So There’s No Good Music Anymore? You’re Not Looking Hard Enough

I’ve heard the argument since I worked in the radio business (a career that spanned three decades and various formats, I have to add). In discussion with fans of particular genres of music – whether it was rock, country, metal, etc. – the refrain was often “They don’t make music like they used to.” I often thought about that statement and came up with some reasons why people make that statement and/or believe what they’re saying.

For many, there is no better era for music than when they grew up. For Baby Boomers, the 1960s and its wide variety of genres (seriously, on the radio back then you could hear almost ANYTHING and often on one station) and the 1970s is what they look at as the epitome of the history of music. For Generation X (born in the early 1960s), the sounds from the 1980s and some of the 1990s is what captures their ears. For the Millennials, the late 90s/early Aughts is where music was cooking. What Generation Z – those that are currently in grade school – will be listening to is a huge guess. And if you want to reach back further than 50-60 years ago, there are those that consider the “Big Band” Era the shit and so on.

Failing that, people will often look towards their wild and crazy “single years” as THE time when music was great. Whether you were dancing in a disco, moshing in the pit or line dancing at a honkytonk, people will often equate music with when they were having their most enjoyable times. Ask any person and they will probably be able to put a soundtrack together that would tell the story of their lives better than any book or documentary could ever hope to achieve and a predominance of the music is probably from their young adult days.

Finally, there IS some credence that has to be given that music isn’t as good anymore, but it is more about the talent of the performers rather than what music they are presenting. For some of the greatest music in the history of mankind, one person sat down and put together EVERYTHING. They served as the writer, producer, performer and, if you really want to go back in time, seller of the music (you think Beethoven did his music for free?). Nowadays, the list of co-writers on a song can be as many as 10 different people and producers can reach nearly the same number. Then there’s the fact that performers don’t exactly “perform” live anymore…

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With this said, there’s plenty of music that is out there nowadays, people just aren’t looking hard enough for such gems. Normally people will not pay as much attention to music as they get older because the “acts of life” (working, taking care of the bills, children, etc.) become more significant rather than the “frivolity” of listening to music. Unless you actually are working in the music business, then it becomes more background noise than something that you actually are tremendously invested…but that can change.

I personally try to keep up on the new music out there and, as I’ve previously stated, there’s some good stuff out in the stores and on the airwaves (or the internet). I’ve spoken plenty of times about how good Florence + The Machine are and Bruno Mars is an outstanding performer, one that I’d definitely pay to see. If you don’t think there’s any good music out there, here’s some choices that run the gamut from pleasant and quiet to hard, heavy and raucous that you’re missing.

Halestorm

Halestorm

There’s just something about a loud, thundering guitar and crushing bass notes that gets the blood pumping. I’ve personally always enjoyed hard rock/heavy metal (what some people consider “metal” is far from it, to be honest) and still do to this day. Halestorm, led by Lzzy Hale, is a band that you’re missing on big time if you haven’t checked them out.

Hale seems to firmly embrace the “rock and roll attitude,” but she’s also got the vocal and musical chops to stand on her own in front of the band. “I Like It Heavy” simply comes out and slugs you in the mouth, catching your attention from the start. At the very end, Hale’s almost church-choir sounding coda (of the studio version of the song) simply surprises you with its impact. Finally, anyone that can cover Pat Benatar’s “Hell is for Children” and pretty much equal Benatar’s voice is worth the price of admission.

(And, for a bonus, here’s Lzzy Hale wiping the stage with Eric Church at the CMT Music Awards.)

Leah Flanagan

LeahFlanagan

Flanagan is an Australian artist that received a great deal of support (re:  playing her music) on SiriusXM Radio Margaritaville (quite honestly, SiriusXM is a great spot to find new music that isn’t getting played on terrestrial radio) for her album Nirvana Nights and the tune “September Song.” Flanagan’s music is quite an eclectic mix of genres, all pulled together by her voice and lyrics. To my knowledge, she’s never has toured in the United States, a pity to be honest; she would bring a different style to the U. S. music scene.

Kacey Musgraves

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She may not be an artist that is hidden from the world, but Musgraves is one of the best country artists – hell, let’s go for it, overall artists – out there today (and that comes from someone who isn’t necessarily a country fan). A two-time Grammy winner, it just seems that nobody wants to give Musgraves the proper attention that someone of her talent deserves. Her album Same Trailer Different Park ran the gamut of musical stylings (my personal favorite, “Blowin’ Smoke,” had a definitive blues styling to it), which might keep her from being pigeonholed into the country genre.

Beyond that, Musgraves isn’t afraid to touch some sensitive issues with her music, something that country music isn’t known for. Questioning religion, acceptance and tolerance of gays and lesbians and drug usage are all subjects she’s touched on, rare in today’s music industry that prefers its artists to be sanitized (like the waste of space known as Taylor Swift) so little Suzie doesn’t get any wild ideas.

Blackberry Smoke

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If you prefer your rock n’ roll with a bit of a Southern flair, then this is the band for you. They do harken back to those 70s powerhouses like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and Blackfoot and they will get you tapping your foot. My personal favorite is the song, “Leave a Scar,” but also noteworthy are “Wish in One Hand” and “Six Ways to Sunday.”

Trombone Shorty

TromboneShorty

For those of you who like your music instrumental, Trombone Shorty is someone to check out. From the melting pot that is New Orleans, Trombone Shorty combines musical styles like a delicious gumbo and the only thing that might stop your listening pleasure is getting too full of the funkiness. His biggest commercial success to this mark in his career is the song “Hurricane Season,” but there is plenty of other work that make him worth a listen. Like Musgraves, he’s young – only 30 (Musgraves is 27) – so we should be hearing from him for some time.

Rodrigo y Gabriela

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Acoustic guitar never sounded as good as when this Mexican duo pick them up. While Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero did stay pretty close to their Mexican roots with their breakthrough hit “The Soundmaker,” they will stretch out and incorporate other musical styles into their music. Of late, they have also been expanding to a full band outside of just their own guitars, so the future could be bright for this duo.

Gary Clark, Jr.

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Finally, if you have the desire to hear someone simply shred a guitar, Austin, TX’s Gary Clark, Jr., is the man. Long a mainstay of one of the most competitive music scenes in the world (Austin is PACKED with people that are or could easily have been the best in their respective fields of music), Clark broke through with his album Blak and Blu and the song “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” that demonstrated the screaming power and skill of his guitar work. He also is an accomplished blues player, as recognized by his Grammy win in 2014 for Best Traditional R&B Performance.

Will these performers be recognized 25 years from now? Will they be forever ensconced in the hallowed halls of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland? Hell, nobody knows and that’s part of the fun. It is a thrill to simply enjoy the music and the ride and see where it takes us. So the next time you think that there’s “no good music” anymore, either take a listen to these artists or get out there and look for some on your own…the journey is definitely worth it!

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Top Five or Six Songs You DON’T Want To Hear While Driving

If you’re anything like me, you do like to hit the road for a good drive. I don’t mean the little trip to the grocery store or Macy’s (although those are fun too), I mean the good old fashioned “road trip” where you throw caution to the wind and see how far the gas takes you…or, OK, a good long trip to visit family, friends, go to a concert or a sporting event, etc. The thing that makes any road trip easier to traverse is when you have good music to go along with the journey.

Good music makes the trip easier to bear, especially when you have friends and/or children in the car. There does come a problem, however: the songs that, once they begin to play on the radio, immediately cause your right foot to get about a ton heavier and causes the needle on the speedometer to reach levels that are highly unsafe. These are the songs that, when they come on either the radio, a CD or off of our iPod, we certainly hope that A) we are alone in the vehicle and B) hope that there aren’t any sheriffs, deputies or other law enforcement officials in the near vicinity as they would surely stop us for our upcoming display of speed.

The Outlaws – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”

The Outlaws were never one of the big “stars” of the music industry. They barely were able to catch on in the heyday of Southern rock in the mid-70s with a couple of hits, “There Goes Another Love Song” and “Green Grass and High Tides.” It was their 1980 remake of a tune from the 1940s, however, that would put them in this list:

One of the big things that a great “don’t drive while listening” song has is guitars that seem to ascend to Heaven or drive straight to Hell, there is no in between. In this particular song, it seems that the guitars take the listener both ways. The original lyrics paint the picture of either salvation or damnation and, as the tempo increases towards the end of the song, there is an immediacy brought about to make the listener try to decide which side to ride with. It also causes the scenery to rip by if you’re driving in a car and get into the music.

KISS – “Detroit Rock City”

Many people have a love/hate relationship with the band KISS. One of the longest lived bands of the rock era (founded in 1973 and continually recording and touring since that time), they have cranked out their brand of music for almost four decades. While long reviled for their “amateurish” music and “cartoonish” stage shows and makeup, KISS actually proved over the long run that they were consummate musicians who knew how to work the stage, beguile the audience and make a mint while doing it! As far as their contribution to the “unsafe at any speed” list, here you go:

The song itself is about a maniacal drive (which alone should get it in the pantheon) but it also was called by VH1 the #6 Greatest Metal Song in history. The song (and KISS themselves) inspired a movie of the same name and the tune has been used to promote both the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. On the other hand, if you’ve got a copy of the original single, you always had something to play for a girlfriend or significant other – the “B-side” (normally not the more popular song) was a little ditty called “Beth.”

Ted Nugent – Wango Tango

Whether you like his take on politics or not, the one thing that Ted Nugent can never be denied is his borderline insane work in rock music. Nugent has a list of songs that could contend for this list – “Piledriver” from his days with the Damn Yankees, “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang” and “Motor City Madhouse” just to name a few – but this one captures the increase in speed as the potency of the song itself goes up:

Although the entire song is blasting from the start, it is that center segment when you’re taken down to just the base line and the drums that the true intensity begins. As Nugent gets deeper into the lyrics (the “pretend your waist is a Maserati” line is priceless) and builds to the climax, you can only hope that your foot isn’t on a gas pedal. If it is, you better hope it is a stretch of open road!

Metallica – “Fuel”

They will probably go down as one of – if not the – greatest band in hard rock/metal history. Along the way, Metallica has given some gems to the “Lead Foot Legion” – “Master of Puppets” comes to mind immediately. This one, however, was done with the automobile in mind:

One of the things with Metallica, however, is that their songs could be viewed from several different aspects. The chorus of the song – “Give me fuel, give me fire, give me that which I desire” – could be applied to any addiction that a person has. That they hide some depth in writing a great driving song is intriguing to me.

Tie:  Megadeth – “Symphony For Destruction” and P.O.D. – “Boom”

Former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine was tossed out of the group (supposedly over his own addictions) and, as the ultimate “Fuck You,” went on to form his own syndicate that matched his former band nearly note for note. This tune in particular is never a good one to hear if you are behind the steering wheel:

The band P.O.D. never has gotten the recognition that they should have received in their career. Helping to drive the rock/rap genre in the early 2000s, this particular song was the theme to my radio show for several years:

Even today, it still gets the pulse racing as well as the RPMs when I am behind the wheel.

There are a host of songs that didn’t make my final cut (that’s why you may see a Part II, Part III, etc.), but there is one band that may punch a hole in this roster at some point. While some may think that Southern rock is dead, the band Blackberry Smoke stokes the fires of that Southern moonshine still even today, cranking out some powerful songs. Blackberry Smoke, keep it up and perhaps one day “Leave A Scar” will make this list:

Another line for the ages:  “I may not change the world but I’m gonna leave a scar…”

Music is one of mankind’s greatest creations. Whether it is used as a salve, as a confession, as a testament, as a declaration or as a way to inspire or psyche up oneself, there is something out there for everyone. When it comes to songs you don’t want to hear when you’re behind the wheel, what are your choices?