American Popular Music: Reigniting an Old Flame

BY CHRIS FRYMAN

I may have commented once or twice on how the music of the present lacks substance. I haven’t actively or passively listened to a Top 40 radio station since I was thirteen years old and it’s mostly for that reason. It’s not that I loathe everything that gets played on those stations, it’s that I have other music that I’d rather listen to.

Truth be told, I’m a sucker for a love song and I’m not talking about the latest Chris Brown, T-Pain auto-tuned piece of crap that’s floating around over the speakers in Michels Commons. I’m talking about Paul McCartney screaming his lungs out for Linda in “Maybe I’m Amazed,” or Steve Perry belting out his keyboardist Jonathan Cain’s words on Journey’s “Faithfully.” I’m talking about songs that make you want to put on a suit, take your girlfriend by the hand and slow dance.

Perhaps that’s an unfair comparison, seeing as how those are arguably two of the greatest love songs ever written and performed. Perhaps it’s not. Maybe, somewhere along the line, America just fell out of love with the love song. It began to get repetitive and boring; it became the same four-chord nonsense as everything else on the radio.

Sure, now and then there have been blips that the love song still exists. About six years ago, Train showed us a sentimental side that we haven’t seen since the beginning of the 2000s with the simple, acoustic “Marry Me.” Then, of course the radio had to go and ruin it by adding in backing tracks and a drum machine because people apparently cannot appreciate music unless it’s layered as much as an onion or an ogre.

Other than that, there hasn’t been much airplay for the love song any time in recent memory. That, however, may be changing.

In the last couple-and-a-half months or three, two songs have gotten a significant amount of space on popular radio and the only reason I can attest to this is because I hear them almost every time I step foot into Michels Commons or the Campus Center. For those of you who enjoy love songs like I do, we can send our thanks to John Legend and Ed Sheeran.

I won’t lie, I bought Ed’s album X the day that it came out and the instant I hit the 11th track on the album, “Thinking Out Loud” became the highlight of the production, if not only for the fact that it was a sincere song. As I’ve listened to it more and more, there is much more to appreciate: backup singers that haven’t been seen since the late 1970s, a Strat-o-fied guitar solo (that gets omitted from every radio play) and a jazz piano in the background that surprises you with riffs in between Sheeran’s lyrics in the verses.

The simple ballad has earned its share of radio time, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 here in the U.S.

Prior to “Thinking Out Loud,” John Legend had left his mark on American love song canon with “All of Me,” a piano ballad dedicated to his wife which reached the top spot on almost every major American pop chart.

These are two of the greatest love songs of the past 20 years. They show a return of sincerity and emotion to popular music, which had previously been condemned to the periphery of indie music and folk singers. These two songs have almost single-handedly provided this generation with its collective wedding playlist. Does this mean that the love song is going to make a comeback? I hope so.

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