Music can evoke powerful memories of the past. (Disclaimer: Music can also evoke powerful memories of the future if you are a time traveler.) As I was driving to work this morning, I heard the song December 1963 (Oh, What a Night) by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. As I was driving home, the radio was playing Prince’s 1999. Together, they got me thinking about music and time, and how some songs don’t age very well.
Oh, What a Night was released in 1975, so when it came out, it described the events of one yuletide night a dozen years earlier. Those same events are now 50 years in the past. If you are still reminiscing about one night half a century ago, you really have to ask what you’ve done with your life.
1999 (which was released in 1982) recounts the tale of Prince’s hallucination that the world was going to end in 17 years, and how this could be used as an excuse to party. (Spoiler Alert: the world did not end in 1999. Kids, ask your parents.) Now, I’m as much of a party animal as the next guy (Disclaimer: I do not like parties at all. They’re too loud and full of drunk people.), but if you have to justify partying, this doesn’t even come close.
Also, Prince was 24 when the song was released. Which means he dreams of partying like a 41-year old man. He better hope the world is ending tonight, because he’s going to have a hard time dragging himself to work at the insurance agency in the morning.
Today, we have the benefit of hindsight. 1999 was 14 years ago. (Yes, this song is 31 years old.) We know from the historical record that the year 1999 is remembered for the following:
- The world not ending
- The Y2K bug hysteria
- Jar Jar Binks
- Sectarian violence about whether the 21st century would begin in 2000 or 2001
- Hearing 1999 on the radio a million billion zillion times
I’ll give Prince the benefit of the doubt, as he had no idea the future would be so annoying. We aren’t that innocent. And the largest partying demographic, college students, were ages 4 through 7, and probably weren’t allowed to stay up partying anyway.
To capture the spirit of the original, today one would need to party like it’s 2030.
And while I’m on the subject, the 1983 Stray Cats single (She’s) Sexy + 17 has always been vaguely unnerving to me. Lead singer Brian Setzer was 24. I can’t imagine the parents of a high school senior girl would have been thrilled about their daughter going out with him, particularly if she acts a little bit obscene. Thirty years later, commenting on the sexiness of a 17-year old girl is likely to get you on at least one watch list. (Note: this is also true about the Ringo Starr song You’re Sixteen.)
This makes this a creepy song to sing along with on the radio. My solution is to correct for chronological drift. Today, the woman in question is now Sexy + 47, which according to my comprehensive glance at IMDB, means that she is approximately Salma Hayek, Halle Berry, or Helena Bonham Carter.
I feel much better.