I was thinking about the nature of pop music and how it changes a lot from time to time, by which I don’t mean instrumental trends, or what kind of beat or who’s laying it down, but the formula itself, which changes less often than those little details.
Bearing in mind it hasn’t been my primary form of music since I was a child, I still think, looking back over it all, that what I did sing along with in the 70s was not materially different than what my oldest daughter (again, briefly,) sang along with in the mid-late 90s. But when I overhear a “top pop” song lately, it’s something else altogether. I first noticed it when the neighbor next door would have on what seemed like a station that played only Disney Channel interstitials, while the kids were in the pool. The formula was even more basic and narrower in scope, and super artificial.
I would have accepted this:
But what they played is what kids around my youngest son’s age (20) on down to around 10 will have adapted their ears to, unless they grow up, as he did, never really hearing it at all. At least there’s a lot more variety for their parents to share with them and for them to discover on their own through the internet. Some will develop broad tastes swiftly, others wlll settle into one thing or another and stay there, at least for awhile. My son listens to: Radiohead, Interpol, David Bowie, and some classical music. But he’s pretty young, and might add in another band some day.
When a song comes along like “Funk You Up” did a few years back, everyone pays attention because they got it just right, combining new and old elements that most of us respond to; in this case it was nostalgic with a contemporary edge. But that isn’t happening very often lately. I don’t think that means it won’t anymore; this era is just not one of the…better ones for it.
My middle son listens to current alternative music and that has recently taken a rather banal turn, to my ears. (Sorry, Brendon.) That waxes and wanes, though. The youngest millennials, like him, probably take comfort in it. I’m waiting it out.
Back to me! I listened to pop music most heavily from ages 3-13, and you know, during one of the best eras for it; 1968-1978. It would be silly for anyone to dispute that, so we won’t try. It had everything pop music was meant to have, and the best examples of it are still good to listen to now. The novelty songs from that time haven’t aged so well, of course, nor the ones meant for what were then called “teenyboppers.” I liked some of those at the time, because I was a child. They weren’t the ones I obsessed over, though.
Here are some songs that I either craved hearing as much as possible, or that I did own and so I would put the record on and let it repeat for an hour or more, with brief explanations as I remember them now. Laugh as much as you like.
"Reuben, Reuben," by whoever…(but this is a hilarious version featuring Patsy Cline)
When I was 7, my grandma gave me a record player for my birthday, with a box of children’s records. It was a green and white carrying case, and you opened the lid to set it up to play records. I had it til I was 16. I adored the song "Reuben, Reuben," and played it over and over again. Also, "Buffalo Gals." Such fun to sing along to.
"Brandy," by Looking Glass (turns out the lead singer would have been cute if he got a proper haircut)
I think this is one of those deals wherein the band played something different from their usual repertoire, it hit big, and they had to suffer with it thereafter. Too bad. I related hardcore to this song at age 7 or 8, and pretty much all along for years afterwards. If I confess I also had a thing for "Delta Dawn," you might just feel sorry for me or think I was a strange child, and as that was established long ago, let’s leave it.*
I grew up thinking I would wear a braided silver chain and mourn happily for the man who loved me briefly and then went away. I just now realized I’ve sort of written it into my NaNoWriMo stories about Lena Spano and Lily Palm. Hmm. Well, anyway.
"On and On," by Stephen Bishop (this was an okay haircut for back then; at least it framed the face well)
I had the album containing this song when I was about 12. But mainly I played this one song on an endless loop while lying on my white ruffled organdy canopy bed, thinking about what it would be like to go somewhere with a beach and be very alone and sad, alone in the middle of a vast space with an atmosphere that seemed just right for it. Also, it made me Sinatra-curious. It's a more clever song than you might have noticed.
You Should Be Dancing (live) by the Bee Gees (this is not the same recording, which was better; is contained in link below)
The live version from Here At Last…the Bee Gees Live, which I played while dancing on the stair landing in our house, with my neon disco light flashing that I earned through the junior high magazine (or maybe the wrapping paper) sales they forced us to do. The stair landing was about four or five feet square, so, you know, about the size of a real disco floor in some places, and it was my special spot. I snuck down to it to watch Carol Burnett when I was supposed to be in bed when I was 8 or 9, and it’s where I fell asleep with the new puppy, Monty Python, when we first brought him home when I was 11, and where I answered the phone when I won tickets to a Royals game from a radio station, which started me and Mom going to games regularly for about three years starting when I was 13. It’s likely I was listening to this song when I took the call, but I did love a lot of the album, and learned to love the rest of it later on.
"Anybody Wanna Party?" by Gloria Gaynor
I was about 14, and played this for an hour at a time on my parents’ cheap stereo in the living room, until my mom asked me to stop for awhile. It was the 12 inch “disco version,” and I’d dance to it at first, then lie under the speakers and just let it move through me.
There’ve been other songs I obsessed over since then, but the last pop hit that caused "emotions" was about 20 years ago. I listened to it when I was alone in the car, and sang along until I was sobbing.
But now I’m back to thinking about what kind of man I’d enjoy loving from a distance while wearing my cool silver chain with the locket and serving up drinks to a mostly faceless crowd. I suppose it’s who I was always meant to be, at least until we get to have androids made to order.