“La-Da-Daa-da-da-daa, Da-Da-Da-Daa, hey Jude. (fade) La-Da-Daa-da-da-da-daa, Da-da-da-daa, hey Jude. (fade) La-Da-Daa-da-Da-Da-Daa, Da-da-da-daa, hey Jude. (fade)……………” From 1968, “Hey Jude”, By: The Beatles. Composers: Paul McCartney & John Lennon.
You’ve wondered, right? Maybe you’re too young to have experienced it. Maybe there have been times you were watching an old TV show where an artist like, The Monkees, Partridge Family or Elvis, were performing one of their radio hits, only to watch them try to look normal as the audio of their performance began to fade out into nothing. Correct me here if I’m not accurate. Two things always happened. Number one: The performer is left to look uncomfortable and awkward as they try to keep up with the lip syncing until the sound goes to black. Number Two: You, the audience member, are left feeling oddly unsettled watching them squirm on camera as the song fades. You know what I mean. Oddly enough, as a concert-goer, you never saw that occur on stage. If you did, the audience would be in revolt. It’s like, if they can’t perform live, why am I here?
I’m an old radio personality who has seen this scenario change slowly firsthand. There’s nothing new under the sun. (Thanks King Solomon.)
Here’s what happened. YOU, as a music lover, were manipulated by radio and record labels. How does that make you feel? Don’t be mad, we’ve ALL been like musical sheep following the sheep ahead of us, who followed a marching drum major from the razzle-dazzle boardroom on the 18th floor. YOU were the Guinea Pig that proved the experiment worked.
The fade-to-black music ending of pop songs on the radio slowly emerged in the 1950’s, ruling over us for over three decades. A good example, within the top 10 charts in 1985, there is not one produced song with, what is known as, a “cold ending”. In the 1990’s, the fade-fad began to…well…fade away from the offerings coming out of the record industry. Pushing the fast-forward button, the top 10 year-end pop list for 2011, 2012 and 2013 gave radio only ONE fade-out song. Why did the musical-manipulation-melee-madness begin?
During the 1940’s, and before, much of the music heard on radio was live, in-studio performances, like the big bands and torch singers. After World War II, they began to play more of the recorded cuts, much of which were recorded live as well. It was very difficult, if not nearly impossible, to fade-out the endings of songs. Any band conductor, or composer, would’ve shouted out in frustration, “WHAT’S THE PURPOSE?” Plus, what hard-line composer would invite such a thing to his/her music masterpiece? After all, the natural sustained ending, or a cold “stinger” ending of a song, was and is well-thought-out and pampered from the chicken-scratches of a songwriter to the artwork of a mechanical/electrical recording studio.
The early idea was more psychological than for any other reason. Some artist, composer or producer somewhere came up with the thought that the ebbing away of the power of the “hook” of the chorus could induce a feeling of the slow passing away of lyrical thought and musical dynamics. It was to leave the listener soaking-in the song as it stamps more of its identity while lingering with repetitive bars ushering us to audio silence. (As a side note, in radio there was a rule of thumb used to know when to manually fade out a produced song live in the studio. In the 1980s, we were told, by those in the know, like consultants and record reps, to fade out after 2.5 repeats of the rotating chorus. Some productions placed their fades in that spot, if not, we would.) As for us on-air guys and gals, it allowed us the artistry of segueing and mixing the wrap of a cut with the intro of the next tune hovering over it. If not done, it was considered bad, or lazy radio.
Not to be outdone by those in the industry who decreed such a tactic, was another school of thought. Some felt the effect of faded endings also gave the feeling of the music, the hooks and the lyrics could mentally continue after a three-minute song finished. “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…(repeat & fade, repeat & fade)” You get the idea. Interesting thought, considering the entire idea of pop music is that the song must stand up as a “Velcro” tune sticking to the ears long after turning off the radio. As you read the chorus of “Hey Jude” at the top of this article, you heard the song in your head, right? Yep, it’s all about SALES! It’s why some of the most talented songwriters are, or were, jingle writers for ads, like Barry Manilow, as well as “scores” of others. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) You can sing them now, I’m sure. “You deserve a break today, so get up and…..” Or, “Like a good neighbor….” Or, “Plop-plop, fiz-fiz, oh what a….”
Early on, songs for airplay were too long. Before you knew it, radio engineers were manually fading out the music on their own. As it turned out, in the 50’s, radio fades on pop tunes became more of the norm as radio programmers, sound board operators and the sales department were looking to find ways to eat the clock for more ad space in programming. After all, the sponsors pay for air-time. Songs were the glue to hold the listener to the speakers until the next commercial break. Fading out tunes was a perfect way to shorten the cuts played, making more room for the dreaded commercial breaks. That’s why in the 90’s it became a big-deal for a radio station to promote the 30 minute music sweep. Yeah, we all did it. Most still try. I know you’ve heard it, with a bouncy, happy music bed underneath…. “Hey, we love you so much. So, we’ll treat you to more music per hour, (before the hated 10 minute commercial block.). Come join us? Your 30-minute music sweep starts right now.”
As for “Hey Jude” when the Beatles made the decision in 1966 to stop touring, cocooning themselves in the Abby Road Studio, they were not bothered by coming up with two or three different versions for tracks recorded. Knowing they were not going to perform them live any longer, they allowed the fade-fad to be a signature for the fab-four. Thus, “Hey Jude”.
So, that’s your radio hit parade of pop music history lessons for today. However, in the end, I don’t want my life to mirror a radio hit. If you’re like me, you probably don’t want to fade-out toward the ending of this life. Sure, some with certain medical challenges have no choice. Even so, the will is there to finish well, to end your musical adventures with a natural sustained chord, or possibly a cold stinger of an ending, that rings out in classic 1970’s reverb, “I WAS HERE AND MADE A DIFFERENCE!” The Giver of life will never mind-bend, manipulating your life-song. He certainly never has been in favor of fade-outs, but He does perform segues.
Nothing is impossible when filled with fuel for for the race.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they (you) may have life, and have it to the full.” – Jesus, from John 10:10 (NIV)