(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Earlier we had a lively debate on the obvious superiority of cover songs. This is a good lead in to my grand theory of popular music, which is: there is nothing new under the sun, so you may as well repackage tried and true things.
My theory holds that rock music essentially played itself out in 1974 with the creation of Punk Rock. If Rock and Roll was ultimately about rebellion, then you can’t get any more rebellious than anarchists who don’t know how to play their instruments screaming into a microphone. Of course most punks were poseurs. As Johnny Rotten said in advance of a reunion tour for what remains of the Sex Pistols “I am the Anti-Christ, won’t you buy me merchandise?”
But I digress.
Rock has been dead for ages, what to do then? Answer: take other genres of music, put a fresh coat of paint on them, and sell them to the kids as something new and cool! Much of it actually is cool.
The Ramones invented punk by taking 50s bubble gum pop songs, speeding them up, and giving them a psychotic twist. The Police were basically a Anglo-American reggae band. Paul Simon went through an interesting and profitable stage of his career by blending African music into an American context. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and others brought Swing music back into fashion in the 1990s, and Green Day and company did the same with punk, etc. etc. etc.
Bryan Setzer is obviously a master at this- having brought back Rockabilly with the Stray Cats and Swing with his orchestra. His latest album is a fun work that develops swing/rock versions of classical music.
Sting not only dabbled in reggae with the Police, but also jazz and even country music as a solo artist. In Desert Rose Sting wrote an Arabic song and got the biggest Arabic singer to do the song as a duet:
Genre-bending reached it’s natural conclusion with the development of mashups, which I understand to be matching different lyrics and music, with a good bunch of sampling thrown into the mix.
Example: take the tune to Jimmy Hendrix’s Purple Haze. Now do the same tune, but sing the words to the TV theme song to Green Acres in place of those of the original.
There, you just did your first mental mashup!
Some of the DJ’s doing mashups these days are really quite creative. They move in and out of genres within a single song, briefly foreshadow something to come, and then beat you over the head with the best part of it.
Here’s an example of two things you wouldn’t think would work in a fairly basic mashup: Madonna and the Sex Pistols
Ebert once describe Quentin Tarrantino movies as throwing a whole series of big scenes at you. He said that most thrillers might build up to a single shocking or grizzly scene, but that Tarrantino hits you with 12 of them with plenty of homages to previous films thrown in to boot.
A good mashup does the same: rather than having a song build to some single crescendo, they’ll take an alternate path to build to the same crescendo and then flip on to another. You already know how the original got to the crescendo-why not fast forward to the fun part?