"In a world of receding music sales, only the biggest hits can still move millions of units, and only a tiny group of superstars deliver such titles." Joe Nardone Jr. of the Gallery of Sound chain of record shops, says sales of non-superstars are declining the most and "the gap in between is just tremendous."
For his latest record, Paul McCartney "walked into the studio on 13 non-consecutive days with no material, and finished a track at each session, playing all the instruments," writes Jon Pareles in the New York Times (11/24/08).
Tammy Genovese says "there's no other genre of music that's pulled off what we have over the last 50 years," reports Barry Mazor in the Wall Street Journal (11/21/08). Tammy is the executive director of the Country Music Association (CMA), which was founded 50 years ago this month, at a time when country music wasn't cool. In 1958, country music was "a commercially endangered species during a pop and rock 'n' roll boom." At the time, "only 150 radio stations in the U.S. were playing country music," notes Mac Wiseman, a bluegrass artist himself, and a founder of the CMA. Today, country is heard on some 2,000 radio stations, and, earlier this month, a global audience of 34 million country fans tuned in to watch the CMA Awards on television. But country's popularity didn't happen by itself. It is a result of the CMA's efforts on a variety of levels.
David Browne, writing in the New Republic, argues that country music was "among the many losers" of the 2008 election (11/19/08). As "visual proof" of this, he offers the sight of Hank Williams Jr. (video here) and John Rich (video here) "trying, in vain, to rouse John McCain's admirers shortly before McCain officially threw in the towel." David feels the symbolism of these two country stars, from different generations, "looking testy yet powerless," says something about the sagging state of country music in America today. Then again, maybe Barack Obama will ask them to open for Bruce Springsteen at the inauguration. At a minimum, David suggests that country's star has fallen dramatically since the days of Ronald Reagan, "who embraced country music more wholeheartedly than any previous president." He also believes the link between country music and politics was reinforced by 9-11, "as a rash of country stars recorded pro-war singles." But now he thinks that, in an attempt to reach out to more people, country music has lost its way and has become "in essence, pop music." He singles out rising star Taylor Swift (video here), whose vocal style, he says, sounds more like Suzanne Vega than Reba McIntyre.
Browne's perspective appears to be rife with ignorance to me, since Reba, John Rich and Hank Jr., God love them all, are only being themselves, just as TK, Tim, Alabama, Garth, Waylon, Willie and Roy Clark among many others were at other times in the history of the country format. Traditionalists have been predicting the end of country for at least five decades each time country has embraced new sounds and stars or got a bit political going back to the polarity from Merle Haggard to Johnny Cash in the Post-Vietnam war 1970's.
What David sees as a weakness, I view as vitality and a strength. What do you think?
...With thanks to Tim Manners, author of the new book "Relevance" and the daily "Cool News" email blasts (free sign up)
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