The goal of Jay Bennett's ambitious Nothing Not New project is to avoid slipping into a state of "aesthetic atrophy." That's why Jay is listening only to brand-new music for one year. I, for one, believe some people have the opposite problem. It seems to me that a lot of hipsters are unaware and unappreciative of the music that made "their" music possible.
An ambitious New Times reader named Rich Wilhelm has promised to start a "Nothing Not Old" project on his blog. Hopefully, others will vow to listen to rock 'n' roll staples that they wouldn't otherwise listen to because -- gasp -- it got radio play and/or their relentlessly uncool mom and dad listened to it.
So to start people off, I have a list of five old songs that still sound brand-spankin'-new. If these tracks dropped today, I think a lot of people -- even indie-rock snobs with blogs no one is reading -- wouldn't think twice about it.
Coincidentally, many of them fall under the category of early punk, and upon further research, I found out that several of them made it onto the Pitchfork 500 list of the best songs of all time. Have at it, hipsters. Sounds as if even Pitchfork would approve.
Marquee Moon - Television - 1977
This song was what sparked the idea for a list such as this one. While driving in the car with a friend of mine, the song came on a slightly obscure radio station. My initial reaction, "Oh! I love this song! And it hardly ever gets played on the radio." Her reaction, "It sounds really cool. What is this?" Though it may be almost 11 minutes long, it holds its place as probably the most famous and influential tune by the band. Lead singer Tom Verlaine's voice is part of what keeps the song sounding fresh. Whether people realize it or not, I believe the modern indie rock group's male singer is largely patterned after him. While the above song is the remastered version, I recommend the original, (which is not available to be shared legally over the interwebs.) It's more lo-fi, and raw, while still soothing.
Psycho Killer - Talking Heads - 1977
This one may be a bit more familiar to the younger crowd than some of the others. Its driving beat and repetitiveness make it dance-able. In a sick sort of way. That and David Byrne's unmistakable vocals with largely French lyrics, (which are still somewhat abstract,) give the song a certain mystique noir. It's simplicity but edginess is exactly what indie rockers crave. Dig it.
Heroin - The Velvet Underground - 1967
While this song does date itself in some ways (the psychedelic feel in the slow parts, and Lou Reed's voice which can be synonymous with the '60s,) its other components make it sound modern enough that I believe it would still be commercially viable if it were released tomorrow. It's stripped down, but sounds full and continuously moving. And there's something about The Velvet Underground defining the word "cool" in modern terms that makes it hard for even the trendiest to poo-poo them.
The Passenger - Iggy Pop - 1977
This is one of the few instances when tambourine actually sounds a little edgy. It's clear from this song that there's a certain quality about this early punk sound, of the mid-'70s that has a certain edgy appeal that never left. (Note that it's the third song on the list that came out in 1977.) Iggy's deep, overwhelming voice is both intriguing and enticing, and helps the song hold water over 30 years later.
Schizophrenia - Sonic Youth - 1987
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This is the most recent song on the list, but at over 20 years old, it still makes the cut. I believe that Sonic Youth will go down in history as one of those timeless bands that our kids will listen to as well. (If it doesn't bother them that their parents listened to it.) Raw, and with depth, it's one of those songs that makes you pause for thought, rather than being a background track. For a neat take on it, check out a choir of senior citizens called "Young at Heart" performing it. Gives it a whole new dimension.