#34) Why the “12 Extremely Depressing Facts About Popular Music” might not be as bad as it seems

Note: this is another simulblog, appearing both on “D-Theory” and “Positive Music Place.”

Recently, a list of 12 “extremely depressing facts about popular music” has been circulating around cyberspace.   The facts, such as that the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got a Feeling” is more popular than any Simon & Garfunkel or Elvis song, have undoubtedly caused much eye-rolling, head shaking and many grumblings of “Kids these days…”

But is there another side of this?  Both as an exercise in critical thought and as one of many steps I’m taking to not let myself become a grumpy old man when it comes to music, I’ve tried to dig a little deeper and see if there may be positives about the facts presented on the list.  No, I don’t think it’s a “good thing”, per se, Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” has outsold any Beatles single, but I do argue that things might not be as bad as they seem.

Before getting into the specifics of each fact, there are two general trends that apply to much of the list.  First is that a lot of today’s music is heard and consumed differently from the classic rock to which it’s being compared.  The population of the US has almost doubled since 1960, which probably accounts for the inflated numbers of some of the more recent acts.  Another point is that, like it or not, opinion does play a role in the selection and presentation of these facts.  Am I here to argue that the Black Eyed Peas are better than the Beatles?  No, but I do think that this list is best looked at with an open mind.  It doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

1. Creed have sold more records in the US than Jimi Hendrix

Creed is one of my least favorite bands.  But I think it’s important to recognize the difference between a true flash in the pan (insert “Foster the People” cough here) and a band which, while not appealing to me on a personal level, has stood the test of time.  I read the fact that they’ve outsold Hendrix is more a case of “agreeing to disagree” than as a “what have we come to?” moment.  Also note the silver lining that the fact has to include the qualifier “in the US.”  In Hendrix’s own lifetime, he found popularity overseas before making it big back home.

2. Led Zeppelin, REM, and Depeche Mode have never had a number one single, Rihanna has had 10 

This could be seen as a case of comparing apples to oranges.  Led Zeppelin was primarily an album-oriented, not single-releasing band.  Their fourth record, sometimes referred to as “ZoSo”, has sold 32 million copies worldwide; 23 million in the US, according to Wikipedia.  There’s also that little thing about “Stairway to Heaven” being the most played song in radio history.  As for REM and Depeche Mode, they both came out of the “alternative” movement of the 1980s; they weren’t even supposed to be popular in the first place.

3. Ke$ha’s “Tik-Tok” sold more copies than ANY Beatles single

I don’t know anything about Ke$sha, other than that the dollar sign makes her name difficult to type.  I could have listened to “Tik-Tok” as research for this blog post, but I didn’t.  I do know this: fifteen years ago, everyone was upset when “Macarena” outsold Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.”  We survived that; we’ll survive Ke$sha too.

4. Flo Rida’s “Low” has sold 8 million copies – the same as The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”

Another artist and song I am not familiar with, and I plan to keep it that way.  Would I sound like a musical snob if I said that long after people have forgotten “Low”, cell phones (or whatever people will use to serve the purpose once served by cigarette lighters) will be waving to “Hey Jude”?

5. The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” is more popular than any Elvis or Simon & Garfunkel song

Another opinion case.  We all love “Mrs. Robinson”, but let’s face it, Simon & Garfunkel has historically been somewhat of a niche act.  As for The King, one could certainly make the argument that his body of work is greater than the sum of the individual parts.  That one BEP song has outsold any of Elvis’s can be read more as a statistical anomaly than a nail in music’s coffin.

6. Celine Dion’s “Falling Into You” sold more copies than any Queen, Nirvana, or Bruce Springsteen record

Like it or not, music fans, non-threatening acts will always have their place.  You don’t have to like it, but just know that it’s not something new.  Take comfort too, in the fact, that it wasn’t Celine Dion who topped a recent list of the 10 catchiest songs of all time, as proven by science.

7. Same with Shania Twain’s “Come On Over”

Admit it, you’ve waved your phone to “You’re Still the One.”

8. Katy Perry holds the same record as Michael Jackson for most number one singles from an album

This fact is a little obscure to really be upsetting.  According to “Wikipedia”, “Thriller” has worldwide sales estimated between 65 and 110 million units.  If Katy Perry puts those kind of numbers, then I might get upset.

9. Barbra Streisand has sold more records (140 million) than Pearl Jam, Johnny Cash, and Tom Petty combined

Barbra Streisand is basically a Jewish Celine Dion.  Or Celine Dion a shikse Streisand.  Either way, Babs will always have her audience, like it or not.  It doesn’t mean that messrs. Vedder, Cash and Petty’s catalogs are languishing in obscurity.

10. People actually bought Billy Ray Cyrus’ album “Some Gave All…” 20 million people. More than any Bob Marley album

It’s hard to let Billy Ray off the hook, especially considering that most notorious thing he made wasn’t even a recording.  But perhaps we can take some happiness in the fact that the music of Bob Marley continues to reach audiences 30 years after his death, while Cyrus & Daughter continue to be punchlines.  No daughter, no cry.

11. The cast of “Glee” has had more songs chart than the Beatles

There’s a certain hypocrisy to getting upset about this one.  As a TV show, “Glee” reaches an audience of millions, thus powering the sales of the music.  But the Beatles were also helped by television, notably their “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance.  If you’re not shocked by the fact that there are more TVs in American households now than in 1964, then don’t be upset that “Glee” has the influence that it does.

12. Justin Bieber exists.

“Talentless and absurd.”  “Like a jug of corn-liquor at a champagne party.”  “A danger to the security of the United States.”  Oh, my bad–those aren’t quotes about Justin Bieber, they’re about Elvis.  Am I going to argue that Bieber is the successor to the throne?  Am I going to insist that my band starts covering “Baby”?  Not in this lifetime.  But I am always aware that the laughable can someday become relevant, and while I think that Justin Bieber having a lasting musical legacy is very much a longshot, it wouldn’t be the first time that a teen idol lasted longer than many people expected.

So where exactly does this list leave us?  I like to think of it as a wake-up call of sorts; a rallying cry.  If fans of Marley, Springsteen, Petty et. al sit by idly, they have no one to blame but themselves when Katy Perry and Ke$sha eclipse their record sales.  The fact is that a lot of the classic rock that was once iconic doesn’t connect with audiences the way it used to.   It’s a bit of a catch-22: it’s hard to preserve and revere the legacies of the Beatles, Elvis and Hendrix without making them feel like museum pieces.  Just as symphony orchestras have an uphill climb, classic rock may well face the same battle before long.  But despite the financial struggles that orchestras may face, everyone in the world knows Beethoven’s fifth symphony, “Fur Elise” and the “Hallelujah Chorus.” John, Paul, George and Ringo could do worse than to keep company with Johann Sebastian, Wolfgang Amadeus and Ludwig Van. Who knows, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber may even join them there someday.

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