Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Is An Oldie? (Part 5)

Today's report comes from Gary Theroux ... a guy who knows a thing or two about oldies music and radio ... read on ...

An oldie is a former current.

Currents are the hits presently listed on Billboard's Hot 100 (or your station's playlist of this week's hot material). Once a track drops off that list, it is an oldie. It may be one month or one century old, but it is still an oldie. And, for that matter, currents are simply future oldies. Which ones the station will continue to play in the coming years will be help explain it's target demographic.

You write, "the music that [has] MOST affected your life is probably what you were listening to at about the age of 12 or 13 or 14. THIS is the music that has left the most long-lasting impression on your being. It's where your greatest affection for music exists."

You're correct -- except that the time frame you're chosen is a little bit early. When you're in your early teens, you're attracted to certain hits because of the SOUND of them -- not what they're about. That's because you have yet to experience the subject matter of nearly all hits: the game of love (to quote Wayne Fontana & the Mindbenders). It's only later, after you've lived through some romantic highs and lows, that you go back and re-hear the tunes which attracted you as a kid and you go, "Wow. So THAT'S what that song is about."

One of the most common questions I've asked in doing radio research has been, "When do you think the very best music was recorded?" Everyone has a ready answer and gives me a bracket of years. I then reply, "And what years were you in high school and college?" Funny, isn't it, how those two time spans turn out to be one in the same.

It's during that eight year cocoon from the reality of mortgages, braces on kids’ teeth and being involved in full time employment that people are surrounded -- for the very last time -- by a large group of single individuals all roughly the same age (and have a lot of free time). They’re also actively participating in auditions for marriage -- a practice also known as "dating." Interestingly enough, most hit songs are ABOUT dating – the process of falling in and out of love -- as opposed to "we've been married for ten years." (Country songs, as opposed to pop, are far more likely to deal with post-wedding situations.) Therefore, this demographic -- the one with the most free time to pay attention to the ever changing occupants of The Pop Top Ten -- does so as the songs mirror the very passions currently flaming in their hearts.

Once OUT of college (or high school, if you go no farther), that peer group vanishes and the reality of adult life settles in. Priorities shift as ex-students begin careers, marry and start families. Who has the time anymore to stay on top of the latest musical fads – especially as the songs focus on something they're no longer doing -- DATING -- as opposed to being married, having kids and putting bread on the table. The contemporary music scene slowly fades in importance.

BUT -- the music those students paid close attention to -- the songs that spoke to and for their hearts during their high schools and college dating years -- remain magic forevermore. The marks those words and that music left on our psyches are eternally vivid – and magic. Later (or earlier) hits, which we did not let sink in as far, do not resonate nearly as well. Goll darn it – THESE WERE AND ARE OUR SONGS. They spoke to and for us – and always will.

Making music, at its essence, is a way of painting portraits of human emotion using sound. Paint, for example, has no emotion in itself, but in the hands of an artist, paint can be arranged on a canvas in such a way as to evoke an emotional reaction in people. Sound, too, has no emotion within itself. But -- in the hands of an artist – sound can paint portraits of feelings which will cause listeners of any age to react emotionally. They may laugh, shed a tear, dare to dream, feel euphoric, desire to dance, march, unwind, fight, recall a precious memory or throw their arms around someone. That's the power of music: the master manipulator of mood. Remember that the only reason why anyone selects any specific CD to play is THE WAY IT WILL MAKE THEM FEEL. It’ll either reinforce the mood they're in or take them where they want to go. Filmmakers and TV producers know all too well the power of music. That's why they go to such lengths to find just the right scoring to enhance the mood of every scene. It’s funny how you can take the same piece of film footage and apply six different music tracks to it – evoking a very different tone in each and every case. The viewer may realize their mood is being manipulated – and in the best films, they DON’T notice -- but it most certainly is.

Through words and music, hit songs are a lot like audio movies – or even snapshots, painting portraits in sound of key moments in a love story. And if you can identify with the emotional snapshot in time that a given song evokes, then that song works for you. It speaks to and for your heart.

All that is a lead-up to this key point. Music moves people of ALL ages -- from tiny tots to the most seasoned of us all. It’s not something that affects only the young – even though it’s while we’re young that most of the evergreens which will forever live in our internal jukeboxes get placed there. All of us have our own bracket of years in which we’ll always feel that the best music was recorded – even though there were great hits cut in the years both before and after that magic bracket. I myself have spent most of my career trying to help people escape their personal brackets – and give a chance to the terrific tunes from both before and after “their time.” One must remember, though, that “that time” will forever resonate.

In studying more than a century of hit songs, it’s fascinating to realize that the music of every era, for all intents and purposes, deals with exactly the same emotional issues. All that's really different are the settings in which those same feelings are addressed. Love sought, love found, love lost, love renewed, love never to be forgotten and pledges of eternal devotion are present in every single era and style of popular music. Are you willing to open your ears to the songs and stars from outside “your time”? If you are, you’ll discover, as I have, a wealth of wonderful music that can work for you if you’re only willing to give it a chance.

The best hits truly are timeless.

Gary Theroux