Saturdizzle Mizzle

This is going to be a weird one, but I wanted to start a little list of the things I like about music, and what I think makes a good song.  I think the definitions are somewhat objective in the sense that the qualities all need to be there for it to be fully “great,” but subjective in as far as whether people understand or are attracted to it.  Let me explain:  To have a good (objectively good, not “good” in the sense that everyone will like it, even if they should) song, you need these qualities:

Originality (stand on the shoulders of your heroes, pick a new fruit off of the tree)

Honesty (this is a tricky one; there’s a thin line between fabricating a loss or a break-up just to have something to whine about and to have an excuse to front a black-haired band, and using an example of it to speak some universal truth about loss, even if it didn’t necessarily happen to you.  It all rests in motivation, and since You Never Can Tell what people mean when they say what they say, or what their reasons are behind it, you have to sometimes either suspend disbelief in order to enjoy a song, or built a sort of relationship with the songwriter based on whether they’ve been honest in the past.  Does that make sense?  Earn my trust!) 

Catchiness (sounds superficial, but what I mean is, it’s got to have substance, something that makes it stands out and helps the song grab the attention of the ear.  Great songs don’t always do this on the first listen, sometimes it takes 3 or 4 or 5 or more listens to pick up on it)

Self-Serving (written for the song-writer, not an audience; meaning, you would write the song for yourself, even if no one else was around to hear it.  The best musicians love to make music, and I know that sounds silly, but there are so many bands out there who seemed to be motiviated by everything but actually creating a decent instance of music). 

Finally, there has to be the willingness of the listener to meet the song halfway.  What I mean is, everyone loves the Blue Album from Weezer- why?  Because the songs on that album are so great and also so catchy, the listener has to do very little to meet those songs and appreciate them.  Those songs practically come to your doorstep and make out with your mom.  And you dad LOVES it.  He sings along!  Meanwhile, there are far less The French Kicks fans than Weezer fans (at least in the US) because The French Kicks are definitely a band you have to meet more than halfway.  You’re at least going to have to drive to the midway point, which happens to always objectively be Ceresco, Nebraska.  It just is.  Then, finally, there are bands like Sigur Ros.  Now, I am still on my way to meet this band.  I can see them off in the distance, and let me tell you, they are shredding.  I can see that they are good.  But they are so far away, and I keep getting sidetracked by Nada Surf and Superdrag, who are in the car with me, singing songs I learned on the second listen.  So while it’s not impossible to go all the way to meet Sigur Ros, it’s tougher because they are farther away on the “originality” side of the spectrum, and it takes actual effort to get to them.  Meanwhile, “Say It Ain’t So” is still making out with my mom.

HOWIE-  Please do your best to comment/add to this, if you have anything: I would love to hear what you say on the matter.  I remember one time we were talking about someone who believes a song is an objectively “bad” song arguing with someone who likes this “bad” song, and how they are arguing past each other.  Maybe expand?  It’s a profound concept that I didn’t get at first, but leave it to Baby Beaver!  

5 thoughts on “Saturdizzle Mizzle”

  1. Kibler – thanks for making a post (i was going to fabricate another long analysis of a hated metal album). but where is some sort of stupid, fake link for me to (try) to follow?

    i’m short on time at the moment, but i will be writing more from time to time – hopefully (an) other(s) might pipe up too.

    objectivity in aesthetic expression is pretty hard to wrap one’s head around. anyone who tells you they’re sure it’s even possible is too small-minded to grasp it, even if it is possible for somebody else. that said, there are better and worse grounds for judgement, and i think you’ve described some of the better ones.

    i better think about this more before i write more. do you think i’ve changed anyone’s opinion of Some Kind of Monster? -h

  2. COMMENT ON KIBLER – “I think the definitions are somewhat objective in the sense that the qualities all need to be there for it to be fully “great,” but subjective in as far as whether people understand or are attracted to it.” These definitions that you speak of may be ojective (who knows), but how people interpret them is totally subjective.

    Originality, Honesty, Catchiness, Self-serving, and Meeting Halfway are all qualities that can be interpreted very differently by many people, which will inevitably lead to many different opinions resulting in what a person thinks about a song (i.e “good” or “bad”). I remember having conversations with Kibler (not too long ago either) about Bright Eyes and whether Conor Oberst (lead singer/guitarist) takes himself too seriously. Kibler made a comment about Conor growing up in suburbia as a white boy from a middle-class family — what does he have to complain about or even be sad about?? Well, a lot I bet, but that’s a whole different blog. The point being is that Kibler didn’t believe (or at least didn’t express that he believed) that Conor was being Honest. That was one reason why he was on the fence in terms of liking or not liking Bright Eyes. However, another friend of mine, who is in love with Bright Eyes, thinks that Conor is extremely honest, just as honest as Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie or Kasher from Cursive and the Good Life.

    These things are subjective.

    I agree, I like the Blue Album by Weezer a lot. I think it’s pretty sweet. But that is MY OPINION. Not everyone likes that album and that is a fact. I know many people who don’t even know Weezer. Why? Because they aren’t into that kind of music.

    These things are subjective.

    Meeting Halfway — I believe that anytime a person listens to something more than once or twice they are that much more likely to view the song differently. They may even start to like it…or they may find more reasons to dislike it. I don’t necessarily believe that this quality determines whether a song is “good” or not. “Songs About Jane”, by Maroon5, came out in like 2002 and I really liked it. Three years later and one too many spins by DJ and MTV, I am completely sick of the band! I haven’t touched the CD for over a year-and-a-half. Are these songs “bad” now? I can only speak subjectively and I do like the songs, but I won’t be listening to the album anytime soon.

    I am not sure if I agree with the statement that “there are better and worse grounds for judgment”. Aren’t judgment calls subjective? If two people (one person who is really into Creed, Limp Bizkit, and Good Charlotte and the other who is really into Death Cab, Pavement, and Radiohead) are talking about what makes music “good”, who’s judgment would be better? They are coming from two different perspectives. Neither are better or worse, just different.

  3. Franz- I think what you’re doing is exactly what Howie pointed out to me once, which is arguing something which is independent from what I presented. Howie put it as “talking past each other,” and this is why I think that: I agree with you completely on subjective nature of people’s OPINIONS of music. Whether people like bands or not, or songs, or whatever else, is completely subjective. Opinions always are. But truth and objectively are completely independent from our PERCEPTIONS of truth and objectivity. That being said, what I was saying in my blog is that there are objectively good songs, and objectively bad songs, or at the very least, some songs are objectively worse or better than other songs. I was not commenting on whether people should or should not LIKE songs, I was actually going out on a limb and saying that a song’s quality is independent from whether one likes it or not

    I am not saying that I know what the pure definition of a “good” song is. That would be like saying that I know the pure definition of what a “good” person is. But we know that some people are better people than others. We know that a saint who has never hurt anyone’s feelings is a better person than a baby-murdering axe-murderer. But with songs, as with people, there are horrendous gray areas. For example, who is a worse person: someone who has never lied but who has killed an infant? Or someone who lies constantly about everything, but has never physicially hurt a fly? If you believe in absolute truth as I do, then you can agree that one of these people is worse than the other, or even objectively “tied” for worse person. But far be it from most of us to tell which person is worse, or why.

    So basically, what I am saying is that there some songs are objectively worse than others. One song might not be that good, because the lyrics are trite and the music is tired, and another song might be bad because it’s so abstract, it doesn’t tether itself to anything and thus, doesn’t connect or “meet” with the listener.

    Again, let me stress that a song’s objective value has NOTHING to do with people’s opinions on them. I love music I know is “bad,” and I dislike bands that I know are “good,” because of my own personal tastes. And I know you would probably agree with me that a band like The Beatles is objectively better than a band like Creed, regardless of how many people like either band however much. It just gets tricky when we compare bands that are closer to the middle.

    As far as Bright Eyes goes, I wouldn’t doubt that I said sometimes Conor takes himself too seriously, especially when I was first being introduced to Bright Eyes. But I do think he’s being honest, even if his angst seems unwarranted or silly at times.

    Anyway, I just wanted to clear up the fact that I was talking about a song’s objective quality, which is separate from our subjective perception of that quality. Does that make sense?

  4. Thanks Kibler for clarifying the difference between conversations about a song’s objective value, and of a person’s subjective experience of aesthetic value.

    The question of Conor’s honesty is really interesting to me as well… which I’ll tackle another time.

    Franz’s last paragraph is an example of a radical relativism. “Neither are better or worse, just different” he writes. I (and Cory) would disagree; valuing differences of opinion does not imply that different opinions are of EQUAL value. Beethoven is of higher aesthetic value, objectively, than Creed. If you disagree, sign up for Franz’s camp and figure out why. Cory and I are off on a search for a way to explain the objective difference, and neither of us have the final answer, but we think answers are out there. I’ll make some comments on Cory’s suggested answers, and my own, soon.

    I couldn’t be happier that this conversation is happening through Mr. Furious, and that there are true differences in our positions. This is (for me) exciting stuff. -h

  5. I’m no musician, so I found it weird to “intrude” on this discussion, what with a lack of understanding some intricacies of music, but I’ve mulling this over for a few days, and I thought I’d add my two cents.

    I think the idea of the listening meeting the artist halfway is important. I do think that sometimes the listener is out there, but doesn’t do enough to meet the artist, and greatness is lost.

    But I think a far more egregious error is the artist going to meet the listener most, if not all, of the way. And I’m not talking about Weezer here.

    To me, the meeting of the artist and the listener requires thought from both parites. Sometimes, this thought is not only from meeting the song somewhere, but then after meeting, going on a little roadtrip to the beach to hang out for a while.

    Then there’s the “bands” that spoon-feed it to you. Yes, these are the Britneys and N’Syncs of the world. I suppose that the target audience is not me, so maybe I’m missing something, but I think not. The songs from them break a lot of “greatness” rules, but the one that gets me the most is the lack of regard for intelligence in the listener. And, mostly, I see this music as out there to simply make money, and nothing more. I’m sure there’s more examples of this beyond the pop (crap) out there these days, well known or not.

    That’s not to say you can’t like this music; N’Sync has some songs that are some of my worst guilty pleasures. But that doesn’t mean it’s good, much less great.

    I’ve encountered this in poetry, too. It usully involves the writer to be incredibly too full of himself and condescending to the reader. But if you’re not willing to take into account the reader/listener in the equation, if you give them zero credit, then there’s no possible way you can have a great poem/song; you’ve done quite the opposite in making a terrible poem/song.

    Otherwise, I agree with the ideals of honesty, originality, self-serving, and catchiness as elements that make up an objectively great song.

Comments are closed.