One of the most depressing things I ever witnessed took place some time in the nineties when a group of acquaintances - just a couple of years older than me - who were in the same bar as me, began singing along to a bunch of oldies.
“Oldies” being defined as pop music produced after our parent’s era but before the Beatles.
I always prided myself on looking ahead - keeping up with things, even if I was always a year or two behind. It sure beat being out of touch. The cost of which was to miss out on all of the brilliant music that was and is being made.
I’ll admit this meant I didn’t get to sing along much in bars, but at least I wasn’t being nostalgic, which I considered a mortal sin.
So anyway back to the bar. I was not yet forty and it’s possible they weren’t either. But here they were Declaring They Were Old. I found it pathetic.
They were giving up.
My Back Pages:
But I always did have a problematic relationship with pre-Beatles rock music. Frankly, I found it idiotic. It was too tame and the lyrics were stupid. And except in rare cases, it didn’t even have an electric guitar - a mortal sin in my book.
Having been born in 1957, I didn’t really notice music until 1963, when all the girls in my first grade class went crazy for the Beatles. I’d soon go crazy for them, too, and for all the other wonderful music of that era.
Of course, we had to deal with our parents telling us how lousy the music was. My reaction was to become protective of it, and if anything, criticize their music just as aggressively. Who could like music that was liked by older people? Those people only appeared in black and white movies and were dressed up all the time! How horrible!
I’d also try to justify rock music in the terms that mattered to adults. I was forever playing songs for my mom that I thought she’d like, just to prove that my music was just as good as hers. It rarely worked. The drums or the vocal would always get in the way.
So Much Older Then:
And it would only get worse as I hit my teens. I took myself and my music very seriously. Musicianship became more important than simple enjoyment. The more pretentious the music, the better.
So I saw the idea of liking oldies as a kind of betrayal. People only slightly older than me were abandoning “our” music and saying that what came before it was better. Wasn’t that what our parents were saying?
And for what? Doo wop and vocal groups, which didn’t feature an electric guitar? Stupid lyrics like womp bomp a lua (instead of poetry like doo wah diddy)? Simple music (unlike, oh, John Prine and Neil Young)? Poor sound quality (unlike punk rock)? I was into Emerson, Lake and Palmer, while a friend became obsessed with the Beach Boys. Imagine!
My attitude was Stand Your Ground. Our Music Was the Greatest Music of All Time. I knew this even though I wasn’t around for 99% of the “All Time” I was referring to. I Just Knew! I mean, how could anything be better than the Beatles? It just wasn’t possible, and I resented anyone who would suggest otherwise. Still do, to be honest.
What I was missing - being a too self-conscious teen ager - was that the appeal of rock music was to embrace simplicity and enjoy the sheer sound of it. So what if adults didn’t like it? That was part of the fun! It was okay to like something that was loud, messy and silly. And you didn’t owe anyone an explanation for it.
I’d eventually relent somewhat and come to like Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry (notice the electric guitars) Elvis and the Everly Brothers, but I never quite shook the idea that this was music I would never fully embrace.
My music was here, and oldies were just a little bit over there.
So, on a list of genre's Jaybee likes - in descending order - you'd likely find vocal groups somewhere below Indian raga music and 17th century madrigals. (Mrs. Jaybee still had to drag me to see “Jersey Boys” this summer) So you can imaging where fifties girl groups show up.
Younger Than That Now:
But with my favorite music no longer threatened from all sides by parental disapproval and everyone's mysterious obsession - to this day - with not-so-good music, I no longer require an electric guitar as the price of admission.
And like Record Store Day before it, Amazon’s $5 mp3 sales can get me to overcome all manner of prejudices.
Plus, it can’t be nostalgia if you weren’t there in the first place, right?
The Chantels are a group of five young women who, despite the picture on the cover, very likely didn't play any instruments. But what they did do was provide the template for all girl groups (until the Runaways) to follow.
And despite it featuring most of the things I couldn't stand about the genre (mannered vocals, songs that all sound exactly alike etc.) this is really not bad.
Most of the songs are about how sorry the singer is for breaking her boyfriends heart, which, sadly, is more entertaining than listening to the heart-breakee's side of the story. But I think she's sincere.
That sincerity carries me through most of this collection. There is a simple sweetness to this music that I would have despised in my teens. Sweetness means so much more to me now.
And I no longer fear that it’s lobotomizing me. I’m lightening up. But I’ve still got a long way to go.
I don't see myself playing this a lot but when it's on, it does put a smile on my face. And that’s all I ask these days. B+