ON Saturday afternoon, I listened to Led Zeppelin IV and something came to mind, so I posted it on social media:
"You’ve been saying you’re sick of it longer than the amount of time you probably spent listening to it. And since no one listens to classic rock radio anymore—right? —that means you probably haven’t heard it in years. Stop being cranky and play it loud. It’s popular for a reason."
I was both surprised and happy that the feedback was all positive. There were no cheap shots at Jimmy Page, and only one negative comment about "Stairway To Heaven." One friend suggested that 1971 was the best year for rock and roll, which gave me an idea. I wanted to look up the Top 20 of 1971 and compare it to the Top 20, 50 years later. Since we have not reached 2021, I decided on 1969 instead. The following is a short list of what spent the most time on the Billboard charts in 1969:
Suspicious Minds- Elvis Presley
Sugar Sugar- The Archies
Build Me Up Buttercup- The Foundations
Crimson & Clover- Tommy James & the Shondells
Bad Moon Rising- CCR
Honky Tonk Women- Rolling Stones
Come Together- The Beatles
In The Year 2525- Zager & Evans
I Can't Get Next To You- The Temptations
Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In- The 5th Dimension
Too Busy Thinking 'Bout My Baby- Marvin Gaye
These Eyes- The Guess Who
Pinball Wizard- The Who
Love Me Tonight- Tom Jones
My Whole World Ended- David Ruffin
Galveston- Glen Campbell
Everyday People- Sly & The Family Stone
Get Together- The Youngbloods
One- Three Dog Night
Dizzy- Tommy Roe
If I continued to list the year-end Top 100, I would bet dollars to donuts that you would be hard pressed to find one song that would offend you. Maybe "In The Year 2525" is a bit relentless, leaning more toward novelty. But compared to "Panini" by Lil Nas X, it's "Rhapsody In Blue."
I'd like to think of myself as someone somewhere between the "get off my lawn" guy and the guy whose resting heartbeat hovers around the 35 BPM mark. I think it's healthy to get a bit riled up. Those five tracks I posted yesterday were a small sampling of the "hits of the day." I don't want to deny the kids the music that moves them, but you are a better man than I if you can muster even a minute's worth of patience to find a moment of pleasure from the formulaic, synthetic, mass-produced, auto-tuned, dumbed-down garbage that has taken residency in the charts.
I know times have changed. The way we listen to music has changed. The way we make music has changed. I am not naive. But I took a lot of flak for writing this piece for the New York Times, but five years later, I believe what I wrote more than ever.
We can choose what we listen to. That's a no-brainer. But when I look at the Top 100 from 1969 or even 1979, I see music of all colors and sounds. It made sense to hear Elvis Presley, The Archies, Sly & The Family Stone and The Who in a commercial free set on the radio. Now, the last remaining "oldies" station in NYC, no longer plays music from the 50's. I guess they must think fans of doo-wop have all died. Even classic rock radio sticks to just about the same playlist. Lots of Beatles but rarely pre-Revolver. The same 5 Stones tunes. The same 5 Who tunes. "Stairway To Heaven!"
I imagine the best way to avoid hearing Lil Nas X, or Shawn Mendes' "Senorita" is to simply play my own records and program my own Spotify playlists. But hasn't that been a complaint on its own, the loss of communal listening? How can we get back the joy of sharing music when the airwaves focus on one demographic? I remember listening to WABC at my cousin's backyard BBQ and no one, not the 10 year olds, nor the 25 year olds and not the 50 year olds ever needed to switch the station. We all knew that at some point we'd hear our favorite songs. Try that now.
I know many of you have a list of your favorite music holstered and ready to fire. So do I. But this is not about pointing out a Top 20 of up and coming artists, or digging deep for the most obscure pop band out of England. I am more interested in how and why it has come to this. It can't be as simple as "the internet."