old music versus modern music

All my life—or at least since I was a teen—my mom has oft repeated, “Music these days has no tune.” I agreed with her up until recently, when I had to change my views on music, or toss out most of my music collection!

My mom grew up during the 60s and 70s, seemingly the golden age of musical creativity. Motown, The Beatles, you name it, practically every musical act was or had a hit. I don’t remember who were her favorites as a kid, but now she’s a fan of Janis Ian (first and foremost!) and other female folk artists. She also enjoys doo-wop and jazz, and my brother has turned her on to Celtic Woman.

My journey through music is chronicled on my personal site, and although it hasn’t been updated for over a year, and I’ll likely add to it after this entry is done, there isn’t much that’s new. Right now the top five musical artists on my Last.fm profile are The Cardigans, Maria Mena, The Divine Comedy, Lisa Loeb, and the Submarines. Lately I’ve also been listening to Muse (thanks to a certain artist) and to movie soundtracks (yay, Neil Gaiman!).

Mum once told me that she rarely ever likes every single song on an album. No matter how much she likes the artist, there is always at least one song that she won’t listen to. (So when she says that she thinks Vanessa Carlton’s Be Not Nobody album is the best she’s ever heard, and there is not one bad song on it, this is very high praise, coming from her.) Basically, she is picky with her music.

When I told her that I usually like all the music I buy, she thought I was lucky. I thought, although I didn’t tell her, that maybe it just meant my standards weren’t as high. Normally it takes me a couple listens to actually hear the music, and not just a wall of mindless sound. I didn’t know whether I was readjusting my brain to accept the music, lowering my standards, or what. (When I hear a tune I like, I immediately know I like it, no adjustment period or subsequent listens required.)

By this point I began to think that either my taste in music really sucked compared to my mom’s and that I had a tin ear, or that my tastes differed from hers.

In regards to my top five, my mom has had positive comments about each of them (except for Lisa Loeb, but she never complained, which is pretty good). The Cardigans, she likes the bassoon they used in songs. Maria Mena, she sings like Janis Ian. (Which I thought was, whoa! my mom is comparing Maria to her music idol! But she does think Maria Mena needs work in the songwriting department. Sigh.) The Divine Comedy, he uses cornet instead of trumpet, being British and all. (My mom’s instrument of choice is the cornet.) And he reminds her of Jim Morrison. (Although I don’t know if that’s positive or just neutral commentary.) The Submarines, she thinks the female singer sounds similar to Nina Persson, of The Cardigans. She also thinks they’ve got a great sound.

With all that said and done, I thought I was pretty safe in loading up my playlist for a long drive with The Divine Comedy, The Cardigans, and Maria Mena. (They’re in my top three for a reason!) After we’d listened to Casanova, Absent Friends, Regeneration, and Super Extra Gravity, however, my mom complained about my music selection and wanted to put on Janis Ian, saying, “Can’t we listen to something more tuneful?”

This really stung, because to her the tune is the be all and end all of music. She’s commented about modern classical music, telling me there’s a trend now where music written with a recognizable tune is perceived as bad and that she doesn’t understand that philosophy at all!

When she first started reciting her mantra of “no tune, no music,” I agreed with her. It made so much sense as to why I liked songs from the ’60s, all those Motown songs, more so than contemporary pop played on the radio, which sounded like mindless noise to my ears.

Now, although I agree that there’s truth to Mum’s mantra, I also think that a song doesn’t necessarily need a recognizable tune to be listenable.

Recently, I saw this commercial on tv. I don’t remember what product it was selling, but it had a retro ’50s theme to it. At first I couldn’t tell what made it so ’50s, and not just a kitschy, modern take. Then it hit me. There was a jingle! This jingle had a recognizable tune! Is that what my mother has been going on about all along? This outdated, old relic of music composition?

I had to wonder, if I thought this catchy, tuneful piece of music was old, then what did I think of modern music? Not much music nowadays is so melodic as in the ’50s and ’60s, but I don’t consider that a drawback. On the contrary, of the modern music that I do like, despite it not having Mum’s oh-so-necessary recognizable tune, I find it interesting, something new and different, something that can keep my attention.

For example, I think Daughter Darling, Natalie Walker, and Starsailor are great musical artists. I absolutely love their music, how atmospheric and emotive they are. Mum probably thinks they’re tuneless and boring, and for the most part I can’t hum their songs from memory (ah hah! no recognizable tune!), and yet I enjoy the thoughts and feelings their music evokes in me.

So I had to reconsider my view of music. Just because there’s no tune to identify the song by doesn’t mean that there’s no merit to the song. Music has either advanced and progressed beyond tunes and they’re experimenting with music with no obvious structure, or, according to Mum, all the good music has been written so there are no ideas anymore and now everyone is not even trying and they’re just writing crap. I’ve decided to go with the former, and just enjoy what I enjoy!