When I was young, one night a week my father would tuck himself away in our recently built, paper-thin extension, and listen to an hour of big band music to recapture his youth. I was told not to interrupt his reverie. That was the music he liked as he got old, music that made him feel young. What will be your playlist for old age?
Well, over at the Guardian’s music blog they run a competition every week for readers to nominate songs for a playlist around a theme. Last week the theme was growing old. It produced a fine crop of melancholic songs about going grey.
Of course, when rock and roll first started to make popular culture it was haunted by early death as a marker of the live-fast die-young generation. Now, hard-working, ageing rock and rollers are leading the way in showing that you can grow old and stay young at the same time. No industry is more determined to defy death than rock.
Yet most of the songs on the Guardian don’t reflect modern reality but instead a mawkish, sad, fearful account of growing old as loss and disappointment, from Pete Hamill’s Autumn, which is about what happens when your children leave home, to 10cc’s Old Wild Men which wonders what happens when yesterday’s firebrands become today’s has-beens.
Randy Newman’s Mikey’s is about old age as an extended opportunity for bitterness and bigotry. The main antidote to bitterness is either nostalgia, in the form of Gladys Knight’s The Way We Were, or rage against the dying of the light, as with Neil Young’s Old Man. The moving Warren Zevon song, Play It All Night Long, with the repeating line ‘keep me in your heart for a while’ didn’t make it onto the list, and neither did Elvis Costello’s Veronica who is so old she’s not even sure her name is Veronica. Clive Dunn’s Grandad, recorded when he was just 50, made the B-list. See the Top of the Pops clip.
The thought of growing old depressed everyone at the Guardian so much the next week they had to cheer themselves up by compiling a song list about euphoria.
Early entries included Katrina & The Waves’ Walking On Sunshine; Nina Simone’s Feeling Good; Van Morrison’s Joyous Sound; The Monkees’ I’m a Believer and Donna Summer’s I Feel Love.
But surely all those songs can apply to being old? Indeed, for a generation of oldies determined to have a good time, perhaps helped by mood altering drugs, Feeling Good might be quite appropriate.
Once again, Jarvis Cocker proves he’s the best policy-wonk in rock when he reminds people that social isolation is the enemy of ageing well: ‘One time they were just like you. Drinking, smoking cigs, and sniffin glue. Don’t just put them in a home, can’t have much fun on their own.’ Scissor Sisters take this thought a step further with their recommendation to ‘take your mamma out tonight…get her jacked up on some cheap champagne’ which sounds like a great idea.
But perhaps, as so often, the final word belongs to Abba when they remind us in When All Is Said and Done that the old people are ‘not too old for sex.’
What would be on your playlist to accompany a raucous old age?