Songs young people don’t understand


By David Lindeman

Contributing columnist

My wife and I were listening to an old song by the Turtles — yes, there was a band called the Turtles — the other night. Those of you who are of a certain age might remember it: “Happy Together.”

When it was finished, she said, “Well, kids today wouldn’t get that song.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

In response, she sang (kind of) this verse: “If I should call you up, invest a dime, and you would say you belong to me, it’s worth my time.”

I gave her that “what are you talking about” look.

“Invest a dime,” she said. “They would have no clue what that means.”

She’s right. Back in the dark ages before cell phones, it would take a dime to make a phone call from a public phone. “Invest a dime.” Young people today don’t know about public phones and the idea of having a dime on you to make a call is really foreign. I always used to have a couple dimes in my pocket to make phone calls.

So we got to talking about other songs that would be a mystery to young people today. Here are some examples.

Jim Croce, “Operator.” Same principle, only this guy not only is using a dime to make a phone call he’s also talking to an operator. An operator was a real, live person you sometimes needed to help you make a connection, especially long distance, and always if it were a collect call (which meant you wanted the person receiving the call to pay for it).

Paul Simon, “Kodachrome.” Once upon a time, cameras used stuff called film. Kodachrome was a special brand of film created by the Kodak Co. to make sure your photographs had those nice, bright colors that made us think all the world was a sunny day. Cameras today are digital, so no film.

The Five Americans, “Western Union.” In addition to having a name you wouldn’t want to take overseas these days, the Five Americans had their one hit with the song “Western Union.” It was all about sending a bad news telegraph. The telegraph was the cutting edge of technology … well, back in the 19th century. The telegraph has been replaced by digital communications, but Western Union is still around in the money transfer business only now instead of needing a telegraph operator, you can use your cell phone.

Janis Joplin, “Mercedes Benz.” Good old Janis Joplin. “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all have Porsches, I must make amends.” Kids today know about Mercedes Benz and Porsche — some high school students even drive them to school. But this is the verse that probably is puzzling for them: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV? Dialing for Dollars is trying to find me.” First of all, why does she say “color TV.” What other kind is there? Old people remember that once there only were black and white televisions and we thought we were doing pretty well with a 13-inch screen. Oh, and we could watch two stations — Channel 2 and Channel 7 — and if you had the right kind of TV you might even get Channel 22. Dialing for Dollars was the name of an old TV game show.

The Kinks, “Party Line.” More outdated phone technology. I grew up in a house that had a party line — everyone on the street could be on the line at the same time and people would yell at their neighbors to get off the line so they could make a call. It wasn’t much for privacy, but you could find out some interesting information.

Sam Cooke, “Wonderful World.” Things sound modern enough until you get to the fourth line: “Don’t know much about geography, Don’t know much trigonometry, Don’t know much about algebra, Don’t know what a slide rule is for.” Slide rule? Almost no one knows what one is for and those of us who do can’t remember how they worked.

Jackson Browne, “The Load Out.” Browne sings about cassettes and truckers on the C.B. and Richard Pryor on the video, all of which probably seem like some kind of alien language to any young person who stumbles across the song.

Pink Floyd, “Money.” The theme of the song is still relevant, but that sound you hear at the beginning of the song? That’s an old-fashioned cash register. Originally, the bell rang every time it was used to announce a sale and to give the boss warning that someone had his or her hand in the till. You don’t hear that bell anymore; in fact, it might not be long until cash follows the cash register into oblivion.

You get the idea. It’s kind of like trying to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics. I’m sure there are more songs that would make the list — maybe I’ll dig out the eight-track tape player and see what I can find. Wait, you don’t know about eight-track tape players?

David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

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