Underestimating Our Age, or: Why Kids Today Don’t Need to Know Metallica

Every other month, I drive some kids in my area to church for early morning seminary. It’s typically a pretty silent car ride, since who wants to be up at 6am, right? To try and make it more entertaining, I’ve taken to playing a rotating “Music Appreciation” playlist, where each morning I choose a new artist or group and play a few of their best songs. I then ask my carpoolees to rate the group on a scale of 1-10. (Before that happens, I also check to see if any of them already recognize the group and, if so, the song in question.)

Typically, they don’t recognize the group or the song. Sometimes they really dislike a group that I thought everyone would like. It’s often surprising to me, sometimes disappointing, but a pretty entertaining way for me to pass the time, regardless. (Not sure what the students think of it, but I’m driving, so . . . my car, my songs.)

I share these experiences on Facebook, and I’ve been a bit surprised by the reactions. A fair number of people are disappointed at some of the groups that aren’t recognized. The Beatles, for example. And . . . Metallica? Metallica got a number of people upset when they went unrecognized. The words “parenting fail” were used a few times, in a (I hope) tongue-in-cheek way of saying it’s the responsibility of parents to expose kids to a wide range of music.

(Side note: one of the carpoolees is Tomas. I’m his parent. I’m exposing him to new music every morning as part of this activity. Is the fail that I didn’t do it early enough? Was I supposed to start playing Metallica for him when he was . . . five? I’m a bit baffled. Either way, I’ve played a variety of music for my kids over the years. True, I haven’t quizzed them on who sang what each time, but I’ve got this zany idea that people should listen to what they like and listen to enjoy, plain and simple.)

But what I really wanted to bring up was a bit of a rebuttal to people who think Metallica or the Beatles MUST BE KNOWN by the rising generation. I think a lot of this mindset might come from a misunderstanding of just how old we are. Allow me to disabuse you all of that right now

Metallica’s best known album (to me) is the self-titled Metallica, featuring its best known (to me) song, Enter Sandman. It was released in 1991, a year many of you might think wasn’t that long ago. I was 13. That’s 28 years ago. I listen to a wide variety of songs, but I can’t easily name another Metallica album other than that first one. If you played other Metallica songs for me that are from different albums, I’d have a shot recognizing the group, but not the song.

The Beatles first burst on the scene (more or less) in 1963 with their album Please Please Me, so the group predates me by 15 years, though their last album, Let It Be, was released in 1970 and still enormously popular, so that predates me by just 8 years.

Let’s put those two groups into context for a freshman in high school today. Born in 2004, Metallica’s popularity predates them by thirteen years, and (no matter what some metal heads might claim), Metallica was far less influential and popular than the Beatles. Try the following exercise:

  • Take your birthdate year and subtract 13
  • Go to Google and enter “[that year] in music”
  • Look over the hit songs that played then. How many of them could you recognize? How many of them would you know the group off the top of your head?

For me, there are some songs on there I’d have no problem with. Mr. Tamourine Man, Yesterday, My Girl, no problem. Eve of Destruction? I’ll Be Doggone? Get Off of My Cloud? (Yes, I know the Stones. Yes, I’ve heard that song. But I wouldn’t have been able to give the title of it, and I wouldn’t have been sure the Stones recorded it.)

Let’s try another exercise. You can go to Billboard and see the performance of pretty much any song. Enter Sandman peaked at #16 on the top 100 Billboard chart for 1991. You can enter any date and see the top 100 songs for that week. For 1963, the #16 song was Hey Girl, by Freddie Scott. I recognized it once I found it on YouTube, but I’d never be able to ID Freddie Scott. And looking at the songs even more popular than that one that week, there are a slew I don’t know.

Metallica didn’t have a single song to crack Billboard’s top 100 singles for 1991.

For the Beatles, the group is 41 years older than today’s freshmen. For me, that would be groups that started in 1937. We’re talking Big Band and Bing Crosby territory.

I think I’ve made my point, which is this: music we loved when we were kids is now OLD MUSIC, especially music that was already old when we loved it. A lot of what we think of as foundational for us is just alternative for most. And taste in music varies wildly.

I’m all for introducing people to new genres and groups and songs (hence my carpool challenge), but I don’t mind at all that the songs and groups I like are unknown to my carpoolees. Sure, it may be disappointing and surprising, but I just try to keep in mind:

I am getting older every day.


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