April 24, 2005

Have you really been there?

here are songs out there that it seems like everyone knows and loves. I’m not talking about the latest Top 40 hit necessarily, but songs that have been around for years that upon hearing the first few notes, we’ll put our arms around each other and sing every word. Even as college students, we seem to cherish songs like “Summer of ‘69”, “Sweet Home Alabama”, or “Piano Man”.

What makes these songs in particular so radically popular? While the instrumental parts of these songs are undoubtedly well written, so are many other songs. The only reason I have heard and can seem to be accurate is that so many people “can relate” to the words and melodies. I can only assume that by ‘relating’ to something, a person is able to think of the situation or ideas described in the lyrics and put themselves in that spot because of their own experiences in life. They’ve ‘been there.’

But have they really? Let’s examine these songs and you be the judge.

The classic “Summer of ’69” describes the story of a guy, perhaps Bryan Adams himself, and his dream of starting a band with his friends in the summer of 1969. Have you ever bought or played a six string? Have you ever been to a five and dime? Do you even know what a five and dime is? Have you ever started a band? He then talks about how he met what can be assumed to be a girl, while hanging out at a drive-in who says she’ll wait for him, likely on Mama’s porch. My mama didn’t have a porch, and I’ve only been to a drive-in twice, and it was merely a novelty. Also- did you know he was Canadian? Yeah, this wholesome tale happened in Ontario, not small town America like I had previously believed.

“Sweet Home Alabama” is another popular song that everybody knows. It was actually written in response to Neil Young’s song “Southern Man”. (Hence the lyrics in the second verse.) Have you ever been to Alabama? I drove through it once, and I wasn’t impressed. Do they really love the Governor in Birmingham? Do you? Does Watergate not bother you? Really? Are you really going home to Alabama?

Everyone loves “Piano Man”. Have you ever been a piano man, or worked in a piano bar? Honestly, I think this song is kind of depressing. Have you ever been a regular at a bar and shared your loneliness with a stranger? I know I haven’t. Can you wallow in your sorrows about memories of being much younger and regret what your life has become?

I was just thinking about this recently when I heard a large group singing along to one of these songs. In all fairness, each person has their own right to interpret the meanings of these songs as they see fit. They mean different things to different people. Even I can extrapolate a meaning. For example, “Summer of ‘69” could represent a dream we had when we were younger that we never realized, but now reflect on. Do most people take the time to think about it and consider what the song really means? I don’t know. I think it’s more likely that we’re simply caught up in what we believe to be a “classic song” and join the chorus.

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