Progress Has Made Some Song Lyrics ObsoleteRandall Holcombe • Tuesday October 5, 2010 2:46 PM PDT •
Economic progress manifests itself in a continuous stream of new goods and services generated by, to use Joseph Schumpeter’s term, creative destruction. We tend to focus on the new stuff we have—the microwave ovens, the cellphones, the flat screen televisions—as a sign of progress, barely noticing the things they have replaced. Auto repair shops have replaced blacksmiths; telephones have replaced the telegraph (itself a great innovation in its day); digitally-downloaded recorded music is displacing CDs, which themselves displaced vinyl records.
I polled students in several of my classes, and every single one had a cell phone, while in most classes nobody had a land line. Twenty years ago, that poll would have gone the opposite way. No students had cell phones two decades ago.
To drive home the pace of economic progress to my students I used examples from a pair of popular songs from a few decades ago. Jimmy Buffet’s still-popular song, Margaritaville, from 1977, contains the lyric, “I blew out my flip-flop, stepped on a pop top.” I asked my students if they knew what a pop top was. Many did (and many did not), but only one claimed to have ever seen one. Here’s a song that is still popular, but some of the lyrics don’t make sense to today’s generation because progress has rendered them obsolete.
In Paul Simon’s 1973 hit song, “Kodachrome,” he sings, “Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away.” I asked my students what Kodachrome was, and none of them knew. Some had a guess that it had something to do with film, but none was actually sure. (Kodachrome, for you youngsters, was a type of film manufactured by Kodak from 1935 to 2009.) Here’s another song lyric rendered obsolete by progress.
If you’ve read this far, I have a broader agenda here than just relating these anecdotes. I’m hoping that readers will supply me with more lyrics from popular songs that progress has rendered obsolete. I’ve offered a few examples. Now it’s your turn!