Mudcat Café message #1883553 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #96348   Message #1883553
Posted By: Artful Codger
11-Nov-06 - 08:59 PM
Thread Name: Why do our songs last so long ?
Subject: RE: Why do our songs last so long ?
I think the question is based on several faulty premises. First, HAVE they lasted, in terms of being widely popular? No, they haven't. There aren't that many folk songs that young people do know, and those aren't really the best (in terms of quality) but rather those which their mothers sang to them in early childhood, or which they sang on the playground skipping rope, or which they learned at summer camp. People seldom sing folk songs while they work, or to amuse themselves. They are more likely to switch on the radio or put on a rock CD and sing along with that - if they sing at all. WE make them last, but we really have to work at it. Many that we now sing were ones that people pretty much stopped singing until revivalists came along.

Second, there is the implication that folk songs will continue to last. But the commercialization of the music world, and copyright control of modern "folk" material has already sounded the death knell for folk music. Like classical music, it will continue to survive among small pockets of people who make it a priority, but among the population as a whole, it's already a novelty, a dead issue, only subject to periodic resurgence of interest among the masses.

Third, there is the presumption that the rock music of today will not last. This I partly agree with and partly disagree with. There are several aspects of the commercialization of rock which diminishes the shelf life of individual songs: They were written to be performed by professional groups. The melodies and lyrics are less important than the total piece as a performance, including pyrotechnic visuals; most can't satisfyingly be duplicated by amateurs, much less by individuals. And it is contrary to the interests of corporations (which control dissemination via radio and concerts) to have the public be satisfied with old stuff when they want people to constantly buy new stuff. So they actively encourage young people to turn up their noses at anything which they've already bought.

But there are still songs from virtually every rock period that will persist. As time marches on, their popularity will quickly fade, just as most folk songs we know only date back about 50-200 years, and represent only a small fraction of all the songs that were written during that period. You can think of musical interest tapering off like nuclear radiation, in a sort of logarithmic progression. The folk songs we think of as lasting are just the relative few which survived this natural tapering.

The other clue about lasting is inherent in the term "traditional" - some songs (notably hymns and Christmas carols) have become part of our social tradition, and so get revisited year after year. "Auld lang syne", as a song, is hardly among the best, but because of its association with New Year celebrations, it will persist until some other song takes its place. And even there, only one verse can really be said to have lasted.

Other songs last because of some notable phrase or context which has grabbed the public attention, and which gets them continually recycled in the public mind. Think of "Stand By Your Man" and "Imagine". The songs most likely to survive for coming generations will be those which have a phrase or message which Madison Avenue can easily exploit to sell a diversity of products. When Gen-2020ers think of folk music, they'll probably be thinking of the Oscar Meyer Wiener song, while they hear the anti-consumerist anthem "Money" recycled yet again in the background of a luxury hovercar commercial.