Sunday, November 21, 2004

Why is Pop not, you know, popular?

I once read an interview with John Murphy of Shoes, who commented that, when asked who their favorite band is, the vast majority will say The Beatles. Fair enough. This is still true. I always felt vaguely guilty about glomming onto The Beatles because they weren't mine--I was born into them. But my students, overwhelmingly born in the 80's, are still fans. In fact, I use The Beatles to teach James Joyce, because it's the most useful and familiar model my students have for the artist who may not have done it first, but did it best and made it popular and changed the face of the form in the process.

But Murphy continued, saying that despite most people's declared sentiments, Beatle-influenced groups tend not to be really popular. (Forgive the lack of link here; I remember vividly reading this interview, in which Murphy confesses shamefacedly to liking Chumbawamba's Tubthumper--but nothing to be ashamed of there, it seems to me. I love that record. But I looked for the interview link for an hour and gave up.)

That's always confused me, as it apparently confuses him. Why is pop not pop? Would we still like it if it were more common currency and less of a secret language?

There's enough folks visiting the blog now to start this conversation for real, and you can post anonymously, avoiding all the blogger registration nonsense. If you don't want to be an anonymous "Anonymous," just include your handle in the text. I'm curious what you think. Why can a world that provides "A Clay Aiken Christmas" not provide a decent living for really good songwriters?


Fire of lovE said...

Dont know why !!. Maybe they never listen to Dwight Twilley Band. Thats ultimate Pop

Anonymous said...

hi, I think "pop is not popular" is not strictly true. I think many folks just won't admit to liking something that is 'pop' for fear of ridicule. I have my guilty pleasures, too. Rarely do I shell out for a 'pop' album, because I know half my friends will have it, too. I would much rather buy the obscure bands that tickle my musical fancy. I love introducing people to music they wouldn't normally hear and watch their eyes light up. It's an ego trip for me. That said, here are a few bands that knock me out that never got any serious exposure.

The Reivers (out of Austin, Tx)
Short catchy tunes with some crisp imaginative arrangements and gorgeous male/female harmonies. Lyrics are warm and moving. Any album highly recommended.

Scruffy the Cat (out of Boston, Ma)
Pure power pop. great musicianship with occasional country twang, some goofy lyrics that will make you laugh. Their songs just swirl in my head for days after a listening session. Only two albums that I know of.

Orchestra Luna (out of Boston, Ma)
Only one album ever made. Record label didn't know what genre to file them under as the music is all over the boards. This album is like the score from an off-off-off-Broadway play. Great keyboard work, vocals, and a great guitarist in Randy Roos (though his solo work is mainly 'new age' instrumental stuff, the final cut has just a great soaring guitar solo that gives me chills.) Very hard to find album. Tracked a cd down from a store in Japan to replace my worn out LP.


Anonymous said...

hey nymary, jeebs from over atrios' crack den way here.

I second the rec for the Reivers, some of whom are friends of mine. Truly incandescent stuff and it wears well

a group that I'm now in love with is The Green Pajamas. Definitely a cult thing.
Their "All Clues Lead to Meagan's Bed" is in permanent rotation at my house. They defy simple categorization but they don't shy away from their Beatles influence-the opening chords of that album in particular don't just reference the beatles, they could be clones. but there's too much other stuff in there to simply call them a Beatles one off

as to why pop aint' pop-ular, are you keeping the question strictly related to what real people say about what they like, or are you including what sells and is seen on tv heard on radio etc.? Cause we all know music distribution, recording deals, radio and television airtime have more to do with the corporate manipulation of the market than with genuine groundswell of fan preference.

Thersites said...

If there's gonna be dissin' of Clay Aiken, I'm delinking you...

Fair warning.

NYMary said...

I guess I sort of meant commercial success, which seems increasingly limited to the buff underage girls and the Clay Aiken set. (Sorry, Thersites. And of course this now means I can never direct my brother, a Clay Aiken fan, to this blog. Sigh.) Certainly you're right about the corporate nature of distribution, etc, and I'd add that the Clear-Channelling of America is a serious problem. It used to be that new music was vetted by DJs, and all kinds of cool stuff made it on the air in small-market towns. Now it's just college radio, really, where we get to watch adolescents practice their identity formation in public, for the edification of all. Sometimes interesting, often dismaying. I wonder if it's even worth looking into Sirius as a solution.

And thanks, all, for the heads-up. (Heads-ups? Can that colloquialism be pluralized?) I've just been hipped to The Shins, which I'm completely loving. And Swag, though that's older.

Scooter said...

Grestest "pop" artist out there: Ben Folds. I can't understand why he's not the biggest artist out there.

Anonymous said...

Why can a world that provides "A Clay Aiken Christmas" not provide a decent living for really good songwriters?I confess I don't really know who Clay Aiken is.

But, living in Nashville, I can talk about songwriters, and I think you've pretty much answered your own question. I've heard it said that, at any given time, in this city full of songwriters, there are about 150 people who actually make a living writing songs. And their stuff is roughly of the same quality as everyone else's - that is, some of it really sucks.

Great songs do not rise of the buoyancy of their own greatness. Great songs, like lousy songs, have to be pushed. They have to be promoted. They have to fight their way into opportunities to be heard. And every once in a while, a great song succeeds. Most of them languish in obscurity.

You see, there are many, many more great songwriters than it takes to run a music industry. And the people who run the music industry these days don't care about great songs; they care about making money. A lot of them wouldn't know a really great song if they heard one.


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