Written in 1964 by Bob Dylan, The Byrds’ 1965 hit All I really want to do was played on BBC Radio Six during the evening drivetime programme.
For those unfamiliar with Radio Six, it is the BBC’s platform for alternative and independent music. Most of the airtime is devoted to current music from current bands. Undoubtedly, the listenership has an older age profile than Radio 1, the BBC’s other music station, and there is no attempt by the presenters or the playlist compilers to engage with whatever youth culture might mean in 2020. The artists played are often as young as those featured on Radio 1, but their musical styles are different, more reflective, less commercial.
Listening to a contemporary music station play The Byrds didn’t seem odd. They might have qualified as an indie band in more recent decades. Yet, on reflection, it seemed strange that a station that will often play cutting edge work would play a record from fifty-five years ago. It seems unlikely the music of the Edwardian music halls before the First World War would have found much popularity among those who bought records by The Byrds in 1965.
The phenomenon is not confined to Radio Six: Radio One has little that is distinctively different from much that has been recorded in the past three or four decades.
One of the oddest things is to hear new punk bands. Punk set itself up as being against the past, against tradition, against convention. To see the reappearance of punk more than forty years after it stormed into popular consciousness seems a negation of the spirit of it.
What has happened to popular culture that not just songs, but whole musical genres, have developed the capacity to retain their appeal for successive generations?
Perhaps the apparent freezing of history is due to a lack of watersheds that would define historical eras.
The First World War was the end of the Nineteenth Century age of optimism. The mud of the Somme brought an end to a belief in immutable progress. The jazz music that followed in the Twenties and Thirties was a major break from all that had gone before.
The Second World War and the ensuing polarisation of the world brought a disillusionment with politicians and elders of every sort. The rock and roll of the 1950s was a youthful rebellion against the establishments of the time.
And since that 1950s rebellion, there has been no further definitive moment. Until a world-shaking event occurs, the music will continue as it is.