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Songs about falling in and out of love

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Are ALL songs these days only about falling in and out of love?

Published in a local magazine, this is my quirky look at modern music and its obsession with romantic relationships.

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When people write about music, they all fall into the cosy welcoming trap of personal opinion ... inevitably commenting on what they like and don’t like, the ‘whys’ and comparisons.


While excusable on one hand, a longer life means exposure to more music styles and trends, the other hand forgets (yes, I know a hand has no memory!) that the music we hear in our most vulnerable and formative years, our teens and twenties, has the maximum imprint and impact and will form the backdrop and baseline against which all other music will be measured.


To take the pulse, I started to listen to Spotify’s Top 20 at the end of April 2023. I soon lost the will to live and limited my listening to the Top 10 where I found the following:

      All were about infatuation, love or breakups

      More than 50% of words could not be easily understood (though when you read the lyrics onscreen you realise there is very little there that actually requires understanding!)

      Only one of the Top Ten had a complete through-story without the usual massive repetition of words, phrases or lines

      Banality reigned supreme


Rather than launch into music analysis, it got me to wondering why so few songs (actually none) were about things other than relationships. 


A few years ago, I attended a songwriting workshop at Currumbin RSL. It was sponsored by either APRA or QMusic, and was hosted by an established husband and wife professional songwriting team. There were approx 30 attendees and everyone had been invited to bring and publicly perform a song and receive feedback from the hosts.


As the baton was handed around the room, I was increasingly amused that each person in their teens and twenties (and not in the least bit shy) introduced their songs with something along these lines: “I wrote this when I broke up”. Oh, the furrowed brows, sad faces, angst and pain!


Though now considered ‘old’ myself, I can still remember the all-consuming emotions of yearning for love, the raw passions of a new relationship, and the devastation and heartbreak of breaking up.


Perhaps my memories are getting dimmer, as is my empathy for the impacts of falling in and out of love, but I wonder whether after at least a million love songs we have collectively run out of new ways to express the sentiments of this most basic and universal of human experiences?


Musically, I’ve never been wild about love songs.


Sure, some have heart-stopping melodies and arrangements, but the majority are ho-hum, especially when it comes to lyrics that can be seen from a mile away, lurching forwards, easily guessable in advance. Occasionally, a few songs are clever in their use of rhyme, metaphor and allegory, or perfect lyrical rhythm that fits or counterpoints the melody, but too many are just pedestrian. A failing usually made worse by being overly repetitive.


Of course, all such comments can only ever be personal opinion. Myself, I like the music to lift the soul and the lyrics to engage the mind.

And so I come to the nub of the story. Back in the 60s and 70s there were hundreds of songs about or alluding to the issues of the day, or of that particular generation. The threat of nuclear holocaust, the Vietnam War, pollution, racism, police brutality. Our own Midnight Oil took up the mantle and led the charge in the 80s and 90s, raging against politics, mining, mistreatment of Aboriginal people.  Surprisingly, such songs were not only popular but many became generational anthems.


So how come, at this current moment in time, no-one is writing (or listening to) songs about stuff OTHER THAN falling in love and breaking up? 


Where are the songs today that address climate change, the environment, the global shift to the Right, the rise of the Autocrats, homelessness, refugees, fire and flood, pandemics, conspiracy theories, the widening wealth gap, social media, politics based simply on three-word slogans, AI, rampant social media, Ukraine, and so on?


It doesn’t have to be ‘protest’ songs, but just putting the spotlight on the many murky areas of the human condition. For example, Joni Mitchell’s 'The Magdalene Laundries' still rips my heart out on every re-listening about Irish girls abandoned by their families into slavery and abuse by Catholic nuns ... a hard message delivered by transcendent music, lyrics and performance.


One possibility is that younger generations feel more isolated. Perhaps an effect of social media as we become increasingly trapped inside our own heads, so that the flames and despair of relationships are magnified more? Perhaps it is a sense of hopelessness that comes from disenfranchisement so that love becomes even more important and relatable?


But remember, the people who are riding the crest of the music industry are simply churning out formulaic product that meets the current demands of music consumers. Marketing 101. But if ‘love songs’ are all that artists and producers are making, then we are being forced to choose from an extremely limited menu; our musical souls will become malnourished.


And so, dear reader, can you suggest modern songs that address real issues? Please comment below and nominate a title/artist, preferably with a link (e.g. Spotify, YouTube or Apple), along with your own views on the topic.


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