Are Songs Good Or Just Familiar?

A while back, I started doing this thing where I’d pick a singer/band whose music enjoy from what I know and listen to their whole discography from start to finish. I need music on while at work, and this project allowed me to put something on and not constantly fiddle with changing songs. Mostly I do this with singers/bands from the 70’s and 80’s who I obviously couldn’t hear during their prime. It’s been very cool to expose myself to new songs and see how an artist can change over decades.

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But one thing I’ve learned and find very interesting is that the songs we know and love may not be that great, they’re just simply very familiar to us. There are artists like Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, or Blue Rodeo where I really liked all their songs/singles that I knew going in (or all the ones that my local oldies radio station plays at least). So I thought I’d go into their albums and find many more great songs I’d love just as much. But I did not. Yes, there were some songs that jumped to my attention, but overall, no matter who I listened to (the one and only exception being Billy Joel), I just found a bunch of mediocre songs. So were the singles on the radio the best of the best? Unlikely. I think they’re just ones that are familiar so I guess our brains appreciate them more.

Of course, I didn’t and don’t expect every single song an artist releases to be a perfect hit, instantly classic, and ideal for my tastes, but still. I went through whole albums for so many artists finding nothing that I really latched on to.

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That being said, I do realize that there are some issues with how I consumed all this music. Firstly, I only listened to the album once. I don’t have the desire to give it all multiple listens to better absorb them (especially for some artists like Chicago who have literally 30 full albums. Bros…chill…). Secondly, as I mentioned, I’m listening while I’m working. So my brain isn’t in the mode to process the music fully because I’m busy focusing on my job. Perhaps if I was just listening and really able to completely focus, I’d better appreciate some songs more. Maybe.

The title of this post makes it seem like songs can’t be both good and familiar, which is not true, but I guess it has made me question things a little. Are the artists I like genuinely great, timeless creators or has my brain tricked me into thinking a few familiar songs are enough to cement that person into history? Did they just get lucky with those big songs and really have little else to show for a career? Much to think about. I’d love to know if anyone else has dove into full discographies of artists and found similar things.

Now as I said, there were some songs that I discovered in the albums that I did enjoy. Maybe this is me exposing my music tastes or exposing that I’m young and don’t know songs that perhaps everyone else knows, but every time I found a song I liked, I added it to this Spotify playlist. Take a listen if you want.

Do you have any thoughts on the subject? Is there an artist who you think has a bunch of hidden gems in their discography? Is there a song from an artist in this playlist that you think I should give another go?

That’s all for now!

 

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Different Storytelling In Music

I recently spent five straight hours listening to ‘Downeaster Alexa’ by Billy Joel on repeat. I just really got into the song and found it so interesting and so catchy. It’s a bop and a half.

And it got me thinking about storytelling in music. Obviously, I expect storytelling in showtunes as there’s a plot and all that, but I think it’s kind of interesting when a regular singer just tells a story in their music that’s not about them and not relatable, and they do it just because it’s fun and different. Love songs are cool and it’s nice that there are songs about mental health and all that now, but sometimes, I just want to hear a banging song about something random. Like the life of a fisher on a downeaster. I learned more from that three minute song than I ever knew about the topic.

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Similarly, I think the best songs on Taylor Swift’s two most recent albums Folklore and Evermore are ‘Betty, ‘Last Great American Dynasty’, and ‘No Body No Crime’. What do these songs all have in common? They’re not about Taylor; they’re just little stories involving characters (though Rebekah was a real person). As a listener, I don’t have to relate or find meaning, I just get to enjoy the story set to good music.

Good Stuff GIFs | Tenor

Of course, Taylor Swift and Billy Joel aren’t the only ones to do this, but I do wish there was more of it in music. I think it’s really a mark of good songwriting if you can have a song that’s not just about your feelings. In both ‘Downeaster Alexa’ and ‘Betty’, the singers are inserted into the song by playing a character, and I think that was very interesting. Like I genuinely went and looked up if Billy Joel was a fisherman before getting into music. (He was not).

Music is supposed to transport us, and I’d like to be transported to a story more often than I am.  ‘Copacabana’ by Barry Manilow, ‘Livin On A Prayer’ by Bon Jovi, Scenes From An Italian Restaurant’ by Billy Joel, ‘Daniel’ by Elton John, ‘I Ain’t Going Down’ by Shania Twain and ‘Janie’s Got A Gun’ by Aerosmith are a few other story-heavy songs that I enjoy and can think of off the top of my head.

Best Trump Youre Welcome GIFs | Gfycat

Anyway, that’s my random thought for the week. At the very least, I’ve linked you to some good music. But if you know of other particularly interesting story songs, let me know!

 

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Adam Levine Is Right About Bands

This post topic is like two months old, so sorry if you’re reading this and getting old news vibes. But I remember seeing this online discourse when it happened and thinking it was interesting but only now am I thinking about it enough to make it a blog post.

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So way back in early March, Adam Levine, lead singer of Maroon 5 and previous coach of The Voice (and also one of the stars of my favourite movie Begin Again, but that’s not important, I just wanted y’all to know) did an interview where he says that bands are a dying breed. It was in a podcast interview but his quotes are:

“It’s funny, when the first Maroon 5 album came out there were still other bands. I feel like there aren’t any bands anymore,” he said. “That’s the thing that makes me kind of sad, is that there were just bands. There’s no bands anymore, and I feel like they’re a dying breed. And so I kind of, in a weird way, as far as I mean, there still are plenty of bands, and maybe they’re not in the limelight quite as much, or in the pop limelight, but I wish there could be more of those around.”

Adam Levine and Maroon 5 get clowned on a lot online, and this comment was no exception. Twitter had a lot to say.

But here’s the thing: he’s right. Bands are not nearly as prevalent as they once were, and I think he of all people is allowed to speak on this given that he is in a band currently. He knows what it’s like.

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Take a look at the top artists of 2020. How many of them are bands? 14 of them include more than one person (3 of them are duos), and of those 14, 6 are groups whose heydays were decades ago (eg. Fleetwood Mac, U2, Queen…). Compare that to the list in 2010, where there are 21, and none of them were from decades past. Billboard does not have data from 2000, but I’d imagine the number is higher than 14.

Another thing that was brought up a lot in this online discussion was K-pop, which is a hugely successful area of music in the last few years, and places like Twitter are heavily populated with passionate fans of this genre. One of the biggest groups is BTS, which ranks 18 on the 2020 list. Here’s the thing about BTS: they’re a group, yes, but they’re not a band. At least, not in the traditional sense. If the likes of NSYNC and One Direction can’t be called bands, neither can all these K-pop groups. They’re boybands for the same reason, which is that they don’t play instruments. This isn’t my definition, this is the classic line separating these types of groups. One is not less than the other and does not define talent or value, it’s just something to note in the context of a discussion on bands.

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With all this said, even if we include boybands and whatnot, Adam Levine is right to say that mainstream media does not focus on bands as much. Heck, most of the time we even hear about bands/groups is when someone leaves to go solo. He even acknowledged that there are still bands out there, they just simply aren’t as popular or valued as they might have been a decade or two ago. I just don’t know if that’s the fault of the industry and record labels or the consumers (or both, perhaps).

A lot of the tweets I saw from bands being like “Hi, we still exist, Adam!” or from people sharing images of their favourite bands were of bands I’ve never heard of, and that’s not just because I don’t have a good grasp of mainstream music.

Anyway, Adam Levine is right, and I can’t believe people got so mad about his correct statement.

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If anyone wants to know, Neon Trees is my favourite still active and together band. I’d love to know yours in the comments below.

 

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5 Canadian Singers You May Not Know

You obviously know Michael Buble and Shania Twain and Justin Bieber and Drake, but there are a bunch of other singers from Canada who, if you’re not from here, you probably don’t know. And I don’t blame you, as even Canadians may not know some of these. I think there are some singers/bands who find enough success in their country of origin, so they focus their attention there, flying under the radar of everyone else. And that’s valid.

Nevertheless, when I was putting together my post on Canadian kids TV shows, I was thinking about other hidden gems this country has, and so this post was born. I do want to give a disclaimer that a) this is just music I personally listen to, so I’m sure there are a bunch of other worthy names out there that I’m not familiar with myself and b) these are singers that are fairly modern and active still. I could list a bunch of older 70’s/80’s Canadian music acts that people may not know either, but I wanted to keep it focused on the music I grew up with.

  1. Marianas Trench
    This is a band that’s been active for over 10 years, and they slap. It’s pop music, though there’s an aspect of theatricality to a lot of their songs, which I like. They have played outside of Canada, but most of their tours are across the country as they’re mostly well known here. Two favourites from them: ‘Beside You‘ and ‘Astoria
    Marianas Trench image.
  2. Eva Avila
    Eva won the 4th season of Canadian Idol in 2006 and then released an album, which I was gifted for Christmas by my cousin that year. I loved it, and I still listen to it. It’s kind of very mid-2000’s pop but it’s funky, and she’s such a good singer. She then released another album and an EP, but then kind of dropped off the face of the planet. Instagram tells me she’s touring around in a cover band now, so that’s good for her. If she ever does come back to solo music, I am here for it. Two favourites from her: ‘Some Kind Of Beautiful‘ and ‘Old Love Song
  3. Andrew Allen
    I was first introduced to his music because of his Christmas song, ‘I Want To Be Your Christmas‘ which is my second ever favourite Christmas song. And then I looked up his other non-holiday songs and really dug some of them. It’s a relaxed indie love song vibe, and high school me ate it up. He did release an album in 2020 but also has started a band called Via Barcelonia, and they’re more pop. Two favourites from him: ‘Where Did We Go (feat. Carly Rae Jephson)‘ and ‘Sooner
    Andrew Allen.
  4. Jesse Labelle
    I saw him perform at a small Canada Day park concert one year in high school. I had known who he was because he did have a song on the radio, but I went home and looked up his other stuff. He’s had a quiet decade, releasing an album in 2011 and then a few singles over the years, but I think he’s been mostly touring with bigger names as their opening act. He’s a country and pop mix similar to how Shania Twain is a country and pop mix, so if you dig that genre, maybe check him out. Two favourites from him: ‘Kryptonite‘ and ‘There She Goes
  5. Serena Ryder
    Honestly, my father is a bigger fan of her than I am, but I do think she’s talented and has a very unique voice that very much fits her indie music. All her songs I hear on the radio are catchy, and she seems pretty down to earth and involved in Canadian events. Two favourites from her: ‘Fall‘ and ‘Circle Of The Sun
    Serena Ryder.

I also wanted to list a few honourable mention songs from bands/singers that I’m either not too into and or have disbanded a while ago. If you knew Canadian pop music from the 2008-2010 era, you may know these.

Anyway, I hope you listened to some of these songs and are enjoying some quality Canadian content. If we’ve learned anything from Schitt’s Creek‘s Emmy sweep last month, it’s not to dismiss Canadian art.

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That’s all for now!

 

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When Or How Does A Musician Retire?

I was thinking about Madonna the other day. The radio was on and ‘Borderline’ played, which is, in my opinion, one of her best songs. Anyway, I was very much not born during her glory days, but she was still around when I was growing up. Do you remember that song ‘4 Minutes’ that she had with Justin Timberlake? That song came out in 2008 aka the year pop music peaked. That song was, again in my opinion, the last decent thing she did. All her albums and songs since have just been cringy and very auto-tuned and such a departure from her music in the 80’s. Not to mention that she’s sixty, and personally I don’t want to hear songs about a sixty year old clubbing or hooking up with people. I don’t think people my age like her new music and I don’t think people my parents’ age like it either, so I guess I’m wondering who does like it and why she’s still trying to keep her music alive in the mainstream. She’s Madonna. She has a decent legacy and she could let people live with that instead of serving up new garbage. Like are you really going to listen to this and tell me it compares to ‘Borderline’ or ‘Material Girl’?

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Obviously she likes making music still and she still sells out concerts, so I’m not trying to force someone to stop doing something they like and are good at, but she stands out to me as the only person I can think of from the 80’s who’s trying so, so desperately to remain relevant that it’s almost weird. Remember when she forced a kiss on Drake a few years ago? Weird.

I’ll admit, I have not really sat down and listened purposefully to Madonna’s music from the past decade, so maybe I’m not giving it a fair shake, but from the bits I’ve seen and heard, it’s just disappointing to me.

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See, there other less weird ways to still be musically active but without tarnishing your discography. Take Canada’s own Bryan Adams who was also thriving in the 80’s. He still tours and released an album last year, but he stays in his lane and isn’t trying to cling onto spots on the top 40’s stations. Plus and perhaps most notably, he recently wrote all the music for a Broadway musical. Yes, it was for Pretty Woman, a show we can all agree was 1000% not asked for, and yes, the show and music was apparently on the lackluster side (I’ve yet to watch/listen), but it was still a good move for him, in my opinion, where he could do something a little different and stay a little relevant in a mature way.

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Getting celebrities to write showtunes is a popular thing, and I think it’s a place where the artists of yesteryears can thrive. Many already have: Cyndi Lauper did Kinky Boots and Sting did The Last Ship and Elton John did Billy Elliot. There’s also music competition shows that need judges/mentors, music TV shows that need producing, and music foundations to be funding.

When should an older singer just take the L and retire? Or, on the flip side, when should an older singer who has stopped making new music take a chance and do something other than tour around small venues to the same aging audience? There are a lot of really talented singers and musicians from the 70’s and 80’s who are still alive and there are ways for them to do something new and make themselves known to a new generation without seeming so desperate to be the most famous.

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I’d love your thoughts on the matter. Or maybe you don’t have any because you don’t spend your free time thinking about Madonna’s recent career moves, which I suppose is valid…

That’s all for now!

 

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