02 February, 2010

Music that holds up well over the years

The other day in the car, I changed the radio station away from something my son was listening to. I have a rule that we only listen to "music" that (a) actually carries a melody, and (b) doesn't contain objectionable content. The first is to encourage my children to listen for beauty, rather than passion; the second is, well, obvious.

You don't understand, my son said, this is a new generation, and we speak with a new voice.

What, you think my generation's "voice" was anything worth writing home about? I asked. I hated 80s music even in the 80s.

(I don't know who deserves more pity: me for having a normal teenaged son, or my son for having a father who was never, by any metric, normal. For example, my folks did have cable, so I had MTV and knew what I was missing out on. The only music I ever really saw on MTV that moved me to buy an album was a song that moved me to borrow a friend's copy of The Delicate Sound of Thunder. I then bought A Momentary Lapse of Reason and went on from there to become rather a big fan of the group in question. I won't say who it is—Google will turn it up if you don't know—but I can't usually listen to that music now, either.)

As if on purpose, First Thoughts linked today to an article by Elizabeth Scalia on NPR's website that includes the following passage,

Nearly 30 years ago, we were told that Madonna was a "genius," particularly at marketing and reinventing herself, but time has not borne that out. Her music has held up well, but Madonna herself has been a dead-bore for decades…
Scalia writes about this at her website as well, and invited comment. It's likely no surprise that my comment starts with,
I can’t believe I’m the only person to read that article and think that Madonna’s music hasn’t held up well at all over the years… even retro 80s channels/stations don’t play Madonna’s hits with any higher frequency than others’ hits.
I'll admit I liked some Madonna songs in the mid to late 90s ("Frozen" comes to mind) but even then I was never moved to buy one of her albums, and I'm much less moved to do so when I hear one of those songs now than then. I don't even have to fall back on criterion (b) above; I just plain don't find her music all that impressive.

Ten years ago, Britney Spears was supposed to be the new Madonna, but that didn't end up well, and people aren't listening to her music these days either. I reckon they will in about ten to twenty years, for the same reason that radio stations play 80s music now, played 70s music ten years ago, and played 60s music when I was in high school: nostalgia is a powerful intoxicant, making us fancy something from our youth to be far better than it really was.

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