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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

18 October 2007

Please, Please Me!

At the moment one of the most popular songs on the radio is called “Stronger” by Kanye West, a hip-hop star who is currently enjoying insane, inexplicable popularity. Hip-hop “artists” generally do not write their own music; they appropriate riffs from other songs and then use the actual recording for their "new" song. (They used to not pay the original artists for this privilege; now they do, at least.)

West’s latest offering does just that, lifting a riff from a “house music” band called Daft Punk, who’ve been around for fifteen years but have never put out a song you’ve ever heard (until now).

Not to sound too old-fogeyish, but I don’t like hip-hop. Sure, you can dance to it, and the beats are cool. But it’s not creative, it’s not inventive, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of…you know…talent to steal a riff from another song, repeat it over and over and then write a childish rhyme to go with it.

Which is exactly what Kanye West does. He raps:

You know how long I been on ya,
Since Prince was on Apollonia,
Since O.J. had Isotoners
Don’t act like I never tol' ya
(Repeat 5X)

Oh yeah, that’s some awesome poetic writing worthy of Lennon/McCartney or Leonard Cohen, eh? One can imagine Cohen slapping his forehead and grousing in that deep, gravelly voice of his, "Damn...why couldn't I write a sublime, insightful line lyric that!"

Austin Scaggs is an annoying, sycophantic poseur/socialite in the guise of a “music critic” who writes for Rolling Stone Magazine. He is also the guitar-playing son of respected, been-around-forever R&B singer/songwriter Boz Scaggs, whom I love. (It’s worth mentioning that Boz Scaggs was close-personal friends with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner back in the 1960s so I guess we know how Junior got his job.)

The younger Scaggs recently did an interview with Kanye (say it “khan-ya”) West. In it, Scaggs nearly falls all over himself, doing some world-class ass-kissing. West, no stranger to suck-up interviewers by this time, lets him. Scaggs, bowing to the genius that is Kanye West, is blown-away that someone would rhyme “Apollonia” and “Isotoners.” The elder Scaggs ought to put a gentle arm around son Austin, give him a fatherly hug, then slap the shit out of him. “Idiot! Those words don’t even rhyme!”

I have a sneaking suspicion that as gi-normous as “Stronger” is right now, nobody will even remember it next year, much less ever after that. In fact, twenty years from now we’ll be saying, “Kanye what?” not even, “Kanye who?”

It makes me sick to think that “kids these days” are mistaking this crap for music. And just thinking that makes me feel old.

But what is it about certain songs that stand the test of time? The ones you never get tired of hearing…the ones you still know the lyrics to thirty or more years later? As much as I try to stay up on current/new music, I find myself rolling my eyes and saying over and over, “Heard it already. Nothing new here. Next!” For every new
KT Tunstall who comes along (and I think she’s terrific) there’s already been a Jewel and a Meredith Brooks before her. Or Melissa Etheridge. Or the Indigo Girls. And going back even further, Joni Mitchell.

Yup, heard it all before. Sorry, KT. (But do check out “Suddenly I See” from her Drastic Fantastic CD. Superb!)

Which brings be back, as it always does, to the Beatles. Their music was not only well-written, but the songs meant something to us in ways that songs like “Stronger” never will.

For example!

Paul McCartney has been making music forever. Since the Beatles broke up in 1970, he’s continued to put out albums and tour in support of them. You may or may not like his current stuff, but he is a master at what he does. For various reasons, some personal and some legal, Paul hasn’t delved into the old Beatles catalog of songs for his concerts. Remember, the Beatles stopped touring in 1968 and became a studio band, so public performances of their early hits were limited, and the recordings that do exist are terrible given the technical (in)capability of the day.

But that’s changed. Now Paul freely embraces his past. And maybe he’s come to acknowledge how much we treasure those early Beatles songs. During his 2005 concert tour, Paul played some things we hadn’t heard in a long, long time, like “Please Please Me.” The video is below. You won't believe how good it sounds. It is an awesome, wonderful, booming rendition, faithful to the original in almost every respect, if a bit slower. Listening to it brings back a flood of incredible memories. But also, it reminds me of what great song-crafters the Beatles were, even then. (Having said that, by the time “Please Please Me” hit the charts (1964 in America) John, Paul and George had been playing together for nearly five years.)

As cool as it is to hear the song again, it is fascinating to watch the reactions of the concert-goers. Young and old, they go crazy! They dance, they sing along, they laugh, they cry, they stand there with their mouths agape, or just stand there hearing those oh-so-familiar notes and chords strung together and looking mesmerized, lost in their own reverie. It is obviously a deeply emotional experience for all. Beatles songs can do that. There never was before and probably never will be again a phenomenon as big as the Beatles. The fact that 65 year-old Paul McCartney can still belt out songs like this is truly amazing.



Hal Johnson said...

Wow. This brought tears to my eyes. It took me back to February 1964, when I first saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. I may have been seven-going-on-eight, but even then, it seem like those four guys represented a realignment of the planets. Thanks for sharing this.

Redlefty said...

For the record, I bought my first Daft Punk album in 1998. They're great, and original.

On the other hip-hop artists, though, I agree with you.