What ever happened to melody?

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What ever happened to melody?

Postby nolabass » Fri Apr 18, 2008 2:40 pm

Was forwarded this little ditty from a musical friend. I agree with it basic content. Not bashing rap you understand....just observing the trend in American music. Any thoughts?

Sam Smith
Watching "American Idol" your editor has been struck by the absence of melody in many of the tunes chosen and the lack of interest in it. Which led him to google the following:

STEPHEN HOLDEN, NY TIMES 1988 - What ever hap-pened to melody in popular music? I'm not talking about tunes - hummable little ditties with short catch phrases - but a fluid, cohesive theme of at least 16 bars in which no musical phrase is repeated. Richard Rodgers's ''Some Enchanted Evening'' has such a melody. As it flows along, moving through rich, unforced chromatic harmonies, its indelibility can't be explained by the hammering home of a formula. Like the greatest popular melodies, it seems to unfold organically, with rightness that transcends analysis.

Today, the very word melody has an almost quaint ring. . . ''Grooves'' and ''hooks,'' two of the operational words used today by commercial pop-record makers, do not apply to the world's great melodies. A groove is the essential quality - the combination of texture, speed and pattern - of a recording's hard rhythmic pulse. A hook is a regularly repeated, abbreviated musical catch phrase that identifies a song or record. Not necessarily a part of the tune, a hook can be an instrumental figure within the texture of an arrangement. As time goes by and pop music becomes ever more involved with polyrhythms and electronic drum sounds, certain grooves are acquiring the characteristics of hooks. ''Some Enchanted Evening'' was created long before anyone ever thought of either hooks or grooves. . .

If melody in contemporary pop ballads has been reduced to formula, it has all but vanished from the mainstream of guitar-based rock and urban dance music. . . But the most important indicator of the continuing decline in melody has been the popularity of rap music, which dispenses with melody altogether. Last year, LL Cool J's ''I Need Love'' became the first rap ballad to reach the Top 10 on the pop charts. . .

Because the singing of songs is such a basic human instinct, melody is not about to disappear any more than is music itself. What has happened is that technology and global telecommunications have combined to transform the very form and content of popular music. As spontaneous cultural exchanges have taken place around the world, Anglo-American pop has lost its European-oriented ethnocentricity. At the same time, pop sound has become an omnipresent fact of urban life. The vocabulary of pop has become similar to the computer languages in which so many of us converse. Brevity, immediacy, speed and directness are what matter. Pop's dreamy enchanted evenings of long ago have become today's hot, beating night
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Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby Freddels » Fri Apr 18, 2008 2:47 pm

nolabass wrote: Not bashing rap you understand....

You mean Sneakers-in-the-dryer music. [smilie=icon_biggrin.gif]
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Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby nolabass » Fri Apr 18, 2008 3:34 pm

WILLIAM WEIR, SLATE, 2008 From 1960 to 1974, 128 instrumentals reached the Top 20, while only 30 did from 1975 to 1990. And since? Five. . . While wordless pop has disappeared from commercial radio, pop music has become ever more long-winded. The year-end top 10 songs from 1960 to 1969 have an average word count of 176. For the 1970s, the figure jumps to 244. In 2007, the average climbed to 436. The top 10 for the week of Feb. 2, 2008, features six songs over the 500-word mark. Chris Brown and T-Pain use 742 words in their "Kiss Kiss." While music can express what words cannot, music rarely gets a chance in contemporary pop, and certainly not in "Kiss Kiss." Except for the first two seconds, vocals fill the song's every moment. Entirely absent are instrumental phrasings that allow a song (and singers) to breathe. . .

In contrast, the Great American Songbook is a bible of pithiness. "Blue Moon," "Over the Rainbow," and "Embraceable You" all make their cases in fewer than 100 words. Will Smith, Kenny Chesney, Bon Jovi, and Beyonce all have songs called "Summertime" yielding word counts three to five times as high as Gershwin's tune of the same name. They all have a similar message: "The livin' is easy." But with only 92 words, Gershwin says it best by letting the melody become part of the story. . .

Science offers some clues, if not a smoking gun, in the music vs. lyrics debate. Neuroscientists believe that the brain uses a different system to store and process music than it does words. Not much research has been done on which affects us more, but an American University study published in the Psychology of Music in 2006 gives a slight edge to melody. When listening to happy or calm songs, subjects found that lyrics dulled the tunes' emotional kick. Words, however, enhanced emotional responses to angry and sad songs. When researchers mismatched the melodies and lyrics-sad words with happy music, etc.-melodies held more sway with participants' moods than lyrics. . .

I understand the appeal of the human voice, and I certainly can't begrudge anyone's joy at singing along in the car (unless I'm in it). But why such shabby treatment for the instrumental? Marketability. A band is practically faceless with no crooning front man. . .

Finally, there's Bob Dylan, the man perhaps most responsible for the word/music power imbalance. With the releases of "Wipe Out" and Lonnie Mack's "Memphis" in 1963, things looked bright for the rock instrumental. Then came The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and his 564-word "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall." That year, the New York Times likened his songs to "speeches delivered to guitar chording" and called him "an inspired poet." Two years later, the Times reported that everyone was copying him.

SAM SMITH, 2003 our editor has long held the view - although quietly for fear of being mugged - that one of the earliest signs of America's cultural collapse was the introduction of the disco drum machine. I was, to be sure, a drummer at the time, so the opinion may have been a bit premature and biased. Nonetheless, since then popular music has become increasingly stripped of melody, chord range, internal variety and surprise, and dynamics. With the arrival of rap, music itself became virtually irrelevant.

These are not matters of taste, but observable phenomenon. For example, the history of western music, until fairly recently, was in part the story of expanding the number of acceptable chords, something that can be readily seen in comparing, say, a traditional folk song to the works of Thelonious Monk. This does not mean that the folk song was bad, only that the later work was far more venturesome at the least, and more creative at best. Growing cultures keep breaking ground. Declining ones just wear it out and break it up. Retrenchment and regression replaces exploration and adventure.

Part of the problem is the myth that we all like the same sort of music. . . .

SAM SMITH, 2002 Michael Jackson sold 47 million copies of "Thriller," which sounds like a lot until one realizes that Dunkin' Donuts sells more cups of coffee than that in one month. In fact, more people have a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee than watch Bill O'Reilly on the same day. But note where Dunkin' Donuts stands in the media cultural hierarchy compared to Jackson and O'Reilly.

It's actually far worse than that. An ABC News poll last year found that 38% of Americans considered Elvis Presley the greatest rock star ever. Jimi Hendrix came in second at four percent and Michael Jackson tied Lennon, Jagger, Springsteen, McCartney, and Clapton at 2%. In all, the polled listed 128 different names. Even among 18-34 year olds, Presley beat Hendrix 2 to 1, albeit getting only 19% of the votes.

The ABC News poll is unusual in that it gave actual percentages. Normally, such surveys only list rank, leaving the reader who prefers number six on the list feeling out of it and leaving all readers badly misinformed.

One way to create more honesty in such surveys would be not only to use actual percentages but also instant runoff voting in which second and third place votes would be factored in. These celebrity surveys instead use the same misguided principle that distorts our politics, confusing whoever is first past the post with the consensus choice.

The matter is further complicated by the fact that we do not know how the over 200 million Americans who did not buy a copy of 'Thriller' felt about Jackson. Some were married to a purchaser, some have downloaded it, some picked it up second hand or from a sibling. But is it not possible that among this vast pool we might not actually find a many people who disliked Jackson's music as liked it?

Yes it is. And although I have not been able to find an American study that deals with this issue, a fascinating examination of Japanese adolescent tastes in western music suggests what we might discover.
Here are the percentages of Japanese adolescents who liked very much a genre of music followed by the percentages of those that didn't like it at all:

Rock: 45, 28
Rap: 26, 43
Top Forty: 25, 43
Classical: 23, 48
Jazz: 23, 45
Techno: 22, 47
Soul: 17, 53
Country: 15, 53
Heavy Metal: 12, 48
Punk: 11, 66
Easy Listening: 10, 60

Note that rock is the only category in which the percentage of those not liking it at all does not near 50%. Note also that one of the most disliked genres is something the media has labeled "easy listening."

One of the reasons the media doesn't tell you things like this is that it would be too embarrassing. Far better to using rankings that obscure the fact, for example, that you could fit the entire American audience of CNN into a place the size of Washington DC.

So if you can't stand Jackson or his music, don't feel bad. You are just part of the silenced majority. Go down to Dunkin' Donuts have a cup of coffee like a real American.


SCIENTIFIC BLOGGING People who score high on intelligence tests are also good at keeping time, new Swedish research shows. The team that carried out the study also suspect that accuracy in timing is important to the brain processes responsible for problem solving and reasoning.

Researchers at the medical university Karolinska Institutet and Umea University have now demonstrated a correlation between general intelligence and the ability to tap out a simple regular rhythm. They stress that the task subjects performed had nothing to do with any musical rhythmic sense but simply measured the capacity for rhythmic accuracy. Those who scored highest on intelligence tests also had least variation in the regular rhythm they tapped out in the experiment. . .

According to Fredrik Ullen, the results suggest that the rhythmic accuracy in brain activity observable when the person just maintains a steady beat is also important to the problem-solving capacity that is measured with intelligence tests. "We know that accuracy at millisecond level in neuronal activity is critical to information processing and learning processes,” he says.
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Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby ~lightwaveryder~ » Fri Apr 18, 2008 3:59 pm

i'd like to weigh in on this one. I think i have a pretty good handle on a possible explanation.

the cannabalistic/symbiotic relationship between advertisers and radio stations and record labels.

The radio people know that stations and shows that get ratings, sell ads. The people who make money off of the ads
(companies) then re invest their dollars where the ratings are.

The radio stations play records that keep them in the high dollar advertising brackets, and dont play 'genres' of music
that dont fit the demographic of what the ad guys are shooting for.

the labels send out songs to radio, to sell records, and make money, and they don't send out records to stations that won't play
them. They have promoters who prepare sort of demographic reports that successfully place new records with stations that will
play them. Hey free bagles and pizza for everyone today, we are promoting the new 'iron dick' record, check it out.....you see
how far that would go.

The labels then stop, or severely limit, their intake of bands they can't market to these markets, and the cycle is repeated.

I believe this process actually started around the time of big radio hits, early 60's etc. By the time the 80's rolled around, the system
was entirely built this way.

thank you for your time

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Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby GLJeff » Fri Apr 18, 2008 4:13 pm

Freddels wrote:
nolabass wrote: Not bashing rap you understand....

You mean Sneakers-in-the-dryer music. [smilie=icon_biggrin.gif]

Haha, good one!

I can relate, there aren't too many metal bands since Iron Maiden that I like because of the lack of melody in the music.

Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby harleyyy » Fri Apr 18, 2008 5:41 pm

Freddels wrote: You mean Sneakers-in-the-dryer music. [smilie=icon_biggrin.gif]

That's exactly what inspired this tune after I pushed the geetard in a swimming pool [smilie=cheeky-smiley-025.gif]

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Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby Templar » Sat Apr 19, 2008 7:47 pm

Growing cultures keep breaking ground. Declining ones just wear it out and break it up. Retrenchment and regression replaces exploration and adventure.


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Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby Lieutenant Dan » Mon Apr 21, 2008 7:38 am

I stopped actively listening to the radio in the late 1990's when the rock scene just got too 'samey.' That certain modern rock wall of sound, over compressed production kicked in for sooo many bands. Music couldn't breathe anymore.

Granted, there are still some interesting things out there, but so much LESS than decades past. I think it's very telling that so many of today's youth are more drawn to the great bands like Zep, Beatles, Hendrix, and other's from the 70's in particular than they are to modern music. A lot of them aren't finding what they are looking for in todays music, or what the music companies think they should like.

I wouldn't say melody has been completely lost. Rap is a genre that has never been big on it, so I accept that. What bothers me some is how rap has gotten so popular and delivers in many cases the wrong messages to the wrong people, influencing white, urban kids to turn their caps sidewise, speak Ebonics and flash gang signs they aren't in. [smilie=angry-smiley-005.gif]

However, in a lot of what's out there now for rock/pop, melody is there, but a lot of the times it's treated as an afterthought to artist image and production. I can't distinguish one female singer from another these days in pop. The same with many modern rock bands.

Now, I DO really like Nickelback's last album a lot. That's really excellent music, with great lyrics and attitude and playing...there are the rare shining lights here and there, but they are nearly buried in the mediocrity of the rest of the biz.

For me, the last great wave of music was in the 90's. The Seattle music scene. Trip hop artists like Morcheeba, Portishead, Sneaker Pimps and Puracane. Beck's "Odelay" album. Nine Inch Nails. Great stuff by bands like REM and U2.

I've not heard a breath of fresh air in popular music since....probably Porcupine Tree's "In Absentia"...and that probably doesn't count since it's not popular. LOL

I've rambled a bit, but the short of it is that I agree music is just regurgitating on itself right now. We are due for a new wave at any moment to shake things up. Bring it on.
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Re: What ever happened to melody?

Postby Golem » Mon Apr 21, 2008 8:50 am

nolabass wrote:
........ rankings that obscure the fact, for example, that you could fit the entire American audience of CNN into a place the size of Washington DC. ..........

" .... you could fit the entire American audience of CNN into a place the size of Washington DC .... "

Uhhmmnnn, "Could" ??????

... and "size of" ????

All sounds so hypothetical. I always thought that at least 99.97% of the American audience of CNN was already IN a place EXACTLY the size of DC. Same shape, latitude, and longitude as well.


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