Thursday, October 16, 2014

"The Music Back in My Day...."

The invention of the mp3 player and the availability of music today make me happy in a way that we take for granted in 2014.   Gone are the days of opening a CD case in your car hoping to play something only to find it empty. ("Dang it, why doesn't anyone, including me, ever put the CD's back in their cases?")  My middle daughter, Lacey, grew up thinking that the soundtrack for the musical "Rent" ended with "La Vie Boheme" (Disk One, Track 25) because Disc Two disappeared under the seats early on and I was just too busy and harassed to ever look for it.  She discovered the whole second half of the show in high school, and I can only imagine it was as epic for her to find that in high school as it would be for me now if someone unearthed a previously unreleased Beatles or Nirvana album. 

My story for today, however, begins well before my CD's.  Sometime prior to 1978, I got a cassette recorder for Christmas.  I no longer have it, but this is an excellent representation of what it looked like, courtesy of Google. It could almost be my long lost, beloved childhood artifact. 

In a scenario incomprehensible to kids today, this gadget allowed me to tape songs off the radio for my listening pleasure later on.  It was a tricky business to press the "record" button at the exact second that the radio DJ stopped jabbering on at the beginning of the song, and it was totally annoying when he or she started back with the commentary before the song was done.  This resulted in most of my song library selections sounding something like this:

--Andy Gibb* singing "Shadow Dancing": "Give me more, drag me across the floor, shadow dancing, all this and nothing m--"

--Radio DJ, interrupting: "That's Andy Gibb, the first male solo artist to have three consecutive number one singles on the Billboard Top 100, just barely inside a year, from July 1977 through July 1978..."

I recently heard "Shadow Dancing" on the radio while driving in my parent's car.  Not a song I ever had on any mp3 playlist, so I hadn't heard it in years, and wow, did it bring back the memories!  I effortlessly remembered every word.  As soon as I got home that night, I took to the wondrous Internet, and searched "Shadow Dancing," and there commenced a trip down Memory Lane, 1978.  This song was released when I was 12 years old, living in Orange Park, Florida, armed with a tape deck.   

I eventually found my way to the Top 100 Billboard Hits of 1978.  My pertinent observations of this list are as follows:

1.  36 years later, I know every single artist, every single song, and nearly the words to every single song, on the list, from the year I turned 12.  I perused 1979, 1980 and 1981 and I knew every one of those songs too.  Over 100 songs.  

2.   My currently 12 year old daughter does not know the words to 100 (non toddler-era Barney) songs in her lifetime, much less in a few years, but how can this be?  I tested this theory by showing her the List of Billboard Top 100 Top 10 Singles in 2014.  She is "pretty sure" that she recognizes 13 out of the 40 songs listed.  That's 32%. 

So, why is this?  What happened and when?  It might be helpful to know that (according to Wikipedia), there were 1,564 entries for singles released in 2013 vs 469 singles in 1978.  That is three times as many songs released in one year today as back in the days of "Shadow Dancing," You're The One That I Want," "Stayin' Alive," and, a personal disco favorite, "Le Freak."  But if there is more music released every year, why is my daughter so unfamiliar with most of it? 

I had a (vague) theory that because there is so much access today to new music all the time that my daughter has much less exposure to all the music that is released because it is not around long enough for her to discover it and learn to love it before it is replaced with something newer.   I took to the Internet to test my theory and found this most amazing thing called "The Whitburn Project" on music longevity as analyzed from Billboard's Top 100 lists.

At first, it seemed that my theory was proven to be correct.  This research, involving the plotting of dots representing hundreds of songs in a chart from 1957-2007, showed that, "in the last couple years, it's become very common for a single to appear in the Top 50 and fall out of the Hot 100 within four weeks. Prior to the mid-1990s, this almost never happened."  

The report went on to say that the research also showed that, "songs are staying in the Top 50 for far longer than they used to.... so it's hard to say if these... singles are massive megahits eclipsing the #1 singles of the past, or if it's because the record industry is producing fewer hits than before."

At this point I had to call in Zoe, for further analysis.  Her comments, after reading and reflecting, were:     
  • On the Billboard charts: "I know more of the songs from 1978 than 2014!"
  • On the Whitburn project:  "Most of today's songs are not mega-hits."
Having already heard a similar sentiment from 21 year old daughter Lacey, whose favorite band is the Eagles, I concluded that no further research was necessary.  Lacey maintains that "because there is so much more music today there is so much more opportunity for bad music.  We haven't stopped making good music", she says," like Imagine Dragons**, but there is less opportunity to enjoy good music because it's so hard to find it amongst the bad."  She pauses, "I mean 'What Did the Fox Say,' was a Top Single."  Enough said.

I am now convinced, like generations of old people before me, that the music of my day was better than anything since.  ;p  Very rarely did we say "today's music is bad" back in the day.  We were too busy constantly defending our music.  (However, I do remember saying, "Oh, My God, how many times can they play "Out of Africa" by Toto*** on the radio in one day?!?!"  But I so nostalgically love that song now.)

Since the invention of the iPod (and the installation of the aux cable in my Ford Explorer) I have been prone to exclusively listening in my car, or at home, to playlists I created back in 2006 and 2007 from the many CD's and albums I had accumulated over the years.  Every now and then a new song makes its way into those lists, and I even make a few new playlists**** now and then.  But I think I need a little more "Shadow Dancing" in my life, so I might start tuning in to an "oldies" station every now and then.  I never thought that day would come.

Lacey and I at the Eagles concert Wednesday night.

*I had always thought that Andy Gibb died from a drug overdose and learned for the first time researching this post that he in fact died from a weak heart (albeit caused in all probability from years of drug and alcohol abuse).

**Imagine Dragon's song "Radioactive" is a favorite of mine, Lacey's and Zoe's.  This is a band with amazing appeal, even if the video for this song features a creepy pink, but ultimately bad-ass, bear and a very confused looking older than I remember Lou Diamond Phillips. 

***This Toto song is still so popular that it's impossible to find a commercial free YouTube version

****Last playlist I made:  Broken Bells, P!nk, The Lumineers, The Royal Concept, 30 Seconds to Mars, Johnny Mars, Maroon 5, Mumford and Sons, Capital Lights, Fun....