TL;DR: You kids get off my lawn!
From 1981-1986, I was a devoted listener of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40. We were living in (West) Germany at the time, and that broadcast on AFN was a primary means of keeping in touch with music back in the ‘States–though MTV was rising to power back home, we didn’t have it there, and besides, the alternative was hearing 99 Luftballons again (remember, Nena was German, and (rare for a Continental act) had a hit in the US. It was inescapable, and to this day that song still makes me cringe).
Anyway, I listened all the time, and with such devotion that I could remember well enough where a song I liked had been the week prior so that I could be ready to record it when it came on the next week. I have a vivid memory of being at an airshow at Ramstein AFB in 1983 (incidentally there’s a site with pictures from the airshow one of which is the sort of plane my Dad was flying out of Ramstein at the time) with an AIWA “walkman” that had both a radio and the ability to record, ignoring the actual airshow because I really wanted to tape a copy of Little Red Corvette (though, truthfully, I can’t quite make the chronology match up–surely it didn’t take 6 months after LRC’s release for it to make it up the charts).
(In fact, Billboard posts their charts, and has records going back to the ’70s, including that week, and looking at the top 10 leads me to suspect that the song I was trying to record was Stevie Nicks’ Stand Back, which, interestingly, has Prince performing on it, albeit without credit, and was partially inspired by Little Red Corvette).
Other acts I remember from that time–Hell, from just that year: Dexy’s Midnight Runners (Hi, Chet!), Naked Eyes, Taking Heads (_Burning Down the House_, obviously), Tears for Fears, Michael Jackson, David Bowie (_Let’s Dance_, of course), Thomas Dolby, Men at Work, Culture Club, Duran Duran, The Police, Eurythmics
Anyway, one of the biggest acts of that time period were Hall & Oates. Every time they had (yet another) single on ATF, there would be the recitation of how they had had more songs chart in the Top-40 than any other duo and various other distinctions. I could probably have recited the stats at the time.
So I was in Whole Foods the other day and the in-store sound system played Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That, followed by the Bee Gees’ Night Fever. Two songs that, 10 or 15 years ago I might have been embarrassed to admit I like, but now, hey, I’ve already got one foot in the grave, who cares what anyone thinks?
And I realized that as much as I have come to accept that half the pop music acts I hear these days sound like retreads of the ’70s or ’80s, I don’t understand why they seem to choose to rehash the mediocre stuff. I mean, The Strokes sound like The Knack, but I don’t understand who would consciously choose to do that? Where are the people who are trying to at least copy the well-crafted pop songs of the period?
Is this the culture of irony eating itself? People choosing to copy the second-tier artists as some sort of commentary?