Monday, December 10, 2012

Nostalgia Cycles Inspired by "Crocodile Rock"

Does every song tell a story? Not quite. About 10 years ago, one of those cheesey compilation sets was marketed as story songs with tons of old country songs like "Old Rivers" and "North to Alaska". There were some awful songs in the set, but they all told a story. While I like to dig under the surface for what is the subterranean theme or story for plays, movies, and songs, sometimes it's fun just figuring out what the hell is going on in a song. What the fuck was Elton John telling us in "Crocodile Rock"? Crocodile Rock is a nonsensical sounding song that makes perfect sense if you think of the instrumentation's time stamp and read Bernie Taupin's lyrics. Like many successful bits of popular culture, it is a nostalgia piece.

Crocodile Rock's sound is organ heavy and reminiscent of those cheesey 50s and early 60s songs that used to dominate the Oldies stations in the 80s and early 90s. The outro just sounds like a song you'd twist to with your gal at the soda shop. It doesn't fit in the era of the song's release (1972). It's not in the style of Elton John's other songs. It's just strange. The lyrics tell the story. He remembers when rock was young, so we can argue that it is before Buddy Holly's death. Holly's death in 1959 was referred to as the "Day the Music Died". Another clue that it is in the '50s is that he and Suzy hold hands and skim stones. No premarital intercourse despite Suzy wearing her dresses tight. The Pill wasn't approved until the '60s. He does have an old gold Chevy and a place of his own, so he's over 18. The lyrics mention that other kids were rocking around the clock, referencing the Bill Haley song "Rock Around the Clock" released in '54. Another clue is later when John sings "long nights crying by the record machine, dreaming of my Chevy and my old blue jeans". Jeans did not become popular until the greaser culture spread in the mid 50s. Plus, he is saying old blue jeans because 1. the jeans of the early '70s were a totally different cut + style, and 2. he's older now and must wear slacks as an adult. I'd place the song as being about a 35 year old man in 1972 reminiscing about his days as a 20 year old greaser with his first love in 1957.

It's a song for the Silent Generation, despite being released as a pop-rock song during the Boomers peak years of young adulthood. It's a nostalgia, adult contempoary song about greasers who were off the popular mainstream track. It can work for Boomers in the general sense that everyone has a specific quirky musical genre that they identify with the period of time with their first taste of freedom and love. In retrospect, it's not really a surprise it was a hit since the musical "Grease" about the same subculture debuted in 1972. This is all part of the nostalgia cycle where what is considered the cool nostalgia of the current decade is what was cool 20 years earlier. Those teens and early 20-somethings need 20 years to age and become nostalgic. The nostalgia presents the past through a filtered lens, but the concepts are a skeleton to add current feelings and hazy memories to flesh out.

1970s nostalgia for the '50s - Happy Days, Grease, and the All in the Family refutation of the '60s idealism, MASH was set in the Korean war.
1980s nostalgia for the '60s and '40s - This nostalgia was really for the made up media shaped '60s that existed between '68-'74 (pre-disco + Carter). The clothes harkened back to early '60s and '40s styles between the suits, ties, women's more formal wear.
1990s nostalgia for '70s and '50s - Pulp Fiction and Swingers started the '70s and '50s crazes, but even the early grunge had more in common with hard arena rock of the '70s than '80s tunes. Gangsters in the hoods rehabbed old classic cars from the '70s. Films like Boogie Nights and The Ice Storm were '70s nostalgia fun. Here's a question: which decade was the nostalgia the strongest for in "Forrest Gump?"
2000s nostalgia for the '80s and 60s - "I love the '80s" specials, the greed is good attitude comeback, upbeat pop music dominated, bands like "The Killers" and "Franz Ferdinand" were derivative of an early '80s sound. The entire Democratic purging that started with Dean's internet campaign of late '03 was a nostalgia move for revitalizing the '60s feeling. At the school and consumer goods level, you might not believe how much they pushed the peace shit on kids. It was as bad as the enviro crap, which just changes each decade with whatever is the enviro-scare of the era. Obama's election was a chance for white Boomers and blacks to relive the '60s, but only the good part (rewarding a black guy who could speak well), not the mayhem and nationwide strife.

My guess about the 2010s is that hipster culture is a nostalgic echo for grunge and alternative '90s culture with some '70s added for good effect. I'd use any "Cake" music video from the '90s as evidence. Those guys were goddamn hipsters. "Super 8" glorified that late '70s world. The decade is young, so we will see. We live in a nostalgia heavy society that prices throwback sports uniforms over $200, stampedes malls for remade '80s Air Jordans, and spits out Betty Page wannabes from liberal arts campuses by the hundreds. I dont know why the double decade nostalgia, but maybe it has to do with people living older so they can be targeted consumers twice after their teen and early adulthood era. People used to die at 65 with little cash flow. Today's 60-something might be healthier and more self centered so they get caught up in that shit compared to older folks of yesteryear. The lack of cultural cohesion might prevent one decade from being the dominant decade of nostalgia (my money is on the '90s). Regardless of which decade wins, it is just another example of how widespread the disgust with the modern world is currently.


Mark said...

I played in a punk rock band in the seventies and I think a lot of punk rock was about getting back to the simpler stripped down sound of fifties rockabilly type music. Most punk rockers I knew didn't like hippies but admired Buddy Holly, early Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and so on. Even the clothes the punk rockers wore like the leather jackets were a throwback to the fifties. So, even though most people don't think of punk rock as part of the fifties nostalgia of the seventies, to a certain extent it was.

Son of Brock Landers said...

Excellent point. Punk's 3 mins or under of ripped sound M.O. does have more in common with early, straightforward rock than the wall of sound, orchestra backed rock or bloated arena rock sound.