Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom, boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM

There will probably be three entries today; rowing yesterday sparked a couple of very different thoughts that need their own entries. But first, something’s been annoying me from my recent commutes to work.

I’ve come to realize that there’s a very easy rule of thumb to tell whether I might like a song: does it feature a drum machine? If so, I probably won’t like it. If not I might like it, depending on a lot more complex factors in the song itself. But if it has a drum machine, then no, probably not. The radio station here that I can best tolerate seems to be featuring a lot of remakes of old songs lately. Some of these are songs I like. I can underatand the drive to take a classic old song and redo it, certrainly. Some are songs I’m amused anyone would want to remake, including about half the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever. (Actually, it turns out that drum machines don’t do much to ruin old disco music. But my reaction to that stuff runs from Amused at the first hearing in a while to Please Go Away after a few repetitions, anyway.) What I can’t figure out is why anyone would take a nice old mellow song, like say Cat Stevens’ Wild World and think it would be enhanced by an added drum track. Wrong. It ruins the song, by regimenting it into a rigid beat, removing any opportunity for grace notes, expression of feeling or any of those things good singers put into their songs. Please, no more.

One exception to this is the remake of Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. I’m not even entirely sure if this one uses a drum machine or just a very regular live drummer. That means if it’s the former then the drum machine is being used as it’s intended: programmed to enhance the song, not just turned on and left to rule it like a metronome. The drums are even stopped at a few point to allow a tempo change, and in general it’s just a nice piece of work. So it can be done well; it just usually isn’t.

Oh, yeah, and speaking of music appreciation, I should note that I think it’s awsomely cool that Elizabeth Bear has named a book after a phrase in a Richard Thompson song:

And they say her flower is faded now,
Hard weather and hard booze,
But maybe that’s just the price you pay
For the chains that you refuse….

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