Recently I read two articles that in and of themselves are excellent reads. NPR explored Bob Seger’s catalog of recorded music through the prism of modern music consumption. Wall Street Journal looked at changes in modern music consumption and the decline of new “mega-acts”. One conclusion that draws forth: a highly centralized recording industry resulted in large labels flush with cash. These labels could release recordings of middling quality and make money, because they had the power to do so with the help of music publications and radio stations pushing mediocre music on an unsuspecting audience.
I disagree. Whenever new technology creeps into the recording industry, there is a degree of democratization. This occurred after World War II. Recording music and pressing records became cheaper thanks to technological advances. Teen-agers were flush with cash and leisure time their demographic lacked before the War. Independent labels sprang up all over the country like so many dandelions looking for their piece of a spring lawn. In the heyday of the 45 RPM record, over 8,000 titles were released each year. The majority of these were on independent labels.
One could argue that most of these records were of dubious quality. Artists and producers chasing trends, ripping off hit records, poor production values, and performers not ready for prime time are hallmarks of these records. Why were these records made if they were not very good? Simple: to try and make money.
And that is why this record, the Twilights’ “It’s Been So Long/She’s Gonna Put Me Down”, exists. The producer, Weldon McDougal, even admitted as much. He also says in this same forum that he recorded anyone he “thought was good”.
Go ahead and listen to the A-side. I will wait.
What is your first impression? That these singers should not have been allowed within 200 feet of a microphone? I am truly, deeply sorry to the members of The Twilights, but singing is just not something you kids are cut out for. And they do sound like kids. I feel bad for the unknown lead singer. The material is over her head and out of her limited vocal range. A ballad about missing the one you love should not make the listener wince. The Twilights redeem themselves a bit on the B-side. “She’s Gonna Put Me Down” is a pleasant enough uptempo dancer, much better suited to the group’s vocal abilities. That said, there are no big moments, no impressive vocal turns. The Twilights are not ready for prime time. Or even the minor leagues. What McDougal heard in them, I have no idea. As a producer in the Philly Soul scene, he should have known better.
Arranger Luther Randolph did not do The Twilights any favors with his choice of backing track. The band goes through the paces on both sides. “Uninspired” is a good adjective to describe the music. Both songs, while serviceable enough, lack any sort of hook, which does not help matters. The other major issue: both songs sound hopelessly dated by 1966 standards. Two years into Motown’s deconstruction of soul music, and the production values sound straight out of 1961.
Sorry Soulies. I know this record has its fans (nice copies of it regularly sell for over $100.00), but this is not a great record. It is not a good record. Just because a record is rare or obscure that does not automatically make it good. As my brother once said, “sometimes a record is forgotten for good reason.”
The only reason I can come up with for this record existing is that McDougal heard/saw SOMETHING in The Twilights that he thought could make money.
And that is why we get fair to middlin’ to mediocre music, and a lot of it. Somebody somewhere thought money was to be made. Technology may be changing the way that we listen to music, but it does not change a tangible fact: the bulk of that music is not going to be of lasting quality. Popular music has always been disposable. As such, quality often takes a back seat to churning out the product. What has changed is the barrier to entry is a lot lower in 2017 than it was in 1966. Back then you needed the money for studio time, pressing records, and getting them on the street. In 2017 you need a Mac and an internet connection.
We now see with digital music a phenomenon we saw back in the post-WWII 1940s. A rapid swelling of small content producers flooding the market with often mediocre product. Over time, the music industry consolidated and consumption habits changed. The internet has brought about a rapid swelling of small content producers flooding the market with product. Music that once would only have been heard by a few hundred people in Philly is now available to everyone on the planet. A 1966 Justin Bieber would have struggled to break out of Canadian shopping malls. He and tens of thousands of other artists have advantages Weldon McDougal and The Twilights lacked. YouTube and Autotune have further democratized music in the 21st Century. For better and for worse.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Deep Breath: why did I buy this record if it is so bad? “It’s Been So Long” has an innocent charm. The Twlights are kids living a dream. Someone asked them, “wanna make a record?” Were they going to say no? The Twilights were offered a shot. They went for it. And it comes through. Despite ear-splitting vocals, an uninspired backing track, and head-scratching composition choices, The Twilights gave it their best shot. And that makes “It’s Been So Long” listenable.