Just Take Those Old Records Off The Shelf
Last year was very, very bad for me mentally. I'm not gonna get into it here, but just know that things were rough.
Why does it matter? It kind of doesn't, I'm just setting the scene.
I needed to take my mind off of things and find happiness wherever I could. One day I was listening to older episodes of Hit Parade, a podcast I really enjoy. The episode (or rather, mini-episode) in question featured Tom Breihan from Stereogum, talking about his blog/fun project The Number Ones.
The Number Ones, if you haven't heard of it, is Tom's journey through every song that has topped the Billboard Hot 100 since its inception in 1958. He listens to every song, writes an article about it, and rates the song a score out of ten. I decided to check the blog out because, hey, I was sad. I was bored. I was looking for a way to waste time at work. I was very much in the mood for some music dweeb telling me Nel Blu, Depinto Di Blu is a hokey song.
(Nel Blu, Dipinto Di Blu is a hokey song. Love it though.)
That was right before the Fourth of July weekend. Here I am in early March, still reading along. Breihan's project started five years ago, and I haven't caught up yet. Maybe I will eventually. At the rate I'm reading them, I can go through a year's worth of music in a week. But I'm not rushing through this, I'm taking my time. Listening to each song a few times through before reading the article, and then skimming the comments when I'm done.
Y'all? It has been a delight.
I'm no stranger to old music. In my teenage years, I was far too close to being one of those insufferable "I was born before my time" kids. For the record: I don't wish I was born in an earlier decade. Yeah I bet it was cool seeing The Beatles or The Supremes in person, but you know what's cooler? The Internet.
But I digress. I've heard a great many of these songs before, but usually as audio shorthand in some movie to signify a specific time period. While reading along with The Number Ones I'm forcing myself to sit here and interact with these songs all by themselves. And it's been neat!
Like, I thought it was interesting many songs of the late 50s and early 60s involved the singer (or person being sung about) dying. Tom Dooley! El Paso! Running Bear! Teen Angel! Moody River! Leader of the Pack! Plus you've also got Mack the Knife and (to a lesser extent) Stagger Lee, songs about killers. And these are just the ones that made it to #1 on the list, I know there's more. A better writer than me could probably pen a whole thing about the older songwriters of these songs, who were most likely in the war a decade beforehand and were probably subconsciously still working out some shit.
It's fun to see the evolution of music as you go along. The complete fucking atomic bomb that is The Beatles. The rise (yaaay) and fall (booo) of disco. I'm writing this ramble in the middle of 1895, where synthesizers and gated reverb reign supreme. Actually, I'm writing this because earlier today I just realized I hit the halfway point yesterday.
I'm also interested in the inevitable bell curve with me and the songs featured in The Number Ones. I wasn't overly familiar with several of the songs from the late 50s and early 60s, and then nearly everything from 1964 and afterwards I recognized from my parents' music collection. Right now, in the mid 80s, I know these songs forward and backward. As we go on though, my familiarity with the songs is going to go back down. I'm sure I'll know a great deal of the 90s songs from just being around in the decade, but in the summer of '99 I discovered Napster and started amassing my own collection of music. By the mid 2000s, most of the stuff on my burnt CDs was not the type of stuff making it onto the Billboard charts. Nowadays, my only interaction with popular mainstream music is typically commercials, movie trailers, and the occasional TikTok.
This is not gonna turn into a "kids these days and their newfangled music" ramble, I promise.
Anyway, kudos to Tom. Kudos to The Number Ones Comment Section. Kudos to the people several years late to the party like me, who still go and comment on a three year old post about their favorite Rod Stewart song. Kudos to every teenybopper who bought a melodramatic 45 about a greaser going over Dead Man's Curve or whatever.