21 July 2023

I swear, they just don't write songs like they used to

| Ross Solly
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Today’s music could learn a few lessons from the songs Ross Solly recorded on tape from Countdown. Photo: File.

Signs I’m getting old and cranky, episode 7 (approx.): swearing in songs.

When I was young, I used to sit down religiously every Sunday night and watch Countdown on the ABC. I was such a fan I would even put my little cassette player next to the TV and record it, complete with the noises of dinner being prepared.

Every now and then you would hear the voice of my father, offering disparaging views on the length of the hair, the tuneless warbling or the screeching guitars. My father was an Elvis nut. He used to travel 100 kilometres on the back of a motorbike with his cousin to perform Elvis covers in front of a handful of bemused punters at a country hotel.

He never understood the music of my generation. To him it all sounded the same, and that sound was not enjoyable.

And now I think I may have become my father. Not so much because I can’t stand the sound of today’s music (although some of it does make my head ache, and some of it sure as heck sounds the same).

It’s more that I can’t understand why so many songs contain explicit language. I don’t get why it’s necessary, and I don’t particularly like it.

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Every Friday on one of the music-sharing apps that I subscribe to, I get a playlist of around 30 new songs that have been released on that day. Most of the songs are dreadful (IMHO), but every now and then a good one comes along. Such is music.

But you can be guaranteed that more than two-thirds of the songs on that list will carry explicit language warnings. Some of them even have explicit language in their title.

The app has an explicit filter that you can turn on to ensure your children, or crotchety old men like myself, don’t have to listen to the offending songs. I used to have it turned on, but then my son
complained he could only listen to about three songs on his playlist.

After stubbornly refusing to buckle, I did eventually give in. Now I have no idea what my kids are listening to, but I’m pretty certain it’s fairly fruity.

I went back and looked at some of the music charts from the 70s, 80s and even the 90s. It was rare to find songs that contained swearing. Of course, in those days they would never have got airplay. Absolutely there were songs from those eras that contained swearing, but they would hardly ever get released as singles.

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History shows all sorts of songs have been banned for all sorts of reasons, including promoting drug use, sexual content and blasphemy. The BBC banned a whole heap of songs during wartime, including Abba’s ‘Waterloo’, Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ and Queen’s ‘Killer Queen’.

In Australia, some radio stations banned songs referring to “fire” during the devastating 2020 bushfires because to play them would have been considered insensitive.

Songs still get banned today, including a few “oldies” that haven’t aged well, like ‘My Boomerang Won’t Come Back’.

But drop a few f-bombs into the lyrics, and it’s into the weekly music-sharing playlists you’ll go. Most Australian radio stations still won’t play them, but as most music fans listen to their music on apps, they’re still guaranteed to reach a massive audience.

Call me old and out of touch, but it doesn’t seem quite right to me.

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Vinson1Bernie9:50 am 26 Jul 23

ABC Classic FM has no swearing but occassionally instead of ads it has announcers droning on incessantly and self indulgently about nothing – seniors can never win

Gregg Heldon9:07 am 26 Jul 23

I’m not too sure how old you are Ross but I’m 56 and there has been swearing in music for most of my life. MC5 – Kick Out The Jams and Skyhooks – Why Don’t You All Get ______ are just two examples of songs from 1969 and 1977.
And certain community radio stations around the country will allow those two songs to be played, uncensored, after 9pm.
Also, pop music today is tripe. I don’t think pop songs from 2023 will be listened to, of reminisced about in numbers in 40 years time like a lot of songs from 1983 are. Most were a lot better crafted than the production line, disposable pap that we are getting nowadays.
And Ross, I did the same thing with Countdown too. With the cassette player.

HiddenDragon7:47 pm 25 Jul 23

“Every now and then you would hear the voice of my father, offering disparaging views on the length of the hair, the tuneless warbling or the screeching guitars. My father was an Elvis nut.”

He, in turn, probably endured critical commentary from earlier generations about Elvis’ crooning, and his pelvic gyrations, and some of his lyrics – “Little Egypt” would have had proto-feminists in meltdown.

The colourful language in more recent songs doesn’t bother me in and of itself, but when it is expressing angry, violent sentiments and seemingly aimed at very angry young men, it makes doubly glad that we have much stricter gun laws than the US.

GrumpyGrandpa6:05 pm 25 Jul 23

A lot of the newer music has very simple theme; Doof Doof Doof.

I think you left out 2 more doofs

Balance needed1:28 pm 25 Jul 23

Context is important. Many of the lyrics in The Book of Mormon are amazingly profane. And yet because of combined humour and catchy tune it was hard to get upset.
On the other hand, recently my gym had to hurriedly turn off some “music” because of the disgustingly violent misogynistic lyrics.

There is a Tim Minchin monologue that would seem somewhat apt here. To paraphrase, it’s not the words that are offensive, it is the context the words are used that makes them offensive, and given the right context you can make just about any word or phrase offensive.

Our beloved author might want to track that down and remind themselves that if this is the worst they have to deal with, they’re doing quite well.

Solly… dude…

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