Jeeves Murphy

The Gourmet Pairing of Music and Lyrics

I consider myself lucky. I was born at a time when the top songs in America included the likes of “Careless Whisper” by George Michael, “Like a Virgin” by the inimitable Madonna, and Lionel Richie’s “Say You, Say Me.” Luckily for me, I didn’t grow up listening to any of this crap. My mom was a big fan of classical music, and my dad to this day only listens to music from the 40s and 50s, the era that Naturally 7 sings about in “Back to the Essence” – “When singers were gifted […] If it ain’t broken, no need to enhance. Choose a subject: life or romance.”

Yes, I believe that the 80s were just a gateway to the kind of terrible music that is now constantly regurgitated out of the top-40s radio station on my co-worker’s desk. I’m forced on a daily basis to ingest songs whose melodies are bland and lyrics are tasteless. The rhythms and progressions are leftovers from last year’s top 10; really, it just leaves me wondering why I keep consuming the same over-cooked garbage when what I really crave is steak… a big, juicy, bone-in ribeye au poivre with a creamy bernaise.

We can see this sort of diluted music in the a cappella world, too. Oh, yes! Don’t think we get off so easily. Let’s ignore for the moment replicated covers of popular songs (I mean, if a pale, homely person looks in the mirror, they’re not going to see Fabio staring back), though there is something that should be said about overly generic covers as well (*cough* Viva La Vida *cough*). This conversation, instead, is about the lack of substance – the lack of ribeye – in original songs in our community.

I have a saying – “Poetry is the soul of man put to words; Song is that poetry put to music.” What I mean by that is a song should have a point, some greater meaning that stirs the listener (or at least the player/singer) to some emotion – love, desire, enmity, joy, pain, warmth, grief – the options are endless. To put it bluntly: if you’ve taken the time to write lyrics, put those lyrics to music, teach the song to your group, practice for hours to get it ready to perform in front of me, you better have a pretty damn good reason for it.

When I was asked to write this piece, I found myself immediately drawn to the past few Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award (CARA) lists for Best Pro and Scholastic originals. I was even in Boston for the first ever live CARAs at BOSS a few weeks ago. The CARAs are supposed to be the best that a cappella has to offer every year as determined by people who should know – leaders in the a cappella community. I say this so you’ll see that I didn’t go looking for examples of weak originals; they found me.

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