Hang the DJ – his tunes aren’t tunes
You hear this expression a lot these days….. “Aw Tune”. Anyone under 30 is likely to say it without irony. The rest of us are sort of mocking youth culture, or worse still, mimicking youth culture – which can appear very naff (there’s a word for the older readers) – rather like parents wearing Hollister hooded tops.
Anyway most of the time anyone says, “Aw tune”, I note that it usually doesn’t have a great tune. That’s not to say it might not be a half decent song. Songs may be great for many reasons. Pull up to the Bumper by Grace Jones is full of groove and sweat and passion but it doesn’t have any semblance of a tune. Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers is another case in point. Well, they don’t have a tune in the way, say Oliver’s Army or Moonshadow does. I’ll return to these two songs later but to further illustrate the point, most ‘tunes’ today are just Rapper’s Delight derivations, or grooved up / beat heavy versions of Private Dancer by Tina Turner or The Cure does an Orange Juice tribute. I won’t go near metal – I don’t know my Periodic Table. My argument is that not once in the last twenty-five years since DJ’s became famous (for what exactly?) has any of the offerings from these genres struck me as a great tune. I liked Back to Life by Soul to Soul but it was a bit short on melody. I’m objective – I loved Talk Talk and Japan in the 80s but they didn’t catch the ear of the producers of the Now that What I Call Music compilations.
Moving forward quite a few years, a song with great pop tune pedigree was Empire of the Sun’s We are the People. It certainly has a nice little ditty (to go with the measured drum machine and metronomic synth bass…. for the younger readers, Depeche Mode were doing that nearly 30 years before) but actually listening to it just now it’s only the chorus that is tuneful – the verse is a bit ‘spoken’ and probably would turn your mum off it before the chorus came along (which it does, but only after a whopping 3 verses). So that leaves us with Foster the People’s Pumped up Kicks and MGMTs Time to Pretend, The Killers’ Mr Brightside. Remember, I’m not taking account of Ryan Adams et al. in the new country movement or old timers like REM (the Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight gets me singing everytime – despite typically Stipesque incorrigible lyrics). There have been plenty of good tunes from the classic Beatles and Hank Williams schools of songwriting in the last 25 years. What I’m beefed up about it the lack of anything tuneful from the new breed. Dig?
If I read another Q or Uncut article that says, ’Deliciously sparse and emotional acoustic songwriting with a low-fi, modern take on (insert any of the following) country /folk / blues’, I think I’ll become a metal-head. The aforementioned type of description needs speech bubbles coming from the little photo of the writer saying, ‘short of tunes, slow, boring, over-arty, covering up the lack of tunes with a washed out earnestness’. Maybe I’m just sick of Elbow with their one hummable song in ten years.
Songs have to catch you all day long to be ‘tunes’. All My Loving is a tune, Penny Lane is a tune. Mr Tambourine Man, Lyin’ Eyes and Knowing Me Knowing You (both reluctantly documented here) are tunes. What makes a good tune? Well no time for a thesis here but my sense is that it has to be so immediate, so hooky from the start and then never let up until…. well, until a great middle-eight comes along to pause the ecstasy for dramatic effect – and that’s where Oliver’s Army and Moonshadow score top marks. It’s a trick perfected by Lennon / McCartney and George Martin of course. Another thing about a great tune is, paradoxically, it works better if the lyrics are obtuse e.g. Mr Brightside, Mr Tambourine Man, Wonderwall. Actually, I’ve just found two reasons to remove Lyin’ Eyes from the canon. No middle eight and too much of a straight up infidelity story. This theory is coming along nicely. Now what’s a Wonderwall anyway?