Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Death of the Signature Song

Being a Bob Dylan fan, I find myself constantly annoyed whenever the Bard from Hibbing is covered by the mainstream media. I can live with reporters not having the passion for his music that I do. I can live with excessive attention placed on his iconic nature rather than on the songs that he has written. I can live with constant references to his vocal timbre while his vocal skills of timing and phrasing are ignored. I can live with the obsession with his lyrical prowess while his musical abilities are minimized. I can live with a focus on his 60s accomplishments at the expense of his more recent achievements. What I can't stand though, are all the terrible puns on his song titles that populate seemingly every headline or lead paragraph.

For example, when neighbors complained about Dylan's porta-potty awhile back, news outlets gleefully ran with "Blowin in the Wind" references. A few months later, when he was mistaken by New Jersey police for a vagrant, CNN couldn't wait to reference "Like a Rolling Stone." NPR couldn't resist an entire blog devoted to puns on Dylan song titles after an erroneous report that he would be voicing GPS systems. Probably the most popular song title to pun is "The Times They Are A-Changin." A California paper recently managed to combine that song with "It Ain't Me Babe" by announcing Dylan's new Christmas album with the headline "Christmas Time It Is A-Changin' Babe."

Of course, Dylan is not the only artist subjected to this treatment. I have seen more than enough Beatles puns in my life (oops, couldn't resist). And it isn't necessarily a baby boomer phenomenon. I still remember a ridiculous headline I saw in the mid-1990s in reference to Sheryl Crow: "All She Wants to Do is Win Some Grammys."

However, I don't remember seeing any song title puns recently when Taylor Swift swept the CMAs. Come to think of it, nor did I see any when Kanye West got headlines for interrupting Swift at the VMAs. And for all the times that I've seen Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana's name in print, I don't think I've ever seen a reference to a song title. Ditto for the Jonas Brothers. I've seen Britney Spears's name an awfully lot, and I have seen plays on "Oops I Did it Again," but that song is older than itunes.

I suppose it is not profound to notice that since the dawn of the digital age, there have been few additions to the canon of popular songs. But I'm not sure that I've ever seen anyone draw a link between the digital era and the death of the "signature song." I'd have to say that "Hey Ya" by Outkast in 2003 might go down in history as the last time a musical act and song title were synonymous. (Though I guess one could make a case for "Rehab" by Amy Winehouse).

So what does it mean that it is apparently now possible for an artist to achieve breakthrough success without the benefit of a consciousness-penetrating song? On the downside, record companies will probably invest less in A&R and put even more emphasis on style over substance than they already do. The upside is that we won't have to live with terrible puns anymore. Things Have Changed.


Blogger Ben's Blog said...

I would definitely have to agree, however more on a different issue. My problem is when individuals criticize or negate artists when they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. What happened to the adage "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all"?

On the other hand, people who have a taste for the older music - excuse me - people who have a taste for MUSIC, should be proud that brilliant artists are being recognized (although undermined) for their beautiful work. Is Britney Spears really worth "punning"?

11:34 PM  

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