Modern Rock Canon - Smash Mouth

As much as I like to play up the whole 'music snob' angle (both on this blog and in my day-to-day life) certain bands bring me back down to Earth and make me realize that I am also susceptible to canny pop styles and nostalgia. "Drops Of Jupiter" still brings a smile to my face, "One Week" makes me grin like a loon, and "Walkin' On The Sun" is still one of my favorite songs. My hipster cred is officially gone. Thank god for that; I feel lighter already.

Smash Mouth was one of the 'alternative pop-rock' bands that sprouted up in the post-Nirvana mainstream. They were never challenging and their music never breached a comfortable decibel ceiling. The most subversive thing about them was some minor ska influences, much like the similarly successful No Doubt. They also demonstrate one of the more important aspects of pop music, that often gets overlooked; advertisement.

Advertising music is not a concept that comes easily to most bands. The last ad for a CD I saw on TV was for one of those NOW Music compilations; the last one for a band I saw was one for Nickelback during the early-00s. No band that claims to be 'alternative' or 'independent' will buy direct ad space on television (they will on radio though; that's what a single is, after all) but bands that are labeled 'alternative' or 'indie' will often be featured quite prominently in all kinds of mediums. The most significant? Film.

I've mentioned this before in the context of Roy Orbison's woefully brief comeback during the late-80s and it holds just as true for many other groups. Smash Mouth is a wonderfully textbook example; what's the first song by them that pops into your head? Was it "All Star" or "I'm A Believer"? The key feature of both of those isn't hooks or brilliant lyrics, it's the fact that they were both prominently featured in the blockbuster movie Shrek. At least, that's what I believe.

It's a simple numbers game. Most of the best-selling albums worldwide top out at around 40-50 million units sold (with the exception of Thriller, which sold over double that amount). This is all very well and good, but sales like that put those few albums close to dead last when put into movie terms. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl was a pretty big movie, selling an estimated 50,648,900 tickets (Box Office Mojo). This puts it at 90 out a 100 on a list of top tickets sold. Gone With The Wind sold about four times that many tickets (202,044,600) (Ibid), which is twice as many copies as Thriller did (~110 million). The difference is astronomical and very obvious; more people see movies than buy albums.

Similarly, television can achieve the same effect. You know Moby, right? The only reason you do is his impressive campaign to mass market his breakthrough album, Play. Make no mistake, it's a great album but far less people would have bought it if Moby hadn't put every song into ads, TV shows, and other mediums outside of radio. It was a brilliant marketing strategy that ensured that Moby would never have to try again.

This is how songs/artists persist in the public consciousness; exposure. This is why success is not a viable metric for musical quality; because if it was then Whitney Houston is one of the greatest musicians of all time. Even better than the Black Eyed Peas.

No comments:

Post a Comment