I’ve always regarded myself as reasonably broad-minded when it comes to music, although that is a bit of a meaningless comment in a way. After all, there aren’t many people who’ll stand up and say, “I’ve always thought of myself as an intolerant and narrow-minded musical fascist.” However, I’ll certainly concede that, whilst I prefer some genres of music to others, there’s something I like in nearly all of them. I’m not on the whole a massive fan of reggae, but I do like “Blood and Fire” by Niney, if only because of the highly amusing spoken bit where he praises ganja and Rastafari earnestly in a thick Jamaican accent – there’s a man who knew what a reggae singer was supposed to do. Again, I don’t generally like country music, but I’ll make an exception for Johnny Cash (and who wouldn’t?). When all’s said and done, though, there are a few types of music that I wouldn’t lift a finger to save if their entire recorded output were about to be dumped into landfill or, like a lot of copies of Robbie Williams’ last album, turned into Chinese motorways:-
The major problem with jazz for me is a simple one – why can’t they just play the bloody tune? After all, that’s been good enough for most popular musicians – most musicians – since, ooh, the creation of music. But not for your jazzbo. No, those guys have to show off their musical virtuosity by piddling around on their pianos/trumpets/saxes with a random sounding sequence of notes that’s a bit like the original tune, if you squint at it in the right light. They call this “improvisation”, and this is frequently a way by which jazz musicians ruin “standards” i.e. well known songs written by people who were probably more talented than most jazz musicians, but not as cool because of their uptight insistence on having a recognisable tune as opposed to a lot of musical faffing about. Meanwhile, the jazz singer will probably be indulging in the hideous monstrosity that is scatting, buggering up the vocal melody and lyrics as well by singing a lot of meaningless noises to the random sounding sequence of notes, like a child who hasn’t quite mastered speech. And unlike Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, most jazz singers (if white) won’t even agree to make a complete arse of themselves by painting their faces black, which would at least add a little comedy to a grim situation.
Folk singers voluntarily spend their entire careers singing songs about a world that no longer exists. If you sing down your nose, backed by acoustic instruments, about what some fair maiden did with a ploughman, why it was horrible to be a soldier in the First World War or the solidarity of the Durham miners, then congratulations – you are a true folk singer. Unfortunately, we no longer have fair maidens, the First World War or (working) coal miners. If you actually choose, as most sensible people would do, to sing about the world in which you and everyone else actually live, then whether or not you are backed by acoustic instruments, you cease to be a folk singer, which is why an awful lot of people who lazily get tagged with the “folk” label (e.g. Nick Drake or Joni Mitchell) are not really folk musicians. For the rest – why are you living in a fantasy world? The main point of folk music, as I see it, was to allow folk musicians who got this point, like Bob Dylan, to create folk rock in the ‘60s and ‘70s, which pissed the trad folkies off no end.
3. “Protest” music
Connected to the above, in that the stereotypical singer of protest songs has always been a folk musician or at least an acoustic singer-songwriter type. There certainly isn’t as much of it around as there was thirty or forty years ago, but my problem with political pop is that 99% of it is essentially liberal/left views sung to liberal/left people. What’s the point? It converts no-one and isn’t even particularly brave or daring. A right-wing protest singer – now that would be original. Don’t hold your breath for one, although there was, and to some extent still is, a subculture of bands pushing neo-Nazi and racist opinions. Unpleasant though these are, those groups are probably braver than your standard issue musical leftie with his/her complacent “unconventional” cliches, secure in the knowledge that he/she isn’t going to get beaten up by the audience.
4. “Hat” country
The name was originally a take-off of a genre known as “hot” country by the music biz in the 1980s-90s – essentially country singers like Garth Brooks or Billy Ray Cyrus who wore phony ten-gallon hats and pandered to the mainstream pop charts. I would extend it to most mainstream country “rekkids” these days, since if you listen to them it’s hard not to conclude that they are basically just ordinary pop records with pedal steel and fiddles thrown in. Again, what is the point? The only one I can see is to increase the wealth of the cowboy- hatted bunco artists who run the music industry in Nashville, and would probably release a recording of a dog breaking wind if they thought some sucker would buy it. More power to the elbow of those who stick to traditional country!