A string of popular Youtube offerings show performers poking fun at the facile, four-chord structure of popular music. The first video to catch my eye/ear featured a young Australian man stringing together more than twenty pop tunes to the chord progression of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" (I think I first saw the link on NewMusicBox's Friday Informer).
Another video, posted in November and now attracting the attention of amateur musicians via a Facebook group, features a rant about "one-hit wonder" Johann Pachelbel's ubiquitous Canon in D. Though it begins as a complaint about playing the eight-note cello part in a school orchestra, it turns into a recitation of tunes including Aerosmith's "Cryin'", the Beatles' "Let It Be" and Blues Traveler's "Hook" that loosely line up with the Canon's chord progression. The performer, comedian Rob Paravonian, goes off the deep end near the end, wildly heaping verses and choruses from Natalie Imbruglia (also featured in the "Don't Stop Believin'" medley), Bush and Green Day onto the Canon's chords.
As a fellow performer of an oft-neglected, bass-clef instrument, I can say I feel Paravonian's pain. But the way that his routine gives way to a pop music-pastiche speaks to the overall interchangeability of '90s pop music as a subject of humor --the message seems to be "Can you believe we listened to/bought this stuff?" These stitched-together medleys also reflect the musical and cultural phenomenon of the "mash-up," the combination of disparate tunes based on a shared musical feature (a rhythmic pattern or a melodic "hook"). The mash-up by DJ Danger Mouse that combined Jay-Z's "The Black Album" with the Beatles' "White Album" to form "The Grey Album" was one of the first entries of this venerated DJing trick into the musical mainstream. These two videos, and the imitators they will surely spawn, extend this fun-poking practice into a new medium.
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