Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Elvis, The Beatles...then what?

In the 50's it was Elvis. Then with the 60's came the Beatles. And while we all expected another comparable act to come along in the 70's, it never did. And we didn't see it in the 80's, the 90's or in the 00's. Some people might even put Sinatra in the same category, and although I see similarities (mass popularity, mania among the fans, success in other mediums), he didn't have the same impact culturally or musically

Explaining the phenomena of Elvis and the Beatles can be discussed forever and has a multitude of possibilities. Could it simply be the fact that artists with that kind of talent, charisma and good timing only come along once in a great while? And it was just a coincidence that Elvis and the Beatles were 10 years apart?

Both acts also benefited from the combination or early television and the entertainment industry's discovery of the teen-ager. With only three or four TV channels, everybody saw them. And with the advent of teen magazines and rock and roll radio, their exposure was all encompassing.

They also had the chops. They knew the old tunes and the new ones. Bands today cut their teeth on Van Halen or The Ramones. Elvis knew Bing Crosby and gospel. The Beatles could play R&B, Irish folk songs and Judy Garland.

The talent pool has also been diluted. An artist like Elvis might get swallowed up today. He'd end up as the front man for some shitty Country Western group, or be carted off to a fancy school for musical prodigies where his raw talent would be snuffed out. And it's not only the artist pool that's diluted. How many George Martin's, Sam Phillip's or Brian Epsteins are out there?

The public is too hip, too cynical and too informed. When you look at a Beatles press conference, circa 1965, it's all too obvious that the Beatles are lightyears ahead of anybody else in the room. Everyone else was a square. Nowadays we're all cool, so a rock star isn't all that much different from us, or some guy on the bus or your next door neighbor.

Rock and Pop music is running out of good tunes. Hey, it's just pop music, right? It isn't jazz or classical. It's simple melodies with catchy hooks and lyrics. How many good ones can there be? Maybe "Splish Splash" to "I am the Walrus" was about it? Sure, I hear a few good new ones now and then, but face it: if Rap is now the most successful genre, it goes to show that people aren't interested in the next Lennon-McCartney or Goffin-King songwriting team.

Today we live in a "fetish" media world. Every taste and medium has it's own cable channels, radio stations, magazines and websites. The "Top 40" has no meaning any longer. Who knows what the #1 song is this week? What was the top selling album last year? Most people don't know or care. We all live in our own world of music and films and don't give a damn about other genres. I watch a lot of television, go to tons of films, read newspapers and magazines, listen to the radio...and I couldn't name one song by Britney Spears or Maria Carey. Not one. And sure, it's partly my fault, however, in 1970, I knew the song "Patches" by Clarence Carter, and I sure as heck didn't like it or want to hear it.

And as we grow more and more narrow in our tastes, the music industry is getting some payback after decades of ripping of musicians. The public has found downloading and the I-Pod and burning CDs for their friends (a lot easier that making cassettes like we did in the old days). The album as an art form is dead. And musicians have to go back to making money the old fashioned way: Performing.

I'm not one of those people who think the public is the victim of the music industry. Nobody put a gun to our heads and made us pay $20 for a CD (with one good song on it) that cost 20 cents to make. Songs are a disposable commodity. People don't cherish their music like we cherished our White Album or Elvis 45's. How can you cherish a downloaded song? People are more in love with their I-Pods than they are with the music itself.

But the more I examine why the Monkees, or Elton John, or The Sex Pistols, or Eminem didn't become the next Elvis or Beatles, I find myself going back to Talent and Timing. Music will always be exciting and organic. New artists will continue to capture my imagination and loyalty. I love Beck, The Donnas, and think Green Day's American Idiot is super. Nirvana was one of great bands of all time. And I think Gwen Stephani is definitely what I would call a "star".

However, we will never see another Elvis or Beatles. It was another time and another place. Rock stars were cooler than us, and the music was new and unexplored. And I still get that feeling when I hear Meet The Beatles or "Good Rockin' Tonight".


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