I wasn’t there, but I hear the ’60s were great for music. Consider this: It is the only decade for which there is an entire GE cluster.
I didn’t take that cluster; I took the Los Angeles one instead, and if I ever need to know where the city gets its water, I’ll be glad I did. But I don’t have to take a class about the ’60s to wish I’d been alive to go to concerts back then, since the music endures. All these years later, there is still an asterisk next to the question, “What’s your favorite band?” The fine print reads: “Other than The Beatles.” Records may turn to tapes, to CDs, to MP3s, but the music of the Fab Four is forever.
Or so I thought until last week. On Oct. 25, Taylor Swift released her third album, “Speak Now,” and on Nov. 4 Entertainment Weekly reported that 11 of the songs from the record had simultaneously made Billboard’s Hot 100 chart.
If you’re slightly too obsessed with The Beatles, you’ll know that back in 1964, they had 12 and 14 singles on the Hot 100 during different weeks in the same month. But as EW pointed out, those songs were not all from the same album, and they weren’t all original compositions, thus making Swift’s performance record-breaking on two accounts.
She’s also tops among female artists.
This was not the only recent blow to the greatest legacy in pop music. In early October, the cast of “Glee” increased their number of charting singles to 75, breaking The Beatles’ four-decade-old record of 71. If you’re inclined to blame the current state of pop music on the Mickey Mouse Club alumni from the late ’90s and early 2000s, brace yourself for this cruel irony: It was the Britney Spears-themed episode that pushed “Glee” over the top.
I should say, I have nothing serious against any of these people.
Swift’s music isn’t exactly my style, but I see why her unfiltered earnestness is appealing, the same way Avril Lavigne was on her first album. Whereas Lavigne was obviously and fascinatingly insecure, though, Swift seems to presume a wisdom she does not yet have.
Regular readers will know I’m not much of a fan of “Glee” as a TV show these days, but its covers have been fairly consistently enjoyable since the beginning. And, although it will do nothing for my already-crippled street cred to admit this, I actually love Britney Spears.
But will we love them 40 years from now? Will “Speak Now” hold its own as one of the best albums in the history of popular music? When we talk about the great singer-songwriters, will we speak Swift’s name in the same breath as James Taylor and Joni Mitchell?
The vast majority of our top-selling artists these days, it seems to me, are easily forgettable. Of course, we don’t remember the vast majority of the artists from the ’60s, but I can’t help thinking that most of our hit songs are even more disposable than they were during the disco era, usually considered the height of throwaway pop.
The culprit, I’m sure, is our attention span. In a world where so many people are making so much music to compete for so little space in the spotlight, and with so many ways to discover music, share it and move on to something new, artists now more than ever before have to catch our attention in an instant.
That means the hooks have to be even more sugary, the personalities have to be bigger, and the public stunts have to be more sensational. But candy is a cheap thrill, so we move from one flavor of the week to another.
Meanwhile, bands making complex, intelligent music ““ for me, bands such as TV on the Radio and The Mars Volta ““ are, for the most part, confined to niche markets. Every once in a while, an artist with true staying power floats to the top and makes enough of an impression, presumably, for his or her name to be recognized 40 years from now.
Someday when I’m much older, I suppose, I’ll hear young people listening to Swift’s “Innocent,” and I’ll explain that she wrote the song about Kanye West. They’ll probably know who he is too.
Sometimes this industry baffles me.