Yes, mobile entertainers are much more skilled at vocal work, announcements, introductions, transitions, and storytelling than in years past…Yes, jocks are often adept at conducting raffles, sharing trivia, organizing games and leading group activities… And, yes, mobiles are expanding their world to include video production and interactive messaging…Mobile entertainment encompasses a much more varied skill universe than ever before. But, the heart of the mobile entertainment business is still music. Ah, the music.
BACK IN TIME
Why do some songs seem timeless while others appear anchored in a DeLorean time warp? Why do songs by the Beatles sound as rich, tailored and mesmerizing today as they did in the 1960’s, while most of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s catalogs sound stale and dated? Why do Motown standards from the Temptations, Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas still fill dance floors while tunes from many girl groups sound like cute but uninvited postcards from the past? Why do Elvis’ songs slide in as welcome windows to a wistful, classic time while Pat Boone’s numbers feel like insignificant archealogical finds from a bygone era? What makes certain songs timeless? What makes other songs time-relative? Probably depends who you ask.
“You need a good production, but the essence, what makes a song timeless, is the melody, the lyric, and of course the production,” offered Enrique Iglesias. Certainly, technology has made the art of production a lot easier than the hours Phil Spector invested positioning microphones at the Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles to capture the often two dozen or more musicians crafting his Wall of Sound in the 1960s. Today, you could probably recreate Spector’s dense, layered, and groundbreaking productions without channeling the sound through a basement filled with speakers and microphones, or contracting the Wrecking Crew to play the instruments.
STRIKE THE CLOCK TOWER
A great story? A touching theme is critical for the success of many songs. Many country songs punch three verses and a great hook-laden chorus into a tidy little narrative, but how many are timeless? Why is “Don’t Stop Believin’”—originally released in 1981—at the top of the Mobile Beat – DJ Intelligence Most Requested Songs now for three years running? A great story? Occasionally, I serve as public address announcer for a local collegiate summer league baseball team, and when the game is one-sided, many fans still stick around until the Journey hit is played as a sing-along in the later innings. The power of the song is stunning. Why? Lyrics? Song craftsmanship? Melody? Story? Hooks? Rhythm? A memorable guitar or piano lick? A scintillating intro?
ENCHANTMENT UNDER THE SEA
In his engaging book, “The Heart of Rock and Roll: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made,” Dave Marsh admits that Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” emerged as number one on one of his non-ranked lists “partly because I was driving through a snowstorm in Virginia one day and it came on, and at the moment it seemed like the greatest thing I’d ever heard.”
“Unchained Melody,” which holds the unique distinction of having the most charted versions hit the Billboard pop singles charts, gained new life and a new generation of fans when included in the movie Ghost in 1990.
When composers Alex North and Hy Zaret were contracted to write a song as a theme for an what became an obscure prison film called Unchained, certainly, they did not intend to write a timeless piece—they were just trying to finish a job.
A TIME? A PLACE?
Songwriters usually do not set out to write “little symphonies for the kids” as Phil Spector sought with his productions or as Berry Gordy once famously intoned in a memo to Motown: “We will release nothing less than Top Ten product on any artist. And on the Supremes we will release only No. 1 records.”
Most songwriters compose from the heart or to fulfill a contract or to voice a story. Timelessness is likely the furthest consideration from their minds for most composers.
LONE PINE MALL
Which then leads to a question that is best addressed in a future article—the song or the record? For instance, many of the songs of Burt Bacharach and Hal David became hits—and in some cases, timeless records—when they were recorded for the second, third or fourth time. Gazing at this year’s Top 200 list, “Love Shack,” “You Shook Me (All Night Long),” “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Billie Jean” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” have stood the test of time. “I Gotta Feeling” is moving in that direction. Will “Party Rock Anthem,” “We Found Love,” and “Cupid Shuffle” stake permanent residency in the MB Top 200 list or will they be tenants on a term?
“ There’s a magical quality to singles,” Tommy James once shared with me. “ There’s nothing calculated. So much nonsense, so whimsical. So much of what is on a record is unintentional. You really are shooting from the hip the whole time So when these magical little bursts of sound would sell a million copies, you gotta scratch your head.”
Maybe the same can be said for mobile DJs’ “timeless” songs—magical little bursts that seem guaranteed to get crowds dancing and help mobile entertainers earn a living.
A business analyst by day, Mike Ficher is an actor, voice artist, MC, sportscaster, public address announcer and former mobile entertainer. He is also the host of the weekly syndicated radio program, The Ultimate Oldies Show. Mike synthesizes these varied experiences to illuminate historic connectivity and fresh perspectives on the mobile entertainment profession. More info at mikeficher.com.
Filed Under: Events, Issue #149, Music, Sound
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