Singers and rappers are always telling us that we have to dance. And we say, ‘Ok we will.’ But you have to give us a nice, steady beat to dance to. And if you could make it funky as well, that would be appreciated.
For the first 30 years of rock ’n’ roll, musicians kept up their end of this arrangement by playing funky stuff at incredible speeds for hours on end.
But as early as the 1960’s, people like Mo Town, Berry Gordy and the inventor Raymond Scott was starting to wonder if there might be a more efficient way of getting all this done. It was the 20th Century after all – machines did the dishes and built cars and did all those other boring, repetitive tasks that you didn’t want to do. Surely, they could play dance music as well.
Turns out, they could.
Thanks to innovators like Robert Mo, Georgio Moroder and Kraftwerk, by the 1980’s pop music had become 100 percent automated. Nobody slowed down or missed a beat, or fluffed a note anymore – finally, music was perfect.
But for many people this was exactly the point at which rock ’n’ roll began to suck.
Back in the 60’s, then, music was ‘real’ – it had soul. It was a passionate yawp in a mechanised world. Nowaday they’re using machine to make it more efficient in the interest of a healthy looking bottom line.
This idea, still popular today, owes a lot to a critic named Theodor Adorno; who in the 30’s suggested that the repetitive beats of popular jazz tunes sounded like they did because the music was a sympton of production under Capitalism.
But Adorno missed the point of jazz completely and it’s fair to assume he would have been equally confused by soul, funk, disco and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. All of these are repetitious but they all have strong roots in an African tradition of music making which generally speaking values repetition and rhythm over the things that turned Adorno on like melodic complexity and self expression.
Now those things are nice but by the end of the 70’s after a decade of singer-songwriters and prog-rock, a lot of musicians were entirely fed up with melodic complexity and self expression, they just wanted to make people dance.