Editor’s Note: Below is Steve Canipe’s fourth column in his series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.
- See second column – Are We Really Old? – here.
- See third column – Cars and More Cars – here.
- See fourth column – Getting Educated – here.
- See fifth column – Home Alone? – here.
- See sixth column – Death – here.
They’re Playing Our Song
By Steve Canipe
Feb. 28, 2014. Sock hops, hootenannies, sing-ins, even Woodstock – all names that are related to our interaction with music. Have you ever thought about what made you like a particular piece of music? Why do some love country and others like rock and roll? Why do some like both and also classical? According to Morris Massey, a noted sociologist, we all go through three distinct periods in our lives. In the last period called socialization we are emulating our peers and we set the joint “norm” for our age. Massey asserts that it is during these periods that our values and tastes get mostly set. Massey describes these periods as the Imprint Period from age 0-7, we are like sponges, absorbing everything around us and accepting much of it as true; the Modeling Period from 8-13, we copy people, parents and others; and the Socialization Period from 13 – 21, we are very largely influenced by our peers. Maybe this is why we all seem to like the same general types of music.
Just a note to the reader, there are a lot of hyperlinked songs and sites in this article. Typically they will take you to hear or see something being described. The list of top songs all go to u-Tube videos where you can hear the songs.
A blogger, writing in the NY Times about the 70th birthday of Bob Dylan, opined that 14 is the magical age when our musical tastes are set. The blogger noted that there were a number of artists who were turning 14 during the middle 1950’s at the beginning of the Rock and Roll period, and this is when their musical tastes were being set and led to their music being what it was. The 70-ish year olds mentioned were John Lennon; Joan Baez; Paul Simon, George Clinton, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Brian Wilson, Lou Reed, Jimi Hendrix, and Jerry Garcia. Some of these did not actually make the septuagenarian age due to early death.
The oldest boomers were 14 in 1960. What were the top songs of 1960? According to Billboard, the top 10 songs and their artists were: 1. Theme from a Summer Place, Percy Faith; 2. He’ll Have to Go, Jim Reeves;3. Cathy’s Clown, Everly Brothers; 4. Running Bear, Johnny Preston; 5. Teen Angel, Mark Dinning; 6. I’m Sorry, Brenda Lee; 7. It’s Now or Never, Elvis Presley; 8. Handy Man, Jimmy Jones; 9. Stuck On You, Elvis Presley; 10. The Twist, Chubby Checker. [The songs above are hyperlinked to a preview on iTunes.] The Billboard site gives you the rest of the Top 100 http://billboard.fm/charts/billboard/top-100-songs/1960. This site allows you to look at any year and see the top songs from Billboard’s list. So if you are a boomer look up your 14th year. For the youngest this would have been 1978. Remember the magic is on average and some may have been “early bloomers” and others “later bloomers” but, on average, 14 sounds about right to me.
The other thing that I remember as a middle to late teenage is the number of songs with girls names. I suppose this was due to other young men moping over girlfriends or who had their heart broken because of being jilted!! Remember those great songs with girls names like Barbara Ann, Corina Corina, Marianne, Hey Hey Paula, Wendy, Cathy, Abigail Beecher, Farewell Angelina, Sweet Pea, Carrie Ann, Take a Letter Maria, and on and on? You can go to http://girlsnamesongs.com/GirlsNamesSongs.htm and find if your favorite female had a song named after her and in many cases listen to it as well.
One of the events around music I remember occurred when I was a pre-teen. I had a girlfriend, Patricia, who had fallen head over heels for Elvis Pressley. I was so upset with him that I detested his music!! Crazy now, but it made a direct impression on me then; I was in the 6th grade!!
Wonder how many of us relate to certain music we heard with our significant others or at a specific event or time in our lives. I remember Hello Mrs. Robinson by Simon and Garfunkel. I saw the movie and heard the song just a year before I was graduating from college. I related to Dustin Hoffman’s character in The Graduate. I also recall going to the movies with my girlfriend in 1970 and seeing Love Story and listening to the song of the same name. This movie has been rated by some as the 9th most romantic movie ever. Guess it worked because I’ve been married to that same girlfriend for almost 42 years now!!
So many wonderful singers and songs appeared during our formative musical taste years. The recent 50th anniversary hoopla for the Beatles, the reunion tours of the Monkees, the Supremes, the Rascals, and the Rolling Stones, among others, all these events bring back fond memories of favorite music for us.
As we got older, our musical tastes matured and we started appreciating more country music and its ballad like qualities. Other varieties, like a more classical piece made popular in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey named Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the protest songs of the Viet Nam era with Peter, Paul, and Mary and Joan Baez were all part of our musical history. There were many others that ring true to our memories. Some of us remember the shocking, at the time, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts who started in Chapel Hill and were very outré. These were not normally allowed directly on campuses but did have shock value. We often pushed the envelope and not just in music!.
How did we ever get the ability to actually listen to our music without our parents freaking out? If you remember, the whole rock and roll era was considered “devil music” and totally salacious with Elvis and his obscene swivel hips. Our parents were for the most part aghast at what we listened to and we were equally ashamed of their big band era music!!.
Technology came to our rescue…in the form of a tinny sounding transistor radio. That lowly transistor had been developed by Bell Labs back in the 1940s. The major audio companies of the day, including the mighty RCA, tried to use them in their stereophonic players in place of the huge vacuum tubes. It was all to no avail. However a company in the US called Texas Instruments, small at the time, took the idea and partnered with a company called I.D.E.A. and created a small portable, low-power, hand-held device called the Regency TR-1 transistor radio. Through this portable radio was born our ability to escape the parlor (aka living room) and listen to our music when, and where we wanted to with friends without having to sneak around the house!
The transistor radio was an early disruptive event in the development of ultimately every electronic device we are familiar with today. There is a great book, which I would recommend, called Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, et al. It talks about several of the disruptive innovations like the transistor. As boomers, we have lived through many disrupters in our lives…I hope we will live to see many more disruptions/advances. Our music was only the tip of the iceberg of how we changed, through our modified tastes and increased purchasing power. The face of the world, not just the United States was changing….we have to remember the population explosion was a world-wide phenomenon not just here in the US. Boomers have had many things in common. We were very idealistic in those days and some of us still hold to that youthful idealism. Some of us have become part of the establishment that we so abhorred during our youthful years.
As we moved from the 1960s into the 1970s, our musical tastes changed, becoming more in the vein of hard rock and metal. This musical attention change may have been a reaction to the ongoing Vietnam War and the protests associated with it and possibly to the increased use of mind-enhancing drugs. Young people (us) were tired of the status quo and we wanted to do different things, which we did.
If you are willing to share your thoughts about our music, please do so. I have focused on mostly rock and roll but there are other genres like country and western, rhythm and blues, etc that made big impacts on us boomers. Please post thoughts at the end of the column or drop me a note at [email protected]. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.