Whenever I’m out driving and I listen to Modern Rock Radio one band always catches my ear; The Foo Fighters. I told my son one day when they came on and after I asked him who it was, “I think I like the Foo Fighters.”
“I like to listen to them in the car,” he said, “but I don’t think I’d download their album.”
I agreed with him and then thought about why that is. The Foo Fighters have good dynamics in their music, unlike most bands these days, the vocals are good and the melodies are catchy so what’s the problem? I think it’s because every song, no matter how pretty it may begin, ends up in a screamfest.
When I was a kid my parents would listen to The Beatles’ Twist and Shout or Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love and say, “That’s not singing, that’s just screaming.” So am I just old now and saying the same thing my folks said to me?
I don’t think the problem with a lot of modern rock for me is the fact that the vocalist screams his lyrics, John Lennon really did scream Twist and Shout and Robert Plant really did scream a lot, but not on every song that got radio play. Mostly I think the difference is in the attitude. When John Lennon screamed out a Beatle song he screamed in joyous exuberance. Although, later in his solo career on songs like Cold Turkey his screams seemed in anguish, on the Beatles material he and McCartney’s screams were screams of excitement and that’s exactly the reaction they caused in the listener. By contrast, when Dave Grohl, or Chris Cornell or most of the modern rockers and Heavy Metal singers scream it seems as if in a blind rage, against the machine or otherwise. The screams of people riding a roller coaster gives you a very different feeling than hearing the screams of people rioting in the streets. One is inviting and makes you excited to join in the fun and the other makes you want to run away, at least if you don’t have that kind of pent up rage within you yourself.
I can enjoy listening to a band like the Foo Fighters when I’m out driving around but they’re not something I could listen to late at night with my headphones on when in bed. Again, it’s not the volume or intensity that pushes me away, it’s the emotion behind it. Where are the joyous, happy songs that have that kind of energy anymore?
Back in the Eighties the members of the band The Pet Shop Boys were producing a record by Liza Minnelli, of all people, and reportedly told her during a video shoot, “For God’s sake, don’t smile. This is Rock & Roll.” What the hell? Where did that tradition come from? Why didn’t anyone tell Elvis or Chuck Berry or Little Richard or John Lennon or Paul McCartney not to smile?
Rock and roll is an art form and art reflects the world in which it is made. If anger, rage and depression are the only acceptable expressions of rock and roll for the past thirty years it’s no wonder we’re in so much trouble. Perhaps a good remedy to at least some of our national woes would be to once again utilize rock and roll music as a form to express joy, peace and love, like it once was. It could be a new start.