One thing that can make a person particularly aware of the passage of time: songs from your own past – which you didn’t think was all that distant, maybe 20-some-odd years ago – are getting played on the “oldies” radio station. We’ve noticed tunes from our college years cropping up on K-Earth 101 (KRTH, LA’s “greatest hits on earth” station), and it looks like it’s official: 1980’s songs are the “new oldies.” “New oldies” sounds weird, really, but what else can we call them?
I remember suddenly becoming aware of popular music on the radio when I was ten years old. It was 1974, and most people were still listening to “the hits” on AM radio – on little portables, in the car, on clock radios. Living outside New York City, I’d switch my radio between WABC and WNBC, and they mostly played the Top 40, which hindsight reminds me was full of crap that year: “The Night Chicago Died”? “Billy, Don’t Be a Hero”? My only excuse for liking those songs is that I was ten years old and too young to know better. The stations would mix in the occasional “golden oldie” – something from the ’60’s, maybe ten to fifteen years earlier. “Oldies” were records that came out before I started to notice music – really old oldies came out a few years before I was born.
By the time I was entering my teens, my family had moved to Florida and music radio was starting to move to the FM radio dial (AM station WKRP in Cincinnati notwithstanding). Disco was almost everywhere, but it lost its charm pretty quickly for me; too young for the lifestyle, and too quickly bored with the music. I bought the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack in 1978, and gave it away to a friend of mine the next year, when I dove headfirst off the disco bandwagon (but not into the mosh pit; punk and New Wave weren’t making much of a mark in the Tampa Bay area). Looking for a music spot in between the discofied hits of the day and the album-oriented-rock station, I found myself listening to an oldies show on the AM dial almost every night, and was surprised to discover that I liked a lot of what I was hearing – granted, some of it was what we were hearing on Happy Days, since period music was a big part of the ’50’s-nostalgia thing that was going on the late 1970s, but I heard a lot of terrific ’60’s pop for the first time on that show too.
I’ve always felt that people most strongly associate memories and emotions with the music of their adolescence and young adulthood – well, I do, anyway. My late high school and college years coincided with a period when new music was being introduced on that music-video channel, and radio was slower to catch on to it. That’s one of the things that strikes me a little funny about songs from the ’80’s being radio’s “new oldies;” many of them are songs I don’t remember hearing much on the radio back then, but I associate them with MTV – and they seemed so different from what came before, they sounded and felt new; and for me, many of them still do. Then again, that was also a time when radio formats were starting to fragment and specialize, and my own tastes were moving away from “hits” radio, developing and diversifying, so I may have just missed them at the time. And if it’s true that fewer and fewer people are listening to music on the radio at all anymore – I only do in the car, and that’s mostly because I can’t hook up my iPod in there – maybe it makes sense to concentrate more on music from times when people actually did listen to it on the radio.
It seems that the oldies on the radio are getting younger, though – and they’re calling them “classic hits” now, since “oldies” just seems too…well, old. K-Earth does still play songs from the ’50’s sometimes, but a lot of oldies-format stations don’t go back much before the early Beatles any more, and some keep pretty much to a mid-’60’s/early-’80’s timeframe. As I said earlier, I’ve always felt a pretty strong connection to the music I associate with my childhood and youth, and I don’t believe that I’m unique in that. But my youth is the music industry’s “old” now, apparently. I’ll be 44 on my next birthday (at the end of March) and I really don’t feel much like an “oldie,” I must say; an “oldie but goodie,” maybe. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with hearing Duran Duran on the “oldies” station, but maybe I should just appreciate that they’re still on the radio at all – it beats the alternative. Speaking of “alternative,” at this pace it won’t be long before Nirvana’s music makes it onto the “classic hits” playlists. And someday, Justin Timberlake’s records will be oldies too…
That old music helps me feel young sometimes, though. What about you?