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Miscellaneous - Genius

  by Jon Rogers

published: 27 / 10 / 2011

Miscellaneous - Genius


In 'Hitting the Right Note', Jon Rogers examines the over-used term of genius and provides a personal short list of six musical acts that for him fall into that category

Genius, it's a much over-used word nowadays, like some form of talent inflation. That latest new all girl group just aren't talented, they're geniuses! Er... don't believe the hype! But what do you expect from a culture nowadays that takes ordinary people and then venerates them as celebrities. Just take a look at the media coverage of the likes of the cast of TV show 'The Only Way is Essex' or 'stars' such as Chantelle Houghton. But then again even some toilet attendant bashing and racial abuse doesn't stop some people from becoming the (supposed) nation's sweetheart. Models are no longer just models, parading up and down the catwalk wearing the latest designer fashions, but 'supermodels'. And so it is with the music industry, we swallow the PR hype and venerate talent (or even the untalented if we're sold the lie for long enough, just watch 'The X Factor'). Anyone with a modicum of talent is soon enough promoted into the 'genius' league and it's as if they are the new Messiah come to enlighten us all with their musical vision. There could be an endless debate over just what is meant by genius but I do think, certainly in the artistic world an element of uniqueness and 'new-ness' is vital. Even if, in our post-modern world, that 'new-ness' is just a new way at looking at or expressing something. There has to be that aspect of something that hasn't been done before. So that then means that genius is a rarity, very few have it and the term really should be left to the exalted few that can truly lay claim to the title. So sorry, Westlife, even though you may have entertained many millions with your singing and had a very commercially successful career, you just don't make the grade in my book. So where do the geniuses of the music industry lie? I'm sure you'll very possibly have your own ideas but here, I think, are some contenders. Phil Spector The former, a writer and producer who had an impressive series of hits in the USA and the UK with his "little symphonies for the kids" (as he called them). Spector revolutionised the whole notion of the producer as well as inventing the famed 'Wall of Sound'. Before Spector the producer was little more than the person behind the mixing desk who pressed the record button just before the group started playing. Now, with Spector, he was at the very heart and soul of the creative process, shaping the style and structure of a song down to the tiniest detail as if he was an integral part of the group. And part of that process was creating his Wall of Sound which seemed to take Wagnerian principles to the pop song. Why have one guitarist on a sessiowhen six would be better? Then overdub those parts onto one another and again and again. Do the same again with all the other instruments and backing singers and eventually that Wall of Sound has been created. And that legacy has been much admired by many, even by the unlikely figure of Bruce Springsteen. King Tubby First there was reggae. Then there was dub. Although the famed record producer can't really lay sole claim to having invented dub, if ever a musical genre could ever have been said to have been invented by one person, then surely it's King Tubby and his ground-breaking dub records. Designed with the booming Jamaican sound systems in mind, King Tubby took the reggae hits of the day and metamorphosised them into something barely recognisable. He'd strip any song down to its bare bones, taking out all the treble and invariably the lyrics and then boost the bass to a Spinal Tap volume of 11. And the DJs went mad. The fame of King Tubby spread quickly and soon on any recording he was behind his name usually got a much higher billing than the artist themselves. Dub really might be out of fashion amongst a younger generation but invariably those techniques pioneered by Tubby are still being utilised today. Captain Beefheart Just listen to 'Trout Mask Replica'. I rest my case. It sounded like nothing that had preceded it and nothing has come close since. The Beatles You don't become the biggest, most popular band in the world ever without having something special. Rather like the good captain above, their entry really is self-evident. Miles Davis In the art world Pablo Picasso stood like a titan, dominating the field and putting almost all others in the shade. As one commentator of the Spaniard said: "He could paint like an angel, but chose not to." And he invented an array of styles and techniques, most notably Cubism. In the jazz world, Davis has a similar standing. His artistic vision crossed boundaries and styles. And if an existing genre didn't express what he wanted to do or say, he came up with something unique. Like modal jazz as heard on the sublime 'Kind of Blue' album. Smashed things up again with 'In a Silent Way'. Got into funk with 'On the Corner' and later on mixed things up with avant-garde electronics thanks to the help of people like Keith Jarrett. Velvet Underground/Lou Reed With their debut album 'The Velvet Underground & Nico' they created just about every alternative/indie band that came in their wake. And with the help of painter Andy Warhol perfected looking cool in black and wearing shades, even at night. Incorporating ideas from avant-garde composers like La Monte Young they really set the blueprint for just about every band that wanted to be taken seriously and do something other than play pretty little pop songs. And they took the highly unusual step of having a woman as a drummer whose rudimentary, primative style has since been widely copied. Perhaps the jury is still yet to be convinced by singer Reed himself but anyone that can write songs like 'Perfect Day' and 'Walk on the Wild Side' as well as the Teutonic 'Metal Machine Music' has got to have something.

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