Thursday, July 20, 2006

Two can be as bad as one

I notice that most of the references I've seen to Syd Barrett's death reference "Shine On You Crazy Diamond," the track recorded in tribute to him on Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here. It strikes me as a little funny that these commemorations use Roger Waters' words, and not something of Barrett's.

Of course, that's not a great sample, since I wouldn't know a Syd Barrett song if the refrain were "This is that Syd Barrett song you're supposed to know." Not to speak ill of the dead - if he was an innovator, let him be remembered for it - but early Pink Floyd struck me as pompous and meandering, and pretty much all the same.

Well, wait, that's not quite it either. I'm pretty cool on later Floyd too. The Wall has some good bits, but art that whiny and narcissistic should be on a controlled substances list with "Freebird" and Catcher in the Rye and only distributed to people who have moved out of their parents' houses and gotten full-time jobs. Dark Side of the Moon is good, I guess, but redundant if you've got a copy of Wish You Were Here.

Which brings me around to my point. Everybody knows what a "one-hit wonder" is. What should we call its opposite: that act which keeps notching hits with, as near as you can tell, are the same damn song again? Whose Greatest Hits album should be one side of a single?

Alison and I call this the "all you need" game. For example, I contend that Back in Black is all the AC/DC you need. Now, Back in Black is an awesome song, but if AC/DC actually recorded two different compositions, it's news to me.

Or consider Jimmy Buffett. He's got two songs: the fast one and the slow one. But English-speaking people have been writing sappyass nautical ballads for four or five hundred years, and "Son of a Son of a Sailor" doesn't quite measure up. So, pick the best of the fast ones, and once you've got a copy of "Cheeseburger in Paradise," you've got all the Jimmy Buffett you need.

If you want to get ambitious, you can go for the multi-band combo. "Kryptonite" by 3 Doors Down is not only all of them you need, but also all you need of Nickelback, and possibly Train and/or Creed. Don't let encroaching fogeyism tempt you to overreach, though: Marilyn Manson stole his image from Alice Cooper, but they don't actually sound much alike.

You can defend, of course, by pointing out at least one substantially different song by the artist. Sure, ZZ Top has been putting retreads on "Legs" for about 20 years... but one of them isn't enough because you also need a copy of "La Grange." And yes, you do too need both.

By now, I should've either slighted a band you like or left out a band which you just know needs a good trashing. So air your grievances in the comments...

13 Comments:

Blogger tommyspoon said...

I'll offer one quibble for your AC/DC analogy: listen to "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap" and comapare it to "Shook Me All Night Long". Bon Scott is not Brian Johnson.

So I would say that you need two AC/DC songs. My picks:

Bon Scott era: "Highway to Hell"
Brian Johnson era: "Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution"

My .02.

7:00 AM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Hugh said...

Oh, Joe, this is a good post. Lots of meat on it. This is the sign of encroaching old fogeyism: Thinking a band's music "all sounds the same". When I was in high school, I tried to sell my mother on the music of Depeche Mode (lord help me): "People are People" is completely different from "Blasphemous Rumours"; Vince Clarke era unlike not-Vince Clarke era; Black Celebration a world away from Music for the Masses. My mother always used the same word, in fact, for all the music I listened to: self-indulgent. And now, of course, I agree. So, there's only so much one can say about "all their music sounds the same". To a fan, every song is different, and speaks to them especially (that is why they're a fan); to a regular listener, Dave Gahan's nasal monotone is like fingers on a blackboard.

That having been said: Dave Matthews Band, "Ants Marching" (or whatever that song is called).

8:37 AM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger tommyspoon said...

I am ashamed to say that a certain punk band holds the title for this category.

9:10 AM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

Ah, but tommyspoon, if the songs are only 2 minutes long, the standards for keeping many of them around get a bit lower. The Ramones are sort of the anti-ACDC in that respect. ACDC, as far as I can tell, added at least an extra verse to every last one of their songs. The Ramones were pretty much in-rock-out.

10:24 AM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

BTW, Joe, I'd remove Train from that multi-band list and replace them with Hoobastank (better known as "those guys who did that song for Spiderman and then parlayed that into a career").

Also, all the Maroon 5 you need was actually written by Jason Mraz.

10:26 AM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

And in my third comment in under 20 minutes:

My defense against creeping fogeyism is that with some of these groups, it's not that "it all sounds the same" - it's that it's formulaic. Exhibit 1:

The Fountains of Wayne Hotline

It's funny 'cos it's true.

10:33 AM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Hugh said...

Hey, it all sounds the same because the best music all sounds the same -- look at Haydn and Mozart.

1:53 PM, July 21, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

Hugh - the analogy holds. Let's be honest, The Magic Flute is all the Mozart you really need. Maybe the Requiem too... like Buffett, the funny one and the sappy one...

;-)

(I am so looking forward to the hits rolling in from searches for "Jimmy Buffett AC/DC Mozart lyrics"...)

5:20 PM, July 21, 2006  
Anonymous Michael said...

So, Joe...

Is it "Dear Mr. Fantasy," or "John Barleycorn Must Die"?

9:13 AM, July 22, 2006  
Blogger Joe said...

As you may recall, Michael, I started listening to John Barleycorn Must Die during the light hang for Camelot in 1990, and I don't think I've reached the bridge yet. So I'll say Dear Mr. Fantasy.

Well played!

12:00 PM, July 22, 2006  
Blogger Mick said...

Yes, people tend to sing the same kinds of songs. They sound like, well, themselves! That's why we know who they are! The ones who are good have lots of evidence they always would sound the same (like Jimmy Buffett and AC/DC and Dave Matthews et al) and the ones who suck only record one album that sounds the same (Dream Academy, Dexy's Midnight Runners, the Fixx). Look at John Williams. Enya. R.E.M. (should there be another period there?)

I must say, though, there are a few exceptions. The Beatles did change their sound (early R&B influence giving way to hallucinogenic montages where they actually let Ringo sing- and whoever played a sitar for George Harrison will spend a few extra centuries in Purgatory). R.E.M. also changed their sound but I still try to pretend they did not. I mean, if Bono and U2 could get all activist-y and still sound the same why did R.E.M. have to learn to pronounce all the words in their songs in such a way we can understand them? And what was wrong with the key of A, the one they used for every song on Murmur and Reckoning?

Tom, I would have to say that in the Junior-High-Have-To-Have-It category for AC/DC, you can't leave out Big Balls. They should be held every night.

2:10 PM, July 22, 2006  
Anonymous swankette said...

Re: AC/DC - you also need "Thunderstruck" and "Hells Bells" so that there can be at least the image of variety at a baseball game.

12:10 AM, July 23, 2006  
Blogger lemming said...

"YMCA" is all of the Village People you need - great for us history teachers too, as it's such fun to see their jaws drop when I explain the lyrics.

3:12 PM, July 26, 2006  

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