June 4, 2005

Number 1.

From the Daily News:
For the first time since WKTU (103.5 FM) started doing top-103 countdowns for each decade, Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" is not No.1 for the '70s.

This shocking news came out when 'KTU did its latest countdown and the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" bumped Gloria to No.2.

Prince's "1999" was No.1 for the '80s, while Madonna's "Vogue" was No.1 for the '90s.

So dance music ruled for thirty years? If you'd have told me in 1976 that was going to happen, I would have broken down and cried!

It seems to me they didn't even get the best Prince song from the '80s, but I think what happens with these things is that something becomes iconic, so that it's not the song so much anymore but everything it's come to symbolize. Like for example, the way life is just a party and you wouldn't even care if it was Judgment Day, people were running everywhere, and, of course, the sky was all purple. Somehow that sums up how, looking back, you feel about the 80s.

So what are we to make of "Stayin' Alive" upsetting "I Will Survive"? Our idea of the 70s, up until recently, entailed a woman summoning up her inner powers, and now the decade feels more like a man just struggling to get by. As with "1999," we've got destruction all around -- "Feel the city breakin' and ev'rybody shakin'" -- and the singer's way to deal with it is to party: "Got the wings of heaven on my shoes/I'm a dancin' man and I just can't lose."

And actually, "Vogue" tells the same story. There's "heartache" and "the pain of life" "everywhere," and the solution: "It's called a dance floor."

So there's your formula for popular music: acknowledge that the pain of the real world and present dancing -- to this very song -- as the solution. People love that.

UPDATE: Looking at the WKTU website now, I can see the lists were specifically of dance songs. The Daily News didn't specify that, but I guess if you're in NY you know the station's format. Side note: I can remember listening to top 100 lists on a NY station in the mid-70s. Number 1 was always "In the Still of the Night."


David Manus said...

Uh, who is doing the voting? And what format is that radio station? I would guess dance music. You can get as many different "rankings" as people have opinions, I don't put much stock in them. Recently Virgin UK listeners voted Oasis' "Wonderwall" the top song of all time, above #2 Bohemian Rhapsody and #3 Stairway to Heaven, at which point I pretty much dismissed the entire list -half the tunes and bands (Keane?? had 2, the only Elvis Costello song on the list was "Oliver's Army"??) I'd never heard of before and some sounded like they were recorded in someone's garage. Those lists are like opinions and elbows (to be polite), everyone's got one and they are pretty much worthless.

Ann Althouse said...

While the lists are worthless as an answer to the question what was the best song, it's some kind of answer about pop culture, about how someone thinks about the past. Those UK surveys never make any sense to me, and the votes are skewed by having a limited list to choose from.

But now that you mention it, I checked the KTU website and can see these were specifically dance music lists, so I've got to do an update! Still, I can find better Prince songs on this very list.

JohnF said...

As a New Yorker, who has had the misfortune of listening to KTU (as well as all other crappy radio stations here in NYC), KTUs format appears very simple: crappy, sentimental dance music that secretaries and homemakers in their late 30s to early 50s listen to.

Sorry to generalize, but that is its target demographic: downmarket women of middling education, and even more middling cultural experience.

But then all radio stations target similarly narrow demographics. This goes a long way to explaining why I would rather drill holes in my head with a dull butter knife than listen to the radio.

Radio has become an abhorrent mix of demography and marketing.

dick said...

when was it not a mix of demography and marketing? I think that probably in the past you just fit the demography and marketing they were aiming for. I think almost all entertainment media is demography and marketing. For instance, I personally hate most dance music of the past 30 years so where do I go to listen to what I like?

Ann Althouse said...

Dick: You have no idea how much of a Prince fan I was in the 1980s.

Ann Althouse said...

John: You need to get satellite radio. With the commercials eliminated and hundreds of channels, the market forces produce an entirely different effect. XM radio streams on-line, so you don't need a dish or a car or anything.