ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Unsplash
The Discovery of Older Music…and Why There Are No 'Guilty Pleasures'
AT this point in the year…
we are inundated, by the music press, with their favourites of the year. I guess I have been culpable, too: all my choice albums, videos and artists have been presented for your delectation. With that, as they collate 2017’s finest, we get a nod to those artists who will make breaks next year – I have made my predictions and written a multi-part feature with the competitors we should be aware of next year. In 2018; I will look at new topics, expand the blog and make a general push towards something multimedia and diversified. Writing is rewarding but the desire to get the site video-capable and more interactive is top of my mind. As I future-ready myself; there is always that curiosity regarding older sounds. I have looked at this before – pieces that examined whether older music is better than new stuff – but, motivated by an idea that was mooted on BBC Radio 6 Music; I have been thinking back and whether, as we are showered with new music and current commendation, our thoughts should consider where music came from. I am always amazed by certain people saying they have discovered a song/artist/album they have not heard before. Even though that person is not mega-young – twenties and thirties – they are connecting with artists many of us are already familiar with.
IN THIS PHOTO: David Bowie/PHOTO CREDIT: Gavid Evans/Sotheby's Press Office
Some people I know have just turned onto Steely Dan, Tears for Fears and Talking Heads – bands from the 1970s and 1980s who have been kicking around a fair bit. It is hard discovering all the music that has come before but there is that pleasure and sense of discovery when we hear a song that is fresh to the ears – but was made years/decades ago. I have been discovering new (to me) stuff by Ramones – albums like Rocket to Russia. I am aware of the band, of course, but it is only this year I have been stepping back and investigating their rich catalogue of work. The same is true of David Bowie. I am a fan but there are albums of his – his less-well-known – that have struck the ear and given me a new appreciation! Of course; it is not only albums from established artists I have been finding: I have found artists others have been raving about for years that were foreign to my ears! Talk Talk and Can are two acts I had not really known about prior to this year. Naturally, I was aware of their name and legacy and, whilst they are very different in terms of music and legacy; it has been revelatory finding these musicians! I guess, unless you regularly listen to a station that plays a blend of new and old, you are likely to discover well-known artists after everyone else.
IN THIS PHOTO: Talk Talk/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Alongside these bands; I have latched onto some great female artists from the 1980s; brilliant 1990s Dance – I thought I had the decade covered! – and pioneering Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 1950s. I like to consider myself pretty cultured and thorough so it has been a surprise finding artists that have escaped my gaze all these years. It is not unusual but, as I said, the sensation of finding that artist – looking back at all their work and ‘catching up’, as it were – is fantastic. Many others are in the same position but I wonder whether, instead of stumbling on music so long after the fact, there is something inherently disconnected in the radio/streaming networks. I understand why, in the case of the BBC, there have to be different-numbered radio stations? They have an option that plays mostly mainstream music for younger listeners (Radio 1); mostly older sounds mixed with chart sounds (Radio 2); Classical recordings on Radio 3 whereas BBC Radio 6 Music provides that new and old – none of the naff chart songs and drivel other stations salivate over. I always listen to the latter but wondered whether there are artists being played on BBC Radio 2 worth seeking out – that might not make it to my preferred option. I have mooted the possibility of, in some way, integrating the stations so the average listener gets a little bit of everything. I like Classical and Jazz but do not want to hear it a lot – the same can be said of modern chart songs.
That is not to say I’d prefer to be without them: a little of each of a day would be welcomed, for sure. I can understand the logistic nightmares – if one did create a new station – and it would be hard appealing to all ages and tastes but, as so many people are finding music years after release, I wonder if that signifies an issue. Is it better to not know about everything and make that chance discovery in 2017?! I always get annoyed when I miss out/have missed out on an artist but I appreciate those who like the mysteries and ever-giving nature of music. It is exciting having the mind opened to a band/artist that were once unborn – a new obsession or a song that nestles its way into the brain. Streaming, as I have suggested in other posts, is all about the here and now. Whilst sites like Spotify open its doors to music’s capacious cannon: one feels there is too much of an obsession with numbers, business and modern-made sounds. You go to the site and it is all about the latest big name and coolest tunes.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Like YouTube/SoundCloud; there are no detailed menus that break down music by genre, year…providing detailed schematics and algorithms. It is one of the frustrations and, when more and more want to connect with past sounds – why are there are no slick and easy mechanisms in place to find the gold of old?! It is interesting but, I guess, if one is given too much it robs that joy of happenstance and dumb luck! I wanted to talk about ‘the guilty pleasure’ as, to my mind, there is no such beast. I hear the term bandied about and it has been part of the musical lexicon since the first popular recordings. I have a soft-spot for those 1980s songs with big choruses, huge production…and titanic hair! I confess there are some dodgy songs from the decade that deserve nothing but scorn and derision. Tracks like Owner of a Lonely Heart (Yes) and You’re the Voice (John Farnham) are mid tracks from the early/mid-1980s and have survived the test of time. Even if you were not around then those songs first came out – I was, sad to say – they have a timelessness that means the mood is lifted and the voice compelled – songs you keep in the back pocket when you need a pick-me-up. I am a bit stuffy about the modern Pop charts but there are a few songs, now and then, I feel are worth time and energy. It can be embarrassing for someone expressing their tastes and likes and getting that sort of negative reaction. Music is a subjective thing and, whilst there is plenty of bad music, there is nothing that should be hidden and listened in secrecy.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kylie Minogue/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Maybe you like Kylie Minogue or Jazz; others might say it is a guilty pleasure – that does not mean you should stop listening to that music. A lot of that reaction comes from the critical opinion: if they think an artist/style of music is a bit tragic, that impacts negatively on others. You get D.J.s putting on special nights for ‘cheesy music’ – we all know the type of songs that would fall into that category – and that doesn’t really help. I have mentioned a couple of songs (from the 1980s) that could feature in those sets when, in reality, they are solid and impressive songs. There is nothing bad and wrong with those songs at all – and no reason they should be confined to cheese-only sets. I mentioned how music is subjective but how much personal exploration is being stunted by negative branding and this term ‘guilty pleasure’? I am a big fan of Beyoncé and, since her days leading Destiny’s Child, have been in awe of her creativity, reinvention and talent. Many, who know I listen to her, have turned their noses up. She is, to many, overly-commercial and processed; someone whose music appeals to a niche demographic. If this were true – which it isn’t – we shouldn’t judge other people’s tastes and think any sound is reserved for guilt and embarrassment.
IN THIS PHOTO: Beyoncé/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Music is a broad church and, in the same way we should integrate stations and create a more visible market; we need to get out of the habit of branding certain types of music as uncool. Quality is a different objective and there are songs that are distinctly rotten – you should still be proud to listen to them but some will not share the same enthusiasm! Whether you love a good bit of 1980s Pop, some experimental Jazz or modern-day, British Hip-Hop – get involved and play it loud! I am getting less picky about my music tastes and, doing what I do, I have to have an open mind and accepting ethos. I will refuse some artists because their music is not to my tastes and preferences. That being said; I would never alienate any music and say people should be ashamed to like it. Music is a spectrum and community where differences are welcomed. If we all liked the same music then it will be a very boring and pointless scene. I like those songs that others snobbishly push away: I feel I hear something others don’t and have a finer sense of taste. I am searching my mind and wondering if there is anything that can be deemed a ‘guilty pleasure’. Even if you think something is a bit uncool – I am not partial to Taylor Swift or Cliff Richard, for instance – I would not judge others and say they have poor taste in music.
2018 is going to be about change and acceptance: altering bad practice and ensuring there is greater awareness of any problems that arise. That SHOULD be what happens but, until we get the ball rolling, there is no telling whether it will be better than this year. I am always campaigning streaming sites to make older music more visible and accessible to those who use the site – rather than promoting whatever is new and hip. I asked whether stumbling on an old album/song/artist was part of a frustrating compartmentalisation in the music industry or whether it was an inevitable result of the industry. It is getting fuller by the year and it can be hard nailing it all done and sorting it out. Having heard various people talk about the joy of finding an artist – that many of us already know about – and getting that surprise is good to hear. Maybe it is best not knowing/hearing everything and relying on the odd surprise here and there. It would be good to see stronger connections between the present and past; getting music from older artists put into the modern-day ears. As I have said; music is not a guilty pleasure that should be hidden and judged – everything has a purpose, worth and its place. Realising that, and keeping that truth to the chest as we head into a new year…
WILL make us all a bit richer.