Gus Dudgeon Is Dead and I Don’t Feel Too Good Myself

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(Pictured: Britney Spears and Elton John in 2013.) 

Some Britney Spears stans got mad at me the other morning when I tweeted that her hit collaboration with Elton John, “Hold Me Closer,” is the worst record of Elton’s career. “We don’t care about your opinion,” “OK boomer,” that kind of thing. (I don’t recall asking any rando who doesn’t follow me for their opinion, but you know how it goes.)

The trouble with “Hold Me Closer” is not the performances. “Tiny Dancer,” “The One,” and “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” the songs that are sampled to create the track, are all perfectly fine. Britney’s performance it is what it is, and it doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the production of the record. The guys who produced it are so impressed with themselves that they seem not to have bothered to actually listen to it. Andrew Watt has his head so far up his own ass it’s a wonder the reporter could hear him talk. He and his partner did little more than to loop the words “hold me closer tiny dancer” for three minutes and bury them in a beat. They put across a hook, but in the most primitive manner possible.

(There is an “acoustic version” of the record, which still has too much echo, but at least you can hear the music. Hard to believe the same guys made it.)

Some of Elton John’s 70s records are phenomenally busy, with all kinds of stuff going on in them, but the man who produced them, Gus Dudgeon, never forgot that he was making music. Today, producers everywhere have decided that audio effects—echo, reverb, phase and pitch shifting, auto-tune, etc.—are equivalent in importance to the voice of a singer or the sound of an instrument, which is as sensible as a chef making an entire entree out of condiments. The most egregious example I’ve yet heard is “Heat Waves” by Glass Animals, which is made up almost entirely of audio effects. (I wonder if the people in Glass Animals even like music.)

It’s possible that that the “OK boomer” thing (which was clever for about five minutes two years ago, and anybody who still thinks it’s a sharp retort needs to up their game a lot) is accurate, though. I am a product of the era of big speakers and headphone listening, when producers created expansive soundscapes with the intention that the little things be heard. (At the same time, I was also listening to AM radio which, even with its lesser fidelity, sounded vastly better than much of what we hear now.) Younger listeners don’t know anything but production styles intended for lossy audio formats, cheap earbuds, and the loudness war. They don’t relate to what I hear, or can’t hear.

There’s a story about a radio station that changed from a current-based format to all-80s. The chief engineer was asked how he’d changed the audio processing to make the station sound so much better than it had before. He hadn’t done a thing, however—the station was merely playing music that had been produced with a different aesthetic. Yet even music made in earlier times can be subjected to modern techniques. Recently, I needed a copy of “Lake Shore Drive” by Aliotta Haynes and Jeremiah for my radio show, but the only one I could find was on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. That version has been brickwalled, however, which reduces the magical sound of the original to dynamics-free mush. If I were an artist or a producer who had slaved over the mixing and mastering of my music back in the day, I would consider such treatment of it to be an act of violence.

On Another Matter: On the heels of the news Saturday night that Elon Musk is going to let Donald Fking Trump back on Twitter, I announced that I would be leaving the platform, but I was too hasty. After some communication with followers and some further reading about how others are responding to the Trump return, I have been convinced to stay, and I will, for now. My eventual hope that one of two things will happen: A) that I will be able to build up a list of Instagram follows that provides value similar to my list of Twitter follows; and/or B) Mastodon becomes easier to use. And in any event, this website of mine isn’t going anywhere.

16 thoughts on “Gus Dudgeon Is Dead and I Don’t Feel Too Good Myself

  1. Call me too sensitive, but it always gets me that the generation that promotes “political correctness” to the extreme doesn’t seem to care about what they say to or about their elders. If they really do care they would know that “OK, Boomers” is a direct insult. So is stereotyping an outspoken, middle-aged, white woman as a “Karen.” What I’m saying is that people should continue to treat the groups we open-minded citizens deeply care about with respect but their kindness should extend to others as well.

    1. Chris Herman

      Their disrespect is due to their perception of “elders” as authority figures who’ve screwed up the world so badly they deserve to have their opinions brusquely dismissed. Insulting one is acceptable because it’s “punching up.” Also, I’m sure at least a few Millennials and members of Gen Z are aware that many of these same Boomers and Karens treated their elders like crap when they were young so what goes around, comes around.

  2. Mitch

    I hate modern music. All of it. I hate most ‘80s music when the snappy sound of a tight snare was replaced by an echoing thud of a Tom-Tom, complete with synthesizer reverb. I’m a product of the late ‘60s and early ‘70 when recording artists were…artists. The pop, rock, soul, and R&B of that era is my musical standard. I’m also a sucker for an orchestra playing behind a rock band. (I ran three Babys’ songs across my iTunes a bit ago, along with some Al Stewart.) Perfect examples of an embedded orchestra that gives depth to music. Music from a bygone era that was real. And performed by an artist.

    1. I mostly agree with you. I try to tell myself that it was because music was better back then, but I sometimes wonder if it’s simply just a case of the 60s and 70s being the age I grew up in. Most of our parents hated The Beatles, it wasn’t the music of their youth.

      That said, I hate synth drums. They sound so fake. A real cymbal goes crash, electronics go squish and the beat never varies. There are some singers today who never record with a real band.

  3. Leo Edelstein

    You don’t have to apologize for panning Elton/Britney’s “Hold Me Closer.” It stinks. An embarrassment. No reason to even produce it. The original hits are all we need.

  4. I actually didn’t find “Hold Me Closer” to be that great a crime against humanity.
    It isn’t an improvement on Elton’s originals, and of course it has that bloated modern production going on.

    That Glass Animals song, on the other hand … my GOD. Maybe you shouldn’t have included the link to that one, because once you’ve heard it, “Hold Me Closer” sounds like “Philadelphia Freedom” by comparison.
    (It seems like every time I hear current pop — usually when out in a public place — I hear at least two songs that have the same atmosphere and the same chord changes as that Glass Animals song. That could have been any one of about 100 tunes. Maybe 1,000.)

  5. T.

    The 60’s to early 70’s music is indeed better than anything from the 80’s onward, and the reason is: it had an electricity, a vibrancy that made it jump out of the speakers. In the 60’s especially, creativity was celebrated and was expected from everybody, not just the Beatles and Dylan. And all those other artists stepped up, took their turn, whether it was Smokey & the Miracles or some garage punk band who knew 2 chords.
    Today’s digitization has leveled the playing field. You can make a good recording in your bedroom, and that’s a good thing, a democratic thing. But like any Pandora’s Box, it has given talentless fools unlimited access. Add that to the systematic dumbing down of our culture and you get the new Elton/Britney record.

  6. I had somehow escaped hearing “Hold Me Closer”. It’s better than I thought it would be. To me, the story is as much Britney’s on the charts as anything (she’s as old as Elton was in his pre-“Candle in the Wind” (1997) slump.

    The Glass Animals thing is sort of my idea of this moment in music—a mid-tempo thing without much of a melody and lyrics that tell me someone’s figured out that therapy costs money and there are people who’ll pay to listen.

    You and I landed on the same solution for Twitter for now, JB. While I did pull my automotive account because I just didn’t see value in it being there anymore, I’m waiting to take my cues on my news account from CapRadio or NPR. Meantime, though, I did add Instagram. The biggest reason? People know what it is, and (sorta) how to use it. CapRadio and NPR are already there.

    I read a thing about how few adult non-media types use social media, and the number of them on Twitter is way low. On Mastodon, my fear is that it will just be media and print types talking to each other, instead of interacting with their listeners/readers/viewers.

  7. While it has nothing to do with the point of your column, one of my favorite things about Elton’s albums after Madman Across The Water is the way each song takes off from a different musical tradition and has a different sound. There’s rock, reggae, Latin, country western and on and on. Part of that is Elton’s interest in all kinds of music, but Dudgeon added a lot to the soundscapes, bringing each genre to life.

  8. On the Twitter note: Until / unless Musk revokes any of the previous blocks you’ve imposed (presumably including T___p) and in fact, bans said blocks, I don’t see a problem. You’re still a human, and have every right not to have your life governed by lame, stupid software endeavouring to predict your interests.

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