Six decades and then some. That’s how long I have wandered restlessly upon this planet so far. Soon, I begin another year and hopefully make it through that year and then some. On that day, someone will, seriously or jokingly, sing “Happy Birthday” to me. Yes, the happy-birthday song that I have been hearing since I was able to discern what I was hearing at all. You, too, even if you are among the most recent generations (Generation Y or Generation Z) have also heard that same birthday song sung to you as you sing it to others.
Why is this? This is because it is the unexcelled lyric-and-melody entity representing its purpose. Other songs have been written in an attempt to replace it but all have failed, as have accusations that the songwriters—Patty and Mildred Hill—lifted its melody from an earlier tune that celebrated no specific morning’s arrival.
Thus, the incredible lightness of any songwriter’s task, no matter the subject or style, has failed at miserable proportions throughout the decades (and make no mistake about the fact that I am among them). In categories covered by songs—love, hate, protest, love, spirituality, love, education, despair, love, et al—the surplus is immeasurable. Simply, there are too many songs that are so obviously derivative that if they were purged from existence no one would miss one.
Once, after a show where I performed two hours of selected popular tunes that spanned the entire 20th century, a person in the audience approached me and said, “I enjoyed your show but tell me, do you do any originals?”
I said, “They’re all originals.”
He did not understand.
There are too many songs. We do not need all of the songs that exist because ultimately so many of the songs that exist fall drastically short of being the types of songs that negate the purpose of writing more songs in a specific style. Take the blues. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine- nine-nine-nine- nine-nine-nine, etcetera blues songs could be reduced like complex fractions to a few least-common denominators, making the blues-song catalog consist of a manageable few songs; and those would be all we need. Yet, songwriters are, even as you read this, writing “new” blues songs. Not only is that a futile exercise, it is wholly disingenuous, because aside from the tired, familiar musical patterns of the genre, the authors probably have no blues to express.
The melodies of many love songs, especially those known as “standards,” could survive a purge of their category’s contents. As clever as some lyrics for love songs have been, their generic twists are only slightly variable. Replicas ensue. In this case, as well, some melodies without lyrics have portrayed deep emotions without singing a word. Listen, for instance, to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue.” It’s complete, it’s flirtatious, and it’s dreamy and elegant. Even those words don’t successfully describe its ability to withstand intellectual challenge. Gershwin touched the heavens with that melody and was the rare being that did it more than once. Some of his melodic output alone would survive a purge of all standard popular songs written, published, sung. .
Rock ‘n Roll splintered into so many different genres offering songs that reproduced like paramecium that it’s next to impossible to truly evaluate those necessary. Even being liberal about which Rock ‘n Roll songs to keep and which to trash, we would be dumping a majority of them into the where-they-belong space, into The Black Hole of Unnecessary Songs.
Be aware: The Black Hole of Unnecessary Songs is not a dungeon that exists in some autocracy. I don’t get to pick and choose what lives and what dies, nor do you or you or you or you, nor does any deity concocted by a finite human brain. The Black Hole of Unnecessary Songs is a personal void, where you dismiss the songs you don’t need. You think you are honest with yourself? Then get rid of the filler and appreciate the residuum. Look for new sources, anything that bears a resemblance to individual satisfaction, the kind of music that will grow old after it reveals itself and others duplicate it. Keep it, store it, move on, grow.
It’s true. You are a sticky nine-year-old one day and then you are thirty-five, sans the stickiness, in control of the grooming. You don’t feel yourself growing. However, you need the essentials to grow, so you accept them and then you grow, silently, practically unnoticed, to all around you and within you. You shed the music of your younger being like you shed Puff, the Magic Dragon and the horror of Pinocchio’s dream and the perversion of Peter Pan.
Ideally, you’re born, you grow up and you grow old, then, when you are too old to live, you die. In your waning moments in a mortal coil, do you want someone to come up to you and say, “Before you go, want to listen to the new happy-birthday song I wrote?”