A recent study found that the golden age of memorable pop music was the period from the 1960s to the 1990s. This itself is not too surprising, at least to those of us fortunate enough to have lived through this era. What is surprising is that the study surveyed people aged 18 to 25, who weren’t even around during most of those decades, and found that they quickly forgot any pop songs that were released since 2000. The 643 young people who took part were tested on their ability to recognise hit records from different decades. They maintained a steady memory of top tunes that came out between 1960 and 1999. But their memory of 21st century songs from 2000 to 2015 diminished rapidly over time.
Lead researcher Dr Pascal Wallisch, from New York University in the USA, said: “The 1960s to 1990s was a special time in music, reflected by a steady recognition of pieces of that era-even by today’s millennials.” Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) would say amen to that, and the fact that millennials today can recall these “vintage songs” better than recent ones, suggests that the ’60s was indeed a special time in popular music, one that gave the world a repertoire of beautiful, timeless songs, of which I highlight just three in this post. They are: For the Good Times, sung with silky smooth vibe by the Italian American singer, Perry Como, Moon River, the theme song for the 1961 romance movie of the same name, and the hauntingly beautiful Sound of Silence (1966) by Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon. All three songs have won accolades and I believe, they will remain timeless as long as time endures.
FOR THE GOOD TIMES (1968)
“For the Good Times” is a song written by country and pop singer Kris Kristofferson. It was first recorded by Bill Nash in 1968 before appearing on Kristofferson’s own debut album in April 1970. The song established Kristofferson as one of country and popular music’s top songwriters.
Kristofferson wrote most of the song in 1968 while on a work-related road trip from Nashville to the Gulf of Mexico. The lyrics recounts the end of a love affair, based on a real life experience of his in a way that music scholar Steve Sullivan said “conveys sadness, acceptance, and longing”. The song continued to be recorded by various artists through the 1970s, testifying to its popular appeal. A version by Perry Como (my favorite) spent 27 weeks on the UK Singles Chart peaking at #7 in August 1973.
MOON RIVER (1961)
The song “Moon River” was made famous by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in which she played the part of New York socialite Holly Golightly. Hepburn was not a trained singer, and initially Paramount film-makers thought they would need to dub somebody else’s voice. But the famed movie composer Henry Mancini persevered in composing something she could manage. So he went to the piano and started playing it, and knew she could sing something in that range. It took Mancini about three months before he put down the first three notes. It sounded promising, and he finished the full melody of Moon River in half an hour. Mancini then asked Johnny Mercer to write the lyrics. Mercer wrote three sets of lyrics, and his favourite version was the one inspired by the full moon over a river near his childhood home in Savannah. “Moon River” earned Mancini and Mercer an Oscar in 1961 for Best Original Song. Today, it ranks fourth in the American Film Institute’s list of top film songs.
SOUND OF SILENCE (1966)
Hello darkness my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
“Sound of Silence“ is a song by Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon that was released in1965. It became a hit worldwide, making it to the top 10 list in the U.S., the UK, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, and Japan. In 2012, the song was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for being culturally important.
The song has an interesting story that few people are aware of – a third party by the name of Sanford Greenberg was indirectly instrumental in the making of the song. Garfunkel met Sanford Greenberg in their first week at Columbia University. The two became roommates and found that they shared a common interest in music and poetry. They made a pact to always be there for each other when faced with trouble. As it turned out, Greenberg lost his sight, and dropped out of college, feeling depressed. It was then that Garfunkel came to him and talked Greenberg into going back to Columbia. After much insistence from his friend, Greenberg agreed and enrolled in the university once more. In college, Greenberg was completely dependent on his friend, and Garfunkel changed his life at the university to accommodate his blind friend, helping him walk to class, tending to his wounds, walking together in the city, filling out forms for him, and so on. Garfunkel called himself “Darkness” when he was around Greenberg, as a sign of empathy toward his friend.
A few years later, Greenberg received a call from Garfunkel who wanted US$400 to record an album with his musician friend Paul Simon. Greenberg only had US$404 in his bank account but gave all the money to Garfunkel without a second thought. He felt that it was time to repay the kindness Garfunkel had shown to him during college. With the money, Simon and Garfunkel recorded their first album “Wednesday Morning, 3 AM” in 1964. The album turned out to be a flop. But one song from the album stood out — The Sound of Silence. In the following year, the song rocketed to the number 1 spot. Though Simon wrote the song, the lyrics to The Sound of Silence are filled with Garfunkel’s compassion, the “darkness,” mentioned in the song, being Greenberg’s “companion” ever since he went blind. But the song has a broader message, aimed at society’s consciousness. Garfunkel, introducing the song at a live performance (with Simon) in Haarlem in June 1966, and summed up the song’s meaning as “the inability of people to communicate with each other, especially emotionally, so what you see around you are people unable to love each other.”, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Jeremiah 5: 21 in the Old Testament when God rebuked his wayward people with these words: “Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”
Here’s a modern rendition of this classic song by Dana Winner in an album released in 2011.