By Eric DiGiovanni
In this world, there lives a strange creature. Nobody really knows how it came to be; or if it can ever die. Mythology has somehow built up this beast to a Godlike status where the masses hold it in utmost reverence. The stories say that the creature sings a song, like the sirens, and it is the greatest song in the world. However, all that have seen the “legend” know that this is not the case, yet many remain deluded. Its song is nothing worthy of a lineage, but its wail drowns out all the others. And it sings its tune everywhere, all the time. This creature I speak of, is Top 40. And it needs to die right now.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “Top 40” refers to the “Contemporary Hit Radio” format. CHR is mostly comprised of mainstream pop songs, but can also include softer rock songs, and R&B. The term originated in the 1950s from jukeboxes. At the time, the average jukebox could only contain 40 vinyl singles. Todd Storz, Bill Stewart and Gordon McLendon capitalized on this and built a radio format around this phenomenon, as opposed to original programming and news, which was the norm of the era. Eventually it grew, and in 1970 Casey Kasem hosted the first American Top 40 show that counted down the top 40 singles from the Billboard charts. It is now hosted by Ryan Seacrest. Today it refers to popular music in general.
The name itself evokes a certain arrogance that is condescending to the listener. Top 40? The greatest 40 songs ever? Hardly, the top 40 format only refers to the best selling…of that week. Keep that in mind, as well as the fact that someone made a shit ton of money on Snuggies, which is a completely new and innovative idea for anyone who has never thought of turning a robe backwards. Also, it assumes that every other song/band is not worth listening to. Why would you want anything but the “best” pop music? Let’s play it everywhere!
For example, WBLI, a Top 40 station, is the default radio station at the gym. “Bring your MP3 player then. Crisis averted,” you say. That’s true, but what happens if you forget to bring it, or the batteries crap out halfway through? You’re stuck with the radio. Also, the employees have no choice in the matter. I asked a few of them their opinions. Yadira, who works at the main desk said, “I like some of this music, some of the stuff I don’t like. Some of it’s not really appropriate for a gym, but it’s all right.”
Just then, Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” came on. “So, is something like this appropriate?” I asked.
“Yeah, it is.”
“Why?” Coldplay was never really known for rocking the fuck out.
“Well, the beat goes pretty fast.”
One employee actually submitted a CD to play over the loudspeaker instead. “[The music] drives me crazy. I gave them a CD; they said they’d look over it for curses and stuff. That was two months ago.”
Curses? The Wellness Center management is concerned about curse words in a gym populated almost entirely by college students? Even on classic rock stations I’ve heard maybe two objectionable phrases (“Who the fuck are you?” Once in The Who’s “Who Are You?” and the word “faggot” was used a couple times is Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothin”).
Out on the floor, a few students did the smart thing and brought their own music players. I asked a couple girls on the treadmills what they listened to. “Sometimes rap, sometimes rock, you know, whatever’s on the radio,” said Maya, a sophomore.
“Well, then why bring your music player? Why not just listen to the radio?” I inquired, as “Hey There Delilah” came on.
“Well, sometimes you’ll get stuff like this, [“Hey There Delilah”].”
Allowing, “Hey There Delilah” to play all the way through in a gym, or any other location, is a screw up. That song has a maximum of four notes. Most punk uses four notes (or chords) too, but at least they had the idea to speed it up. “Delilah” sounds like something Bob Dylan would write if he didn’t have talent, integrity or balls. Are record companies just going around to college parties and handing out contracts to the douche that’s playing “I Gave My Love a Cherry” or “Wonderwall”? Seemed to work for Jason Mraz.
In the free weight section, things are a bit different. A couple of guys deadlifting don’t mind the music. “We usually don’t notice it and tend to focus on the workout,” said one. However, another in the group had a chance to listen to the radio while he rested. His thoughts were, “Actually, this music is pretty gay. It’s a little annoying.”
Like their cardio machine comrades, a few lifters had brought their music players as well. “I usually listen to hip hop,” said Manny, a senior.
“Have you noticed a difference when you forget to bring you MP3 Player?”
“Yeah, I’m less motivated. [The music on the radio] doesn’t really pump you up. They also play a lot of the same songs.”
Even for those who like whatever’s on, the main complaint was hearing the same song several times an hour.
But hey, it’s pop music, right? They wouldn’t call it that if everyone didn’t love it! The notion of “pop music” is presumptuous. An entire genre of music whose sole focus is based on being popular? Lots of bands outside of the “pop” genre have legions of dedicated fans. What makes it popular? Who determines all of this? Yes, you can argue that record labels hire the best songwriters and producers to get behind “pop” music artists, making sure that more people will like it. But it’s not sincere. It’s not their own music. It’s a product, not a song. Hell, in an interview, Miley Cyrus states that, despite what she says in “Party In The USA”, she has never listened to Jay Z.
I’ve heard “Poker Face” so much I want to punch Lady Gaga right in the dick. I’ve heard “Disturbia” so many times I want to thank Chris Brown. Nickelback? Fuck, I want a full refund. I also want the three minutes I had to spend listening to your goddamn song back. For “Love Story”, I want to slit Taylor Swift’s throat with a copy of Band Hero while reading Romeo and Juliet. I want to destroy every acoustic guitar ever made in the hopes that we never get another “I’m Yours” or “Hey There Delilah”.
Want to know something really messed up? I actually respect these people in a way. Lady Gaga went to NYU’s Tisch School for The Arts and during her tenure there she wrote dozens of analytic papers and essays. She’s named after a Queen song. Taylor Swift started her own music career, going from open mic to open mic, singing country songs with a karaoke backing track. At 11, she went to Nashville with a demo tape, hoping to be picked up. She was rejected, but started writing her own songs and playing 12-string guitar at the age of 12. Rihanna was an army cadet in an ROTC program in Barbados, and only worked on her demo tape during Christmas and summer breaks so that it wouldn’t interfere with her schoolwork. Their music is far from the worst I’ve heard.
Then why do I harbor this loathing? Because they’ve been shoved down my throat by DJs who say “They’re the best! They’re the best!” and naturally, everyone buys their songs on iTunes, thus shoving the same songs even more in my face, and further limiting the music palate of others.
And every song will be driven into your skull. Think about it: each songs lasts about 3 minutes. With 40 songs, that’s about 2 hours of music, which means that, factoring in commercials, you’ll hear the same song 10 times a day, give or take.
So what do I propose? First, adopt a “Recent Music” format. Take all the singles (barring excessive swearing if that’s the thing you worry about) from all the labels of every genre. Then take those songs, and play them on shuffle. After 30 days, take the song out of rotation. Why is it a better alternative? One, it leaves a much bigger pool to choose from. Yeah, you will still have Pink and Britney Spears, and every other pop artist, but then again you’ll also hear more acts that are strictly rock, such as Green Day or The Hold Steady, that would otherwise be sequestered solely to the Rock Stations. Even a few popular metal bands like Mastadon and Atreyu can get a chance to catch on with the public. Second, by limiting the run to only 30 days, it will encourage ALL the songs on an album to be better, because in order for an act to stay on the radio, they would need to release a new single every month. And because songs that fall out of rotation are never heard again, listeners would have to pick up the album.
The other day in the SAC Lobby I saw a table for a fledgling group on campus called “Extreme Music Appreciation Society”. The group looks to introduce people to more metal and punk bands by encouraging the Student Activities Board to get more of those bands playing shows on campus. Needless to say I signed up. If you’ve agreed with me at all, even if you’re not a fan of metal, it’s worth it to give them a look, if only to see the other side.
Better yet, turn off the radio, and turn on your mind. Get recommendations from friends, strangers, Pandora, anywhere. Go to Wikipedia, find a genre you like, and just start clicking on random bands. If you like it, download it. If not, nothing’s lost. You should be the one deciding your own musical tastes, not some DJ. If we all have this attitude, then maybe we can finally slay the beast known as Top 40.
“You play the hits. You play ‘em to death. A lot of people object to that, but the masses listen to it,” -B. Eric Rhoads, publisher of Radio Ink, a radio industry trade publication.