Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Epiphany #49: Sweatin' The Oldies

Yes, Key West is a cool place to be, well, actually no, it isn't, it's almost unbearably hot when the temperature is mixed in with the oppressive humidity, but still, it's another world down here and a good one to visit for a few days, but, really, must they play those godawful oldies everywhere?

I am sick of oldies, done with oldies, wishing I was the dictator of a small tropical country where I could put an imperial ban on oldies.  And, no, I'm not talking about the elderly among us.  I'm talking about the songs of the 60's and 70's. The now-designated hit songs.

Why do so many places establish as their vibe while you eat or shop the hits of the 50's, 60's and early 70's?

Way back in 1967, when I was 10 years old, I can remember being awakened sometimes on Saturday mornings by my dad blasting Glenn Miller records from the RCA console in the living room.  That music, which I have come to enjoy, sounded so ancient to me, like it had come from another lifetime.

And indeed, I suppose it had, for those songs, like "Moonlight Serenade," were at least 27 years old by that time.  But what made them seem so alien was that they weren't playing on the radio.  We didn't have to listen to them in the car.  The only time I ever heard them was when my father would get into one of his nostalgic moods and blast them throughout the house, using his old record albums.

That same year, 1967, Van Morrison released "Brown Eyed Girl."  It has now been playing on the radio for 47 years.  You hear it in bar and restaurants, you hear versions from cover bands, you hear it in supermarkets.

That should not be.  I, for one, am absolutely sick of it, of it and its brethren. It should have been shelved by now, in favor of some 50 or more other great songs that Van Morrison has written. I am also sick of  "Stand By Me."  I am sick of "The Wanderer."  I am disgusted by any number of Creedence songs that I should love, because they are great songs, but cannot, because they have been played into the ground.

What has been done to oldies-- the wildly-overplayed single hits, the reduction of artists and bands to a few key hits or maybe just one, the calcification of the music of a generation or two--is an absolute abomination of art.  Commercialism has taken control of my musical past, and maybe yours, reducing the songs that were meaningful to us to a relatively select few, and thereby "branding" those years for us into particular songs, has stolen what we once cherished.

I was in a bar tonight, a very touristy Key West bar called Sloppy Joe's, and there was a band playing.  As you might expect, that band worked hard to appeal to a diverse audience with recognizable music. Did they tap into the nationally-agreed-upon playlist of oldies?  Not a bit.  We heard songs by Cream, Coldplay, Nickel Creek, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Jett, as well as bluegrass tunes and other varied offerings.  That's the way it should be.

The 60's were a half century ago.  To keep mining the same songs from that era gives all of us some comfort, some familiarity perhaps, but it does nothing to enrich our understanding or remembrance of the past.  Even worse, to keep using that decade as the foundation of what "oldies" are, even as the population ages and moves forward, is insulting to both the old and the young.

But even worse is the reality that billboard companies like Clear Channel and other conglomerates that own radio stations are dictating musical taste to 7 or more generations by now.  And most people, being artistically passive, as they are, just accept the corporate playlist that runs their lives.  So all of you, individuals and corporate tastemakers, own this problem.  Me, if I've heard something so much that it sickens me, I shut it out or move on.  I have no trouble determining my own favorites from the last 50 years of my life.


troutking said...

Agree 100% with your thoughts on the reductive nature of oldies and classic rock radio. But isn't it actually much easier today than it ever was for anyone to expand beyond that canon if they want to. Radios usually display song names and artists. Many types of streaming are somewhat programmable. There are limitless internet radio stations and streaming platforms. And there's no need to search record stores for anything you want to hear. Obscure or otherwise, it's all on iTunes or easy to order on the internet. Yes, I'm sick of hearing all these same songs over and over again, but I guess they sell, so I blame people for being lazy for not turning the dial. A huge range of music has never been easier to listen to.

Bob said...

I appreciate the nod to the ease with which one can explore new music, Trout, but that is not something the masses have an inclination towards, I'm afraid. Nor you.

troutking said...

If new music means recently produced, then no I don't have that inclination. But if new means new to me, even if produced 25 or 50 years ago, then I guess that explains how I have 15000 and growing songs in my iTunes. How many more do I need?

Robert Berman said...

Musicians are more alert to their musical surroundings. When I eat at a restaurant, I instinctively notice each song that's playing, whether I know it, whether it was a single, etc. I have more of an opportunity to either be annoyed or pleased with the choices, compared to those who just stuff it in the subconscious as "background music."

I've been delighted recently by some of the great indie pop that my local Ruby Tuesdays plays that was never a hit on pop radio: The Weepies, Joshua Radin, Dar Williams, Matt Kearney, etc. Dunno who does their music programming, but I wish them well. And want their job, for my clone who does music all day.