Circe and I riding were in the car the other day listening to the 70′s XM radio station and “Clap For The Wolfman” by The Guess Who came on – a Nilsson-esque little number paying homage to radio DJ of yore Wolfman Jack. We were immediately struck, one: by how different the song was from the band’s biggest hit American Woman, and two: that we knew instantly that it was Burton Cummings singing.
Why is this important? Well, over the last 25 or 30 years the powers that be in the record industry have caused, no, forced bands and artists to homogenize their sound. If you’re a hard rock band God help you if you want to put a jazzy song or swampy 30′s type blues or experiment with avant garde noises on your record. Labels (and I mean you so-called “indie”s, too) will not support it because they don’t know how to market it.
Too often have I and other talented artists I know experienced, “We really think you’re great but we don’t know what to do with you. Oh, can I get an extra copy of your demo for my wife? She thinks you’re great, too.” If I had a dime for every time I heard, “what are you doing playing HERE?” I wouldn’t need a freaking record contract.
I grew up in the 70′s. FM AOR radio was building steam but 93 KHJ AM still had a huge share of the market. When I was 10 in 1975 you could hear Deep Purple, Sly Stone, Helen Reddy, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith, The Eagles, and KC and the Sunshine Band all right in a row. Music was just… well, music. We didn’t need this one flavored narrow minded programming because all of it was cool.
However, with the advent of MTV, video didn’t just kill the radio star, it killed the broad-spectrum artist as well. And, personally, I blame it on heavy metal of the early 80′s. You see, kids all over America could now see their rock-stars as well as hear them. And they started to gravitate to them more than ever before – dressing up like them, hair styles like them, etc. To be fair, the Duran Duran heads and The Cure clones were just as guilty. But metal seemed to have the greatest impact and it was then that the labels realized that they could aggressively niche market their bands which is why we got 2000 look-alike, sound-alike metal bands all forced down our throats for the next 8 years.
It’s clear why Nirvana had such a big impact and the term “Alternative” was coined. We needed an alternative. And what did we get? 5 years of Seattle based grunge spoon fed to us 24/7. Any band that called itself alternative quickly wasn’t.
Ok, so my “old fogey” might be starting to show but here we are, 20 years on, and artists are forced to be so compartmentalized that, wait for it, they all sound the same to me. And I’m a musician! It’s my job to find the intricacies and differences in music and I just don’t hear any coming out of my car stereo anymore. XM radio has 5 gabillion channels, each dedicated to one narrow type of music – whether it be R&B (which really isn’t anymore if Otis Redding and The Temps and Tops were R&B) or Rock or Pop or Dance or Trance or Schmance. And don’t EVEN get me started on Country. 80′s rock with pedal steel and fiddles? That’s not Country.
Not to mention, everyone needs to be so “edgy”. I’m sorry but edgy just means ugly to me. I’m badder than you. I have more money than you. I’m a bigger slut, alcoholic, gangster, druggie, shoe-gazer, complainer, fighter, screamer, whiner, agro-entitled-piss-on-the-world-5-second-attention-span rebel than you. Ugh!
I want a band that follows its bliss. Strawberry Fields doesn’t sound like I Want To Hold Your Hand which doesn’t sound like Helter Skelter. Whole Lotta Love doesn’t sound like Going To California which doesn’t sound like Kashmir. Just a couple of examples from bands who were not only allowed to express all sides of their artistry but encouraged to.
I call to the powers that be to embrace and nurture diversity. I mean, really, how much cookie monster death metal do think we can take? RAHGHRAGHRAGHR! That’s my favorite lyric.
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