The Moment We Stopped

My post about the September 21, 1985, American Top 40 show last week brought out an interesting comment from reader Steve E., who noted that the fall of ’85 was the moment at which he stopped listening to current music. I am guessing many amongst the readership had a similar moment—when they went from being regular listeners to a contemporary Top 40 or album-rock radio station and switched to oldies or classic rock or something else.

Mine came in 1987, when I went to work for the elevator-music station. I still listened to Top 40 in the car and at home sometimes, and I kept up a nodding acquaintance with the hits of the day, but only for a while. Give me a song title for any year between 1970 and 1986 and I can tell you approximately what month and year it was big. Give me one after the middle of 1987, and I can’t. By some point in the late 80s, I had made the same transition Steve E. did a few years earlier.

By 1990, I was working at an adult contemporary station, so I became retroactively familiar with some of the late 80s hits I missed, and I played the ones that crossed to AC as currents in the early 90s. From about 1994 until I started working at Magic in 2008—years when I either worked in classic-rock radio or was out of radio altogether—I missed pretty much everything. Today, I am necessarily familiar with current AC hits by people like Kelly Clarkson, Train, Maroon 5, and so on, but ultimately, they’re just equipment, like headphones and the clock on the studio wall. They aren’t what I’m listening to in my spare time.

It’s not strictly correct for any of us to say we’ve stopped listening to current music, of course. Recent albums by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Boz Scaggs, and Donald Fagen are in the hot rotation at my house, and by the time you read this, Elton John’s The Diving Board will be joining them. I await the new Rosanne Cash album in January, and Van Morrison hasn’t made a record in that last 10 or 15 minutes, so he’s due, too. Am I buying Macklemore or Vampire Weekend or whatever’s big on the radio right now? No I am not. But I’m not strictly an antiquarian either. Not yet, anyhow, although if you want to argue that listening to new releases by people I first discovered in the 70s and 80s isn’t the same as discovering new music, I’d probably listen to your argument.

So let’s hear from the readership. When did you stop listening to current music on the radio? Is there a moment or a reason you can point to, or is it something that just faded away? Or have you never stopped? I expect your stories will probably be more interesting than mine, so have at it.

20 thoughts on “The Moment We Stopped

  1. I never really stopped listening to new music but I listen to a lot less of it than I used too. Much of what’s on the radio is bullbleep. I have no time for the synth teen dance music from the likes of Katy Perry and others like her and I absolutely despise rap. I listen to a lot of singer-songwriters, Americana & country-rock, and newer artists (ie: Los Lonely Boys, Dawes, The Lone Bellow, Michael Buble, Mumford & Sons) who play in styles that were more popular back when my favorite music was cool. Commercial radio doesn’t give me anything I enjoy so most of what I hear comes from being online, Sirius XM, and new stuff other people suggest to me.

  2. Yah Shure

    1997, when the college station at my alma mater moved rap and hip-hop out of it’s two-hour Sunday block and into general rotation. Said station is holding its 20th anniversary reunion this weekend, which also includes us old farts from its student-run predecessor. They’re promising guest DJs. Hopefully, that won’t include Garrison Keillor.

    1968 was when my gradual top-40 slide began, as the market added oldies and underground stations that year. Through college radio and beyond, the top 40 slice of the pie became smaller and less important. Disco was the last straw.

    I enjoyed the new stuff on Little Steven’s Underground Garage when I had XM, but haven’t cared one whit in years about what terrestrial radio’s been playing. The real joy is digging up the older nuggets the top 40 miners never sent up to the surface and removing the thick patina from those long-buried vinyl 45 versions Casey used to play.

    Sorry to hear the news about Casey’s advanced Parkinson’s.

  3. I guess I stopped caring about Top 40 and Adult Contemporary radio around 1992. For me, 1991 was a year that just sucked on the radio. There were some decent songs like “Higher Than Hope” by David Braithwaite and even “Dangerous” by the Doobie Brothers, but contemporary radio was going through an identity crisis that sent powerhouse Top 40s like WZOK/Rockford, Z104/Madison, and WKTI/Milwaukee into a downward spiral. It also opened the door for the Country format to revitalize itself….although country music stations are now facing the very same identity crisis today.

  4. I became disconnected from the hits in 1990, when I moved from Madison to Green Bay. Two reasons for that. One, I never found a new radio station that played decent new music. Two, that also was about the time they stopped playing music videos on MTV (and other TV), which during the ’80s was where I also heard new music. I vividly remember The Moment of Disconnect. I was sitting in the car, parked in front of Green Bay’s old downtown mall, waiting for my wife. It was the fall of 1991. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on the radio. WTF. Is. This?

  5. porky

    I worked in a record store ’87 to early ’90 and kind of had to keep current,though it was a collector’s shop, out of print type store. We still ordered new stuff and I remembered kids absolutely flipping for the first Guns n’ Roses record.

    Because we had kids I was able to hear some newer music now and then and never did give up following new releases, new bands etc. (I just did the math and our five kids were in high school consecutively from 1997 to 2013). Then I went through that alt-country phase and have to laugh at most of that stuff now. Never heard a note of Wilco, nor do I want to.

    I do remember a handful of songs that I actually bought: Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” and Brother Cane’s “And Fools Shine On” are three from the 90’s that come to mind.

    But I’m with Yah Shure. There is a TON of stuff still waiting to be found out there and I continue digging through junk shops, rummage sales etc making great discoveries: last week found the LP by Jim Weatherly with original version of “Midnight Train to Georgia” (his is “Midnight Plane to Houston”)–what a revelation.

  6. Marie

    My slide began in June of 1984, when I moved from Chicago to a small town in Western Michigan. The main stations there were religion and country. But, since I could still get WLS on the car radio, I listened to that on the short ride to work and back home. Then one Friday early evening — I don’t remember the exact date, except it was a Friday in the summer — I picked my little girls up from daycare and drove around listening to the radio for a couple hours…. until Lujack went off the air. And I just sat there crying. (On the off chance it wasn’t a Friday in the summer, oops, the mind plays tricks. It seemed like it.)

  7. It must have been somewhere in the mid 90s, when the record labels starting releasing singles to radio only, so you would the album rather than the single, which would been around the same time that they were price-fixing CDs. So then Billboard starting carving up the charts, where you had the Hot 100, the Hot 100 Airplay and the Hot 100 singles. Songs like No Doubt’s Don’t Speak were big #1 hits without hitting the Hot 100. I lost interest in current popular music and started to go back and find out what music I missed which fell thru the cracks. I built a radio show around that concept and am still doing it today.

    Outside of Hey Ya by Outkast, I can’t name another true #1 hit without looking it up

    1. porky

      wow, this nails it perfectly. After a long absence of chart-watching I bought a Billboard Top 40 book that ended at the year 2000 and saw the “album cut” notation and didn’t know what that even was.

  8. Ryan

    This is great, because I actually had this discussion the other day with a friend. We call it our “music death” – the year we can definitively say that we stopped paying attention to top-40, hot 100 or whatnot. My CD collection (and mp3’s for that matter) have an end date, and after that point, I have found it unfulfilling to consume what is popular. To me, I can tie so many of my most vivid memories and experiences to song, and there is a real sense of emotional attachment to the music as the soundtrack to those times. However, it has become more and more difficult to find that attachment over time, and this is neither good nor bad, but rather a natural process. Echoing what several have said, I would much rather dig into a new effort from an artist from my past because it is like reuniting with a friend and sharing our experiences as we’ve grown older. My days of experimenting or widening my horizons are over and I just don’t have an interest in doing that, anyway. While I may like some of the music I hear from Fall Out Boy or Miguel or whomever, it’s just never going to be “my” music. There is some really good stuff out there, I’m sure, but I’m frankly just not that interested. I’ll stick to what I know. And most importantly, I don’t feel the lesser for it.

  9. Chris

    Yes, at some point (a different point individually) the ‘current’ music changed—meaning it probably got worse.
    But, more importantly, WE changed, meaning we got older, assumed more responsibility, got married, had children, climbed (or fell down) the corporate ladder…basically we grew up, because we had to, because we had rent/mortgage/car payments to make and mouths to feed.
    Once you reach that stage in life, whatever the hell is playing on ‘top-40’ radio begins to lose all relevancy.
    And I wish I could have delayed and put that ‘stage’ off forever and ever.

  10. Len

    Quiz me on “pop hits of the 90s,” and I lose. I was doing oldies and fell out of touch. Now that I’m advising student media, I’m sort of back in touch. Always surprises the airstaff when I reference “their” music…

  11. For me, the switch from Top 40 to AC came in 1980 or so after about five years of not liking much of what I heard on Top 40. It’s hard to pin down an exact date because I’ve come to know so many of the hits from the 1980s after the fact. But it was in 1990 or so that I quit listening very much to AC as well, so the vast majority of the hits in the more than twenty years since then are nowhere on my radar. Like you, I look for new stuff from artists to whom I’ve listened for years. I do also keep my ears open for new artists and new material in the genre that’s now called Americana. I feel more at home there than I have in any genre since maybe 1975.

  12. Steve E.

    You’re right, jb, in that I didn’t entirely stop listening to current music in the September 1985 period where I posted the earlier comment. But since KRTH was my access to current Top 40, after it went all oldies I no longer had a natural venue to hear new Top 40. And since I liked only part of what was coming out in the most recent years of ’84 and ’85, I didn’t care enough to fine another station to keep me abreast. As I figured it, now that KRTH was going all oldies, I was happy, since I knew I’d like almost everything the station would be playing. Of course, I should also add that in the mid-’80s, KRTH had a deep oldies playlist and played not just the expected big hits but also songs that had been big in SoCal but not elsewhere (such as “Live” by the Merry Go Round and “Roses and Rainbows” by Danny Hutton) but also album cuts like “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” and “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”). And it played the full time range from the mid-’50s through the early ’80s. It was awesome. But it didn’t last. By the end of the ’80s, KRTH had tightened its playlist to just the biggest national hits, and the ’50s songs were aired less and less, and the album cuts were out. And it stayed that way for many years, so eventually I drifted away. But I never did rekindle an interest in new music. If I heard something in a store that I liked, I’d try to find out what it was. (In ’86, I heard “Holding Back the Years” and thought it was called “I’ll Keep Holding On,” and I could NOT find a song by that title.) And like you, I would get new music by the pre-1985 artists I liked. But I consider those artists grandfathered. So I still consider September 1985 at my time the music died, save for isolated signs of life. By the way, I listen to Dick Bartley’s “Sunday Night Countdown” on WCBS-FM. In that show he features the current month in two time periods. So last week it was September 1979 and September 1969. A few years ago, his range was 1965 to 1984. But about three years ago, he kicked out 1965 and added 1985. And this past year, he’s kicked out 1966 and 1967 to add 1986 and 1987. Yes, he did go back to 1967 once this past summer, but he’s since gone back to 1987. What this means is that there are some shows where I’m listening to an oldies show, and it’s filled with songs I don’t know. I know we’ve heard oldies radio move more and more away from the ’50s and ’60s and deep into the ’80s, but it makes me feel mighty old.

  13. For me, personal charting has kept me connected loosely to contemporary Top 40, even though there’s a fair amount I won’t listen to. I guess one sign of being aware of my age (50, this year) is my irritation with the casual use of the f-word and other vulgarities in pop songs. It’s not that I would never find that appropriate — Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know (from 15+ years ago!) is a prime example of perfect use in context — but it just seems lazy and bland. On the other hand, as a high school counselor, I can attest that it does reflect how many kids talk these days.

  14. Scott

    I lost interest in Top 40 around 1998, at the age of 35, but I occasionally hear a “modern” song that I like, from Young the Giant to Theory of a Deadman to The Ting Tings!

  15. George Landes

    I pretty much stopped around 1974. I thought contemporary music made a quick downward slide at this time. I was 16 at the time. I mostly listened to Oldies Radio & sometimes Album Rock & listened to my own collection of records & tapes. I did kind of come back to Top 40 around 1977 & through college but then moved on to either Christian radio for awhile or Light Rock.

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