Trust the Gene Genie

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

G vs. E

It's the great debate. Is there such a thing as good music and bad music? Of course there is, you say. And I would agree. However, one could argue that there's simply music people like and music people don't like; that good and bad are labels much too objective to use when describing music. Obvioulsy in a theoretical sense this is true. So the debate then becomes this: there's good music for me and there's bad music for me.

Good music for me: Wilco, U2, Led Zeppelin, Spoon and the like.
Bad music for me: Alan Jackson, Creed, Styx, the Carpenters and the like.

While so much of that is subjective -- to use the cliche one man's trash is another man's treasure -- one man's mind-blowing rock band is another man's stupifyingly rote pop group. I would argue there are groups or artists, a handful at the most, that rise, like cream, to the top of the pop music milk jug. Groups that defy subjection and, based on their work can truly be judged as good or bad, not just good for someone or bad for someone.

But to prove the point, you need a few objective measuring sticks, like time. It stands to reason that if a band is good -- or rather -- of a qualitative substance it will out last music that isn't good or of quality. For example, the Beatles are still highly regarded and widely praised while Herman's Hermits -- the Beatles contemporaries at the time -- have gone the way of the dodo.

Of course, time as a measuring stick isn't fool-proof. Given the nature of media in a technological age, if it was produced and released, it's gonna be around forever, somewhere. You'll always be able to find someone in some corner of the world who's still (seriously, not ironically) listening to the BeeGees. And while a Herman's Hermits song may pop up every so often on the golden oldies radio station, you don't hear as much about them as you do the Beatles.

But here's the point. Fifty years down the road, I think more people will be listening to Lyle Lovett than Toby Keith. Time simply favors quality because the passing years quickly erode the marketing flash that attracts people to poorly written and rapidly produced, throw-away songs. That leaves to the spotlight well written and well produced music. It's why Creed has already started to fade and groups like Pearl Jam (of which Creed is merely a rip-off) get better and more respected with age.

Critical praise could certainly be another measuring stick, but it's much more fallible than time. Even the best critics buy into the hype and marketing of certain bands and differing types of music sometimes. Who didn't talk up Jewel when she first hit the scene? And who remembers her now?

On the other hand, when the majority of mainstream or major market critics uniformly praise a band or a musician, it's a good bet there's something more going on there than with other middle of the road artists. Easy examples might be Johnny Cash or the Rolling Stones or James Brown.

Which segues into what the last measuring stick might be: influence. Great music influences while bad or even mediocre music does not. Creed exists on this principal alone. The group is almost a tribute band -- but probably more aptly discribed as a rip-off -- to the grunge rock acts that paved the genre before them; acts like Temple of the Dog, Alice in Chains or Soundgarden. These groups are generally conidered good -- especially in the case of Temple of the Dog -- because they influenced nearly every rock band that came after them for a decade.

The same can be said of The Band, The Velvet Underground, Bob Dylan, certainly the Beatles and then blues artists like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker which launched classic British rock, like Cream, Led Zeppelin and of course the Rolling Stones. Influence certainly isn't as objective as time, but it certainly shows how strong music and memorable bands rise above thier peers.

But I've gone on long enough. So as your Thanksgiving dinner talk turns to music, go ahead, bring up the good vs. bad debate and see what happens. If it doesn't end in a stuffing and potato sling fest, you haven't defended your position with enough gusto.

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