Music and Sound Recording: popular music and protest songs.
1. My personal preference is to experience all things for myself, before passing judgement. The reason for this is that reviewers and critics are only people too and as such, their opinion is as subjective as my own. For the most part, critics are working on a mainstream basis: their opinion is one which they feel would best fit with most people’s expectations of a certain type of movie or album etc. For example, when Incubus released Morning View, many of their fans were dismissive of it for being less alternative than their previous albums. However, that is their opinion and my opinion is that it is one of my favourite albums of all time. It is always worth experiencing something first-hand before passing judgement because then you can make up your own mind: if we only ever listened to or watched the same music and movies as everyone else, there would be no variety – no spice of life.
2. As with anything in life, our natural human instinct is to seek the approval of our peers and loved ones. As children, we draw pictures to gain the approval of our parents and as we grow older, we listen to music, watch movies and read books with a view to fitting in to our social group. As a result of this, our own individuality sometimes becomes a little lost, along the way. As musicians, we may be accused of sometimes trying to endear the critics to our music. This is not a criticism of ourselves, but rather one directed at a society where such a thing as ‘mainstream success’ exists. When discussing new albums or movies with friends, I will voice my opinion and then listen to their one in return, because an opinion can never be wrong. That said, if they have not heard that particular song, for example, I will encourage/discourage them depending on my opinion. Whether they choose to follow that advice is up to them.
3. The obvious answer as to who changed popular music the most, for me, would be The Beatles, Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones. My reasons for choosing these three are that they helped to change what constituted ‘popular music’ for the masses. Prior to 1964 and the arrival of The Beatles (Inglis, 2006, p 3), the most popular acts in America were acts like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Ray Charles (Acclaimed Music). Elvis Presley was perceived as bringing ‘black music’ to the white masses and he was heralded as the first musician who brought sex to the stage. Nowadays, it is rare to see a music video that does not involve nudity, obscenities or at least some allusion to sex. As to whether music evolves with culture, or culture evolves with music, it is a real ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario. The two evolve around each other: the ideas of freedom and love in the 1960s were reflected by the lyrics of Beatles’ songs such as I Want To Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Whereas music in the 1980s reflected the increase in accessibility to technology through the use of synthesisers.
4. In the 1960s, American troops were in Vietnam, engaged in an extremely unpopular war. As a result, “civil rights and war became the motifs of rock bands, folk musicians and Motown singers.” (Batzel, 2009) It resulted in unifying many different genres under one heading and has spanned artists from Marvin Gaye to Kanye West and Radiohead. Whilst the original protest was against the Vietnam war, the artists involved today have turned their political attentions towards American commercialization and its dependency on the media. In 2005, Kanye West released Diamonds From Sierra Leone: a Shirley Bassey-sampling look at the African diamond trade by commenting on the American lust for consumerism and directing attention on Africa. Prior to this, in 1971 (Old Roads, 2008), Marvin Gaye released What’s Going On? A question directed by the lyrics, “Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying” and later clarified as being a comment on the Vietnam War: “You see, war is not the answer for only love can conquer hate.” (Gaye, 1971)
5. Today, most protest songs are done en-masse with dozens of performers coming together for one cause. Less popular are the protest songs that are directly aimed at particular causes. However, when reviewing a list of these songs, they are primarily produced by angrier, less-mainstream bands with a specialized fan-base. Bands such as Green Day and System of a Down with their songs, American Idiot and BYOB, respectively. Whilst the cynic may suggest that these bands are capitalizing an extremely unpopular war, they are also ‘artists with principles’ who do not attempt to blend into the mainstream but prefer to ‘fight the fight’ alone. However, the System of a Down debuted at number one in at least twelve countries, including the US, and BYOB won the 2006 Grammy for ‘Best Hard Rock Performance.’ So, the band hugely benefitted from the success of their song whilst making a subversive comment about the US government’s deployment of troops to the Middle East. Bands like System of a Down tread a fine line between artistic expression and mainstream success but arguably, their protest is still heard far and wide and so whether the band profit from it or not, the protest is still made.
1. “The Top Artists of the 50s.” Acclaimed Music. Acclaimedmusic.net. N.d. Web. 9 March 2011.
2. Inglis, Ian. Performance and Popular Music. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2006. Print.
3. Old Roads [Martyn Smith]. “Re: What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye.” Old Roads. Oldroads.org. 12 Jan, 2008. Web. 9 March 2011.
4. Batzel, Brandon. “Re: The Protest Song Movement: from Marvin Gaye to Kanye West.” Musiquology. Musiquology.com. 11 Nov, 2009. Web. 9 March 2011.