Saturday, September 23, 2006

Hook Is Not a Dirty Word

OK, well, it can be a dirty word if you're talking about bondage. But, then again, if you're talking about bondage, you can probably expect the conversation to get dirty at some point. (In case you were wondering, the device pictured is called the nose hook and you can pick one up at your local hardware store or Hell Fire Club gift shop.)

Angelina Jolie's typical Sunday night at home: a couple of DVDs, a bottle of red and a tail hook.

Anyway, I'm not here to talk to you about hooks from which to hang human flesh. I'm not that desperate for readers. (Yet.) Instead, I want to talk about hooks in popular music, or rather, the serious lack of them these days. The hook is the catchy part of the song, usually in the chorus, that sucks you in and gets stuck in your head, no matter how bad the tune itself is. A good hook can make a song. Some tunes are even built on them. For instance, there really isn’t much else to Crazy In Love except for the winning combination of the looped sample from the Chi-Lites' Are You My Woman and Beyoncé’s provocative vocals; the rest of the song is just filler crap. And yet who among us doesn’t want to wiggle their tush when they hear it? Such is the awesome power of the hook. However, recently it seems as though it's all too easy for songwriters to get away without even bothering to include this vital element of the pop tune. And what the fuck is up with that? Surely the hook is one of the few reasons to listen to pop music. I, for one, don't want to live in a world without it.

What the fuck are you talking about?” I hear you cry. You want specific examples, do you? Well, it pains me to be so Today Tonight about the whole enterprise, but it seems that there’s nothing for it except a good ol' fashioned NAME AND SHAME. Here are a bunch of songs I've heard recently that have driven me to despair with their lack of hook content:

Say Somethin' - Mariah Carey
Call On Me - Janet Jackson
Ain't No Other Man - Christina Aguilera
Maneater - Nelly Furtado
Hips Don't Lie - Shakira
I Want To Be A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) - Sandi Thom
Sexyback - Justin Timberlake

As far as I’m concerned, these singers are sending a big "FUCK YOU!" to the pop music buying public, albeit in different guises. Sometimes it’s part of an oh-so contrived attempt at pop progressiveness. In this instance, the message is "I'm pushing boundaries and taking pop music to a new frontier. I don't need to make my music fun to listen to because I'm an artiste now..." Justin and Christina, I'm looking at you. (Meanwhile, who knew ex-Mouseketeers were capable of taking themselves so seriously?) Sometimes, songwriters don’t even bother to dress-up their laziness, they just lay it out there with a sheepish shrug and a wan smile. While we’re on the subject, here’s a little message to Mariah and Janet: no one expects either of you to reinvent the wheel but could you at least try to pretend that you’re not releasing simply music in order to support your drug habit? I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.

So, party people, it's time to put yo' hands in the air. Am I going crazy? Is this trend more prevalent lately than it has been in the past? Are there any songs that you want to NAME AND SHAME? So many questions, so few readers!

Bring back the hook, me hearties!


Blogger Daniel said...

I couldn't agree more. The exact same thing occured to me after listening to a bootleg of Chris Cornell's theme for the next James Bond film (my secret shame). Sure, there is no way in hell it's anywhere near as bad as some of the past James Bond themes (A-Ha, 'The Living Daylights' anyone?) but it is nowhere near as good (yeah, okay, that's probably pushing it a little) as it could be, as I cannot remember it after listening to it five times already. Bah.

It also occurred to me when going through pages upon pages of iTunes essentials (fortunately only available on the US site; if I could buy them I'd really be broke). I wouldn't have ever thought I'd say this, but pop music ten years ago was amazing compared to today's rubbish. I mean, half the Spice Girl's tunes are more fun and catchy than JLo's, or anyone else today for that matter. Can you compare 'Wannabe' to 'London Bridge'? What about mindless one hit wonders? Can you compare 'Mambo No. 5' with 'Hollaback Girl'? 'Lovefool' with 'My Humps'? Can you compare 'Kiss From a Rose' with 'Hips Don't Lie'? Can you still honestly claim to be friends with me after this comment?

That's why I was really pleased when 'Crazy' became such a universal hit. It gets annoying as hell after you've heard it a few times, but isn't that the point of a hook? To just burrow into your brain, set up camp, chain itself to a neuron and start chanting "Hell no, we won't go"?

It's what really annoys me about Justine Timberlake. Sure, you've got a little bit of respect and clout as a serious musician now that you've made two decent albums. But doesn't that just ignore the fact that you really only sell albums because you look pretty and used to be in a boyband? For Christ's sake, man, screw this 'respectability' nonsense — no-one *genuinely* takes you seriously. Go back to making crap that anyone can enjoy, at least the first time round, and secretly, and never tell anyone, and hide their copy of your album whenever anyone comes over.

12:03 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Okay that was really long. Sorry.

1:19 PM  
Blogger ManicLovely said...

I hear ya! Pop music is so un-poppy lately. It's because of the white girl tries r&b thing. They think if they have alot of bass, hiss sounds and "uh" 'uh" lyrics they can avoid a hook altogether.

BTW, the other Hook (Peter Hook) was awesome to the maximus at Parklife, wished you were there.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Lucy said...

possibly the lack of said "hook" in pop music these days is due to the fact that most 'pop stars' (and i use the term very loosely here) sell albums based on their own physical appearance. Who needs a hook, when simply flashing your breasts on national television will generate just as many sales? I think, (and i readily admit i have no other knowledge on this other than the fact that i watch a lot of saturday morning television) pop stars these days spend much more money on making soft-core porn, i mean video clips, than they do on their actual albums. I say bring back the days when video clips were simply bands playing their music, filmed by the guy next door from their garage, then photo-shopped at home.

7:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's plenty of dreary slow jam or urban contemporary "race music" (Pitchfork's term) that you can turn on and forget to breathe to, but the problem also afflicts guitar bands like Bloc Party and the Arctic Monkeys (whom I'm not obsesssed with).

As far as I'm concerned, the problem - like most modern societal ills - can ultimately be traced back to the combined influence of James Brown and Pink Floyd.

10:29 PM  
Blogger divinetrash said...

Daniel: Sweet Jesus, Chris Cornell was allowed to write a Bond theme?! That used to be a job reserved for musical genii like Duran Duran. Sheesh. Meanwhile, I'm so glad to have a part-time musicologist on my side. I greatly respect your vast knowledge of all things musical, though I dispute your labelling of Lou Bega, the Cardigans, and Seal as "one hit wonders". That said, you know I can honestly say that I'm still friends with you after your comment. In fact, I've never felt closer to you now that I know you're a closet 90s' pop lover. And please don't apologise for leaving a long comment! I loved it! I spent a long time saying "Awwww, I love Daniel" to Nick after I read it. I think he's a bit worried now.

Svet: Haha, funny you should mention Peter Hook, because I had a picture of him waiting to go up with this post as an illustration of a "good hook" (and, man, did he ever write some good bass hooks for NO). But you know what Blogger can be like when you try to post a picture! I was lucky to get my bondage and pirate hooks up!

Lucy: You may well be on to something, Luce. Although, people have been using physical appearance to sell music for a long time, and videos have been pretty sexually exploitative since the advent of MTV. But I agree that things are definitely taking a turn for the worse. Hopefully Sandi Thom will strip off and shake it all about in her next clip, or with such a horribly bland image and song she might find herself an oh-so gimmicky one hit wonder. And no one would be sadder than me if that was to happen >;-)

Nick: No, you're not obsessed with the Artic Monkeys, you're envious of them. And who wouldn't be envious of a bunch of spotty, gormless, English youths with boring music and worse videos?

10:48 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

Wait, Nick, I'm not sure if you are being serious with your Floyd and Brown aspersions. Are you? If so, I disagree strongly. You may have a point with Brown in that he relied on instrumental hooks rather than vocal ones, but he still wrote the tunes himself, or, at least, along with Bobby Brown and the rest of his band. So the hooks can still be 'his', unlike the sampling ways of Beyonce.

And as for Pink Floyd — 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond'? 'Money'? Even after they sold out and released 'The Wall', there are still enough hooks on that album to fill an entire fishing tackle shop (titular track included).

Nevertheless I do agree with you that most of societal ills can be traced back to the two. After all, where would wife-beating be without Brown? Or bloated double albums without Floyd?

Alex: Actually Chris Cornell only sang the tune. David Arnold, the composer of the score (and the previous 4, I think) actually wrote it. But indeed, it seems that the days when Duran Duran could implore Roger Moore to "dance into the fire" are gone forever.

Part-time musicologist? Hah. I like it. It makes me sound more informed than I really am. It's certainly better than 'procrastinating student with no social life'.

Not that that's actually what I am. Oh no.

12:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I'd actually have more respect for the Mariahs and Janets of the world if they dropped the 'musician' facade altogether and instead placed advertisements in daily newspapers asking for money orders to be sent to a PO Box.

My bad tase and utter disregard for hooks disqualifies me from commenting on anything else in this post.

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Daniel, it was a dismal attempt at humour. The trouble with trying for a laugh - however unsuccessfully - is that you tend to criticise things which are actually OK. I used to say only nice things, but there came a day when I decided, "No more Mr Nice Guy." That was when I was four.

To tell the truth, James Brown is among my favourite wife beaters (I do not say that lightly), and I often enjoy slipping on a Pink Floyd CD and downing some furniture polish. It makes my head swirl delightfully.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe the surname "Brown" is an indication of being a wife beater. James Brown and Bobby Brown. Coincidence? I think not.

5:30 PM  
Blogger ChristinaChox said...

Blah! So many comments!
Perhaps we could combat this cultural backlash against hooks by replacing the metaphorical with the literal. Here's my plan:
1. Kidnap songwriters (pimps) and their performers (hos)
2. Cut off the the right hand of each ho and then replace it with an actual hook (like the one pictured in your post)
3. Make the pimps write hookless songs
4. Make the hos perform said hookless songs in soft-core video clips, girating and touching themselves, with their hooks-for-hands!
I effect, we should market the hooks-for-hands just as hooks-for-quality-song-writing have been for the past 30 years!
I'm totally gonna make millions out of this scheme. You want in?

We should totally market the

1:06 PM  
Blogger ChristinaChox said...

woops, poor editing. Sorry al.

1:07 PM  

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