Disco Sucks?

When I was a kid, I had a button.  I carried it everywhere I went.  It was neon green and said the simple words, “Disco Sucks?”  I remembered everyone asked me where I got this button and I proudly stated that it was my stepdads.  I remember all the teachers would giggle when they saw it.  In fact, almost every ‘adult’ did. Now, I was told growing up, all about this disco period that my parents lived through.  I watched Saturday Night Fever, like everyone my age did. I even understood that there were many people that hated this time and music style.  This is where the button came to play.  Apparently there was an entire anti-disco movement, created mostly by musicians and music lovers.  They felt that disco promoted drug usage, homosexual acts, and took away from the sound of rock and roll.  Critics, among many others, started a wave of anti-disco phrases-one being “Disco Sucks.”  They would create merchandise and market it to anyone willing to make a statement.

After reading Love Saves the Day by Tim Lawrence, I now understand and appreciate what disco did for music.  To begin, disco created the DJ.  Francis Grasso was not a musician, he wanted to be one.  He used contemporary rock and soul songs (anywhere from Beatles to James Brown) and would “mix” them together.  Grasso was an artist.  His ability to segue a certain beat of one song into a separate beat of another song was unique and well favored.  This is the beginning of the true form of DJ-ing-creating a bridge between unrelated sounds.  Lawrence goes into detail on what Grasso’s tactic was: his left ear would listen to the incoming music while the right ear hears the produced sound.  He was able to combine a rock and roll song and transform it into a rhythmic dance piece while keeping true to the original artist work.  He was also able to combine two records with each other, regardless of the conflicting tempos.  Grasso was an artist. Because of him, I now have a better understanding and appreciation for DJ’s. 

Grasso’s beats formed a sexual revolution. 

One thing to point out is that music of this time was not recorded.  Since technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today, you could only hear this mix if you were there.  Records did not have the capacity to hold 3 hours worth of music-this is how long some sets ran.  Also, since it was created in the moment, the music was put together in the club.  The noise of the club caused the sound not to be clearly recorded onto disks.  So, not only was disco a type of beat, it was a lifestyle.

Lawrence explains the scene of these discotheques.  They were underground havens that attracted mostly gay men and encouraged drug usage.  The music brought on the need to dance and the dance was better experienced when they were ‘high.’  In a way, this was a place where people coped with a society that wasn’t ready to accept them for who they were.  You could be open with you sexuality and no one would judge. 

So when stating “Disco Suck?” it really meant that I was questioning why this movement was so opposed.  If anything, disco is underrated.  It should be thanked because today’s pop music, rap beats, and trance/dance/techo sounds would not exist.

Hijacking Our Hits

When I hear the word hijack, I automatically associate it with a negative connotation, usually referring to stealing-or an unauthorized use of someone else’s property. Michael Coyle states, in his article Hijacked Hits and Antic Authenticity: Cover Songs, Race, and Postwar Marketing, that “many made their reputations by re-inventing familiar songs: they project their identity precisely by singing songs associated with another voice or style.”  Many artist “cover” a song that has an origin with another performer.  This idea was started way back in the time of early jazz.  Musicians would take the music sung by African Americans and re-produce it with a white artist.  Coyle spends some time arguing that many artists begin to label their song as theirs, due to the fact that people associate the song with the artist that originally made it popular.  While I believe this was the case back when there was a segregation of music based on culture, I no longer feel this exists.

There are plenty of instances where up and coming artists pay tribute to a band they respect.  In many indie rock clubs, a band will purposely cover a song, in order to draw an audience.  Weather its to draw a new crowd or an established artist covering a song of another band they respect, it is common practice to cover songs. If you know the song already, you can sing along.  Many bands use this phenomenon. 

The Ramones and The Beach Boys: Do You Wanna Dance

Jeff Buckley: Halleluiah

Johnny Cash: Hurt

Green Day: I Fought the Law

Rise Against: Any Way You Want It

Aerosmith: Come Together

Reel Big Fish: Take on Me

Save Ferris: Come on Eileen

Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies: every song they play is a cover.  That’s their gimmick. 

By the art of covering songs, I feel it makes it easy to cross over music genres.  Since there weren’t as many music styles in the early days of recorded sound, artist were labeled with their single.  There are so many different types of styles that many listeners don’t even know their favorite song was by another singer.  Many current artists go beyond covering by sampling another artist in their piece.  Just like The Clover’s, “Fool Fool Fool,” the same song can be under R & B, while another version is under Pop.  In Jason Derulo’s hit, Whatcha Say, he sampled Imogen Heap’s single Hide and Seek.  Funny enough,  when I heard this song for the first time, no one other than me knew his chorus was ‘stolen’ from another artist.  Puff Daddy: aka, P Diddy: aka, Sean Puffy Colms,…etc, makes a living from this art.  

If anything, music is associated more so with a program, not the artist that performed it.  For example, when you hear the song Power of Love by Hewie Lewis and the News, the movie Back to the Future should come to mind.  Another example: For the Love of Money by the O’Jays.  Who are they? What song is this?  Oh, it’s the Apprentice theme song.  Although this single came out in 1973, and we’ve all heard it before this television show, you still associate this song with Donald Trump’s infamous line, “You’re Fired!”

I would have to challenge Coyle’s statemet, “since mid-century, it has become virtually impossible to hijack a hid because audiences today tend to identify songs with singers.” Times have changed as well as the music.

The Empires of Swing

The Jazz Singer (1927) was Hollywood’s first motion picture to include sound and spoken words.  Although movies prior to The Jazz Singer contained a soundtrack, none simultaneously synched the dialogue with its sequences.  For the first time, the actor’s voice was ‘heard’ in real time.  It has been questioned why, up to this point, all film were silent. Even with The Jazz Singer, the majority of the movie is constructed as a silent.  Most of the scenes have a classical underscore along with typed up dialogue and narration.  There are only a few instances where musical numbers and spoken words were recorded on set with the Vitaphone. The rest was added post-production.    So, if they had the ability to do this during a few sequences, why not create it throughout the entire film?

One reason was that this new technology was just that-new.  The recording capabilities at time were not advanced enough to handle an entire 90 minute film.  The Vitaphone use to record sound had to sit right beside the camera.  This hindered the creative direction that the storyline could take.  The actors had to remain centered, or staged, setting back to theater style productions.  It is almost as though the advancement of sound set the motion pictures back in time to early Edison shorts.  The audiences, at this time, were “used” to silents.  Many felt that the idea of syncopated sound in a motion picture was a fad and would die out. 

However, the conversion to sound was an expensive process, as mentioned in chapter 8 of Millard.  Not only did the have to re-build the studios, they also had to update the theaters as well.  Once the idea of talking pictures became more widely received, film producers moved into the music publishing business.  Most of the movies that were successful at this time were musicals.  The industry felt the need to cover both film and music together-in order to make more of a profit.  Films were becoming a successful way of promoting music because the viewers can watch performances by their favorite actor (theater) as well as hear them sing (radio). 

After the movie is put out, they can later publish the music on disks for the viewer to buy and later play in their own homes.  This was a brilliant marketing move that is still being used to this day.  Movies especially carefully construct a contract with certain musicians and songs in order to form a soundtrack.  During the credits at the end of the movie, you can see who the artist was, the title of the song, and what label they are on.  Some of the greatest CD’s that I own are soundtracks from my favorite movie. The music/motion picture business has moved a long way from the 1920 yet they still use the same concept in cross marketing to enhance profits.

Blog #3 Millard

What comes to mind when you hear the word Jazz?  For me; I imagine a dark smoky underground night club with a line up of musicians anywhere from ages 18 to 80.  They pick up an instrument and begin to play. Even they don’t know where the music will take them.  It is about the moment. 

However, we will never know what the original Jazz scene was like.  Due to the limitations of recorded sound at this time, we have no way of ever knowing its true form.  All we know is what was passed on to musicians through time.  While some of the earliest recordings of Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Louis Armstrong seem authentic to the creation and growth of jazz, we have to be aware that the the industry played a major roll in shaping this genre of music.  

In Chapter 5, Millard  reminds us that in the early 1920’s,  jazz was “a carefully crafted music that was created and promoted by the industry of recorded sound.”  We have to consider what was acceptable during this time period.  The earliest jazz came out of the deep south and was formed from a mixture of blues and folk music (among other influences as well) and mostly performed by African Americans.  At the turn of the century, it was not yet socially acceptable to see any one other than white performers.  Therefore, music was adapted and covered my white men and women.  As time progressed, so did music.  With the invention of radio and recording machines.  However, the earliest recordings did not accurately represent the way jazz was during this time.  Since wax disks and cylinders were the only medium to record on, performers were stunted in order to adapt to its limitations.  

First off, as stated earlier; many artist performing jazz  were white because black performers were rarely allowed into the recording studios. Second, the recording medium wasn’t advanced enough to capture the true sound. Wax cylinders/disks were unable to pick up certain notes/frequencies therefore limiting what can be recorded.  Finally, the cylinders/disks  and 78 -rpm used to record on could only hold up to 3 minutes of  sound-constraining the true form of jazz.  The content was diluted or “white washed” to appeal to white audiences-feeling this was the target consumer. Early jazz, as we know it, was a commercialized sound created by the music industry.

Growing up on early jazz, its hard to believe what I thought I knew, wasn’t real.  Well, not that it wasn’t “real,” it wasn’t what i thought it was.  I’m conflicted. Seeing, for the first time, African American artist finally breaking through the colored barrier of the early century-I always felt this was a way to find their voice for the world to hear.  Only, it was shaped around a money making industry.  One can only wonder; if it wasn’t for all these limitations at the time, how would today’s music differ from what it is now.

Presentation Topic

For my presentation on the 1970’s part II, I am going to discuss the birth of punk rock music.  I will start with its roots-NYC/Lower East Side, the bands that formed the music-but mostly giving tribute to The Ramones, why the music was created, and the influence it had on England/UK punk music.-bringing it back to the US in the 1980’s.

Music in the 1960’s shifted from the boppy 1950’s rock and roll sound.  Punk wanted to get rid of the 10 minute guitar riffs that went nowhere.  They wanted to remind their listeners what real rock was.  Bands like The Stooges, New York Dolls and Patti Smith.  Many think that punk started in the UK with bands like The Clash and Sex Pistols.  However, the punk movement started in NY long before them.  On a 1975 tour, The Ramones played in London and members of the two bands were in the audience.  Not long after, punk found its way into the UK.  The only difference is that they had a different story to tell.  Their lyrics and sound centered around a struggling economy and violence that seemed to worsen as time went by.  This began to influence the US punk scene and it shifted from the innocent grungy punk to the pierced/tatooed/mohawked image that formed in the 1980’s.

Blog #2 Millard

In chapter 2 of America on Record, Andre Millard discusses how Thomas Edison sought to find use for one of his most recognizable invention, the phonograph.  Edison was a business man, so it only made sense that his inventions had the intent to make office work easier.  He hoped the the phonograph would take the ease out of transcribing messages and turn it into a “paperless business.” This was all nealy a decade before fax machines and digital media. However, he soon realized this wouldn’t make him the most profit.

The brilliance of Edison is that he understood the art of business and just the mere act of being just an inventor didn’t make you money-it would be from selling the product to the consumer in hopes they find a use for it.  So, not only did he invent the object, he formed his business company around the product he invented and marketed it it commercially. Edison built an empire around his the phonograph and formed The Edison Speaking Phonograph Company in 1878. An enterprise was built thereafter-finding a need for sound in everyday objects such as, talking dolls.  Later on, motion pictures began to surface into society with another one of Edison’s inventions-the kinetoscope. Edison realized that he could profit off of creating and selling recorded sound and thus, wax cylinders were born. They would play on the same machine that he also invented and sold to the general public

One can say that Thomas Edison was the Steve Jobs (co-founder and CEO of Apple) of the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s.  Just like Edison, Jobs created a market around his inventions.  The best comparison is the I-pod.  The actual device is the main invention.  The idea of also creating a program that would supply the files for the player is the same as Edison’s wax cylinders to the phonograph. I-tunes caries a specific MP3 encrypted file, that can only be played on the device it is owned by.  Even after the I-pod, Jobs continues to market new inventions based on the original-from I-shuffle, I-touch, to the newest: I-pad.  All have the trademark “Apple” logo, identifying the creator-the same as Edison’s face on each cylinder released on the market.

It isn’t a coincidence that almost a hundred years later, the same marketing idea is still being used.  Edison knew what he was doing and set a business standard that is still being followed to this day.

Blog #1 The Problem With Music

“The band members have each earned about 1/3 as much as they would working at 7-11”

The Problem With Music, by Steve Albini, is one of the most informative articles I’ve read in a while.  I’ve always known that the music industry is corrupt however, this article puts it all into perspective. 

Before reading this, I wasn’t sure what an A&R’s exact job was.  I found it fascinating that the record companies hire-what seems to be “sold out” musicians to hunt for new aspiring bands/artists.  They know that they are new to the business so the bands will trust the A&R reps.  I am a huge punk music fan and to find out that Lyle Preslar-the guitarist for the early 1980’s punk band Minor Threat was one, blew my mind.  He has worked with many famous artists including: Glenn Danzig of The Misfits.  If I were a musician trying to get my big break and Lyle came up to me, I would trust every word he said.  After all, he lived through it, and I’d trust he would have my best interest in hand.  Little would I know is that he is at the bottom of the food chain-having little or no control of the contract I would be duped into signing.  It is almost a lose lose situation.  You can’t get money or publicise yourself without being signed; yet, once you are signed you are bound into a contract that prevents you from profiting on your own royalties. 

The breakdown of profit versus expenses shows that it is almost impossible for an artist to make money as a musician. (It really does give a new idea behind the label, “starving artist.”) This helps to explain why bands-in fact very GOOD bands, take years to become known and have a breakthrough into the mainstream industry.  It also makes you question why a band that has been around for a while, seems to change their ‘sound.’ Is it due to the band feeling they need to find a new niche or are they controlled by the industry? It also makes you wonder why so many seem to have disputes and leave the band-playing interchangable musicians with other bands. Does the industry hinder the creative juices that the artist fought to make known? 

Reading this article reminded me of a band that I discovered in middle school.  They were, at the time, not as well known.  After their first mainstream single topped the charts, their sound seemed to change. They came out with a few more albums after and their sound continually to something unrecognizable when comparing to their first album.  This band is the Goo Goo Dolls.  Originally, they were a punk/rock band signed with Metal Blade records.  Their single off of A Boy Named Goo, titled Name,was their first single to be played on the air.  It combined their original punk sound with a grunge/alternative twist.   Under their new label Warner Bros., they released to what is their most successful album to date, Dizzy Up The Girl.  Their single Iris topped the charts and was featured in the City of Angelssoundtrack-coincidentall distributed with Warner Bros. as well.  For this, they toned down their image and sound to something that is more received by the alternative/adult alternative community.  So, I pose the question: was it the bands choice to explore a new sound or was it the record label encouraging them to alter their sound in order to accommodate the interest of the label-to what they feel would make them more money in the long run?

Hello…my name is…

Hi all!  My name is Debbie Perry.  I graduated High School in 1999 from a small town in Allen, TX (a suburb of Dallas).  I spent the first 4 years at a community college there. However I decided to move to NY-where I am from originally, to take some time off and finish up my degree.  I attended Hunter College for a few years-studying Film-and then transferred to Queen College and will be graduating in the Spring with a Major in Media and Minor in Art. Currently I live on my own in Sunnyside and work full time at a hospital pharmacy in the city. If I’m not working or going to school full time-I am with my friends watching football (Bear Down), baseball (lets go Mets),  listening to live music on the LES, finding the best burger in the city, or taking a spontaneous road trip anywhere in a drivable distance.   

I am looking forward to this class and excited to learn more about the music business and its roots. I’ve always had a passion for music and would love to be the person responsible for bringing music back to MTV. I guess I could say that it’s my long term life goal : )

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