Friday, April 26, 2013

Ten at Fifty

In 1963, the Beatles were huge in the UK, but close to unknown in the U.S. – but that would change in a month. You wouldn’t know that by looking at Google Images for the sole search term “1963”, where a significant percentage of the images are of them; you also would not guess that the equally represented Bob Dylan was also close to unknown, although it was in that year that Peter, Paul, and Mary made a hit of “Blowin’ in the Wind”. More indicative of the style of the time are images of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, Kennedy, Koufax, and Miss Kitty. The mood was mellower, with Little Richard’s frenzy at least partly replaced by the likes of the ultra-smooth Fleetwoods doing “Mr. Blue”, and the stage was perfectly set for the jangly production values of the Fab Four, although some of that sound had already surfaced in the Chantay’s “Pipeline”.

So it seemed to me that it would be a good time to look back 50 years, when I was a resident of Sonora, CA, a sleepy gold country town with as much a taste for Johnny Cash as The Ventures, and figure out what interesting things can be learned from the path from there to now, as seen through the strange lens of popular music. I’ve decided, in my geeky way, to employ a statistical approach, among other things, to compare the most popular songs then and now. And I’m inclined to take an occasional look at the midpoint in 1987, since that snapshot also represents an era in interesting ways.

I decided that my snapshot would not quite match between Billboard's idea of the top now and then. First, even though the British Invasion had not yet occurred, there was plenty of volatility in music in 1963, and there was already a well-established trend of more repetition and less production in the summertime, so it seemed like it would be hard to pick a particular week or month then to focus on as the analogous time to the early April week I picked for this year, so I elected instead to compare the 1963 year's top ten to the songs that floated to the top a couple of weeks ago.

And really, is it any wonder that it's a Bieber, and not a Wonder, who represents teen-idol-dom this year? Even if we'll see another Justin in my 2013 countdown, there's something timeless about the profiles of those elected to personify something like "Teen America", and even in the information era, the clustering of performer obsession retains its essential nature.

Next week we kick off at the number ten position, with a look at The Impressions and Swedish House Mafia.

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