I know what you’re going to say.
You’ll probably roll your eyes when you say it. Or shake your head in that way.
“You sound like a geezer.”
Yeah, I know. I heard you say it before you even said it.
But, honestly, I can’t help it. After looking at this week’s Billboard Top Ten albums chart, my instant reaction was to shake my head — as a good geezer would — and think, “It’s not like it used to be.”
Here are the current top ten albums in America:
1.) “God Forgives, I Don’t,” Rick Ross
2.) “Uncaged,” Zac Brown Band
3.) “Believe,” Justin Bieber
4.) “Up All Night,” One Direction
5.) “Number Ones,” Bee Gees
6.) “Life is Good,” Nas
7.) “Kids Bop 22,” Kids Bop Kids
8.) “21,” Adele
9.) “Overexposed,” Maroon 5
10.) The Soul Sessions: Vol 2,” Joss Stone
I know. If you’re a music aficionado, you’re going to say, “You can’t look at the charts, man. Top 40 sucks. You gotta look beyond the charts.”
I hear you. But still. It’s just not right.
Sure, we all know the major record labels have been targeting young audiences for years. I mean, seriously — Kids Bop 22? You’ve got Bieber in there, plus One Direction, a new boy band. While people in their 30s grew up with hip-hop, I still consider it mostly a genre for junior high to college- aged listeners. And while Adele and Joss Stone provide nice nods to soul, they’re not as good as old soul. Amy Winehouse was the best one at channeling that genre, and now she’s gone.
But the biggest point of irritation for me is, when I look at this list, I know that none of these albums will have a long-term impact. Ten years from now, no one’s going to remember one thing about One Direction. They aren’t going to compare Bieber’s “Believe” album to the all-time greats. And the Zac Brown Band will be the next Kentucky Headhunters in country music.
“Ouch,” you say. “But I saw Zac Brown at the fair, and they were pretty good.”
That’s because you’ve lowered your expectations.
If you look at the top albums list from this time 30 years ago, you see records by Fleetwood Mac, Elvis Costello, Joan Jett, Joe Jackson, John Mellencamp, Crosby, Stills & Nash. Memorable hit singles included “Hurts So Good,” “Stepping Out,” “Southern Cross,” “I Love Rock n’ Roll,” “Spirits in the Material World” and “Jessie’s Girl.”
Go back 40 years, to 1972, and the top albums produced great tunes like “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by the Temptations,” and “Rocket Man” by Elton John.
Those songs were more than songs — they were milestones. “Papa Was a Rollling Stone” marked the emergence of psychedelic, paranoid soul. “Rocket Man” reflected mini genre of songs about space travel.
But, even better, these songs had melodies. You could sing along to them. They stuck with you. And you knew they were good the instant you began tapping your toes.
I can’t tap my toes to Nas.
“You sound so unhip,” you say.
But, man, decades later, we still remember these songs. Forty years from now, people won’t wax nostalgically over Bieber’s “Boyfriend.” Because Beiber fans will ditch Bieber once they grow up. People who liked Elton John as kids still like Elton John today.
Yeah — I heard you. “Don’t look at the charts,” you remind me, all smug. I got you. But you can be cool all you want. You can say it doesn’t matter what the charts say — listen to Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend and Bon Iver. But it does matter, man. Because the songs that do well on the charts are gonna reflect what gets put out there in the future. And if Bieber sells a million albums, you can expect more Bieber, which is what One Direction is. And the Arcade Fires of the world will have to find some creative, back door way to get heard. And good bands that can’t think of gimmicks will have to have day jobs.
I blame the 90s, of course. That’s when it really started to go bad. While Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and U2 had space on the charts in the summer of 1992, so too did Kris Kross, Billy Ray Cyrus and Michael Bolton.
When audiences embraced crap, they gave us more crap. And soon the charts had more crap than non-crap.
“You have strong opinions about this,” you say. “Maybe you need to take some sort of geezer medicine to calm yourself.”
Yes, probably. Or I’ll do what I always do: I’ll put my headphones on, queue up some Elton John and check out for a while.
All photos: Wikipedia