Occasionally, I’m asked why I favor singing the older songs. After listening to 1,000s of songs, here are the differences I hear in the popular male love ballad, to take one example.
Male love ballads composed in the period 1930 to 1960:
• The singer regales the woman with an ode to her beauty and glamour. He tells her all that he will do for her until the end of time, if she would but love him a half as much as he adores her. Feminine ideal placed on a pedestal and worshipped. The male as the servant to her beauty, which deserves his adoration by its mere existence.
• Ideas develop from a premise to a conclusion, usually a request on bended knee.
• Complex, memorable, singable melodies with just enough subtle repetition to encourage memorability of the number.
• Lyrical ingenuity. Seemingly commonplace language, made by invention unusual and delightful.
• Variety in time, in 2, 3 and 4, some swung, or waltzed or cha-cha’d, etc.
Male love ballads composed in the past 20 years:
• The singer implores the woman of his neediness. She has to love him or he will fall even farther without her. The male is the focus; the female attends to him.
• One idea, stated at the top, unchanging throughout. No attempt at persuading the listener, but the appeal to the love ideal is pity.
• Short repetitive phrases of only a few varying pitches, often only one bar long. Changes limited to full major and rarely minor chords, no maj7, diminished, 13s, etc.
• Always in 4, straight-ahead. Variation in feel restricted to volume only, with softer implying tender intimacy and louder usually representing anger or intensity of neediness.
Of course, there are exceptions, but this is my take on these two generations of songwriters after decades of listening. I think women would rather hear how they are to be adored, don’t you?
Perhaps the maturity of the song is somewhat a function of the age of the writer, since the older songs were written by primarily older, more experienced men, whereas newer iterations of the popular love ballad seem to be written by 20 somethings.
I surely do hear mature songs recently written by older guys (like me), with fine meaningful lyrics, easy to grasp musical complexity and melodic subtlety. The first who comes to mind is my friend, Ken Gaines.
Anyhow, this is why I generally prefer the older numbers. But my mind is open to the possibility of new numbers to sing and I’m looking for them all the time.