AC/DC does what they do, and they do it very, very well. It’s hard-driving, tight, stadium rock ‘n roll. They’re not going to make a disco album. Their lyrics target specific emotions and a specific demographic. They don’t try to be anything other than what they are. There’s something to be said for that.
Queen, on the other hand, is more difficult to categorize. Their songs range from the fairly simple musically, straight ahead rock of Tie Your Mother Down, to the complex, musically sophisticated and heavily orchestrated Bohemian Rhapsody. And you can throw some songs that sound like they’re from the 1920’s. There are rock influences, blues influences, operatic influences, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love sounds like a rockabilly tune.
So, one of the things you have to do is a musician, is ask yourself — Are you AC/DC, or are you queen? Are you going to do one thing, and do it well? Or are you going to musically stretch yourself and your fans? Let me be clear — I don’t think one approach is better than the other. Sometimes you just want to bang your head. Other times, you might want something more cerebral, or just to experience a different emotion.
But when you read stuff about marketing your music and getting fans, the message is clear. You need to niche. If you sound like Tom Petty, you can sell to Tom Petty fans. In fact, if you follow any big musicians on Facebook, you just might see an ad pop up. “Love Bruce Springsteen? Then you’ll just love this new band that sings working-class songs!”
Unfortunately, that’s how music went stale in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Big corporate record companies would see a band have a huge record and they’d say, “Find me a band that sounds like that band.” To the band that had a hit, they’d say, “Write another song like that one.” The music became ‘corporatized’ and stale and it took new wave and punk music to add the freshness and rawness back.
So, here’s what I don’t like. I don’t like it when musicians try to be something they’re not. Tony Bennett made a disco record. Prolly a mistake. If being true to yourself means playing straight ahead rock and roll for 40 years, do that. But Queen wouldn’t have been Queen, if they limited themselves to one kind of music. So, if that’s what’s in your psyche, spit it out!
As for me, well… I grew up in a golden age of radio. Look at the top 10 from 1968.
Hey Jude — The Beatles
Love Is Blue — Paul Mauriat
Honey — Bobby Goldsboro
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay — Otis Redding
People Got to Be Free — The Rascals
Sunshine of Your Love — Cream
This Guy’s in Love With You –Herb Alpert
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — Hugo Montenegro
Mrs. Robinson — Simon & Garfunkel
Tighten Up — Archie Bell & the Drells
You’ve got pop rock, ballads, R&B/soul, straight ahead rock, folksy rock, and Latin influence. And all of it in the top 10.
In later years, radio changed from broadcasting to “narrow casting”. Radio stations had a demographic and I was a young male. Radio airplay was tightly orchestrated and a butt rocker (like I was), only heard a narrow range of music.
Fortunately, I got involved in the burgeoning Seattle music scene of the early ’80s and then worked in recording studios for years, cutting all different styles of music, as an engineer and producer. I even ended up touring the country a couple of times with a punk band.
In the ’90s, I ended up in Russia, as Program Director for a rock radio station in St. Petersburg. We played everything from James Brown to Green Day. There was nothing like it that I knew about in the U.S., and I loved the variety. Years later, Jack FM started playing a wide variety of hits from different eras. People liked it.
I sometimes say my influences are the Monkees and Blue Oyster Cult. I’m only being partly facetious. I can talk about ABBA AND Frank Marino in the same breath. I’m not ashamed to say I’m a fan of Celine Dion. I can listen to AC/DC right after.
So, I think you can guess which camp I fall into musically. I fall into the musically diverse (Queen) camp. I’m not saying I’m Queen (there can be only one). I’m saying I’m going to let creativity go where it goes.
There are elements of pop, rock, Latin, funk, punk, speed metal, and even a tiny bit of country in my music (yeah, the country surprised me too). I don’t feel like being told what I can’t put in my music. I love the whacka-whacka of funk guitars, the double bass drums of speed metal, the slow triplets against 4 beats of Latin music. I love James Bond sounding guitar riffs, interesting, plaintive minor scales — and melody. I love a good, pop melody. I just laid down a Chuck Berry style solo tonight, and a Santana style solo last week. I like good music, wherever I find it. I appreciate a good song — whatever the genre. And I like musical music; music that has depth and melody. It can be very simple and good. Or, it’s as complex as it needs to be, to get across a complex emotion.
PS: The Beatles are an obvious example of a musically sophisticated and diverse band. They started out as a simple pop band, but really allowed the music to go incredible places. In fact, this whole article could have been Beatles/Stones (although the stoners are certainly more musically diverse than AC/DC).
Keith Livingston is a songwriter, musician, producer, and engineer, with roots in pop, rock, punk, classical and classics. Keith has more than a dozen CDs under his belt as a producer and/or engineer. Keith writes music about everything from science fiction and horror, to religious oppression, and of course love.