Sea Change on the Turntable

The gym where I work out plays high-energy background music on the sound system all day long. Sometimes it’s dance music or hip-hop (which I don’t care for so much). Sometimes it’s ’80s hard rock — Heart singing “Barracuda,” Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” Van Halen’s “Jump,” that type of thing. And sometimes somebody flips a switch and we get half an hour of hit tunes from the late ’60s and early ’70s. I’ve heard the Beatles’ “Revolution” and “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” the Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” the Who singing “My Generation,” an occasional Creedence track, and even Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” (though I’m pretty sure that one is a remake — it sounds much too clean).

What you don’t hear are the lighter tunes from the ’60s. There’s no Simon & Garfunkel, no Lovin’ Spoonful, no Mamas & Papas. It’s always the tunes that have a heavy beat.

This is not surprising. It’s a gymnasium, after all. What’s a bit more surprising, if you stop to think about it, is that you never hear high-energy hits from the ’50s or ’40s. There’s no Chuck Berry, no scorching big bands, no ferocious bebop. Okay, there were never any bebop hit records. But Chuck Berry had hits, as did numerous big bands. They’ve gone the way of the dodo.

The playlist is not being chosen because of the gym’s clientele, either. Nobody is catering to us geezers. We’re far outnumbered by guys and gals young enough to be our children, or even our grandchildren. No, the salient difference is that the energy in the tunes of the ’60s is still culturally relevant. The raw aggression of “Brown Sugar” or a Led Zeppelin track is not different in character from the raw aggression of a tune that was a hit in 2008 or 2009. Tunes of the ’50s and earlier, however, no matter how pulse-pounding, sound old-fashioned today.

Maybe that’s just because of the way musical styles evolve. But I suspect it’s because Euro-American culture as a whole really did change in the ’60s. New possibilities really did percolate out through the world. Irrespective of the musical licks that were being used then or now, the attitudes expressed in “My Generation” and “Light My Fire” are still current.

And of course marijuana is drifting close to being legal in California, and a judge has just ruled that discriminating against gay and lesbian couples is a violation of the Constitution. And we’re all recycling like mad, talking about solar energy, eating organic food.

Good news, my fellow long-haired hippie freaks — we won!

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