Recently I acquired a satellite radio system. It’s pretty neat to see every song title and artist and year. But the coolest thing is to be able to tune in “by decade”. OK, I’m not sure who the Elvis and Sinatra stations are actually for (impersonators? Michael Buble?) but having the ability to switch between decades – the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s – is very cool.
You also notice things about the decades. Like how the 60s music really was pretty simple and psychedelic. But I was a baby in the 60s. I was a teenager in the 70s and a young adult in the 80s, and by the 90s a young Mom. But flipping back and forth I really noticed a few things. Like the 70s music is light and happy and bubbly – even when the lyrics are about heartbreak and loneliness. In the seventies a lot of bands were singing about Space (Space Truckin’, Space Oddity, ). I think the advent of technology assisted instruments was so much fun that musicians just wanted to use the sounds of laser guns. And there was a sortof fantasy about spreading ourselves out across the globe and owning the whole universe. The 70s songs were often whole stories – like long poems told to music. A lot of black artists were breaking out of the Motown 60s soft-pedalled stuff and writing lyrics that brought new slang – and some new swear words, like “mother” – to us middle class Canadian white kids. I grew up in Niagara Falls, an Italian community with few blacks. Of note, I went to highschool with the woman who in the 80s became Vanity (Prince’s girlfriend and photomate on his Rolling Stone cover).
The 80s songs are so downbeat, and dark, even when the lyrics are about happy things. They are a slow contrast to the disco beat of the 70s. I remember we loved the bands from Europe. The songs remind me that our dancing changed in the 80s. We moved less – if at all – because it wasn’t cool to move. I’m sure philosophers will say the music reflected the recession and economic downturn of the 80s, but those of us who were young didn’t really notice that. It was the age of New Wave. Remember Robert Palmer’s iconic video “Addicted to Love” – the dancers hardly moved at all.
The 90s – well I hardly recognize the music. By then I was listening to Sharon, Lois and Bram tapes, and I knew all the words to Baby Beluga. Whe I listen now I find the music fairly hard core and a blend- a mix of punk and rock and country and hiphop and teenybop and rap – hard to sort. I don’t like it much, although some of my favourite artists made great comebacks and released new albums – like Santana’s “Supernatural”. I notice a lot of collaborations.
They say the music of your youth is the music you will always love. That’s true for me.