Probably few of you know that the number one album in the country two weeks ago is by a 17 y/o Louisiana female named Britany Speers. Fewer of you have probably heard any cuts from the album, but I did as my 10 y/o (female) came home with the CD the other day and insisted playing it on my car CD player. What I heard brought me back to 1959.
Back then the record industry was just figuring out that teens bought records simply on the basis of artist ambiance. Talent never entered into it. So they searched high and low to find nature’s most perfect teen sex (such as it was) symbol. They came up with a South Philly 16 y/o with slick black hair…..Fabian Forte, a nice looking specimen of a male child. They then schlepped him around to photo sessions for all the teen magazines aimed at females for photo ops, but eventually it was necessary for him to sing.
So into the studio they went for a single……..”Like a tiger”. An overproduced and overdubbed sound track was necessary to partially obscure the fact that Fabian couldn’t sing a single note. But back in those days, they didn’t have the technology to do the job right so the finished production came out the croak of a not-quite-teen male shortly after the first squirt of hormones, accompanied by a reverberation, tremolo driven wall of sound. No matter. No one could hear the voice for the screams anyway.
Teen girls went absolutely nuts. Fabian became the dream of every red blooded American female between 10 and 17. Sales of the single “Like a tiger” depleted the world supply of black vinyl. He was greeted by screams everywhere he went, but the money, of course, went to promoters. Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avlon followed quickly. Then the Beatles hit the shore in June of 1963 and the party was over, but that’s another story. Now it’s 1999 and the ages of kids that buy records have gone into the single digits and technology can make anyone sound like a Spice Girl. The the lyrics are more suggestive, and the average 8 y/o knows exactly what they mean.
Continuing searches for idols turned up Britany, an absolute knockout beauty of a teen that also can’t sing a note. No matter. A digital voice modulator can transform her into Barbara Streisand and digital synthesizers can mimic the Philharmonic. But anyone familiar with those devices can spot them in the first ten seconds. And to a reasonably attuned ear, it sounds like fingernails on a chalk board.
So I complain to my daughter that this is not only pretentious trash, it’s a vision of the end of music as an art form. “Alexa, my middle child………..do your poor old daddy a favor and listen to Eric Clapton “Live in the 70’s” CD. A virtuoso musician at the top of his form, playing a real instrument with a real band, improvising modes and making musical history. Or try Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew”, the roots of jazz and rock fusion from the master of all time.