Monday, October 5, 2015

The Future: In The Year 2525

Zager and Evans: In The Year 2525 [purchase]

The theme now is The Future, so, of course, I need to start by looking at my past.

I think that most music obsessives have a story about learning about music by listening to their parents’ records, or from an older sibling or a friend. I don’t really have that. My parents, who claim to have gone to some of the legendary Alan Freed shows in Brooklyn in the ‘50s, were not interested in rock music by the time I was old enough to pay attention. To my memory, they mostly listened to the Sinatra-heavy WNEW-AM, and news radio. And I’m the oldest child in my family. Instead, my first real musical education came during the summer of 1969, listening to top-40 radio station WABC-AM, in the station wagon that took me to day camp. Listening that summer was, for me, Rock Music 101, and my professors were the distinguished faculty members Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram, Ron Lundy and Cousin Brucie. It was an era in which top-40 singles could actually be great songs (although not always), and I remember soaking them up. It was like I had found something that was mine, an interest in something that was different from my parents.

In retrospect, of course, the summer of 1969 was a huge year for rock music, much of which completely passed me by at the time. Woodstock and Altamont. The Beatles’ last live performance on the roof. Dylan and Elvis returning to live performance. The sheer volume of music released in 1969 that is still considered classic today is staggering. Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. In The Court of The Crimson King, The Gilded Palace of Sin, Kick Out The Jams, Goodbye. Dusty In Memphis, The Velvet Underground, Nashville Skyline, With A Little Help From My Friends, Chicago Transit Authority. Hair, Stand!, Clouds, Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Tommy, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Meters, At San Quentin, Trout Mask Replica, Aoxomoxoa and Live/Dead, The Soft Parade, What We Did On Our Holidays and Unhalfbricking and Liege & Lief, Green River and Willie And The Poor Boys, My Cherie Amour, The Stooges, Blind Faith, Santana, The Band. Abbey Road, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, Hot Rats, David Bowie (Space Oddity). The Allman Brothers Band, Ballad of Easy Rider, Through the Past, Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2) and Let It Bleed, Okie From Muskogee, Volunteers. And that is far, far from everything released that year that is still remembered and played today.

But the song that really gripped my 8 year old ears—the first song that I can remember caring about, was “In The Year 2525,” by Zager and Evans. The song, about the post-apocalyptic future, seemed so serious and “heavy” and the music was so dramatic, that it was impossible not to be struck by it. It was a vision of the future gone wrong, as a result of over-reliance on technology, lack of care for the environment, and passivity struck a chord with adults, too (or at least the record buying public) because its themes were certainly much discussed during that year. “In the Year 2525” hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on July 12, and held the spot for six weeks, during the bulk of my summer camp season. Which meant that it was played over and over again on WABC, and I heard it in the car, and on the AM radio in my room (also used to listen to the Mets’ march to the World Series).

I’ll never forget how disappointed I was when the song was dislodged from its lofty perch on top of the charts by some weird song with lyrics I had trouble understanding—“Honky Tonk Women.” This inferior song only held the top spot for 4 weeks, when it was knocked off by the classic Archies’ confection, “Sugar, Sugar.”

As Wikipedia notes, “It is unusual for a recording artist to have a number one hit and then never have another chart single.” In the Year 2525" actually gave Zager and Evans this status twice; they remain the only act to do this in both the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart.” Their attempt to follow up their big hit was a song (which I have no recollection of) called “Mr. Turnkey,” a pleasant ballad written from the standpoint of a rapist who nails his own wrist to the jail wall as punishment.  And that, was, pretty much that for Zager and Evans. Zager stopped performing and started a company building “E-Z Play Custom Guitars” and Evans retired to New Mexico.

Listening to the song now, I’m kind of horrified by how much I liked it. But my love and devotion to that song was the gateway to my life-long interest in music, and you can draw a line directly from that station wagon, to my first radio experiences in sleepaway camp, to my high school years listening to WNEW-FM and pawing through records, to my WPRB years, through the mixtape era, to downloading and more recently, music blogging.

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