Amber Alert: Timeless Music (Part 1)

March 31, 2016
March 31, 2016 Jason

I was mid-way thru creating my Michael Jackson/Jackson 5 Spotify playlist (which is fire by the way), and I found myself listening to the instrumentation of some of the Jackson 5 songs. Then it dawned on me…I may have figured out THE reason why there aren’t a lot of timeless music today. Ok, ok…maybe A reason.

We don’t have to go back too far in history. In fact, if you were born before the mid-90s, you might remember life without the internet, and humongous computers with like 32 MB hard drives.

What’s your point? 

Relax, I’m getting there.

Ok, so with limited computers and no internet life, it would be pretty hard to whip out a mixtape and flood everyone’s timeline with it, right? In fact, the mixtape era would be subjected to physically pressing up CDs (or cassettes) and selling them out of your trunk, right? Ahhh…the good ol days. Any who, that was then and this is now.

We live in a day and age where every millisecond, a “rapper” is born. That said rapper doesn’t feel the need to work on an album. Why? Well, because albums cost money, and unless they’re signed to an actual record label, who has a budget for creating albums, you gon get deez singles…and like it! But wait! Said rapper probably can’t afford beats, so they most likely will search for popular instrumentals or beg local producers for throwaway beats, and ta da! Mixtape. But wait! Even though said rapper is intelligent and articulate, his lyrics sure sounds dumb. Well, that’s because the only way to grow your fanbase is to hit up these clubs. Duh! I have yet to meet a person who goes to the clubs to specifically listen for similes and metaphors. Concept songs and alcohol is like oil and water. Bottom line, hip hop…no, sorry…MUSIC is over-saturated and almost void of quality.

*steps off soapbox*

Believe it or not folks, that wasn’t even my point. Now I’m not completely naive, ok? We can complain all day long about the music of today, but we grew up on some pretty dumb songs too. Ol Dirty Bastard and Vanilla Ice weren’t what I would call “musical geniuses”. Not even the production of Timbaland could save Magoo from being wack. (Ah, production…that’s what I want to talk about. Bare with me, it’s 2am.)

When I listened to the Jackson 5’s discography, and heck, even Mike’s solo stuff, I noticed things like guitar solos, trumpets, horn solos, jam sessions in the middle of songs!! Let’s take “Beat It“, for example. Sure, you remember the dance moves, and hook, but I’m sure you also remember that Eddie Van Halen guitar solo. (Watch this entire video if you have time. It’s dope. If you don’t have time, fast forward to 3:05 for Eddie’s part):

Even the beginning of “Billie Jean” is just as important (if not more) than the actual song. Special techniques were used to play the drums. You even had one cat on a lyricon! Heck, it was mixed 91 times! It’s a rarity these days that an artist would take that much time and care over ONE song! (Now, it’s “whip me up a beat real quick so I can freestyle and post it on my SoundCloud”) Throw any timeless song out there and I bet you that a high percentage of those songs will have some sort of organic, humanistic instrumentation to it. On Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover“, he’s scatting through some of it because the groove is so freakin’ good! One of the greatest songwriters of all time is SCATTING! Why? Let me start a new paragraph and really break this down.

We live in the age of super-producers. We live in the age of advance technology. No more composing. Heck, I’m willing to bet that your favorite trap-beat producer doesn’t know how to read sheet music. And why should they? All they have to do is get a drum kit, get a sample (which is most likely from a song that actually HAD a humanistic vibe session), loop it after 4 or 8 bars, and BOOM! Radio hit. In fact, if you’re really feeling “full of swag”, you can drop your name at the beginning of the beat and BAM! Super producer. (This is not a knock on all producers) And to keep this thing going, just copy and paste that template of a beat. I mean all the brand new “rappers” (who were born a millisecond ago) are gonna want to have that sound, right? Why? Because that’s what the clubs want? Sure. That’s an easy answer, but let’s expose something else. Clubs have DJs. Wait…I forgot my quotation marks. Clubs have “DJs”. Not many are scratching anymore. The majority aren’t manually controlling the pace of music. It’s all digital. Mixing becomes easier if all the songs are the same tempo and sound. BOOM. That’s a key reason why all the songs sound the same.

Darn you, soapbox! Let me bottom-line this so these people can go.

Obviously I have many gripes, but the one point I want to drive home is composing. It’s hard to debate with young folks nowadays about the lyrics, because again…no one is listening to wordplay in the clubs. That’s fine. Ok. Whatever. BUT for those (like myself) who is yearning for timeless music again, let’s start with the production. Looping is fine (I guess), but let’s start having jam sessions again. Have more than one producer working on a song. Think about a possible orchestra wanting to play their version of your song. Let the drummer or trumpet player have a 16 bar freestyle, instead of another stank rapper. That’s all I’m saying. Perhaps that will give that particular song a longer life span.

That’s just my two cents. I may revisit this with another perspective (because there are many).

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