Love him or hate him one thing is for sure, Bob Lefsetz loves music. The way that WE love music. The way MANY PEOPLE used to love music. Not as a money making commodity that has to follow hundreds of modern trends, rules and industry codes the way that people in our industry today “like” music; to them, and there’re many of them now unfortunately, music is something to buy and sell. Preferably sell. To whom? They don’t care. Just as long as it sells. What it sounds like they don’t care about that either. Just as long as it sells. The singer’s a 17 year old white Midwestern girl who pretends to dress and act like a black slut from the ghetto because she’s insecure about her coolness in the industry right now and thinks we might “sell more if we sell sex instead of music”. Shes willing to act even sluttier if we’ll let her. She has a potentially large demographic of young middle American girls she may influence in not the healthiest manner if she treads down this path. They don’t care as long as it sells.
The music sucks in general. It has no long term historic appeal. U don’t hear an artist as much as a short lived trend coming out of the speakers. It all sounds the same at the Top 100 level no matter which format you dial up. Every damn song is a 3 minute and 30 second mirror copy of the song that played right before it. Forget about by the same artists. A whole album with ten songs that all sound exactly the same. They don’t care. As long as it sells. Granted the artists come and go faster than anyone can remember their names or ages or what town they’re from and every few weeks the cycle repeats itself. God help the artists long term…
We’re growing a new commodity here — catchy but cheap contrived often vulgar and depraved disposable soundbites — and in the process destroying a classic one, i.e. music as art/history/cultural landmark/hero/messiah.
Those in the biz, we in the biz, still know there’s good stuff being created out there. All over the world. More so now than ever. It just doesn’t hit the Hot 100 very often. So we buy those for our own enjoyment while giving the masses what we assume they want in exchange for the .99 cents per track they’re willing to throw down for a download times a few hundred thousand to million people. Thats our pay. With that revenue earned we can afford to buy the good stuff we hear coming out around us. We just can’t promote it. Why? Because that’s what “they” say. Keep the real artists off the radio and on the road. That’s where they belong. U can always get them late night shows and some morning show play. On the radio we keep the cheap candy, the disposable hip hop hits dance tracks and Pitbull raps about drinking and cars and gold chains. And pistachios.
Hasn’t always been this way. Sometimes we just need a reminder. Music industry vet Bob Lefsetz acted as that reminder for us today with his random blog about his first experiences hearing the forever amazing british rock band Queen. Read on and prepare to re-remember what getting excited about great music feels like.
Here it is in full:
We were not prepared for it.
I bought the initial album, with the pinkish purple cover, based on a review in “Rolling Stone.” You could tell by the enthusiasm and the description that this was something you wanted to check out. And from the very first note it was enrapturing. That’s the power of “Keep Yourself Alive.”
Right, now it seems obvious. But it was anything but in ’73. I never heard “Keep Yourself Alive” on the radio, it was kind of like Yes with the first three albums, they were for fans only.
And then came “Queen II.” Also with no synths. Oh, how amazing is Brian May. And it wasn’t quite as good as the debut, but it got even less traction, it was like it didn’t even come out, and I figured Queen was another one of those bands I knew by heart who were destined to disappear. And then came “Sheer Heart Attack.” “Killer Queen” was all over the radio, like the band always belonged there. And at this late date, you can see that “Killer Queen” foreshadowed what was coming, but those who bought the album heard cuts like “Stone Cold Crazy,” which also got airplay, which were closer to what had come before as opposed to what was in the pipeline. Queen was another hard rocking band with impeccable chops, very British, very interesting, but they were still making music tied to their roots. And then came “A Night At The Opera.”
At this late date the album is overshadowed by the enduring success of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but the breakthroughs were on the first side, with “You’re My Best Friend” and “’39.”
It was not like today. In the midseventies you could like singer-songwriters as well as hard rock. A true music fan had broad tastes. So when you were expecting bombast and heard “You’re My Best Friend” a smile crossed your face…how’d they come up with this combination of west coast and UK? Soft with harmonies was positively SoCal, but previously Queen had been more about assault than subtlety…but the band was not afraid to experiment, saw no need to repeat itself, “You’re My Best Friend”…sounds like the joy of said, that one person you can count on, but it’s not only the vocal and the harmonies but the pure instrumental sound, it was an aural concoction that accelerated to its conclusion and begged to be played again when this was difficult, when we lived in the vinyl era and the needle segued into the next cut.
Which was even quieter, something more similar to the Band than anything Queen had done previously, the aforementioned “’39.” Unlike today’s in-your-face music, “’39” was reflective, a whole story, with a jaunty chorus… It’d be like Angus Young suddenly cut an English folk song!
But those two cuts were just the most obvious. Before them on the first side was…”I’m In Love With My Car.” Which was typically Queen heavy, but in a newfangled way. It was slow where everything previously had been fast. Not sung by Freddie Mercury, but drummer Roger Taylor, who wrote it!
“I’m in love with my car, got a feel for my automobile”
We all felt it, but we never heard it put so emphatically, not by the Beach Boys or Jan & Dean. This was an English sensibility, with all the joy of pride in your machine. With harmonies to boot!
And what was dramatic was that none of these three songs sounded remotely alike. Once upon a time a band could be more than one thing, and the audience rewarded them for it.
Then there’s the baroque “Love Of My Life” on side two. You’ve got to understand, Queen was a heavy band! But now they were quiet and meaningful, and to listen to this alone in your bedroom on headphones brought in to question your masculinity not a whit. Boys are romantic, and Freddie Mercury gave us permission to be.
The only track on the album that sounded close to what came before was the opener, “Death On Two Legs.” It was like the band jettisoned a few stages and rocketed into hyperspace, years before “Star Wars” was released.
And when we initially heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” we didn’t think all time rock classic but innovative ear-pleasing cut.
And there wasn’t a single other band doing anything like this in the marketplace. Nobody was Queen-like.
And the audience could have rejected “A Night At The Opera.”
But no, when something is this good, people can’t help but embrace it, the way all the musos acknowledged how great a guitar player Eddie Van Halen was when they heard his band’s debut.
And if they had no base the album still would have succeeded. But with some airplay from “Sheer Heart Attack” and relentless quality touring, making diehard fans on the road, the audience was primed for what they didn’t expect, with “A Night At The Opera” Queen became superstars overnight