What Makes a Song a Classic?
I have always found music to be a point of connection between people, and that music is the universal language. Around the world, no matter the nationality or language, all people listen to and appreciate music. Every culture contributes to it in some way whether through an original written composition or by continuing promoting an established piece of music by way of various means. Music is so universal that you could walk up to someone who speaks a different language and hum a world-renowned piece of music such as The Beatles Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band. In most cases, that person will recognize the song and you will have made an instant connection without singing a single word, or knowing how to speak a word of their language. For example, on a trip to Disney World, I was in line for a ride. Ahead of me, a man was speaking to his son in a language I did not understand (I later discovered he was speaking Ukrainian). He started humming The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Disney’s movie, Fantasia; at that point, I had a better understanding of what they were speaking about.
While songs with just music are recognizable, songs with lyrics are just as popular and can bring an even more powerful and lasting impact to the listeners. The reason being is that lyrics send a message that people can relate to on a more personal level. Songs that speak to people on a personal level are more likely to become what society refers to as classics. The phrase ‘Classics’ is defined as “a recognized value serving as a standard of excellence” (Dictionary, 2013, p. 1). Combined with a relatable message and a pleasant, catchy tune, these songs have a greater chance of remaining popular throughout future generations. They remain, because they are relevant to the lives of the listeners no matter the era. This paper will explore several songs that I believe have the potential of becoming classics. We also will hear counter-arguments against these songs becoming classics.
The first song that I believe has the potential to become a classic is Taylor Swift’s, Begin Again. As the title indicates, this song is about having new beginnings. It speaks the message that no matter how bad a situation may be, no matter how great the pain, it can always get better. It encourages its listeners never to give up, but to keep pushing onward in life. All of us go through hard times, and this song serves as a steady reminder to believe in better times. The concept of this song is positive, encouraging and will help it to remain popular for generations to come. Not all people have the same opinion about this song’s future status though. One opinion refers to this song as not being, “a world beater or a mega hit waiting in the weeds” (Trigger, 2012, p. 1). A blogger on another site stated of Begin Again, “This song is so basic, I like Taylor but I don’t understand why this is so popular right now, it sounds like every other ballad from her [Taylor Swift]” (Haus, 2012, p. 2). Countering that blogger’s point, another said that it is not that the song is basic, but rather, it does not have the same dramatic edge that Taylor’s other songs have (Bahjat, 2012). I side with the second blogger and would encourage the first blogger to consider the fact that this single reached Billboard and Mediabase Country radio charts’ top 20 and the video attracted over 8 million online viewers in its first week (Swift, 2012). Also, Taylor sang it live on the 46th Annual CMA Awards in 2012 (Swift, 2012). Its initial and continual popularity are excellent indicators for it to become a classic (Swift, 2012).
Continuing with songs from Taylor Swift, her song Mine ,speaks of having a person in your life that is so special that you want to say is they’re yours. It talks about sticking with that relationship and never giving up. A classic song from my parents’ time that has a similar message is called Lady by the band, Styx. Its message is that one person above all others can be so important and make you feel a certain way when you are with them. Similarly, Mine emphasizes that the one you love should be the most valuable person in your life and that, even in hard times, you will stay together because of what you mean to one another. Countering the popularity of this song, the response of one person I interviewed was, “Mine, I never even heard there was such a song!” (K Caughlin, personal communication, October 20, 2013). My father also said the same thing. (C Dressel, personal communication, October 21, 2013). Of course, both of them are sports fanatics and don’t actively listen to Taylor’s music. As well, they did not realize that this song is part of Taylor’s album, ‘Speak Now’, which reached 1.04 million sales in its first week (Swift, 2012).
According to Adickman, “Taylor’s boy-meets-girl-they-marry-and-procreate story is ‘actually rather sweet and, as usual, Taylor looks amazing and controlled and way beyond her 20 years in the video (Adickman, 2010, p.1).” This song in many ways refers to the classic way of falling in love and how those steps progress. It shows the hardships of a relationship or marriage and that things can end happily if the proper amount of effort is put into that relationship (Adickman, 2010).
All Star, by Smash Mouth is also one that has the potential of becoming a classic. It gives an upbeat, powerful message that you can be whatever you want to be even when you are told you are not going to amount to anything. Unlike most pop songs that have a bouncy feel-good vibe, this song has more of a classic rock feel. While the song encourages people to get all the fun and freshness that life has to offer, it also garnered some negative reviews. One critic said that the song “tries way too hard to gets its moral message across” (Dusk 411, 2006, p. 1). He feels the song is self-serving rather than one that seeks to build confidence in others (Dusk 411, 2006). However, this song is very popular worldwide and has enjoyed wide-spread commercial success from its very beginning. It is included on the soundtrack of five movies, including Shrek, Rat Race, and Inspector Gadget (Song facts, 2013). It also has appeared in numerous commercials, and the band performed it live at the 1999 Major League Baseball All Star game (Song facts, 2013). Giving a similar message of All Star, two classics written and sung in the 1950’s, are I Gotta Be Me and My Way. Made popular by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra, these songs give people the message to be who they are and to live in this world unafraid and on their terms. My dad says that their message is good only if they speak of not hurting others, but rather making a positive impact on the world (C Dressel, personal communication, October 21, 2013).
Continuing, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, The Music of the Night from his musical The Phantom of the Opera, is a song about desire and obsession. It leans toward the darker side of human nature and involves the desire to control someone, but the quality of the music, the phrasing of the words and way it is put together musically are reasons enough for this song to become a classic. It is hard to argue with the beauty and lasting popularity of Music of the Night, but my mom’s reaction to it was somewhat negative. She was put off by the fact that the Phantom put a spell on Christine to get her to love him. My mom, like most people, believes that love should be received freely, without coercion (T Dressel, personal communication, October 21, 2013).
This song is one of the most memorable songs for anyone who has seen the Broadway play, The Phantom of the Opera whether in person or on television. The scene in the movie edition was voted “most romantic” for scenes that that did not include nudity or kissing. It purely captures the essence of romance at the moment that feelings of love are professed. It ranges from soft seductive undertones to the most powerful declarations of love. It completely captures the heart of what the play’s author wanted the audience to see. As the song concludes, the female character, Christine, faints into the arms of the Phantom who carries her to his bed where she stays that night to sleep. The Phantom’s comment at the conclusion of the song is that Christine is the only true possessor of and inspiration for all he holds dear. My friend’s thought on these comments is that he illustrates the traditional and classic gentleman not commonly shown today. (D Wildes personal communication, November 21, 2013). However, critics herald this song as being one of the two most popular in the play (Smith, 1988). Lastly, another song from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera is
All I Ask of You, this song is a powerful ballad involving a two people falling in love in the middle of conflict. Many people can recall such an occurrence. They may think of Romeo and Juliet as a prime example. Again, the words, emotions and dedication between these two people make the audience desire for them to be together. The audience can also see themselves in the characters’ place and hope for such love and devotion in their own lives. In fact, I am one of them and want this song to be sung at my wedding. It is pure romance and gives hope that true love exists.
This song is one of the most memorable songs for anyone who has seen the Broadway play, The Phantom of the Opera whether in person or on television. The scene in the movie edition was voted “most romantic” for scenes that that did not include nudity or kissing. It purely captures the essence of romance at the moment that feelings of love are professed. It ranges from soft seductive undertones to the most powerful declarations of love. It completely captures the heart of what the play’s author wanted the audience to see. As the song concludes, the female character, Christine, faints into the arms of the Phantom who carries her to his bed where she stays that night to sleep. The Phantom’s comment at the conclusion of the song is that Christine is the only true possessor of and inspiration for all he holds dear. My friend’s thought on these comments is that he illustrates the traditional and classic gentleman not commonly shown today. (D Wildes personal communication, November 21, 2013). For these reasons, it makes it an easy candidate for it to become a classic.
Critics herald this song as being one of the two most popular in the play (Smith, 1988). Lastly, another song from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera is All I Ask of You. This song is a powerful ballad involving a two people falling in love in the middle of conflict. Many people can recall such an occurrence. They may think of Romeo and Juliet as a prime example. Again, the words, emotions and dedication between these two people make the audience desire that they be together. The audience can also see themselves in the characters’ places and hope to experience such love and devotion in their lives. I, for one, am one of them and want this song to be sung at my wedding. It is pure romance and gives me hope that true love exists. I interviewed my friend Nicole for her opinion of All I Ask of You. She told me that it is her favorite song; she loved the romance in the scene in which Raoul speaks (in song) the comforting and reassuring words, “No more talk of darkness….” She loved the meaning of the song (N Foxwell, personal communication, November 21, 2013). It spoke to her on a personal level because it portrays what many young ladies seek in romance and relationships. They want to hear someone who is sincerely caring. She also mentioned how she liked the contrast between All I Ask of You and The Music of the Night (N Foxwell, personal communication, November 21, 2013). The former talks of light and the eradication of darkness while the latter speaks of darkness as being warm and welcoming and light as being cold and unfeeling. In essence, the two songs demonstrate and reflect the conflict and different natures of two men desiring the same women. The contrast of these songs reflecting the conflict between these men demonstrates why they have the potential to become classics.
In some cases there are those who disagree that the works of Andrew Lloyd Weber will in fact reach classic status. One critical review referred to his work as being inauthentic by imitating the style of someone or something else (Answers, 2013). Even though Andrew Lloyd Weber has created some well-known musicals, the credibility of how he derived his songs may be damaged to the point where their classic status could be diminished. However, the popularity of this and almost every song in the play will outweigh someone’s obscure review. As one writer says of the play as a whole, its appeal continues, because the romance it portrays draws people into the world it has created. It is no wonder that it is Broadway’s longest-running musical and highest grossing ($5.6 billion worldwide) entertainment franchise in history (Luden, 2013). Popularity of this song can only cause it to last throughout all time.
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