January 05, 2008

Belittling the Obvious Point

Obvious point: there’s a hell of a lot more kids listening to 40-year old music today than there were in 1967

posted by tom hurka in a conversation at Crooked Timber

The point made by tom hurka is obviously mistaken.

Well, if he means by "music" only that subset of it which includes the permanent performances of pieces of music massaged onto some sort of easily replicable medium from which that particular performance can be retrieved and heard over and over again, then yes, as he says, many more kids are seeking out and listening to the Beatles today than listened to recorded performances of Rudy Vallee in 1967. I don't know how many kids were listening to recordings of Rudy Vallee in 1967. If I ever met any at the time, they were discrete about it.

I suspect, though, that Rudee Valee took a turn at most of the following songs and song just like them during his career in popular music, songs in every case overly familiar to anyone alive in America in 1967, songs for the most part 50 years old and more. I chose these titles as arbitrarily as possible from the index at Parlorsong.com, and I claim not only that they were universally known to kids in in 1967, but that they represent just a tiny fraction of commonly known popular songs at least 40 years old that kids had not only heard, but heard reworked and overworked and parodized to a faretheewell, all inflicted on their ears as their fair share of the burden of American Popular Music, howevermuch they may have preferred, times being what they were, to stick to the White Album (whatever tom hurka's current objections to it might be).

After The Ball

Alexander's Ragtime Band

All Alone

The Band Played On

Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?

Shine On Harvest Moon

Sidewalks Of New York

The Sheik of Araby

Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Aba Daba Honeymoon

Rockaby Your Baby With A Dixie Melody


Dave Heasman said...

Not only were most of those songs common currency in the 60s, but I recall rock n roll versions of 3 of them, by Fats Domino, Bobby Darin and (!) Aretha Franklin

peter ramus said...

Yes. Aretha was unforgiving in her choice of covers at times, wasn't she?

Dave Heasman said...

I doubt it wqas her choice; a desperate A & R division at Columbia more like. Good record.

The one song you omitted, which is perhaps the best example, is "You Are My Sunshine" from 1912, done proud by Ray Charles & Duane Eddy. Sadly not on the same record.

peter ramus said...

Hi again, dave. Thanks for the reply to my reply.

When Jerry Wexler imposed a rock n' roll sensibility on Aretha, magic happened. She was just so ready to sing.

I suppose a sociologist could have a representative sample of people comb through the index at Parlorsongs.com and come up with a fair model of the tons of American Popular songs from a long, long time ago like "You Are My Sunshine" that people just know. Contemporary music is swadled in these relict tunes, and the ears of any listener is sure to have encountered them, willingly or not. I know "Home, Home, on the Range" and "God Bless America," for crying out loud.

[I was turned against "God Bless America" by constant exposure at an early age to its performance by Kate Smith. "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain" was her radio show's theme song but "God Bless America" came up again and again there (and anywhere else she appeared, in fact), with all of Kate Smith's solid martial vigor pushing it along to the inevitability of its rousing ending, sort of like the reflexive mention of 9/11 by Rudy Guilianni nowadays: nothing could stop its eventual repetion if Kate Smith was in the room, and she was there every day on the radio. Sooner or later some confederate of hers would lean into the microphone and say, "Hey, Kate, It's Arbor Day. How about a little of that good old "God Bless America?" She'd say, "You think?" and then off she'd go to the politel anticipatory applause of her studio audience. Gaah!]