Off the Beat is a column by author, poet, motivational speaker, and social media influencer Marc Lacy. Here you’ll find his opinions on life, success, and culture at large straight, with no chaser.
Man, I remember the “record player” we had at the end of the hallway in our old house.
Note, I said “record player” and not “turntable.” It was just a record player sitting atop a wooden console which housed 45 and 33 LPs on the bottom. Every Saturday morning while doing chores, my dad would blast Johnnie Taylor.
We’d hear the likes of “Disco Lady,” or maybe “Running out of Lies.” Over and over again would we’d hear the tracks of JT spin. Honestly, it didn’t matter where we were. In the house, we’d hear it from the turntable, in the car we’d get it from either the radio or the 8-track tape deck. As a kid, I didn’t enjoy the lyrics because I just didn’t know how to, but I did have an affinity for the catchy melodies and sounds.
Although I got tired of hearing those songs, I still found a way to bob my head. Some decades later, I just cannot stop listening to Johnnie Taylor. Whenever he sings, it’s like a sermon…a sermon whose content was too deep for me as a kid; but right on time as an adult.
Now, speaking of songs, many people feel that the genre of rhythm and blues is basically gone. 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, were all decades in which people wrote, played, and performed as if their life depended on it. They produced music so crucial that you thought they were writing the lyrics and designing basslines like they were told they’d go to hell if they didn’t.
And the music stuck with you, like that of Johnnie Taylor and many others stuck with me. When it’s produced from the soul, it will indeed touch other souls. Please do not get me wrong, I think every era has its share of talented artists/writers.
However, there is nothing new under the sun. This is why so many old-school artists are sampled today. Of course, opinions vary as far as why music is so different these days.
I’d say one reason why there is such a huge difference, is because back then, groups had to have the “If I don’t make this hit record, my family will starve and the message won’t meet the masses” mentality. Nowadays, groups and artists do not have that same mentality simply because they don’t have to. Of course, this is why we have pioneers. The pathways are paved and forthcoming artists can walk down them. There’s nothing wrong with this.
Currently, with evolving technology and the advent of social media, all someone has to do is go viral and that’s pretty much it. Is there anything wrong with it? Well, from an opportunity standpoint, no. These are the times in which we live. Social media evens the playing field. So with that, things are just different.
However, from a creativity standpoint, I do humbly feel that the most unique musical ideas are behind us, and lesser are ahead of us. Of course, none of us can help the era in which we are born. Now having said all of that, I still feel that there are some very talented musicians currently, and up and coming. But for EACH GENERATION of musical talent, history shows that the subjects basically had to conform (to a fault) to whatever the norm or system accepted, in order to be accepted.
The conformity of the artists was basically to get a foot in the door. However, they could then express their uniqueness after having been “baptized by the system” as long as the hits were coming in.
I will say this, along with social media, there are some shows on TV that allow the world to see the depth of the talent that truly exists in this present day. People get a chance to see, who can sing and who needs work. But isn’t it funny that the barometer that measures ones singing ability is basically how well they sing an old-school song?
Or on social media, musicians are rated on how they can cover a tune that was popular back in the day. Many times that covered tune hit the charts back in the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s. And that’s just the way it is. So when one says their favorite type of music is old-school, they’re not saying that no one is talented today, they’re just stating that the musical foundation was laid back in the day.
And if you are a product of various eras like myself, you love the impact of the likes of Johnnie Taylor on the current music scene. You appreciate it more now than you did when you first heard his/their music. Why? When your mind is more mature, you tend to look at familiar things a little differently…especially things of the “creative” nature.
Life teaches you just to understand a little better as you get older. Having said that, it is up to ALL OF US to educate up and coming artists on music history, influences, impacts, and trends…and do it without scolding or lecturing them. I say this because we certainly wouldn’t have wanted someone lecturing us back in the day.