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The muddle of the populist theory

The history of popular music is abundant with millions of songs written by hundreds of artistes over the last 50 years, and yet, only a handful have continued to endure in some manner or the other.

music Updated: Jan 27, 2010 20:35 IST
Luke Kenny

As every day goes by and I keep listening to music as it comes to me, I realise how difficult it is to write a good song. It’s easy to write a song, per se, but a good song is another matter altogether.

But what does it take to write a good song? The history of popular music is abundant with millions of songs written by hundreds of artistes over the last 50 years, and yet, only a handful have continued to endure in some manner or the other.

Now, one clarification has to be made: a ‘good’ song and a ‘hit’ song are two different things. All good songs are not necessarily ‘hit’ songs and vice versa. But there are many good hit songs that have stood the test of time. And, while there isn’t any criteria for writing a good song, there is definitely one for writing ‘hit’ songs.

First of all, what constitutes a hit song? It has to be simple. It has to be catchy. It has to be quirky. And it has to capture the mood of the moment, which is the tricky part. Many songs try to be hits, yet fall short, because of that ‘little something’, that doesn’t do it for the listeners. But there are also many songs that do it for listeners, every time, regardless of decade or generation.

Danger zone
Sometimes, there are songs that become anthems, simply because the song itself taps into the universal mood of the times, and that mood carries over and keeps moving from one generation to another. But sometimes, those very songs fall into the danger zone, called ‘overkill’.

Songs that will feature on every teenager’s playlist, every radio programme and every social gathering that has live or DJ music playing, will feature it at some point in time.

Although I have noticed playlists of today getting more and more varied and eclectic and most people I know take pains to show how ‘non-commercial’ their music tastes are, but there will still always be a generation that passes on its batch of hits to the next, whether they like it or not.

But one thing that I have alarmingly noticed is how the ‘hit’ recall is becoming noticeably less. As time goes by, today’s generation is beginning to forget even the most overplayed songs.

There are many bands out there that love doing classic rock covers, but when these same bands are invited to colleges for gigs, the kids hardly seem to know any of the music that those very bands play.

Discovering new music
As for all the bands who play only original music, well, their original music is even more alien to them than anything. And all said and done, the following that most Indian original music bands have, are relatively miniscule, contrary to what one would like to believe.

But on a more positive note, one can only follow music at one’s own pace and nothing out there can rush it. In time, if one is to discover the classic era, the grunge era, disco, punk, indie, Indian-indi and genres, artists and musicians, one will. Just as long as the good-hit songs remain the same... if I may say so.