Every person who picks up an instrument can or will eventually play it. But can they write songs. The talents to play an instrument and to write a song with music, lyrics and melodies are very different talents.
Spotify’s Discover Weekly is based on recommending songs from artists I could like based on my listening habits. Song’s is the key word here.
When bands start the marketing push for a new album, they release a song or two or three or four in the lead up to the album release.
And when I come across a song from a band/artist I haven’t heard off, I normally go to their Spotify catalogue to hear more. And sometimes, I am surprised at how good the band/artist is, so I dig deeper into the back catalogue. Sometimes, I can’t believe how poor the other songs are, compared to the one that Spotify Discover recommended. Other times, I enjoy the listening experience, but when it’s over, I can’t really remember the titles or the melodies the next day.
So it got me thinking, why?
Music to me is all about emotions. It needs to give me an emotion, a feeling or a message that connects. If the song doesn’t connect, then all the marketing and promotions is pointless.
I heard “The Stage” from Avenged Sevenfold and the song just didn’t connect. Give me “Shepherd of Fire”, “Hail To The King” or “Coming Home” any day over “The Stage”. I was going to check the whole album out, but at almost 75 minutes long, it’s a decent investment of time, so I deferred it. And when I did hear the album, I heard some brilliant sections but no real song.
And in 2016, it’s hard to sort through the noise and there is some quality, some not so quality and some almost quality, if you know what I mean.
I remember towards the end of the Eighties, hard rock and glam rock bands got signed all the time. The greedy labels over saturated the market with diluted quality. They got talented musicians and sold them the dream of fame and fortune. Once they had their signature on paper, they told them to go and write songs like “Cherry Pie”.
Have you read or heard what Jani Lane (RIP) said about “Cherry Pie”?
Google, “Jani Lane wishes he never wrote Cherry Pie”.
The album was done and it was going to be called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” but the label wanted a hit song or they wouldn’t release the album. Jani had two options, tell the label to go “Fuck themselves” and he knew his songs would never be heard or he could comply with their request, write them a sugar pop song and get the album out.
We all know how the “Cherry Pie” story goes!
And when Warrant released a mature and super heavy follow up album that didn’t contain a hit in “Dog Eat Dog”, it bombed commercially. Suddenly the band had no major record deal.
If you look back at Warrant’s career, it was a song that sold the album to the masses.
Europe broke through the mainstream with “The Final Countdown” and the label then wanted them to write more hits, even calling in outside writers to assist with the process. I am pretty sure when Joey Tempest sat down to write “The Final Countdown”, he didn’t say to himself, “okay, it’s time to write a hit song”. He just wrote a song and that was it.
Kiss (who was already working with outside writers) decided to replicate the “Slippery When Wet” formula with “Crazy Nights” and “Hot In The Shade” and didn’t really succeed commercially, although I do dig this era of Kiss.
Meanwhile Aerosmith’s career got resurrected when Joe Perry and Steven Tyler started to work with Jim Vallance and Desmond Child for “Permanent Vacation” and “Pump”. When “Get A Grip” came out, each track had contributions from different songwriters.
In the end, a song or two would sell an album past the million mark. In other words, songs sell, albums don’t.
The same deal goes for prog bands. They need great songs to draw the listener in.
“Pull Me Under is the song which broke Dream Theater to the masses. It is also the most simplest Dream Theater song to learn and play. The whole “Images and Words” album is full of great songs with the progressive technical passages fine-tuned to small sing along sections. I swear I can hum “Learning To Live”, “Metropolis”, “Take The Time” and “Under A Glass Moon” to you. Dream Theater built a career off this album. If Dream Theater’s career started off with the technical wizardry of the Jordan Rudess era, they wouldn’t be as big as they are right now.
When Ozzy’s career was relaunched with the Blizzard Of Ozz band (that became the Ozzy band when the record was released), it was on the back of great songs, not on controversy. A simple catchy AC/DC style song like “Flying High Again” got radio airplay. It was only a matter of time before “Crazy Train” and “Goodbye To Romance” would become radio staples, along with “I Don’t Know”.
When the Whitesnake album exploded in 1987, it was really on the back of “Here I Go Again”. It was a cross over hit. Credit John Kalodner, who signed Whitesnake to Geffen and knew what needed to happen.
When Def Leppard released “Slang” in 1996, it was an attempt to play to a new audience that never liked them to begin with, and never would. But what had disappeared from “Slang” was the song. I purchased the album and played it to death over an eight week period. Three songs got more attention than others, but for the life of me, I am struggling to think of the titles. I think “Deliver Me” was one title. I could go to Google and check, but music should be instant recognizable if it is great. And “Slang” had nothing great on it.
When Megadeth released “Risk”, I was curious as to what audience they were trying to win over? It definitely wasn’t the core audience. Industrial fans wouldn’t embrace them and the speed metal fans would abandon them. But if the album had some quality tunes, then maybe a different story would be told. But it didn’t.
In songs we trust.