Old Fogeys and Music

July 9th, 2012

It is standard practice for old fogeys to dismiss the music of the young as devoid of musical content. Now that I am old enough to meet the requirements of fogeyism, I shall indulge myself in this time-honored tradition.

I was inspired to write this piece a car next to me at a stop light from which was emanating a raucous cacophony of noise. The driver of the car was beating the steering wheel in a manner suggesting that this was music and he was engaging in participatory bodily movement. This was apparently a form of music called “rap” – a toneless voice reciting something in time with some musical instruments playing something devoid of apparent melody.

Look here, you little punks, you want to know what REAL music is like? The popular music of the 60s and 70s was
about something: the songs had a point, an artistic purpose. They communicated something! I offer here a list of songs from the late 50s, the 60s and early 70s that represent the best that Rock and Roll had to offer. I group them by the type of message they convey:

Raw Energy

Rock & Roll was fundamentally about energy; the best songs burst with a frenetic power that forced you up onto your feet. These were some of the best of these songs:

Red River Rock, Johnny and the Hurricanes

A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles

Help, the Beatles

19th Nervous Breakdown, the Rolling Stones

I’m Down, the Beatles

I Want to Hold Your Hand, the Beatles

Wooly Bully, Sam The Sham

Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry

Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On, Jerry Lee Lewis

Kansas City/ Hey-Hey-Hey, the Beatles

Wild Thing, The Troggs


Music has always been full of romance. Rock & Roll approached it from every possible angle, not just the standard teenager stuff. You’ll notice a lot of Beatles here. OK, I’ve always been a Beatles fan. But let’s not forget that the Beatles are widely regarded as the greatest rock & roll band of all time. These songs show why.

When I’m Sixty-Four, the Beatles

So Happy Together, the Turtles

If I Fell, the Beatles

Did You Ever Have to Make up Your Mind?  The Lovin’ Spoonful

Hey Jude, the Beatles

Mellow Yellow, Donovan

I’ll Follow the Sun, the Beatles

Here, There, and Everywhere, the Beatles

Sunshine of your Love, Cream

She Loves You, the Beatles

Michelle, the Beatles


Rock & Roll wasn’t just about energy and love; it tackled sad themes as well. We don’t see much of that these days.

Tangerine, Led Zeppelin

A Whiter Shade of Pale, Procul Harum

Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin

Nights in White Satin, the Moody Blues

Yesterday, the Beatles

Me and Bobby McGee, Janice Joplin


Well, duh! Nowadays people think of the 60s as drug-soaked, but in fact drugs weren’t as prevalent then as they are today. The musicians were another story; they were very much into drugs, and quite a few died from drug overdoses.

Season of the Witch, Donovan

Kicks, Paul Revere and the Raiders

Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix

Mother’s Little Helper, the Rolling Stones

There is a Mountain, Donovan

White Rabbit, the Jefferson Airplane

Big Questions

The 60s generation spent a lot of time worrying about big questions: What’s the meaning of everything? What is truth? What is right and wrong? We knew one thing: our parents had lied to us, and their way of thinking had gotten us into a nuclear arms race that threatened to destroy humanity. They were comfortable with racism, they got us into a horrific war in Vietnam, and they were absurdly materialistic. We struggled to find our own answers to these questions, and the struggles showed up in our music:

Both Sides Now, Joni Mitchell (although Judy Collins’ version is better)

All You Need is Love, the Beatles

Let it Be, the Beatles

Turn! Turn! Turn!  the Byrds

Within You, Without You, the Beatles

I’m Just a Singer in a Rock and Roll Band, Moody Blues

Om, Moody Blues

Social Commentary

The songs above addressed big questions, but we also got down to specifics, and some of the best Rock & Roll addressed specific flaws in our social system:

Imagine, John Lennon

Eleanor Rigby, the Beatles

Blowin’ in the Wind, Bob Dylan

Lather, Jefferson Airplane

Sympathy for the Devil, the Rolling Stones

The Times They Are A-Changin’  Bob Dylan


Well, we were teenagers during that time, and sex pretty much occupies the minds of all teenagers.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, the Rolling Stones

Light my Fire, the Doors


There were plenty of songs about just plain feeling good.

Here Comes the Sun, the Beatles

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, the Beatles

59th Street Bridge Song, Simon and Garfunkel


Face it: how often do you hear songs these days that are just plain funny?

Mama Told Me Not to Come, Three Dog Night

You Know my Name, Look up the Number, the Beatles


Lastly, there were lots of really great songs that really nailed something very particular:

Depression:  Paint It Black, the Rolling Stones (In all of art, nothing expresses depression like this song!)

The Loneliness of the Artist: The Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkle

Nostalgia for Childhood: Puff the Magic Dragon, Peter Paul & Mary

Anti-War: Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire

Adolescent Freedom: Surf City, Jan and Dean

Anger: When the Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin (Again, nothing I’ve ever seen or heard does a better job of capturing anger.)

Loss: Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

Hot Summers: Summer in the City, the Lovin’ Spoonful

Fate: The End, the Doors

Snobbery: Hang on Sloopy, the McCoys

Loneliness: I am a Rock, Simon and Garfunkle

Lord of the Rings: No Quarter, Led Zeppelin

Neighborhoods: Penny Lane, the Beatles

Rock & Roll: Roll Over Beethoven, Chuck Berry (the Beatles’ version is better)

There you have it: my exercise in fogeyism. Go ahead, laugh at my ancient ways and out-of-date tastes. In three or four decades, you’ll be in the same boat.