Turn on your radio

Ontogeny might not recapitulate phylogeny the way we once thought, or at least the way Ernst Haeckel thought, but pop music parallels a whole lot of cultural evolution:

When there’s war, either actual or likely, you get nice bright shiny happy music — rock in the 50s and 60s, disco in the 70s, techno in the 80s, hedonistic tween pop now. But when things are great — as in the 1990s — you get songs about how awful everything is (grunge, nu metal). The only caveat here is that you have to look at what’s actually on the charts, not just what you think is going to be there — Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane never sniffed the top 10, and the only Doors songs to do so were treacly pop crap like “Touch Me.” Acidy stuff was there, but most “Sixties” music shared chart space with, and usually lost out to, crap like “Harper Valley PTA” and “Sugar Sugar” (the top song of 1969, the very year of Woodstock!).

“Somebody to Love” hit #5 in Billboard, and “White Rabbit” made it to #8, which may explain why Surrealistic Pillow, the Airplane album that contained them both, topped out at #3. However, this was a short-lived phenomenon at best; JA’s third-biggest hit, “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil,” stopped two slots short of the Top 40, and nothing else came close to that. (We will pretend not to notice “We Built This City,” an inexplicable #1 for the de-Jeffersoned “Starship” in 1985.) The chart history of Jimi Hendrix contains no zingers, even brief ones: Hendrix’ much-loved reworking of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” stalled at #20, and “Purple Haze,” which everyone thought of as Jimi’s Big Hit, died at #65.

And while viewing that last paragraph, you should keep in mind that I have always had a taste for treacly pop crap, dating back at least as far as, oh, “Johnny Angel.”





4 comments

  1. fillyjonk »

    3 June 2016 · 6:49 am

    “You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
    (“Harry Lime” – Orson Welles – in “The Third Man”)

  2. fillyjonk »

    3 June 2016 · 6:52 am

    So I don’t know. Maybe Welles’ character was wrong, perhaps this fellow is, or maybe the link has been broken. (Or maybe high culture and pop culture follow opposing trends, though most modern High Culture stuff fails to appeal to me enough to really know much about it.)

  3. McG »

    3 June 2016 · 9:37 am

    Some people want to fill the world with treacly pop songs.

  4. CGHill »

    3 June 2016 · 10:25 am

    And what’s wrong with that, I’d like to know?

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