Many of us have songs that evoke particular memories for us, whether they be good or bad. For instance, Smash Mouth’s All Star makes me think of a large green ogre (and smile). The Power of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood was my first dance with my husband at our wedding. Anything by Def Leppard reminds me of a crappy ex-boyfriend. I Know It’s Over by the Smiths… total breakup song. The three songs that heralded my musical epiphany when I was sixteen, and still influence my musical choices today (Join in the Chant by Nitzer Ebb, Stigmata by Ministry, Testure by Skinny Puppy). I think we all have those special songs.
But that’s not the musical conditioning I’m talking about. I was listening to the radio in the car and realized that my generation might be the last one who has a ‘next song’ conditioning. With the ability to buy music, picking and choosing, like you were eating at an enormous buffet, there may not be too many people who buy whole albums and listen to them, repeatedly, from start to finish. I still try to buy whole albums, because I’ve found lots of songs I love amongst the more popular and well-known songs.
The mix tapes I made and listened to incessantly? To this day, I still expect to hear Balloon Man by Robyn Hitchcock after I hear The Promise by When in Rome. I expect to hear Squirrels (by Dr. Demento?) whenever I hear Soft Cell’s Tainted Love. Or Headhunter by Front 242 whenever I hear The Bog by Bigod 20.
And the albums I listened to obsessively? Sex on the Flag should follow Spiritual House because that’s the order they come in on KMFDM’s Money. Hungry Like the Wolf should follow Lonely In Your Nightmare as they do on Duran Duran’s Rio.
The ease of shuffle on the iPod means that if I didn’t imprint any ‘next song’ conditioning prior to owning it, most likely I never will. And the generation after mine? Is the shuffle all they know? Is there no happy expectation of knowing what’s coming next? I’m guessing not. Make no mistake, I love my shuffle, but there are times when I really want to hear the song I’ve been conditioned to hear next. (Yes, I know I can make playlists… it doesn’t seem the same.) And I’m amused by the fact that the brain still makes these connections for me ten, fifteen, twenty years later.