Everyone this week pines over Rush as if Neil Peart personally inspired their life's journey. The local radio station spent an entire hour today remembering David Bowie. Yes, they were great musicians. Depending on your taste, you might say they created great music.
But can you guess who had the number one hit of 1973? It wasn't Elton John, or Stevie Wonder, or Paul Simon. It was Tony Orlando. (See the list here.) And who could forget "You Light Up My Life" which spent a record ten weeks at number one in 1977.
I own a collection of mystery stories compiled in 1973. In its introduction, editor Marie R. Reno observes:
The golden age of the mystery story, like the golden age in any field, is usually assigned to the past. How far back it recedes may depend as much on the eye—and age—of the beholder as on the quality of the books at hand.
That is always the fantasy of nostalgia. It is true in any field as it is in music. Our subjective preferences and experiences direct our perception of beauty, which we then label as objectively good or bad. Sprinkle in selection bias and our infamously faulty memory, and we wax nostalgic for how much better things used to be.
Most of the top 40 chart from any year is just as bad as most of what is popular today. We have forgotten because once the fad wears away, bad music is simply bad. We find no reason to enjoy them any longer and they fade out of our cultural consiousness. The music we do remember are those exceptional songs that we still enjoy decades later and continue to listen to.
Further in the introduction, Reno says "I think a case can be made for today as a contemporary golden age." She wrote that in 1973 and it rings true for every age and every field. It takes a more concerted effort to discover the modern treasures among the unremarkable competing for our attention.