A couple of weeks ago I recorded an episode of VoiceBox with Chloe Veltman about the worst vocal music ever written. While preparing for the show I did my best to try to analyze the nature of “badness”, perhaps even creating a taxonomy of characteristics that contribute to bad music. The goal was to not simply list bad songs, but to try to get a better understanding of what makes bad bad.
One thing that we found was that it was much easier to judge the merits of popular music. As Chloe pointed out in her blog entry about the show, people are much less comfortable imposing such value judgments on classical music. I think this is for a few reasons. For one thing, aficionados of classical music often harbor notions that their music has more merit than mere “popular” music. At the same time, they feel that their music is rarified and, therefore, under constant threat of marginalization (witness the death of classical music that’s been a constant source of print articles over the past several decades). From this perspective saying that a particular piece of classical music is “bad” exposes you attacks of “you’re just not smart enough to get it” from one end and provides ammunition to those folks who don’t like classical music on the other.
For that reason, most of the show focuses on popular music, which, fortunately, has many examples of bad music. I’ll probably make some enemies with this show. My own subjective tastes leak through. Fans of Bare Naked Ladies and Celine Dion might end up boycotting my site, but I think most of my other examples of bad music will be generally agreed upon.
I’m particularly fond of the last portion of the show where I launch into a spirited case for The Shaggs aptly named “Philosophy of the World” as being a truly amazing album. I will stand by that argument until I die. There is no other album like it. It exists outside of judgment, convention, or taste. It exists outside of reason. It out-Duchamps Duchamp, out-Cages Cage. It is the voice of the very artistic soul of mankind channeled through three adolescent girls by means of sixties guitar rock. I am so glad it exists.
If you don’t like it, you’re just not smart enough to get it.
To hear the entire broadcast until the end of the week (Jan 20, 2012), visit this link to get the KALW local music player, then scroll to the bottom and click on “VoiceBox with Chloe Veltman”