The Return of Popularity to Old Time Singers

So I was flipping through channels and stopped on VH1 because Tom Jones was singing “Every Breath You Take” (which is funny, cuz I just finished watching The Emporer’s New Groove). Then the camera pulled out, and there were a bunch of artists singing it, along with Sting, and more and more joined them (apperently it was Men Strike Back). This got me thinking.

When I was growing up, in the 80s and 90s, listening to anything like Tom Jones was very very bad, at least at the junior and high schools I went to. You didn’t admit to liking classical, soft rock, oldies, and especially you didn’t even come close to admitting liking Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, etc. In other words, it wasn’t “cool” to have a variety of musical tastes.

Then around the mid-90s, this changed. Popular artists admitted to having Frank Sinatra as an influence for their music, other artists did collaborations with Tony Bennett, and Neil Diamond got a movie about teenage fans of his. Even some disco songs came back to the front. Suddenly, it was not only “cool” to have a variety of musical tastes, it was a requirement.

So my question is this: Was there any single catalyst that brought this change about? Or was it a gradual change and if so, what were some of the early signs of this change?

And don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for this change in attitude. I’ve always been a fan of Neil Diamond :wink:

The brief jump in popularity of Sinatra and his buddies wasn’t exclusively due to his music, but nostalgia. It was essentially a backlash against “don’t smoke - don’t screw around” teachings we’ve undegone for the last few decades, since we now know how dangerous these activities are. It’s not surprising to find people pining for 1955 or so, before smoking was proven cancerous and AIDS/herpes appeared on the scene, even among people who weren’t alive in 1955 and whose only knowledge of the era is what they see in film and television. This includes broadcasts of Sinatra’s “Rat Pack” shows, in which Frank and his buddies smoke, drink, tell racy (and occasionally racist jokes) and there is no social message other than having a good time.

Neil Diamond gut a mild boost from his appearance in the film Saving Silverman, but renewed and/or sustained interest in singers who debuted 20 years ago isn’t unusual. To the middle-aged fans, it’s a connection to their youth and reminder of a time that was relatively free of responsibility. To younger fans, it’s nostalgia for a time they never experienced which seems better than the current day because they don’t take all of yesteryear’s bad stuff into account.

The real anomaly is the success of the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, filled with 1930s-type material. Modern music is mostly played-out, with few original themes and ideas put forth. There isn’t any huge social catalyst (like the Vietnam war) to inspire poignant music, so we’re left with shock value or feel-good dance music, both of which wear thin very quickly.

The boy-bands and Britney clones persist because everything feels new to a teenager, but I seriously doubt any of these will be remembered fondly 20 years from now, let alone capture a young fan base.

It seems to me like the “Austin Powers” films have a lot to do with a renewed interest in this kind of music. They feature some of the artists who would have been laughed at by younger audiences a few years ago, but to the audience the “tackiness” is part of the “coolness.” (If that makes any sense.)

I think this is nothing new, really. For a summer or two in my youth, a lot of 50s music made a brief surge/comeback due to “Happy Days.”

Really, I think the OP hit it on the head when he noted that peer pressure in high school kept one from going about listening to Frank Sinatra or Neil Diamond, but as an adult, damn anybody and their opinions on what you listen to.

Sir Rhosis

Peer pressure in action, from “XTC: Song Stories” a book about the band. This bit is about their early days when punk was the thing to be.

“What they (the band members) also shared was a passionate and catholic taste for music. They quietly harbored a liking for disco, dub reggae, circus tunes, music hall, the Beatles, Free, the Kinks, Captain Beefheart, the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls, Cockney Rebel, Motown, Can, David Bowie, the Groundhogs, Black Sabbath, and much much more. These were difficult times. Punks weren’t allowed to admit to any influences. So XTC kept mum when Be-Bop Deluxe or Andy Williams or Leonard Bernstein flavored their songs.”

So, once the musicians grew up and were no longer the hot thing (eh, Elvis Costello?), they found they could do work which still interested them, but took them away from the rock sound. Like EC working with Burt Bacharach and classical quartets, or Sting with jazz musicians, or Bonnie Raitt and blues musicians.

Also an effect might be the movies, starting with “Airplane!” which featured old actors in comic roles. It became hip to get the references, like to Mel Torme on the old “Night Court” show, and if you give their music a chance, it’ll surprise you.

Slight hijack: Doris Day and Rock Hudson movies used to be a cliche with me for corny, bad movies. Then I saw “Pillow Talk,” and discovered it was sexy and funny, and not at all what I expected. So I guess the same could be said for the best of previous eras, too. Quality will out.

still patiently waiting for the Rudy Vallee renaissance

I think this is a constantly recurring phenomenon. Anything that is “yesterday’s news” is by definition un-cool. But as soon as something ELSE becomes “yesterday’s news”, then the previous yesterday’s news is no longer in the uncool penalty box, and becomes eligible for coolness once again (providing it had some quality to begin with).

That’s why 60s revivals were big in the 80s, 70s revivals were big in the 90s, and why 80s revivals are popping up now. The “decade before last” phenomenon.

Just my .02 Euros…Timmy

p.s. - my favorite example of the current resurgence is Vic Fontaine from “Deep Space Nine”. If Trekkers like something, you know it’s cool!