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Monday, November 24, 2008



True enough, pop music has always been driven by a greedy industry, but you'll have to admit that in the 60's even the promoters expected the musicians to know a little bit about music, like reading notes and such, unlike nowadays when lip-sync bands can be hired for a dime (Milli Vanilli comes to mind) or a "harlottet" can just shake her booty and show skin to be a hit.

Carl Olson

but you'll have to admit that in the 60's even the promoters expected the musicians to know a little bit about music, like reading notes and such,

Not at all. Example #1: Paul McCartney cannot read music.

Example #2: Johnny Greenwood, guitarist for Radiohead, does read music. He also plays guitar, keyboard, viola, xylophone, glockenspiel, ondes Martenot, banjo, harmonica and drums. He is classically trained on the viola. He was chosen by the BBC to be composer in residence, and has written several modern classical pieces. He writes soundtracks and incorporates electronica, jazz, and world music in his compositions.

Example #3: Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, is one of the most overrated "musicians" of (dare I say it?) all-time. He couldn't write, he couldn't sing, and he was a complete degenerate to boot.

Example #4: Prince, for all of the smuttiness of his early work (which he has since renounced), is quite the musician: he can reportedly play over 25 instruments, and his recent albums have featured him on nearly every instrument: guitar, bass, keyboards, horns, drums, strings, vocals, etc. And he writes all of his own music, and much of it is quite good, even exceptional.

Many more such examples could be given, but hopefully that suffices for the moment.

unlike nowadays when lip-sync bands can be hired for a dime (Milli Vanilli comes to mind) or a "harlottet" can just shake her booty and show skin to be a hit.

But this is simply another variation of what I've already shown to be a straw-man argument. Every generation has its boy bands, lip-syncers, and so forth. But every generation also has its genuinely talented pop musicians.

Mark Brumley

I think you overestimate the 1960s music industry and what it expected of its performers (note I say performers, not musicians).

Dan Deeny

Try a CD by Radio Tarifa. For example, El Mandil de Carolina and Vestido de Flores on the CD, Temporal.


To quote a great man:

"My dear, some things just aren't done. Such as drinking Dom Pérignon '53 above a temperature of 38° Fahrenheit. That's as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs."

- James Bond, "Goldfinger"


There is another difference, particularly in American music of the same period. For a time there was a dominant culture of the pop music age group that was a convergence of issues as well as natural generational rebellion, the draft, the so-called sexual revolution, the wide-spread use of mind-altering drugs, etc. the most important of which was the draft which brought together that whole generation for a time.
Musically this led to a forgiving incubator. Those with exceptional musical talent had more room to experiment. The Beatles were just on the leading edge and once having broken out from the music of the past, had the momentum to become icons. Talent obviously, but fortuitous timing as well. And they produced their share of drek as well.

Even at Woodstock, which became the symbolic finale of the period, the diversity of bands and styles was amazing. (What a finale, wallowing around in mud!) After that the music industry which had for a time been running to keep up, got more control again and as the momentum of the period fragmented, so did the music into divergent tastes.

It was a unique time, when even the mediocre talents had the opportunity to rise and in some cases become icons. But the unifying force that drove it was outside of the music itself, and for a brief period, not seen before it or since, the music industry executives were not controlling it.

Today, the music industry is losing control again, but there is no unifying force. Even the pop stars don't get the kind of market share they once did, despite their personal antics and hyper promotion. The force now is diversity of taste, and diversity of medium.

It is what it is. To me, however, it seems that whoever is commenting over at the Vatican is perhaps a little nostalgic, and we know that nostalgia has a kind of glossing effect, highlighting the good and overlooking the bad. The Beatles were exceptionally talented (at least Lennon and McCartney) but they were also at the crest of a wave, which wave brought us a number of social evils as well. I would be inclined to offer the advice, "Let It Be."


Carl, I have greatly enjoyed your posts on music over the past few years.

I've finally had the opportunity to listen to Porcupine Tree, and I have you to thank for the fine recommendation. You had mentioned them to me a couple of years ago and I had not gotten around to them until the last couple of months. I think they're fantastic. Right now I only have their four most recent albums and have not heard their earlier works, but I fully intend to check out all their stuff. My understanding is that their earlier work is a little lighter and Pink Floydish. Fine by me. The heavier stuff suits me fine as well. I think "Deadwing" and "Fear of a Blank Planet" are excellent. So again, thank you.

"For every boy band there is a Soundgarden, Radiohead, Muse, or Porcupine Tree."

What a list. No exaggeration here, I have listened to every band listed there within the past 2 weeks (excepting the "every boy band").


"It's not just apples and oranges, it's apples and horse manure."

I love it. Wonderful post all around, Carl! Ben Myers blogs on Augustine and Iron & Wine, and you turn to music as well... what a fun way to start a week of theological blogging!

Roman Barry

When the record executives found out that a talentless idiot like Elvis Presley could sell more records than great singers like Sarah Vaughan or Mel Torme, then the mad rush to the bottom began. That was also the end of the golden age of American song writing, though nobody knew it at the time.
The Beatles were talented but because they didn't learn the foundational knowledge of their craft they soon sputtered out... and their talents were never as big as their egos. Poor Sir Paul, former rebel against convention, went sucking up for a knighthood as the gray hairs sprouted. Or has the monarchy, like most other institutions, gone slumming? Answer: Elton John, unapologetic, unrepentant pederast with even less talent than Elvis. A knighthood is worth no more now than a Nobel or Pulitzer Prize. And rock and roll and its verminous offspring shouldn't be dignified by calling it music. Rock and roll took its inspiration from some really great band leaders, like Louis Jordan, Sammy Price, and Buddy Johnson. It wasn't great music but it was fun music, and the musicians in those bands had more talent than all the sixties' rock groups put together. And now we live in a musical wasteland.


The Beatles had enormous talent but their product ultimately was superficial. I tired of Beatles music decades ago. Bob Dylan, by contrast, produced works of genius that can take years to appreciate fully. Is there any overtly Christian pop music that compares to Slow Train, Saved and Shot of Love? (Even more interesting are the pre-sentiments of Christianity found in some Dylan songs that pre-date his conversion. Examples: Shelter From the Storm and Senor.) Joseph Ratzinger, who, as is well known, knows quite a bit about music, spoke very harshly about Bob Dylan when Dylan performed for Pope John Paul II. It is one of the very few things that I don't agree with the Pope about.

I am conflicted about the Rolling Stones. I think their music is good. But I now realize that it is probably demonic.

Mike D'Virgilio

Oh how easy it is to criticize pop stars and their music. The Beatles superficial? Are you kidding me? You may as well say anything that is popular is superficial. The Beatles were transformational in so many ways, good and bad, that to trivialize them says more about the critic than the band. Their music holds up so well that it is hard to believe that almost 40 years have gone by since they last recorded. If you didn't know Abby Road was recorded 40 years ago you simply couldn't tell. And they produced far more memorable and still popular melodies than any other band ever, and thus far less drek than most.

And please, slamming Elvis is unseemly. At least before he became a caricature and pathetic drug addled embarrassment. Early Elvis was heavy and groundbreaking, and to these ears still thrilling.

Also if you like Porcupine Tree, you might like Spock's Beard. Even though my brother is the drummer and now lead singer, they've done some very heavy and tasty progressive rock. And if any of you are fans of Genesis when they were great (i.e. with Peter Gabriel) you may enjoy my bro's remake of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. You can find more info here:


Just stick with Jazz. Classic Jazz. Seriously.

And the White Stripes. Speaking of them, I know you like them Carl, what do you make of them big 'picture' wise?


Talent aside, the most striking thing about the Beatles is that they spent a lot of time using the lyrics of their songs to promote illegal drugs to minors. They certainly practised in their private lives the drugs they preached in their lyrics.


Wow, Carl! Now I'm really geeking out. Nick D'Virgilio's brother reads your blog! SB rocks almost as hard as Insight Scoop!

Carl E. Olson

Thanks for all for all of the comments. A few quick remarks:

Bob Dylan, by contrast, produced works of genius that can take years to appreciate fully.

It would take a lot to convince me of this. Hey, I'm open, but I simply cannot stand Dylan's singing. Drives me nuts.

You may as well say anything that is popular is superficial.

I think some people, do, and have, even on this post. :-) Thanks, Mike, for the comments. Spock's Beard is a very fine band, and I have several of their albums.

Just stick with Jazz. Classic Jazz. Seriously.

Hey, it's no secret that I really like jazz. I have close to 10,000 jazz songs on my iTunes. But just jazz? Naw.

And the White Stripes. Speaking of them, I know you like them Carl, what do you make of them big 'picture' wise?

I do enjoy some of their songs but I'm not a huge fan. I'm really not sure what to make of them.

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