Another year in the books, and another clean calendar laid out in front of us. ‘Tis the season for music publications and blogs run down their favorite albums of the previous 12 months, an endlessly fascinating and pointless exercise that never fails to generate mountains of enjoyable column inches. These year end drills amount to harmless guessing games, because while a majority of critics may approve of recent releases by Kanye West, Arcade Fire, The National and LCD Soundsystem, only time will reveal the true classics.
Over the last decade, through the advent of CDRs and MP3s, music has become more accessible, portable, and disposable. As such, it has been reduced to little more than a parity product – all songs are $.99, toss your money in the gumball machine and pick your flavors. There have never been more choices, and it has never been easier to make them. But this ease of use comes at the expense of listener unity, and we’ll never again be one nation under a groove, captivated by the same song or the same album. Music is no longer funneled through a handful of sources, which leaves us to our own devices to pick and choose our own masterpieces without the comfort of consensus.
I have friends who are serious, active music fans. They work to keep up with the latest bands, and some of them have little time for anything made before 2007 or so. I think of this as the “loaf of bread” theory of listening, wherein music is a perishable item that shouldn’t be enjoyed beyond a certain prescribed shelf life. But a more charitable analogy might be sports-related: every sports fan admits the greatness of the 1960’s Boston Celtics, but no rational person thinks those teams would hold up against today’s athletes. Some music fans feel the same way about “classic rock” – good for its time, but it doesn’t hold up against modern players.
And that’s one reason I get such a kick out of Eric Burdon & War’s ‘They Can’t Take Away Our Music’. It’s a bombastic, rip-your-shirt-off statement that the past is still great. I’ve previously referred to Burdon as “the kind of crazy uncle I almost regret never having” and he lives up to that billing here, wailing away about Billie Holiday and the power of song. The 2000s may produce some true, time-tested masterpieces, but the LCD Soundsystems and Amy Winehouses are mere tributaries of great flowing bodies like Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, Sam Cooke and Lady Day…
Listen: They Can’t Take Away Our Music