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September 7, 2010

Play it again, Sam ...

Esteem is granted to particular songs for many different reasons: a poignant lyric, a catchy melody, a unique arrangement, an incredible performance, or simply because of the listener's experience at the time of hearing it. Some songs are highly esteemed by a few people and a few are highly esteemed by a large number.

The best example of a highly esteemed song is the most-covered song in history: Paul McCartney's Yesterday. This song expresses a universal feeling in a simple, catchy melody. It has been covered by so many acts because it can be touchingly performed with minimal accompaniment or arranged for a full orchestra, allowing each act who covers it to add their personal esteem (see next section) to the esteem granted to the song.

Songs can also be highly esteemed by niche audiences. Metallica's One is seen by many metal fans as an archetype of their favourite genre. The band members' musicianship is also seen as very praiseworthy, even by non-metal fans.

National Anthems are mandated by law as representative of a national culture (not always with the agreement of the nation's people), which affords that song a particular respect. In Australia, unofficial anthems such as Waltzing Matilda, Men At Work's Down Under, or Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton's I am Australian are preferred by some people as better representing the values they regard as essentially Australian than the official national anthem does.

Every generation grants esteem to songs that capture a time of their lives. A first kiss, the summer of coming of age, or a time of disaster can all be revisited by listening to a song that was playing at the time. This is a highly individual thing, but can be generalised in nostalgia songs like Bryan Adams' Summer of 69 and Kid Rock's All Summer Long.

Having esteem invested in one song can backfire for a musician if they become known as a one-hit wonder. In these cases, the act was able to create one highly esteemed song but was unable to build esteem for the act or the artist (see next sections).


The most important source of esteem for a musician is esteem based on their repertoire of songs. This is established at first by playing songs that someone else made popular and then increased by writing their own esteemed music.

This post is the summary of Part 2 of Dr Huge's "How the record industry got it so wrong". The latest version of the complete ebook can be downloaded here and a hard copy can be ordered here.
Posted by DrHuge at September 7, 2010 4:53 PM

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