When I was growing up, we seemed to live in a universe of memorable tunes. Every week, there were about five to ten new ones. Now when I listen to the radio, it seems that we have descended into a universe of forgettable tunes. Songs stay on the charts for about eighteen months, and anything from the last ten years is considered contemporary. And no matter which new band I hear about, a week later I can’t really recall how their hit song actually goes.
The ability to make a song stick instantly in the mind of the listener, though a well-worn skill, seems to me what has gone missing from the current scene. This to me was the genius of twentieth century popular music. As monumental an achievement as classical music was, it never attained that unity of lyric and melody that tapped so deeply into the yearning collective consciousness. This is why pop song lyrics never look too exciting on the page. Their emotional weight exists only in conjunction with a simple tune and vise versa.
What a song writer does seems to me worlds apart from what a poet does. Whereas the poet constantly stretches the language to find its subtlety and nuance, constantly striving for what has never been expressed before, the song writer is feverishly trying to cram as many clichÄs as possible into as few words as possible. For him, it’s the most common phrases, the four note melody, the three chord song that signals success.
But of course in the twenty-first century unlike the twentieth, popular song has ceased its progression from one revolutionary form to the next. We have arrived at last at the ultimate realization of repetitive reductivism where rhythm and lyric can be simplified no further. Only a youth movement, fully versed in the catalogue of the past, can break out of this cul de sac.