Culture January 21, 2018

Every Generation Has Someone Who Sings For Them

Beyoncé with “Bootylicious” may not be on your playlist.

Imagine that. You in blue suede shoes down in Yorktown. Music is a universal language that sings a song for each generation. You may still listen to Elvis, play Paul Simon’s “Graceland” over and over again, but a part of all of us was dented the day the music died.

Song writers, singers, performers and musicians are not bound by a generation’s interest or taste in song. But some capture and define a generation. Duke Ellington was an integral part of the Silent Generation for those raised in the 40s-50s. The Beatles cut across more generations and early Baby Boomers 60s-70s couldn’t get enough of them. The crossover hip-hop/rap innovation of Hamilton is new but it works backwards for generational interests.

The point here is that structure–the need for sound and song in our life–cuts across all generations, but the content changes from generation to generation. In our cultural exchanges it better when we talk about how a certain performer speaks to you rather than saying my singer is better than your singer. Your music is so out of date. When are you going to get some hip in your playlist? What’s with this Blind Boy Fuller stuff? And John Philip Sousa is a what-did-you-say?

There is no intention to be definitive about which singer fits which generation, rather to open up the possibilities and listen for the common chords.

A great book on this subject is New York Times jazz and pop critic Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty. He connects songs to themes. For example, when we listen for slowness, he says we “may detect the surprising affinities between the drone metal of Sunn O))), the mixtape manipulations of DJ  Screw, Sarah Vaughan singing “Lover Man,” and the final works of Shostakovich.”

Wow. Cool. Gotta update my playlist. Who’s on your list?


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