Objective proof that modern pop music has degenerated, and the reason why it happened

Reader Phil sent me this recently-posted 20 minute video which proves through SCIENCE that pop music has gone downhill since the Sixties, a thesis I raised yesterday. (I have to say that many responses were uncivil, and some positively nasty: one calling me a “retard” because I didn’t like a particular song. I’m not sure why the incivility is increasing here: it may either reflect a general increase in irritability of people on the Left, or may simply be that, with a larger number of subscribers, a fixed percentage of uncivil people will manifest as an increasing absolute number of nasty comments. If you haven’t commented here before, read “Da Roolz” first!).

But I digress. The topic is the video below is by “Thoughty2” (the “2” is an exponent), which asks the provocative question, “How did we go from Bob Dylan to Britney Spears, from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga, and from the Kinks to Katy Perry?”

The video recounts some work conducted in 2012 by the Spanish National Research Council, which analyzed 500,000 recordings from 1955 to 2010. They measured three statistics for each song: harmonic complexity, timbral diversity, and loudness. Over that period, the timbre (“the texture, quality, and color of the sounds within the music” or “richness and depth of sound”) has dropped steadily after peaking in the 1960s. Music has become more homogeneous among songs, with a progression called “The Millennial Whoop”.

Another study looked at what it called the “lyric intelligence” of Billboard chart-toppings songs: the difficulty of lyrics and quality of the writing; and that, too, has dropped over the past decade. Lyrics are getting shorter and more repetitive. Further, the video argues that a huge swath of chart-topping music in recent years was written by just two men: the Swede Max Martin and the American Lukasz Gottwald, or “Dr. Luke.” This was new to me, but explains the monotony and homogeneity of so many recent songs.

There have been other changes, too: a faster-appearing “hook” appealing to those with shorter attention spans, and increasing loudness of songs using dynamic range compression,

Why has this happened? The decline of quality, says the narrator, is intimately connected with the risks of marketing music. I’ll let you listen to that part on your own, which starts at 13:33.

The conclusion:

“Music as an art form is dying; it’s being replaced by music which is a disposable product designed to sell but not to inspire. So we shouldn’t be so complacent in allowing systematic, cold, factory-produced music to dominate—or else the beautiful, soulful, and truly real music that we’ve all at some point loved, and has been there at our darkest times and our happiest times, could soon be a distant memory, never to be repeated.”

Amen, brother! I’m not sure who the video maker is, but I like the way he thinks.



  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Yep – seen it.

    Millennial Whoop

    … but still, so what? There’s something to it – just over and over is annoying.

    • Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      The descending minor third is one of the easiest intervals to teach in aural training.

      In fact, when I studied music at university our lecturer referred to it as the “mummy” cadence. The cadential sound of a child crying “mum-my”.

      perhaps this explains why it is annoying and demands our attention.

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 9:16 pm | Permalink


        • Anselm
          Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:37 am | Permalink

          Or, more accurately, the schoolyard taunt jingle “Nya-nya Nya-nya Nya Nya”, which perfectly illustrates the falling minor third Richard Christie describes above. (It’s also the opening interval of “Hey Jude”.)

          Something struck me a short while ago about the essential difference between classical and pop music. It’s development versus repetition. Classical music practically never repeats from bar to bar. The music is in continuous development throughout a movement or section, and thus demands continuous attention. It’s like listening to a closely reasoned argument: if you miss a couple of logical steps, you’ve lost the train of thought that leads to the inevitable conclusion. Its structure is also closed: you can’t usually replace a bar with five bars, or lop off a phrase or two, without impairing the coherence of the overall structure. This applies irrespective of musical form: it’s equally true of a 14th century motet, a 16th century madrigal, an 18th century operatic aria, a 19th century symphonic poem or overture, and a 20th century minimalist piece. This also applies to lighter music: Strauss waltzes or numbers from musicals, from “Oklahoma” to “La La Land”. The ne plus ultra of this is Wagner’s “Das Rheingold”, an unbroken two and a half hours of continuously developing music. I utterly adore it, along with all the rest of that man’s wonderful output!!!

          Fundamental to pop music, on the other hand, is repetition, both of individual cells (be they chord progressions, melodic phrases or even special aural effects) and of verses. Continuous attention is thus not necessary: if you dip out and back in again, you’ll quickly arrive back at the place you were a minute ago. The structure is typically (and consequently) open, as witness the practice of “covering” – different performers can muck around with numbers without impairing their structural integrity, which is in any case weak. The equivalent for classical music is different performers performing a work of which they change not so much as a single note.

          The latter is thus easily assimilable, which is what makes it…well, “popular”. The former takes brain work.

          • Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:46 am | Permalink

            The former takes brain work.

            And that also requires attention span, something that is in increasingly shorter supply.

            I read an interesting book once “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by N Postman, he wrote

            …the first of the seven famous debates between Abraham Lincoln and
            Stephen A. Douglas took place on August 21, 1858, in Ottowa, Illinois.
            Their arrangement provided that Douglas would speak first, for one hour;
            Lincoln would take an hour and a half to reply; Douglas, a half hour to
            rebut Lincoln’s reply. This debate was considerably shorter than those
            to which the two men were accustomed. In fact, they had tangled several
            times before, and all of their encounters had been much lengthier and
            more exhausting. For example, on October 16, 1854, in Peoria, Illinois,
            Douglas delivered a three-hour address to which Lincoln, by agreement,
            was to respond. When Lincoln’s turn came, he reminded the audience that
            it was already 5 p.m., that he would probably require as much time as
            Douglas and that Douglas was still scheduled for a rebuttal. He
            proposed, therefore, that the audience go home, have dinner, and return
            refreshed for four more hours of talk. the audience amiably agreed, and
            matters proceeded as Lincoln had outlined. What kind of audience was
            this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate
            themselves to seven hours of oratory? It should be noted, by the way,
            that Lincoln and Douglas Were not presidential candidates; at the time
            of their encounter in Peoria they were not even candidates for the
            United States Senate. But their audiences were not especially concerned
            with their official status. These were people who regarded such events
            as essential to their political education, who took them to be an
            integral part of their social lives, and who
            were quite accustomed to extended oratorical performances.

            Compare that with trumps single sentence soundbites.

            • Merilee
              Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:38 am | Permalink

              Trump’s aren’t even sentences…

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

        Seriously, though, I wonder why this is. One would suppose perfect intervals would be the easiest to deal with.

        • Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:17 am | Permalink

          Perfect consonant intervals aren’t always the most identifiable.

          For example, once the dissonant tritone is identified (and noting that it frequently used by many emergency services in their siren calls) listeners then have little difficulty recognising it.

          • Anselm
            Posted August 27, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

            …like the opening interval of “Maria” from “West Side Story”. Or the minor seventh that opens “There’s a place for us”, from the same work.

            And, of course, when you put two notes together, basic music theory treats dissonances as more interesting and attractive than consonances, which is why they’re always on strong beats at cadences, leaving the relatively uninteresting resolution (i.e. the foregone conclusion) to the following weak beat.

  2. Merilee
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink


  3. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Am I the only person in the world that doesn’t get the Music of Hamilton: An American Musical?

    • Derek Freyberg
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think so. I don’t care for it either. Those lyrics I’ve heard are clever, but I find the form distracting.
      But, to put this in perspective, I’m no great fan of musicals of any type.

    • KD33
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      I though the music was great. It’s a musical … and the lyric content was dense.

  4. Denis Westphalen
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    What can I say? I don’t expect to see Lady Gaga being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature any time in the future!

    • Kosmos
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      No, but Lady Gaga is one of the better pop artists out there and write a lot of her own music, in comparison to many “produced” singers.

      • peterdvm
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

        Agreed. Lady Gaga is actually very talented. Her duet with Tony Bennett is fantastic. I’m not necessarily a fan of her pop persona but I think she stands out over most of the field.

        • rickflick
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps we connoisseurs could consider a pop persona to be a serious handicap. But, what do we know?

      • aljones909
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think she lived up to the promise of this. A fantastic performance on UK’s Jonathan Ross Show signing “Brown Eyes”. No tricks. Her, piano, band and a lot of passion.

        On Youtube at watch?v=wGN4HJgZsaY

        • rickflick
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

          She’s not a bad talent. But how did she let someone persuade her to pose as a clown? Did they tell her she was good but not great?
          Strip away all that “glam” and tinsel and what have you got?

          • Posted August 29, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

            I get the impression that her outfits, etc. are part of an “integrated act” – it isn’t just about the music. Oddly, an example of this that comes to mind is Jean-Michel Jarre, whose concerts at least are also about the visuals, it seems.

  5. pck
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    To say that music is dying might be one of the more stupid things I’ve heard today.
    Theres more music than ever being made, both by sheer number of songs and musical genres. It’s just much, much less centralized than it used to be, and the billboards don’t really mean anything – they’re mostly crap now yes, but if you don’t like them you can easily find music to your liking elsewhere. If all you eat is McDonald’s you don’t get to complain about the quality of food.

    • compuholio
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

      I agree. There is lots of good music made today. It is just harder to find because it is drowned in the sheer volume of awful music.

      I also think that people who claim that the music of the 70s and 80s was generally better are suffering from selection bias. I am almost certain that there was a lot of unremarkable music in this period as well. But of course we only know/remember the pieces that stand out.

      My beef with the recording industry is not the amount of mad music. It is that they are destroying recordings that once have been great. They are engaged in a loudness war. They are destroying the dynamic range of old recordings when they are remastering them in this way.

      I like good headphones and I have spent quite a bit of money for them. But the best headphones cannot make a shit recording sound good.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        Oh thanks for that Loudness War link. I keep thinking that over the years, music just sounds like it’s been layered and layered with too much going on and it’s just noisy to most of my brain unnecessarily all in the background. This must be why the issue or at least part of the issue.

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

        As a musician my beef with the recording industry is more complicated.

        Basically the invention of recording has gradually put access to music everywhere-from airport toilets to shopping malls and now instant access on the internet, everywhere .

        In doing so it has debased the currency of the musician. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt then at least, a degree of indifference.

        Prior to the twentieth century if you wanted to hear music, you had to make your own or make an effort to seek out those that provided it. The act of at least attempting to learn an instrument and make your own music taught the average person to respect those that did so competently.

        We all love access to great recordings but the status of the average “working” musician within western society has in my view definitely suffered from its proliferation.

        I acknowledge this viewpoint arises from a point of professional self interest, but also an educated one.

        The points made in the video clip in regard to pop music are valid but pretty much very old news.

        • starskeptic
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

          Huey Lewis knows all about this…

  6. Eric Grobler
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    For me some of the best Rock Music are
    – Emerson Lake & Palmer
    – Pink Floyd
    – Leonard Cohen
    – Grateful Dead
    – Jimi Hendrix
    – Frank Zappa
    – King Crimson
    and more popular stuff like
    – Beatles
    – Simon & Garfunkel
    – The Doors
    – Led Zeppelin
    – Cat Stevens
    – Van Morrison

    My bias is that not much happended since 1977 when Disco music started.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      And, I think that list can be added to over and over again and never get past the 70s by much. The quality music was almost unlimited back in the day and that is part of what this video explains.

      • KD33
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

        Just IMO, I don’t agree, and I don’t think the video “explains” your hypothesis since it was focused on pop/commercial music. I you can’t find great bands or music after 1975, you are robbing yourself of so, so much. It makes me so sad to see comments like this.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

          As you say sir, it is just an opinion. You should try not to take it so personal.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

        I agree. Disco was when it all turned to shit. (I don’t mean ‘music played in discos’ of course, much of which was classic rock, but the genre known as ‘Disco’).

        Sure there was good music made after that, but not nearly so much of it.


    • GBJames
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Mostly I agree with you, Eric, but there was some good stuff after 1977. Talking Heads comes to mind.

      • Andy Lowry
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        Definitely! The ’80s generation of King Crimson did some high-quality stuff as well, and Bowie and Eno never quit working. XTC was right in there, too. The eighties weren’t all bad.

        • Eric Grobler
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

          Brian Eno made some very interesting collaborative albums

        • somer
          Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:25 am | Permalink

          the 80s were not so great in the US but I in there were numerous great bands and music especially in the UK, Scotland and Ireland, and Europe. Simple Minds, U2 the Romantic and Synth music bands.
          In Australia we also had a lot of terrific bands in the 80s, and of course Split Enz in New Zealand

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads graduated from Harvard in 1971 (as did I) so was really a product of the great music of the 1960s

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, perhaps I should investigate Talking Heads!

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        Talking Heads – just found “Remain In Light” on youtube – sounds like a Fela Kuti tribute – not bad.

    • Merilee
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      You forgot athe Stones😀

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

        True, I love Paint it Black

    • BJ
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

      You’re clearly a progressive rock fan, as I am. No Yes?

      Also, Rush is awesome. But I could add more bands and musicians to this list all day, so I’ll spare you and everyone else!

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Yes sorry I should have mentioned Yes!
        Close to the Edge is brilliant

        • Barry Lyons
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

          My favorite prog rock album is all-instrumental: “The Snow Goose” by Camel. I’m referring to the original recording. I haven’t heard the remake.

          • BJ
            Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

            I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for mentioning it

          • Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:20 am | Permalink

            Wishbone Ash! pre ’74

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        “But I could add more bands and musicians to this list all day, so I’ll spare you and everyone else!”
        If you can mention some obscure albums I will definitely investigate.

        • BJ
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

          Oh man, Close to the Edge is one of my favorite albums of all time! And Fragile and The Yes Album are excellent as well.

          If you already know people like Brian Eno (and Roxy Music, the band he briefly played in and which continued to be excellent), I don’t know if I can recommend anything particularly obscure to you. I can go outside of progressive and classic rock and recommend some amazing acoustic guitarists, like Leo Kottke, Adrian Legg, and Paco de Lucia. Then you have interesting jazz guitarists from Wes Montgomery to Pat Martino.

          Oh, I know! As a fan of the Dead, you should try Old and in the Way if you’ve never listened to them and enjoy bluegrass. Jerry Garcia was the banjo player, and it’s quite a lineup. I can recommend tons of bluegrass. You may also enjoy a band called Jazz is Dead, which released two albums of entirely instrumental reimaginings of Dead songs.

          For slide guitar, I think the best in the world is Sonny Landreth. Check out the insanity that is the song Uberesso.

          So, if there are any particular genres I mentioned for which you need some recommendations, I’d be happy to try and help out. And feel free to give me some if you’d like.

          • Eric Grobler
            Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

            I am a huge fan of Paco de Lucia!
            I do not know Leo Kottke or Adrian Legg, will investigate 🙂

            Besides Progressive Rock & Blues what genres do you listen too?
            I also like Classical, Jazz and “World Music” including African, Indian, East European music etc.

            • BJ
              Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              Sounds like we have just about the exact same tastes, aside from Eastern and African music, as I simply can’t get into the rhythms and sounds of those types. I do like when African beats are incorporated into western music, like some of Paul Simon’s later work or some Talking Heads.

              • Ken Phelps
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

                It was in large part Paul Simon that drove me into African music.

            • rickflick
              Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

              I’d never heard of Paco de Lucia. Good stuff. Thanks.
              WEIT has much to offer and is a constant inspiration – thanks in no small part to lots of well informed readers.

              • rickflick
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

                Paco De Lucia & Al Di Meola – Mediterranean Sundance,


              • Merilee
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink


              • Merilee
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

                Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan!

              • Merilee
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink


              • rickflick
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink


              • BJ
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

                RickFlick: if you enjoyed that, try Paco De Lucía, John McLaughlin & Al Di Meola’s albums Friday Night in San Francisco (a live album) and Passion, Grace & Fire (a studio album).

              • rickflick
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 9:10 pm | Permalink


          • Eric Grobler
            Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

            Just some random stuff that you might not know:
            Ali Farka Touré
            Fela Kuti
            Toumani Diabate
            Pepe Habichuela with Dave Holland
            Jonas Hellborg & Shawn Lane – Zenhouse
            Bill Callahan
            Modern Rock:
            Tin Hat
            John Zorn Acoustic Masada (other Zorn stuff is crazy)

            • BJ
              Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

              I don’t know any of them, so I’m going to check out every single one. Thanks, you just gave me something to explore for at least a week 🙂

              • Eric Grobler
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

                Thanks for Leo Kottke!
                Listening to “Six String; Medley: Available Space” live concert.
                I love his guitar style.

              • rickflick
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

                What? No more Lady Gag Gag for you? 😉

              • BJ
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

                Isn’t it phenomenal, Eric? His sound is so rich and full (especially his twelve-string stuff), it’s almost unbelievable someone can make a guitar sound like that. It’s just beautiful.

                When he was young he played a bit with Chet Atkins.

            • Ken Phelps
              Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

              Let us not forget
              King Sunny Ade.

              • Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

                An interesting list because everybody on it has played the Tampere Jazz Happening or the other tamperemusicfestivals.fi events in Finland.

              • Eric Grobler
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

                Thanks Ken, something new for my collection!

              • BJ
                Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

                Ah, I’ve actually hear him before and loved the music, so maybe some of the others will be up my alley after all.

      • Kevin
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        Excellent video.

        • Kevin
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

          Meant to post above, but while I am here I will state:

          RUSH from Toronto Canada!

          • BJ
            Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

            Airport code YYZ, baby.

    • Barry Lyons
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      Here’s a post-1977 songwriter who’s great: Elvis Costello. “Poor Fractured Atlas” is a favorite (though I’m not so crazy about some of Costello’s recent work).

      Neil Finn of Crowded House has written many good songs (“Four Seasons in One Day” is beautiful; “Fall at Your Feet” is another great one).

      You know who’s also an underrated songwriter? Joe Pernice of The Pernice Brothers. “Baby in Two” is one of his best songs. “PCH One” is another.

      I also used to like Nick Lowe, but I haven’t listen to him in years. Ditto Robyn Hitchcock.

      • phil
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

        Ah, Neil Finn! One of Australia’s great talents.

        (That’s for Heather, since we lost in the rugby AGAIN 😉

        • Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:23 am | Permalink

          Neil is a New Zealander, born raised in NZ.

          We invented the pavlova as well.

          • phil
            Posted August 28, 2017 at 2:51 am | Permalink


            Next you’ll be telling me Sam Neil is a kiwi. Who’s next, Rush, Blanchett, Russ Crowe? Oh wait, Crowe is a kiwi.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted August 28, 2017 at 8:53 am | Permalink

              LOL so is Sam Neil.

              • Posted August 28, 2017 at 9:36 am | Permalink

                I shouldn’t be so sure, but Sam Neill is 🙂

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 28, 2017 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

                He makes a cameo in this Air New Zealand ad & if Pete the Kiwi hadn’t said who he was, I wouldn’t have recognized him. Maybe they had to add the line that explicitly says his name because I wasn’t the only one.

              • Posted August 28, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

                Perhaps the beard’s for another role.

                I have to say I don’t know any kiwi pop musicians. As to jazz, I didn’t realise Alan Broadbent was a kiwi until recently.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted August 28, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

                Neil Finn/Split Enz/Crowded House, which I think was mentioned up thread is an example.

                I think it’s mostly Kiwi comedians that are more known. I think that’s sort of like Canada. There is something we share in humour. I thought the movie, What We Do in the Shadows, was one of the funniest movies I’ve seen.

              • Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:24 am | Permalink

                Lorde – who Heather mention on the other music thread (iirc). Split Enz – “Six Months In a Leaky Boat”.


              • Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:18 am | Permalink

                The beard!


              • phil
                Posted August 28, 2017 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

                Since we were talking about music…

                “It is satire, y’know.”
                “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

    • Charles Minus
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

      My favorite T shirt, which has long since fallen apart: Duck Fisco

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 10:13 pm | Permalink



    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      I would add:
      Harry Nilsson (Nilsson Schmilsson)
      The Who
      Steely Dan

      I used to listen to my brothers records when he left the house. It was yesterdays post that reminded me of that, and reminded me of listening to Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson, Son of Schmilsson and Son of Dracula. Along with Rolling Stones, the Who, the Beatles and many more. He always beat me mercilessly when he found out.

    • peterdvm
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      There is a ton of great music out there. It’s just never going to get played on mainstream pop stations, and you have to look for it. If you like progressive rock a band like Umphrey’s McGee does the genre proud. They are a progressive rock/jamband hybrid. But they are every bit the players of those other bands.

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

        Thanks peterdvm, had a quick listen to Umphrey’s McGee, very interesting.

    • aljones909
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

      I hated disco. Yet at this years Glastonbury Festival the best act was Chic.

  7. Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Interesting video. Pop music has certainly become “music” in only the technical sense of the term.

    I won’t repeat my comment from yesterday, but there is still plenty of spectacular, srtful music being made. It’s just that this music is no longer considered pop. Rock music is alive and well, but rock music is no longer considered pop either.

    One thing I have to disagree with from the video: great music may take repeated listenings to recognize. When I listen to a new album, there are some tracks that instantly stick out, that I instantly like, and others that just kind of blend in. But when I continue to listen to an album, it’s not just that I’m becoming more familiar with the songs, it’s that I am studying them more deeply. Oftentimes, my long-standing favourite songs end up coming from those that didn’t stand out to me the first time. It was only after repeated listenings that I grew to appreciate their depth.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      I’ll agree, and offer one of my opinions… most of the groups and singers of the 60s and 70s were live artists who also recorded. Now days it’s mostly studio music which is sometimes taken on the road.

      A couple of times a year Mrs DiscoveredJoys and I go to the open air theatre at Kilworth Hous(Leicestershire, UK). The productions are all musicals, West Side Story, Top Hat, Legally Blonde, Me and My Girl, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Kiss Me, Kate and so on. They are all a wonderfully different experience when you see real people singing dancing and acting.

      Plus, just like music from the 60s and 70s, only the best survives the decades…

      • phil
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, there’s often something special about hearing music live, but in my experience there are often venues or occasions when it can be quite blah, or simply no better than a record in your living room.

        On the issue of repeated listenings I heartily concur. I have only recently begun to appreciate how much John Bonham contributed to LZ’s sound. I looked him up in Wikipedia and it said that he is the popular music performer most people would like resurrected, comfortably ahead of even Elvis and Freddy Mercury.


        Ginger Baker was similar. It amazing how much sound three musos can make. Cream produced something like The Wall of Sound with just the three of them.

    • alexander
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

      “It was only after repeated listenings that I grew to appreciate their depth.”

      The same is true for classical music. When I listened for the first time to Mahler (when I was 18) it sounded dissonant, but after listening a few times I started to love the Mahler symphonies.

      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        <i.When I listened for the first time to Mahler (when I was 18) it sounded dissonant,

        Man, you are going to hate Bartok.

    • Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      Yes. There’s a greater variety of music being made by a wider variety of people, and the Top 40 is less and less representative of that breadth.


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. I think you can say the same for popular literature. Like popular music, it seems to be all about bringing sexy back (h/t Justin Timberlake).

        I have to say, I do engage in candy music more than I do in candy literature though.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      “It was only after repeated listenings that I grew to appreciate their depth.”

      Repeated listenings precipitated by the LP and CD formats, in my case. Sheer inertia forced one into listening to whole or half albums.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      “Oftentimes, my long-standing favourite songs end up coming from those that didn’t stand out to me the first time. It was only after repeated listenings that I grew to appreciate their depth.”

      That is very true. And listening is not just a passive one-way occupation (receive only). Some mental activity is involved in comprehending the music. You’re subconsciously ‘learning’ the way the song goes so you anticipate the notes that are about to come, and ‘make more sense’ of the track. It’s as if you can’t see the song as a coherent whole until your brain has ‘organised’ it into a recognisable form.

      And because of that, some songs that are more complex and hence long-term interesting are less immediately appealing.

      (Example from a different genre – Someone Else’s Story. First couple of times I heard it I lost track of the rhythm, partly because the singer (Lea) pauses in mid-line. I was applying the wrong rhythm which of course got lost when the song ceased to ‘fit’ the anticipated beat. Not until it ‘clicked’ in my brain and I realised where the line endings were could I enjoy it.
      Even now, I find it takes a little concentration to stop the rhythm-following in my brain getting switched onto the wrong track.

      I don’t know if I’ve explained this very well.


    • Kevin
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      The most innovative song writers caused the most repulsion in me when I first listened to them. They were all to become my favorites.

  8. Randy schenck
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    It is nice to get some actual description of why the music today has gone so “downhill” compared to 50 and 60 years ago. And so it goes – hard to brainwash a 67 year old and pretty easy to do the same to a teenager. If you don’t think so, just ask the military.

    I think the economics has also ruined the business as much as anything. If you cannot get paid, get your piece of the action you deserve because they are giving it away free or telling you what they want — that is the end.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Plus ‘stuff’ you encounter in your teenage and young adult years is more meaningful than ‘stuff’ you experience later.

      The question is… will today’s teenagers/young adults treasure today’s music or will they reminisce about YouTube and Game of Thrones?

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

        Youtube is bloody marvellous.

        Because not only is all the modern non-music on there, but also all the good old real music (however you define ‘real music’)


  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m just waiting for the music to be generated solely by an AI. I think it’s almost there.

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Could only be an improvement!

    • rickflick
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      An AI? Depends on her personality.

    • somer
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:33 am | Permalink

      Im in my late 50s now, but I haven’t heard anything (by a band with any profile) to “blow me away” since the mid 90s except things by some bands that have kept going since before then and which already had a big profile. I love how this is done scientifically on the Thoughty2 video as Professor Coyne says, and I love how it explains why the music has been downgraded and how the industry has got people to accept it. Its sad. People with talent and proficiency on instruments are not rewarded. Apparently global sales of guitars have plummetted. I also think that the old media – records and even tapes were way, were higher quality than CD discs which are way way higher quality than the dreaded downloads. People also get used to flattened out sound because they seldom hear the real thing.

      A few years ago the Canberra school of Music was downsized and restructured to fit to new trends in music including computerised music and something called “Darwin music” which is dreadful

      • somer
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:37 am | Permalink

        There is talent around but it has a relatively small audience and seldom makes much of a living – whereas really great bands could previously continue and develop and have big exposure.

  10. Posted August 26, 2017 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Hah, I wrote a comment yesterday, but didn’t finish it, with the similar conclusion. 1. Loudness Wars, 2. Record company-owned, professionalized or marketing-driven mainstream music (incl. charts) and 3. the now totally overused I–V–vi–IV progression, which the Beatles used, too, prominently in “Let it be”.

    I disagree on one major point. I don’t believe this affected “the music” altogether. Rather, music today is super fragmented in genres, subgenres and even microgenres that cater to their audiences.

    That prevents “one pop band to rule them all” phenomenon which existed decades ago. Once upon a time, everyone was watching BBC, but that was because there was not much else going on. There is much quality to be found for those who look for it, but it’s now too specific to suggest something.

    I appreciate diverse music from stoner doom to triphop, from weird folk to house, from celtic punk to electronica and from black metal to singer-songwriter, everything but lukewarm radio-mixes.

    There are also musicians that are recognized as having created outstanding music, and that qualify as “important”, and there’s certainly stadium-filling rock music, too. I wouldn’t know where to begin, there’s too much! I believe, there’s plenty of comparable quality as the old timers, but of course nobody can sound Beatlesier than the Beatles. When that is the criterion, the “original” will always win.

    Some sources I wanted to post yesterday:

    • KD33
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

      Nice post, thanks.

    • somer
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      Yes there is the occasional block buster really good stuff by a current artist – tends to be a vocalist rather than a band

      I not in any way involved with the music sector But its a pity people like this don’t do better
      and I still strongly get the impression that the state of the industry makes it very difficult for really talented groups to succeed or last

      • somer
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:51 am | Permalink

        Im talking pop/rock/ genres

  11. ploubere
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Harmonic complexity, timbral diversity, and loudness? I’m not sure I agree that these are the defining elements of quality. A similar argument was made against the Impressionists, that their paintings lacked the complexity of Academy work, and their colors were too bright.

    We tend to remember our favorite songs from the past while forgetting how many uninspired songs made the charts: Deep Purple, Smoke on the Water, for example. Judging all contemporary music by Taylor Swift is ignoring a lot of good music being produced today. Granted, most of those are not top 40, but the industry is far more diverse today than 50 years ago, when we all listened to the same radio stations. The charts are not very meaningful anymore.

    • GBJames
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      The complaint (judgement) isn’t about “all contemporary music” it is about the pop top 40 stuff. The narrator in the video is quite clear that there is a lot of very good material being created by some very good bands. But they have pretty much no chance of breaking through the dreck.

      • ploubere
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        One point I was trying to make is that the top 40 has always had a lot of dreck. But the main point is that those criteria are not very good for defining quality. Complexity? There are some simple songs that are good. Diversity? Maybe, but just having variety doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. And loudness? What if it sounds better loud? There are parts of classical symphonies that are intended to be loud. Beethoven’s ninth, for example.

        One can objectively measure the appeal of a song by how many people like it. Beyond that, deciding one song is objectively better than another seems futile. I’m not even sure why we would want to. Listen to what you like, it’s nobody else’s business.

        • GBJames
          Posted August 27, 2017 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          You are simply referencing purported exceptions to the patterns that the video explains. Patterns matter, just as pointing to a very very short man doesn’t invalidate the observation that men are on average taller than women.

          You keep talking about loudness in terms that suggest you didn’t watch the video. Absolute volume is not what is being described, it is dynamic range compression. Of course parts of Beethoven’s 9th are intended to be loud. But the quiet parts aren’t. Recent pop music reduces the range of volume, not the absolute max.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 27, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

            Loudness compression does have very great advantages when listening on headphones in an environment with a high level of ambient noise such as the wife’s TV or airline flights. It makes the quiet passages just audible without risking ones eardrums on the crescendoes.

            I very readily agree this is NOT how music should be seriously listened to but as a way of surviving the Kardashians or a 15-hour flight without actually going insane it has its merits. 😉

            Incidentally, this could be one reason why pop music uses dynamic range compression – because it is very often heard in these circumstances. I expect the same would apply to car radio though I wouldn’t know, I prefer to listen to the motor.


  12. Tom
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I think many responses were uncivil because people identify closely with the music they love and it’s easy to get emotional when confronted with a different opinion. Even I was tempted to express my irrelevant opinion but I managed to control the urge.

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

      “I think many responses were uncivil because people identify closely with the music they love and it’s easy to get emotional when confronted with a different opinion.”

      Are most people that fragile and sensitive?
      I have little time for the current “please do not offend me” culture.

  13. Michiel
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Well of course this kind of pop-music isn’t representative of all music. It’s only a VERY small subsample of all music produced today. Of course if you go and compare Bob Dylan to Katy Perry, or Taylor Swift to The Beatles it’s pretty dire, but surely there are still plenty of good bands and artists that are making quality music, outside the realm of manufactured chart pop.

    I don’t think you can really measure in any relevant way the “texture and richness” of a sound as these are rather subjective. And even then, is song with richer textures or more harmonic complexity “better” per se?

    The assertion in the video that music sounds the same because it is made using the “same combination of keyboard, drum machine, sampler and computer software” doesn’t make sense to me either. Surely all the rock bands of yore made music using pretty much the same instruments too: guitar, drumkit and perhaps a piano or some horns. With computer software alone you can record and produce virtually any sound imaginable. Not to mention there are as many different keyboards and drummachines as there are different guitars and drumkits.
    I think the samyness is more to do with the fact you mention: that a lot of chart pop music is actually produced by just a couple of guys, as well as the record companies having been taken over by sinister marketing types. 🙂

    It is interesting of course that “back then”, these really high-quality bands were the pop music of that time (at least I imagine, I’m from 1980 myself so haven’t experienced this first hand. I imagine there must also have been some pretty crappy music in the charts back then). And there hasn’t really been a new Hendrix, Beatles or Led Zeppelin, bands that really leave a cultural mark, and really broke new grounds. But then that may have to do with the saturation and the way we consume music, as well as the fact that our entertainment diet has expanded so much with film/tv/videogames that music is simply taking up a smaller space in our lives generally.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      Well, the speaker actually gave a demonstration of how the ‘texture and richness’ of sound was lost through the use of a compressor. Can you genuinely not hear this?

      • Michiel
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

        I never commented on that specific example.
        I tried to say I find it…questionable…whether one can really objectively measure something like “texture” or “richness” in a song. Since those things are rather subjective.
        (and to me have very little to do with compression, which has to do with dynamics)

        Just a bit on the topic of compression:
        The example he plays is a completely unrealistic representation of how compression is used. Yes you can make bit of music sound like shit by overcompressing it with ridiculous settings like in the second example. No engineer would mix a song like this, not even during the heigth of the loudness wars.
        So I’d just want to caution against thinking that compression in general is somehow bad.
        Yes, when abused, compression can certainly take all the nuance out of the dynamics of a song.
        But you can also ruin music by playing out of time, singing out of key or recording on a broken tape recorder.
        But you wouldn’t want to listen to any pop or rock song without any dynamic range compression because it will sound bad. Compression, used “correctly” is an absolutely indespensible tool for creating and mixing any kind of music, except perhaps classical and some jazz music. Engineers in the 60’s used compression too. And all the analogue gear they used to mix, the desk, the mic pres, even the tape they recorded on all applied some form of compression, depending on how hard inputs were driven. All those classic rock sounds are largely achieved by various forms of compression (on idividual instruments as well as on the whole mix).

    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      .I think the samyness is more to do with the fact you mention: that a lot of chart pop music is actually produced by just a couple of guys, as well as the record companies having been taken over by sinister marketing types.

      There you have it. But there are technical reasons inherent in this conclusion. Firstly it’s not just a couple of guys, that assertion in the clip is hyperbole, but the industry is subject to fashion. Current fashion or “trend” will dictate musical factors and these are increasingly subject to more sophisticated marketing analysis.

  14. GBJames
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    I am compelled to add: I pretty much agree with the judgement of today’s pop as being dreadful and while I’m willing to accept the offered explanation as to why. But ultimately I don’t much care because there is a huge amount of very excellent music being performed all the time, live, at festivals and small venues all over. Every year my wife and I, for example, spend time at Milwaukee Irish Fest and if anything is predictable it is that there will be some fresh new musical groups playing amazing music. And that’s just one festival.

  15. Jeff Morgan
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Given the references to Orwell in the article on statues, I have the chance to state my theory (yes, it is mine). Pop music is gradually changing into the artificial stuff written for the Proles in 1984.

  16. Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I disagree. Pop music was always about commercialization. While we could groove to Hendrix Dylan Grateful Dead etc, there was Bobby Sherman, The Archies, The Monkees, etc putting out bubble gum. No different than today where there is tremendous talent putting out beautiful music alongside Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, John Mayer, et al., you just have to look for it.

    • KD33
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      Agreed. Sadly, I don’t see a lot of these comments indicating that people “are looking for it.” Which is ironic since the entire of music history is at our fingertips. Sorry to be so sour, but these music discussions make me think that in this area this community is not so aware or open-minded.

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Well, that was dispiriting.

    Pop music certainly has undergone a decline in “lyric intelligence” over the years. The exception has been rap and hip-hop. I’ve got to be in a particular mood to listen to it all on my own, but I caught a fair amount of it in the ’90s and Oughties because my sons are big fans, and the masters of the art — like Nas and Dre and Lauryn Hill, and Biggie and Tupac and Chuck D in their day — really do engage in some sophisticated wordplay.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

      “Pop music certainly has undergone a decline in “lyric intelligence” over the years.”

      I’m not entirely sure that’s correct.

      Some of the Beatles’ lyrics (to take just one example) were pretty dumb. ‘She loves you, yeah yeah yeah’ for example. Of course, if you go to more ‘instrumentally oriented’ groups like Pink Floyd or Dire Straits, the lyrics are only an excuse to hang a big instrumental number on. So I’m not sure ‘lyric intelligence’ is a reliable measure anyway.

      Re rap, I’m afraid – sophisticated wordplay or not – I find the rhythms of rap and hip-hop just too intensely annoying to listen to. Whatever they are, they’re not music as we know it. 😉 For some reason that I can’t analyse, the rhythms used by rap artists, or maybe their aggressive-sounding delivery, instantly repels me even more than a loud brass band does.


      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:29 am | Permalink

        Dire Straits, the lyrics are only an excuse to hang a big instrumental number on.

        Well, Mark Knopfler says otherwise. His philosophy/approach to “soloing” on guitar is to reinforce and support the vocal line, to answer/balance the vocals and to fill in the spaces.

  18. BJ
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    First, I see a lot of people saying, “well this is only a small segment of music. There is plenty of good music being made today!” Maybe so, but that wasn’t the point of the post nor the video. The video discusses how *popular* music today isn’t very good, and how most of what regularly makes the top 40 is homogenized crap.

    If you look at Jerry’s post from yesterday, it’s clear that a few decades ago, great, complex, boundaries-pushing music was popular among the people. Today, people on average seemingly want to hear the same simple crap over and over. All the big artists from Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga to Robin Thicke to Nickelback just keep doing the same boring, simple things over and over, and yet remain the most popular “artists” alive.

    And this is what’s baffling. My own theory is that what has happened to popular music is the same thing as what has happened to movies: the business has become more important than the art form, and once corporations find a formula that works, they stick with it until the formula stops working. Taylor Swift’s insipid lyrics, untalented instrumentation, and wholly unoriginal sound is still being purchased and listened to by millions, so the corporation producing it will continue to do so.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      The business was always important; what’s changed is the audience, which is now probably ten years younger on average than it was 40 or 50 years ago. Today’s pop music is aimed at 13-year-olds. Twentysomething hipsters — the peak demographic of Jerry’s era — don’t buy this stuff; they have a whole indie band scene that they follow largely outside of the pop music marketing apparatus.

      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:35 am | Permalink

        Today’s pop music is aimed at 13-year-olds.

        Ever looked at a Beatles audience circa 1965?

        If anything, the average age was only a year or two older.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      A couple of things come to my mind.

      Homogenization caused by too much electronically mediated social interaction, where the “culture” is actually predigested product, shared but not organically created.

      Bloody low-fi ear buds, and “only the highlights” playlists. Who actually knows who’s playing bass on this cut, and what band they used to be in? The information is available, but it’s not on the thing with which you interface, like it ws on an LP cover.

      But on to some quality stuff:
      Blues Traveler

      • BJ
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

        Great point about social media. It seems to have had the same effect on political views.

        John Popper: the Ian Anderson of the harmonica

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

        I think you’re right about the earbuds (I hate ’em, I use headphones).

        Though, as an unwilling third-party listener, I have to say they’re a boon on public transport. The occasional bit of earbud leakage is as nothing compared with what transistor radios used to do (and what could be more low-fi than that?)

        Your mention of covers reminds me, I’ve just been getting rid of my LP collection (I haven’t used my turntable in decades and besides it’s all on Youtube now) but I’ve been struck by the cover art and how good it was. That’s something we don’t get any more, simply because no-one needs bulky 12″ square packages.
        Grace Slick and that magnificent out-of-the-smoke Chinese dragon on the cover of ‘Spitfire’,

        or that iconic cover that didn’t need to carry any words at all


    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      Yes, music executives are there to make money for the company, not to find great music. Like the movie industry they don’t get fired for making safe choices, they get fired for not making money for the business. So they make the safe choices and we get remakes of remakes and sequels.

      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:29 am | Permalink

        Yet luckily the internet provides a way (of sorts) around the music marketing industry.

        But ultimately, if you love music, you should support local live performances.

        • Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:52 am | Permalink

          I want to re-post that in bold

          – if you love music, you should support local live performances.

  19. Eric Grobler
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Another disappointing aspect to be is the state of black Music – negative/ugly hip hop and rap for example.
    During the 50’s and civil rights era you had brilliant musicans like
    * Duke Ellington
    * John Coltrane
    * Miles Davis
    * Charles Mingus
    * Archie Shepp
    * Thelonious Monk
    * Roland Kirk
    * Max Roach

    I hope American School children are taught abouth these cultural giants rather than mediocre and morally suspect artists like michael jackson.

    • KD33
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Wow, that’s patronizing. “Black music” today – by which I will over-simplify as hip-hop and hip-hop-derived music – is some of the most innovative going on now.

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        “Wow, that’s patronizing. ”
        Give me an example of great hip-hop music that is comparable with the great black artists of the 60’s.
        B.t.w, how well do you know artists like John Coltrane or Charles Mingus?

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

          If you know that music, then you should know that bebop, when it debuted after the War, downtown at the Five Spot and uptown at Minton’s Playhouse and at the clubs along 52nd Street like the Three Deuces, was derided as decadent and ugly in precisely the same terms you’re using against hip-hop here.

          I love Fifties’ jazz, and I’m not a huge fan of hip-hop, but KD33 is right that that music has more aesthetic value than you patronizingly give it credit for.

          • Eric Grobler
            Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

            Ken, if you are in the relativistic camp that regard all art as equal then we shall disagree.
            Will you call me patronising if I say that Beethoven and Mahler has more artistic merit than the Beatles, even though I enjoy many Beatles songs?
            I think American school children should be taught that American Jazz has a cultural and artistic significance that is not matched by hip-hop.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

              If you mean by “relativistic” someone who sees all music as having equal value, I most certainly am not; I’m its opposite. Which is why I love bebop and hard bop and cool jazz, much more than I care for hip-hop. And it’s precisely why I think your characterization of “the state of black Music” today as “negative/ugly” is inaccurate.

              Had Miles (the great American musical innovator of the 20th century, IMO) lived, his next project was to fuse jazz and hip-hop, the way he did jazz and rock with Bitches Brew.

              • Eric Grobler
                Posted August 27, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

                Perhaps we agree on one thing, Bitches Brew is a great record.

      • paultopping
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        “Hip hop is innovative” It was once but hasn’t been for a long time, not at least to my ears.

    • Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

      Damn, what an impressive roster. Now I shouldn’t call Michael Jackson “mediocre”, but he’s nowhere near any of those on your list, with the exception that he, too, happened to be acquainted to Quincy Jones 🙂

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        I’m drunk, it’s 1.10 am in Finland, but I meant “acquainted with”.

        • Eric Grobler
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

          Ah Finland – I like Edward Vesala 🙂

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

        ” Now I shouldn’t call Michael Jackson “mediocre”, ”
        That is a fair point, however he was morally a questionable character.

        • Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

          True. Now, some people in the know about Miles and Chazz might have a comment about that, but never mind:

          I do think all the names on your list are simply much better musicians, objectively, than the very good Mr. Jackson.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

          With respect, what have morals to do with it?

          ‘Mediocre’ (or not) is directly related to his musical worth, hence relevant in this context.

          ‘Morals’ are completely irrelevant to the sounds that come out of his records. Aside from the fact that ‘morals’ are highly dependent on the viewpoint and prejudices of whoever’s doing the judging, I’m not sure how many of our rock icons (or in fact past artists of all kinds) would survive a detailed investigation into their personal lives. ‘Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ was not an entirely empty phrase.


          • Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:39 am | Permalink

            I totally agree and without the “with respect”.

          • Eric Grobler
            Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:57 am | Permalink

            “With respect, what have morals to do with it?”

            It has in terms of a school curriculum where you want to inspire children and provide them with role models.
            We teach children to resptect greats like Bach and Beethoven. I want black kids to also learn about Ellington and Coltrane.
            Perhaps you do not understand the psychological difference.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted August 27, 2017 at 9:32 am | Permalink

              Well I would say, if that is your aim, then you will have to work with a carefully selected subset of musicians, taking into account other attributes than purely musical worth.

              And that would apply particularly to the rock scene.


              • Eric Grobler
                Posted August 27, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

                “taking into account other attributes than purely musical worth.”

                That makes sense, difficult and subjective of course but I think children need “postive” role models and especially black kids should be exposed to the more intellectual black musicians and also intellectuals and scientists like Thomas Sowell and Neil Degrasse Tyson.

            • Harrison
              Posted August 28, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

              Beethoven was a profoundly immoral person. What do fans of his music hundreds of years in the future care?

              • Eric Grobler
                Posted August 28, 2017 at 5:11 am | Permalink

                To be honest I do not know much about Beethoven’s character.
                Compared to michael jackson, did you dance around with his hand on his crotch and sleep with children?

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

      KD33 & jpvuorela,
      Perhaps I am unfair to regard jazz music as “superior” to hip-hop. rap etc.
      However, I think the so called “free jazz” musicians created music comparable to classic music in quality and they we artists rather than performers.
      They aimed to overcome racism and hardship with hard work and discipline, and unlike their predecessors in the 1940’s they did not try to entertain the “white man”, rather they played uncompromising music often very political, but never destructive and defeatist.
      A contemporary example is William Parker

    • somer
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Great jazz, soul, blues, funk – the inspiration for rock and pop – and often better and again not the level it was (there I said it but I’d be lying if I said I said these are anything like they were.

  20. Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    I have a simple rule of thumb: never (deliberately) listen to anything written in the last thirty or so years. That allows time for the cream to rise and the dreck to be forgotten. There was, for example, lots of crap in the ’60s, but now we only think about the Beetles, Simon and Garfunkel, and a handful of others.

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

      Sure, but do you agree we remember far more artists from the 60’s than the 50’s?

    • KD33
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      That’s just a shame. You are robbing yourself of so much great music.

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        Well, truth be told, I’m more of a Beethoven than Beetles guy, so I don’t worry too much about missing out on pop. I’m just saying that the pop still being played 30 years on is likely to be better than most.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

          I’d generally agree, with the addendum that you could probably apply that to classical music as well. I think (don’t know enough musicology to be sure) that there were plenty of not-so-good or merely average composers in Beethoven’s day that nobody plays any more.


  21. Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    I’m guessing that classical blows away all other genres using harmonic complexity, timbral diversity and loudness as criteria.

    • Craw
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

      As it should!
      Lots of great music in the 60s. Even more of it from 1100 to 1950.

  22. Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    The next question to ask, of course, is “is a greater degree of harmonic complexity and timbral diversity necessarily an indicator of superiority?” Sometimes simplicity is beautiful.

    • Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Good point! Is specifying the criteria for evaluation an objective act?

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        Well, not ultimately. If you are evaluating how good an example of some established form or genre a piece is, then the criteria can be selected fairly objectively. But whether any given person will think it’s “good” (i.e., like it) is a matter of opinion.

        I do think there are, if not objective, then at least better, more foundational criteria for judging general “goodness” in music than harmonic complexity and timbral diversity. First, timbral diversity just doesn’t make any sense. Does this mean any piece written for a solo instrument is inferior to pieces written for many instruments? Second, harmonic complexity is too superficial. If liken this to architecture. A building can be covered in complicated decoration, but that doesn’t mean the architecture is solid and well done. Beneath the corbels and cartouches there might be a horribly inept deep structure. Same for music. Harmony emerges from voice leading. The logic of how voices move in the deep structure is of primary concern. A busy surface structure won’t make up for a poor deep structure.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted August 26, 2017 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

          It seems to me that the points the speaker made were fair enough and the criteria used sufficient in the context of what he was talking about. Simplicity can be piercing (‘Never, never, never, never, never’)or it can be boring and banal. I doubt whether the speaker would have wanted to generalise his criteria to cover everything in the very broad field of music.

          I liked Musical Beef’s point that harmony emerges from voice leading, a point that suggests that harmony is supporting a more direct and simple expressive statement (for want of a better word). And so, I think, with ‘complexity’ in general. What fascinates me about certain great songs – Dowland’s ‘In darkness let me dwell’, say, or Schubert’s ‘Erlkonig’ or ‘Der Doppelganger’ (I’m not putting umlaut’s in) – is the complex interplay between instrument and voice, something you can also find in pop music: in, say, Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention’s rendering of ‘Who knows where the time goes’, which is so much better than the two versions (one with a simple and uninteresting strummed chordal accompaniment, the other with a fussy and saccharine one) by Judy Collins I have heard. A simplicity emerges from complexity. (All of which is not to suggest that songs like ‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ – which has one of the most beautiful melodies in the world! – or ‘She Moved through the Fair’, which are often sung accompanied, are not great songs, too.)

          Chopin’s harmonies, however complex, always serve expression, as do those of all good composers. But harmony, in less talented hands, becomes either banal (as in most film music) or fussy and of the surface, as Musical Beef says.

          • Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:34 am | Permalink

            An illuminating quote from Chopin:

            It has become customary now to learn chords ahead of counterpoint, which means ahead of the sequences of notes by which the chords are formed. Berlioz simply sets down the chords and fills the interstices as best he can.

          • Tim Harris
            Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:40 am | Permalink

            re ‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ etc, that should have read ‘which are often sung unaccompanied’.

        • Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:00 am | Permalink

          good points

    • Sixtus
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      Agree. Gregorian chant has neither harmony (‘harmony’ as we use it wasn’t invented until around 1600) nor timbral diversity but even I, a unrepentant atheist, can be moved to tears by it’s beauty.

      • Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        I’ll admit that there are few chants I’m really impress by, but yes, that is my point exactly.

        And if timbral diversity is really a concern then I guess we have to throw out almost all Chopin, all Corelli, the Bach Ciaccona from the 2nd solo violin partita, for Pete’s sake!

  23. Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  24. Evan
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    It seems there is more music being produced now then ever before. Around the 50’s and 60’s you really needed studio time and studio professionals to record anything decent. If you could imagine these finer details that went into recording at the time, I think you might be able to see why producers and so forth might want to put more effort into what songs they were producing. However, modern home recording devices, systems, and software are more prevalent and affordable. This means nearly anyone can make music–even if you can’t really play an instrument. Additionally, auto-tuning means anyone can sing and hit all the right notes perfectly, even if they really can’t. Perhaps this makes it more streamlined for labels to continually produce simple pop hit after pop hit.

    On the flip side, there is a lot more great unsigned and underground artist out there to discover because of easier access to recording equipment. Currently, I have been completely taken with the Australian rock band “King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.” This year alone will see the band release 5 full length albums. So far they have released three albums: “Flying Microtonal Banana” (an album in which all members use microtonal instruments), “Murder of the Universe” (an epic 70’s style prog-rock/metal album with plenty of storytelling in it), and “Sketches of Brunswick East (a jazz infused album). All albums of unique, different, complex in structure and fantastic! Likewise, unsigned and indie hip hop artist Milo just released an album title “Who Told You To Think?!?!?!?!,” which is also very good. This young rapper is a former philosophy student who raps about typics ranging from his own life, Nietzsche, Bukowski, and others. He’s like a modern day Gil Scott Heron.

  25. Liz
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    This is not surprising. It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more people writing their own music and lyrics. I wrote before that musical preference isn’t a debate. Different aspects of music can be debated so I stand corrected. I remember once arguing that Michael Bolton’s version of “When a Man Loves a Woman” was better than Percy Sledge’s.

  26. jay
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    A while back, the woman across the street was cleaning up her car and had the music blaringly loud. She was playing, what I suppose was ‘gangsta’, it was racist, sexist, obscene in language and truly offensive.

    I remember thinking ‘I’m glad my grand daughter isn’t here right now’ and then I started thinking about those old ‘warnings’ from the 50s about the ‘dirty and suggestive’ music that ‘young people’ were listening to. Suddenly I understood part of what these people must have been feeling—when your sense of decency is kicked in the face by the new fad… and if you don’t approve, you’re a hopeless old fogey.

    I’m a fan of classic blues, Muddy Waters, BB King, Robert Johnson, Koko Taylor, etc. Their music had a sexual tension to it, but somehow it was kept under control. What I see now is shock, shock, shock.

    • KD33
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      Is a Tribe Called Quest just “shock shock shock”?

  27. Kosmos
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I can’t think of any decade since the introduction of pop music that can be considered poor. It’s just, as many others have pointed out, that chart-topping music has become more bland on average. From my subjective point of view that started in the late 90’s. Hmmm…maybe it can be argued that great music are somewhat rarer post 2000.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      The mediocritization of everything.

  28. jay
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Classical music went through a bizarre period in the early to mid 20th century. In an effort to be ‘modern’, old fashioned ideas such as scales, harmony, melody, and beauty were cast aside… producing barren music that no one, except posers, wanted to listen to. Concerts had to throw in some Brahms or Tchaikovsky just to get people to show up. I remember being at one concert which had a 20th century piece scheduled after the intermission… funny how the venue was pretty much empty then.

    Roger Scruton (who I admire to some degree) argues that art lost its way in the 20th century when ‘sending a message’ became more important than either art or skill.

    This article covers some of his point


    But I would STRONGLY recommend setting aside an hour to watch “Why Beauty Matters”. It will both inform and uplift (as unfashionable as that is these days)

    • Posted August 26, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

      I agree that a lot of music was written in that period solely in order to establish the compser’s avant garde bona fides, and without regard for any kind of aesthetic or logic (aside from “is this iconoclastic enough?).

      Of course, composers like this are still active. And there were plenty of really talented composers writing good music during that period. Stravinsky, Copland, Britten, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, etc. It should also be pointed out that many composers who’ve recently embraced a more tonal language produce rather ham-fisted tonal music (e.g., Eric Ewazen and Jennifer Higdon, among others).

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

        4’33” ?

        Of course it’s a very democratic piece. I just played it for myself using the TV remote.


      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:35 am | Permalink

        Serial music is one of the 20th century’s greatest artistic con jobs.

    • aljones909
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 4:55 am | Permalink

      The first 15 minutes of this documentary covers the “bizarre” period of classical music. Howard Goodall thinks popular music, particularly the Beatles, rescued the classical tradition. “The Beatles – a musical appreciation and analysis”.
      Youtube watch?v=ZQS91wVdvYc

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 7:30 am | Permalink

        That’s interesting, because I concluded the same thing. My observation was based on noticing that Pink Floyd employed very traditional harmonies and rhythm, but having noticed that I realised it certainly extends to the Beatles more ‘orchestral’ pieces like e.g. A Day in the Life.

        What I find ironical is that, so far as I can tell, both the pop generation, preoccupied with rebelling, and the older generation always ready to write off pop as mindless noise, never seem to have noticed this.


    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:11 am | Permalink

      I>But I would STRONGLY recommend setting aside an hour to watch “Why Beauty Matters”.

      Hmm, it starts out well enough, but pretty soon the alarm bells start ringing.

      Unfortunately, the documentary’s prime objective is appears to be to push religious and “spiritual” claptrap.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        Yes, the alarm bells start ringing pretty soon, don’t they? Beauty… as though it were some simple, obvious category. There are some wonderful remarks in Richard Taruskin’s history of Western music about the intended ugliness of some Bach’s cantatas: ‘When the world of man rather than God was his subject,he could write music that for sheer, unadulterated ugliness has been approached… but never surpassed.’ One of Yeats’s very greatest poems is ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’. It is intentionally written to sound in many places ugly. Taruskin goes on to remark that the idea that good and great music (or poetry or painting, one might add) can be ugly is unthinkable to most lovers of music nowadays – which shows, he goes on to say, ‘how far we have strayed from the ancient aesthetic of the sublime.’

  29. Posted August 26, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    The video makes some good points and reveals some information about the modern music industry I didn’t know. Country music has definitely become homogenized pop, which is one of the reasons I no longer listen to it. I grew up listening to Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Johnny Cash. To me, that is real country music. What is on the radio today is manufactured garbage. The other reason I stopped listening to country music is that I discovered classic rock and heavy metal in my 20s. I think there is still a lot of originality in the various genres of rock although even in rock there is a slowly creeping homogenization occurring.

  30. Posted August 26, 2017 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I guess I will play devil’s advocate. It’s important to remember that there were a lot of older adults in the 50s, 60s, and 70s who said that the music teenagers were listening to was garbage? Were those adults wrong?

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      My mother who loved classical music (she had good taste) did like bands like Pink Floyd and King Crimson.
      However she was not impressed when at age 12 I argued that Kiss was better than Mozart.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

        What?! She didn’t like Lick It Up? 😀

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 12:06 am | Permalink

        I’m not entirely surprised.

        If you listen to Pink Floyd for example, the backing on many of their tracks is a fairly traditional orchestral sound – the harmonies and the rhythms are what I’d call ‘classical’ – whether they used a string section (I don’t think they did) or electronic keyboards to produce them.

        I think they were more in line with traditional classical music (setting aside the rock-concert atmosphere and the lightshows) than ‘serious’ composers of the time.


    • ploubere
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      My parents wouldn’t listen to anything other than classical, usually endless violin quartets and concertos that sounded hopelessly dreary to me. They considered all other music degenerate. They were both academics, PhD’s in the humanities.

  31. KD33
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, believable for commercially-distributed music. But I doubt the results would hold up for, say, Radiohead (or many other off-commercial bands) – by those metrics, they’d be more than competitive with the Beatles. (And that does not mean I think Radiohead is better than the Beatles!)

  32. paultopping
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    My guess is that the analysis can easily be led astray by how one chooses the music to analyze. Years ago, A&R people, reviewers, radio DJs, acted as experts that helped us choose music. Now music is only “pushed” to the consumer by almost 100% commercial channels. If one wants quality music, given one’s own definition of quality, one has to go looking for it on YouTube and various other places. It is hard work though worth it. The good news is that our access to quality is not throttled by the experts. The bad news is that there is not much of a way for quality acts that aren’t commercial to make any money. In the past, those quality acts were, for the most part, rewarded for their achievements. In short, things are different but it is not wholly downhill.

  33. Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Are those three comparisons really fair? “How did we go from Bob Dylan to Britney Spears, from Led Zeppelin to Lady Gaga, and from the Kinks to Katy Perry?”

    Fair to Lady Gaga, I mean. She’s technically so great. I don’t want to make too much of this, but come on: she’s no Britney Spears or Katy Perry

    • Paul Matthews
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

      Of course it’s not fair, any way you look at it! From the past, pick three critically acclaimed groups/singers. From the present, pick three commercially successful but often critically reviled of the same. Voila, music is in a tailspin. You could just as well have picked Tony Orlando and Dawn from the past and Elbow from today. Voila. Music is so much better today! OK I admit that the presenter gave many much more convincing arguments, but that fatuous comparison annoyed me.

      I don’t really know Lady Gaga (I’m old) but I’ve heard plenty of people (including Tony Bennett) say how talented she is. And lots of people, including my father who knows a thing or two about music, think Bob Dylan can’t sing and Led Zeppelin is a screechy affront to the ears. I remember trying to impress him with Led Zeppelin II when I was about 13. Fail!

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 12:13 am | Permalink

        Everybody knows Bob Dylan can’t sing. He writes fantastic songs which almost everybody else sings better than he can. 😉


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I like Gaga too.

  34. Jeremy Tarone
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    In 2009 NPR had an article on software that is used to predict if a song will be a hit.

    The software can predict hit songs based on what songs have been hits. I can imagine music executives using such software and I can imagine that would result in music becoming bland and homogeneous.

    On a tangent, those bands and artists that use auto-tune (and other voice changing software) should be beaten with the collected printed (and bound) sheet music of the Beatles. Figuratively, of course.

  35. Ken Phelps
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Sort of pop like, but with a bit of a unique sound. London Grammar, featuring Hannah Reid.

    Hey Now
    – this first cut has a low end that is entirely missing without a good sub or some very full range speakers.

    Wasting My Young Years

    High Life

  36. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I suspect a significant culprit is MTV.
    (My brother tends to agree, and he was MTV’s chief art director for 4 years!!!)

    The focus then became on the music video and if that was exciting, it didn’t matter if the music was slightly monotonous.
    A case in point is Paula Abdul’s 1989 hit “Opposites Attract”. The video is catchy and nicely choreographed (PA’s background was in dance – it honestly borrows good stuff from Gene Kelly’s film “Anchors Aweigh”), but the song without the accompanying music is not especially musically interesting. (Come to think of it, “Anchors Aweigh” doesn’t have especially memorable songs either.)

    In terms of video, I think Lady Gaga is actually quite good.
    She cites Stanley Kubrick as a major influence on her videos, and she really seems to know a lot about the history of film. But music that only works as a supporter to a video is inferior music.

    Aside from pop music, that’s why the film soundtracks of Bernard Herrmann and John Barry are so good.
    The melodic lines are memorable in themselves independently of the film. I own CDs of the film soundtracks of John Barry’s scores to “Lion in Winter” and “Walkabout”. They’re good to listen to without the movie.
    By contrast, I have no desire to own a soundtrack album to “Michael Clayton”. It’s a great film with a fairly pedestrian paint-by-numbers score by James Newton Howard.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 12:20 am | Permalink

      I maintain that the ‘video’ and the music are two different art forms. The ‘video’ (by which I mean a rock video with pictures and music) is a whole, and the visual aspect distracts attention from the music.

      Playing the soundtrack alone is a different experience. If the track (words and music) is good you will hear things you didn’t notice when viewing the video. If the track was just a device to keep your ears busy while you watched then, as a music track, it will fall flat.


      • Merilee
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        I agree with you thst most music videos distract one from the music. Generally the only ones I like to watch are straight filmings of a live performance. Here I am talking mostly about rock videos, but it reminded me also of those classical outdoor summer concerts from Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, in which the orchestra and soloists are top-notch, but the camera spends most of the time panning the grounds and the people wandering around the lawns. Let me watch Renée Fleming up cloee sing Rachmaninov for chrissakes, not some couple canoodling in the cheap seats. Not as bad as André Rieu ( barf) but still…

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 27, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          Well, I think that a straight filming of a classical performance doesn’t distract much from the music (mostly because the video picture usually concentrates on whichever instrument is taking the lead at the time). I do agree, the camera wandering to something completely unrelated would be an annoyance.

          On the other hand, I’ve got the DVD (Pulse) of a Pink Floyd rock concert with its spectacular lightshow which is worth watching for that alone. But I find – having ripped some of the tracks to my MP3 player – that when I just listen to the music, (e.g. late at night with the lights out), I actually hear much more of the structure of the song because there’s no picture to take a share of my attention. I’d never noticed this before and this is of course the exact same track. The experience is qualitatively different.


  37. aljones909
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    The Beatles spent months in the studio but the recordings still breathed. There was space. You can hear all the voices, all the individual instruments. With most records I hear now I have no idea what instruments are being utilised.

    Another issue is the lack of a focus and artistic vision. Take Adele. “25” took 4 years to make an and it’s a collaboration with a dozen or two songwriters/producers. I think Beyonce is even more extreme in the number of “collaborators”. These are corporate efforts.
    Compare this with “Blue” (1971) by Joni Mitchell. She wrote everything, played all the instruments, used one producer. Simple brilliance that’s miles ahead of todays efforts.

    • Merilee
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      “Blue” +many!

    • Nicolas Derome
      Posted September 24, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Blank Space unique words: 175

      Most played Beatles songs on Spotify
      Yesterday: 61
      Here Comes The Sun: 29
      Come Together: 81
      Hey Jude: 81

      Obviously some words will be repeated from one Beatles song to the next, combining these 4, you get 186 unique words.

    • Nicolas Derome
      Posted September 24, 2017 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      Taylor Swift’s Speak Now (3rd) album has her as the sole writer and Nathan Chapman as the co-producer (alongside Swift). She did have a bigger team of engineers and musicians supporting her but it does look like most of the vision and creative aspect came from those two.

      For her two earlier albums, she was still the sole writer on about half the songs, with most of the rest being co-written by Liz Rose and Nathan Chapman as the co-producer. In one interview Liz Rose admitted Swift wrote most of the lyrics and her role was more like that of an editor.

      For her 2 most recent album she had a bigger team of co producers and co writers although she was still sole writer for 11 of 19 songs on Red.

  38. rickflick
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Thoughty2 is a fascinating critic. I enjoy him quite a bit. One thing that stood out for me is his use of the word, “but” which he uses quite often to pivot from one thought to another. He pronounces it “boooout”, which is some Middle English type. This adds a bit of mild humor to a USian ear.

  39. Posted August 26, 2017 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    My personal feeling is that music has been in something of a decline – broadly speaking, of course, with temporary reversals – since, and I can name the date precisely, 1827.

    Whether we take my date or Jerry’s date seriously, decline of an artform – even one so broad as music – is something that has to happen sooner or later. What goes up must sooner or later come down. Or more accurately, there’s really only so much logical space out there: we sooner or later have to reach a point where the best tunes, or the most thrilling musical ideas, have already been hit upon, and there’s not much left for musicians to do but replay them; and anyone still determined to be unique or original must content themselves with mining inferior, less productive veins.

  40. phil
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    While I admit that modern pop music is not to my taste and it seems pretty formulaic I’m not sure it’s all that bad, as evidenced by all the comments above setting out what people think is good music.

    Sure it is difficult to find good music in such a large and crowded marketplace, although it wasn’t always that bad. Fortunately we still have all the good music from the past (well a lot of it at least). Frankly I have so much music that I have already collected, written over the past three centuries, that I am not much inclined to look for anything more.

    And there is some hope that old music will be revived or maintained. A major reason we have such a large repertoire of “classical” music is partly due to the advent of the record player. To satisfy the need for “new” music to feed the bally things and satisfy their hungry owners, music companies had to find and record music that had been pretty much forgotten and replaced.

    Actually the homogenisation of modern pop music might be a boon for older and better music. Modern pop is less likely to survive because it lacks an individual flavour that makes it interesting.

  41. Ben Curtis
    Posted August 26, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    Things change. That’s what life is. The research alluded to in this video sounds like an example of the research deciding what finding is wanted and exploiting the full gamut of researcher degrees of freedom to ensure it is found. This process plagues a lot of social science, psychological, and even medical research. By these variables chosen, lots of 17th and 18th century composers still listened to would be found wanting. To me, the arguments expressed suggest musings of an audiophile Luddite. But that may unfair, I just don’t listen to popular music much, I stick to classical music, modern serious music, Opera, musicals, Blue-Grass, Jazz, and Folk, so I may be missing the point entirely.

  42. Dale Franzwa
    Posted August 27, 2017 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    Great opera lives forever.

    • Merilee
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:49 am | Permalink


      • Dale Franzwa
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        Looking forward to the upcoming Met Opera season.

        • Posted August 28, 2017 at 7:09 am | Permalink

          The original study concerned the popular music that you would hear on radio stations geared to the newest generations, not other genres of music such as opera and other forms.

        • Merilee
          Posted August 28, 2017 at 7:59 am | Permalink

          Me, too. Be sure not to miss the fantastic Norma with Sondra Radvanovsky. She did it live in Toronto last year.

  43. Posted August 27, 2017 at 2:33 am | Permalink

    Some comments seem to suggest there was a year when something called “pop” began. I was there in the 60’s so I think I know what that means.

    However, 100 years ago in New York, any popular piece that wasn’t written for a Broadway show, was called a “pop song”.

    • aljones909
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 4:32 am | Permalink

      I think “POP” came with the invention of teenagers. Popular music existed before then but it wasn’t targeted at the younger generation (presumably because they had no money). Pop then mutated into rock and a myriad of other genres.

    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:32 am | Permalink

      Pop means popular, nothing more, nothing less.

      As long as music existed so did popular music.

      Plenty of pop music on offer in the court of Queen Elizabeth the First.

      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:43 am | Permalink

        Everything classical started out as something popular. Otherwise it would have been forgotten before gaining classical status.

        But I don’t think anyone in Elizabethan times used the word “pop” as a noun. And when were Lichtenstein and Warhol ever popular, except among collectors?

        • Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:21 am | Permalink

          Disagree with both points.

          Much of the classical music that we celebrate today was not popular when it “started out”. That’s hard fact.

          The second of your points is pedantry. In English pop means popular, in different cultures and languages it will have different labels. The concept remains the same.

  44. Jonathan Dore
    Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    I think punk is largely to blame. From its beginnings in simple rock’n’roll in the 50s pop music had gone through an amazingly rapid evolution through the 60s and early 70s, incorporating ideas from an ever-wider range of musical sources while becoming, in compositional terms, increasingly ambitious. Pop music was actually starting to become musically interesting. But all of that promising potential was abruptly cut short by the scorched earth cultural revolution of punk which, whatever its virtues as a political, social, or fashion movement, in musical terms made technical skill, talent, and artistic vision into objects of ignorant ridicule by the likes of John Lydon (a man whose perpetually gurning face I could never tire of slapping). He and his friends sent pop music into the aesthetic tailspin from which it’s never recovered. The New Romantics arose in reaction to punk, but nevertheless allowed themselves to be limited to the severely reduced frame of reference that punk had made acceptable. If you doubt it, ask yourself why no bands have arisen since whose compositional ambition rivals that of, say, Yes, Pink Floyd or Genesis.

    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:26 am | Permalink

      From its beginnings in simple rock’n’roll in the 50s, pop music had …

      No. Pop music has its origins in antiquity.

      I’ve noticed a general trend in this thread for commentators to think music somehow started sometime in the 29th century.

      As to deterioration post 1950s, even pop music in the early twentieth century was considerably more musically sophisticated than R&B in the 1950s. So obviously things fluctuate.

      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:27 am | Permalink

        ^ typo

        20th century

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:40 am | Permalink

        Well, I was referring to commercial, Anglophone pop music of the kind that dominates today, which derives ultimately from blues. The pop music manufactured on an industrial scale and with a global reach. The pop music that Jerry is talking about in his post. That gives it enough stylistic and sociological markers to distinguish it from earlier genres and traditions that might be considered popular as opposed to cultivated.

        • Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          which derives ultimately from blues.

          That’s highly debatable.

          Some does, much more doesn’t.

          I’d suggest that modern instrumentation (electric instruments and use of kit drums) is more the unifying factor that you are searching to describe.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:00 am | Permalink

            I’d agree with that. I’m no expert but I think the advent of electronic keyboards (electronic organs and the like) brought a strong sustained sound that previously was only possible with church organs (with their obvious limitations). And this was at a relatively affordable price.

            And electric guitars produced a pluckable stringed instrument with enough volume and ‘sustain’ (if that’s the right word) to match other instruments. (Previous efforts to produce a guitar loud enough to match the rest of the band for recording purposes had produced the resonator guitar (according to wikipedia), but that has its own slightly peculiar sound, not really that of an ordinary string guitar).
            And as soon as electronic amplification came in, there was the possibility of manipulating the sound to change its tone at will.

            I think this is when pop music really took off.


            • Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:13 am | Permalink

              All good comment except that I don’t think pop music necessarily took of at that point.

              Popular music has always been exactly that: popular music.

    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 5:29 am | Permalink

      I agree. There’s no getting around this.

    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:20 am | Permalink

      ignorant ridicule by the likes of John Lydon

      Hey, mind your tongue! I love the Pistols, almost as much as I love Bach and Lassos.

      Celebrate all music made by humans.

      Despise that made largely by machine.

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 8:58 am | Permalink

        “Celebrate all music made by humans.”

        • Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

          I’ve no objection to you taking the “all” out of the advice if it makes you happier.

          • Eric Grobler
            Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

            I feel much better thanks 🙂

    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      « … ask yourself why no bands have arisen since whose compositional ambition rivals that of, say, Yes, Pink Floyd or Genesis. »

      I just don’t think that’s remotely true; viz. Amorphis, Anathema (“the best band from Liverpool”), Ayreon, Beardfish, Big Big Train, Cryptex, Galahad, Haken, Magenta, Magic Pie, Nightwish, the aforementioned Pineapple Thief/Steven Wilson, Scale the Summit, Spock’s Beard …


  45. Florent
    Posted August 27, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I think it really has a lot to do with “industrialisation” of music as a form of art. Maybe will classic pop music from today not be remembered as well as in the 70′, but if you dig, you can find so much creativity, not necesseraly hidden that deep.

    I recently got back to some classics like the prog band Renaissance ; stumbled on The Divine Comedy “Absent friends” album ; lost myself in Tame Impala… Circle of illusion was nifty too.

    • Sojourner
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      I love Renaissance. Annie Haslams voice is terrific. I think their ’70’s music is much underated and un-appreciated. Unfortunately they took a wrong turn with their music in the ’80’s and lost many of their fans.

      • Florent
        Posted August 28, 2017 at 10:01 am | Permalink

        I’m a big fan of their 70′ music. Some later albums have some single compositions that I like, but it doesn’t beat the full-scale albums of their debuts =)

  46. peepuk
    Posted August 27, 2017 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    There are no objective criteria for aesthetic judgements, so there cannot be good or bad music.

    For me personally, all music gets boring after listening a few times; most music is already boring after 10 seconds.

    Things like Sp’tfy are nice tools for discovering new and good music.

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      “There are no objective criteria for aesthetic judgements..”

      So we cannot make aesthetic jugements between Shakespeare vs Mills & Boon novels or Bach vs
      Justin Bieber?
      You are correct that all judgements are subjective but we build society and culture on a general consensus by intelligent and educated people.
      That is why we make a judgement call that the principles of the American constitution is superior to that of Theocracies.
      To say everyting is subjective does not get you anywhere.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 28, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        “There are no objective criteria for aesthetic judgements..”
        – well there, I would partly agree. If there are objective criteria, I’d say they were very difficult to establish.

        “…so there cannot be good or bad music.”
        That’s where I flatly disagree. There can certainly be good and bad music. I may not be able to prove it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.


  47. Posted August 27, 2017 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    That music is dead as an art form is more an artistic expression than a fact. Just think about the sheer amount of music that you literally can find right in front of you. You have everything ever recorded right in front of you on your PC. Music has never ever in the entire history of human kind been more available—more alive—that it is today. And even better, you can find any genre from any period. You are not stuck with what the radio is playing, or the limited selection you can find in your local record store. If anybody thinks there is too much bad music today it is their own damn fault that they keep listening to it. Who cares what is popular and on the Top 40, when you in a few keystrokes can find anything you want.

    • Eric Grobler
      Posted August 27, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      What if I say who cares if today’s children read good books if I can find any book on Amazon?

      • Posted August 27, 2017 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

        My thought exactly. Mind you, I’m glad about YouTube and lots of other stuff that didn’t exist 15 years ago.

        However, the best music that’s now easy to find is the same music I once bought in a store. And only those of us who already know about it will find it on YouTube.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 28, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

          That is not really true. Youtube with its suggestions of ‘you may also like’ down the sidebar has led me to discover songs I never knew existed.


          • Posted August 28, 2017 at 9:38 am | Permalink

            I’ve found plenty of new good stuff. But the Best Stuff remains the same.

      • Posted August 28, 2017 at 1:45 am | Permalink

        Then I would claim that anybody who says that reading or literature is dead, is exaggerating. Just as with music, books and literature have never been more available to the masses. No, most people will never pick up Dostoevsky or listen to Strauss, but that is their choice. As long as literature and music in one form or another are enjoyed by people, it is well alive.

        My point is that before, we were only left to the mercy of the marketing department of the music industry or publishing houses. If you came from a small town in a small European country (like me), all you had available was what you could find in your local records stores or library/bookstore. Those were not very well equipped. They only had what was popular. If you liked non-mainstream music, they had to order it specifically for you, which meant double the price. Though I like to romanticize record stores, the reality is that most times I went home empty handed without finding the music I liked. Now we can find and explore in a way that was not possible before. Some might not do that, but they would not have done that anyway, and at least it is possible.

        • Posted August 28, 2017 at 2:07 am | Permalink

          I assume you mean Richard Strauss. You do have a valid point about romanticising the merger supply of the past.

          Any relation to Mads Vinding, per chance?

          • phil
            Posted August 28, 2017 at 3:01 am | Permalink

            Kubrik used music from two Strausses to great effect in 2001.

            • Posted August 28, 2017 at 3:42 am | Permalink

              Indeed. I meant “meager” supply, by the way. Damn these spell-checking robots.

          • Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:33 am | Permalink

            I guess any of the Strausses could do – but yes, I was thinking of the opera composer.

            I am not aware that I am related to Mads Vinding, but might be, as I have a relatively large family but dont know many of them.

  48. Posted August 27, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    If you want someone to blame, it’s ze Germans, again, namely Kraftwerk. They ruined everything. They popularized electronic music, and are also ironically the starting point for rap and hip hop (Afrika Bambaata sampled “Trans Europa Express” into “Planet Rock”, the pioneer breakdance/hip hop track). I’m always amused to think of a bunch of stiff Germans unwittingly pioneering a music central to “black” subculture in the US. But I’m facetious here, they didn’t ruin anything.

    I found another metric through that:

    Rolling Stones Greatest 500 Songs. The Wikipedia site gives a table by decade, seemingly confirming Jerry’s point:

    Decade # songs in %
    1940s 001 00.2%
    1950s 072 14.4%
    1960s 203 40.8%
    1970s 142 28.2%
    1980s 057 11.4%
    1990s 022 04.4%
    2000s 003 00.6%


    I found the list dubious the moment I listened to the most recent entry, My Chemical Romance — Welcome to the Black Parade. That’s Pachelbel’s super annoying Kanon in D-Dur all over again. Why is this random song in the top 500? I cannot even tell the criteria they might have used (usually, good music is obviously good even if I don’t like it, personally. Michael Jackson made good songs, which are still not my taste).

    • Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Rolling Stone greatest this or greatest that lists are totally naff.

      Most just reflect the preferences/biases/ignorance and age group of the publication staff and their target readership. And their target readership is by no means representative of the general population.

      • Eric Grobler
        Posted August 27, 2017 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        True, however 40% for the 1960’s probably means something.

    • phil
      Posted August 28, 2017 at 2:54 am | Permalink

      I didn’t realise that the Stones were performing way back in the 40s. No wonder Mick looks like a prune.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 28, 2017 at 9:25 am | Permalink

        He always did.

        If, in the sixties, you took bets on ‘a bunch of guys who won’t live past the age of thirty’ the Stones would head the list, I think.


  49. Posted August 28, 2017 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Ugh, another one of these articles.

    Can we all say survivorship bias?

    Also best to read the original study which says: “Much of the gathered evidence points towards an important degree of conventionalism, in the sense of blockage or no-evolution, in the creation and production of contemporary western popular music. Thus, from a global perspective, popular music would have no clear trends and show no considerable changes in more than fifty years.”

    Kinda the opposite of the claim.

    • Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:39 am | Permalink

      Hi, Tyson. Do you have a link to the study? The claims in the video smell heavily of cherry picking, so I would like to see the original data and analysis.

      • Posted August 29, 2017 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        Sorry, should have posted the link. I had to go searching in the first instance to find the study since no-one seems to have linked it either.

        • Posted August 29, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

          Thank you very much.

          I went through the paper quickly. It is not at all what is said in the video. The main lesson from the article is basically that pop music has stayed the same since the 1950’s. I guess the guy in the video learned statistics the same place as climate change deniers?

  50. Rita
    Posted August 28, 2017 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    I brought a copy of Postman’s book to my book club in order to suggest it as a future reading choice. Of of the other members (a “Lit-Comp instructor at a local college)asked what it was about, then glanced at the cover and said, “Oh, TV”, and that was the end of the discussion. I no longer attend that book club.

  51. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted August 28, 2017 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I thought of another sign of … let’s say just musical change in opinion :

    There’s a restaurant franchise in the northeast called Bertucci’s. Started doing pizza like no one else. Amazing. Played Sinatra and only Sinatra. Bout 5 years ago, was other things in the mix – good stuff, like Ella Fitzgerald, Jobim – then I started hearing this Nora Jones moany emotionally dopey strummy guitar things.

    I think people complained about the 100% Sinatra.

  52. Roger
    Posted August 28, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    If one were to type “original song” into the youtube search box, one would be led to suspect that the only musical instrument to have survived the advent of the 21st century is the ukulele and that all songs are now devoid of choruses for some reason.

  53. Posted August 29, 2017 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    I have the proverbial (lower-case) catholic taste in music. As well as choral singing (eg, recently, in St Paul’s cathedral, London) and playing congas and blues harmonica in bands from time to time, I DJ for a wide range of age groups and events, from school kids at summer fairs and proms through weddings to birthdays ending in a zero or a five (65 has been the upper limit so far; and no wakes or funerals – yet). Yes, there is a lot of dross about in the charts, but there always has been. As a mid-Fifties baby, I got used to hearing (some of) my elders slagging off Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones etc: ‘We had far better music in our day’. I always try to find out what an individual client wants played at their event, but also use my skill and judgement on the day to keep the party moving with stuff not necessarily on their playlist. The biggest floor-filler at a recent high-school prom was the Macarena, a request from a teenager, with students and staff collectively showing their moves. I cried (aged 15) on the day Jimi Hendrix died – and celebrated my 55th birthday partying in Cancún, truly discovering a love of contemporary club music. I find live-mixing a club set hugely enjoyable technically and musically, and like any music that is appreciated by those in earshot brings a huge buzz to a crowd. The science of the study is focused and fascinating but I think narrow textual analysis of music that many people like can miss the point about its collective emotional aspects.

  54. Kevin
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Monteverde use to be good with his madrigals! He’s gone completely downhill since he gave up polyphony and came out as homophonic.

    • Posted August 29, 2017 at 6:38 am | Permalink

      When Sibelius wanted to hear some Monteverdi, he had to arrannge a month-long trip to Itsly. That’s something modern tech has made easier for us.

      • Kevin
        Posted August 29, 2017 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        At least Sibelius managed to sip a coffee in San Marco instead of just ordering a CD from Ebay.
        The more you work at music the better it gets.
        In a culture built on oven dinners from the local supermarket, how much do you work at music?

  55. Kevin
    Posted August 29, 2017 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Needs no introduction:

  56. Posted August 29, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    One side effect of being almost completely unmusical is that I have (a) no memory for it to speak of and (b) a lot of sounds the same …

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