Music, Stories told

Just where do kids hear new music these days?

My sons have only a vague notion of what music is popular today.

It’s because their avenues to hear it are few. Once in a while they’ll stumble across a song on YouTube. They have iPods and iTunes accounts, but they use them only to download and play games. MTV doesn’t play videos anymore. Top 40 radio is long gone, replaced by today’s fragmented radio landscape. No one station holds their interest for very long.

Ah, top 40 radio. When I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, I listened constantly, and the music I heard there formed the soundtrack of my life. I always knew all of the popular songs. Some of them thrilled me, many were merely okay, and I didn’t care for some songs at all. But wondering what song they’d play next and looking forward to hearing brand new songs kept me listening.

Radio was so exciting that I wanted to be a part of it, which is why I joined the campus radio station in college. The station had a vast record (yes, vinyl) collection, probably 5,000 albums, and I happily mined it for songs I could play on the air. This is how I was introduced to the progressive, blues, and hard rock of the 1960s and 1970s. Getting to know that music provided some of the happiest times of my life.

My youngest son's favorite album when he was 6

One of my friends and I used to meet in the station’s office most Saturday nights and share a pizza. We’d talk about life, how things were going at the station, and about the music we were finding. I remember telling my friend that one day when I had children, I’d introduce them to all this great music and I hoped very much that they would appreciate it.

But as I said it, I felt sure it was unlikely to happen because I certainly didn’t appreciate the music my parents listened to. Mom played music at home all the time, mostly pop and jazz vocals from the 1940s and 1950s. I listened politely for the most part, but those sounds didn’t resonate with me. Sometimes when we’d go visit my grandparents, they’d play stacks of 78 RPM records as old as the 1930s. I couldn’t take it. I always turned up the TV or just went outside. And so I felt sure that my future children would consider my music just as fuddy-duddy. (I thoroughly enjoy mom’s and grandma’s music today, though!)

But I was wrong. My sons like my music! I play my CDs in the car constantly, and much of that music has stuck on them. For a few years, my youngest son’s favorite album was Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs by Derek and the Dominos, which predates him by 29 years. My older son can sing every word of dozens of songs by Paul McCartney, with and without Wings; he owns several Beatles T-shirts. Both of them enjoy Heart so much that a couple years ago they jumped at the chance to go with me to see them perform live.

I lived in a time when new music was all around me. It was literally in the air! My sons live in a time when there’s still plenty of new music, but you have to go looking for it. They don’t bother. I hope that as they continue to grow up and apart from me that music they consider to be truly theirs finds them.

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28 thoughts on “Just where do kids hear new music these days?

  1. A great post! I have to say, though, that I loved my Grandparent’s “naughty” 78’s (Old Man Mose was one). My 19 year old is a huge Led Zep fan, though he and his older brother also like DubStep, Ska and all the new iterations of music. I love to hear what they are into, also!

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  2. I agree with you about music of the 1970s and 1980s, except maybe for The Partridge Family. :-) It’s great that your kids appreciate it too.

    However, I must take exception (though not disagreement, because preferences are not subject to argument) to your comments about the music of the 1930s.

    Granted, those vinyl 78s could sound scratchy and tinny, but the 1930s and early 1940s were one of the best periods for American pop music. That music was certainly a lot better than the 1950s and some of the 1960s (though some 1960s music is great). The 1950s was a “lost decade” as far as I’m concerned. But the 1930s had Glenn Miller (who was one of the greats though I admit he was sometimes a bit bland), Benny Goodman, the Dorseys, Artie Shaw, Harry James, Gus Arnheim, Bunny Berrigan, and Hoagy Carmichael, as well as singers like Margaret Whiting (my favorite), Helen Forrest, Dinah Shore, and Jo Stafford.

    From an audio standpoint, the real innovation came in improved recording technology of the late 1920s. Before that, recordings couldn’t capture bass notes very well. After about 1926 or 1927, recordings sounded much closer to live performances.

    Now, let’s listen to the Hallelujah Tabernacle Choir singing “She’s Having My Baby.” And one more thing: in the immortal words of Dr. Johnny Fever, “BOOGER!”

    (That’s from the pilot episode of “WKRP in Cincinnati,” in case anyone wonders)

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      • My scariest experience occurred while channel-surfing. On public TV, they were re-running an old “Lawrence Welk Show,” complete with polkas, hoop dresses, and Big Hair on both sexes.

        And I thought, “Hey, that’s not as bad as I remembered.”

        Uh-oh. Pass me the mush and poached egg. :-)

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  3. Michael says:

    I was like your sons until I hit 7th grade and got a stereo for my birthday (the one I brought to school in fact). I listened to Top 40 because I didn’t realize what was out there. Once I discovered WMMS a few years later, my tastes changed dramatically. Once I discovered Z-Rock (that short lived satellite metal station) in 86, they changed dramatically again. I have never developed the taste for extreme metal, preferring those genres I can understand and sing with. My boys like to rock out to the Christian modern rock I normally listen to today, but also enjoy the contemporary Christian music I play to appease my better half. :)

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    • My time at WMHD, plumbing the depths of the record collection there, set my musical tastes pretty hard. I still listen to most of the same stuff. Well, with some of mom’s and grandma’s music thrown in. I would like to branch out and find some modern stuff but like my sons hardly know where to start.

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  4. ryoko861 says:

    My kids, too, appreciate the music I grew up with! Might help that we go to car shows. But they don’t mind Led Zepplin, AC/DC, or the Beach Boys. They also like techno and some hip hop/rap. We’ve just recently came across a girl who plays the violin like no one’s business while dancing the whole time to the music! I’ve always tried to teach my kids to keep an open mind about music. I love all music from classical to hip hop/rap (I like Eminem-he actually has a great sense of humor!).

    Oh, I know what you mean about our parent’s music! I despised it! We used to call it “music to die by”! Now I actully ask my father is he’s got a CD of this person or that person. And he usually does (I’ve always enjoyed Herb Albert but I really just got into his music lately).

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  5. Thing 1 (the 11-year-old) just learned about contemporary hits radio from the girls at school. Luckily, the only 3 songs they play are “Pumped Up Kicks” and “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” by Adele. Before that, she liked whatever the coach played during gym class — usually, the soundtrack to “Saturday Night Fever.”

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  6. Jen Tullis says:

    Nice post! Our two kids listen to a lot of “our” music. JC prefers the more hard-rocking sounds of Queensryche, while OJ likes 80s-90s music I listen to on Pandora. The great thing is that Eric has introduced them to ska, jazz, blues, soul, and heavy metal and they love it! I’ve introduced them to country, disco, pop and they like it, but they rather hear something else. Very little rap gets played here, but I figured that will be up to them to find and listen to. Thanks!

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  7. Wow! That’s awesome! And yes, the music landscape has certainly changed.

    I’m slowly teaching my daughter the difference between rock, jazz, and the blues. So far she likes some zydeco and some indie rock…

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  8. Neil says:

    Just a few days ago while my wife and I were at our younger daughter’s apartment, helping her with some things, she was playing a ’70s station on Pandora. A Queen song came on and she commented that she really appreciated us having given her a really good background in music. We both smiled at that. It seems like we used to play music constantly and she and her sister listened to plenty of late ’60s and then ’70s and then ’80s music. Our daughter’s two cats are named after Beatles’ personalities . . . Sgt. Pepper and Captain Marvel. Very cool. Fortunately she keeps the radio on in the car all the time so she’s tuned into the top 40 and always will be for as long as they keep broadcasting it. Are we thrilled that our kids love music? Yes. Hopefully the appreciation our younger one has will lead her to the on-stage Broadway success she craves.

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    • Neil, thanks for stopping by! I wonder what it is about the music of the 60s-80s that has resonated with our children so much, when our parents’ music just didn’t.

      Years ago I had a cat named Max, named for the Beatles song Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

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      • Neil says:

        Jim, even though I didn’t mention it in my post, I have to tell you that I have a healthy appreciation for old music. I grew up watching Lawrence Welk, Ed Sullivan, The Hollywood Palace, and others, where loads of stars sang old standards, plus lots and lots of old black and white movies and color movies. I loved Judy Garland and just about any musical I could find. James Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Big bands and movies about them and composers. Several of my favorite radio stations at work play music from the ’20s through the ’50s. It’s all great music that I’m just so pleased to know. And it’s great to see it in our kids and now in our grandson. I love that.

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  9. Perhaps your sons don’t listen to the new music because it’s not worth listening to. And perhaps that’s just the snarky Old Man talking. I do think they are blessed to have an appreciation for something other than today’s noises.

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    • You know, even in the 60s, 70s, and 80s there was noise available too — it’s just that in the years that followed the good stuff available then kind of won out. I wonder what good stuff available now is not easy to hear because it competes with noise.

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  10. That’s really great you were able to expose them to some of the good stuff. My dad played me Yes when I was about 14 and since then I can’t get enough of the ’70s. My grandparents on the other hand, exposed me to the Lawrence Welk Show, which I still haven’t entirely gotten over yet ;)

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      • Two different sides of the same decade, prog and Lawrence Welk. Though we could talk about punk vs. disco as well.

        I’d like to think that, since I didn’t actually live through it, I have a more objective viewpoint/attitude towards the music, and while every decade has its good and bad sides, there’s something special about the ’70s.

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        • I’d agree, but I’m hardly objective. It’s the music of my childhood.

          And for the record, I come down on neither side of the punk v. disco debate. I wasn’t that into either!

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