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Topical Songs or Fluff
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 Posted: Thu Feb 8th, 2018 03:39 am
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MojoFelix
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Watching documentary How the Beatles Changed the World on Netflix and have been recently exploring Joni Mitchell songs.

My train of thought: Fatuous (love) songs versus social commentary. Some of Joni Mitchell songs are very unabashed social commentary. Beatles started with fatuous songs and whole pop scene was fatuous (silly) songs. But Woody Guthrie wrote 3000 songs. This Land is Your Land was a populist protest song and he wrote others. Dylan was influenced and it shook him right out of pop culture aspirations. He carried on from Woody and certainly injected the protest theme and the social commentary into what was a burgeoning silly pop culture and shifted it all, and Joni and others would not have become so much commentary if not for Dylan shifting it all. Beatles, post Dylan’s influence were very different. They had realized from Dylan, that one could write about anything and everything, not just relationships. And they did.

I am struck by the stance of positioning oneself as an artist, a leader and exterior viewpoint, artfully commenting upon and calling attention to social issues and even just people’s issues (all the lonely people) outside and above the fray and thereby illuminating the situations and struggles of people and above the establishment of corporate greed and criminal suppressive politicians. The importance of the leadership roll of the artist can be very manifest.

This in stark contrast to the propitiative pop-artist course of playing what the suits tell me to play in order to be approved of so I can have hit records and be successful and make money. This self-deprecating performer position had been de rigueur and, I suppose, is still very alive in today’s music business (oxymoron). For example, Dylan’s audience came to him as he had something to say, he did not come to them. One can have leadership roll to illuminate social, cultural, people issues or propitiate the public in trying to write a song they will like. One can think of these as the high road and the low road.

Have (or find) something to say and be willing to assume the leadership roll of an artist and say it. Otherwise descend into fatuousness.

Or isn't it value enough to simply make music that makes people feel good, smile or dance, gives them shelter from the storm, just in the listening, and/or moving without having to think about anything?

Last edited on Mon Feb 12th, 2018 05:18 pm by MojoFelix

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 Posted: Thu Feb 8th, 2018 02:49 pm
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Seamus
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Well that pretty much says it all!



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 Posted: Thu Feb 8th, 2018 09:12 pm
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RainyDayMan
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I don't believe that there is a "role" for music any more than there is for art. Both can be used socially/politically to convey a message or focus attention on an issue, but that is about the intention of the artist, and doesn't guarantee that the song will be better or worse than one that explores feelings, or is silly and just for fun. Love is one of our strongest feelings and a central theme for many lives. Why is it fatuous to explore that?
Are the Blue Danube Waltz or Let It Be to be regarded as fatuous because they don't directly address a specific societal problem? Rap songs typically appear to cover themes of despair, poverty, crime, drug use etc but most rap songs have no appeal to me at all.
The songs that disappoint me are those that appear to have been written only for commercial gain - "manufactured" to hit a target audience's pocket.
Otherwise, if you are a musician/songwriter exploring the world with music, take whatever path you choose.

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 Posted: Sat Feb 10th, 2018 08:48 pm
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LongShadows
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It may be a case of artists finding the audience first and then consciously using their platform to express their own ideals and/or socio-political leanings. In the case of the Beatles, all those 'silly love songs' may have been a necessary evil if they wanted to use the craft to try to effect actual change in the collective conscience. To the producers and the industry, didn't really matter what the lyrics said, as long as the bills were being paid. If the lyrics should begin to alienate the fan base, the plug would likely be pulled in a heartbeat.
Neil Young said, "I found myself in the middle of the road, so I headed for the ditch." I think that speaks directly to difference between populist pablum and, for lack of a better term, art that matters. Neil is one of my favorite artists and I loved the 'ditch series' precisely because it was not what I was expecting from him when it first came out. I wore the grooves off of On the Beach.

When Dylan released The Times They are A-Changin' radio audiences had endured a decade of rock-around-the-clock, doowop doowop and songs that bordered on pure novelty--the aural equivalent of road side souvenirs--and while those songs certainly had their place, the market was ripe for something else.
Here was this kind of goofy looking little guy, with a quirky voice crooning a catchy little tune and while they didn't exactly scream like he was Elvis, they listened. Eventually they memorized the words as they sang along, and then something amazing happened, they considered what the words might actually mean. Dylan had predecessors, so it wasn't all that revolutionary, but like the Beatles, Bob managed to get himself on TV a couple of times, and reached more people in ten seconds than Woody Guthrie could have on a thousand hobo train-rides.

When you consider that it was only 4 years between Love Me Do and The Tales of Brave Ulysses, it's easy to see that the industry, the artists, and even the audiences were evolving at a pace that has not been repeated since. Chew on this, it's been 12 years since Taylor Swift's debut.

I think I had a point, but all this typing has made me hungry, so I'll stop babbling now.

Last edited on Sat Feb 10th, 2018 09:16 pm by LongShadows



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 Posted: Sun Feb 11th, 2018 11:45 pm
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Seamus
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Maybe it wasn't all said after all.



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I haven't failed, I've found 10,000 ways that don't work. Thomas Edison (1847-1931)
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 Posted: Sun Feb 11th, 2018 11:52 pm
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RainyDayMan
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Seamus wrote:
Maybe it wasn't all said after all.

That's funny :D

It was a conversation starter though, and different opinions are good!

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 Posted: Mon Feb 12th, 2018 04:17 am
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LongShadows
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I have a thesaurus and I'm not afraid to use it.:D

Last edited on Mon Feb 12th, 2018 04:24 am by LongShadows



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 Posted: Thu Mar 1st, 2018 07:53 am
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PatrickLockwood
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MojoFelix wrote: Watching documentary How the Beatles Changed the World on Netflix and have been recently exploring Joni Mitchell songs.

My train of thought: Fatuous (love) songs versus social commentary. Some of Joni Mitchell songs are very unabashed social commentary. Beatles started with fatuous songs and whole pop scene was fatuous (silly) songs. But Woody Guthrie wrote 3000 songs. This Land is Your Land was a populist protest song and he wrote others. Dylan was influenced and it shook him right out of pop culture aspirations. He carried on from Woody and certainly injected the protest theme and the social commentary into what was a burgeoning silly pop culture and shifted it all, and Joni and others would not have become so much commentary if not for Dylan shifting it all. Beatles, post Dylan’s influence were very different. They had realized from Dylan, that one could write about anything and everything, not just relationships. And they did.

I am struck by the stance of positioning oneself as an artist, a leader and exterior viewpoint, artfully commenting upon and calling attention to social issues and even just people’s issues (all the lonely people) outside and above the fray and thereby illuminating the situations and struggles of people and above the establishment of corporate greed and criminal suppressive politicians. The importance of the leadership roll of the artist can be very manifest.

This in stark contrast to the propitiative pop-artist course of playing what the suits tell me to play in order to be approved of so I can have hit records and be successful and make money. This self-deprecating performer position had been de rigueur and, I suppose, is still very alive in today’s music business (oxymoron). For example, Dylan’s audience came to him as he had something to say, he did not come to them. One can have leadership roll to illuminate social, cultural, people issues or propitiate the public in trying to write a song they will like. One can think of these as the high road and the low road.

Have (or find) something to say and be willing to assume the leadership roll of an artist and say it. Otherwise descend into fatuousness.

Or isn't it value enough to simply make music that makes people feel good, smile or dance, gives them shelter from the storm, just in the listening, and/or moving without having to think about anything?


My feeling on this goes like this:  If the lyric is fluff, then the music better be extremely attractive, catchy, etc.  If it's not, then the lyric better be compelling, moving, poignant, etc.  Better yet, do both.


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