For those of you who are fans of Reddit, NPR, and everything in between (because everything else does fall between those two), you might have already seen the amazing mashup of 6 hit country songs by aspiring country artist Harry Nilsson. For those who did not, check out the video below.
As Nilsson confirmed in an interview, the point being made here is that there is clearly a hit “formula” of sorts which is being repeated, conscientiously or not. The “formula” is so clear that you can find 6 recent hits that are lyrically, structurally, and tonally similarly enough that they form a coherent “new” song when layered on top of each other.
Where I land on this type music, however, is that it’s fine because it’s catchy, it gets people laid, and no one is saying it is something more than what it is. It is actually a common joke within country music that there are a lot of repeated themes. The Rascal Flatts song “Backwards” even puts this to lyrics, noting everything you get when you play a country song backwards (hint: everything).
What is annoying is when you have stupid, formulaic blather exalted as deep and intellectual. Which leads me to Part I of my (potentially) multi-part series – “Things Guaranteed to Sell Records.”
Things Guaranteed to Sell Records: Opposites
For this first shot over the bow of intellectual dwarfism (they don’t like to be called midgets), I focus on a specific subset of emo white guy guitar music- singing about opposites. While that sounds overly specific, once I dig in with a couple examples I am sure many others will spring to mind and you too can write an emo white guy “opposites song” (emo white guy not included). My two case studies for this will be the Jason “can I buy a vowel Pat?” Mraz song “Life is Wonderful” and the recent Passenger hit “Let Her Go.”
You’ll notice Jason’s sheer genius here- take the first stanza:
It takes a crane to make a crane, it takes two floors to make a story,
It takes a hen to make an egg, it takes an egg to make a hen,
There is no end to what I’m saying
- Where DOES he get this magic with words? The paradoxical nature of birds and eggs? And how it is circular that one begets the other?! It seems like that applies to many situations, if only there were a well-known saying which captured this…
- I LOVE the bold choice of having really simple lyrics and then not even bothering to make them rhyme. Most people invest in one or the other.
Two more points here aside from the ridiculous simplicity of stating opposites in a whiny voice:
- Am I the only one who imagined Passenger as a small African man? I was shocked to learn he is a fucking English white guy. To be unnecessarily specific, in my mind’s eye I saw him as a small African guy (like the main pirate in Captain Phillips), sitting in a log cabin looking out a window longingly around dusk watching snow accumulate on the window sill.
- He has the gall not only to sing about opposites, but roll in the over-used trope of “you don’t know what got till it’s gone.” Joni’s Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” covered that back in 1970, and clearly it resonated so much it was covered by FOUR MORE ARTISTS since then (I liked the Counting Crows version best myself).
Anyway, enough said – I leave you with a diamond in the rough, which I am convinced would hit #1 with enough airtime.