Saturday, 12 February 2011

Decline of the West - pop music


A few days ago I was in a replica 1950s American diner, eating breakfast and listening to a string of 1950s pop and middle-of-the road songs.

Some of them I had heard before, some not - but I was absolutely stunned by the high quality.

Singer after singer was so much better than anybody alive today.

The tunes were usually great.


And - not so obvious, but more extreme - the backing musicians - in particular the rhythm section (rhythm guitar, bass, drums - maybe piano or organ, maybe brass or strings chorus) were... just... wonderful.

Really good rhythm playing has an elusive quality which apparently cannot be faked: just listen to the backing on a Motown or Stax single and compare it with any later cover version.


This quality of musicianship had disappeared, I would say, by 1970.

Many singers that we consider good now are good, but quite frankly our standard of good means little more than a pleasant voal tone and the ability to sing in tune. That extra quality is always lacking - yet it was so common in the 1950s that scores, maybe hundreds, of unamed singers had it.

And our ideas of a good band - well, they are even further from real quality.



Obviously natural ability is the most important factor, so either this has declined or else the best natural talents no longer go in for professional music or, if they do, no longer succeed in it.

Top notch ensenble playing requires practice together, long periods of concentrated practice among musicians who have a musical understanding, and who thereby deepen and enrich this understanding.

And, of course, a focus on the music: the sounds not the image, the visuals, the stage-presentation etc. etc.