JAIMIE VERNON – SO MUCH MUSIC, SO LITTLE TIME

Merch table_Hamilton_Dave Rave_2002Back at the turn of the Millennium (which was 14 years ago!) I worked at Sam The Record Man’s flagship store at 347 Yonge Street on the third floor. I was the content editor of their fledgling on-line shopping store. It was my job to review the newest releases coming in from the record labels – most specifically Canadian content. I had been hired to deal with CanCon due to my online presence with the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia. It was usually kept to a few dozen albums. It was a dream job.

Sams

Listening to tunes and reviewing for 8 hours a day…and when I had time, I was to choose some back catalogue in the store’s inventory and start back-filling reviews for those releases as well. Easy-peasy, right? Yeah. No. Sam’s warehouse boasted 248,000 individually titled CDs in the database. I’m sure they didn’t have it all in stock. But even if the amount was half, or a third, or one TENTH it meant we were talking 24,800 albums.

Garage BandNow fast forward to the here and now when the CD has long ago crashed and burned and the downloadable album has become king. The internet suddenly made it easy for anyone with a microphone input on their computer and a copy of Audacity or GarageBand or ProTools for a laptop to record an album in less time than it takes for record labels to release one bloody single to radio. You’re talking MILLIONS of releases floating around in the Cloud, on CDBaby, iTunes, and Amazon and every backwater bar & grill from Singapore to Cincinnati.

TVWe are so saturated with music that there’s no unified zeitgeist for popular music to follow or penetrate. Your playlist is as alien as your friends’ or even your mate’s. Where once we gravitated to the Big Ticket Artists that were rolled out by the labels via radio and television, now we’re just as likely to follow something that grabbed our attention on YouTube or on the soundtrack to a TV or radio ad. Some of those outlets were available in the past – radio and TV jingles, f’rinstance, were the forums from which many hit songs evolved. In the 1970s it was “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”…originally a Coke commercial, but quickly a #1 hit for the Hillside Singers…and then The New Seekers.

IPodThough many advertisers use older familiar hits to sell their products, advertising risk takers have proven that the media is formidable in breaking new songs and new artists. One of the most recent examples was iTunes’ use of Feist’s “1, 2, 3, 4” for the iPod Nan which turned her into a global sensation and broke Jet with their song “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”

Music loverThose examples are the ones that stuck. They were the lottery winners. The rare music beasts rising above the static of all other noise. Currently we have social media. There are 55,000,000 users who may or may not have an interest in music on Facebook. Some that do are strictly in the oldies camp. Many digging up tracks and artists so obscure that even Wikipedia doesn’t mention them. Others are strictly in it for the new-found high. That eternal rush of falling in love with a song all over again…for the first time. We’re hard wired for this. Music is encoded in our DNA. Hell, it’s encoded in the DNA of elephants and cows:

Music fans

But unlike other mammals we pride ourselves in being a little more discerning about what we will or will not stick in our ears. It’s this individual taste reckoning that has led to 100 years of disparate and volatile fan preference. The only thing worse than a conversation about race, religion or sports is a conversation about musical taste. Entire forums exist to discuss, dissect and criticize music…and often the person listening to same. As a species we often equate the validity of music with the person supporting it or even those creating it. It’s the reason Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus or EMO and Goth bands get no respect.

Roller fansNo one’s ever converted a listener by proselytizing the negative aspects of a piece of music. People that like what they like will never suddenly exclaim, “My God, you’re right. The music I listen to sucks”. That process is usually one of self-growth…if at all. You’d be hard pressed to find a Bay City Roller fan that says they no longer like “Give A Little Love” even 39 years later.

Beatles Wall

Start a Facebook post with the words “I never cared much for the Beatles”. You will be destroyed by 1,000 instant snipers filled with a venomous hatred reserved only for rapists and Nazis. Say the same thing about the Rolling Stones and you’ll almost get away with it. There’s a natural order, you see. We’ve come to accept our sacred cows where music is concerned (Zeppelin is sacrosanct) and our targets of disdain (Nickelback, anyone?).

Elvis fansThis discord is all that’s left of the community that used to gather around the radio waiting to hear the new single by Elvis Presley. Everyone shared in the excitement. And you came to love every release that followed. Then the Beatles walked onto the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in 1964 and The Beatles could do no wrong. But we don’t share that common bond anymore because we’re bombarded by a million songs a day. The communities are getting smaller. That intimate moment of shared excitement is compartmentalized. Now you have fanbases in the thousands…not in the millions.

picture
Two weeks ago I went to see one of the greatest live acts I’ve seen in the nearly 40 years of concert experiences I’ve had. That’s a bold statement coming from a guy who’s seen THREE Beatles in concert, The Eagles and Pink Floyd. Vintage Trouble are now my go-to discovery. One I share with my wife and my sister-in-law. The gig at Lee’s Palace was 2 hours of rapture and was so personal, I’m not sure anyone but those in attendance will ever ‘get it’. The recordings and videos do not do them justice. You had to be part of the tribe that night. A visceral, sweaty, sonic eruption of funk, blues, R & B, rock and sex. It was 1954 all over again and the performance was taboo.

Red Wanting Blue
I could go on all day about them. But everyone’s mileage varies. Stuff that turns my crank may not turn yours. My sister is a big Mica and Lady Gaga fan. She’s currently into Sam Smith. I understand the attraction but it’s not my cup of tea. My wife lives for The Trews and Red Wanting Blue. I discovered the Trews in 2002 while on a business trip to Halifax for the ECMA’s. She discovered American act Red Wanting Blue when they opened for The Trews here in Canada. I’ve come to grow fond of both acts because she plays the material around the house all the time. Just like the old days when you’d get rapid, repetitive exposure from Top40 radio.


EmperorIt’s repetition that gave us our musical palette in the first place. Unfortunately, we are now victims of our own taste because radio decided we need to continue to hear the soundtracks to our lives over and over again. A broken record. A stuck groove. If that energy were spent on all new music in all genres we wouldn’t be subjected to the turgid narrow casting of radio’s current dissonance. The good stuff would rise to the surface and the crap back to the bottom – just the way radio always did. It was survival of the fittest. The public were the Emperors of a musical Rome who gave the thumbs up or down with their wallets. The best songs became hit singles. The bad ones were shuffled off to the delete bin in the 45s department at Sam The Record Man stores. It’s where I found things like Van Morrison’s “St. Dominic’s Preview” or Hamilton, Joe Frank And Reynolds’ “Daisy Mae”.


But we’re no longer given that choice. The playlists are generated by consultants in conjunction with record labels and tastemakers. They don’t listen to the radio. They don’t buy the music. So Listenerwhy are they deciding what people want to hear? The greatest radio station would be one that takes nothing but requests by the public for new artists with new releases. The listeners could supply the MP3s. The station could act as the beacon for the dissemination of these surprise spins to a wider audience. People could vote music off the radio island via social media each and every day. The playlist would live or die on the will of the people. Just like it did during the Top40 era. The songs could once again become part of the ongoing soundtrack to your life. Let’s pump up that volume.

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL FIND:

(Editor’s Note: Marvel’s evil lawyers, not understanding this world’s Viral element, have had the SNL clip that is supposed to be here removed. Thanos must be pleased. Instead, the Evil Law Lords have overlooked the stars of Guardians of the Galaxy being humiliated by a 5 year old girl who knows more about the characters the lawyers represent than they do. BURN!)

THIS WEEK’S VIRAL OLDIE:

Send your CDs to: Jaimie Vernon, 180 Station Street, Suite 53, Ajax, ON L1S 1R9 CANADA

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Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com

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