I was listening to a Doris Day CD the other day. It was one I hadn’t heard before. I’ve listened to plenty of her music and she’s a favorite of mine. She may be yesterday’s style but she had a great voice and knew how to use it. Plus yesterday’s style is fine with me. I don’t need the latest and the greatest. Just the greatest. But then a strange thing happened. She sang the Simon and Garfunkel tune “Feeling Groovy”. It was awful. I have never heard a Doris Day song that make me cringe like that one did. It got me wondering as to why.

If you’ve ever heard Frank Sinatra’s albums from the Sixties where he sings pop songs from that era then you know the kind of butchery of which I speak. They are terrible. And Sinatra is one of the all time greats. How come these terrific singers can sing a Pop song from the 1860’s but not one from the 1960’s? I think it’s for a few different reasons.

These reasons have nothing to do with the singers but have to do with the songs. They have to do with the universality of song. Pop songs have always been the most broadly liked songs of the land. Hence “Pop” which is short for “Popular”. But since the advent of Rock ‘n Roll, Pop Music has gone from made for adults to made for teenagers. You use to have to go out someplace like a music hall to hear music or have a musician in your family play it for you. These were adult pastimes. Adults made music for other adults who listened to it. Kids liked and listened to songs too but there was an adult universality that permeated Pop Music. Stage Musicals, Ragtime, Jazz, Blues, Big Band, Gospel, Country, and any other kind of Pop Music that I’m forgetting.

Then came Rock ‘n Roll and the record album. Records were around before Rock but now the teenagers could listen to their own music without an adult in the mix. They didn’t need to go out to a club to hear it and they didn’t need an adult to play it on the piano or fiddle. The adult universality of music was slowly eroded until now we have a teenage universality of Pop Music. Nothing in today’s top 20 was written for grown ups. From Hip Hop to Techno it’s all for the kids. It’s tough for adults to sing music made for an ever changing teenage population. That’s why Pop Music is a young person’s game now. Made by the young for the young.

The second reason why those great old singers have trouble with post Rock songs has to do with a change in the nature of Pop song writing. In the 60’s it became less adult universal and more personal. Instead of looking for that great “Fly me to the moon let me play among the stars” poetic lyric that everyone could relate to song writers turned more introspective and personal with their lyrics. I think this started because singers and song writers ceased to be separate people. With the Beatles hitting it big bands were now expected to write their own songs. They started writing personal ones as much as universal ones. Everyone still wants that good universal hook after all. But it came with a more youth centered sentiment. Not an adult one.

The third reason is technological. Bands and song writers had a lot more studio tricks available to them than ever before. Lyrics became a smaller part of the whole production than ever before. In plenty of our favorite songs we don’t even know what all of the lyrics are because they are so garbled or lost in the wall of sound. This was unthinkable in Pop music before Rock took over. You can understand every word that Doris Day or Frank Sinatra sing. In a lot of today’s Pop songs the listener isn’t even meant to hear the words.

That is why when an older singer puts out an album of standards or “evergreens” they are mostly made up of older 60’s and before Pop songs. There are no more evergreens. Songs are so highly produced and dependent on the band that originally wrote them that we only get the “cover version”. That’s when Band 2 does a version of Band 1’s song. Good or bad it’s always compared to Band 1’s song as it was recorded on a highly produced studio album. The concept of a “cover version” didn’t even exist in the 1930’s because a song belonged to the song writer and different singers gave their interpretations in song. There was no “original” and “cover” versions. Just versions.

Even The Beatles, possibly the most influential and popular band of the last fifty years, produced no evergreens. “Let it Be” might come close but every version is still just considered a cover version. And could you imagine someone covering “Hey Jude”? Yeah, I know lots of people have. iTunes is great for looking up such stuff but that song is so dependent on studio production (that’s not a bad thing) that most people just give you their studio production take on it. And if they strip it down it looses what makes it special. It’s the total sound of the song with the lyrics taking a secondary if not tertiary role. I think this is what trips up old time singers. For them their voice and the lyric is primary. With modern Pop music voice and lyric are not nearly as important as production and image. It makes for some cringe worthy interpretations of lyrics that were never meant to be heard as words but heard as sounds. Ouch.