Sad Songs And Waltzes (are selling this year)

Because it’s now hitting a low of being cheapened by a degree of roughly 90% (or more) before turning a profit, music’s worth infinitely less than ever before to the industry that supposedly supports it. As well, these days, life — especially those of black and brown people — appears to be worth less to the world that’s supposed to support it, too. Somewhere between these two facts being true, I turn to the band Cake’s 1996 cover of Willie Nelson’s “Sad Songs and Waltzes” to make sense of a world wherein I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but because nothing actually matters, the worst of music and people is rearing its ugliest head of all time, and black folks and brown folks are getting the worst of it.

It’s a good thing that I’m not a star
You don’t know how lucky you are
Though my record may say it
No one will play it
Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year

Ever since hearing their sophomore studio album Fashion Nugget, I’ve always believed Cake to be a band incapable of making anything less than the absolutely perfect and timelessly relevant song. Singer John Mcrea’s deadpan vocal is folk/country/grunge/pop brilliance, imbuing lyrics with a sense of such thorough depression that their commercial hit songs never felt like they exploded, but rather corroded into the global consciousness. Add onto that trumpeter Vince DiFiore turning every melody into a theme and variation on the “Taps” bugle call best associated with military funerals and you’re onto something. Xan McCurdy, Gabe Nelson, and Paulo Bardi are all assuredly fantastic musicians, but McCrea/DiFiore has been the Lennon/McCartney soundtracking two decades of me watching the universe backslide into primordial ooze.

There’s a half-century law of diminishing American returns to the glee-filled, yet entirely taboo miscegenation at play when American white girls take the dumb/simple music poor black American men make to stay sane, sustainable, and woke that’s pretty much operating in the negatives now. We’re 54 years removed from white dude “Shadow” Morton writing female white teen quartet The Shangri-Las morose doo wop smash “Remember (Walking In The Sand).” I’d argue that it’s possible that, in retrospect, that this song in being emotionally and sonically complex takes the cheese of Smokey Robinson’s 1964-written Motown hits “My Guy” for Mary Wells and “My Girl” for The Temptations, and blows them entirely out of the water.

In the past ten years we’ve dealt with a slippery slope from American girl in Paris Uffie’s Audio Two “Top Billin’” sampling 2006 indie breakthrough “Pop The Glock” to Katy Perry’s 2017 release “Swish Swish.” In the midst of that we’ve had Miley Cyrus’ “23” and Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” which means that we’ve now taken the sampling of poor black emotion from the realm of urban white urchins scraping by on their dreams to the realm of really rich white girls being bigger and less apt to be pilloried culture vultures than ever before. Funnily enough, there’s more comparison between hungry for a hit Iggy Azalea and the not so lambasted Shangri Las than the similarly culture vulturing Igloo Australia and Hannah Montana. However, somewhere along the way history became irrelevant, the “criminals” became the heroes, and so many sad songs and waltzes are now selling this year.

It gets even worse when we think about the milquetoast reggaeton movement. This all goes back to the ironically named Chris Blackwell, whose Island Records label introduced America’s burnt out post-hippie generation to Bob Marley, reggae, and the idea that as long as it’s got a tight riddim, the existential demise of Afro-Caribbean people is ultimately very entertaining, ear-worming, and pop-ready.

We’re 45 years out from The Wailers’ 1973 single and similarly titled album Stir It Up, which in 2017 still has life via Drake, Justin Bieber, and Ed Sheeran’s respective singles “One Dance,” Bieber’s remix of Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee’s “Despacito” and “Shape Of You.” Yeah, we’ve made a backwards full circle with this vibe, as in three songs, we’ve stripped every ounce of cool Caribbean lovemaking and righteous black love from this song and turned it into songs best aimed at disposable hookups in bars worldwide. There’s absolutely no positive correlation Drizzy’s half-drunk Hennesy-fueled slow wine to Euro-douche white guy Ed Sheeran’s twelve shots to the wind awkward pelvic push and pull as compared to what came before it, namely Super Cat, Mary J. Blige, Puff Daddy, and Biggie’s take on “Dolly My Baby,” UB40’s “Red Red Wine,” or anything on any one of the 30 million albums and 50 million singles Sean Paul has sold as easily the world’s most easily recognizable reggaeton emcee.

Even more damning is the case of Bieber, whose “Despacito” remix is reaching “Blurred Lines” levels of ubiquity. Sadly, in Bieber noting that when the lyric sheet isn’t directly in front of his face his lyrics become: “So I say ‘poquito’ / I don’t know the words so I say ‘Dorito’ / I don’t know the words so I say ‘poquito’,” it may be worse than anything that Pharrell, T.I., and Robin Thicke turning the legacy of a Marvin Gaye disco anthem into an ode to male gaze and “rapey-ness” could’ve ever been.

The reggaeton boom is almost assuredly linked to the decade-long story of moombahton, a digital-era and largely faceless producer-led boom initially started by a generation of modern-era creatives who in being internet-first in communication had dissolved boundaries of race and culture. Dutch house, reggaeton, cumbia, and techno hybrid moombahton was the 2.0 era evolution of what this existent culture had done to evolve sample-driven, and house derived club music from Baltimore, MD, Philadelphia, PA, and Newark, NJ, Chicago, Illinois’ juke, Angolan kuduro, Brazilian baile funk, and more into a potent, if not eventually worldwide top-40 significant global polyglot sounds. Sadly, those who whimsically fused genres and inspirations at the start however, have minimal, if anything to do with the mass marketed, cheapened, and much less culturally potent sonic “Doritos” that Justin Bieber, Drake, and Ed Sheeran are loosing upon the world.

What’s saddest about the sad songs and waltzes that are selling this year is that I don’t think anyone really cares about how sad all of this is. Moreover, I don’t think that this article will do anything to stem the tide. Intriguingly, Miley Cyrus’ current sobriety and disavowing of her one-time adoration of rap music seem to be somehow inexorably linked and lauded. Maybe we’ve finally achieved the place where we’ve squeezed dry the good juicy juiciness that Black and Brown Power made white music and white music made the world-at-large dance. Maybe now all that’s left is a toxic sludge that’s ultimately degrading and destroying music-as-industry, humans-as-creatives, and culture-as-social good.

These days, the incessant bang of an 808 and the lonely sweep of a cumbia riddim against the low end of a production-as-dusty and empty dancehall floor incredibly makes any “Taps” melody that Cake has ever played sound downright honest and forthright and not sardonic as all get out in any way whatsoever.

Of course, while all of this is happening, there’s black people being literally choked, shot, and beaten to death, while Puerto Rico is literally bankrupt, Brazil in economic depression, countries like Angola being racked with socioeconomic strife, and more. All the while, there’s always a white face, or in Drake’s case, an “appealing to white people, semi-brown face,” borrowing — at an impressively lower rate of commercial gain than ever before — these genres, sounds, and cultures of people who are poor, broken, mad, and/or dead.

I’m writing a song all about you
A true song as real as my tears
But you’ve no need to fear it
’Cause no one will hear it
Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year
I’ll tell all about how you cheated
I’d like for the whole world to hear
I’d like to get even
With you ’cause you’re leavin’
But sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year
It’s a good thing that I’m not a star
You don’t know how lucky you are
Though my record may say it
No one will play it
Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year
It’s a good thing that I’m not a star
You don’t know how lucky you are
Though my record may say it
No one will play it
Sad songs and waltzes aren’t selling this year

Despacito.

The Shape of Us.

The saddest songs and saddest waltzes are selling this year.

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Marcus K. Dowling

Marcus K. Dowling

Creator. Curator. Innovator. Iconoclast.