Every band or artist that releases an album wants attention. Beyond the quality of the music, artists and their record companies use a variety of creative techniques to distinguish their album from an overcrowded field of competition. Over the years, those techniques have included such novel offerings as 3-D album covers, scratch-and-sniff album covers, unique album cover art, and the inclusion of posters, stickers, pictures, tattoos, and other giveaways.
The arrival of the CD age, some of the tactics have changed, but the goal of drawing attention remains the same. Unfortunately, many of the gimmicks that remain popular with artists and record companies have long since crossed the line from unique to cliché. Here are eight album / CD clichés that artists should stop using immediately.
1. The old record player
You pop in a CD, or cue up an MP3, and the first thing you hear is the sound of a record needle dropping onto a scratchy record album. Was this recorded off of someone’s old 45 single being played on their grandmother’s Victrola?
No, in fact that scratchy sound was added in on purpose – for effect! This trick might have seemed charming the first dozen times around, but it has long since worn out its welcome. Weren’t CD’s supposed to get rid of that scratchy sound once and for all?
2. Rap albums with as many “skits” as tracks
Inside every rapper there’s an actor struggling to break free – or so it seems. A funny or dramatic sketch used to bridge or introduce a track can work well – when applied sparingly. But something’s wrong when a CD lists 25 “titles,” but only contains 12 bona fide songs. I admire Lil Wayne’s rhyming skills, not his thespian abilities! To make matters worse, the skits are usually pointless, unnecessary, or just plain stupid – and I don’t mean dope!
3. “Hidden” songs
The idea of including an uncredited song at the end of a CD might have seemed clever in the early days of the CD age. Unfortunately, like many “charming” concepts, this one became annoying quickly. Why “hide” a song in the first place? And if listeners are supposed to “find” it eventually, what’s the point?
Some artists even list a “hidden track” in the song titles. Are they attempting irony, or simply displaying stupidity? In any case, the next CD I review that ends with 35 “tracks” of silence followed by a 20-second clip of studio chatter or some similar nonsense gets docked a grade on principle alone.
4. Clean Up Your Act!
In a recent feature I noted that the current Billboard Top-40 chart included two songs that featured what Ralphie from A Christmas Story called the “Queen Mother of Dirty Words” – in their title! At the risk of seeming like I’m some combination of old, prudish, or out-of-touch, I’ll admit it – I’m offended.
Not for myself, actually. Personally, I don’t give a %#$@ what anyone wants to title a song – so there! But unless the age demographic of the target audience has shifted north considerably, I’m offended for all the 9, 10, 11, and 12 year olds out there just becoming serious music fans.
For the last 60 years, popular music has been geared primarily to the young. Motown Records wasn’t nicknamed “The Sound of Young America” by accident. The proliferation of profanity in popular music is sending kids a message that it is not only okay to use R-rated language in songs, it’s the norm.
Using profanity in a song title is a cheap marketing ploy, plain and simple – akin to drawing attention by loudly using the same language in a public place. Don’t give me any of that “artistic expression” nonsense. Will the artistic expression of Pink or Cee Lo Green really go unfulfilled unless they drop f-bombs throughout their songs?
At the very least, how about using discretion in the titles – something like “Perfect” and “Forget You (explicit version)” for example. That way, when some 10-year-old fan is perusing the music charts, she’s not confronted with words that would be restricted in most PG movies.
Since I’ve already opened one can of worms, let me take a crack at another. If artists want to swear like sailors in their songs, it’s their prerogative. But if they want to release “clean versions” of their songs, they should truly be clean.
Does it make sense that an explicit CD is considered clean when only part of an offending word is removed or smudged? If a rapper uses a word that begins with a “b” and ends in a “ch,” he’s usually not talking about a beach.
In fairness, not all artists and record companies are guilty – some release clean versions of explicit songs with alternative lyrics and/or precise editing.
Perhaps artists should consider cutting the profanity right from the start, especially when targeting a younger audience. Remember Avril Lavigne catchy pop-tune “Girlfriend” from a few years back? With its infectious “cheerleader” chorus, it seemed perfectly suited for Lavigne’s young and pre-teen female fans. And it would have been, except it featured one of George Carlin’s “seven dirty words” in one of its verses.
Did Lavigne’s use of the word make “Girlfriend” a better song? Or was it simply an easy way to drum up controversy and/or make Lavigne seem “edgy”?
Here’s my modest proposal: Eventually, many of these current potty-mouthed artists will have children of their own. When those children reach 7 or 8 years of age, those artists should be forced to hand their children lyric sheets and play their music for their little darlings.
After all, if it’s acceptable for our kids, it should be acceptable for their own.
5. “Deluxe” and “standard” CD versions
Back in ancient times, when 45 rpm singles were still being sold, it became an increasingly popular record company practice to issue a single with a flipside that was “previously unavailable.” The idea was that if you were a big fan of the artist in question and already owned the album, you’d want to buy the single just to have the artist’s complete body of work. It was a marketing tactic intended to extract more cash from diehard fans.
In the CD age, 45 rpm singles went the way of the dinosaur, but that hasn’t stopped some artists and/or record companies from using “bonus tracks” to lure consumers into buying what amounts to basically two versions of the same album. Buyers often have to choose between a “standard” edition of a CD, and a “deluxe version” that contains a few extra songs – and costs a few dollars more – or between a “domestic” and “international” version of an album that differs by one or two songs. Ultimately, record companies are hoping the diehard fans will buy both.
What other creative artists do this? Do painters offer “extended canvasses” for a higher price? Do authors release a “standard” version of a novel along with a “deluxe” version that includes a few extra chapters?
Music fans should not have to pick and choose.
6. Endless compilations (aka “It’s The Same Old Song”)
I’ll pin this one on the record companies, who usually own the rights to an artist’s back catalog. As an example, let’s look at one of my favorite bands from my youth – the Commodores. The Lionel Ritchie-fronted version of the band enjoyed considerable success, primarily in a seven-year run from the mid-70s to the early 80s. The group released nine studio albums (not including one live and one hits collection) between 1974 and 1981.
Since 1981, at least 15(!) compilations of the group’s hits have been released – All The Great Hits, Gold, Ultimate Collection, Definitive Collection, The Commodores Anthology, The Very Best of The Commodores, Greatest Hits, etc. etc. etc. As crazy as that seems, for most bands that have amassed a similar body of work, it is the norm. I’d vote for a moratorium that limits compilation releases to no more than one every five years.
7. Better liner notes, or give credit where credit is due
“Dear Artist or Band – I admire how you thank everyone from God all the way down to your kindergarten teacher in the liner notes of your CD, but how about divulging the name of the guy who played the trumpet on track #4 (even if his name isn’t Chris Botti)?
If someone other than your usual drummer tapped the skins on track #7, let the world know. And unless you’re ashamed of them for some reason, include the final version of all lyrics and raps in the CD booklet – don’t make listeners log in to your website to find them. Thank you.”
8. Creative and/or text spelling in song titles
Artists and bands have been pulling this stunt for years. It probably originated from early country and western artists “dropping g’s” in their song titles (Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight”) and progressed to even more phonetic spellings – remember Sly and the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Faletinme Be Mice Elf Again)”?
The British glam-rock group Slade was the first international band to intentionally misspell song titles on a regular basis. Their 70s hits include “Mama Weer All Crazee Now,” “Gudbuy T’ Jane,” “Cum On Feel The Noize,” and “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me.” The group was influential among the next generation of hard-rockers, but the creative spelling didn’t catch on with other bands.
In 1984, Prince’s Purple Rain album became a huge hit. One of its Top-10 singles – “I Would Die 4 U” – went into heavy rotation on MTV. Apparently an entire generation of future musicians and songwriters were watching.
Just when you thought that Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” was as stupid as it would ever get, creative spelling has been combined with “text” spelling to take things to a new level of obnoxiousness. Consider “Blah Blah Blah” by Ke$ha featuring 3OH!3 or “What Yo Name Iz” by Kirko Bangz. When I read something like that, I feel like saying, “I’m sorry, but I speak English, not A$$%ole.”