While accepting the Grammy award for best rock performance this year, Dave Grohl, guitarist and lead singer of the Foo Fighters and formerly the drummer of Nirvana, said “For me this award means a lot because it shows that the human element of making rock is the most important. Singing into a microphone and learning to play an instrument and learning your craft is the most important thing for people to do. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about sounding correct. It’s not about what goes on in a computer. It’s about what goes on in here (points to heart) and what goes on in here (points to head.)”
Naturally, Grohl, whose band recorded their latest album with a bare-bones analog set-up in his garage, ruffled the feathers of the pop and electronic music communities. He quickly penned a press release clarifying his remarks at the Grammys. In it, he says he’s a fan of all music, and there have been amazing advances in technology but “some of these great advances have taken the focus off of the actual craft of performance.”
Frankly, I wish Grohl had not muddied the waters with the press release and left his acceptance speech for what it was—an honest wake-up call to the music industry. What I think he was getting at, and I could be off base here because I don’t know Grohl personally, is bands should sound like bands and singers should sound like singers.
That’s why we need rockers like Grohl. We need that sort of honesty and attitude. We need bands who sound like they spent hours upon hours playing in a garage or basement. We need musicians who want to pour their soul into an instrument or microphone. We need rock music.
Unfortunately, rock bands seem to be inhabiting a a smaller and smaller portion of the mainstream spotlight.
It seems like a simple concept, “bands should sound like bands,” but with technological advances, such as Auto-tune and other sound engineering tricks, it’s something more and more artists are moving away from. Now, listening to top-40 radio is like being in the movie “Blade Runner,” you’re forced to wonder if what you’re hearing is more machine than human.
It’s not just the sound that’s becoming more artificial; it’s everything. Pop music is quickly becoming songs that consist of nothing more than flashy costumes, a drum machine and buzzwords that are easy to remember while drinking at a club, masquerading as lyrics.
Artists such as Katy Perry, Ke$ha, LMFAO and Nicki Minaj are leading the way in this brand of pop music. What bothers me is many of their songs are so transparently superficial. The music, the performance and the lyrics aren’t coming from any sort of actual sentiment. They’re manufactured to the point of absurdity. They’re not real.
“But Burk, pop music has always been that way!”
Well, hypothetical reader, I take issue with that statement. While making this argument in the past, peers have pointed to Motown and other 60s pop music.
I understand the argument, as many Motown hits were not written by the artists who performed them, but by a team made up of Lamont Dozier and brothers, Brian Holland and Edward Holland Jr. However, those songs still came from some sort of emotion that can be traced to a particular moment in time.
It’s also important to remember that the Temptations, the Four Tops and the Supremes could, you know, actually sing. I’ll eat my hat, and probably a couple of other people’s too, if Nicki Minaj can hit every note in “Baby Love.” Of course there are the arrangements, too. Listen to the incredible arrangement behind Smoky Robinson and the Miracles on “Tears of a Clown.” You’re just not going to hear that in a Katy Perry song.
But what can be done about this threat to music as we know it? Simple, start embracing rock bands.
Listen to a garage-rock band like the Whigs, who are currently recording their fourth album in a house in Woodstock, NY, instead of a fancy studio in Los Angeles.
Listen to a folk-rock band like Middle Brother whose songs emanate heartbreak so real you can almost hear the empty whiskey bottles in the background.
Listen to a pop-rock band like Dr. Dog, who are the modern successors to 60s bands such as the Band and Big Star.
Listen to the Black Keys who switch effortlessly between blues-rock, R & B and garage-rock with rawness and conviction.
Listen to rock music.