Thursday, September 24, 2009

Muzika Memoria

Over the last few months, one of my weekend rituals has been catching Casey Kasem's American Top 40 - The 70's on local radio station 92.9. It is a fascinating look back at a past where Pink Floyd's "Money" and Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash" could co-exist on the same countdown. If you can find it, it is worth a listen just for the insane novelty value.

The whole concept of a "Billboard Top 40" seems kind of arbitrary to me. Why the Top 40, I wonder? Because it made for a suitable length for a radio show? The full chart is the Top 100 songs, so choosing the forty biggest ones feels a little random. Why not the Top 25? Or the Top 50? Someone out there knows the answer to this. Bank on it.

All of these chart flashbacks are terribly interesting, but it's important to remember that the Top 40 is not the only measure of success when it comes to the music business. As you may recall, I did an entry on this subject back in January. One of the points I mentioned was that Black Sabbath had exactly ZERO songs on the U.S. Billboard Top 40. David Dundas, on the other hand, had a chart hit entitled "Jeans On". Does that make David Dundas more significant in the history of music than Black Sabbath? Of course not. Songs like "Iron Man" and "Paranoid" are iconic, while you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who remembers "Jeans On" or David Dundas in America.

The charts are funny that way. While they do provide a snapshot of what were popular singles, that doesn't always tell the whole story. If we relied strictly on chart performance, Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead would be considered one-hit wonders, while Andrea True Connection would not be (she charted twice). Yet, I'd wager far more people have heard non-Top 40 songs "Hey Joe" and "Truckin'" (to name two examples) than True's "NY, You Got Me Dancing". Don't get me wrong; I love "More, More, More" in all its suggestive disco-fied stupid glory. But who's the one-hit wonder here, despite what Billboard says?

There's no great lesson in these meditations, except to repeat that perhaps what is popular in the here and now is not necessarily what will be enduring and timeless. Though both bands rose to fame at about the same time, I don't think there is any question that the Ramones have become far more legendary than Pablo Cruise, despite Cruise's 5 Top 40 singles to the Ramones' none. And I groove out to "Love Will Find A Way", so don't even think of calling me biased.

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