Music has always played (pun intended) an important part of my life, whether pop tunes to move to or classics to be moved by. Like anyone around my general age who feels the same, I am a lucky man. We are now over forty years beyond the peak of my musical era but those same songs still resound in movies, on TV, and in countless public places.
Just today I was at an eating establishment. In the short time I spent there, I heard tunes from the following artists: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Canned Heat, and The Doors. All of them were great, but not a single one of them was less than forty years old.
The average age of the employees in this place was about 30. The average age of the customers wasn’t much more. So why were they playing music created before many of these people were born? We’re not talking about Bach, Mozart, Puccini, or Grieg.
Why is the music of that era, mid-60’s to early 70’s, so enduring? Why do I still hear songs from Three Dog Night, Stevie Wonder, and even Herb Alpert popping up on the soundtracks of movies made as many as fifty years after those melodies were recorded? Even in commercials, you’re more likely to hear a song by The Who than by Lady Gaga or whatever diva-of-the-month or blustery rapper is getting an undeserved 15 minutes of fame.
(Side rant: In truth, I’d rather not hear songs by those old greats touting consumerism. It’s borderline blasphemous to use the ultimate musical form of rebellion, rock’n’roll, to peddle crap. Ah, well.)
As I said at the top of this post, I’m lucky to be able to hear that ubiquitous music. Were my parents hearing fifty-year-old songs in the grocery store when they were my age?
Do the math: The watershed year of 1969, the year of Woodstock, is now 45 years in the past. 45 years. If you or your parents were listening to 45-year-old music in 1969, it was from 1924. Did you hear a whole lotta Al Jolson, Paul Whiteman, or Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians playing over the sound system at the A&P? I’m guessing… no. And now? Not so much.*
I’d like to think it’s due to the quality of the music. To some extent, that’s true. Let’s face it, though it appeared as late as 1939, “And they swam and they swam all over the dam; Boop boop, ditem datem, whatem choo” doesn’t hold up well compared to, say, the CCR version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. Or anything by CCR, for that matter.
But then, Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” (also 1939) will be danced to long after everyone has blissfully forgotten Gary Lewis and the Playboys groaning “This Diamond Ring”. The music of the swing era is justifiably cherished and remembered. But those songs aren’t everywhere.
No, I think it’s more the devotion of people of m-my g-g-generation, to whom music was more important than it had been to people in previous eras. It was just background music to them. To me, those tunes are the soundtrack of my life. We just don’t want to let go. We won’t let go.
I think it will continue. As long as there are sources of music, no matter what the medium, and those of us to listen, even with our ever-weakening ears (possibly as a result of listening to said music!), some songs will always be played in movies, at weddings and parties, in coffee shops, open mic nights, and many more places in between.
Thankfully, we’ll forever…
- ride along in our cars singing “Joy to the World” with Three Dog Night,
- hear the mournful cry of Duane Allman’s slide guitar on “Layla”,
- imagine Townsend’s windmill arm in the searing chords of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”,
- fade out with all those “na-na”s at the end of “Hey Jude”,
- perform air guitar to Tom Scholz’s lead on “More than a Feeling”, and
- time travel through the history of rock’n’roll with Don McLean in his inimitable anthem, “American Pie”.
Add to that anything by Janis and Joni, CCR and CSNY, Dylan and the Doobies, or Cat and Van the Man. I haven’t even touched on Motown! That genre deserves its own post.
I’ll be long gone from this ball of dirt before people stop listening to those guys.
It sounds trite and might be a little sacrilegious, but I hope there’s rock’n’roll in heaven.
* To be fair, in 1924 Paul Whiteman had a hit with arguably the greatest work ever by an American composer: George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. Still, wonderful as it is, it’s just one song among many lost in the mists of time.