Thoughts on a great big world

A Great Big World has finally released its latest single, joined by Futuristic. (I’ve often complained—as in my earlier post, "Has Rock Gone Soft?"—that too many young musical artists take FOREVER between record releases.) Hopefully their next album will be forthcoming soon.

I don’t quite know why I like this duo so much, given their over-the-top earnestness, lack of grit, and absence of irony. Maybe it’s the childlike wonder and innocence they express. Or the pristine quality of their choir boy vocals. Or their courage to sing songs like this, reflecting a great big worldview.

I continue to encounter a great big world when I play the street, seeing a broader swath of humanity than ever before. When I did street singing decades ago I never questioned whether listeners would understand the songs I was singing. I do now. (Music is universal of course, but it helps to understand the language of the lyric.) Now I’m considering whether to sing tunes in different languages. Yet another example of how a small business (me, inc.) needs to serve a global market. Not to mention the generational thing: many Millennials don’t relate to the older tunes I grew up singing. My very youngest fans don’t seem to mind, however.

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The summer that rock grew up

guitar-756322_1280 I’ve been on a buzz with classic rock lately, inspired by recent reunion concerts and especially by the 50th anniversary of a very consequential summer for rock & roll.

As mentioned in detail in an earlier post, The Byrds’ recording of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”—with its surrealistic flow-of-consciousness imagery—was a paradigm break for popular music, kicking off the summer of 1965 in poetic fashion. Suddenly, lyrics were worth listening to on AM radio. But that song was only the beginning.

Three groundbreaking singles followed it up the charts over the next two months: “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones; “Like a Rolling Stone” by Dylan himself; and “Help!” by the Beatles. Thanks to a swerve in direction by what had quickly become the ruling troika of rock—Beatles, Stones, and Dylan—popular music as an art and as an industry began a major pivot that summer which is still being felt a half-century later.

Though The Beatles had single-handedly resuscitated rock & roll as a life form 16 months earlier—and would breathe new life into it in subsequent years—it was Dylan’s influence that had rock critics and fans take "the words" seriously. Dylan had already re-imagined folk music, but now he was lobbing a grenade into the musical mainstream. Prior to that, few would confuse art (or poetry) with rock & roll. And few would look to rock songs for serious truth-telling.

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Business lessons from the Eagles

Three weeks ago in Hartford, Connecticut, I caught the Eagles for the first time in 35 years. This band is still at the top of its game.

From day one The Eagles approached their career differently from other LA bands I knew—which I remember well because I was scuffling around the Troubadour coffeehouse when the band first started playing the "Hootenanny" open mics there in the early 70s.

After so many promising country rock bands had run aground (including Poco and The Flying Burrito Brothers) the Eagles—and especially their leader Glenn Frey—were determined to do it the right way and become a major brand. (Warning: a business lesson is on its way.)

Frey wanted a band that had all the ingredients for success. “Everybody had to look good, sing good, play good, and write good. We wanted it all. Peer respect. AM & FM success. No 1 singles and albums, great music, and a lot of money.”

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