Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Not standing still

I used to like the music of the Rolling Stones quite a lot, and then I got out of the habit of listening to them. Recently I've been listening again, only to discover that I still like the music.

It's interesting to hear songs recorded by one band over a span of decades. One thing that strikes me is the change in lead vocalist Mick Jagger's singing over the years. In the early Stones songs, he doesn't just sound young; his voice is more raw and uncertain than it became later. (For example, compare "Not Fade Away" and "Tell Me (You're Coming Back)," circa 1964, with later songs.) I don't find the young Jagger's voice unpleasant--far from it--but at some point, he hit his stride. By the time of 1972's Exile on Main Street, he was singing with power and authority.

According to Keith Richards in his autobiography, Life, Jagger began taking singing lessons somewhere along the line--partly, Richards believes, in an effort to preserve his voice, and make sure it would last. Not every singer who fronted a band as successful as the Stones would do that. It must be tempting to lounge atop one's laurels, but Jagger didn't.

Now, not being privy to the inner workings of the band, I don't really know why the confidence in this singer's voice increased. Was it from studying the craft? Finding his range? The fact that he began to record more songs he and Keith Richards had written themselves, instead of covering others' material? Was it just growing older? Whatever it was, the difference is noticeable.

I see the same growth in the lyrics of Beatles songs. (Compare the words to "I Saw Her Standing There" or "Love Me Do" with those of "Eleanor Rigby" and "Norwegian Wood.") The early Beatles songs were successful, but the band wasn't content to go on making the same album over and over. They changed and grew.

The challenge for any artist who produces work over years or decades is to grow, and to make sure the work grows. Not every experiment on that path will be fruitful. There are bound to be missteps. And it's tempting to stick with something that works once, to repeat it again and again. But if chart-topping musicians can keep working and growing, that might just be a good example to follow. Besides, it keeps us from going stale.

4 comments:

  1. One of the values I try to instill in my children the desire to continue learning and improving. It's the only way to grow and improve, I believe.

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    1. One of the key things in life is knowing when good enough is good enough, and knowing when to reach for better!

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  2. Pushing boundaries is the only way to grow. Great examples, Jenn!

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    1. Thanks--and enjoy your own boundary-pushing, however you find it!

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