It’s so crazy. I like the convenience of instant downloading, and cheap singles, but I am that nerd that actually obsessed so much over a song I loved, that I would put it on repeat and find out the name of everybody and everything involved. I needed to know what song was sampled, and if I was right about them using a Rhodes, Moog, or Hammond B3. Background singer research was a necessity because their harmonies were heavenly, (only to find a year or so down the line that their solo debut is on shelves). Or maybe the artist sang and produced their own backgrounds and played their own instruments. Maybe you recognized that signature sound, and thought it might have been written and arranged by Stevie Wonder and only a trip down Liner Note Lane provided answers.
There are so many artists and musicians I love, as I was blessed to grow up in an era where liner note and lyrics were provided. I would not know a word of a D’Angelo, Fiona Apple, or Keith Sweat song without them. They inspired me to write, and reflect on the beautiful marriage of melody and meaning. Music means so much more with the understanding of a perfectly placed lyric sung earnestly on a nest of notes.
I am a musical scientist because of them. I did my research and found the sum of all parts that made the song. I love Marvin’s manly pleading with Janice at the 2:59 mark of “Since I Had You”. Had to make a girl feel real good knowing her love was on top. Knowing that the same man who wrote “I Want You” was a big influence and writer on Maxwell’s “Urban Hang Suite” had me instantly falling in love with the innuendo that “Somethin’ Somethin'” and “Til The Cops…” provided.
Technology forces change. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not the best. It provides impatient people with a temporary product. It’s mixed down and put out to the public for instant consumption, and after a week, it’s forgotten like a Billy Bob Thornton tweet. But I believe in the adage, that anything worth having is worth working for. That crock pot dinner is always going to taste better than the nuked one. The care, talent, joy and pain put into each lyric and note are worth the outcome. It’s what true artists ask themselves, “Did I put forth my best art, and will my listeners hear me/us when they listen?” Classics don’t become so because they are rushed out and sound like what’s in fashion. They are that way because they were made with care and stray away from the norm; the classic has generational staying power.
I can listen to Miles Davis, or Cannonball Adderley, or Dave Brubeck and know who played with them on my favorite song. Then find music by that musician and so on. I can find groups or artists that were influenced by them, and songs they wrote, produced or arranged for others, but only if I can research the magic behind the music.
I really miss liner notes. So I hold them high in my memory’s museum, and hope that a movement will begin so that the next generation of musical scientists can thrive. Except it kind of sucks for them because they will only know who held the finger over an 808 programming button.