Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Who wants to change the world

It's not difficult to turn up critiques of Avril Lavigne's latest single 'Girlfriend' (which, for the record, I like more than a little) that accuse it of being a serious rip off of Rubinoos' 'I want to be your boyfriend'. Indeed, the resemblance of the two songs' hook lines is so striking, it's remarkable that a lawsuit hasn't been filed yet, since Tommy Dunbar and James Gangwer of Rubinoos do not get a writing credit on 'Girlfriend'.

[07/04/07 post addition: turns out, a lawsuit has been filed...]

Pop music lives on a slippery slope. Diddy lifts the rhythm section of Prince's 'Raspberry beret' almost unaltered for his recent atonal duet with Keyshia Cole, 'Last night'. And Fergie's 'Fergalicious' is an amalgam of J.J. Fad's 'Supersonic' and Afrika Bambaata's 'Planet Rock' - the original content in 'Fergalicious' is below 15%. The history of pop music is littered with artists rehashing each other's material, for better or (in these cases) for worse.

This feels like a particularly backwards-looking time across the pop music spectrum. The Hot 100 kids are by no means the only offenders. Any review of an indie rock or indie pop track quickly dissects the group and song's explicit antecedents. Hot for the ripping off these days: Joy Division, Gang Of Four, Tom Tom Club, Kraftwerk...

No hard feelings, actually. There are far worse groups to reference, and I derive as much enjoyment from combing through the back catalogue as I do hearing 'new' things, these days. It just underscores an observation I made last month while reading Rolling Stone's list of '40 songs that changed the world.'

It's a good list, and I have few quibbles with it. (I love Cure's 'Just like heaven' but it didn't change the world. If anything, 'Killing an Arab'? And what about Duran Duran's 'Hungry like the wolf' reifying the ages of both synth pop and music videos?) My observation: the list steps forward very regularly through time. Some kind of world-changing musical event happened almost every year. There are gaps of two, three, even four years, but the progression is rather measured through the fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties.

Until the nineties, where there's a six year gap. And then, shortly after, comes the last entry: White Stripes' 'Fell in love with a girl' - which is six years old now. Not so much world-changing music, lately. I don't think the list suffers from lack of immediate hindsight, skewing towards older songs that have had more time to solidify their impact. After all, the immensity of all these songs was immediately apparent; we didn't have to wait a couple years to realize that 'I want to hold your hand' had changed the landscape.

No, I think the list is accurate in its silence about recent releases. But I'm jonesing, and I don't think I'm alone. I'm not a big Nirvana fan, but I'd be grateful for a 'Smells like teen spirit' moment sometime soon. (It seems that Tori Amos, Scala And Kolacny Choir, and Kiki & Herb agree, based on their diverse but solid covers of the brilliant song.)

I've found a lot of great music to enjoy in the last six years. But none of it has changed the game, and we're overdue. It makes it easier to pull out old tracks to reexamine and appreciate, but pop music is not about the past; it's about the now. And occasionally, when we're lucky, it's about the future.