Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our sixth round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?”
This time around, we’re calling it “Shock Rock.” But wait, there’s a twist – it’s not about Marilyn Manson and his contemporaries…unless our writers want it to be. Rather, its more about what some would call “guilty pleasures.” Songs or records that you like that would “shock” most people. Ones that go against the grain of most of what you listen to. I once asked a well-known radio DJ who loved new music, alternative and artsy rock if he had a musical guilty pleasure and he responded that he’d always liked “Moonlight feels Right” by Starbuck… a ’70s piece of laid back yacht rock with a xylophone solo! (Hey, we like it too!) Not his usual fare, but a song that he loves regardless. Maybe the heavy metal types have a soft spot for a bit of late night opera. Or an “all-60s rock” person loves Bruno Mars too. You get the idea.
Today we wrap up this topic, with a few thoughts from yours truly about, “shock rock.” As always, I thank the others who’ve taken the time to contribute and let us see their darkest musical secrets, LOL.
Our guest contributors in the past week have shared some of the music they love that would surprise many who know them… a “country” artist hard-rock officinado Deke likes, a song by a rapper that appeals to “power pop” Max, for instance. I think it all highlights how music is a personal thing and it’s unfortunate that we’re so quick to label music to make it fit one easy-to-define genre or box. I’ve been guilty of that at times, but it’s something driven by the music industry itself. Look at Billboard magazine and you’ll find their Hot 100 that lists albums of all sorts based on sales and times streamed and so on…but also an array of weekly charts like “country”, “alternative rock”, “mainstream rock”, “urban contemporary” and on and on. Radio follows that largely and it all ends up making it rather easy for music we might love to slip through the cracks unnoticed. And there’s also the personal memories – many people have a song they love merely because it brings back memories of a great date when they heard it in the car, or a song that was playing in the hospital lobby as they went in to give birth to a baby. Songs that otherwise might have elicited yawns would then bring back a flood of good memories…and make that song important to them.
I don’t know that there are many examples of music that I like that would be surprising to many who know me. I have a definite love of Beatles, ’70s “AM pop” that I listened to as a kid, ’80s alternative/new wave that I listened to as a young adult and intelligent singer/songwriter types with a smattering of country, old standards and new music thrown in for good measure. One type of music I really tend to dislike though is opera. The booming, over-dramatic voices tend to grate on me, even if they are technically great. It doesn’t help that they’re generally in a foreign language so I can’t tell what’s being sung, but even English attempts tend to make my ears displeased. So one song that I like a lot might “shock” some people is “Miss Sarejevo”. People know U2 is one of my favorite bands, but also that they’re known for jangly guitar rock with political statements. Not arias worthy of tuxes and tails. So mixing them with Luciano Pavarotti was a risky proposition. Even Island Records thought so. So much that they originally put the song and its album out under the pseudonym “The Passengers”…they felt if they labeled this left-field album by Ireland’s most popular act as “U2”, it might kill of their career! To top it off, Bono and the Edge performed the song for the very first time as guests of Luciano Pavarotti in one of his operatic concerts, with a full orchestra replacing their usual guitars and drums. Only in later years did Bono get to tack the song on with various compilation albums clearly labeled “U2”. Yet surprisingly, it worked.
At least it did with me. The booming Italian voice kicks the song into gear and provides a great counter-balance to the understated delivery of Bono and the band; perhaps a fine metaphor for the emotions in war-torn Bosnia at the time, which the song was about. I’d be hard-pressed to sit and listen to a whole Pavarotti show, fine as his voice might be, but somehow I find this track very listenable. Many U2 fans didn’t, even if Bono himself has called it his favorite song in their catalog .But that’s the beauty of music.
My friend, radio DJ David Marsden often says “there are only two kinds of music. Good and bad.” And if something sounds good to you, makes you feel more deeply or improves your day, whether ifs rock ( mainstream, alternative, classic…), pop, country, jazz, folk, opera, ambient country-rap… you name it. If it makes you feel better…that’s Good Music.