By Hans Ebert

She’s a singer- a professional singer who would be in her early Forties. There we were chatting about some MOR and Adult Contemporary songs, but the conversation came to a screeching halt when she asked, “Who’s Norah Jones?”

Okay, for a number of reasons, I have always been an admirer of Miss Jones who, like Karen Carpenter, has one of the most distinctive voices in Pop music, and an artist who uses that unique voice to take her music to places where it hasn’t been. I love her for being an artist who takes her time and takes musical chances. She’s no one trick pony.

For a professional singer who “sorta remembered ‘Come Away With Me'”, but had no idea who Norah Jones was underlined where I believe music has lost its way: No sense of history. Musicians- too many- with no interest in this history and where it’s just about going from one gig to another.

Knowledge is history and knowledge leads to understanding the roots of music.

It pays to discover who wrote what at The Brill Building and down Tin Pan Alley and in those Abbey Road Studios- and even why.

It pays to know those pioneers of music, not just the artists, but the songwriters, arrangers, engineers, producers, the great A&R men, those who discovered artists and started labels to release their music-labels like Sun Records, Motown, Stax/Volt, Atlantic, Island, Immediate and all those small indie labels that morphed into what are now known as the majors.

It was these labels and music guys like Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, Berry Gordy Jr, Chris Blackwell, Jac Holzman, Clive Davis etc who inspired younger music people like Lou Adler, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, David Geffen, Richard Branson, and though Apple Records went sour, had the Beatles decide to be independent.

All this is part of the history of music. It’s where housed are THE greatest music ever recorded. It’s our music school. It’s free and open 24/7. All one needs is the interest and inquisitiveness and passion to enter it.

There’s everything here that’s missing in the lazy, vapid and pretty much nameless and faceless streaming of music, which not only holds zero emotional attachment, it devalues the art form and robs music makers of their rightful dues.

Of course, it’s great to attend ‘live’ gigs and good for the artists that can find them. But if a new unknown act, where does one find their music? On Spotify? How many say they will, but don’t bother? Why? Finding new music is simply not a priority. It’s part of the online clutter which I don’t subscribe to, but this, apparently, is the “brave new world”. Seriously? Ever read some of the rants of the intelligentsia on Twitter?

Streaming music is a trickle where even fifty million streams is just part of the usual numbers game. And now trapped and hoodwinked into data driven thinking, the essence of music is playing second fiddle to soulless technology in the hands of those looking at the money to be made from what sounds awfully like pseudo intellectual yada yada yada. It’s boring, chaps.

It’s pretentious bollocks.

Meanwhile, the so-called majors are sitting on those incredible back catalogues with extremely few knowing how to mine them.

The new breed of A&R people? Many have no knowledge of everything sitting in the vaults of Motown- recordings by the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Marvellettes, the Four Tops- Island, Atlantic, Asylum, Elektra etc.

Think that because these recordings are old, they won’t resonate with new listeners?

What are many of the hooks to Rap records that grab listeners? Samples of these forgotten tracks, or else getting the Rights to sample a melody or riff or hook line that immediately grabs a listener.

Rappers, DJs and their expensive army of teams spend months mining for these forgotten gems, hear something like the intros to “Time Is Tight” or “Shaft” or “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and buy the Rights- or just take them- and make them new again by having these be the glue that holds it all together. It’s music by numbers.

Wait: It’s not music. It’s a pastiche of sounds and beats produced on a computer.

It’s why so many today really believe that they’re experts on everything despite not having that thing known as experience. Never had to pay their dues. But they have a computer with the right software and know how to push the right buttons.

Imagine if a new audience heard these classic recordings for the first time without knowing when any of this was recorded. Think tracks by everyone from the Kinks, Zombies and Small Faces to the music owned by Motown and Stax/Volt and then going all the way back to the weird and wonderful work of Joe Meek wouldn’t make a comeback? But first, one must know what Joe Meek created and the genius behind the man. Yes, it’s again, going back to school. It’s about learning to be inspired.

Think about the music of Prince, Bowie, and other greats who’ve left us. Think The Purple One wasn’t musically influenced by Sly Stone? James Brown? Hendrix? Of course he was. But he took all that good stuff and made it his. He’d done his home schooling.

At a time when music simply doesn’t have the level of excitement it once had despite some excellent new recording artists and all that great new talent showcased in the groundbreaking NPR Tiny Desk series, all these back catalogues owned, especially by UMG and Warner, should not only be revisited. These vaults should be made open to experienced, creative A&R people who have done their homework and intuitively know what will work and breakaway from the confines of simply doing for the sake of doing, but none of it going anywhere.

What’s needed is a new work ethic. It’s all become very lazy and way too predictable.

#music #backcatalogue #norahjones #musicians #chrisblackwell #A&R #Prince #HansEbert