2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


Can’t believe that hip-hop has had a bigger influence than the Beatles

vibe_headphones_speakers_1600_wht_5392But that’s what scientists are saying.

Using techniques normally used in evolutionary biology scientists at Imperial College and Cambridge University analysed 17,000 songs from the US Billboard charts between 1960 and 2010.

They gave each song a unique signature based on harmony and timbre and with that were able to trace the rise and fall of different types of music.

They found among other things that tunes using dominant 7th chords became rarer over time. This chord is common in blues and jazz music and reflects their decline. They also looked at “thrashing guitars” associated with rock music.

The scientists found three big changes over the 50 years they examined.

In 1964 the Beatles invasion of America; in 1983 with synth music; and in 1991 with hip-hop.

There is still a lot of diversity in music despite the decline in the 1980s when synthesiser groups like Duran Duran dominated the charts. The scientists consider that revolution the most boring  and it took the hip-hop revolution to change that.

Personally I don’t buy this and would question hip-hop’s influence. But then I’m old-fashioned. I go the the R&B section of a record store still expecting to find John Lee Hooker or Howling Wolf not the pretentious urban music that goes by that label today.


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Angry rappers should chill out say jazzer

saxaphone_player_notes_400_wht_3612In response to the research into deaths among musicians, jazz musician Herbie Hancock has urged hip-hop musicians to be more like their opposite numbers in jazz and turn away from the aggression and violence that has become a feature of the musical genre.

He said he was saddened to learn that more than half of rappers and hip-hop artists died through homicide.

Speaking ahead of today’s International Jazz Day (April 30), an initiative he co-founded with UNESCO, Hancock said “he believed that music of all types should have the power to unite people”

“I’m hoping that the jazz influence I’m seeing entering into the hip-hop realm is going to have a positive effect that can heal some of the attributes that have sparked these aggressive tendencies from the past”

Hancock is a bhuddist and doesn’t believe jazz is competitive like sport. He says he’s always been helped by other jazz musicians even when he’s made mistakes and its always been that kind of attitude.

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Writing the perfect pop tune – revisited

Happy” by Pharrell Williams is the perfectly constructed pop tune and is the most downloaded song ever in the UK.

Williams had already collaborated with Daft Punk on a big hit in 2013 so he wasn’t exactly unknown. He also featured on the sound track of Despicable Me 2 which earned him an Oscar nomination and couldn’t but help him in terms of exposure when he performed it at the Oscar ceremony.

People say his influences range from Tamla Motown and Michael Jackson and include hip-hop to maximise cross-generational appeal.

According to psychologist Lauren Stewart (who researches ear worms – the phenomenon where you can’t get a tune out of your head) it ticks all the right boxes that make it addictive. Gospel choirs, kids clapping, workers breaking into song and dance. Handclaps are both a social and musical signal and as most live performers know getting people to clap along is one way to get the audience on your side.

It is also highly repetitive so it requires minimum listening effort with no chance you will forget the words and you know what’s coming next. if the music stopped you could fill in the gaps and carry on singing (and how often have you seen performers like Queen and Sting doing just that with an audience?)

A study of tunes, which listeners to Radio 6 described as their earworms, was carried out by the Music, Mind and Brain Group at Goldsmiths, University of London, which found that they shared certain characteristics. The notes were of relatively long duration with only small steps in the way the melody changed. (In Happy the changes are made by the gospel choir singing harmonies). It’s also been noted that several current hits have started with that 4-beat introduction.

So it might only have the lyrical and musical content of a jingle but that’s the secret of its success. It’s the only song since the 1950s to  reach the No 1 spot on three separate occasions.

Here it is.