Friday, September 20, 2013

B-Sides That, What Is There Left to Say?

January 6th, 2013

Welcome to 2013. Half a century ago, a relatively successful record industry was about to explode with the combined 1-2 punch of the Motown phenomenon and the British Invasion, led by the Beatles—forces often imitated but never ever to be replicated. Ten years prior, the one-off singles market filled jukeboxes

with one-hit wonders. "-tions" and "the" doo-wopper's were all satisfied to just hear their songs on the radio. If any singer songwriter was called an "artist', the hyphenated modifier "starving-" probably preceded it.

To put things in their truest light, the early Motown and British Invader acts followed the same formula. But along the way, the successes of the Beatles (and other Brit art school dropouts, starting with Beatle-to-be John Lennon to members of Pink Floyd to Freddie Mercury to "the other Davy Jones"—a.k.a. David Bowie to etc.) became creative license for high art creative experiments that created cults of album devotees and the FM deep cut professor dee-jays high priest. Meanwhile still bound to the proven business model, singles ruled. Most consumers bought their records to serve as sonic semi-subtle background entertainment. This led to the growth in sales of the so-named "LP's". Dance party people still preferred to spin just the hits, so the singles were still flying off shelves.

Then deep cut discovery jocks began touting their own B--side discoveries. "For you naturambic natives of Iainthipsville"—to quote Shrinegelk Gurglefurt, singles most often had the sure-pick song lathed on the A-side and a throwaway nothing song on its B-side. …A-list/B-list…A-Grade/B-Grade, etc. As Lennon-McCartney's bubblegum top-charting achievements bought them their freedom and right to become "real" composer/producers, the concept album evolved and every track was in play. Label after label followed suit. There were fewer throwaways on B-sides of singles; and on some single releases, the B-sides either replaced the A-side hit or was made an A-side re-release. A notable instance of such was the Kool & the Gang "Ladies' Night" 45 that had the eventual hit ballad "Too Hot" as its B-side.

How has the demise of the 45s preeminence changed music? Well first of all, around the time vinyl was eclipsed by CDs, digital downloads soon after eclipsed everything via iTunes and the likes of the now infamous Napster file-swapping site; the music culture changed. No, not just Pop music's taste consensus, but the value put on music itself. There's a famous story of Motown founder and then chairman Berry Gordy establishing a quality criteria for their releases. According to legend, if someone hearing a record had only enough money to either buy lunch for the day or buy the record, a hit would get the nod over the meal. Then the relationship dynamic between record maker and record buyer was a symbiotic one of performer and patron—literally singing for many suppers. When music is free, there is no such criteria. I educate many of the young folks who come into my studio (Lake Gennesaret SPS, Inc.) about the supply/demand aspects concerning today's music market. I tell them that way back in the 70’s when I was a teenage record collector, someone with as few as three hundred albums would be thought of as a fanatic or at best a super-dedicated music collector. The comments I would get about my 300+ collection were those such as: "Wow. Do you listen to all of them." "You must really love music." [duh] …and "Man…You spend a lot on records." The last line is the difference. This was the peak of the pay-to-play era. Back in that time, many recording artists complained that based upon ostentatious sales successes they weren't getting paid what they'd earned. The uncaring industry scoffed; the labels were getting theirs. But in similar sentiment of Pastor Martin Niemöller's (1892–1984) "…they came for me" quote, technology and its generational progeny grew up understanding music recordings to be things one downloads for free. One could pay if feeling charitable, but if you can get it for free without sounding an anti-theft alarm, it's free, right? Pay if so led, but it is in effect no prerequisite. As desktop HDDs, iPods, and sundry smart wireless devices grew in memory capacity, a 300-album collection was just the start of music library. Moreover, the time that it would once take a teenager to raise the funds to buy 300 $6 records is considerably more than the time it takes to download 4000 MP3's. Where this is significant is with the listening-time consideration factor.

By the time a seventies teen has bought 300 LPs he's listened to friends' collections and listened to his more affordable 45s found on some of those albums. In the beginning, 45 rpm singles were mostly what I could afford. I would play the A-side of a single until I was tired of it, then flip it over to love to learn the song there until I could afford to buy another 2-sided single. I listened to "I'll Take You There" as long as I could, then "I'm Just Another Soldier"
was my jam. Recently, I found myself humming "…Soldier…" just the other day. I find myself singing "One More Chance" more often than do I its A-side: "I'll Be There".

What B-sides all of what I've written thus far makes this NOT a pointless sentimental rant? The answer is: what has come of all this EZ-take it music. If suddenly gold could be made from snot, one cold season and it would no longer be precious. When a three-hundred album collection represents half a decade of acquisitions, it reflects the specific times it reflects. When music loving future composer/songwriter-producers have listened to their money's worth of A-sides, B-sides, and all the deep album cuts, they possibly grow up to be more inventive and reflective constructors of assimilated melodies and lyrical styles that build onto tried and true traditions—creating more timeless works than those without such cultivation.

It's 2013. If trends are truly cyclic and if we do things right, maybe by 2065—giving ourselves two years to rehabilitate popular music—they'll look back on these times as the millennium's glory years.


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