The day the music died

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Part of the process of growing old gracefully is recognising and accepting when you’re ‘past it’. And although I have passed that milestone in several parts of my life already without undue concern, it saddens me to admit that I have now been forced to accept that I can no longer claim to be up to date when it comes to music.

Personal sell-by dates vary greatly from person to person and subject to subject. While I would never have described myself as uber-fit, I played competitive sport at city and county level until my early thirties. When it comes to staying on top of developments in technology, I can still hold my own even now – although it won’t be long until Isaac (aged 4½) overtakes me. But music has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it saddens me to admit that I’m now increasingly out of touch.

As I’ve written elsewhere, a love for music was instilled in me by my father from a young age. Whether it was learning how to splice reel-to-reel tape or being introduced to his massive music collection, it has always been a huge part of my life. Through my teenage years when I was more likely to be buying Slush Puppies (favourite flavour: blue raspberry) than Hush Puppies, I consumed the music press – from Smash Hits to Melody Maker and NME – voraciously and spent many a happy hour thumbing through the stacks at both my local Our Price and the giant HMV and Virgin megastores on Oxford Street.

The zenith of my obsession with and knowledge of pop music was the period between 1985 and 1988. Back then you could have asked me to list the current top 20 singles or all the chart-toppers from that year, and I could have done so without hesitation. (It was a shame my memory didn’t work so effectively when it came to remembering how to do integral calculus.) You could have played me the first four notes of any top 40 single and I would have recognised it instantly. (Zac has had that exact ability since his second birthday. Toby too.)

Cheryl is categorically NOT in my CD collection (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

All that has changed now. My brain just doesn’t work that way any more, or at least not as efficiently as it once did. Over the past few years I’ve discovered that my ability to instantly recall the details of a particular song is much less reliable, and certainly less speedy. These days I’d be hard pressed to tell you who is currently number one. (It’s Cheryl-I’ve-dropped-my-last-name-but-it’s-definitely-not-Cole-any-more, incidentally, but I had to look it up). And a quick look at the current top 20 singles tells me that I have no idea what half of them are.

These days, I’d stand a better chance of completing an integral calculus problem.

Unsurprisingly, I regard that period between 1985 and 1988 as something of a golden age in pop. It gave us Madonna, the Pet Shop Boys, Bon Jovi and, er, Bros. Unlike today, where half the acts in the chart are holdovers from reality TV shows: Kelly Clarkson (who, admittedly, is fantastic), Cheryl-not-Cole, Alexandra Burke, JLS, One Direction, Leanne whatshername from The Voice, and so on. That would never have happened in the late 80s, when half the acts in the chart originated from soap operas (Kylie, Jason Donovan, Stefan Dennis, Nick Berry, Anita Dobson – need I go on?) amd/or the stable of mega-producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman, whose greatest talent was the ability to churn out tiny variations on the same song without anyone either noticing or caring. Or Jive Bunny, the 20th century answer to Crazy Frog. Yes, I think it was a golden age but no, I’m not saying it was perfect either. Pop music never is.

It’s not that I’ve completely lost touch with popular music, but it is now only a particular set of genres that I listen to – a few select mainstream pop acts and folksy/indie female singer-songwriters, mostly – rather than having any kind of in-depth knowledge. I will happily hop between the various music channels, but I will generally default to the more middle-of-the-road adult-oriented ones such as VH1 or the out-and-out nostalgic alternatives such as Vintage TV. My iPod is overflowing with 80s and 90s-based playlists, with a less generous smattering of more recent offerings. I become irascible at the increasing number of cheap cover versions of classic songs which are a travesty of the original, but which today’s youth are blissfully unaware of. Basically, contemporary pop is rubbish – or more rubbish than it was when I was a lad, anyhow. (Hey, I write a series of posts on this blog called Nostalgia Jukebox – what were you expecting?)

It’s upsetting enough to accept that I have no idea whether Alex Clare is male or female (male, with a beard, as it happens), nor do I understand what all the fuss is about Nicki Minaj, but I fear that my growing alienation reveals more about me than it does about today’s music. It would appear that Don McLean may have been thinking about me and my ilk when he penned the following words for the iconic American Pie – a song which is almost as old (40 this year) as I am:

Do you recall what was revealed

The day the music died?

I really miss being up to date with the contemporary music scene. But now I’m on the slippery down-slope, I fear there is no going back. 2012 will have to go down as the year the music died.