Monday, December 6, 2010

Is music with a purpose good music?

A lot of us live in this dreamworld that music is created by artists and is destined to become artistic.

To quote a songwriter or two, "dream on."

All music is written for a purpose. Perhaps a song is written specifically so that it will hit number one on the charts. Perhaps a song is written because the rent is due next week. Perhaps a song is written because the people in the indie club or the indie radio station will really really like it.

Regardless of why it is written, the song is written to appeal to some audience - if not the millions of people who purchase songs on iTunes or Amazon, then perhaps it's written for the 20 people that will gather at the local bar on Thursday night.

Lennon/McCartney, John/Taupin, Page/Plant, Gore, whoever - in the end, they're all hacks who are writing songs for a purpose.

Of course, there are more overt cases of writing songs for a purpose. For example, you might co-write a song to feed the world. When you write such a song, you want to make sure that it is most effective in achieving its purpose of feeding the world.

But is the song any good? Well, why don't we ask Bob Geldof?

I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is Do They Know It’s Christmas? and the other one is We Are The World.

Any day soon, I will go to the supermarket, head to the meat counter and it will be playing. Every ****ing Christmas.

Spinner offered this critique:

Most of us have mixed feelings toward deathless charity anthem 'Do They Know it's Christmas?' -- on one hand, it has raised millions for good causes and become something of a yuletide institution, on the other, it features groan-worthy lyrics like "There won't be snow in Africa" and Bono's anguished yelp of "Tonight, thank God it's them, instead of you."

And let's face it, "We Are The World" will probably not be performed in formal live shows in the year 2200. Even when it was being recorded, there were misgivings:

Billy Joel told Rolling Stone in 2005, "Most of us who were there didn't like the song, but nobody would say so. I think Cyndi Lauper leaned over to me and said, 'It sounds like a Pepsi commercial.' And I didn't disagree."

Of course, "We Are The World" also suffered from its being recorded out here, in California. The British recording session for "Do They Know It's Christmas" was laid back, but when Geldof arrived in El-Lay to support the American effort, he noted that Los Angeles was not so casual. Or, to put it more accurately, some people were relaxed about the whole affair, while others were not:

Springsteen flew to L.A. immediately after his Syracuse shows to participate in the recording. Arriving at the Los Angeles International Airport, Bruce rented a Corvette, and drove to the studio, parking in a lot across the street. In a humorous anecdote from his autobiography, Is That It?, Geldof recalled that Kragen at one point walked in and said, "'Bruce Springsteen has just parked his car on the other side of the road and walked across -- by himself -- to the studio. Can you believe it?' I could believe it. 'No, I mean he drove himself, no chauffeur, no limo. Then The Boss walked across himself, no bodyguards, no security.'"

The whole scene was parodied by Billy Crystal, who performed (as Prince) the song "I Am Also The World."

Billy Crystal, Hulk Hogan & Mr. T
Uploaded by mjdwfan. - Sitcom, sketch, and standup comedy videos.

At the end of the day, both songs (and all of the related songs) were Events with a capital E.
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