Sunday, July 29, 2007


I recently came across this page while looking for music recommendations. I am one of those people who hate listening to individual tracks, but would rather listen to the entire album. It allows me to experience the music in the exact manner that the artist would like me to. While this may not be the best way to get the most out of the music (listening to the best tracks from each album is obviously more efficient), it helps me appreciate each album as a work of art. Often, you find that the lingering sounds from the previous track change the way you perceive the current song completely.

Anyways, I downloaded the top 10 albums on the list and decided I would listen to all of them. Having already listened to all the Beatles albums on the list, I started with the album "Pet Sounds" by the Beach Boys (#2). It took me a while to digest the music, but once I gave it enough listens, I just could not get enough of it. One day, being really bored, and with nothing to do, I dug up some background info on the album. Apparently, the Beatles released "Rubber Soul" (#5) in 1965, which inspired the Beach Boys to release "Pet Sounds" in 1966, which in turn inspired the Beatles to release "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (#1) in 1967.

Stop there for a second and imagine yourself as a teenager in the 60s. The hippie culture is sweeping America, which while you might not have appreciated, you cannot deny was fantastically anti-establishment. And what does a teenager like more than the smell of revolution in the morning? And then comes 1965 and you listen to rubber soul for the first time. It is amazinng, and you say that there will never be anything like it, ever again. And then the next year your predictions are proved hopelessly wrong when Pet Sounds come out. This time though, you are not going to be wrong in saying that this is as far as music will go, you think. You even place money on it. And then the Beatles come back and give a crushing blow to your pocket money savings as you lose the bet with the release of Sgt. Peppers. What a time to be a 15 year old! (Oh, and then 2 years later, HOLY SHIT, man walks on fucking moon, but that is slightly off-topic).

And then there is the maybe not so surprising fact that each of these masterpieces existed directly because of each other. There is something quite amazing, and I dare I say it, religious in the idea that one set of geniuses are pushing another bunch to continually advance the pinnacle of human achievement. I can almost feel the excitement that must have pulsing through civilization as every boundary was tested, and pressed as far as it could go. And it was something the entire world could share in. Music was not restricted to the Western world, but was available to every person on the planet, being one of the most universal mediums that has existed in history.

You would have thought that with such a fantastic platform to build upon, there was no place music could go but up. And for a while it did, as Pink Floyd in the 70's and many others then and after could testify. However, looking at the current music scene I cannot help but shed a tear or two. How many songs in the last five years can you point to and say you would actually be listening to it in 20 years? How many albums would you go and buy repeatedly every time it was released in a new format? Where is all the groundbreaking music that changes the way you live your life, and is a defining moment of the era? Why are artists not pushing each other to outdo themselves, as well as everyone else? The only competitive inspiring I see is "beefs" between different rap singers, who use their next album as an excuse to hurl f-bombs at people they hate. There is no respect for their peers, and why would there be any? Its not like anyone is creating anything worth respecting...

What has caused this decline? I think a big factor is the rise of the gangsta culture which places greater importance on the 'bling' on a person rather than the quality of their work. (Btw, isn't it ironic that these men who pretend to be so 'bad-ass' and 'manly' are such fans of gold and jewellery, historically, a feminine pursuit). At the same time, no small part is played by the record labels who have constantly looked out for artists whose music may be terrible, but can be packaged well, because in today's superficial world, it is the cover that sells. Witness the boy bands of the 90s, the teenage girl revolution of the late 90s (would Britney have a single song if she always looked like this?) and now gangsta rappers, whose CVs have nothing but a description of each time they have been shot. Additionally, music is now competing for talent with so many other pursuits, such as television and movies.

There might still be light at the end of the tunnel though. With the rise of the internet, the record labels might just be pushed out of the equation. With sites like iTunes, and myspace giving artists direct access to massive audiences, good musicians might be able to reach the public without having their lights put out prematurely by record labels who did not find them "marketable enough". Also, with regular home computers being able to perform all the functions that one earlier needed a record studio for, the barriers to entry have been considerably lowered, allowing more people to enter the music game. (Consider this, for my cousin's wedding, I was able to do all sorts of cutting, and blending of tracks using Garageband on my mac that was earlier being done in a professional studio for Rs. 100 an hour). Hopefully, if the quantity of chaff is increased, there might just be more wheat that comes along with it.

Do you agree with me on the state of music? If not, why? If so, then do you share my optimism for the future? Shoot off in the comments...

1 comment:

Random Doodler said...

i think america would be a great place to be born in the 60s. Counter-culture, beatles and dylan and baez. It does not get better than that.
read kerouac?