Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jackson’

On April 21st, 2016, legendary artist Prince passed away. That hit a little too close to home. I won’t say I grew up with Prince’s music, but I never knew a time when Prince’s music wasn’t there making waves. Although I haven’t seen Purple Rain, the title track is etched in my memory because it’s that good. Prince’s music spanned generations, crossed decades and influenced all ages along the way (case in point: the one and only time I saw him live, my mom came with me.)

It’s hard to imagine a musical world without Prince. Not just because he’s been around for so many years, but because he never stopped creating. Whether it was changing his name to a symbol, writing lyrics, making music, playing guitar/piano – he was always in the zone. That dedication, that love for music itself is such a rarity these days. In this day and age, there aren’t many artists whose eccentricity, originality and intrigue come even close to Prince’s. Very few have it all: the writing, the producing, the voice, the ability to play instruments.

A lot of the artists blowing up the charts these days are basically kids who have all grown up in the industry, and just keep reinventing their image to stay relevant. But their music is all interchangeable. Everyone’s a one-trick pony, told to dance for the crowds, singing songs written by other people. They come and go in the blink of an eye, maximize the limelight while they can, then disappear. Is this all the music industry has going for it?

Don’t get me wrong: there are obviously musicians out there keeping true to the essence of the music itself, but a lot of them remain unheard. That’s because times have changed, technology has changed, and the music industry has also changed. It’s less and less about quality and more and more about numbers. How many records sold, how many downloads, how many hits, how much money made; how many social network platforms are being used, how to stay in the spotlight at any cost. After all, any kind of fame is good fame.

I mean, someone please tell me what Taylor Swift is doing that’s so revolutionary. She’s constantly praised and acknowledged, but isn’t doing anything remarkable. The majority of mainstream artists are only mediocre when you focus on talent alone. But since it’s slim pickings out there, music fans are forced to go with the flow, roll with the punches. They don’t have any  Prince to look upto, be inspired by; no Bowie to show them how it’s done, no Michael Jackson to take things to the next level.

For future generations, I urge you; I plea with you to make better decisions. Don’t choose what’s in your face because you’re just too lazy to dig a little deeper. Don’t fall for the Twitter feuds, Snapchat faux pas, and leaked albums. Don’t believe the fabricated hype, because as an older more mature music fan I can tell you right now: none of it’s real.

 

Year after year new artists emerge, new songs are created and new stars are born. Or at least that’s how it should be. Lately it seems as though current artists are benefiting from older music – taking an original and making their own version. They always say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that’s not always true – sometimes it’s just downright insulting. Here’s an in depth look at the wonderful world of recycled music, for better or for worse.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Let’s take a look at covers/remakes: when an artist takes an old song, keeps the lyrics the same, but puts their own spin on it without straying too much from the original. It’s common for bands to do this as their own personal tribute to a monumental tune. Like Hendrix, U2 and Dave Matthews Band did for Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, or one of my personal favourites (along with Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”), Chris Cornell’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. They’re not trying to recreate the original song because they know nothing will ever compare; but as fans of the song, they want to be able to play it, to perform it as they heard it.

But it seems now as though some bands cover old songs just to get their name on the map: even if music fans have never heard of them, they will at least recognize the song they’re covering and have an instant familiarity or connection with the band. Case in point. Does anyone remember Alien Ant Farm? Didn’t think so. They covered Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal”.  Michael Jackson is a music genre in himself, so covering one of his tracks is very risky and Alien Ant Farm failed. Miserably. It’s almost like a teenage-angry-band version of the song. It’s whiny, irritating and they even tried to re-enact the video by having portions of the sidewalk light up as they walked on it. They tried to get by just riding the coattails of someone else’s creativity. Shame on them.

Remixing involves taking the audio elements in a track (pitch, tempo, etc) and altering them. I don’t particularly understand the need for an artist to do multiple versions of the same song. Or more confusing are artists like J. Lo who put out an album (J. Lo) followed by a remix album (J to tha L-O!: Remixes) – so basically the same songs, just slightly different. Other than the obvious making more money aspect of it, what’s the point? What does infuriate me is the notion that just because a song can be remixed, that it should be. I know that DJs and producers like to be creative and forward thinkers and remix songs that no one ever would have thought of remixing. But just because you do something no one’s ever done, doesn’t make it right. For example, we all know and love Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. It’s a classic 90’s tune that defined the grunge movement, even moreso significant because of the untimely death of lead singer Kurt Cobain when the band was at peak of their career. Grunge music is about angst, indifference and not caring about appearances. It’s rock, it’s punk, it’s heavy metal and it makes teenagers jump around and get angry. Now who in their right mind thought it would be a genius idea to techno remix it? It’s an insult to the band and borderline blasphemy. A word to the wise, not every song needs a remix: certain tunes just need to be left alone.

Now on to my least favourite form of flattery something I like to call a rip off. It’s a combination of a cover and a remix, completely different from the original but still has enough of its elements subtly placed so it’s still familiar. To those who want to be politically correct, it’s also referred to as sampling. It seems to be an incredibly popular method of ‘creating’ music these days and this I can’t seem to wrap my head around. P. Diddy is the king of rip offs. “I’ll be Missing You” was ripped from The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”; “Can’t Nobody Hold me Down” was ripped from “Break my Stride” by Matthew Wilder. Some lyrics are different, there’s more of a hip-hop vibe but there are just enough underlying features of the song that we think of the original song.
More recently, Karl Wolf and Kardinal Offishal’s “Ghetto Love,” rips 80’s band Chicago’s “Glory of Love” and it irritates me so much because it’s almost like these artists think they’re being clever and getting away with more or less copying someone else’s song but presenting it like its their own – unlike covers, where it’s clear they are just paying homage to a great song.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Pop star Alyssa Reid ripped 80’s band Heart’s “Alone” with her track “Alone Again”; the lyrics in the chorus are unchanged, but the verses are different and the sound is more updated. Wow, how talented of her. Lastly, Lupe Fiasco. Here’s a rapper I actually thought was cool. Until his current track “The Show Goes On” which was completely ripped from Modest Mouse’s “Float On”. Don’t get me wrong, some rip offs can work: Jay-Z’s “Young Forever” which samples 80’s band Alphaville’s “Forever Young” retains the chorus as it was in the original version; almost like Jay-Z is respecting that part of the song by leaving it alone and not trying to take all the credit for track. Whatever the case may be, emerging artists, for the love of real music, try and create your own.
Music from the past heavily influences music in the present. Musicians get inspired from what they grow up listening to, from what they hear around them, what their family and friends introduce them to, so it’s inevitable then that traces of older music appear in newer music. Musicians should stick to what they know and who they are; they should be real and authentic. The minute they start taking short cuts, borrowing sounds from one source, cutting/pasting from another, and slacking on creativity, everything gets mixed up. Leaving us fans wondering who they’re going to imitate next.
Anthems are songs that are meant to celebrate something, be it a country, a sports team, or even a state of mind. They can create a sense of pride, a sense of belonging, and even provide the soundtrack to one’s emotions. Everyone hears songs in different ways, so an anthem for one person, may not necessarily be an anthem for another person. But if you happen to be looking for anthems, songs that perfectly illustrate certain emotions, here’s a list of some of my favourites. Feel free to take note.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         “Wonderwall”. Oasis. What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? 1995.
This is my comfort food song, mac and cheese in form of music. I’ve known it for so long that it feels like a childhood friend, like home and I immediately feel at ease any time I hear it. It’s an anthem for friendship, for harmony, and it always manages to bring people together (well done Gallagher brothers, well done). Case in point. A work trip to Quebec City with a couple of friends lead us to a very French pub where we were asked to mingle with a bunch of strangers. Without any alcohol in our systems this proved to be quite the daunting task. Everyone was a little uncomfortable and no one was making any progress. Luckily there was a live performance on the way: a solo act with an acoustic guitar. He was doing his sound check, testing out the mics and in pure rehearsal form, he starts strumming the first few chords of “Wonderwall”. As the intro is being played, people start paying attention, heads start nodding to the music, all eyes on the guitar. As soon as the lyrics start, in some sort of knee-jerk reaction more than half the pub starts singing along – like they all recognized their good old friend. By the time the chorus hits, the entire crowd is singing in unison and minutes later, conversations became easier, friends were made and memories created. And the performance hadn’t even started yet.

“Still D.R.E.”. Dr. Dre featuring Snoop Dogg. The Chronic 2001. 2001.
This track since the first time I heard it has always been my party anthem. It brings me back to my undergrad days where I vaguely recall parading down the streets of Toronto behind a blue pick up truck blasting this song – minus the hydraulics of course. Those days were carefree, fun and all about having a good time. And so is this song. Whether I’m cruising in my car, out with friends or just hanging out at home, my mood always improves when I hear this song. It’s always in the background during the hair straightening or make-up applying stage of getting ready to go out, to set the vibe for the rest of the night. In its versatility, this song is also a classic underdog song – the guy everyone forgot about who’s back with a vengeance and ready to take on all the haters. After all, who doesn’t feel good after telling a whole bunch of people off? Guaranteed to get any party started.

“Scream”. Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. HIStory: Past, Present and Future. 1995.
The first feeling that comes to mind when hearing this song is frustration. Situations that are beyond your control, or that are influenced by other parties, or that you just can’t fix will take a toll on anyone and create such a high level of pressure and frustration because there’s nothing that you can do about it. You can’t change it, whether it’s a confusing relationship, a bad work day/week/month, or even an injustice you witnessed. The minute you realize that doesn’t it just make you want to scream? It’s the ultimate venting anthem because it vocalizes all of one’s pent up frustrations in 4:38. Janet’s presence on the track adds an element of conversation between her and Michael, almost like they’re screaming either at each other or in turn about the same issues that frustrate them. So if you’re ever feeling the heat, getting stressed out or flustered and you just don’t think you can handle it – throw this track on. And scream.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday”. U2. War. 1983.
This is my anger anthem. Sure anger and frustration are only separated by a fine line, but a line nonetheless. We all know this song refers to the infamous ‘ “Bloody Sunday” incident which occurred in Ireland when British troops killed unarmed civilians. It already stems from anger and outrage. When I’m completely livid about something (which happens more often than I’d like to admit), I need to hear this: it rallies all those feelings of anger and lets them out. Bono gets angry on the vocals, the Edge and Adam broadcast their anger on guitars and Larry displays it on his drums. They get angry, so you get angry. You can tell they’re pissed about something and since you are too, it’s like they just understand. I occasionally catch myself ‘drumming’ on my steering wheel after a bad day and it just makes me feel better. The steady beat throughout the song, almost like the sound of soldiers marching, is anthemic in itself and makes it impossible to sit still when it’s on. If you’re having trouble dealing with anger, try air-drumming to this song, it works wonders.

“Just A Girl”. No Doubt. Tragic Kingdom. 1995.
This is definitely a girl’s anthem. A combination of frustration, anger, confusion common amongst all females at one point in their lives or another. It perfectly describes everything I was feeling when I was a teenager. To a T. The song basically goes on about how society treats girls differently for the mere fact that they’re just girls and how us girls are just sick of it. We’re not these docile little dolls that need to be protected from the world and coddled and treated like children. At least I’m not. Growing up with two brothers I got to experience this double standard first hand and though most boys won’t admit it, I can guarantee you they still think girls can’t do half the things they do as well as they can. I’m sure some of you girls see it in the work place also – I sure do. It’s like people don’t take us as seriously, or don’t think we’re as capable, regardless of our qualifications just because we’re girls. Or when people assume a girl isn’t as good an athlete as a boy, and so the girl has to constantly prove herself. How is that fair?? It’s by far the worst feeling, feeling like you’re second rate compared to someone else, because of something you have no control over, because of who you are. And sure I have begrudgingly started to accept it as I get older, but that doesn’t mean this anthem still doesn’t resonate as strongly as it did back then.

Anthems have the ability to bring people from all walks of life together, get people feeling the same feeling, singing the same lyrics in unison. They evoke a certain sentiment in all of us, and when you feel it you’ll just want to sing along.