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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Throwback Thursday: Important songs from the past


Songs from the mid-20th century that still have merit today


Reflection often comes in the form of music, a sentiment as true today as it was in the past. Indeed, impactful artists from past decades spoke words of wisdom that have influenced the motions, the rhythms and the messages of music today. Certain songs’ universality is how they transcend generations. Lessons can be learned from past music, and the best songs imbed themselves in timeless melodies and righteous guitar notes. Here, in no particular order, are significant and ever-relevant songs from the past.


“A Change is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

The famous belting note at the start of the song alludes to the power that this song holds. Released in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Cooke speaks honestly to the viewer, giving the details of a rustic birth “by the river,” confessing a fear of a very possible death for African Americans and even a questioning of the humanity and existence of God. The intimacy and candidness shared gives light to the dangerous struggle of African Americans during a time of explicit racism in America. Moreover, the relevance of struggling race relations continues to bring the message that change, a better future for American black bodies, is on its way.


“Starman” by David Bowie


David Bowie had a knack for bringing far-out glitter rocker messages of equality, uniqueness and creativity down to earth. His alter ego Ziggy Stardust was the man of the hour who would bring and teach earthly mortals the ways of a better future: “There’s a Starman waiting in the sky / He’s told us not to blow it / because he knows it’s all worthwhile.” Bowie, the middleman between interspace, humans and Stardust himself, sings of the power resting in the next generation, calling for the children “use it,” “lose it” and “boogie.” The better future that he envisions rests in the children who are hopeful enough to believe the same.


“Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver


John Denver is legendary for his appreciation and admiration for nature. As an advocate for environmental rights, he sings blissfully and respectfully of the nature that surrounded him — after all, one album was written solely about his Rocky Mountain euphoria. In this song, though, West Virginia is specifically “almost heaven.” And in a time when the very future and well-being of the earth is at risk, speaking of landscapes that can bring a “teardrop in my eye” is advocacy worth fighting for. The earth is our home, and Denver takes us to those not-so-distant landscapes.


“Vienna” by Billy Joel


“Vienna” encaptures Joel’s experience visiting his estranged father in the city of Vienna, who left and started a new family in Austria when Joel was eight. In 2010, he claimed to not necessarily know the full meaning of this song until later in his life. But, ironically, that’s the point of the song: “slow down you’re doing fine.” Genuine intimate relationships, a college major, a concrete future cannot be solved in a day — “you can’t be everything you want to be before your time.” Problems encountered in a lifetime indeed take a lifetime to be figured out; growing up takes a lifetime to be accomplished. No matter what one dreams of, “Vienna,” the blissful uncertainty, “waits for you.”


“Hotel California” by The Eagles


In a time of sex, drugs and rock and roll, California stood as a mecca for sin, fame and materialism. The mystical Hotel California that The Eagles speak of is a metaphor for California itself and the deception of the American Dream — the glitter and warmth California pictures, yet the stagnated opportunities and heavy competition for a slice of the American Pie. It is the loss of themselves the band faced after they moved to Los Angeles — “we’re all just prisoners here, of our own device.” Criticism of their own craft and the American Dream and the mystery that surrounds the song is what has brought it to fame — the honesty they speak of concerning their country is what makes it memorable.


“Let It be” by The Beatles


“Let It Be” comes from The Beatles’ final 1970 album — the band was beginning to fall apart, and thus the future of the most famous band was unclear. This song stood as their acceptance of the ending: the conclusion of something beautiful, of something masterful. In their comforting “words of wisdom,” John, Paul, George and Ringo say goodbye to their loyal fans, reassuring that change itself is not bad. These master lyricists who altered a generation with their powerful voice conveyed a simple yet poignant point: “let it be,” welcome the uncertainty and difficulty of change with open arms.


Written by: Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org



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