What is a golden oldie?

Published March 31, 2011

It was some time during the first few months of 1985. I was listening casually to the radio when the DJ played Foreigner’s late 1984 hit ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’, after which she proudly announced that no matter what other people thought, she would go on playing “golden oldies” like this. Needless to say, my jaw dropped. I think you will agree, dear reader, that a song that only recently slipped off the charts by definition cannot be a “golden oldie”. It was the first time that I had heard anyone use the expression “golden oldie” in a context that was so obviously inaccurate.

But is ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ a golden oldie today? Twenty-six years have passed since it was released, so it is certainly “old”. But for the life of me I still can’t think of that or any other hit from the Eighties as a golden oldie. In actual fact, anything recorded after, say, the mid-Seventies could never be labelled thus, as far as I’m concerned. This, of course, partly has to do with my own age. I am now in my mid-Forties and I first heard songs from the Eighties in “the present”, at which time golden oldies were songs from the Sixties and earlier.

I suppose for someone born in the Eighties or later, synth-pop, Phil Collins, Madonna’s first hits and whatever else was around while they were mere toddlers would qualify as “oldies”. But do they even use that terminology? I suspect most of them don’t, especially now that the world has become just one giant archive of music from all decades, where you can mix and match whatever songs that happen to tickle your fancy, regardless of when they were recorded. The need to define “old” and “new” music as clearly separate entities is probably not as prevalent today. Perhaps it has also become impossible.

I think it also has to do with recording techniques. Ever since the mid-Seventies, when 24-track recording came into wide-spread use, popular music has more or less sounded the same. Certainly, there have been technological advancements such as digital recording, and production aesthetics have varied over the years, but the sounds themselves have all been clearly defined with none of the limitations of the more “primitive” recording techniques utilised prior to the Seventies. It’s a long time since anything was produced to sound good on a transistor radio.

 A golden oldie, then, is not only defined by its age in relation to the moment when you’re listening to it, but it’s also about a sound that defines it as “old” in terms of the sound, where “old” really refers to “old recording techniques” – and perhaps “golden” would refer to a more innocent time, before mainstream popular music discovered politics, overt sex and drugs. According to Wikipedia, songs from the Eighties are more often referred to as “classic hits”, and that certainly sounds like a better term for describing ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’. But golden oldie? I don’t think so.

RIP iPod - not quite yet

Published March 28, 2011

Oh dear – yet another story about the decline, demise or, in this particular case, plain death of something related to the music industry. I’m beginning to wonder if it would be better for my emotional well-being never to read any such articles again. This particular story informs me that the iPod is about to become obsolete, because, apparently, what it does can now be done by other gadgets that can also do a million other things.

I do realise that I’ve never been what could be described as “an average music consumer”. I’ve always bought more singles, LPs and CDs, read more music magazines, and watched more music documentaries than most people. But while once I could at least labour under the illusion that I and “the average music consumer” basically wanted the same thing – i.e. owning a piece of music in physical form, to be played and played again –  today it seems Mr and Ms Average are more occupied with a series of “gadgets” that can be filled with “content”.

I’m not against technical development, but I have to admit I do find the subtexts of these stories – in this case, “whether you like it or not, you will soon be throwing away your iPod and buying one of these new gadgets instead” – deeply depressing. Call me sentimental, but if it’s all right with you I will hold on to my iPod a little longer. We’ve only been acquainted for a few years and are only now becoming true friends, and I don’t think I’m quite ready to throw it on the scrap-heap just yet.


Worst year in music

Published March 15, 2011

So, I was reading this blog post, which argues against that old, mouldy idea that the period between Elvis going into the army and The Beatles' arrival on the music scene was a lost era in popular music. In his blog post, journalist Gene Sculatti focuses on the year 1960 and argues convincingly that it in fact offered a bunch of great music. I'm sure this is true of every year, although perhaps some 12-month-periods are a little more magical than others. One of my favourite years, for instance, is 1966: The Beatles' Revolver album; The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds; Motown at the peak of their powers; and so on.

I can tell you right away which period I personally consider the worst in 20th Century popular music: the mid-Eighties, circa 1983-1987. Certainly, there was a lot of good music made during that period as well (by The Smiths; Scritti Politti; Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, just to name a few off the top of my head). But in terms of mainstream music - that awful production aesthetic with all those fat sounds and biiiig drums and few if any nuances - it was the dark ages as far as I'm concerned.

I think no other song sums up this terrible era better for me than the 1984 single The Wild Boys by Duran Duran. A lot of shouting and overblown gestures, but nothing but a big, hollow emptiness inside. This song was a No 2 hit in both the UK and the US, ladies and gentlemen - it fair boggles the mind. Serves you right to be tied to a windmill and getting your hair wet repeatedly, Mr Le Bon!