Aug. 21. This one was fun to write. Please read it.

If the movies are any indication, nostalgia these days for old time rock & roll seems to be more than a feeling, indeed an ongoing moondance — and with good reason. In retrospect, the musicianship and lyrics in the best of 1960s and especially ’70s classic rock were astonishingly creative, masterly, and, indeed, some kind of wonderful.

Five, count ’em, five, tributes to classic rockers are (or will be) in theaters this year. First out of the gate was the megahit Bohemian Rhapsody (about Queen’s Freddie Mercury), followed by Rocketman (Elton John), Yesterday (The Beatles), Blinded by the Light (Bruce Springsteen) and, soon, Stardust (David Bowie). The first two and last are standard biopics, while Yesterday and Blinded by the Light are clever, winsome, novel-like tributes with storylines built around the superstars’ music. (I can with great enthusiasm recommend Bohemian Rhapsody, Blinded by the Light, and especially Yesterday, but I haven’t yet seen the other two.)

So what’s going on here? Why the sudden interest in the songs of yesterday when the musicians themselves said don’t stop thinking about tomorrow? Put another way, why does old rock music suddenly seem like a paradise (by the dashboard light)?

Some of us thought we were prematurely obsolete when in recent years we complained that modern pop music sounds tuneless, rhymeless, rhythmless, storyless, and either way too whiny or too prone to artificial, overly self-conscious, snarky attempts at hipness. Setting aside those judgments of musical taste, though, what are the elements of the “old stuff” that seem to be thrilling movie audiences today?

First, there really is something to be said for traditional musical structure, with real melodies, usually rhyming, in verses surrounding catchy refrains, all with a (usually) danceable back beat created by real instruments rather than by some computer-generated techno-fakery. Even amid a wonderfully dizzying array of styles, images, and voices, almost all classic rockers remained in some sense balladeers or even troubadours….

[The full column is at this link.]


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