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Why Do We Like “Vintage” Music?

Paul Wilson wonders why audiophiles like to listen to “vintage” music so much.

In my music library I make what I consider a noble attempt at having music to satisfy a variety of tastes. Of course, my definition of noble may well be feeble to those who scroll through JRemote on my iPad or peruse the albums I have stored in racks in my two listening room closets. Because I do not really like streamed music, I am limited to my collection of music. That isn’t likely to change.  I tell myself my efforts to have music that others will like, even if I do not, are well founded. Perhaps I won’t listen to them all that much, probably won’t even listen to them at all on my own, but it does not mean that a visitor to my listening room will not enjoy something in my collection. 

AR-TaylorSwiftRepitation.jpgTake, for instance, the latest release by Taylor Swift. I purchased this release essentially secure in the knowledge I would not particularly like it, and I was correct. In my estimation, she has ridden the bubblegum, I’ve been wronged theme long enough. Yes, her current musical style sells, in fact it sells incredibly well. Yet I cannot help but wonder if this talented artist could produce even one song that has perhaps a different flavor, more complex, and a lyrical content more in depth than “why did you cheat on me again.” Of course, I also ask much the same question about Diana Krall. 

I try to populate my music library with works that others may like. I mean, let’s face it, if you have a guest over to hear your system, the effort is far more rewarding if they can listen to music they know and enjoy. You may revile the music to which you are essentially forced to listen, but you endure the hardship anyway, for no other reason than to be a responsible host. 

When left to our own devices, however, it is surprisingly easy to slip back into music known and loved, many times from our past, written long before there were empirical corporations with many moving parts all working in concert just to release a song. Very often, the music that moves us comes from a time when an individual artist or group wrote a song, and was very instrumental in recording that song. Music of this era was not only written by an artist(s) but most often performed by them as well. Much of the early Motown music might be a possible exception, but look at most of the significant artists of the 1960’s and 1970’s and you’ll find the majority of hits from that era were written and performed by one artist or group. Today, we euphemistically refer to this type of music as “vintage.” 

AR-ThickAsABrick.jpgI have listened to Jethro Tull, “Thick As A Brick” more times than I can ever hope to count. I have multiple versions, both digital and analog, that all get played at some point or another. Like a junkie needing a fix, every so often I have this pervasive need to cue up “Really don’t mind if you sit this one out…” Needless to say, I have this same interest on quite a lot of music from my early teenaged years, or my early audiophile years, whichever is more accurate. Why is that? 

If we pursue the notion that we are supposed to grow in any one given aspect of our lives, why do we assign such dependence on music from our past? And if we do, in fact, maintain such a dependence, how are we any different than an artist like Taylor Swift who continues to churn out the same basic song, release after release? Okay, sure, in her case it could be legitimately argued she is doing so for commercial success, a way to continue raking in millions of dollars in annual sales. Would you not think at some point she might happen upon the idea of changing gears even if only by a minor amount? Perhaps. Should we therefore do the same? 

My “Five Star” list, that being a list of my favorite songs, is comprised by well more than half of my music that is in excess of twenty-five years old. Some of those selections are approaching forty. A few are even older. If, by my estimate, about thirty percent of my favorite music is something remotely even considered new, what does that say about my taste in music? Does it pigeonhole me into a very narrow doorway through which I will musically pass? Does it mean I am tied to a nostalgic time when my life was somehow different, or possibly, perceptibly better – before the days of a career, mortgages, getting older and all the rest of that? Perhaps. 

Of course, it might also mean that I just don’t like much of the music I hear being recorded in modern times. 

AR-ClassicalMusic.jpgThere are many reasons why we are stylistically, generationally, tied to a particular time frame in our musical past. It is also not surprising that we might prefer one or two particular genres over all others – like maybe traditional jazz or rock and roll. For me, it would be smooth jazz and rock and roll, and I suppose you could even call it “vintage” rock and roll. That said, as I have gotten older, I have grown musically, but only to a point. In my youth I absolutely hated Classical and Country & Western. And while I don’t even now listen to either one the majority of my listening time, when I do play either one, I revel in what I am hearing. 

In the end, I’m going to side with acceptability with having fond memories and continuing ties to music from my past. If for no other reason than being a discernable link to yesterday, or a living memory of youth, vintage music is the foundation of why we like the music of today. Besides, it lets me off the hook, and that’s a good thing. 

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