My fiancé Kelly and I went to see Aimee Mann recently at The Two River Theater in Red Bank. Kelly and I share a love of live music and also of small intimate settings where an artist is free to play her music and also talk openly with the crowd. Ms Mann has a new CD coming out soon so after opening the show with a handful of her older songs she got to the part in the show where it was time to play some new, unreleased tracks. And she introduced this section by saying her brother had gone to a concert recently and when he told her about it he said “and they did way too many new songs.” She said “new songs” as if it was a vile thing and when the laughter in the theater died down she then added, “so….here are some new songs.”
And it got me to thinking, songs do have a shelf life, don’t they? I mean it obviously depends on the song itself and also of the listener. Some people love rap, some country, some pop etc. But overall, you could probably draw a chart for most songs and it would look like your typical bell curve from high school trigonometry (God how I hated high school trig!).
Think about the last time you fell in love with a song. The first time you heard it you probably listened with some interest. Maybe it grabbed you on the first spin or maybe it took a second or third listen. Then at some point you started really liking it. And then you listened to it over and over. You may have even become borderline obsessed with it. Maybe you downloaded a copy and put it on your iPod or cell phone so you could hear it whenever you wanted. Or maybe it was a Top 40 hit so you didn’t have to own a copy, you knew pop radio would repeat it regularly enough. You learned the lyrics. If it was an upbeat song and you heard it in the shower maybe you even danced around naked to it while singing into a hair brush (oh, sure I’m the only one who does that!) To go back to our graph, this song had peaked. You were in love with it and it moved you every time you heard it.
But just like our bell curve, at some point, your interest started to wain. The song began to move to that dreaded “played out” category. You stopped playing it whenever you were stuck in traffic. Then one day it came on the radio and you actually changed the station. Your love affair with the song had ended and like Donald Trump with wives, you probably moved on to something new.
As DJs we walk the fine line of that bell curve. We try to play songs that are somewhere in that upper category for the majority of the room. We like to get songs on the way up, and abandon them before they begin that precipitous plunge. But we are also aware that if you followed that graph out further into the future, many songs (but not all) have a second life. Many songs get “played out” but then after hibernating for X number of years they become “retro.” We are currently experiencing that phenomena with a lot of 80s music. A song like “Jessie’s Girl” was left for dead for most of the last 20 years; considered corny and overplayed. But the last few years, it has experienced a semi-revival. We see it on many playlists and crowds react to it enthusiastically. I believe a lot of early 90s dance music and techno/pop (La Bouche, 2 Unlimited) is the next genre to experience this rebirth. We shall see.
So to go back to Aimee Mann’s brother, the next time you hear new music, whether it’s an artist previewing songs from their upcoming, unreleased CD or its a radio or mobile DJ playing a track you’ve never heard before, try not to think of it with too much vile. It just might become your next favorite song. And if you’re like most people, a favorite song can change your mood. It can make you happy and it can make you sing and it might even make you dance around naked (oh right, that’s just me. . . )