HeldenFiles: Is any pop music eternal?

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The Beatles (clockwise from top left) Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and George Harrison were banned from Akrons WAKR-AM radio in August 1966.

In Phil Spector, a new HBO movie about the music producer and convicted killer, one of Spector’s attorneys takes out a yellow spindle adapter, the gizmo that lets a 45-rpm record play on an LP turntable. She explains it to a young man on the staff, then takes out a 45 and asks the man to tell her what it is.

Something to do with early computers? he wonders. The attorney hands him the record, saying, “Put it on your keychain. It’s a piece of the past.”

And a past, the movie suggests there and elsewhere, that has faded from collective memory. Records were succeeded by tapes and CDs and now iPods and other mp3 players. What is an indelible touchstone for one age is of no consequence for others.

But isn’t the music — Spector’s and others’ — somehow still timeless? The movie, which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday with Al Pacino as Spector and Helen Mirren as the attorney, is dotted with bits of vintage Spector songs. And the hearing of Be My Baby or You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ should be appreciated even by people born during the many decades since the songs’ original release.

Only to some, especially the young, the songs may not even be recognizable.

That was a recurring message during Wednesday night’s installment of American Idol, where the theme was songs of the Beatles (more specifically, Beatles songs written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney). While many in the audience nodded as vintage songs were played, again and again we heard how the youthful performers did not know the songs they were performing.

You might accept that about, say, She’s Leaving Home, the melancholy tune from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which singer Amber Holcomb did not know; even Idol judge Mariah Carey said, “I personally did not know the song.” And contestant Candice Glover’s puzzlement over the lyrics of Come Together is understandable. Toe-jam football, indeed.

But far more people must have shaken their heads when contestant Burnell Taylor said, “I don’t know this song at all” — about Let It Be.

Idol contestant mentor Jimmy Iovine said, “The rest of the world really knows the song.” Judge Keith Urban not only knew every song performed, but he also had to stop himself from declaring each song his favorite.

Only Iovine turns 60 in May — old enough to remember the Beatles phenomenon when it was fresh, and spindle adapters. While Urban, 45, was born a few months after Sgt. Pepper’s was released, he is steeped in popular music across generations, repeatedly shown singing along with performers.

Taylor is a few weeks shy of 20. Holcomb is 19. Even as they aspire to pop stardom, and should be aware of a variety of music, their cultural frame is relatively small. Popular music, and the media that carry it, have focused ever more narrowly. Satellite radio is remarkable in its separating not only by genre but subgenre. (Alternative, for example, is on separate “new,” “classic” and grunge channels.) Much the way someone who does not listen to classical music couldn’t tell Beethoven from Bach, a current pop fan may never hear a Lennon-McCartney classic.

That’s not to say the singers can’t master the songs. Holcomb’s She’s Leaving Home was quite good, and Glover (who is 24) tore through Come Together. At the same time, though, Idol showed the gap between the songs it thinks its audience knows, and those its contestants are aware of.

As for Phil Spector, even though he worked with the Beatles, would young people know even that he’s a jailbird — let alone the man behind songs that should play forever?

More Hot. TV Land has ordered a fifth season of Hot in Cleveland. The 24 episodes in the season will take the series past the 100-show mark expected of series that go into weeknight syndication. Hot will begin airing its repeats on individual stations in September 2014.

For those of you tuning in late, the series stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick as L.A. ladies who move to Cleveland — and share their home with a feisty friend played by Betty White.

Springsteen Home for Sale. TopTenRealEstateDeals.com reports that the Asbury Park cottage where Bruce Springsteen wrote the songs for Born To Run is on the market. The site says it is an “828-square-foot home with two bedrooms and one bath 86 steps to the Atlantic Ocean beach path.” Asking price: $349,900.

And somewhere out there, a 20-year-old is asking, “Who is Bruce Springsteen?”

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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