Times change

Musical doldrums

As much as we are all different, it is my personal conviction that the majority of us have numerous commonalities which unite the weekly or monthly courses of our respective lives. My evidence for this is simply observational: when I go to the corner store to buy cigarettes, sharing a pleasantry with the young fellow who seems to live behind the counter, someone else comes in to do likewise; going to the grocery store, it is full of people doing the same thing – stocking up for the coming week. We go to work, entertain ourselves or relax in the evenings and look forward to the weekend or, better, the next long weekend and the prospect of getting to those personal projects or obligations which have been lingering unaddressed.

For myself, Saturday comprises trying to unload the accumulated stress of the work week; I am mindful to keep obligations to a minimum although an afternoon visit to see my aging
parents is normally scheduled. In the morning or early afternoon – depending on how late I rise – the grocery shopping is the priority which leaves my Sunday essentially free.

On this particular Saturday, I managed to slide out of my cocoon at a half-decent hour – only nine o'clock – as compared to the 10 or 11 which has been the norm of late. Surprised and rather proud of myself, hitching my sagging sweats up over my hip and, shambling through my private oasis, I turned on the stereo in passing and continued shambling toward the kitchen to put on my tea.

I listen to a station called '104.5 CHUM FM' – yes, the call letters are CHUM. The station has a great musical history in this area. In the late '50's or early '60's, the AM counterpart – 1050 CHUM – made the leap from the adult contemporary of the time to 'hits' radio. At the time, hits radio implied a fixed list of songs which were rotated in order; once the number one was reached, the list started over again – I am not so certain that things are entirely different today.

In any case, it was in this way that the 'CHUM Chart' was born: a weekly list of the top songs. Back then – let's say in the early '70's – we shopped for vinyl records and '45's but one of the features of visiting the record store was to pick from a basket at the front counter, a copy of the CHUM Chart. An early recollection of mine is the CHUM Chart featuring Grand Funk Railroad (a great, seventies, Canadian band) covering 'The Locomotion' with a blistering guitar solo and, unfortunately, another one of the fad songs, popular at the time – Ray Stevens' 'The Streak'. Terrible.

After all these years, the CHUM Chart still exists although, after the transformation of CHUM AM to sports 'talk' radio, it now resides on FM and is the featured programming – prerecorded – from 9 am until noon, giving the DJ's Saturday morning off. The Chart is presented by a pleasant, if innocuous, fellow called 'Richie' and, among the various musical offerings, he chats about jockeying chart positions, the artists involved and so on, keeping the show to a decent pace. The music played while I made my morning tea.

One of the features of the CHUM Chart is the 'flash-back' – replaying a former number one song from five, 10 or even more years ago. Richie flashed back to 1996 commenting on the song in this way:

'In 1996, this song was number one on Billboard's Hot 100 for 13 straight weeks, shattering a 36 year record set by Elvis Presley with 'Hound dog'.'

Now, for those of you lucky enough not to remember, the 90's were the decade of the so-called 'boy bands' with names like 'Boyz2Men', 'The New Kids', and 'Backstreet Boys'. These were mostly pre-fab groups just like 'The Pussycat Dolls' today or 'The Monkeys' back in the '60's. They were designed and marketed to fill a particular niche which was, essentially, to look good and to sing a lot of soppy, drippy, romantic ballads to get the young girls - and the not so young - swooning every time they came on the radio. Unfortunately, they did it rather well and sold millions of records. That's what good marketing will do for you.

The song was called 'The end of the road' but I don't recall which band it was from and, as I gingerly took my first sips from the hot mug of tea and the song played on the radio, I conjectured that 13 weeks of it must have been worse than Purgatory. Again, I'm thankful not to remember the nineties.

The tea gradually did it's job and I began to feel like a living, breathing human being. The song also ended and Richie continued with the count-down. I don't know what number he was at but, the next song was the new one from Rihanna, called 'We found love'. I knew the song, having heard it on the radio station that plays at work and, I already disliked it intensely. It made me seriously wonder if the American Music Awards had yet established a coveted prize for 'Most Monotonous Song of the Year'. Certainly, I considered, it could have been formed to honour JayZ at any point in his career.

My point, I suppose, was this: why would anyone want to buy into prepackaged tripe and, today especially, we are inundated with such over-produced and slickly marketed products; music or other. How does your 'Aeropostale' hoodie fit? Is your Hillfigger scarf nice and cozy?

I would still take 'Hound dog' any day of the week.

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