Music is about the notes, not the dollars

By Jeff Bagdigian

In my household, we covered the names and stories of men like Jimi Hendrix, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend and Keith Emerson before those of various presidents. I was more familiar with the faces and names of rock legends than I was with those of my own relatives, a fact that hasn’t really changed. Music was and remains to this day a highly valued source of entertainment for my family and me, and it is for this reason that I lament the quality and direction music is now careening toward.


If you need proof of this decline, try comparing lyrics from the popular music of the 1970s to that of a contemporary artist. I believe a comparison between any Led Zeppelin song and any song by, I don’t know, let’s say Ke$ha, will be more than adequate to illustrate my point.

Consider the songs “The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin and “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha for their lyrical content and structure.

Led Zeppelin has penned a song inspired by Scottish folklore and J.R.R. Tolkien. The lyrics are poetic, offering the possibility of multiple interpretations, whilst at the same time possessing a fluidic rhythm that fits the pace of the song perfectly. Oh, and Jimmy Page uses a mandolin.

Ke$ha’s lyrics in “Tik Tok?” They are slightly less profound. Personally, the Mick Jagger reference always confused me somewhat. At least Led Zeppelin knew the guy. As for the delivery of the lyrics in the song itself, Ke$ha tends to hit us in the face with them in a jarring and heavy-handed manner. Led Zeppelin caresses our ears with their music. Robert Plant has some truly epic screams in his music; Ke$ha bleats out some senseless yodeling. And at no point in the song does she ever use a mandolin. Lame.

Yes, long gone are the days when songs like “American Pie” and “Space Oddity” were what made up the pop charts, for now we, the American public, are subjected to songs with titles like “Blah Blah Blah,” and “Omg.” What I ask myself every time I turn on the radio now is, what happened? Why don’t we have albums like “Harvest” and “A Night at the Opera” anymore?

The reason: music has gone commercial. The music industry is how it is referred to now. Record companies and producers are only concerned with creating a single that sells and they only cultivate those so-called artists who are interested in fame and the money involved.

Songs are mass-produced now – they are no longer written. The only artists that receive airtime on the radio now are those represented by companies with the most money. Music is no longer art. Our society is obsessed with wealth and the music that is popular now demonstrates this devastating fact. Songs are very simplistic and are more a sound bite than a complete song. The reason there are no longer concept albums like The Who’s “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia” is that the market is no longer a place where they can be appreciated. People no longer desire art for they want the instant gratification a catchy three-minute song provides rather than the fulfilling experience a carefully composed album can yield.

This reality saddens me. These cookie-cutter songs will not have the lasting power the music of old possessed, which is one of the reasons music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s is still listened to today. The majority of contemporary music is not art because wealth is the objective. Music is an art, and the value of the art should not be based on how much money a song or a book or a painting could potentially make. If money is the prime inspiration for wanting to create, it is better to stop now. If this is the widely held sentiment of our time, I worry for the future of music and the creative process in general. All we want is money and our art has become stagnant because of this. I am saddened by the fact that society is training people to believe that value in life is determined by how much wealth an individual gains, and I believe the decline in the quality of popular music reflects this trend.

Jeffrey Bagdigian is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]