A story about forgetfulness, numbers and associations

Think about a Beatles song. Got it? Now think of a song from Queen and then Meat Loaf. I’m pretty sure the ones you didn’t think about were: Boys, Keep Yourself Alive and For Crying Out Loud. More likely the songs you thought about were Hey Jude, Bohemian Rhapsody and Paradise By The Dashboard light (based on their place in the Dutch 2012 Top 2000). Chances are you haven’t even heard about the first trio¬† or you forgot about them a long time ago.

This post is about music (if you haven’t guessed that already). Music nowadays is under attack by pretty much anyone who isn’t from the current generation (and even by some from the current generation). We like to think that music from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s was better. I however am not that sure. We will have to wait at least 20 years before we can even think about determining if music was better back then.

The trouble is when we think of music from bygone eras is that we think of the best songs, the biggest hits, the ones that stuck. The music that wasn’t as good, as I have demonstrated above, we forget about. Music nowadays doesn’t seem as good just because we haven’t had time to filter out the bad songs yet, the one day flies. When listening to MTV (they sometimes actually still show music videos) you’ll get a wide array of music, some of which will make it and some of which we’ll forget about, even if it sold a gazillion copies today.

Another thing you have to keep in your mind is that when talking about bands like The Beatles, Queen, Elvis, Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones is that their career spans decades (and some are still going). In this time they produced many albums and dozens of songs. Artists who came up in recent years don’t have that career yet. They may have an album or two and a dozen songs or so but it will take time to get as many songs as the aforementioned bands have (and many never will.) Simple truth is that if you write a million songs chances are that at least one will be (very) good.

Last thing I need to talk about is the association you have with music. As many have said before me: music is emotion. When you think about music from bygone eras you usually think about music from your youth. This music has a strong emotional attachment for you because your youth is filled with lots of happy memories (usually). Our youth is filled with firsts (first day of school, first crush, first kiss etc.), and firsts are the things we remember most. Firsts are our accomplishments, our success and thus we associate our youth with excitement and happiness. When we grow up the number of firsts dwindles fast (simply because you cannot experience a first kiss for a second time) and so we remember less from it and our association might become less happy with it.

Now some will say that they listen to music from the 70’s and 80’s even though they are a child from the 90’s and that the argument above is irrelevant. We’ll I’m guessing that your parents listen to this music and thus it is music from your youth. And even if that is not the case, not everybody conforms to the majority of course.

All those forces are at play when you think about music from bygone eras so that it seems music back then was better. Just keep that in mind next time you listen to today’s music. I also like to say I do not want to talk down aforementioned bands. Music that survived this long just has got to be good and I’m thankful I can still listen to it today (and still do). This story is about perspective, not about talking trash.