste; but with ’60’s music, they did.

So I would listen to when the countdown would get down to 15 or so, and then by process of elimination I knew what was coming next. Stairway to Heaven was of course #1 again. Free Bird was usually #2. Layla high up there. Whole Lotta Love by “Zep,” an awful song in my view, was in the top ten. Hey Jude, a good song, usually was. probably because of the singalong chorus. A Day in the Life, a much better Beatles song, was often in the top fifteen.

Hotel California, usually in there. I was not an Eagles fan, but that is undeniably a good song, with a great lyric. Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones was in there years ago, but I don’t think it is now; similarly for House of the Rising Sun. Dream On by Aerosmith always was high up. The same ones, very often, though I have not listened to a top 100 countdown for quite a while.

I wonder, are any of the songs of today going to be on top twenty lists in ten years? Which ones? I know that it is usually the case that people prefer the music they grew up with. But though I grew up in the ’60’s, I liked a lot of ’70’s music, mostly on Independent labels: the “New Wave,” from New York, “Postpunk” from England, The “L.A. Underground, from…L.A. And a few ’80’s groups, of the indiepop variety.

And I like some ’50’s music ,at least the big hits. Doris Day, “Secret Love,” Bobby Darin, “Mack the Knife,” Andy Williams, “Moon River,” songs like that. I like early ’60’s surf, too. And while I would not want to listen to hours of it, there are many songs of the Big Band era, of Swing or lilting melodies, which I like. And for a while I was buying many albums of 1920’a music, quite listenable.

So I am not locked into my growing-up period. But can one really argue that the ’60’s did not have more great pop and rock songs than any other era? Beatles, Dylan, Mamas and Papas, Animals, Stones, Kinks. Donovan Johnny Rivers, Four Tops, Doors, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Lovin’ Spoonful, Moody Blues, Love, Association, Hollies, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Diamond, Petula Clark, and more. You could listen to the radio for two hours, and hear so many great songs, particularly in the period of 1965-1967.

But what do we have now? Oh, I know that there are some stars out there. Taylor Swift sells billions of records, and she has talent, but I cannot really like her songs The rest of it, at least to me, fluctuates between decent, mediocre, tiresome, oppressive, and awful. Anything with autotune is awful. Soon, which may actually be now, computers are going to make the songs, as they make almost everything.

Do you know the cartoon show ‘”Phineas amd Ferb”? A very clever and charming show. Phineas, who is about eleven or so, wrote a song, “Gitchy Gitchy Goo Means I Love You,” Somewhat in a doo-wop style; and as virtually all the songs written by series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff (Swampy) Marsh, it was catchy. In the storyline, if became a big hit A record label producer wanted to sign Phineas to a big contract, but he told him that he didn’t wan to write any more songs he was satisfied with the one.

The producer said, that’s okay, he could take even one line of the song,. sample or dub with it , and make many records. A funny but actually unsettling concept, of course, because that is about what is being done now.

I love music that sounds like it is being played live.. I know that there have been “production values” for decades, but it wasn’t always that way. The incredibly great musician Artie Shaw said that the goal in ’30’s and ’40’s recording, was to do it in one take. So that if his band was doing an instrumental, and it was going well, the musicians would start playing more conservatively so as to not risk ruining the take. I have a copy of a radio show that Shaw’s band did for a couple of years, and there is a version of “Shine On Harvest Moon,” where they did just go for broke; and it is incredible, just to show how great they were.

I don’r listen to the radio now, because there is nothing good on it–for me,. Other people may well find music they like there. And I know about Sirius, where you can get dozens of stations, but the odds of finding a new song that I like, are very small. That is a shame. The last radio-friendly song I heard and liked was “The Dog Days Are Over” by Florence and the Machine, and that was quite a while ago.

I do have a six-disc CD player in the car, and that is what I listen to–but it somehow broke. So I will have to take it in, but do I want to spend for a new one? If, not, I guess I could buy a portable, battery powered CD player. Otherwise, I will be forced to listen to the car radio, and I know that Stairway to Heaven will be on there somewhere.

The author Stephen King posed a question, about if one were going down the elevator to Hell, which song would one want to hear? He said, “Seasons in the Sun.” but I don’t know if he was thinking about it in terms of what song he would consider fitting as he gave up all the pleasant things he had known; or what was the song he thought he would be tormented by there? I think he meant the former, but many of his readers seemed to look at it in the second way. My thought was that if it were the first question, what would it matter?, whereas with regard to the second, :”Stairway to Heaven” would probably be it, though there are several others, “My Sharona,”De Doo Doo Doo, Da Daa Daa Daa,” or any rap song, which would be just about as tormenting.