Bertie Higgins

Retro Tuesday And The Definition Of “Smooth”

SOME OF US spent the New Year celebration doing better things than getting plastered and passing out; a chance discussion with an old associate online, at 2am on New Year’s Day, revealed that “smooth” remains cool: and with an exchange of music videos revealing similar tastes in “smooth,” the question very much went begging. What is “smooth?” How do you recognise it when you hear it? And can it be defined, or is it simply a matter of preference?

I wish readers a Happy New Year and, of course, a great year ahead; in the aftermath of the passing of George Michael last week, it seems another Tuesday has come around in record time, but today I’ve got a couple of absolute corkers to share — to say nothing of a question to pose.

Put simply, where music is concerned, what is “smooth?”

There’s a rather excellent fellow who has crossed my path three times now in the past 15 years out in “media land” in Melbourne, and he knows who he is; quite a bit younger than I am and obviously with a different story to tell, for some reason we hit it off — and these days, now different career trajectories (to say nothing of family life) has taken us in divergent directions, catch-ups are usually via social media, rather than random reunions when one of us shows up for a new media job.

In any case, I spent New Year’s Eve (after re-watching The Godfather for the quintillionth time) listening to old music videos on YouTube, which (as readers will have ascertained by now) is something of a late-night pastime I love, hunting out the old and obscure, or the latest thing etched in my mind from the day’s events, or just going on a YouTube cruise (you pick a starting track, and from there, you proceed ONLY by choosing from the “suggested options” to the right of the viewer…and every time one track finishes, you pick from the options to the right again, and so forth).

Anyhow, a random glance at Facebook at about 2am on New Year’s Day revealed a post from this fellow, proclaiming that the track embedded below is, in fact, the smoothest song of all time, and while I don’t know if I agree entirely, it’s a cracker of a hit anyway.

Turn it up…

At the very least, it instantly went without saying that we would be talking about this today.

But it got me thinking: what makes a “smooth” song? Is it the vocal delivery of the artist? The penmanship of the lyrics? The finish and polish on the music track? Or is it an amalgam of all of this and more, as the (musical) planets align to deliver something timeless, tuneful, and memorable?

It certainly isn’t heavy rock, or material based in metal or the classics; it could be jazz (and for that, I recommend this to readers as a pleasant little diversion to boot) or it could be something out of the disco era (like…this…which should be played very loudly) — but is whatever makes smooth “smooth” tangible, quantifiable, and able to be described?

Or is it simply what people, based on their particular characteristics and outlook, like to listen to?

Over the years, there have been those who have almost certainly released material one would suspect was at least in part deliberately fashioned to corner the “smooth” market; this is a prime culprit in terms of what I am talking about — and beyond the confines of the early 1990s (which were an embarrassment in their own right, musical or otherwise) it is safe to say that Kenny G and “smooth” don’t belong in the same sentence.

It probably isn’t most of what is on the playlists of radio stations that have become fashionable these days, billing themselves as “smooth:” to be sure, these media outlets do play some material that passes the test, but most of what they broadcast (like all commercial music radio stations) is crap.

What about those who practically shout from the rooftops to herald the “smoothness” of their work? The ultimate example is Sade Adu, with her intoxicating silken voice, and the song that presented its bona fides upfront.

Even with a little thought, the names of several artists who could be described as “the king of the smoothies” spring to mind: Rod Stewart. Mick Hucknell, a la Simply Red. Neil Finn from Crowded House (or Crowded House, full stop).

And any discussion of “smooth” would be incomplete without at least a mention of this bloke.

But really, is all of this just personal preference?

In my own case, I love most music: “from AC-DC to Mozart,” as I have always answered whenever asked what I like. But I make no bones about being a total 70s and 80s head — perhaps in large part because I’m a child of those times — but thinking forward and backward, the early rock’n’roll hits of the 50s and 60s were, whilst very listenable, more noise than art; and whilst the 90s and later still yield classic hits (which may even fit the bill where being “smooth” is concerned), I find it very hard to go beyond those two decades where music was made to be listened to, rather than noise for its own sake, bubble-gum pop to extract money from screaming teenagers, or drug-fuelled grunge bullshit.

And this brings me to the second track in my “double shot” today — notwithstanding the fact I’ve included bonus tracks everywhere once again this week.

I don’t know if this out-smoothes “the smoothest song of all time,” but you would have to think it comes close…

…but whether it does or doesn’t, there are similarly hundreds of songs that would vie for the title in their own right, but for that I leave readers to their own choices. What do you think?