by John Broening (September 2015)
Consider two songs, both of them titled “Just the Way You Are”: the first was released in 1977 and was one of the best-selling records of the following year; the second was released in 2010 and was one of the best-selling records of 2010 and 2011. more>>>
This short essay was exemplary cultural criticism. I am astounded by Mr. Broening's breadth of knowledge- the essay's sweep of musical history. His lucid prose was an aesthetic delight. Generalist cultural critics with a literary hue like Mr. Broening are almost an extinct species. He follows a nearly vanished tradition of writers like Edmund Wilson and Dwight Mac Donald.
I feel cheated. An engaging, informed and long piece about the decline of decent songwriting ends as a blunt plug for Amy Winehouse. You lost me.
As a person commenting three years after the fact. I loved reading the article. There were some racial aspects that I found a little alarming. But overall it was a well written piece that causes the reader to think. Which is good. I had three concerns. 1) The idea that hip-hop is reduced dramatically to a sort of nothingness. Lauryn Hill for one helped shed the negative image of Hip-Hop she didnt glorify the ghetto, violence or exploit herself sexually. She proved she was better than most of her male counterparts. Also as much as I love Amy Winehouse I did feel she was endorsed a little too much here. I also agree that the great black musicians did come from church backgrounds. But it's problematic to only view that as some sort of greatness alone. I am a musician and grew up in the church. But the concept of the church sound doesn't always come natural to the black artist even if they grew up in that setting even if they can inflect and imitate that church sound. Which isn't just vocals as you know but is also repetition, emotion, etc. How then do we judge or view black artists who chose to do away with that standard? Or not rely so heavily on it. Because essentially all of popular music in my opinion stemmed from the soul of black people. That doesnt mean that soul is limited by a certain sound.
Amazon donates to World Encounter Institute Inc when you shop at smile.amazon.com/ch/56-2572448. #AmazonSmile #StartWithaSmile