There are songs we keep close to our hearts because of the undeniable wisdom they offer.
We hum them to ourselves during stressful moments and think of their lyrics as the “words to live by” that carry us through tough times; we tattoo those lyrics on our arms.
And then… there are songs which contain advice that’s, well, a little questionable. Stuff that, while entertaining, should most likely best be avoided at all costs. And yet, those tracks and the artists who make them, can be extremely fun to talk about.
Enter Max Alper — the only person in the world we could think of to chat about this subject with — a sound artist, technologist, educator, and Instagram meme lord, and a musician who perhaps has his own history of questionable decisions. We sat down to discuss quandaries like how Polaroid’s marketing team capitalized on a musician’s misconception, which piece of music had a powerful influence on a particular hit around the turn of the millennium, and why did one of the nation’s greatest songwriters take lyrical shots at a whole host of respectable professions?
For answers to those questions and much more, be sure to check out the 45th episode of Themes and Variation, Songs That Offer Bad Advice” in its entirety right here:
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Max Alper is also a Flypaper staff writer, explore his writing for our blog here.
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Episode 45 Highlights
1. Carter discusses some of his favorite details about “Hey Ya!”
Carter: “The form is really interesting. There’s a bar of two, of course, for the D chord, right before we land on that E major. The fact that you have this one little short bar, it allows for the whole loop to be repeated for the entire song and not get stale. The other thing that keeps it really fresh, I think throughout is the production. Anytime you have a track that has electric bass and synth bass on it, sometimes playing at the same time… I’m a huge fan.”
2. Max shares some hip-hop history.
Max: “The toasting style of vocals came first and rapping followed that because DJ Kool Herc was Jamaican and heard toasting at family parties in Jamaica and was like, ‘You can spit kind of like without the patois style over my breakbeat mixing.’ You know? That’s… that’s an interesting little tidbit there.”
3. Mahea talks about the often overlooked intro verses written for songs that became jazz standards.
Mahea: “One of my favorite things is all those intro verses that so rarely get performed in standards, like that one, where musically, it feels so different from the rest of the song. So the reason those things existed is because so much of the stuff was written for like musical theater. And it served as a segue from dialogue to the actual part of the song where all the singing and dancing was going to happen.”
With every new episode of Themes and Variation, we launch a new Spotify playlist that includes the songs mentioned in this episode and more. Here’s this episode’s Spotify playlist!
We’ll see you in a couple weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a (bass) line at [email protected]!