Saturday, October 31, 2009

End of the month music question - what makes music great?

I thought of introducing just a little bit of variety into this blog – partly for the sake of introducing a little bit of variety, and partly because I thought it might encourage a few comments, a bit of interaction, all in the interests of giving the masses a say.

And so I’ve decided, at least for the moment, to break with the usual album-a-day routine and, on the last day of each month, to pose a question and hopefully generate some thoughts from you … if only to reassure me that someone is actually reading this blog!! No, really, I am interested in what you have to say too.

Anyway, so today’s question is “what makes music great for you?” I’m actually always fascinated listening to people talk about music – and especially listening to what they like and why they like it. Sometimes people talk about how the music grabs them, creates goose-bumps. Others talk about the way this melody or theme combines with something else, and how cleverly it’s done. Still others talk about the way a piece of music brings together different influences. For some, it’s the complexity of the music that makes it great; for other’s it’s the simplicity. For some it’s what the music says to them that matters, for others it’s the ieas behind it, or, for others, it's simply how much fun it is to listen to. For others it’s the memories that music conjures up.

I guess mostly, though, it’s a mixture of these and any number of the million and one other ways that music has of being good, and of connecting with us.

I couldn’t begin to say what it is for me – I couldn’t even really tell you if it changes form one piece to another, and whether I listen differently to the noise rock of Melt-Banana than I do to the mathematical beauty of a Bach Prelude and Fugue.

In discovering over the past few months so much music that I had previously discarded as not my cup of tea (not that I particularly like tea anyway, really, but that's beside the point), I have come to the position where I am inclined to think that there really is no such thing as "bad music" – just music that I have not yet learned to enjoy. Maybe that’s taking it too far – I’m not sure. But, at very least, the enjoyment of music is a much bigger thing than even I, a long time passionate lover of music, ever thought possible.

So then ... what do YOU think?


  1. ok...let's start at the beginning:
    i remember as a kid when my parents were at work and my grandmother was looking after me i was listening to "sie wuenschen,wir spielen" (you wish,we play) on the radio...that was my grandmothers favourite show and they had lots of old german schlager and german folkmusik.
    my mum's favourite band was "the les humphrey singers" so i got a bit of that too...and my dad was into clssic,vivaldi,mozart etc...
    of course my 7 year old sister became my guide line for "good" music...i was allowed to stay in our room (yes..we shared 1 room) if i dont talk or move or do anything else other than lie on the bed covered by the doona (with a small opening for air supply)
    early memories of rod stewart "i am sailing"
    and then of course the bay city rollers.
    she (and me under the doona) listened to genesis,adam ant,blondie,patti smith,anne clark,the stranglers,the police,joy division,lou reed,kraftwek,tangerine dream,klaus nomi and so much more...
    she has never been into the mainstream so my taste in music was a bit similar if not exactly the same :-)
    when i went to highscool i had other influences (and didn't have to stay under the doona anymore ),i was listening to mainstream because everybody else did (and mainstream was a lot better than it is today!)followed the weekly top ten radio show on thursday nights and started taping songs and all that...
    madness,eurythmics,yello,herbie hancock (futureshock!!! great album still),prince,culture club,the cure,van halen,michael jackson,duran duran,madonna,zz top,beastie boys and so on
    when i was around 15/16 i started getting into the heavymetal stuff....what really turned the tide for me was listening to ronnie james dio "holy diver" and accept "balls to the wall"... followed by ac/dc,deep purple,led zeppelin,thin lizzy,black sabbath and all that...but still i listened to a lot of alternative things...absolutely loved jethro tull and recently rediscovered him...
    i started to drink alcohol when my sister lived above the pub she worked in in the neighbour village and my musical journey became another spin...i worked as a roadie and regularly went to a jazzclub in frankfurt on weekends which was absolutely fantastic...met great musicians there
    and got interested in jazz,latin and all those things...

  2. at 18 i moved out to live at a friends place who was also the lead singer of the band lsp, a local velvet undergroundesque band which was not only laut,schlecht und preiswert (LSP) which means loud,bad and cheap but also very very unsuccessful and i remember gigs in frankfurt where their roadie (me) was the only person in the was still a lot of fun and the members were indeed pretty good musicians (when they were sober)
    later they split up an i teamed up with the lead singer,their guitar player and two other guys and "friends of carlotta " was born...just as unsuccessful as lsp but we managed to get a song on a cd ,a local compilation and a few demo tapes...the guitar player ( volker) was working in a vinyl/cd shop and he and the lead singer (peter)both had massive collections of all sorts of music...they introduced me to mc 5,nirvana,buffalo tom,husker du,dinosaur jr.,minutemen, lots of weird stuff..genres like psychobilly,grunge...the work of frank zappa,captain beefheart and lots more....
    another big influence was my trip to brasil in 1991 which resulted in playing samba in a batucada band for a while ...still love samba,brings back memories and is just full of life!
    i met another dear friend of mine who is now in his 50's and he introduced me to all the 60's and 70's music...he also has a massive vinyl collection and loads of concerts taped from tv...a lot of big bands when they were almost unknown. i spent many many long nights with him smoking umm...cigarettes and listening to much fun! thanks bernd!!
    in 1996 i married and since my ex wife hated everything i was listening to i had to listen to pink floyd day in day out....for about 4 years till i got divorced.
    it took me a long time to get into jazz...i always considered it rather boring but in the last few years i learned to appreciate it ...
    i can't say there is a certain genre that i'm listening to...infact it doesn't really matter long as it creates a warm fuzzy feeling in my stomach when i listen to it!
    i try not to limit my experience of music by specialising in a certtain genre...there are just too many that i like...
    reggae,ska,jazz,noise,funk,industrial,drum n'bass,techno,classic,schlager,beat,folk,heavy doesn't stop...
    that's why i can never really answer the question "what music are you listening to?"
    i usually say...." ...anything but mainstream " ;-)

  3. ...i think i didn't quite answer the question ...but anyway..i'd like to answer your question with a quote from speech from arrested development...
    "i like the music that makes me wonder how they did not why they did it"

  4. Awesome story there Seemore! Amazing how it all starts to create its own history - the place that different music played in our lives at different times and how music seems to be linked to those times forever - so often that seems to help define how we listen to music. So you can't help but wonder (or I can't anyway) how Pink Floyd would sound to you now, had you heard it under the doona in your sister's room rather than for four years with your ex-wife!!

  5. actually i did listen to "wish you were here" under the doona (my sister had a blue pressing too!!!)
    so it's not completely lost...

  6. 'What makes music great for you?' is, I think, a question in two parts. (Hairs split while you wait.)

    First, my answer to 'What makes music great?'is: its association with a social group to which you may or may not belong. For example, 'great' (western) classical music (including Mahler!) is labeled as such by intellectuals/commentators linked with the industrial middle class, who took their lead from other intellectuals/commentators linked with the pre-industrial aristocracy. This is the same mob that defines 'great' art, literature and, of course, music and is, in that sense, ultimately responsible for the endless cycle of repeats on public broadcast television of Shakespeare, the prissy Austins, the arch Brontes and so on. I'm referring here to the idea of 'the canon' - the list of pictures to see, books to read, etc. if you want to become a 'cultured' person. Similarly, much of the 'underground' music of the 1970s is 'great' for those who were in the university/college/club scene at the time and who were only the second generation who would keep listening in later years to the 'popular' music of their youth (rather than graduating towards crooners and cabaret artists as they 'matured'.

    Secondly, I THINK that my answer to 'What makes music great FOR YOU?' is related to 'the anon', because I think that I like music that is a solid, or exciting or innovative example of its type or genre. I like listening to what musicians can do within the limits of their genre - exemplifying and expressing it well as well as stretching and bending it. For example, I'm a great fan of contemporary blues singer/guitarist Guy Davis (of whom more another time, perhaps) because he does superb covers of old, classic blues songs AND attempts to update the genre through his own writing; and I like Ash Grunwald because he takes the blues genre by the scruff of its neck and gives it a good shaking - and produces some extraordinary 'industrial' music in the process.

    How do I recognise music that's great for me? Luckily, I still have just enough hair on the back of my head for it stand on end when I hear some. I wonder how it works for Peter Garrett?

  7. What makes music great???...the music...nothing more..nothing less

  8. Thanks Patrick and Greg - so much of what everyone is saying here seems, I guess, to reflect what I feel too - whether it's Seemore's memories, Patrick's hair(s) standing on end, or Greg's belief in just the music.

    But even better - I got seven replies (eight if I count this one)!!

  9. It's not just one thing, or is it? it's the power to uplift you, make you remember, make you sad, make you laugh, make you sing, make you dance(even a toe tap). Yes, music is one thing - it makes you alive!!