Positive Music Place

Posts Tagged ‘songwriting’

Why It Works #1: “Most People Are Good”

Posted by dlockeretz on March 6, 2018

This is the inaugural post in a series in which I will listen closely to a song that I don’t like and try to get underneath it and figure out why it’s on the radio and my music isn’t. Why am I writing about music I don’t like on a blog called “Positive Music Place?” I hope to accomplish four things: One, to attempt to understand the perspective and opinions of others – something at which I haven’t always excelled. Two, to study examples of success in the music business. It’s easy to study what I enjoy; I’m hoping that studying what I don’t enjoy will make me better rounded. Three, to at least be able to articulate what it is I don’t like about a song, to be specific about why it doesn’t move me, rather than to simply shake my fist like a grumpy old man. I’ll admit that I’ve relied on the “if it’s popular, it’s wrong” crutch far too often and I want to break away from that. Lastly, perhaps going through this process will inspire me to take my own music off the back burner.

Without further ado, let’s analyze:


Artist: Luke Bryan

Songwriters: Josh Kear, David Frasier, Ed Hill


Author Seth Godin once said, “Safe is risky.” By that measure, Messrs. Kear, Frasier and Hill have taken a gamble that has paid off. It doesn’t get much safer than “Most People Are Good.” Who wouldn’t like a song that is basically a series of quotable platitudes? “Every breath’s a gift, the first one to the last.” “Kids should be kids as long as they can/turn off the screen, go climb a tree, get dirt on their hands.” And of course, “Mamas ought to qualify for sainthood.” No, not everything has to be doom and gloom, but the feel-good of “Most People Are Good” comes too easily. It’s all telling, no showing. It’s a laundry list of Hallmark quotations with no development. The lyrics of the choruses are all the same; any of the six couplets in the first two verses are interchangeable. Even the words “I believe you love who you love/ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of” are not as risky as they seem. Sure, some Bryan Bros who are able to read between the lines will get pissed off, but with country music now more mainstream than ever, saying “See, we’re not all backwards hicks!” at the risk of pissing off a few rednecks is a sound trade off.


According to the “Taste of Country” website, Josh Kear wanted to create something positive following the acrimonious 2016 presidential campaign. The idea of a songwriter trying to rally the masses with an inspiring message in difficult times is not new. Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America” while serving during World War I and revised it before World War II. Bruce Springsteen wrote “The Rising” in response to 9/11. Will “Most People Are Good” hold up in years to come and be a beacon of light for future generations? If you ask Kyle “The Triggerman” Coroneos of Saving Country Music, it just might. Coroneos points to the “love who you love” lyric in particular: “Luke Bryan isn’t coming out for gay or interracial marriage here necessarily. He’s just simply saying, ‘Hey, if two people love each other, who gives a damn? Good for them. None of my business.’ And it’s these types of messages served in a simple, nuanced, and respectful manner that actually help cause the slow eroding of prejudices most all rational and cultured people agree should be put in humankind’s past.” Of the song’s non-combative nature, he writes, “You don’t change the world through music by singing polarizing protest songs that do nothing more than preach to a choir and push away the audience that the message is needing to reach.”


Just as “you should love who you love” calls out those who would waste their own time and energy getting upset about someone else’s relationship, the same applies to getting upset over other peoples’ opinions about music. It’s easy to dismiss the music buying public as sheep who flock to whatever’s trending, but just because a particular song doesn’t speak to me doesn’t mean it can’t move someone else – such as Mrs. Bryan, who cried when she heard her son sing “Mamas ought to qualify for sainthood.” We all have unique life experiences that influence our opinions, perspectives and values.

If I got one takeaway from spending time listening more closely to “Most People Are Good” it’s that sometimes I need to give a songwriter the benefit of the doubt. Were Hill, Kear and Frasier just trying to make a quick buck? Maybe, maybe not. It’s not going to kill me to believe that they were coming from a place of honesty.


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Escape artists

Posted by dlockeretz on May 19, 2015

Note: this is a simulblog, appearing both on “D-Theory” and “Positive Music Place.”

When one of my friends posted her concerns that the internet would spoil the finale of “Mad Men” before she had a chance to watch it, I reassured her in my typically smart-ass manner: “Already saw it. Vader is Luke’s father.”

My knowledge of “Mad Men” consists of having watched about 10 minutes of it and listening to people praise it. The show has helped me see that just because something is popular, that doesn’t make it bad. I get the show’s appeal: timeless themes of pride undone by a tragic flaw set against a glamorous ’60s backdrop is a winning combination. I’ve realized that the problem is not Don Draper; it’s another “D”. My tastes in TV are escapist (see D-Theory posts #44 and #84 for more info). Thus, if I don’t want to be judged for favoring lighter entertainment when it comes to the tube, I shouldn’t judge those who prefer Adele to Mahler.

A few days ago I was listening to a popular country song that was the requested first dance at a wedding where I was performing with the 40-Oz. Band. Overhearing it, my wife gave me a look that needed no explanation. All I could do was tell her, “Not everyone wants to be challenged on their wedding day.” Similarly, not everyone wants to be challenged after a long day at the office.

Like all creative professionals, us musicians put so much work and heart into what we do that when someone doesn’t notice, it’s a hard pill to swallow. We shake our heads when people download Nicki Minaj tracks by the millions while our heart-felt oeuvre, honed by the light of a midnight lamp, is met with indifference at Open Mic night.

Yet we ignore, too: whether it’s by eating fast food instead of going to the farmer’s market; by reading “Twilight” instead of Shakespeare or by watching “The League” and “Shipping Wars” instead of “Mad Man.” That doesn’t make us bad people; everyone needs convenience and escapes now and then. Most dieticians agree that you can’t expect yourself to eat perfectly 24/7. Play for the people who want the challenge, don’t let the ones who don’t bring you down and step outside your own comfort zone now and then. You may pleasantly surprise a writer, chef, candle maker or photographer who assumed you were just looking for an escape.

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CD Review: Felsen, “I Don’t Know How To Talk Anymore”

Posted by dlockeretz on August 9, 2013

You have to like a band that starts out a song with the line, “Does anybody have some extra air miles?”

Every band in the world is going to save rock music, just ask them.  Felsen, however, may actually have a chance.  The Bay Area band’s fourth album, “I Don’t Know How To Talk Anymore”, is scheduled for release in September and as they have on their prior recordings, Felsen breaks the rules without calling attention to the fact that they’re doing it.  They’re not out to stick it to The Man per se; rather, they want to inspire The Man change his ways.

The Man could be the idea that rock’n’roll is dead, or perhaps the changes in the world, the music business and societal tastes that have made many people think that rock’n’roll is dead.  Felsen has positioned themselves as the underdog, trying to break the musical world out of its slump.  They achieve this by making a record that, based on the laws of music as we accept them, should not exist.  There are songs that have both modern and classic influences (“Better Thoughts” is presented both in a Radiohead-type ambient pop arrangement and as a chamber rock ballad); tracks with hooks (if you don’t like getting songs stuck in your head, you might want to skip “Tokyo Electric”) but also have multi-layered sonic textures and unpredictable chord progressions that stand up to repeated plays; witty, original takes on subjects that seem to have already run their course such as pill addiction, technology-enabled antisocial behavior and internet scams involving banks in Sierra Leone.

Will Felsen succeed in their quest to save rock’n’roll?  Hopefully; in the span of a few short years they have already recorded four albums and toured nationally.  It won’t be an easy road for them; it’s not an easy road for any band.  They’re putting one foot in front of the other, paying their dues just as the Beatles and Stones (sidebar: “Gimme Shelter for the Devil” cleverly combines themes from those two classics in a Jayhawks-style country rock ballad) did before them.  They are a band that deserves your support.  Give them a listen; keep an eye out for them at a club near you.  And if you have any to spare, see if you can throw some extra air miles their way.

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Where are they now, and where were they then: Catching up with five great artists you’ve never heard of

Posted by dlockeretz on September 7, 2012

Perhaps the title of this post could use further explanation.

Ten years ago, I wrote for a website called Muses Muse.  I reviewed independently produced CDs by bands and singer/songwriters.  The CDs people sent me ran the gamut from completely amateurish to, “Christ, why aren’t these guys signed?”  In fact, the number of very talented artists out there who were, and still are, struggling for recognition, is kind of depressing.  It reminds me of the quote attributed to Hunter S. Thompson: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

That being said, I’m pleased to report that not only do I have fond memories of listening to the music of the five artists I present below, but that according to my research, they’re all still active in the music business or at least have a substantial online presence with music still available for purchase.   Maybe they haven’t become household names – but at least they haven’t become casualties.  If you’re tired of the radio and want to hear some cool new sounds, try these artists out for size.

BILL COLGATE is an example of how certain formats–such as the weather-beaten singer/songwriter who speaks up for Everyman–are still relevant if done well.  Since I reviewed his CD “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth”, he has independently produced two more records, and currently performs in and around his native Toronto under the name “Bill Colgate and the Urbane Guerillas.”

SHARON EDRY, now known as Sharon Goldman, breaks a lot of the stereotypes that people may have of the female singer-songwriter.  Independent without being militant, honest without being emotional, flirty without being cheap, her songs are among those rare ones that work the first time but also show staying power.  Here is my original review.

FRANK EMERSON will likely never have his songs featured on “Teen Mom” or “Say Yes to the Dress”, but that doesn’t mean he’s not worth a listen.   Part Troubadour, part Irish tenor, part storyteller, Emerson keeps traditional music alive, performing regularly throughout the Southeast.  Here is my original review of his CD.

PRIME TIME SUBLIME, also known as the Prime Time Sublime Community Orchestra (stylized as tPsCO), is a nice antidote for any listeners who feel as if they’ve heard it all.  Their mix of virtually every form of music known to man doesn’t always work, but it’s very entertaining.  Part John Zorn, part They Might Be Giants, part King Crimson, part Plastic Ono Band, part John Cage, tPsCO hasn’t released any new material since 2005, but since they still have a large online presence and their recordings are still available, they have been included on this list.  I mean, how can I not acknowledge the genius of a band who has a song called “Hannibal Lechter’s BBQ”?  Here is my original review.

CHRIS YURCHUCK describes his music as “country songs for non-country folks”, referring to the fact that while his music has a country feel, it also shows the influences of the top-40 and classic rock on which he grew up.  The universal appeal of Yurchuck’s music is evident in his having achieved placements on a wide variety of TV shows.  Here is my original review of his CD.

My other Muses Muse reviews –  favorable and unfavorable – can be seen here.

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Remembering Jerry

Posted by dlockeretz on August 28, 2011

“Fee fee fi fi fo fo fum…I smell smoke in the auditorium.”

For a teenage Jewish kid from the ‘burbs, that line from Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s song “Charlie Brown“, as recorded by the Coasters, was the embodiment of sticking it to the man.   After hearing “Yakety Yak” in the movie “Stand By Me” (also both Lieber/Stoller songs), my friends and I would sing the lyrics, “Bring in the dog and put out the cat,” but substitute the names of other kids in our class for “dog” and “cat.”  There’s no question that the music of Jerry Lieber, who died this last week at age 78, played a big role in my early teenage years.  In a way, he was partly responsible for my becoming a professional musician.

It might sound like an exaggeration, something I’m only saying as a posthumous tribute, but hear me out.  Growing up, my school had an annual arts festival each spring (yes, I know I’m dating myself, we actually had art in the schools back then.)  As a reward for having us sit through demonstrations on Irish line dancing, hammer dulcimer playing, Navajo handcrafts and more, we were treated to a classic rock concert on the last day of the festival.  The band played “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Jailhouse Rock”, and it was like my own personal Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show experience.  I started picking out some Elvis-era oldies on the piano, even tried writing a few on my own, and then began performing them at the school talent shows.  Music somehow made me more popular and acceptable to the teachers, whereas before I had been neither.  OK, so I still had the Jewfro and my academic record wasn’t exactly sparkling, but I was into music in a way I hadn’t before, and Lieber and Stoller were partly responsible.

Even during my jazz snob period, I still felt the influence of Lieber and Stoller.  After all, they co-wrote one of jazz guitarist George Benson’s signature songs, “On Broadway”, and another song, “Ruby Baby”, was covered by Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen on his record “The Nightfly.”

For many people, the decision to take up music, either as a job or hobby, might have been inspired by artists such as the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix or Eddie Van Halen–but anyone who started playing after hearing “Jailhouse Rock” or any of the other seminal 50s songs that Lieber co-wrote owes him a debt of gratitude.   I can’t give him sole credit in my case–that band that Paul McCartney was in before Wings might have had something to do with it too–but he certainly played a role.   Even though he’s gone now, I imagine that the scene that helped begin my musical journey will continue to play itself out.  Some kid will hear a Lieber and Stoller song, learn it, play it and suddenly realize that life is just a little bit more enjoyable.

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