Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Spectacle or Substance

It is fascinating to observe the cultural shifts taking place in North America. The entertainment industry is a great place to watch it happen. Changes in the way music is bought and sold and how people make money in the business are moving rapidly. We live in the era of spectacle rather than substance. We no longer simply listen to music; we experience the spectacle of the song. The 55th annual Grammy awards were handed out on Sunday evening with much spectacle . . . and some substance. Rare were the moments of both.

One could go on about which aspects of the show were substance and which were spectacle but instead I will take us back to a time when substance was primary. Compare a performance by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in August of 1965 with the opening act of the Grammy show in 2013. Both feature "break-up songs" about a woman who is leaving the relationship and a man who is sad; but there the similarities cease. Below is a sampling of lyrics and then links to the performances on YouTube.

"Ticket To Ride" (The Beatles)

I think I'm gonna be sad,
I think it's today, yeah.
The girl that's driving me mad
Is going away.

She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
But she don't care.

She said that living with me
Was bringing her down yeah.
She would never be free
When I was around.

She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
She's got a ticket to ride,
But she don't care.
"Ticket to Ride" on YouTube.  ("Ticket to Ride" starts at about 9:50 into the video but the whole 18 minutes are great.)

"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" (Taylor Swift)

I remember when we broke up the first time
Saying, "This is it, I've had enough," 'cause like
We hadn't seen each other in a month
When you said you needed space. (What?)
Then you come around again and say
"Baby, I miss you and I swear I'm gonna change, trust me."
Remember how that lasted for a day?
I say, "I hate you," we break up, you call me, "I love you."

Ooh, we called it off again last night
But ooh, this time I'm telling you, I'm telling you

We are never ever ever getting back together,
We are never ever ever getting back together,
You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, talk to me
But we are never ever ever ever getting back together

Grammy performance on YouTube.

In 1965, performances were much more about standing up and singing a song. The harmonies were real and blended into a few microphones on stage (note how McCartney and Lennon blend their voices into one mic). The performers played their songs and sang while the audience listened and cheered. But even in 1965 the seeds of change were being sown. The television audience sat quietly and listened to the guitars, drums, and voices; but the studio audience screamed and swooned. The sound from the Ed Sullivan performances had to be washed to remove some of noise of the crowd to improve the quality of sound. The performance of "Yesterday" featured Paul McCartney singing and playing along with a backing track. Could John, Paul, George, and Ringo foresee the spectacle that they were just beginning to introduce? What must Sir Paul have been thinking as he watched the opening of the 2013 Grammys. It is quite possible he was not watching at all. Instead, McCartney may just have been over in the old Abbey Road Studio writing a song. Maybe even a pop song with substance.

Complete lyrics available at the following links.
Ticket to Ride
Never Ever Getting Back Together

Special thanks to Maureen who suggested I turn my living room rant into a blog post.

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