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Listening to Yesterday: Listening to Yesteryear

Time Life keeps it physical

  1. old rock’n’roll hits
  2. a sales pitch on TV

The ad ran during cultural downtime, late in the evening, after the reruns and the news. Time Life was selling one of its many various-artists collections: Classic Love Songs of Rock & Roll, 152 pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s collected on eight CDs. The hosts of the half-hour segment were singers from that period: Bobby Rydell (“Volare”) and Darlene Love (“He’s a Rebel”).

What was of note was how the CDs were being sold, how they were being framed. “You could source the Internet, scour retail stores, or even rummage through your attic and you wouldn’t find all of these songs, but they’re all here,” one sales line went, tempting a testy couch potato to file a class action suit after actually doing a cursory YouTube search. “Why waste your time and money trying to find all these hits yourself? Time Life has done it all for you. Call or order online now,” a similar train of thought went later in the broadcast. The titles of songs, from so long ago, hinted presciently at their present nostalgic future, from the Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” to Little Caesar and the Romans’ “Those Oldies but Goodies (Remind Me of You).”

The temporal tension in the ad was between what was once fresh and what was now old. “The birth of rock and roll brought us a new sound, new artists,” it went, “and most importantly a new kind of love song.” The message was that the new of today didn’t hold a candle to what was once new: “Easier than downloading, no searching for songs, no trying to remember your favorite artists — take the CDs with you in the car, play them around the house, upload them. Just open the box and enjoy nearly seven hours of the best music.” (The “trying to remember” line seemed either unsavory or spot on, given Time Life’s aging audience.) There was no mention that the CD has as little in common culturally with Motown as does a smartphone streaming service. Perhaps the CD — itself outdated technology, however recently — can also be warmly embraced as an object of nostalgia. Unexpected allegiances are formed in the dustbin of history. Old isn’t necessarily better than new. Old new is better than new new.

This music, we were not so subtly informed, was tied to the physicality of the media on which it first played: “You’ll get all the songs we fell in love to, danced to, heard on the radio, in jukeboxes, and on our own 45s.” This remained the case even if the option to “upload” counted as part of the sales pitch.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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