Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Top of the Charts

During part of my misspent youth, I worked as a disc jockey. Fortunately, my better judgment eventually prevailed and I wound up in the Air Force, which offered a real career, substantial benefits and job security that was measured in years, rather than a 13-week contract.

But playing those "stacks of wax and mounds of sound" was a lot of fun, despite the low pay and (generally) lousy hours. Being a DJ was a great way to meet women, even if the music I played was generally bad; afterall, this was the late 1970s, not long after disco arrived, and most of the artists and songs on the playlist proved mind-numbing. Remember: this was the era of Muskrat Love, Feelings and YMCA.

Al Stewart was one of the exceptions, at least from my perspective. He enjoyed most of his commercial success during that period with Year of the Cat and Time Passages, songs that blended cultural and historic references with a contemporary score. Both tracks receive a lot of airplay to this day, although Mr. Stewart reporteldy hates Time Passages. As far as I know, he's the only rocker who's ever written (and recorded) songs about World War I fighter pilots (Fields of France), the German invasion of Russia during World War II (Roads to Moscow), and devoted an entire album to the interwar period (Between the Wars).

Fast-forward 30 years, and you'll see that contemporary song lyrics have devolved quite a bit from even the relatively low standards of the 1970s (Al Stewart excepted). Michelle Malkin has a sample of the "songs" currently atop Billboard's Hot Rap Tracks, and some representative lyrics. If you're looking for anything with significance and depth, you'll be disappointed. On the other hand, if you're down into the gangsta culture, these "tracks" are right up your alley. Lots of references to "bitches," "ho's," "pimps," "thugs," and the associated rot.

As Ms. Malkin reminds us, many of the same race groups and spokesmen offended by Don Imus' comments never utter a peep about the offerings of Mims, Bow Wow, R. Kelly, Young Jeezy and the rest. However, it is reassuring that the genre appears to have peaked; sales of rap CDs fell 21% between 2005 and 2006, and surveys by the Black Youth Project, the Associated Press and AOL found that most Americans believe that rap contains too many violent images and is a negative force in our society.

But you wouldn't know that by listening to Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. They're too busy making media hay over Imus' racist rant, while ignoring the massive social and cultural problems associated with the gangsta culture.


Angevin13 said...

Spook - it's clearly a double-standard with the language of today's rap music. The truth is, it sells (or used to sell, judging from the sales data) and so no one is bothered by it enough to do anything about it.

I'd point out, though, that it's really just a single, virulent strain of rap - 'gangsta rap' - where this appalling language is prevalent. Early rap and hip hop (unfortunately eclipsed by gangsta rap in the early nineties) like Run DMC (who are to rap music what the Beatles are to rock & roll, Led Zeppelin is to 'heavy metal' and Nirvana is to 'alternative') never had such disgusting lyrics.

On a completely separate note, how many different jobs have you held? I've been reading you for several months now and, by my count you've been a DJ, journalist, Serviceman, spook, and high school teacher. Quite an impressive array of occupations!

Cheers- Angevin

Unknown said...

Angevin--I'm one of those folks who (proverbially) is a jack of all trades, and a master of none. My journalist/DJ days came in my youth; started working in radio during high school, earned a degree in journalism, and continued in broadcasting after college. A format change at my station left me unemployed, and considering other options. That led me to the military, and eventually, the intel career field.

My teaching career came after I retired from active duty. A few years in the classroom underscored how much our schools have changed, and how undisciplined they have become. That led to my current itinerant career as blogger/consultant/pundit. It's an adventure at times (and the paycheck isn't always steady), but it's easier on the nerves (and blood pressure) than teaching.

On my present course, I figure I'm good for at least two or three more careers before I hang it up for good.

Dymphna said...

Al Stewart! What a historian....

A happy experience for our family a few years ago was when we went to watch a performance in PA and as things turned out, our son ended up on stage singing "Joe the Georgian". He had to do it a capella for the first few minutes as Al had forgotten his own song, which he referred to as "that old thing."

His album, "Between the Wars" is profoundly expressive of the mood of the time. There is nothing quite like it.

Of his modern stuff, I like the tune about killing all the lawyers. Very clever lyrics that show he still has it.