Same Old Song

Sadly unrepentant country fan Maggie sent me an article about a video . . .

. . . that proves all country, at least all “Bro-Country” really does sound the same.

Maggie expected me to use this to support my longstanding claim that country sucks in our ongoing debate concerning the genre, but I doubt many genres of popular music, including ones I like, could withstand this type of scrutiny. Isn’t that what defines musical genres, the similarities that are shared by the songs within them?

Critics who reject popular music because “it all sounds the same” are not entirely wrong. Most popular music genres are defined by their rhythms or beats*, so on first listen, all reggae does indeed sound the same, as does all dubstep, rock, rap, etc. Only a fan will delve deeply enough into a particular genre to learn to distinguish Burning Spear from Bob Marley, Burial from Skrillex, Bruce Springsteen from War on Drugs, etc.

And this is nothing new. A particularly clear example of this is the tradition of “answer songs” in pop music that goes back at least as far as the early ’50s, when Rufus Thomas recorded “Bear Cat” . . .

. . . in response to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog”:

(Of course, Sam Phillips and his Sun Records, which released “Bear Cat,” were successfully sued for copyright infringement.)

And anyone familiar with early hip hop will remember the number of “battle raps” recorded during the “Roxanne Wars“:

But even when songs do sound strikingly similar . . .

. . . fans often embrace that sameness for its comforting familiarity.

Popular music has always been a balancing act between convention and invention. Some fans pride themselves for being discerning and hip in prizing originality over formula (while ignoring the conformity that often resides within nonconformity, but that is a subject for another post), sneering, often ostentatiously, at those who embrace more “corporate” sounds, while others enjoy more conventional, and therefore “uncool,” popular artists like Taylor Swift. (And then there are those who think themselves cool for embracing the uncool ironically, but let’s not go there.)

Still, when a genre reaches the degree of overlap as current bro-country, it is usually a sign of the genre’s imminent decline, as even the fans become tired of hearing the “same old song” over and over again and move on to something new. Here’s hoping.


* Which makes it all the more paradoxical that U.S. copyright law tends to privilege melody over rhythm. In other words, Bo Diddley was not entitled to any remuneration for the many rock ‘n’ roll songs that copied his “Bo Diddley beat.” The disparity was particularly ironic on the Snakes’ “Pay Bo Diddley”:

Although Diddley himself played on this song that employed his signature rhythm, he was not credited or paid songwriter royalties (assuming this obscure song earned any).

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