Friday, September 08, 2006

You're listening to hear music, the voice of music at Starbucks

Today when I was working at Starbucks, I was treated to songs including Simon and Garfunkel's "The Boxer" and George Harrison's "If Not For You" (Bob Dylan wrote it but it was George Harrison's version). Imagine my delight at listening to music I enjoy after waking up at a quarter to 7 in the morning and having to deal with people who haven't had their morning coffee. It put me in a good mood, but the thought of these artists having their music on Starbucks compilations bothers me.

I always defend Starbucks when it is referred to as "evil." The company treats their employees well and pays its coffee growers higher than average prices. But the thought of them packaging music this way really gets to me. I guess they had to get the rights to these songs somehow, but I don't know that much about that process. I would think that a lot of the anti-establishment rockers would not want their music for sale at Starbucks.

I also have a problem with compilations in general because the songs are usually arranged so randomly. To me, the album is an art form and these albums cheapen it.

David Hajdu wrote a brilliant review of Starbucks CDs for The New Republic and I wish I could link it here, but you need to be a member to access it. But he brought something up that I didn't consciously realize at first as part of my problem. He writes, "The Opus Collection takes important artists from jazz and popular music--Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Elvis Presley, Sly Stone, Jackie Wilson, and others--and makes them brands."

He goes on to say that the CDs expose listeners to a musicians' early work. "The music is fine," he writes, "The CDs vexing for the way in which they package every artist as an overly simplified cliché: Elvis the wild country boy, Etta the oversexed blues babe, Miles the sensual mysterioso. Youth comes across as an exalted state." This isn't always the case. The 35th Anniversary CD includes John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," as opposed to "Imagine," which is more recognizable and the way John Lennon is normally packaged. I do see his point, but I don't think it's a bad thing to expose people to one side of an artist's career, assuming they will seek out other recordings. But Hajdu makes the claim that most listeners will not make that effort because they don't really want to, they just want to have something to talk about. I think I'll test out this theory next time I'm at Starbucks by talking to some of our customers about music.

I've written a lot more than I intended to, but I may revisit this subject later. Stay tuned...

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Raquel Laneri said...

I love "If Not for You" and had no idea Bob Dylan wrote it! But I always thought that song would fit well in a Wes Anderson movie...