The Problem of Too Many Oldies

Dave Clark Five

When I was growing up, listening to the radio in Chicago was a remarkably regimented experience. Turn to any station on the FM dial, and you knew exactly what you were getting. For example, there was a station for current top 40 and dance music. There were a couple stations for “light” adult contemporary hits. There was a station for alternative rock.

And there was a station for oldies.

For the majority of my childhood, my family’s radios alternated almost exclusively between “light” rock and oldies. To this day, I can authoritatively sing along to almost any rock or pop song from the late 1950s or 1960s, while many 1980s soft rock hits send me flashing back to my toddling days in a car seat in the back of my parents’ Buick.

The point is, the stations’ formats were straightforward, especially where the concept of “oldies” was concerned. “Oldies” meant longtime Chicago deejays like Dick Biondi spinning the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the best of the British Invasion, Dion, Chubby Checker and all points in between.

But in a chilling wake-up call over the past couple years, I’ve noticed that it’s increasingly difficult to find these oldies anywhere on traditional radio. In fact, some of the songs of my 1980s childhood days are starting to qualify as oldies. Even hits of the ’90s are starting to be peddled as a unique throwback for a weekend of radio programming. What is going on? And when did I get so old?

Tonight I heard John “Records” Landecker queuing up the “80s at 8” on 94.7, a channel that until very recently was a watered down last bastion of true “oldies” on the Chicago airwaves. As John Mellencamp (from his Cougar era) filled my eardrums, I came to a startling conclusion:

There are now simply too many oldies.

Maybe that’s always been the case. Maybe that’s why I didn’t really hear any 1970s music until a “timeless rock” station came on the air in Chicago in 2001. Maybe that’s why I didn’t really hear any pop standards from the 1930s-1950s until I stumbled upon an old Frank Sinatra cassette in high school and sought out more at the library.

The scary reality, however, is that the songs that were “oldies” to my generation are now no longer on the air, the same way Sinatra’s ilk were long since radio-silenced by the time I first tuned in.

If you were new to American music, the current state of Chicago radio stations would lead you to believe that nothing of musical note (puns!) came out of the 1960s beyond the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Some might try to argue that point academically, but the fact remains that my childhood would have been far more deficient of joy if I hadn’t been able to sing along to “Runaround Sue” and “It’s My Party.”

In the new world order of Pandora and Spotify and iTunes, building a personal, on-the-go music library has almost replaced the institution of being at the mercy of songs delivered via radio. But if I hadn’t had the static (more puns!) formula of radio stations to inform and form my musical tastes, any personal music collection I attempted to curate would be neither wide nor deep. If I hadn’t grown up hearing the Zombies or the Lovin’ Spoonful, chances are pretty good I wouldn’t be adding them to any Pandora stations or tuning in to the British Beats channel on a satellite radio. I cringe whenever I’m with someone young and musically uninformed who hears a hit by the Four Seasons and calls it “that song from ‘Jersey Boys.'”

Don’t get me wrong — I welcome a world in which the Chicago airwaves devote a single station or an entire weekend of music or even just an hour of airtime to the hits of the ’80s and ’90s. You can even call them oldies, if it’s already time to do that. But let’s not forget the musical building blocks that paved the way for everything we enjoy today. Besides, there were some dang catchy songs back in the day. It would be an awful shame if the radio continues to neglect entire eras of music and future generations of listeners are deprived of being into something good.

7 thoughts on “The Problem of Too Many Oldies

  1. tony February 3, 2013 / 6:20 pm

    Good stuff Matt


  2. PhilPhil May 10, 2013 / 5:32 pm

    I could not agree more.


  3. Joezilla June 25, 2013 / 12:27 am

    So true! Your point about 30s-50s music is also quite perceptive. I’ll bet that there were people who said the same thing about that era’s “unforgettable” (even more puns!!) music as it faded from popular consciousness.

    The good news: I was at the library today and discovered that they own about eight different CDs of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. “Heroes get remembered, kid, but legends never die.”


  4. Doogie June 6, 2015 / 1:42 am

    Although Joezilla, I do think there’s a certain timeless quality about popular music from the mid-60s onward, whereas the old crooners and big bands from the 30s to the 50s already sounded ancient by the time the mid-1960s rolled around. I still hear 60s music (from about 1964 to 1969) alongside 70s and 80s music on my local classic hits station, because 60s music still holds up in a modern musical climate. I even know young people today who love the Beatles and other 60s music (50 years later, mind you), but in the turbulent 60s, I doubt you would have found a young person who loved the sounds of Glenn Miller or Bing Crosby, who would have been big only 20 years earlier. Therefore, I do think it’s a bit of a different case to think that 60s music will soon fade away from the airwaves, like the ancient music from the 30s, 40s and 50s did. I think classic hits stations will keep 60s music in their playlists just because the music of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, the Who, the Kinks, the Doors, Creedence, Van Morrison, etc. and all those other great artists is so timeless and important, and still sounds great today. I think the 1960s, probably starting with the Beatles, is when popular music became “popular music” if you know what I mean.


  5. chris s November 10, 2018 / 9:31 am

    In the decade of the 60’s there was almost 7000 songs that graced the Billboard Top 100.
    1500 less entered in the 70’s.
    (By the time of the digital 90’s only 3440 made the charts, half of what charted in the 60’s).
    Both the quality and the quantity have gone down.
    Many of todays hits, the artists are interchangeable (and many hits are due to status not the quality of the material). A lack of verse, chorus and bridges reduce the music to just a simple pattern played over and over, with a effect or a gimmick thrown in here and there..

    Liked by 1 person

    • rounding30 November 10, 2018 / 12:13 pm

      Wow, those stats are incredible! (And sad)


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