Sunday, May 01, 2005

Atypical Music Tastes

That's me. I have pretty strange music tastes for someone my age, from what I gather. I'll give you an example, my top ten most played songs on iTunes:
1. Velvet Water by Stereolab
2. What Does It Take (To Win Your Love), Junior Walker and the Allstars
3. Hello Like Before, Bill Withers
4. Medo de Amar, Paula Morelenbaum
5. If I Had You, Frank Sinatra
6. Reasons, Earth, Wind, and Fire
7. What's Happening Brother, Marvin Gaye*
8. What's Going On, Marvin Gaye*
9. Carnival, the Cardigans
10. Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Marvin Gaye*

*Yes, I'm a big Marvin Gaye fan.

Anyway, where I seem to diverge from most of my peers is in liking 1970s R&B and 1960s music from the Motown record label and similar sounds. Some musical acts that I especially like include Earth, Wind, and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes, Junior Walker and the Allstars, the Jackson Five, Al Wilson, Bill Withers, and the Isley Brothers. If I am wrong in saying that most people in their late teens and early 20s are not especially into this music, let me know, but if I'm right, I must say, my peers are missing out. Especially in regards to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, which may be one of the top 20 best albums ever produced.

Though I confess to being one who tends to be the last to know about new "Indie" groups, and I'm certainly not the Indie expert (I tend to like Indie bands once they become popular, if then) I think in an effort to search for the latest and greatest music, people my age miss out on a great American tradition of good music from the 1960s-70s. Sure, most people like the Beatles, and there is always that contingent of Doors and Bob Dylan-lovin' college kids, but Motown and R&B is less prevalent in the tastes of young people. I conjecture that this is not so much a result of them having a distaste for the music but more of them not having heard the music.

One could even implicate race for this lack of awareness, but I can't assert that with certitude without having looked into it more. An interesting point does come from considering race though, because while college-aged kids listen to a lot of recent rap and hip-hop, they listen to little R&B and Motown, music that very often offers more hope, more thoughtful lyrics (well, circa the late 1960s and on), and less stereotyping. In my African American Studies course last quarter, we read an essay by scholar Cornel West asserts a very similar idea that has to do with rap's "nihilistic" affects. Recent rap especially has this quality, in my opinion.

Take lyrics from Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" ...

Mother, mother, there's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, hey

Father, father, we don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today, oh

...versus those from Fifty Cent's "Hate it or Love It," which integrates some of Gaye's "What's Going On" into the song.
I wanna live good so shit I sell dope
For a four-finger ring
One of them gold ropes
Nana told me if I passed I get a sheep skin coat
If I could move a few packs
I get the hat
Now that'll be dope
I expect some to call Gaye's lyrics sappy or unrealistic, but he wrote them in response to the turbulent Vietnam War period, which does not a sappy person make. Gaye expresses compassion and an awareness of peoples' suffering where Fifty Cent expresses cynicism and corruption. I'm willing to engage challenges to my ideas here, as always.


Steph said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steph said...

You're not alone! I don't know anyone else my age who likes the soft rock stylings of Bread. I'm also a big fan of Frank Sinatra and the Carpenters. You should check out the stations "big hits of the 70s" and "soft rock." I think you'd like them. My take on my music tastes is that I've been heavily influenced by my parents' music tastes...I grew up listening to Oldies 104.3 with my mom and easy listening greats like Nat King Cole, Frank, Dean Martin, Vikki Carr, and Jack Jones with my dad. What have some of your influences been?

With regards to your observation about the contrast between lyrics of Black music of the good old days and today, I'd say that rap like 50cent is popular b/c it appeals to some of the socioeconomic struggles of much of its consumers. Look, that guy is off the street like me (well not ME) and he's swimming in Cristal and frosted up with ice and chains. It's like kind of like buying into a little bling-bling of the American dream...Of course, in any discussion of contemporary Black music, we should call attention to many artists who have more positive messages, call attention to social realities, and tell less commodified stories of their struggles and everyday lives. For example, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Common, the Roots, etc.

A short google search of "R&B rap positive" came up w/ this article:
An interesting quote from recently popular R&B artist John Legend, ""What we're doing is reflecting the values of where we come from," singer-pianist Legend, 26, said just before launching a tour with Keys. "Our values were shaped by our upbringing. We come from regular middle-class families. We weren't exposed to gun violence, and it wouldn't occur to us to carry weapons or pose with them. The people that do that usually do it for a reason - they actually have concerns for their lives."

I'm definitely not an expert on Black culture, so I'm open to any enlightenment.

Elaine said...

Hey Steph,
That's a great comment and could be a blog entry in itself. That John Legend quote is interesting too. By the way, "soft-rock stylings of Bread" is the best phrase ever. I forgot to talk about them or the Fifth Dimension or Seals and Croft and such bands in my blog, but good light rock is sorely missing today as well.

Sandi said...

I may not be in your age group, however, I have very different taste in music than my peers. When I was in college it was all rock and roll, and here I was listening to classical and big band. Give me a little Glen Miller and I am in heaven.
I must however admit to loving the 60's mowtown era as well.

Gonzalo Del Rio Villasenor said...

Does Rod Stewart count as different? I'll take the album TONIGHT I'M YOURS over any other album.

barb said...

How 'bout this one from the Black Eyed Peas, my current favorite song this summer, "Where is the love?":

People killin', people dyin'
Children hurt and you hear them cryin'
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek?

Father, Father, Father help us
Send some guidance from above
'Cause people got me, got me questionin'
Where is the love

Nations droppin' bombs
Chemical gasses fillin' lungs of little ones
With ongoin' sufferin' as the youth die young

A war is goin' on but the reason's undercover
The truth is kept secret, it's swept under the rug
If you never know truth then you never know love

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, The Game's lyrics read "so SHOULD I sell" not "so shit I sell"... aka reflecting a struggle, not encouraging the behavior. I guess our society is just focusing on different issues than before.

Anonymous said...

I think barb missed some of the point, if only because that song is's trying to hard and just comes across badly. It's not deep. It's just annoying. It's still pop crap, so keep trying.