The Monday Mess – The irony of good music – 19 Nov 2012

YupWelcome to the Monday mess, where this Monday we shall, mainly because I had most of this written, and I didn’t want to start anything else, via the medium of a small essay, take a flying look at the irony of good music. Will you still love me tomorrow?

I do not know this woman, she is just appreciating the irony of good music.
(Image courtesy of Morguefile.com)

In times gone by, that being the time before it was easy to get music off the internet and download individual tracks, the single used to be the selling point, and often the introduction to a new album. Originally the album was just a collection of tracks used to get more money from the consumer. Then Artists like the Beatles, The Beach boys, The Who, and many, many more utilised it for larger artistic statements. Record companies realised early on that they could make bigger profits from the album. Artistic statements aside, the album needed to be made, it needed to be sold, and some singles from the album was the way to sell it. Problem is, this often leads to albums with some good singles and some filler. Early Stones or Who anyone? The reality is there are good albums and bad ones. Singles are or were, not always a good indicator of how good the album is, or was. But unless you read reviews you had nothing else to go on other than the singles. Another problem is a good album does not always have good singles, or singles that catch on. Those albums might not get heard much no matter how good they are. Love’s “Forever Changes” being one example which has become a cult classic over time, and is genuinely a great album.

Of course this is the scenario in very general terms. Bands often built an audience through touring or word of mouth. But the point I’m getting at is a single is not always an indicator of how good an album is. The same tracks aside, you could almost say the two are unrelated. You could easily miss a lot of good music, and easily build up a collection of dross. The irony of good music, is that unless you get proper access to it, and a time to explore it, then you could easily not even discover it. Let me explain a little further.

Often good music or great music is layered, or the quality is not always fully apparent on the first listen or two. It takes our brain a couple of listens to decode it before the qualities begin to shine through. A quick listen on the radio isn’t going to get you that. But from the radio, that is what most people want. We more often need something that is catchy, that has the hooks that pull you in straight away. So receiving music that way, is mostly only a certain type of music. In most instances, anyway. That explains why when you buy an album, even one you soon come to love, it does not sound too impressive in the first listen or two. Unless of course it is full of catchy pop hooks. I cannot remember the amount of times I have bought albums and then had to give them a few days of plays to bed into my mind before deciding whether I really liked it or not.

Generally though, even if you don’t buy a lot of music, you will have some variety of taste. You might have been exposed to it from your parents, family or friends. You might be exposed to it through some constant radio listening, or certain tv shows. There will usually be something that didn’t grab you instantly but crept up on you over time. And there will be the opposite, something that stuck in straight away and sounded brilliant. But after a few plays that initial buzz has worn off. It’s ok but not that amazing. Then a few listens later and it is starting to do your head in. A simple truth in music is that writing music which is catchy, and stays with you, and maybe even reveals more detail over time, is difficult. Some are lucky to put together a good one on the fly, but repeating it? Not so easy. You see the irony of most good music is that it takes some time to grow on you, and reveal itself. It’s like a good friend, more just keeps on coming, even if the way you met was nothing special.

And if you survived that, or just skimmed over it, here is the same argument in “Nonet”:

To your ears, I do not sound like much

but I don’t give it up like that

I’ll tease, and let you taste it

draw you in, be your muse

wonder wat you missed

listen again

soon I will

grow on 

you

So with that, I’m signing off.

Have a nice week, and tune in somewhen further down it for the next brainsplats blog post.

Lexicon word of the day: etymology.

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32 comments on “The Monday Mess – The irony of good music – 19 Nov 2012

  1. DyingNote says:

    Super nonet, as usual.

    Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ exemplifies for me what you’ve written here. It too me a few listens before I ‘got’ it. And it’s not alone but it was the one that set me to give music a few listens before I decide whether it’s worth it for me or not.

  2. I’m trying to think of an example here, but can’t. All I know is the music that took a while to really get, as you’ve said here, are the ones that endure. Love your music posts and the nonet was great.

    • Elliot says:

      I think there is something about layered music that keeps intriguing the brain, if we are willing to follow what I suppose is a small learning curve. To keep finding detail, or things missed, or a different perspective, all adds up.

      Glad you liked the nonet. I quite liked that one myself!

  3. Beatles, Doors and Led Zep “..is all ya need…”

  4. Carrie Rubin says:

    I think I’ve mentioned to you before that I’m one of those “singles” people–downloading the hits instead of getting the whole album. I’m sure I’m missing lots of good stuff. I’m a music artist’s worse nightmare, I suppose.

    • Elliot says:

      Well you can only buy to your tastes and what you are willing to explore. I get that people don’t have the interest in as much music as I do, so why not explore singles? You could probably tell me more about books you have read, than I could you. This is not to say I don’t read, because I do, but I think you get to read many more books than I do.

  5. I completely get this. There have been many songs that on first listen, I thought “This is awful.” But then upon additional listenings, they really start to grow on me. In fact, some of my favorite songs are ones that I really disliked when I first heard them. Perseverance really pays off with music.

    • Elliot says:

      Yeah totally. I like the ones also that I initially missed, then it grew on me, or I put aside to come back to it later, then realized it is really good. Also sometimes some music just suits a certain mood or context better. You suddenly realize, oh this works really well here, or compared to this. That is one of many reasons I love music. So much to explore, and experience.

  6. I suppose that’s true. Music does grow on me. Some people grow on me to!

  7. “That explains why when you buy an album, even one you soon come to love, it does not sound too impressive in the first listen or two.” That is the defining characteristic that unites all my favourite albums 🙂 Just because something is easy to listen to does not make it memorable.

  8. jmmcdowell says:

    Definitely some of my favorite albums took a while to grow on me, and I think because of the reasons you suggest here. My husband and I keep saying we need to try some “new” music, but it’s hard to motivate ourselves for that. And that’s maybe because as we get older, it’s hard to give new music the time it needs.

    • Elliot says:

      Well as much as I like to moan about downloads and the quality of them, the Internet is a great forum for discovering new music. For example, find something you really like on amazon and see what else customers were buying from there. Or if after an unfamiliar form of music, look up some music sites and just try it out. Who knows, you might find something inspiring.

  9. I usually fall in love with a cd on the 10th listen. 🙂

  10. Smaktakula says:

    I thought I knew the definition of today’s word, but I was mistaken.

    Some of the points you raise in this piece are discussions I’ve been having with my friends for years. One thing you mention which hadn’t really occurred to me and I find interesting is the notion that prior to “the whole album” concept (and it speaks to your musical knowledge that you’re aware the Beach Boys were once innovators), albums were a clutch of singles and a whole lot of crap. It makes sense, because that’s the way a lot of albums are to this day. Growing up, I can’t tell you how many times I was tricked by a catchy single.

    I completely agree that good music sneaks up on you. I try to give songs a few listens before I give up on them (or at least decide what I think about them). It can be a sublime experience when a piece of music transforms itself from a series of sounds into something that really speaks to you. Radiohead’s Kid A was like that for me.

    • Elliot says:

      It’s something I’ve been saying for many years also but I felt it was time to wedge it into a blog post. You can usually spot a music fan if they are familiar with this argument and pretty much agree with it. I think I replied to someone else here that it is the strange thing about looking forward to a new album by someone you like, that when you finally hear it, it is a bit underwhelming. But a few listens later…

      The Beatles vs Beach Boys, well Brian Wilson really, was one of those friendly rivalries where they were inspired by each other to go a step further with the album concept. But that had an affect on many other artists who realised the potential of the format.

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