Size Doesn’t Matter

Chris Neal | October 12th, 2010

size-doesnt-matter

On July 27, 1890, 37-year-old Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh walked into a field outside Paris, leaned his easel against a haystack and shot himself in the chest. He managed to stagger back to the nearby Ravoux Inn, where a doctor told him there was still a chance to save his life. “Then I’ll have to do it over again,” replied the artist, who died two days later. Van Gogh believed himself to be a complete and utter failure, and with some reason—of the 900 astonishingly beautiful paintings he had created, only one had ever sold. The man who would eventually be regarded as one of the world’s greatest artists was, during his lifetime, a commercial flop.

History reeks with stories of artists unappreciated in their time, or whose popular appeal is far outpaced by the reach of their influence. And yet many among us continue to argue that commercial success is an inarguable and unassailable barometer of quality. Numbers don’t lie, we hear—and sales of albums, singles and concert tickets are certainly an indicator of an act’s broad popularity. We constantly hear mediocre acts defended with some variant on, “[Artist X] sells out arenas and has big radio hits—that means they must be doing something right!” Well, yes, they’re doing something right, but creating art that is of lasting value may or may not be that thing.

There’s no reason that popularity and quality can’t coincide, and indeed they often do. George Strait has sold more than 68 million albums, and few would argue that any of those purchases were misguided. Many of country’s biggest names are also its biggest talents, from George Jones, Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn right on through Garth Brooks, Shania Twain and Taylor Swift. These are acts whose music is beloved because it rings true to listeners, music that can be taken to heart and become a trusted source of inspiration, enjoyment and even solace. The principle is true of all forms of art: Toy Story 3 recently earned more than $400 million while enjoying near-universal acclaim from those allegedly snobby film critics; the Beatles weren’t just the best-selling band of the 1960s, they were (in my opinion, and I’m certainly not alone) the best; Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities is an unchallenged masterpiece that happens to have sold more than 200 million copies over the last century and a half.

But these concentric circles do not always overlap entirely, or at all. The very existence of Paul W. Dennis’ great The 9513 series “Forgotten Artists” is testament to the fact that not every act achieves popularity on par with his, her or their talent. There are a million reasons that a given piece of music doesn’t connect with the public that have nothing to do with its intrinsic value—perhaps it’s too subtle to appeal to the tastes of a wide audience; perhaps the music-business machinery breaks down, and it doesn’t get promoted or distributed properly; perhaps the artist is lacking in personality or sex appeal; perhaps the music is ahead of (or behind) its time; perhaps the music is simply too esoteric to be of interest to casual listeners. Perhaps the artist is unlucky enough to be a woman in a genre that increasingly has little use for them: We’ve watched over the last several years as deserving acts like Ashley Monroe, Sarah Buxton, Emily West and others failed to pique the interest of more than a small slice of the country fan base.

Often the success or failure of a song depends on how it is received by the tastemakers at radio, whose influence is gradually dissipating but still vast. Country radio certainly does not choose what it will play or will not play based solely on the perceived quality of the music. They’re not looking for the best music, they’re looking for the music with the broadest appeal. Many great songs are also polarizing because they are unique, jarring or complex—some people feel very passionately about them in a positive way, and others feel passionately negative toward them. Country radio seeks out the songs that will keep you from changing the station before the next commercial, and those are the songs that turn a lot of people on without turning a lot of other people off. This is why many acts that receive a lot of radio play don’t necessarily sell a commensurate amount of albums or concert tickets—most everyone likes them, but only a few people love them enough to actually open their wallets. Most radio listeners are not committed music fans, they’re just ordinary people who aren’t inclined to seek out better music than what they hear on the airwaves—and it is primarily for them that playlists are programmed. Much of what we hear on the radio is, quite literally, music for people who don’t like music all that much. They want songs that do not require heavy emotional or intellectual investment to enjoy.

A truer measure of quality is not sales or airplay, but time. Van Gogh was gradually discovered by art lovers in the decades after his death, a process that eventually culminated in his elevation to his rightful place in the artistic pantheon. But the only surefire test is the one you carry out yourself. The appreciation of any piece of music is at last a subjective process that each one of us approaches in our own unique manner, with our own set of criteria, values and biases. Whether your favorite album has sold 100 million copies or 100, the real yardstick to gauge its value is what it means to you. If a song moves you, it’s a hit.

  1. elisa
    October 12, 2010 at 7:04 am

    If more people were truly interested in the quality of songwriting and the message, every one of Matraca Berg’s albums would have been a commercial hit and people would know her by name. She can sing, too!

  2. route66news
    October 12, 2010 at 8:47 am

    A most provocative column …

    But who’s to judge of what’s actually the “best” music? That’s such a subjective quality, you’ll never get a consensus. Lord knows I’ve heard from people who’ve insisted this Tom Waits album or this 1980s Bob Dylan album are better than anything on radio, to my bafflement.

    And if something doesn’t sell, maybe it’s because it wasn’t that good. I remember listening to a regionally popular country-rock band’s CD that utterly flopped. Of course, the band’s fan base blamed the “evil” machinations of Nashville for the album’s failure, ignoring that the group had recorded dull songs (in my humble opinion, of course).

    And sometime country radio will surprise even cynical ol’ me. Sometimes ear-catching songs will clear all the hurdles and win out. David Ball, who was thought to be washed up, had a nice hit with “Riding with Private Malone.” And I never thought radio would touch an overwhelmingly sad tune such as “Whiskey Lullaby,” not to mention it going No. 1.

    I’m not one to be a torch-bearer for most commercially successful country music. But I also recognize that timing and luck — as well as quality — are huge factors in an artist’s success.

    That ain’t fair. But life’s not fair, either.

  3. Ben Foster
    October 12, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I enjoyed this piece. Very true!

    I get very annoyed when I write a negative single review, and then get comments that say “When this song goes No. 1, you’ll find out that you’re wrong about it, and you’ll look stupid!!!” And I am like, oh please! It won’t be the first time a crappy song has topped the charts.

  4. Erica
    October 12, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Maybe it’s actually your ears, Ben. If the majority of the people like the song and it hits #1 and you don’t like it, then your the one that’s wrong — not them. Your no more qualified to write a review than anyone else is. And that’s the truth.

  5. Paul W Dennis
    October 12, 2010 at 9:40 am

    Erica – there are many songs that hit #1 that no one will remember five years from now – plus, since singles chart positions DO NOT reflect sales, all it takes is a few idiot fans in each down deluging radio stations with requests to game the charts. Ben may not be more qualified than anyone else to write reviews (actually he is more qualified than you would be since he has a good command of the written English language, and writes logically) but I always enjoy his reviews, whether or not I agree with them.

  6. Stormy
    October 12, 2010 at 9:46 am

    Route66:
    The point is that people are still buying that 1980′s Bob Dylan album.

    The best example of this actually comes from movies. The year was 1994. Pulp Fiction and Forrest Gump were duking it out at the box office and all the awards shows. A little movie called The Shawshank Redemption was largely forgotten in both places. Flash forward ten years and Forrest Gump is largely remembered as sentimental tripe, Pulp Fiction is widely considered a cult classic and Shawshank has made millions more than it ever did at the box office and is considered one of the best movies of the 1990s.

  7. Matt Bjorke
    October 12, 2010 at 10:27 am

    I honestly believe that it’s time for the country singles chart – all singles charts really – to have digital sales components to them as well as airplay metrics. Then a ‘true’ representation of what is popular or not would make more sense.

    As for the argument that a song is good based on popularity, this is probably true for the masses but Paul W. Dennis is right, many songs – even highly rated ones – will not be remembered by radio or most fans five years after they’ve been on the radio. But this is true of ‘great’ songs as well as ‘average’ or ‘bad’ hits.

  8. Barry Mazor
    October 12, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Look:

    Some people are found to be good at writing about subjective matters. Objectively, they’re found good by editors who find them worth hiring as regular contributors, because they’re thought to attract readers on a regular basis. That’s the qualification for being a reviewer.

    It’s really much like musical acts contracted by labels.You could say the labels are not more “qualified” (whatever that means) to pick and take on acts than anybody else. But they’re equipped to produce, distribute and promote the ones they pick. (And then audiences react as if the acts they hear about were inevitable, almost a natural phenomenon. )

    Publications, old-fangle and new, make the same more or less experienced choices as labels. It’s subjective.

    And, subjectively, I see nothing wrong with that at all.

    This is not high school chemistry.

  9. Rick
    October 12, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Great article Chris, and not even a whiff of politics! Bravo! (lol)

    My favorite part: “Most (mainstream country) radio listeners are not committed music fans, they’re just ordinary people who aren’t inclined to seek out better music than what they hear on the airwaves—and it is primarily for them that playlists are programmed. Much of what we hear on the radio is, quite literally, music for people who don’t like music all that much.” Talk about hitting the nail on the head as far as AirHead Country Radio listeners are concerned. These mostly female listeners want pleasant background music for their lifestyles and contemporary country fits the bill. The saddest part to me is that the radio programmers probably have less passion for the music than the average station listener, and especially among the corporate conglomerate owned stations.

    Your comment about female artists being sidelined by Top 40 country radio due to lack of interest is also spot on. Apart from Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, or now Kimberly Perry of The Band Perry, how many new female artists have clicked with country radio over the past couple of years? Sure there have been decent single hits by Crystal Shawanda and Heidi Newfield for example, but then they fade away. I’m a big fan of both Ashley Monroe and Sarah Buxton, and like Emily West a lot too, but other worthy females have also faltered as radio ignored them. Those that come to mind include The Jenkins, Susan Haynes, Catherine Britt, Shelly Fairchild, and Amber Dotson. Ashton Shepherd was a huge breath of fresh air and yet couldn’t break into the Top 19.

    I’m always looking and listening for new, quality country music that appeals to me but quit looking to Top 40 country radio in that regard years ago. I do keep an eye on new artists from Nashville labels as I often like the ones that fail at radio. In fact the more I like their music the more likely it is radio will ignore them. Just pathetic…

  10. Lewis
    October 12, 2010 at 11:50 am

    You can apply the same to stand alone groups like Zac Brown Band in just how many other groups are competing with them which the sad fact is other than The Eli Young Band and The Randy Rogers Band there aren’t very many apart when Alabama ruled in the 1980′s and 1990′s and groups like Restless Heart, Atlanta, Southern Pacific, Diamond Rio and Little Texas competed and ruled with Alabama. But now apart from Zac Brown who is really competing as a stand alone group aside from trios like Rascal Flatts, Lady A and The Band Perry.

  11. Stormy
    October 12, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    But you cannot use charts as a basis for talent. N’Sync had many #1 songs. Jimi Hendrix had one. If anyone wants to claim that N’Sync is better than Hendrix, please wear rubber soled shoes for the impending lightening strike.

  12. Troy
    October 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    The forgotten in five years excuse is overused

    back in the the 90′s/early 2000′s many critic thought the late 90′s songs would be completly forgotten in 5 years and used it as excuse saying they wont stand the test of time. Now 10 years later people still know/hear Bye Bye Bye, I Want It That Way, Baby One More Time, Wannabe,Genie in A Bottle, Your Still The One etc. The top people will still be rembered.

    @Stormy “A little movie called The Shawshank Redemption was largely forgotten in both places. Flash forward ten years and Forrest Gump is largely remembered as sentimental tripe, Pulp Fiction is widely considered a cult classic and Shawshank has made millions more than it ever did at the box office and is considered one of the best movies of the 1990s.”

    Forrest Gump is still the more remebered movie and overall liked movie of the group. Just because it sold millions more when it was released out of the movies doesn’t make it better. I’m willing to bet Titantic has sold more vhs/dvd copies than Shawshank did once it came out on VHs/Dvds.

    @Matt Bjorke I Think sales should be included to the country single chart. But be ready for tons of complaints. Think how long Love Story would have been nummber one if sales were included.

  13. Razor X
    October 12, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Now 10 years later people still know/hear Bye Bye Bye, I Want It That Way, Baby One More Time, Wannabe,Genie in A Bottle, Your Still The One etc.

    They do??

  14. Stormy
    October 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Troy:
    It is? I don’t hear much about Forrest Gump at all, and you hear a lot about Shawshank still. Also, isn’t Titanic widely remembered as terrible?

  15. Leeann Ward
    October 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Troy,
    I think we’re kinda living in parallel universes. I don’t think your examples are remembered quite as fondly as you’re saying.

  16. Bob
    October 12, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Great article and some very good comments too. I like the conclusion: “the real yardstick to gauge its value is what it means to you. If a song moves you, it’s a hit.”

  17. Chris N.
    October 12, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ only made $28 million (on a $28 million budget) upon release, but today it’s #1 on IMDB voters’ top 250 list.

    http://www.imdb.com/chart/top

  18. Stormy
    October 12, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    And to carry on the Shawshank metaphor:
    Back in 1994 the there was a mini-culture war between old guard, good morals film making of Forrest Gump and the gonzo, ugly sexdrugsandrockandroll style of Pulp Fiction. Shawshank was neither one nor the other, and it was both. It had the Hallmark moments with the beer on the rooftops and a somewhat smurfy ending, but it did not shy away from showing the battles between Andy and the Sisters or Brooks’ suicide. We didn’t know how good it was until we found ourselves returning to it time and time again like an old friend.

    That’s why it takes time to know what songs are truely great–we need time to see which songs we return to time and time again.

  19. Jon
    October 12, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    Oh, well, IMDB voters surely must know what they’re talking about ever so much more than the people who voted with their dollars back before the internet came along.

    Not that I disagree with your main point, Chris. But judging quality’s not – as you hint – a necessarily simple matter. Short term popularity isn’t a sure-fire index of quality, but neither is unpopularity. And I think Matt’s point – that popular songs tend to have short life spans regardless of their quality – is a solid one.

    Furthermore, I don’t think that it can be taken for granted that longevity is a sign of quality either, not without a deeper understanding of what that longevity entails. It’s interesting to chew over the question of whether a song that speaks strongly in a single year to 10,000,000 people who then forget it is necessarily of a lower quality than a song that speaks strongly to 10,000,000 people spread out over 20 years when those folks are individually forgetting it at something around the same pace. At least, it’s interesting to me. Sort of. In any event, it would be nice to read a clear, concise and logical explanation of why and how longevity is a good indicator of quality.

  20. Troy
    October 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    @Stormy Troy:
    “It is? I don’t hear much about Forrest Gump at all, and you hear a lot about Shawshank still. Also, isn’t Titanic widely remembered as terrible?”

    I personally really dislike Forrest Gump but its quoted everywhere and if you haven’t seen it people are like are you serious. As for the Titantic no there are still a large amount of people that love the movie. It won numoreous awards, including best picture. The main thing that a lot of people hated was Leo-mania because of the attention he got for his loos. AFI in 2008 ranked it the 6th best epic. Enough people like it that apprently its going make to movie theators to be in 3D.

    @Leann maybe not on country music blog but once you get into a pop music blog/ or in general people are still larger remeber liking these songs.

    Pop blog http://redirect.hp.com/svs/rdr?TYPE=4&s=webslice&tp=iefavbar&pf=cnnb&locale=en_us&bd=pavilion&c=101 they put Baby One More Time as her best song in her carear and in general people really like her on there.

    Spice Girls sold at 17 shows at O2 arena a few years ago. In 2010 they won the BRIT Award for Most Memorable Performance of 30 Years. BRIT is british version of Grammy.

    VH1 also did in 2008 if i remeber the 100 greatest songs of the 90′s which was fan voted and had
    I Want It That Way #3
    Baby One More Time #8 2 top ten entries for Martin.
    Tearin Up My Heart #30
    Wannabe #33
    Genie in A Bottle #38
    Your Still The One #46

    Most of these songs all got they will be forgotten in 5 years. around ten years later their still at the top of these list. Having their 90′s songs rank above Whitney Houstan I will always love you, Radiohead Creep, Oasis Wonderwall, Sheryl Crow All I want to do.

    This era of music had the most amount of people saying in five year people are going to say Britney who? The same was said about The Beatles by critics when they first came out. They became the best-selling group/artist of all time.

  21. Richard
    October 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    This article makes an excellent point – a good amount of the people listening to country radio aren’t looking for the moving, amazing songs – they just want something they can listen to, and contemporary music fits the bill, like Rick said. If I had my way, Emily West’s “Blue Sky” would’ve went all the way to #1, as well as Sunny Sweeney’s “A Table Away.” Both of them stalled somewhere behind #30.

    I’m not going to say that every popular artist on the radio makes mediocre songs – Miranda Lambert, Zac Brown Band, Keith Urban, and Brad Paisley all come to mind as great artists that get lots of airplay. Of course, Miranda only just began getting attention, which strikes me a little oddly – did radio pick up on her because “White Liar” appealed to them? I was shocked when she even hit the Top 10 with it, and it went all the way to #1. It just makes you wonder.

  22. Cutting the Treacle
    October 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Troy: “Now 10 years later people still know/hear Bye Bye Bye, I Want It That Way, Baby One More Time, Wannabe,Genie in A Bottle, Your Still The One etc. The top people will still be rembered”.

    Me: I actually agree to an extent. People of a certain age will look at the Britney / Xtina / ‘NSync days the way my generation looks back at the early 80′s and Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna (or in country music, Alabama, Barbara Mandrell and Willie Nelson).

    And Troy is right. In hindsight, Forrest Gump is virtually unwatchable. It’s mawkish, it ripped off Zelig and it’s a little offensive (I, for one, did not appreciate the part where Forrest ghost writes the “I Have A Dream” speech).

    And Troy is also right that underappreciated works can later become classics and even overshadow earlier works (e.g., The Great Gatsby, Wizard of Oz).

  23. idlewildsouth
    October 12, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    What I think everyone seems to be missing is that Chris’ point, as I understand it, is that neither is right or wrong. Just because it’s a hit doesn’t mean it’s great, and it doesn’t mean it’s not. It’s all about what you like.

  24. Stormy
    October 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    I personally really dislike Forrest Gump but its quoted everywhere and if you haven’t seen it people are like are you serious. As for the Titantic no there are still a large amount of people that love the movie. It won numoreous awards, including best picture. The main thing that a lot of people hated was Leo-mania because of the attention he got for his loos. AFI in 2008 ranked it the 6th best epic. Enough people like it that apprently its going make to movie theators to be in 3D

    The main thing I seem to encounter people hating was that she loved him so much she wouldn’t move over three inches and share the board.

    Those songs placed well on a best of the 90′s list–where would they place on a list of the best songs of all time?

  25. Troy
    October 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    “Those songs placed well on a best of the 90’s list–where would they place on a list of the best songs of all time?”

    Considering some of them are in the top ten I think there a good chance you would seem them on the best overall time list. It Depends. Some would make my list of top 100. One decade didn’t have so much better music that would cause there to be 60 songs from 80 and only 5 decade. sure a lot of people will have a favorite time in music but I think they would be evenly distrubted.

    But thats besides the point that people in late 90s/early 2000 said these songs would easily be forgotten and no one would know about them five years later and 10 years later their still there known. That was the way that some choose to devalue the song saying its flash in pan to be forgotten by tomorrow and they havn’t.

    As for the Titantic i thought it was clear that if he tried to get on the wood that she was on it would sink no?

    Cutting at Treacle gets what im saying.

  26. kevin w
    October 12, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    The people who now say Forrest Gump is a bad film are mostly film snobs who IMO are a very vocal minority.

  27. kevin w
    October 12, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    “The forgotten in five years excuse is overused

    back in the the 90’s/early 2000’s many critic thought the late 90’s songs would be completly forgotten in 5 years and used it as excuse saying they wont stand the test of time. Now 10 years later people still know/hear Bye Bye Bye, I Want It That Way, Baby One More Time, Wannabe,Genie in A Bottle, Your Still The One etc. The top people will still be rembered.”

    That’s music critics for you.

  28. tobysooner
    October 13, 2010 at 8:15 am

    ***Whether your favorite album has sold 100 million copies or 100, the real yardstick to gauge its value is what it means to you. If a song moves you, it’s a hit.***
    ^says it all^

  29. Waynoe
    October 13, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Kevin W.

    Amen brother.

  30. Fizz
    October 13, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for injecting some realism with this article. I’ve heard it all before: “This song sucks!” “Well, it must be good, it’s number one!” Or “Well, the sold 100,000 copies, it must be good.” Not necessarily. People think it’s good because they’re too lazy or uninterested to hunt down something better. The machine feeds on itself. People use numbers whenever it’s convenient to their argument.

    And you’d be surprised at how little impact requests actually have on airplay. I did some radio for three or four years after college, at a cluster that had a variety of stations in it. People would request a song that wasn’t on the playlist, and you’d tell ‘em, “Sure, I’ll get it on for ya!” and have no intention of doing so. You only played requests that you were going to have to play soon enough anyway, and you’d only get one or two songs an hour (if that many) that could be something outside the “A-file” or “B-file,” a term leftover from when radio playlists were controlled by actual card-catalogs.

    On the other hand, you can go on a site like CD Baby, that sells independent, unsigned music, and browse for a couple hours, and hear tons of mediocre music that doesn’t deserve big-label promotion or airplay. No arguing that.

    A few years ago,the FCC required Clear Channel to feature iindependent artists for half an hour a week on all of its radio stations, as part of a ruling on payola. So they bury it on Sunday nights when listenership is generally low. I didn’t work for CC, but our stations had a similar weekly feature for new music. We would record all the calls that came in during those segments and give them all to the PD to review … and 99% of the time, you never heard those songs outside that programming block, no matter how many positive calls we logged.

  31. Fizz
    October 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Kevin W.: Those old songs from the late ’90′s still “stand up” because music has progressed so little since then. It’s not that those songs stand the test of time, but the rest of big-label, big-radio music has gone stale.

  32. luckyoldsun
    October 13, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Jon–
    If there is such a thing as quality–and that one work of art is better than another–then longevity is about the only objective indicator. It means that the work has a universality and a timelessness that enables it to speak to people beyond a single period of time.
    A song like “Indian Outlaw” is a perfect example of something that was a hit momentarily but is likely to be deemed stupid and worthless if played 20 years later.

  33. Jon
    October 13, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    If there is such a thing as quality–and that one work of art is better than another–then longevity is about the only objective indicator. It means that the work has a universality and a timelessness that enables it to speak to people beyond a single period of time.

    With all due respect, that precisely doesn’t answer the question I posed. In fact, saying that stuff that’s long-lived has a timelessness is pure tautology.

  34. Barry Mazor
    October 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    LuckyOl: I don’t know why there has to be or would need to be an “objective” indicator that one piece of art’s better than another; again, I think that’s trying to jam science into a discussion of art. Subjectivity is not a dirty word. And it’s not a discussison-ender either, in the arts. Critical discussion is real, It exists,. And it’s mattered to culture as much as objective fact gathering.

    There are certainly things besides longevity that might come into play in making a critical assessment. For instance, a given work or performance may open a door to many others, to show other artists possibilities they didn’t know were there–and change things. It may take the right vocabulary and understanding of what musicians or composers were doing up to that point to nail the difference made, but it can be done.

    I say this as somebody who worked on 125,000 words on what difference Jimmie Rodgers has made, for instance. But it took a lot of homework, fgact-checking, 80-plus interviews with people influenced to see what that actually meant, and checking out of a huge amount of music before and after to see the difference.

    It’s a little different way to respond than just saying “:thumbs way up to that new record,” and I wouldn’t expect many people to follow suit. It’s hard. But it may be what actually “qualifies” somebody to take up so much of people’s time talking about something. Anything.

    Doing the work.

  35. Troy
    October 13, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    @Fizz”Those old songs from the late ’90’s still “stand up” because music has progressed so little since then. It’s not that those songs stand the test of time, but the rest of big-label, big-radio music has gone stale.”

    An then there another exuse. This decade (2000-2010) has had plenty of songs that were different in style comapred to that time. I could easily make a list of songs from a more recent times of different styles that seem like their going to stand the test time. Love Story, We Belong Together, Umbrella, Before He Cheats, Irreplaceable, Bleeding Love, Need You Now etc.

    The music from late 90 to today are completly different and hasn’t remained the same or stale. It went from being innocent to becoming increasing sexual in the songs itself. Very similar to when American Bandstand was popular and then girl groups becoming popular. Like wholesome song like Venus by Frankie Avalon to sexual songs like The Shirelles Will You Love Me Tomorrow.

    Another problem to this theory that big labels control everything is the current best selling singer Taylor Swift didn’t come from the big four records labels. Last time I checked Back To December had little to no airplay and it was at number one on itunes.

    The main point of this all is when songs become popular in their time people that don’t like those songs immediately pull that it wont have longevity card and it most cases these popular song do have longevity to them.

  36. sam (sam)
    October 13, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I agree that it is a tautology to say that something “long lived has a timelessness;” Other criticisms apparently exist, too:

    Judge Posner mentions four criticisms of the test of time as applied to literature in his book “Law and Literature.” After mentioning that the test is circular, he writes, “…Other criticisms of the test of time should be noted. The first is that it privileges current aesthetic standards-the only works that survive into the present are works esteemed great by current standards. The second is that it is made indeterminate by the vicissitudes of literary reputation: if the timeline of a writer’s reputation exhibits troughs as well as peaks, what significance can be assigned to the current peak…The third criticisim is that the test of time is biased in favor of works that are written in widely read languages and works that are easily translated…Fourth…the test of time doesn’t tell us what we should read, because an ephemeral work, say of political satire, may be more important given our current interests than a classic.”

    Posner goes on to say that he doesn’t believe these criticims to be fatal and that the test of time – flawed as it is – may be better than other tests.

    I have nothing to add; I don’t know if these criticisms of the “test of time” would also apply to a “test of time” for music.

  37. luckyoldsun
    October 13, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Well, the test of time is more objective–and better–than the alternative: “This music is better than that music because it sounds better to me!”

    I’m a big fan of Frankie Laine. But I have to admit that Sinatra is better. Because Sinatra has withstood the test of time and reaches people of multiple generations, while Laine is largely forgotten.

    I’ve never really “gotten” Dylan. But his staying power leads me to believe that he IS a genius and the fault is with me.

  38. Fizz
    October 13, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    Troy, we’re in a bad way when those songs you name are being held up as innovative.

  39. Jon
    October 14, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Well, the test of time is more objective–and better–than the alternative: “This music is better than that music because it sounds better to me!”

    You might want to consider that these aren’t the only choices.

  40. Truth Be Told
    October 15, 2010 at 11:20 am

    “Much of what we hear on the radio is, quite literally, music for people who don’t like music all that much”

    That statement my friend a hole in your thinking that sunk your boat.

  41. SHORESLADY
    October 31, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Broadcast Radio has no role in the way I listen to country music today but in the 1980s it was my primary music source. Today I listen to the same 1980s hits on my tv Music Choice, on my computer, purchased instantly from iTunes, or uploaded from my CD collection. I never have to leave my comfort zone so it takes something very special to move me — right now that’s Dierks Bentley. Today’s musician is competing for my ear against some pretty big guns: Don Williams, Buck Owens, Vern Gosden. How’s Nashville going to reach me now>

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