Letting live and letting die

On New Year’s Eve, Kanye West released a new single “Only One”, which was also a collaboration with Paul McCartney. This was followed by a few tweets from people joking about how Kanye was a great talent spotter and surely the collaboration would mean great things for this Paul McCartney chap. And then that in turn was followed by outrage from others, highly bothered that the youth of today did not know who Paul McCartney was.

I saw a news report where a reporter asked various teens if they’d heard of Paul McCartney and most of them hadn’t, though the name was vaguely familiar to a few. And it got me thinking. How crazy is it for a teen of 2015 to have not heard of Paul McCartney?

It made me wonder if the teen Beatles fans of 1965 were berated for not knowing the music hall legends of 1915. It’s not quite an equal comparison, because in 1915 – right in the midst of World War I – recorded music wasn’t the thing it was today. Gramophones were still a luxury item and popular radio was about a decade away from starting. People experienced music through music hall shows and home performances using sheet music. There were music hall stars, but in a way, the song composers were better known.

It’s only been since the advent of the recorded music industry in the mid 20th century that the fetishisation of pop stars has started. That leads to Paul McCartney, a man who has been working in the music biz for over 50 years.

Is it reasonable for a teen of today to not know who he is? The Beatles had a huge, excited teen following in the 1960s, but who goes to Paul McCartney concerts now? Other old people. Teens are off see One Direction or Taylor Swift shows. Meanwhile, Macca is off jamming with Dave Grohl and making music for other rock dudes. But maybe some lucky teen might get taken to a Paul McCartney show by their grandparents.

Paul McCartney doesn’t court teen audiences anymore, so why should teens know who he is? Is it the duty of parents and teachers to teach kids about popular music of the 20th century? And if so, how much would that suck the life out of pop?

When I was a kid, Paul McCartney was the guy who sang “Say Say Say” with Michael Jackson. I didn’t start to explore the Beatles until I was about 19, when I could relate to it on my own terms, not via the lens of the previous generation.

I read once that people get angry about things that remind them they’re going to die. Maybe this is one of those situations. Paul McCartney isn’t a floppy-haired teen idol anymore. He’s not even an earnest rock dad singing songs about picturesque Scottish peninsulas. He’s a grandfather with dyed hair, but one who can still write good songs and entertain his fans. Teens don’t know who Paul McCartney is; you’re old, you’re going to die.

There are still going to be teens out there who listen to the Beatles and Wings (especially the super fun ones who declare that all modern music is rubbish), but it’s not unreasonable for a teen to not be familiar with old music.

Unless this whole shemozzle is an elaborate stunt orchestrated by Kanye West. In which case, well done.

4 thoughts on “Letting live and letting die”

  1. When I was a little kid ( 5-10 ) we had singing at school and sung all sorts of fun songs (from official songbooks). Fast forward to my teens and I work out they were all hippy songs from the 60s and 70s

    Sample songs:

    Yellow Submirine – The Beatles
    Good morning Starshine – from musical Hair
    D-I-V-O-R-C-E – Tammy Wynette

    So are today’s 7 years olds singing “Shout” by Tears for Fears?

    1. Yes! The same thing happened when I was at school. I assumed they were old folk songs, but it turned out they were just pop songs that were only 20-30 years old.

      The one contemporary song I remember singing was “Last Christmas” by Wham. The chorus was good, but the music lady gave up when she realised the looser verses didn’t suit a disordered group of 11-year-olds.

      1. A crowd; a broom; friends with tie-dyes, where I’m hiding from you and your soldered eyes. That is how I sang the loose verse of “Last Christmas” at 11, which suggests I would have contributed to the disorder.

  2. Linda McCartney really stunk up the backing vocals on that track (and can’t dance worth a damn). Guns N’ Roses did it better in any case.

    I’m surprised you were so late to the Beatles, but I guess maybe my parents were more into popular music than yours were, so of course the house was full of great records. The Beatles were probably my first favourite band, and I soaked in Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and so on from a young age.

    It felt like you were going to do an investigation on what the big acts were in 1915 but then just left it hanging there.

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