Ingredients To A Timeless Song
For over half a century, people have gathered to watch The Rolling Stones perform their hits all across the world. The teen that first watched Mick Jagger strut across stage back in the 60s are now taking their grandchildren to watch the same world-famous Stones. How is that we all grow up inherently knowing the lyrics to some songs? Obviously, we only hear what our parents hear… but as a society how do we decide what songs become more than a song… and part of our culture as humans?
The secret isn’t in song writing, or the lyrics, or some magical chord progression… although being able to get stuck in everyone’s head definitely helps. Certain types of songs withstand the rust that comes along with being associate with a genre, or era. By speaking a message that relates across time, musicians can create hits that generation after generation will grow up just… knowing!
Now obviously, there’s going to be some biased involved because what my generation was exposed to and what my parent’s generation was exposed to, and what kids today are exposed to are all different. I have no doubt that the internet will dilute the ocean of music available to kids moving forward, and some of these “Timeless classics” will just become “Oldies”. But even still… when we eventually have implants for our brain in the future that’ll play the music for us on command… these songs will still get play.
Why does this Journey hit transcend eras? One of the first badges of a timeless song is story telling. And while the biggest flag that this ultra-hit carries is a singable, emotional, inspiring chorus, none of that would matter if it weren’t for a small-town girl living in a lonely world. The cheesiness factor of being just another 80’s bop with rousing lyrics would spoil the fun of “Don’t Stop Believin”. That’s the difference between “Eye of the Tiger” and this Journey hit. While I love Survivor for what they did for Rocky… you won’t be sing-screaming “Eye of the Tiger” drunk during your mid life crisis. I promise.
Where the skies are blue? Right? Another trait that will net you a timeless classic? Local pride! “Detroit Rock City” will always have a spot in rotation in Michigan. “California Love” will survive through every weekend club in Los Angeles for the rest of time. And right now, somewhere in your city, Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is squeezing every last watt of power out of someone’s uncle’s dusty AM/FM speaker. But probably none is more genre transcending and poised to withstand the test of time than “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Although for every play of “Sweet Home Alabama”, there are five people in a concert crowd screaming for “Freebird”, and THAT might carry Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy into the future even further.
How do you reach a wide audience? Break free from being “Just another rock anthem”? Well you can always do what Queen did and shred any notion of a genre and make a “Rock Opera”. Breaking all the rules is risky, but if you’ve got other timeless elements like story telling on your side, you can spin a track into madness and back and still captivate a world of ears. Queen even manages to throw a chorus out the window entirely for this one, while including what are almost different “Scenes” to the track. By the end of this one, you’ve been on a journey of ups and downs and felt a buffet of feelings. It’s a roller coaster everyone wants to ride over and over again.