September 15, 2008

Kid Rock and His Unoriginal Sin

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Like snowflakes and unhappy families, every hit summer single is a unique entity. Though they each share that ineffable quality that garners radio play and drives people onto the dance floor, “Umbrella” is an entirely different animal from “Gold Digger,” which isn’t at all the same as “A Milli.” But one song this summer, Kid Rock’s latest hit single (a phrase I thought I’d never have to write again) breaks with this tradition by taking a popular song and recycling it without bothering with any emendation.
Admittedly, hit songs are no longer meant for me; by now I’m almost outside the target audience that hit singles are geared toward. Record labels know, demographically speaking, I’m probably not going to be running out and buying a new CD based on a song I hear on the radio or see on MTV (I’m either stealing it online or not getting it at all — as far as they’re concerned I’m useless). Frankly I’m not listening to the radio or watching MTV much anymore, which partly explains why it’s taken me so long to hear “All Summer Long.”
Another explanation for my blissful ignorance was the fact that I probably figured it was Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” every time I heard “All Summer Long” playing from a neighbor’s house or from a passing car. This is because the latter, as you probably know, shamelessly stole the hook from the former, mixing it with “Sweet Home Alabama” to produce a song that was big on memorable melodies but lacking anything resembling originality.
Admittedly, a large part of my distaste for this song stems solely from personal preference. I love “Werewolves of London” and can’t imagine that it can be improved upon, certainly not by a song with lyrics like, “It was 1989 / My thoughts were short, my hair was long.” But what bothers me most is that the derivations in this song seem to me to be rooted in the basest kind of calculation. Every time it comes on, I hear someone saying: “Hey, we know this song is catchy because it’s been popular for thirty years. Why don’t I take it and make a new song.”
I probably shouldn’t be bothered by this. In fact, I know I shouldn’t — sampling old songs is by now an old standby in music, particularly in rap, and before this song came along I’d never given that fact a second thought. The difference, I think, is that sampling often takes an old song and presents it in a new way, as but one part of a new song. Take Jay-Z’s “Izzo (H.O.V.A),” where producer Kanye West samples 10 seconds of the “I Want You Back” to astonishing effect. The same sort of logic may well have been going on in both “Izzo” and “All Summer Long,” but the difference is that — in a bit of sublime musical alchemy — West took the catchiest part of an insanely catchy song and used it to anchor a new song, while Mr. Rock just took two great songs and did a little control-X and control-V (holy shit, I’m a nerd).
I guess my problem with “All Summer Long” is that it doesn’t do anything new, but still needs to cannibalize two better songs to do it. I say: “Come up with your own songs, Mr. Rock. Let Warren Zevon rest in peace (if you really want, though, you can take Lynyrd Skynyrd).”
Not to get all Seinfeld on you but what’s the deal with these Jonas Brothers? Three months ago I’d never heard of them but now, not only am I aware of them — I’m scared of them. From what I can tell, they’ve got the backing of the Disney Corporation (enough to scare me) and, from reading their profile in Rolling Stone, I know that they have at their disposal an army of rabid “tween” girls who are ready to kill at their word.
Using the magic of the interweb, I’ve listened to some of their songs and, honestly, I’m underwhelmed (though I’m obviously not their target audience). But, despite their occasional inanity, I’ve decided I’m OK with these Jonas Brothers. I’m not going to purchase — or even steal — their newest record, A Little Bit Longer (and who came up with that title? Michael Scott is never around when you need him) but at least they play their own instruments and write their own songs. Though the Jonas Brothers may be just as manufactured as the boy-bands of the ’90s (remember the ’90s?) I think they’re a step in the right direction.
And I’m not just saying that because the prospect of an angry horde of 12-year old girls scares the shit out of me.