What song(s) do you think would have been popular at any time since the 1950s?

Some, probably most, songs are of their time - I can’t imagine Styx’s Mr. Roboto being popular if it were newly released in, say, 1998, for example - but I do think that some songs would have been popular no matter in which decade* they were released.

Ignoring obvious changes in recording technologies, what newer famous songs do you think would have been popular in the past? (I.e., if you took “Gold Digger” and released it in 1963 (or 1983), would it have still hit the top 10?)

And, of course, bring it forward - what hit songs from the past do you think would have been just as popular if they were released in different eras? For example, if you think “Mercy, Mercy, Me” would be a big hit regardless of when it was released, than that’s an answer to this one.

*Let’s keep this in what Casey Kasem called “the modern chart era”, meaning since Elvis.

I imagine ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles would’ve been a hit in any decade

A couple of newer songs that likely would have been just as popular in the 60’s, 70’s, etc would be…

“All the Single Ladies” - Beyonce. Barbara Walters would be interviewing her, asking what sort of animal she would be. Ed Sullivan would have filmed the dancers from the shoulders up. Tipper Gore would have had a conniption fit and hauled her before Congress. Regardless, this song would be a smash in pretty much any year in the past 55.

“Fuck You” - Cee Lo Green. Uh, you’d have to change the lyrics just a smidgen, but this bouncy, irresistible blow-off song has a sound that is made for chart success regardless of when it was released.

Songs with great harmonies are usually popular. Regardless of the decade.

Some of the Eagles songs would be hits in any decade since the 50’s. These are all from the 70’s but they’d be hits at any time.

Lyin Eyes
Peaceful Easy Feeling
Take It Easy

Hotel California’s lyrics might be a bit too weird for the 1950’s…

Loggins and Messina – Dannys Song

Elton John – Daniel

wikipedia entry Indicates Daniel was covered in the 90’s and 00’s. It’s a timeless song. It would be a big hit today on ITunes if one of the finalists on *The Voice *covered it.

“Daniel” was covered on the 1991 album Two Rooms: Celebrating the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin by Wilson Phillips. It reached number seven on the US Adult Contemporary chart as an album cut.[21]

“Daniel” was covered on the 2005 album The Brave and the Bold by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Tortoise.

I can see bobby-socked teens in the late 50’s hoppin and boppin to Origin’s “Informis Infinitas Inhumanitas” album.

Projecting backwards is difficult, of course, but I think that many songs could do well (if not necessarily be chart toppers) in a lot of time periods. The main criteria I see are:

  1. It’s fun to sing.
  2. Its lyrics are not explicitly and extensively tied to events of its native period.
  3. It’s not too raucous instrumentally.
  4. Its lyrics are not such as would prevent the song’s performance.

I think you could make a case for “Tainted Love”, “Sweet Dreams”, “Eye of the Tiger”, and many other songs. Strong beats, non-specific but identifiable lyrics, nothing too out there melodically.

Going the other way–songs from prior eras being popular now–we potentially have some interesting data available now, courtesy of video games. A number of games have done well musically by incorporating songs from past eras or by retrofying modern songs. The popularity of the results suggests that there’s a modern popular market for those songs.

Consider Fallout 3. The intro song to the game is “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”, released by the Ink Spots in 1941. It’s very, very different from modern pop, yet the top YouTube listing for it was posted 6 years ago, and it has over 5 million hits. One of the more popular mods for the game adds about 100 more period songs. Not all of them could stand on their own as a release, of course, but I’m sure some would make the cut.

Bioshock: Infinite went a different route. It took modern (or at least more recent songs) and created period covers of them in various styles, like “Fortunate Son” as a spiritual–which, for a measure of modern popularity, has nearly 400k hits on YouTube. Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, the group that did many of the other covers, has nearly 2 million subscribers. Again, I think this demonstrates that there is a modern audience for songs in these styles.

I suspect that the biggest limiting factor is getting them played and promoted. Currently, people get exposed to them incidentally, rather than through their music-specific channels. There’s not much push behind them–but that isn’t as crucial as it used to be. People are more free now to pick and choose the music that suits them than they have ever been, and it’s starting to show.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen would work in a lot of different decades

My personal guess?

Florence + The Machine’s “The Dog Days Are Over.”

Lyrics and theme aren’t gruesome or explicit, and the musical style is (IMHO) “modern” enough to succeed the closer you get to the present, but “classic” enough that it could succeed in the past.

I could maybe see it having trouble getting footing in at least part of the 80s—but then, you could probably still get it in on the coattails of the 50s nostalgia of the era. The right music video would probably sell it, too (thank you, MTV)…or being used in a Pepsi or a McDonalds ad.

“Take It Easy” was another song I thought would go over well regardless of decade of release.

John Kay of Steppenwolf has said that every generation feels like it was “Born to Be Wild”

I also have thought that much of Fleetwood Mac’s material would do well across the years - if I had to pick one song of theirs, “You Make Loving Fun” would have charted cross-temporally.

A lot of power pop could be a hit in any age, because there are some power pop hits in almost every age from the mid 60s onward, and the genre doesn’t sound too different from the early 70s.

Good call, especially because of its retro style.

Anything by Shanana?

I would like to think that “I Only Want to Be With You” by Dusty Springfield and “Dreaming” by Blondie would qualify.

I might also go with “Miracle Man” or “The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes” by Elvis Costello but the lyrics might have been a bit too advanced for anything pre-1965.


Ultimately, this is about songcraft. Is a song built with durable bones - a structure and melody that sounds timeless? Back to Sir Paul’s Yesterday, he spent so much time trying to figure out where he had heard the melody because it sounded so timeless - it must have existed before.

I would offer Joe Jackson as a master of songcraft. Look at how he moved from angry New Wave to Jumpin’ Jive and the truly timeless sounds of Night and Day.

I mean, talk about a song that sounds like it could have been in a B&W movie - I offer Steppin’ Out. But songs like Is She Really Going Out With Him have a timeless Pop quality to them as well.

Sean Kingston’s Beautiful Girls already has a retro feel and a timeless topic. But there is one reference that would have to change… the line “back in '99”.

One song that I feel does not sound dated, and has a message that applies to any era, is “Eighteen” by Alice Cooper.

All Day And All Of The Night (Kinks)

God yes.