The Music Meme: Day 17

Day 17: A song that annoys you

One of the good things about life in the 21st century is that you are rarely at the mercy of the music; unless you're in a public space like a bar or restaurant, or doing something incredibly retro like listening to the radio in your car, you've probably got the option of hitting "skip" any time an annoying song comes on.

But for those of us whose formative years lay back in the pre-digital past, there is still an unconscious certainty that the terrible song cannot be avoided and must therefore be endured. This near-Trafalmadorean acceptance of the unacceptable is not something I'm proud of, but it has given me plenty of opportunity to listen carefully to songs I don't like.

There are a variety of reasons why I might find a song annoying: the lead singer's voice, the banal or clumsy lyrics, the uncontrolled use of studio trickery, the derivative arrangement, you name it. Sometimes things get even more specific. For example, there's a certain midtempo pace that dozens of songs from the mid-80s used, typically introduced by a low-intensity pulsing in the bass, that eventually began to signal to me--all by itself--that I was going to hate the song, once it actually got started. I think the track that got it started was the Police's "Every Breath You Take" in 1983, but before long, you had people like John Waite mining that same seam, and it wasn't long before the whole thing was tapped. It's hard to imagine that you can be annoyed by a tempo, but there it is.

Another thing I find particularly annoying is when an undeniably talented artist produces a song that just lies there, inert--or worse, one that actively repels you. This has happened more than once in the career of the incandescent Paul McCartney, whose studio throwaways are often as good as some artists' whole catalogs, and whose peak performances are better than damn near all of them, but who nevertheless will occasionally, almost perversely, drop a turd on the public from a great height. Sure, from a melodic and harmonic standpoint, "Let 'Em In" is perfectly fine, but these are lyrics for which the term "childish" insults every child in the English-speaking world. Even worse, to me, is the combination of lyrical smarm, smugness, and bathos--not to mention a pretty dull melody--that we encounter in "My Love." I have no doubt that it's sincere, but oy.

But there's one last touch that an artist can apply to a song that gives it that extra je ne sais quoi of annoyance: an obvious attempt to exploit a current trend. There have been plenty of attempts, for example, to give songs currency by introducing a few bars of rap, and some of the fake psychedelia from the late 60s is actually pretty funny now, but the trend I remember wincing about the most was disco. Some artists, such as the Bee Gees, used the disco craze to reinvent their sounds, and others created tunes that commented on it--probably the best being the Rolling Stones' "Miss You"--but there were plenty of artists who had no business going anywhere near a disco suddenly slapping their material over a 120-bpm kick drum and soaking the resulting mess in strings. THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED:

Ethel disco.jpg
But Ethel's effort wasn't the one that really rubbed me raw. That would be a song whose performer had already demonstrated actual talent ("Maggie May," "Stay with Me," etc.), had thrown together some of the most questionable rhymes (pounding/thinking, answer/together, coffee/movie) in pop music, and had jumped with both feet on the disco train: Rod Stewart. 

This was the moment when he lurched across the Rubicon for me. Though it came out nearly 40 years ago, this song remains a painful bit of aluminum foil against the fillings of my musical taste. Even the magnificent bazouki break at the end of "Maggie May" cannot wash this stain from Rod's leopard-print pants. 

Annoyed? I am vexed and ratty.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 22, 2017 9:00 AM.

The Music Meme: Day 16 was the previous entry in this blog.

The Music Meme: Day 18 is the next entry in this blog.

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