Songs with substance tend to survive longer

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Songs with substance tend to survive longer

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References – everyone likes them. Well, not everyone. Some people just want simplicity. Or maybe most people want simplicity at least some of the time. But at leas some people like references at least some of the time, and references give things staying power. This point I think is best made with the example of music.

Bands and other musicians that make songs about love are a dime a dozen – maybe less expensive. Artists ranging from Bieber to Mariah Carey are examples. They may be wildly successful, but their music is simple – catchy, but simple. At least with respect to the subject matter being sung about.

In contrast to this are bands and artists that discuss current events, or history, or even conspiracies. Artists like Jedi Mind Tricks, KRS One, Chuck D, NOFX, Bad Religion, and others, discuss events that some times listeners have not heard about. I remember the song “KRS One” by the band Sublime, where Brad Nowell sings about the rap group KRS One and discusses how he knows things because KRS was rapping about stuff that he didn’t even learn in his history class. I had not heard any of KRS One’s music when I first heard the Sublime song with their namesake. Like any good musical reference I don’t understand, I was compelled to look into this rap group, which had clearly influenced Sublime. I am happy that I did.

I think when people listen to music that has substance, they like the idea of “getting it”. I think this is true in general, that people like to understand references, but is especially true in the context of music. Just like the inside joke, when bands use lyrics that mean more than the sum of their words, the reference is given extra importance to the listeners. If those listeners don’t “get” the reference, but like the band or artist, they often are compelled to look up the meaning of that reference, like I did with Sublime singing about KRS One.

These musical references will more likely stand the test of time as compared to less substantial songs about, for example, love. There are at least two reasons for this. First, there is less competition relative to music with substance. We live in an age where simple, catchy music about love or insubstantial matters can turn otherwise medium talents into millionaires. Second, in several or more decades, when looking back at the history of music, songs with meaningful references will stand out, especially if the subjects of those references become newsworthy. An example of this would be Lynard Skynard’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, which refers to Neil Young’s “Southern Man” in what, upon first listen, seems to be a negative way. However, upon examination and research, one realizes that the Skynard song was a praise of Neil Young and Mr. Young even covered the song in 1977 weeks after the deadly plane crash that lifted Skynard’s fame.

Consider: Will anyone remember Justin Bieber in 200 years? I would say no, and you might agree/ But you might tell me that people wont remember Skynard or Neil Young in 200 years either. Well, what if in 200 years, a class is being taught about the history of the South during the civil rights era? It is likely, I would say, that in the event of such a class, Skynard and Young may be important talking points, whereas there is not an equivalent class that would want to study Mr. Bieber, unless mere commercial success is worth studying in the future.


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