20th Century’s Greatest Hits?

Once upon a time, while discussing our respective tastes in music, a colleague of mine characterized his musical preferences as “ecclectic”, having realized, as many of us do, that not only do we enjoy a very diverse variety of musical styles, but in addition, we go through periods where one particular genre of music, or one particular artist dominates our attention. I had a rather late introduction to daily enjoyment of music, being 13 years old when I received my first transistor radio for Christmas in 1970. What an epiphany.

Now, it should be noted that my parents would periodically put a 33-1/3 RPM LP (Long Play) album in their mahogany tabletop record player and listen to Christmas music around the holidays, or perhaps an album of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on a summer evening. But, by and large, music was not a staple of our household. Where some of the homes in the neighborhood always had music in the air, whether it was the signal of a local radio station being played on their HiFi/stereo console, or the sounds eminating from their television as part of a popular program, generally the only music heard in my parents’ household came from television advertising jingles, program intros and program outros. And unlike many of today’s lesser melodic program intros, (think of Seinfeld, Modern Family, and Two and a Half Men), television programs in the 1950s through much of the 1980s had catchy, if not grand musical scores for opening themes (Perry Mason, The FBI, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bonanza, The Virginian, Star Trek The Next Generation and many other long running evening fare had large orchestral productions, with percussion sections that could fill to capacity your local VFW post). Apparently, a combination of cost-cutting measures in the production of programming, as well as the never ending quest to cram more commercials into syndicated programs effectively killed both the appeal and the justification of grand musical production values in program opening themes.

But alas, I digress. While I was introduced to then-contemporary music with local AM radio fare, which is now generally referred to as “bubblegum pop”, happily, over the years, I discovered the joys of jazz [Miles Davis, Julie London, Bill Evans, Julian Cannonball Adderly, etc], big band [Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, etc], bossa nova [Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, etc], the Great American Songbook [Andy Williams, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, etc] and new country [Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Terri Clark, Clint Black, et al].  A side note: Bubblegum Pop is a term at which I bristle, considering the fact that many of the groups whose music I listened to at the time on those mainstream AM radio stations are nowadays conveniently classified under “Classic Rock” – – think of Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, Chicago, The Beach Boys, Electric Light Orchestra, Moody Blues, etc. C’mon, people, Led Zeppelin as bubblegum pop?!? Really? But then, there was disco. I’ll wait here while you recover from disco spasms . . . Are you going to be okay? (I believe to this day that I survived the disco era without permanent brain damage – – at least, I think so. But even that era had a few nuggets of musical treasure, despite the tendency for the offerings to be of questionable value.)

My enjoyment of old time radio and big band music has prompted some to comment “You were born in the wrong era, weren’t you?”, which is one way of looking at my affection for music of a long bygone era. Ignoring for the moment those who enjoy classical music, consider this: Those of us who have access to all of the 20th Century’s Greatest Hits, music or otherwise, actually may have the best of all possible worlds. While I love the style and beauty of the 1932 Ford, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that automobiles without airbags, air conditioning, ABS, seat belts, side impact door protection and traction control may be great for weekend drives or taking to car shows, however, having one of these as one’s only form of transportation might be a bit problematic. Being able to watch Glenn Miller and His Orchestra live at Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York in 1939 would have been awesome, but post-Depression years in America were a very difficult time, and posed innumerable challenges. Yet, in this day and age, I can (and often DO) listen to many of the original radio broadcasts on my iPod or Bluetooth-enabled radio, experiencing at least to SOME extent, the same enjoyment of the event that people of that era did: with their ears, their mind, their imagination – – picturing the band playing as they sat by their radios listening to the live broadcast. I have the added benefit of listening whenever I want, not simply when the National Broadcasting Company was airing the program. And for those who listen to classical music, I’m betting that few of this group would want to live in the era in which these pieces were originally crafted, even if Brahms or Beethoven played a mean game of poker.

Today’s technology puts more information at our fingertips than anything we could have imagined decades ago. eBay enables us to find items in places around the world which would have been near impossible to locate without such a tool. In 1999, the first of what would ultimately become three motorcycle acquisitions was spotted about 9 miles from where I lived at the time. Considering the relative rarity of the bike, finding one in the same town was a long shot. Over the next fifteen years, using eBay to locate others resulted in my current portfolio of three, one of which was found in Massachusettes and the other in Maine, two places I had never been, and two which I likely would never have looked prior to the invention of the internet by Al Gore. (I know. It’s an old joke.) Think about it: Who would have found that ultra-rare 1960s European sports car tucked away in a barn in Billings, Montana and been able to put it in front of the whole world (without spending a king’s ransom on advertising) maximizing the potential selling price had there NOT been a World Wide Web on which to raise people’s awareness and interest?

Being able to enjoy the Greatest Hits of the entire 20th Century is not only possible now, but it is easier than ever. We can enjoy streaming video camera images of places all over the world, watch full color high resolution military film footage from World War II, research rare artifacts and find examples of many of these for sale, learn a foreign language, make friends many continents away, share common interests with those of all age groups, stay in touch with friends and loved ones via video conference, and re-live historical moments (or for most people living today, it might be more correct to say “live historical moments for the first time”) all of these experiences enriching our lives, and broadening our world view.

Something to think about, eh?

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