Monday, October 16, 2023

More Than Words (How The Music Industry Works)

Musicians often buy songs from composers, or their handlers do.  Bands are often manufactured from whole cloth.  What sells is image, not music.

I am going through my music library - 10,000+ songs ripped from CDs and "other sources" over the years. I am deleting duplicate copies, saving the bulk in WMA format (better resolution than MP3 - take that, Apple!) and deleting some music outright.  How the heavy metal collection ended up on my hard drive, I do not know.  But when someone asks me to remove the 20 viruses, pop-ups, and menu programs from their laptop, I make sure to copy their music library at the same time.  Hence 10,000 songs.

Back in the 1990s, I believe, this song "More than Words" got a lot of airplay (FM radio - remember that?) and Mark bought the CD from the band "Extreme."  He was a little disappointed (as were a lot of people) that the rest of the album wasn't love ballads, but extreme (pardon the pun) heavy metal noise of low talent - and was basically unlistenable.  How could this band with no appreciable talents or skills get a number one hit that was so uncharacteristic of their sound?

As you might guess, the band went nowhere, and I saw online an interview with the band founder who refused to talk about "More than Words" for a number of reasons, I suspect.  They wanted to be a heavy metal band, and when this syrupy love song made it to Number 1, they found a new fan base coming to their concerts - to hear only one song - and then leaving when the heavy metal noise started.

And heavy metal is noise - this is not up for discussion, period.  Go to your room, young man!  No supper for you!

By the way, the song really isn't a love song, but a borderline date-rape song.  The boy in the song is pressuring his girlfriend to have sex, saying that she would show "more than words" that she loved him.  It is the oldest argument in the book - and one reason young men turn to playing music - hoping that they will score with the girls.  But I digress.

I suspect the band founder interviewed didn't want to talk about their #1 hit for a number of reasons.  They hoped to make it big as heavy metal superstars, and no doubt, the other "metal heads" mocked them for this sentimental song.  Their new fanbase only liked the one song.  And maybe - just maybe - they never wrote or even performed it.

Act shocked - the record industry is corrupt!  I know, I was so disillusioned as well (just kidding).

It is well known in the recording business that "pop" stars claim to have written a number of songs, but actually buy them from composers who give up even the song and lyric credits, in exchange for a few bucks.  It is also well-known in the industry that many - if not most - recordings in a studio make use of "studio musicians" such as The Wrecking Crew (Capitol Records) or The Swampers (Muscle Shoals), who play instruments and sing better than some garage band.  When it comes to packaging a sound, you can't rely on the original band to provide a concise sound in a studio environment.

Many a drummer or guitar player has been disillusioned when a professional replacement is used on the actual recording.  And you can understand why - the recording engineer and producer are basically saying you suck, even though they will still give you album credit and cut you a paycheck.  You sit in the studio and watch someone else do your job. That has to be hard.

Of course, we don't have any hard evidence this was the case for More That Words.  But it is suspicious to me that this one song is so jarringly different that the rest of their songbook and they never had a syrupy love song before or since.  The fact the band leader refuses (quite vehemently) to talk about it, only adds to the mystery.  And if you know a bit about the recording industry, well, connect the dots.

But maybe it was the other way. Maybe they came up with this "one hit wonder" and then faded away (rather quickly, I might add) and are bitter about it.  After all, it is one thing to be a minor heavy metal band, but to flirt with success and then fade away has to be twice as sour.

So much of "music" these days (and going back decades) has more to do with image than music.  "Bobby Soxers" swooned over Frank Sinatra in the 1940's, and in the 1950's, it was Elvis.  In the 1960's, the Beatles - with girls screaming so loud they passed out (and never heard the music).  It was all about selling sex and sexuality to horny teenagers.  And in the 1970s, they realized you could sell androgyny to teenage boys with "glam rock."   The shit never ends.

What one realizes, decades later, going through a collection of over 10,000 tunes, is that much of what you though was good music was actually dreck.   Bands that sold image over content, and faded away rather quickly.  The best music survives and the rest goes into the trash bin, never to be heard of again. Bands like Def Leppard or Grand Funk Railroad are basically noise to listen to, today.  They had good promoters, for sure, but that's about it.

I suspect this will also be true of "rap" and "hip-hop" and pop music of this era as well.  Some will have staying power, but the bulk will go away and never be heard from again.  And a whole new host of "pop stars" are famous for selling image over music - Lady Ga-Ga, Beyonce, and today, Taylor Swift.  This is not to say their music sucks, only that - like Madonna - you may hear one or two songs of theirs 10 years from now, and the rest will be largely forgettable.

Once the image is shattered - or at least fades away - the music has to stand on its own merits, and much of it is without merit, as it is mathematically impossible for an artist to produce nothing but hits.