Today I stopped in at out local Stoopid-Market to pick up a few necessities. As I waited in the queue to check out, the music playing over the PA system caught my attention.
It was Bruce Springsteen singing “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” the second track from his
landmark 1975 album Born to Run, a song I had heard him perform live in Houston 37 years ago.
In 1975, the very thought of ever hearing Springsteen playing in the local grocery store as you paid for your pickles and flour was so beyond the pale as to be unimaginable. But here we were, not quite four decades later, and... well.
Thirty-seven years is a hell of a long time in Popular Music Land. And I wondered what had been playing 37 years before those late summer days when I would come home from work, stick my vinyl copy of Born to Run on the turntable, and blast “Thunder Road” at wallboard-cracking volume (much to the consternation of my neighbors). Here’s what:
Artie Shaw, “Begin the Beguine”
Bob Hope & Shirley Ross, “Thanks For the Memory”
Seven Dwarfs, “Whistle While You Work”
The Andrews Sisters, “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”
Fred Astaire, ”Nice Work If You Can Get It”
All of these big hits from 1938 are perfectly familiar to me, although they’re not tunes I am liable to hum at random as I potter around the house on any given day. But classics though they may be, (some of them, anyway), they’re still Old People’s Music. They belong to a previous generation.
In 1975, Artie Shaw, the Andrews Sisters, Fred Astaire, and Bob Hope were no longer lobbing tunes up onto the charts (unless you count Bette Midler’s 1973 cover of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”). Despite their still being well known components of American popular culture, they were nevertheless relics of a bygone age, essentially defunct from a musical standpoint.
And yet here it is, the year 2012 - and Springsteen is still at it. Wrecking Ball, his latest album, charted at Number 1 in the United States, the tenth of his albums to do so. That ties him with Elvis in terms of top-charting albums, placing him behind only the Beatles and Jay-Z.
A sign of the times: Bruce Springsteen graces the cover of AARP Magazine, Sep/Oct 2009.
Longevity-wise, does the difference between Springsteen and all those hitmakers of the late 1930’s arise out of the sea change in popular culture that took place in the mid- to late-1960’s? Or is it the tenacious grip with which we Baby Boomers have latched on to the touchstones of our youth? I suspect it is a combination of both.
Now - who the fuck is Jay-Z?