Tell Me: What’s a Song?

Tell Me: What’s A Song?


Leonard Zwelling

Song: a short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.

I thought I knew what a song was.

I began collecting 45 rpm records when I was about 10. I still have the box with those records and as far as I can tell, they will still play. I think The Purple People Eater was my first disc (1958), but I collected several more.

These discs were characterized by having one “song” recorded in the grooves on each side of the record—an A side and a B side. The A-side was meant for radio play.

These songs almost all had in common the ability of the listener to understand the lyrics and the songs all had catchy tunes—ear worms—that you could hum along to almost immediately.

That was then.

I understand that popular music is no longer aimed at people my age. Not even close. One of the reasons we still watch Saturday Night Live religiously is to try to keep up with the zeitgeist and see and hear the musical artists that are popular with the young people.

The artists on SNL all seem to be accomplished performers and excellent musicians. The “songs” however mystify me often as they seem to have no melody, no harmony, and just rhythm. Is that even music? I cannot make out the words even with my hearing aids in and volume turned up. Heck, all the artists need monitor mics in their own ears to hear what they are saying. Maybe, I do too.

In my quest to try to keep up with what’s happening in music, I also listen to Spotify in the car. I just tried to listen to the two hottest albums (not records or CDs) around, Taylor Swift’s The Tortured Poets Department and Beyonce’s Cowboy Carter. I tried. I finished neither.

The Swift record must be loved by her minions for the words. That is what is being studied at Harvard (see article above). But, I can’t understand the words. I assume people buy the CD and read them as they listen or stream the music and pull up the words on a computer screen. The music is lackluster at best and repetitive. Taylor may be the most popular artist in the world, but she cannot even come close to Pink when it comes to making an album.

The Beyonce album has some toe tapping tracks, but on the whole is pretty boring, too. But, like I said, these albums are not made with me as the consumer in mind. The critics can’t seem to get enough of these two women. Why escapes me.

And just so you know that I can finish listening to a new song collection, both Mark Knopfler (the leader of Dire Straits) with One Deep River and Maggie Rogers with Don’t Forget Me have made real albums that I liked and understood.

It is obvious that what was necessary for a song to be a song when I was younger is no longer required. This saddens me, but does not surprise me. I am flabbergasted at the world in general and certainly popular culture confuses me. On the rare occasion when I have gone to a movie of late, I am lured into subsequent visits not at all by the coming attractions which seem to go on for 30 minutes and are filled with super heroes and explosions and monsters and CGI. Yuch!

I understand that the zeitgeist has passed me by. Still, a hummable song now and again would be nice. All suggestions welcomed! If you’ve heard something good, let me know and if you love Taylor and Beyonce, I apologize. I don’t get it. Maybe I’m not supposed to.

2 thoughts on “Tell Me: What’s a Song?”

  1. Gerard Ventura MD

    Preserve your sanity. Forget the bazillionaires. Listen to people that “no one ever heard of.” Work for me. (by the way, I’m sure Taylor Smith listens to these people as well)… (When Bob Dylan’s around, he comes around to sing this in Indiana).

    Are they kind of blues based? Yes…like Muddy Waters said, “the groove was there…..before time began.”

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