Guest Writer Steve Monz, Afternoons on Cool 101.3
The other day I heard the Genesis song “Illegal Alien” from their 1984 album titles Genesis. When the song was released and played on the radio and MTV it was considered “A satirical depiction of the frustrations an illegal Mexican immigrant faces in coming to the United States”. Thanks Wikipedia. It was meant as commentary on, or a reflection of, an issue in the country. Phil Collins sings the song with a Latino accent and the lyrics included “Down at the office had to fill out the forms. A pink one, a red one, the colors you choose, Up to the counter to see what they think They said ‘It doesn’t count man, it ain’t written in ink’. – It’s no fun being an illegal alien.” Back then, I got it. I didn’t think it was racist. I thought it was storytelling through music. The plight of the immigrant trying to make it in the United States. Looking back, could this song be hurtful? Sure. But I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the intention. Phil’s attempt to create an image is looked at by today’s standards as racist.
My point being, they couldn’t do that song in 2019. At least not with Phil singing it in a character voice. They would need to be subtle. Which got me thinking about something. What other songs might not be recorded by today’s standards? “I Touch Myself” by the Divinyls? “Like A Virgin” by Madonna? How about “Aqualung” by Jethro Tull? Granted, those songs faced scrutiny when they came out, but nothing like it would have been today. The Doors, The Stones and many others were censored when they appeared on certain television shows. Today I think they probably would have scrapped the idea long before the final mix of the song ever made it to download status.
That’s not to say that these songs don’t exist today. They do. But you won’t hear them on the commercial broadcasting outlets. Freedom of speech is alive and well in the recording business. And some artists will do a regular version and a “clean” version to get airplay. These days with the internet the average musician can get exposure regardless of content. But songs that are too politically incorrect usually get policed by the public. But the true secret to success when it comes to edgy material is the smart artist who uses innuendo. Double meaning. The Rolling stones pushed the envelope for sure. But they also understood the power of double meaning. Take “Brown Sugar”. Could be about heroine, could be about a girl. Or Bruno Mars “Uptown Funk”. The lyrics are “Funk”. Doesn’t necessarily sound like funk at times, but hey, those are the lyrics.
Music has always been and always will be a commentary on our world. Songs about injustice, songs about hunger, and songs about war. It’s what brings us all together. It’s no surprise that the majority of songs in the world are in fact Love songs. The ultimate expression of what the songwriter is feeling. The songs that hit home with the most amount of people is what makes a song a “hit”. It’s the connection the song makes with you the listener. And the beautiful thing about it is that every song can mean something different to every person. The interpretation is the thing. It can mean what you want it to mean. So even in today’s world where people are offended by everything, you the listener gets to decide what you want to hear. As it should be. To each his own as long as nobody gets hurt. And there in lies the problem. In 2019 we have to be open minded enough to understand what we think of a song but also what someone else might think of a song. We have to judge music based on if it “hurts” anyone. Certainly that should be the thought process. But does that hinder the creativity? Probably. In the end, songs with a strong message will prevail and find a way to be heard. There is a reason that certain songs stand the test of time. Simply pull out the turntable and put on John Lennon’s “Imagine”.
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