Saturday, January 19, 2008

Is Today's Music Actually Good?

Everyone loves to dump on popular music of today, claiming that it is garbage that does not hold a handle to the classics of the past. But I've noticed a trend in the last few years that may be changing things.

Years ago, there were the classic theme albums. Each song was an atomic element of the album as a whole. Songs typically had an opening, bridge, and chorus that were often thematically similar. The success model was to get enough songs from an album on the radio, such that the album would eventually hit a tipping point to become a "must-have" purchase. Looking at songs from my lifetime, for example, think of albums like "Thriller", "The Joshua Tree", or "Nevermind".

Theme albums seem to be a rarity these days. With the advent of iTunes and the iPod, it is all about the individual song. Although albums seem to be weaker in general, my argument is that individual songs are actually getting more varied. I believe this may be because a simple song may no longer be enough (sub-consciously) to merit our spending our hard-earned 99 cents. The new model is to get a song played on the radio enough that it's multiple themes can eventually convince the listener to purchase it, almost as if they are getting multiple songs-within-a-song for the price of one.

For example, here are some sample classic songs I picked at random, along with the number of distinct thematic segments that you can clearly hear when listening to the song:

Old Songs:
Eleanor Rigby - The Beatles (3)
Desperado - The Eagles (2)
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd (2)
Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana (3)

And now some "New" Songs:
Clumsy - Fergie (4)
No One - Alicia Keys (5)
Stronger - Kanye West (5)

Note that for the new songs, I just selected the songs that are currently 1-2-3 on the pop charts. I think these are the type of songs that people would typically call "garbage", but in fact you at least have to admit the ambition of how many distinct segments they include. And I am not ashamed to say that I actually enjoy listening to these songs.

I love The Beatles, and can still sing many of their songs by heart, but if a song like "Hey Jude" were released today, can you imagine anyone wanting to put that on their iPod?
Update: A few months after I wrote this, No One and Stronger both won Grammy's. No love for Fergie, however. (But I still think that song is under-appreciated.)

Quick Observation Quiz

Click here to see if you can match my score of 20 on the observation quiz.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


My only rule for whether I will try a new internet game is that it has to be immediate to learn and quick to play. So I decided to try the game Filler. This is the first such game that I was able to master where I could continue indefinitely at the highest level. It brings back fond memories of reaching the Tetris "zone" back in 1989, where one could get to level 9 and go for as long as our concentration would hold out. (Note: after doing this, the nice thing is that you never have the desire to play the game again)

If you want to try to go for my score, above is a screen capture after completing level 35. Note that I still have 34 lives left. I decided to just lose all of my lives and see where that would put me on the high score list: