March 2, 2013 by folkchris
The notion of what makes a ‘good song’ good, is a difficult one without sounding too casual about it, or without entering ‘my dad is bigger than your dad’ territory. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are effectively subjective.
Intrinsically, we all have our own version of what ‘good’ music is, and can define what we perceive to be ‘bad’ music. In most cases, for our own choice of listening, what exactly is good or bad is irrelevant, what matters is that we simply do or do not like it.
Perhaps the idea of ‘good’ music, focuses on familiar song structure, or a steady beat – perhaps it is a catchy hook line or is it what the singer is saying in the piece?
In a post-modern world, we are at liberty to take what we like from a piece of music and to simply discard what does not resonate with our tastes.
Why we like, what we like need not be justified.
It’s difficult to play so it must be good…
Phrases like ‘well played’ and ‘technically gifted’ do not necessarily mean that what we hear will automatically appeal to our tastes. While one can appreciate what they are hearing it may not actually ‘hit home’ with what they define as ‘good’.
How catchy was that song!?
‘Catchy’ and ‘good’ are not necessarily related. For example, radio adverts can be catchy. They are designed to stay in our head, but this does not give them any substance as songs. To say that a particular song is ‘catchy enough’ is to imply that it is lyrically mediocre.
Certainly, a catchy hook may help contribute to creating a ‘good song’ but it must only be an ingredient. To rely on that alone, neglects other important ingredients of the songwriting process and ultimately does not make for the desired all round ‘good’ song.
Is it the lyrics then?
For some listeners, a song’s ‘goodness’ is located within the song’s lyrical content. What the singer is telling us. How he or she exposes the human soul through their words. How we relate the song to our own lives…and for other listeners the lyrics may simply be considered mere words being sung over the music.
In the case of dance music, I would certainly concede that lyrics are one of the least important aspects of that type of song, but because a song focuses primarily on the beat , it does not make it superior to a piece which focuses on lyrical quality.
There are many songs (particularly those of the 1960s folk revival) which are not seen to be technically challenging, nor do they focus on catchiness, but are still to this day praised for the quality of their lyrical content. Of course, many of these (types of) songs, now remain side-lined or niche, as opposed to the mainstream popular tunes found in the charts today.
If it’s in the charts, it must be popular, and popular makes it good… right?
No, not exactly. But that also doesn’t mean that anything that is popular is automatically ‘bad’ or that anything that doesn’t chart isn’t ‘good’. It simply means that popular charts are usually focussed on promoting the ‘sounds of the day’. Whether we think these current sounds are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is our choice.
Being number one, therefor, does not actually mean that that particular song is a well written song. Take the ‘Crazy Frog’ for instance, a novelty, computer animated, motorcycle riding frog which remained number one in the UK charts for four weeks in 2005.
Number one? Yes. A good song? …
Many well-crafted pieces of songwriting, do not fit in with radio station demographics and as a result, do not get the necessary airplay or promotion to compete with the most popular acts. Due to this, they may remain somewhat underground and to the wider audience, carry the stigma of being largely unheard. For the casual music listener, it is all too easy to place such musicians in the ‘bad’ pile, just because they are unknown.
There is no universal agreement of what constitutes ‘bad’ music or ‘good’ music, and perhaps the whole notion of ‘good music’ versus ‘bad music’ is largely as unanswerable as it is un-provable.
Much like beauty being in the eye of the beholder, the ear of the listener, may be more appropriate in this case.