Perhaps another example will help me to better make the point of the previous post, which may have been occluded by the general Hee-Haw feel of the chosen examples.
What I had meant to say is certainly not that it is only with YouTube that we have learned of the shared quality of popular music, that each song is not uniquely attached to an artist, but rather passes through various artists who give it a distinctive sort of life for two or three minutes. Rather, what I meant to say is that it is only with the rise of YouTube that these different, distinctive lives of songs, these iterations, as I called them, have come to be grouped together. It is only with YouTube that one discovers a song by discovering the variety of the song's possible interpretations.
My second example will be 'Szomorú Vasárnap', the so-called 'Hungarian Suicide Song', composed by Rezső Seress, if my ability to read Hungarian Wikipedia is not failing me, in 1935. Legend has it that if you listen to the song but once, you will die by your own hand. Seress himself committed suicide in 1968. This means that at worst the song's effect comes with a long delay, and in any case we are entirely free of superstition here at jehsmith.com, and so free as well to search out even the most minor keys and the most disorienting Corinthian modes.
Here is the original version of 'Szomorú Vasárnap':
And here it is performed, again in Hungarian, by Erika Marozsán in the 1999 film Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod: a performance which vividly illustrates the song's legendary effect:
When the song was eventually translated into English, it was lightened somewhat: it abandoned suicide as its theme for mere everyday gloominess, and styled itself 'Gloomy Sunday'. Here is Paul Robeson:
And here is a version by Diamanda Galas. She credits the original song, for some reason, to Billie Holiday:
I could not find a watchable version of the Billie Holiday version on YouTube, though I have heard a recording of it and enjoyed it very much. There were plenty of other versions on YouTube by performers whose versions I was not at all eager to discover, including Björk, Marianne Faithfull, and --the horror-- Sarah MacLachlan.
Yet I could have moved smoothly from Rezső Seress to Sarah MacLachlan in a few easy steps. Indeed I could have moved from Seress to Justin Bieber in just one or two more steps, but by that point the cohesion would have been lost, whereas from Seress to Galas there is a plain and certain continuity.
I no longer have to put the pieces together myself, to chart the steps that get us from Budapest in 1935 to a very different time and place and style. Previously, popular musical works were arranged according to time, place, and style, and artist, but not, strangely, according to the works themselves. This, I maintain, gave rise to the illusion of authoritative interpretations, whereas the new arrangement, as I previously suggested, leaves the songs looking a good deal more like folk tales or jokes or other such elements of culture with infinite potential iterations, than like the masterpieces of singular artists.
Not all songs are like this, of course. Some songs are in fact the masterpieces of singular artists. This can be so even when the songs aren't particularly good. All of rap music is non-reiterable in this way: one man's egocentric boasting, while in some sense interchangeable with the next man's, cannot be placed word for word in the next man's mouth.
But rap music compensates for the rigid first-personhood of its lyrics through sampling: the recycling of its other, more straightforwardly musical elements, usually from more straightforwardly musical genres of a generation or two ago. It is by means of such preestablished musical harmonies, in spite of the irreplaceability of the person of its lyrics, that rap music, which for some reason I will always have trouble calling 'hip-hop', participates in the fluidity of folk culture too, the same folk culture in which other forms of popular music, such as that performed by Paul Robeson or Billie Holiday, take part through the iteration of standards.