February 13, 2013

Completely Obsessed

What’s wrong with silly love songs?

Chuck Berry once said that when he decided to start writing songs, there were only two subjects worth writing about: girls and cars. Sure, they had been written about before, but in the dawn of the age of rock ’n’ roll, these were the two subjects that not only defined a generation, but created an industry.

After decades of crooners, Berry and his contemporaries found a new way to talk about an old concept. Love songs became sexy and many a family was started in the back seats of Make Out, America.

But this isn’t a history lesson; it’s a plea. It’s a cry and a quest for originality. What started as a revolution quickly became a paradigm, and then it became lazy.

It’s been said by many artists that love songs are the easiest thing to write, and why not? Most of us picked up our first guitar with at least some notion that we were going to get some attraction from the cute girl down the hall. My friend Kevin, in our first high school band, always reminded me that holding a guitar makes you look 10 times hotter (he should have also continued to remind me that I should practice more and actually learn to play). So when I wrote my first song, it’s not hard to guess what was on my mind.

The problem was that I was writing the same song that had been written time and time again. I’m not much of a lyrics guy to start with. Nothing against words, but when I’m listening to a song, the first thing that grabs me is the melody. No matter how good the story, if you can’t find the joy in singing along with it, it’s probably not going to stick.

Still, when I do take the time to hone in on the words, I’m often disappointed to hear that it’s the same tired phrasing and clichés that we’ve been hammering for decades. What we’re basically getting is Episode 1573 of “Love Me Do.” That makes it all the more outstanding to run across something that isn’t.

Take Peter Gabriel. Start with “In Your Eyes” and make your way down to “I Grieve.” What you’ll hear is the entire scope of a relationship told in a completely personal projection that doesn’t feel like a worn path. Dylan did it plenty. Even when he sings the line I saw a shooting star tonight, and I thought of you, it’s leveled out by Listen to the engine, listen to the bell, as the last fire truck from hell goes rollin’ by. And it’s still a love song.

McCartney, our “Love Me Do” Patient Zero, went on to give us “Yesterday” and then, in a complete self-aware moment, went all meta (Macca Meta?) with “Silly Love Songs.” The question was asked, Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs. Well, what’s wrong with that? Well, nothing, I guess. I mean, the world keeps spinning, sure, but if we’re going to keep perpetuating this whole musical machine, let’s remember that the way is forward.

Thankfully, a recent cast has stepped up. Josh Ritter’s “The Curse” is about a mummy who comes back to life and falls in love with the scientist who found him. A love so powerful that it raised the dead, consumed a life, and destroyed another. Or Bob Schneider, whose “Changing Your Mind” is one of the most soul-crushing come-back-to-me songs I’ve ever heard. At one point, he ties the bones of a dead saint to the memory of a girl’s eyes. And you understand how utterly hopeless this man with her name tattooed will feel for the rest of his life. Originality exists, but rarely does it come along.

Luckily, songs will keep being written, and hearts will continue to be built and broken — but why waste your time and money on a recording if it’s just going to be thrown in the pile of endless toss-offs? Find a way to create something different. Something with guts. Which, of course, is easy for me to say. I don’t have to write it. The world needs silly love songs, just not ones that sound like “Silly Love Songs.”

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.

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