Tony Bennett: ‘The songs that are written today, most of them are terrible’

Tony Bennett is a living legend at 87 years old. The guy grew up during some of the best years in popular music, the swing and jazz years in the 30s and 40s, and he went on to become a crooner in the 50s and 60s. He’s still making music with the young artist today as part of his Duets series, featuring current hitmakers like John Legend, Lady Gaga, Carrie Underwood, and Josh Grobin. So what does Bennett think about modern music? He thinks it sucks, but he lays the blame on the record industry, which is skewing too young in his opinion.

Bennett made these comments in a radio interview with BBC4. You can hear Tony’s interview on the BBC’s website and below, and the National Enquirer transcribed a lot of it for us. Here’s more:

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s “Today Programme”, the 87-year-old singer pulled no punches, flatly stating that: “The songs that are written today, most of them are terrible,” and that “It’s a very bad period, musically, throughout the world for popular music…

“The corporations took it over and they want to make so much money and they don’t care whether the public likes it or not,” he said. “They think the public is ignorant, so their attitude is, ‘Don’t give them anything intelligent, because it won’t sell.’

“I grew up in an era where the record companies just sold records to everybody, and the whole family bought songs.” Bennett continued. “Today, record companies are failing because they are putting their accent just on the young, and I think that’s rather silly.

“They’re missing out on thousands of people that would love to buy records but they don’t buy them because they don’t have a lasting quality.”

But Bennett’s disappointment with the state of today’s music biz isn’t stopping him from staying current – or planning an upcoming collaboration of jazz duets with Lady Gaga later this year.

“I still have a lot to learn,” He said. “I’m concentrating on learning a lot more about music.”

[From The National Enquirer]

Bennett has been on the Columbia label for most of his career, so doesn’t have to worry about burning bridges at this point. I love how matter-of-fact he is and I agree with him, especially after sitting through most of Lady Gaga’s bizarre video for her new song yesterday. The video, and the song, were a cacophonous mess to me. Not all of Gaga’s songs suck, but many of them do. Of course I think that some of the best years in music were the late 80s and early 90s, but that’s when I came of age. It seems like everyone loves the music that was popular when they were in high school and college.

Honestly I like to think that don’t pay much attention to popular music, but when I watch the Grammys every year I know most of the artists and I’m blown away by the performances. I do like Imagine Dragons, a friend got me into them, and I also enjoy Macklemore (I know but I like him! I downloaded his album) and Adele. There’s good music still coming out, but it seems like the exception not the rule. There’s more than enough dance party autotune crap to go around. Consider how most of it must sound to Tony Bennett, who’s been making timeless music for most of his long life.

Here’s the audio of Tony’s interview:

Here’s just the audio of Tony doing “The Lady Is a Tramp” with Lady Gaga. You can see the full video here.

Here’s a live performance of “Smile”

And here’s Tony in a classic performance of his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” also featuring Judy Garland. She starts to sing around 2:00 in.

Opening night of 'Elaine Stritch At The Carlyle: Movin' Over And Out' at the Cafe Carlyle

Tony Bennett


Photo credit: and Getty Images

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45 Responses to “Tony Bennett: ‘The songs that are written today, most of them are terrible’”

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  1. Macey says:

    truer words have never been spoken. I think Adele is one of the few newer artist that I really got into and literally rushed out to get her CD right after I heard her on the radio. Its so rare I buy anyone’s CD any more. They dont even put much effort into making a good album b/c it’s all about radio singles and annoying hooks. They are def. dumbing down music to appeal to the masses. Its a shame the record labels are keeping out true talent just to keep their branded pop tarts on top.

    • Hiddles forever says:

      Same for me, I rarely buy a cd these days. I still have to get Adele’s one though, she is fantastic!
      Tony Bennett is a legend and I think he is also right.

      • FLORC says:

        He’s completely right.

        Yes there’s a good song here and there, but the large marjority is just noise.

        The age of well formed notes and lyrics to paint a picture and evoke emotions is not dead, but greatly diminished.

        I still long for the days of classical, Otis, and Bobby Darin and i’m not even 30!

      • Paul says:

        I agree! I listen to music from 50 to the 80s must music in he 90s sucked and lets not forget the crap of today

    • Christin says:

      I mostly listen to 1980s and early 90s songs. However, my morning alarm is set to a more modern format radio station. Usually the song that is playing is so annoying it makes me want to get up.

      • Macey says:

        same here. I think I have more 80’s-90’s on my Ipod than anything later except for a few artist.

    • T.Fanty says:

      Even then, Adele’s music isn’t great. Lyrically, and melody wise, she’s one step above Coldplay level of cliché. I think that the bar is so low that someone like Adele passes for greatness these days. Put her in an earlier gene ration, up against someone like Dusty Springfield, and she wouldn’t stand a chance.

      • V4Real says:

        I’m sorry, no I’m not, I don’t like Adele’s music. I would take Emeli Sande over her anyday. Better lyrics and less depressing.

        People should listen to her songs like “Next To Me, “My Kind of Love”, “Read All About it” and “Suitcase.”

      • Emily C. says:

        Oh god, I am so happy to see other people admit to not liking Adele’s music. I like her, and I wish her success, but it won’t be with my money. Her songs are lyrically dull, brain-numbingly repetitive, and not very musically compelling.

    • Kate says:

      when I’m playing CDs in my car, they’re all old school of various genres. Today it was Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, The Sylvers Greastest Hits and Rhino Old School compilation

  2. neelyo says:

    Some of the worst offenders out there are artists who write their own material. Putting your high school diary musings to music doesn’t make you a songwriter (cough, Mariah, Taylor, Beyonce, Katy). The main reason these people got into songwriting was to maximize their profits, not because they’re good at it.

    I think it’s cute that he says ‘records’.

  3. Tiffany says:

    He is not wrong. Really nothing more to say.

  4. Melissa says:

    I disagree I think that there is good and bad music in every decade. Although it should be mentioned that Bennett is a vocalist rather than a songwriter and artists tend to be better respected if they write their own songs in this day and age. Perhaps the quality of songwriting being offered to him has dropped as there is now less of tendency for songwriters to write for other people than themselves. For example Gaga, who is pictured may not have been considered to fit the mould of a popstar even a decade or so ago, so she would have written for others rather than herself. I think this statement stems from a place of nostalgia, to be honest. That being said he does make a valid point re. the music industry being too focused on youth. However, I’m not sure that’s such a new thing in any facet of the entertainment industry.

    • Jayna says:

      He knows a good song when he hears it. A popstar throwing a few lyrics in and being named a co-writer isn’t anything new. They want credits to legitimize them and to make money off the songs. But few are really truly songwriters like Lady Gaga. Pink is becoming better and better at songwriting as she matures.

  5. tifzlan says:

    Judy Garland is my queen. QUEEN.

  6. Jen says:

    The “music” of today fits the needs of the people who want to buy it. But, I ask, who will be singing (or will even remember) these tunes in 50 years the way they still sing “I Left My Heart In San Francisco”, or Hotel California or Stairway to Heaven and others that still sell and people sing out loud in the car? Can’t really knock today’s music as I don’t listen to it and maybe that is the point he is trying to make.

    • bettyrose says:

      LOL at that list of songs. They are all greats but of such dramatically different time periods. Still , I could proudly belt out ILM♥inSF followed by Hotel California.

    • Jayna says:

      Stairway to Heaven is one of the best songs of all time for me, a true masterpiece, as is Imagine.

      • TheOneandOnlyOnly says:

        Yes to every comment including your comment below Jayna; the Wall street journal a few days ago had an article about a Swedish “lyricist” that has written hits for JLo, Brittany and some Swedish pop act named ceasorion. The article printed the lyrics to one of his “songs.” My God, anyone on this site could write lyrics like that – just random phrases strung together.

      • Kate says:

        Did you see Heart perform Stairway to Heaven at the Kennedy Honors? Love Anne Wilson

  7. Carol says:

    I was a child in the 70’s/80’s, but grew up on big band, classical, jazz, and Frank Sinatra. My classmates made fun of me, but if I gave someone a ride home and had a tape going he would always ask me to rewind so he could hear the song again. That music is timeless for a reason.

  8. bettyrose says:

    Sigh. I went through a whole phase of loving the crooners in my hipster 20s. Some music is eternal. Some isn’t.

  9. Shahrizai says:

    I read this article last year and this post reminded me of it:

    I know that I will always favor the music of the 90’s because it’s when I grew up, but I definitely have a great appreciation for music of the 50’s, 60’s, and even the 80’s (sorry, I can’t do the 70’s… there is very little from that era that my parents listened to with me around and even less that I listen to now). It’s interesting how music sticks with us…

    I also just realized yesterday that Tragic Kingdom (No Doubt) came out almost 20 years ago… and I LIVED by that cd in high school. LOL… I totally dated myself, but that’s okay.

  10. Kiddo says:

    Every decade has good and bad music and the same could be said for songwriting. He’s old, but his voice is still incredible. I happen to like a lot of music way before my time. If you can’t find it today, you look elsewhere. Having said that, he is on point with what is being promoting, not what is happening in music altogether. The cream is not always rising to the top, because the machinery of the business is pushing something else. It’s like having a couple of predominant chain restaurants in town. The masses are very well aware of them because of heavy ad campaign rotation. It doesn’t make the talented chef in the tiny bistro on the corner less of an artist.

  11. j.eyre says:

    I am less than impressed with pop music as of late and out of sync with what is going on with rock but there is some really interesting things going on in R&B in my opinion. Many sounds are throwback but they are being blended in a very interesting way. Lyrically its a bit of a crapshoot though, I agree with that.

    And I know he is talking about popular music but Jazz and classical are having a minor renaissance and its lovely.

    • T.Fanty says:

      Jazz and classical never really go away. But, they’re getting repackaged and sold to a younger audience. I used to work in an NYC blues bar, and we saw some major blues acts in there. When I started working there, it was all middle-aged, white men who came in to “appreciate” the music, but as years went on, you could see the clientele getting younger. I think that part of it is that the internet has allowed the young ‘ins access to music that major pop culture might not engage in, so small little niche markets find a nice crowd.

      I think the issue at hand is that the mainstream is probably dying out, because people do have access to much more material, and as a result, what we’re classifying as mainstream is simply an amalgam of R&B and pop. There’s no need for a talented blues or jazz singer to adapt to the pop model because their market don’t need the mainstream to find and support them. So, what we’re defining as mainstream is simply the pop market (which is always throwaway trash, on some level) simply purifying itself, and we’re seeing the weakness of the genre as it is.

  12. HappyMom says:

    Not to sound like the church lady, but so much of what is on the radio is not appropriate for kids under the age of 14-and even then, do we really need our teens bombarded by that crap? I’ll stick with the oldies and standards and luckily my teen kids love them too (especially the Beatles and Frank Sinatra.)

  13. Jayna says:

    He’s not lying. There is some great music and artists out there, but let’s face it, the calibur of songs that will be being played in 30 years will still come from way back, not as much quantity from this era.

    Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” is still going strong, great songwriting, great vocals, great arrangement.

    I still find myself discovering so much amazing music from the ’70s lately. Although, electronica bands are my favorite as it’s my musical preference. As much as I enjoy bands that are newer, I thought about the other day when Mick Jagger was in the press how the bands don’t have the presence, real rockstar power, that older bands had like U2, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, etc had.

    Arcade Fire is a tremendous band live and very strong songwriters. It’s hard to explain how good they are because of the violins and other instruments on stage, even an acordian sometimes. It is a wall of sound that is electrifying live.

    I do think it’s become about production of the song for popstars and autotune, not so much great melody and lyrics and vocals anymore. Club music used to be such a favorite for me but not so much anymore. The producers of the songs have become as big a star as the pop star. I am over pop music that I used to love and back to bands and R&B, because pop is all becoming the same. And Gaga’s songwriting is a big disappointment these days. Although, she can sing for sure.

    Alicia Keys still has my heart for putting out a good album, John Legend, Mary J. Blige, Frank Ocean and Adele, Pink, Cee-Lo Green’s solo album as well as his albums in Gnarls Barkley.

  14. Marianne says:

    I think it all depends on what you like. While someone like you might think Tony Bennett has been putting out timeless music, another person might think his kind of music is crap. Different strokes for different folks.

    Also, I don’t mind all “dance party” music. Sometimes its just fun to dance around and sing to a mindless song that doesn’t have a deeper meaning. Not everything in life has to have a deeper meaning. Now does that mean I only listen to that kind of music. Of course not.

    • Jayna says:

      Most everybody likes mindless, fun dance music that has a great beat, but usually that album has some really good music on it too. Too many lately are just throwaways as an album and a couple of good, feel good songs left. That’s become a big disappointment in pop music for me.

    • homegrrrl says:

      I’m.a 60s child soi.had the best of every era. That said, anyone who loves good music would never.listen to top.20.or trendy stations. It was always about alternative or college radio. In every era the sucked. Same now as every decade. Don’t forget, the 70s had sonny and Cher, the 80s had Franki goes to Hollywood, and the 90s had boy bands. Commercial music simply sucks as always.

  15. Side-Eye says:

    I think there’s still good music, you just have to know where to find it. Artists like Janelle Monae, Solange, Joey Bada$$, and Kendrick Lamar are some newish comers that are my favourites. But then they all have an old school feel in their respective genres so.

  16. Miss M says:

    I am so lucky that I saw Tony Bennett performing last year. It was him and 4 musicians and the concert was incredible. When you are excellent at what you do, you don’t need much to have a great performance. The talent speaks for itself. 🙂

    • Jayna says:

      So true. Those kind of performances can be mesmerizing. I remember seeing Elton John just sitting at a piano all night and being blown away by his vocals and songs. Truly a brilliant show. But I still love my Depeche Mode and Dave Gahan starting out in a suit, down to a vest deeper in the show, and eventually with his shirt off strutting and dancing all over the stage, with his deep baritone voice and songs I love, for my objectification. There’s all kinds of great ways to perform according to the artist and genre of music and type of performer. But having someone throw up on you like Gaga is beyond the pale.

  17. Tig says:

    Conversations like these are when I miss Amy W the most- what could have been! I do like Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings- great vocals and lyrics.

  18. WillowDreamer says:

    Great article and post!!!
    This is the thing i think of every time i turn on the radio and listen to current music…
    do i even know who is singing? To me many of the artists and songs sound the same. Music from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s seem so distinct….especially the singers.
    There is much that came from 60’s and 70’s…Beatles, Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Journey, Elton John, Styx, Eagles, Electric Light Orchestra, Joan Jett, Cher, Aretha Franklin, Boston, Queen, Carly Simon, Seals and Croft, Linda Ronstadt, SuperTramp, Wings, Foreigner, Kansas, Joe Cocker, Peter Frampton, Steve Miller Band, Billy Joel, Led Zeppelin, and more….these were seasoned singers who developed their craft and performed for a time before they became famous.
    I agree throughout the years there have been many great songs and artists however i feel that there are specific periods of times where the music didn’t seem so generic or similar.

    • Jayna says:

      Steve Perry has an unbelievable voice and, more importantly, delivery.

      And people diss Mick Jagger, but he is an excellent lyricist and Keith Richards is a great songwriter and totally influenced by the blues and a true student of the blues and his craft interpreting that for rock music. What i can’t believe is Mick at 70 performing like he does, performing what adds up to many miles as he traverses across the stage for hours. He should look old and stupid on stage strutting around and it shouldn’t work, but it’s the opposite. This tour his voice is very strong and he never stops on stage. He takes it all seriously. He is always in shape but leading up to this tour he ran eight miles a day, did pilates, took ballet, all preparing for running and dancing on stage and still being able to sing and be able to have breath control. I can’t imagine at 70 being in that kind of shape. The only band to still be together after 50 years.

      Mick singing with his phenomenal backup singer my favorite song of theirs, Gimme Shelter, live this tour at 70 and moving and dancing all over the stage. What is sad is Le Wren had made all of his outfits, his gorgeous jackets he wore on stage and she was praised for. She said she spent hours and hours making his jeans, and ripping out the seams time and time again because she wanted it perfect and to be able to move and dance as he does on stage.

      Gimme Shelter –

  19. Ramona Q. says:

    Lake Street Dive

    Best new music I’ve heard in YEARS. Learned of them on “Colbert”.

  20. Miss M says:

    OMG, I just started listening to them. Thanks for sharing it here. They are great!

  21. Anna-fo-Fanna says:

    That video with Lady Gaga makes me SO ANGRY that shes messed everything up with drugs and a surfeit of ego. She really is talented, and had just squandered that talent. It’s a shame, beacuse her early stuff was great.

  22. Emily C. says:

    Mm… I dunno. I think the state of the music industry today is very much like it was in the late 50s/early 60s. We’re drowning in unimpressive bubblegum acts who “sing” songs with lyrics repetitive enough to induce trance, but there is still good music happening elsewhere. There were also plenty of crap hit songs in the 40s and 50s. Ever heard of the song “Autumn Leaves” by Roger Williams? I haven’t. It’s #3 in the 50s. There’s also plenty of Bobby Darin and Frankie Avalon and Perry Como and other bland pop swill. I’ve only ever even heard of a small minority of songs on the list.

    We just don’t happen to remember the songs that weren’t timeless, and therefore have a better impression of the era than it deserves. It wasn’t all Elvis and Sinatra. It was also MASSIVELY dominated by male acts.

  23. Amanda says:

    That’s true of most pop music, but what about all the great alternative music out there?

  24. Skye says:

    Having just heard “Dark Horse” on the radio coming home tonight, could not agree more. Sad that this woman is a HUGE award-winning star and she can barely string a coherent sentence together… Her songs are nothing but clichés jammed together, and she doesn’t even bother to learn what the clichés MEAN. I can’t stand John Mayer but he must have been HOWLING listening to her “write” when they were together. it’s not even that I think she’s stupid…. More like the industry values marketing, publicity and “brand positioning” over all else, so that’s what rises to the top – the slick and sellable, not the GOOD.