So I had this great little conversation with my nephew yesterday. We were sitting by the pool with a 60s/70s station providing our Fourth of July soundtrack. The little game of “Name the Artist” I was playing with my brother-in-laws was fun. Fully expecting to get some push-back, I asked my nephew – a big music fan – for his opinion on what might have been the best era for pop music based on relevance, quality, depth, etc. I was surprised when he quickly agreed that the music on the station entertaining us was representative of the best. Debate avoided. Then I asked him why he thought it was the best. He went right to the lyrics. Sure, there was some pretty goofy stuff out there at the time (“And they called it Puppy Love. . . “, anything by Barry Manilow, etc.). But there was some depth and thoughtfulness that isn’t always there anymore. . . at least it seems that way to me. That’s the reason my car’s satellite radio usually finds itself on stations that play music from that era.
While driving alone the other day, one of those station’s played a song I hadn’t heard in awhile. It’s one of those songs that captures the heart of adolescent angst and the realities of life as a teenager. Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen” won the Best Pop Vocal Performance Grammy in 1975. It’s a heart-breaker that fuels – or should fuel – compassion for kids.
I met Janis Ian in 1983. I talked to her briefly about her song and the realities it reflected. She impressed me as a serious, thoughtful, and somewhat sad figure. “At Seventeen” wasn’t just a song. It was Janis Ian.
What songs of the last fifty or so years are the best songs about the adolescent experience? I think “At Seventeen” has to rank fairly high. Is there a song in your memory vault from your own adolescent years that should be on a list of the best? Are there songs that are new, newer, not so old, and old that you would play for someone to give them a better sense of what it means to be a teenager in today’s world?
God has given us an amazing gift in music. We should treasure music that tells the truth. . . even if that truth reflects brokenness that’s ugly. What songs should be on the list? And why?