Play for the song = proof that the guitar is on its way out

bluesuede

Member
Messages
199
In 1982, an album entitled Thriller was released by a popular pop singer named Michael Jackson. The album went on to sell 142.3 gazillion copies. Michael Jackson went from being popular to being the King of Pop, ruling the pop universe. The record companies for the remainder of the decade wanted to replicate this success with other pop artists. They examined Thriller very carefully and discovered one of the many popular tracks on this album contained killer guitar riffs played by one Steve Lukather and a solo by the reigning heavyweight guitar hero of the day, Edward Van Halen. For the remainder of the decade, heavy guitar, sometimes riffs but usually solos, was inserted into danceable pop tracks. This trend continued until the record companies took a fancy to depressed flannel wearing rockers, and pop producers gave up their hopes if re capturing the Thriller magic.
 

Attuned2U

Member
Messages
18
Nowadays lots of guitar opinionators say that the guitar player should "play for the song". Which it usually means playing some twinkly arpeggios, or some unobtrusive skritches in the background, and leaving the power chords and blues-rock riffage for your bedroom self-enjoyment.


Which is fine, I guess. But last week I was doing some Very Scientific[TM] research of 80s music (listening to a couple "best of the 80s" compilations while exercising at home), and was surprised at how many of these tunes had some unexpected hard rocking guitar in them.


And these weren't metal tunes, mind you. They were hit songs by Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, and others. All dance/pop tunes engineered to reach the top of the charts. These tracks were the quintessential definition of "the song" back in the 80s. Synthetic studio products, where all the backing musicians were expected to help "sell" the main star.


And yet, a sizable fraction of them had distorted guitar solos, power chords in the chorus, blues-rock fills throughout. All things anathema to today's "play for the song" crew. But back then, I have to assume that the record producer/ label suits thought that the hard rock riffage would help sell "the song"? They certainly were OK with letting Basil Fung lay down his hard rock licks on those Paula Abdul hits.


Tastes change, of course, and I'm not saying that it's good or bad that the hard rock riffage went out of fashion. I wasn't fascinated by it back in the day myself. And these days it looks like there is (to paraphrase Thomas Watson of IBM) a market for 5 guitarists in the whole world, so today's budding guitarist is better served by learning how to make unobtrusive skritches and generally not calling attention to himself.


Which is, I think, evidence that the guitar is on its way out. For good or bad, back in the 80s, a rocking guitar was just what the doctor ordered when it came to move studio-manufactured product. And your average guitar player would listen to the blues-rock guitar stylings on your average Pat Benatar song and recognize himself. Today? When listening to today's hits, he may as well be a clarinetist.


Again, not saying this is good or bad; it is what it is. All the best to all guitarists out there playing, for the song or otherwise. :dude
As a guitarist of many years, who has learned a thing or two about theory, songwriting, composition and recording, I feel that..
1. Any musician, guitarist or otherwise, should always play for the song. If there is a tendency by guitarists, it is to overplay and to seek self gratification and glorification (myself included). Perhaps more so in years past.
2. Guitar is still arguably the most popular, if not the most ubiquitous, instrument in the popular music world (for good or bad). I'm not talking orchestral, symphonic or similar musical styles. Although it's curious that many rock or hard rock bands frequently feature full or nearly full orchestral type ensembles in concert. Just saying.. I would also make the obvious point that without drums and bass there would be little point in most popular/rock music.
3. Generalizing and making blanket statements is risky business, and frequently wrong, as I may be here..
4. There are other forms of guitar playing than electric, hard rock, over driven guitar. Solos do not need to be million note wank fests. With all the FX devices out there, it is still possible to come up with very interesting and fresh sounding guitar playing. Just my humble opinion :), have a nice day.
 

soundchaser59

Thank You Great Spirit!
Silver Supporting Member
Messages
12,507
Nowadays lots of guitar opinionators say that the guitar player should "play for the song". Which it usually means playing some twinkly arpeggios, or some unobtrusive skritches in the background, and leaving the power chords and blues-rock riffage for your bedroom self-enjoyment.


Which is fine, I guess. But last week I was doing some Very Scientific[TM] research of 80s music (listening to a couple "best of the 80s" compilations while exercising at home), and was surprised at how many of these tunes had some unexpected hard rocking guitar in them.


And these weren't metal tunes, mind you. They were hit songs by Paula Abdul, Whitney Houston, and others. All dance/pop tunes engineered to reach the top of the charts. These tracks were the quintessential definition of "the song" back in the 80s. Synthetic studio products, where all the backing musicians were expected to help "sell" the main star.


And yet, a sizable fraction of them had distorted guitar solos, power chords in the chorus, blues-rock fills throughout. All things anathema to today's "play for the song" crew. But back then, I have to assume that the record producer/ label suits thought that the hard rock riffage would help sell "the song"? They certainly were OK with letting Basil Fung lay down his hard rock licks on those Paula Abdul hits.


Tastes change, of course, and I'm not saying that it's good or bad that the hard rock riffage went out of fashion. I wasn't fascinated by it back in the day myself. And these days it looks like there is (to paraphrase Thomas Watson of IBM) a market for 5 guitarists in the whole world, so today's budding guitarist is better served by learning how to make unobtrusive skritches and generally not calling attention to himself.


Which is, I think, evidence that the guitar is on its way out. For good or bad, back in the 80s, a rocking guitar was just what the doctor ordered when it came to move studio-manufactured product. And your average guitar player would listen to the blues-rock guitar stylings on your average Pat Benatar song and recognize himself. Today? When listening to today's hits, he may as well be a clarinetist.


Again, not saying this is good or bad; it is what it is. All the best to all guitarists out there playing, for the song or otherwise. :dude
Sounds like you need to change the station more often.
 

S. G.

Member
Messages
19
One aspect of "playing for the song" I wish some local bands would learn is to NOT play Mustang Sally then 8 minutes of finger tapping, dive bombing EVH wanna be wanking. Boring
 

PRW

Member
Messages
1,878
And this to me is the textbook example of playing for the song. The solo in this song is, by my count, 15 seconds long. It certainly is not guitar god wankery. But it is utter perfection, mic drop. I submit that no guitar player past, present or future could come up with any other collection of musical notes that could surpass what George Harrison played on his Sonic Blue Strat that day at Abbey Road 55 years ago without it being a detriment to the song.

 

makeitstop

Old dude with guitars
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,126
And this to me is the textbook example of playing for the song. The solo in this song is, by my count, 15 seconds long. It certainly is not guitar god wankery. But it is utter perfection, mic drop. I submit that no guitar player past, present or future could come up with any other collection of musical notes that could surpass what George Harrison played on his Sonic Blue Strat that day at Abbey Road 55 years ago without it being a detriment to the song.

I've got another solo that compares, IMO.


A little longer time-wise, but just as compact and complete. Honeyman used Harrison's solo as a template, right down to the harmonic on the last note.
 

jogogonne

Member
Messages
315
YOU just happen to play guitar. Musical instruments as a generality are on their way out. When was the last time you heard a piano or sax solo on a top album?

When was the last time you heard a harmonica?

The idea of pop music is to create something (in a lot of cases) that sounds as good as possible. And it's easier to do that with electronics...
 

joegore

Member
Messages
35
The majority of music listeners like songs. My girlfriend likes many, many albums with awesome guitar playing, but the minute excessive wanking starts, she turns it off. Built To Spill playing a song? Good. Built To Spill "jamming" for 20 minutes on a Neil Young cover. Nope. Funky, tuneful, "play for the song" instrumental music like The Meters? I can play that all day. Shrapnel stuff? She'll ask me to turn it off. Jazz? I can sneak in some Gabor Szabo or Calvin Keys, but Joe Pass often has to take a pass.

Heck, I love guitar instrumentals and I can only take one or two songs of Yngwie, Satch, Shrapnel, modern prog metal, etc. these days. Especially the relentless, brickwall mastered stuff where the concept of "space" doesn't exist. (Music has notes AND rests!)

There are tons of great songs with guitar playing that is "for the song" and it's fantastic. There are also tons of great (and tons of mediocre) songs that don't feature much guitar. Who cares? Listen to what you like. It's never been easier.

I have access to an online journal with years of old Guitar Player magazines. I did a search for "play for the song." One of the hits was this 1997 Joe Gore article about Steve Cropper.

Steve Cropper's studio work may be the highest embodiment of play-for-the-song minimalism. This least virtuosic of guitar heroes is almost universally admired for devising the archetypal riffs and pithy fills that helped define soul music.

If playing for the song ala Steve Cropper signals the death of guitar, then let it die and we'll have more great songs and great guitar playing!
In the 30 years since I started working for guitar mags, I've written so many ignorant and idiotic things that I wish I could take back. But this time, I stand by those words. Such a fµcking great player! And you hear his influence more strongly today than you did in the 1990s. (Jack White, Dan Auerbach, and the many flavors of Neo-soul spring to mind.)
 




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