Something wonderful happened. I was hanging out with a bunch of my music snob friends, and we were doing the only thing that music snobs do: arguing. Somehow the conversation turned to good and bad covers, and I dropped the name Pat Boone.
My friends changed the subject immediately, not wanting to appear unhip, but I could tell from their faces that they had no idea who Pat Boone was. Now this was a wonderful moment for two reasons, first and most important I knew something that my friends didn’t. That’s the reasons that music snobs wake up in the morning. Second, and it gives me great pleasure to say this, Pat Boone has been forgotten.
However, new “artists” have come to follow the business model that Pat Boone did so well with. Bands like Framing Hanley, with their cover of Lil’ Wayne’s “Lollipop” or I Set My Friends on Fire with their version of “Crank Dat Soulja Boy” have kept his exploitative torch burning. True neither of this bands have reached the fame of the artists they’re covering, but both Framing Hanley and I Set My Friends On Fire are known only for covering these songs, and nothing else. And if Myspace and Youtube hits mean anything, these bands capitalized on a very lucrative thing.
But Pat Boone Syndrome is not as simple as just covering another artist’s song. Many, many artists have done great things with other people’s music, giving new perspectives or new emotions, creating interpretations that add to what the song has to say. Pat Boone Syndrome has none of these endearing qualities. Artists that suffer from this ailment perform songs in a way that is safer than their original versions and less complicated, adding nothing to the content of the song. Listening to The Flying Burrito Brothers perform “Do Right Woman” will give a completely different, but equally intricate, impression than Aretha Franklin’s interpretation. It adds to the range of the song without distorting its intentions. However, James Taylor’s version of “How Sweet it Is” is a slap in the face to both Marvin Gaye and Holland/Dozier/Holland. It turns a proud, joyous anthem into a milquetoast jingle.
But I was reassured by my music snob friends. If they don’t know who Pat Boone is, the rest of the musicians who follow in his footsteps will be forgotten just as quickly. It’s comforting to know that Pat Boone Syndrome isn’t permanent, that time will clear it right up.
LORENZO WOLFF is a musician living in New York. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org