Bring Back the Good Old Songs … of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s?

Posted by Rick Spencer | Posted in Chorus, Music, Quartetting, Youth in Harmony | Posted on June 17, 2009, 11:17 AM

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I received this email from Bill Rohlin (a 40-year member of the Society) the other day which he’s given me permission to share here on the blog:

I’d like to see some songs in the BBS style from the top 100 hits from the years when our target demographic was in its teens.  We need simple arrangements.  If the tune could be contestable it needs to be clearly stated that the easy-to-learn version is not. If choruses and quartets could learn some of these songs they might generate interest in the 35 – 50 age group. Simple arrangements with gangbuster tags of songs from 1975 into the early 90′s would be my suggestion.  Surely there must be some songs from that time period that were not rap or heavy metal, some that can fit in. Just my thought.

Sing-cerely, Bill

We’ve seen many arrangers select pieces from the era of music and many of those songs have worked quite well for barbershop groups.  Many are not contestable but certainly make for good show material.  The Society has also published several titles from this era.  “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” “God Bless the USA,” and “You Raise Me Up” come to mind.

So what do you think about this idea?

AND MORE IMPORTANLY…what are some songs from this time period you think would fit the bill?

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Comments posted (24)

Well I agree that that is a good idea, but my first reaction is one of surprise. I wasn’t aware that we had a ‘target demographic’. Do we? and if so, why is it 35 to 50?

Ever since I was a lad in 6th grade and saw the “Fab Four” on the Ed Sullivan show, I’ve been a Beatles fan. Our chorus does an arrangement of “When I’m 64″ which may not be contestable, but sure is a hit with our show audiences. I’m sure that there are other Lennon/McCartney tunes that can be arranged in the BBS style.

This information can be found in the report of a Harris Interactive Survey done several years back. Here’s the link: http://www.barbershop.org/images/HarrisMemberStudy.pdf. Happy reading!

Super question. At our board meeting last night I was chartered as VP Music with finding five new songs written iin the last twenty years with good learning CDs which we could add to our repertoire. We want to attract (in addition to the old guys) some members of the generatiion X, Y and Millenials. Just attended the Chuck Green workshop where he encouraged us to find more new music and change such that 80% or more of our music is “uptunes”. So we are in search of this type music. I have all the music from the Premiere Series that the society has done. It is a great start though pretty difficult music both from a rythym and range perspective.

Well, as a member off the ‘target demographic’ (i.e. 48) I’m not sure I entirely agree. You know, it was the old stuff that use the COF that got me hooked and keeps me interested. Sure, if you can find a song from the last 20-30 years that does that then I’m all for it ‘cos it’s gonna sound like barbershop. I’m also not against a few ‘show’ tunes creeping into the repertoire either but I would hate to see contestable material reserved, in the main, for contest with my weekly BBS fix at rehearsals being diluted with too much non contestable stuff. Contest is only a few minutes a year. Rehearsals is every week and that’s where I want to sing barbershop. If I just wanted to sing miscellaneous a cappella stuff, there’s loads of other groups and organisations I could go sing with. Nope, I joined a barbershop chorus because I wanted to sing barbershop…..and I care not one jot whether the song was written yesterday or 120 years ago…..It just needs to be barbershop.

My chapter’s idea of the demographic, 35-50, is based on the men being fairly settled and their kids pretty well grown. My idea on the songs is the songs that will elicit a fond memory. Unless it was a strictly Philadelphia hit, and I doubt that, anyone who graduated in the early fifties will respond to “For all We Know.” I don’t want to dilute our style, I just want arrangements that are solid barbershop but easy to learn so a chorus doesn’t have to devote a lot of time to them. Maybe that’s not possible. Any arrangers out there willing to forgo all the bells and whistles for the sake of ease of learning?

The Lowell, Mass. chapter picked up “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” this year. It’s definitely not “real” barbershop but there are ringing chords and it’s a major crowd pleaser for audiences 18 to 80.
Most importantly, it’s got such a compelling rock beat that it has really helped the guys loosen up on the risers; you just gotta move to the rhythm, even without planned choreo.

I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and I’d love to see some great songs from recent decades brought into the barbershop style — and I’m sure there are some great tunes out there that could be so arranged. With that said: even as a 25-year-old, I sympathize with Lacy, since I enjoy many of the old songs as well.

Our society’s mission is to preserve the barbershop style, and that cuts two ways. If “barbershop” means whatever we want it to mean, then it doesn’t mean anything. But everything in the world either evolves or dies, and our hobby needs to embrace new songs and new ideas even as we treasure and protect the old ones. We ought to have some musical standards, particularly in contest, but we should welcome and encourage new and interesting ways of meeting those standards.

Last year’s AIC show in Nashville (my very first International!) featured Howard Rinkel, the lead of the 1958 champion quartet, the Gaynotes. Howard was full of great stories about his quartet, but to me, the most memorable thing he or anyone else said that night was, “I think change is okay, as long as we remember where we came from.”

Words to live by, I think. My chapter has put “Moondance” on stage, but we still close every rehearsal with “Keep The Whole World Singing.” That’s how I like it.

I totally agree with staying relevant by keeping current with our music. That doesn’t mean throwing out the wonderful old songs. It simply means adding songs from the last few generations. The Eagles, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Air Supply could keep us in new tunes for years to come. Also agree with keeping them easy. My experience is to shy away from the unpublished stuff, sorry, just my experience. An important subject to discuss and pursue.

One of our Society’s earlier missions was to preserve the barbershop style. The Society’s current mission is to bring men together in harmony and fellowship to enrich lives through singing. Mission and vision statements are not effective in rallying the troops to support a particular cause, take an active role, or bring about change if only a few people know what they are.

Aaron Dale has, and is continuing to arrange current music in the Barbershop style, and anyone who has heard one of his arrangements knows they are relevant, exciting and “good barbershop stuff”.

See a couple of 70′s charts on Friday night at the convention (or on the Web….are you signed up yet?) The MountainTown Singers will sing a couple of Barry Manilow songs….one of which is arranged by our own David Gillingham. Not the easiest charts but very rewarding to sing.

Thank God this topic has been brought up! I am a 36 year old who has been a member of the society for 22 years. (I am not the son of a barbershopper. I found it on my own!) Noah’s post hit it on the head. We need to stay relevant, without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. My chapter is unique in the sense that every active member is a.) under 47 or b.)over 70. (with a few exceptions, of course.) Many of us “young bucks” have absolutely no problem singing songs from 100 years ago. However, it is the more current stuff that attracts people of my age group (and younger) to our wonderful hobby. I would like to know that I’m still going to be able to ring chords in a strong, functioning society when I’m in my 70′s or 80′s, and the newer stuff seems to be the hook that our younger audiences need to become interested in singing with us. They learn, after a few meetings, to love the old stuff as well. I cannot understand why some folks in our society can’t see that BOTH “eras” can be represented. If it is still in the barbershop style and contestable, then what does it matter when the song was written?! I thought we were supposed to preserving a style of music-not a bygone era.

A while back Rolling Stone Magazine produced a list of top 500 and even there list doesn’t have a great deal of the last 20 years included (for me I have pretty much missed anything “new” in the last 10 years). The only one listed that I can see that is even remotely recent is Nirvana.

This is their top 10
1. Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan
2. Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
3. Imagine – John Lennon
4. What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye
5. Respect – Aretha Franklin
6. Good Vibrations – The Beach Boys
7. Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry
8. Hey Jude – The Beatles
9. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
10. What’d I say? – Ray Charles

200 of the top 500 were recorded in 1960s and 144 came from the 1970s. So it seems that perhaps the most recent generations are not staying up with the favorites or there is more gossip about the artists than actual musical content??? Just my opinion of course!

I think there are three factors here:

1. RS still has a lot of baby boomers doing the writing
2. Older songs have had more years to be recognized as classics. It’s hard to evaluate a recent release in the context of stuff that has been around for 30 years.
3. The music industry is now so decentralized that there is much less common ground between listeners. In the 70′s you would be hard pressed to avoid a huge chart hit even if you hated popular music. I can almost guarantee I haven’t heard whatever is the huge chart hit right now (and I own over 3,000 CDs and albums).

(And how can Good Vibrations be on here instead of Pet Sounds???)

Oops – I put that comment in about Pet Sounds before realizing that these were SINGLES – duh.

My chapter’s singing level is typical of the bulk of the chapters in the society. We need the simpler songs and it is hard to find ones that are new to us.

What I’d like to see is a return to the early days of our society where arrangers whipped out simple BBS arrangements of songs and gave them away as part of their contribution to the brotherhood of barbershop.

We really do need more easy-to-sing songs.

I’d like to have more songs from the 40′s and 50′s to sing too.

Keith…Great comment and a need for our members we absolutely are doing our best to meet. Remember we have almost 100 songs for free download at http://www.barbershop.org/musicDownload.aspx. Also on that page is a link to Joe Johnson’s free arrangements. Enjoy!

Speaking as a 37 year old Avid Barbershopper, I have been saying that exact thing for years. I strongly believe that if we had more arrangements of songs from the last 20 years we would attract more young people. I’m certainly not suggesting that we get rid of all the songs that made barbershop what it is, but we definitely need more ‘hook’ songs for people my age and younger. I say,’why limit it to the 90′s’? I have been actively working on my music theory and compiling a list of songs from the last 15 years that I want to make arrangements of.

I would LOVE to see more current songs arranged in the barbershop style. It’s always good to add more songs, but for anyone to say we need more easy songs I don’t believe they have gone through the music catalog line by line!

Considering the barbershop style pretty much started with “popular tunes” of the era – stuff the guys already knew, then re-arranged by woodshedding into chords that rang well … yeah, including some more recent songs rearranged into our style probably would be a good thing. There was a local radio station with the slogan, “We play all the music you already know the lyrics to.” – that in itself could help me immensely (smiling). Our chapter is spoiled by a couple of member arrangers that give us some great stuff – anything from 1990′s to the 1870′s and beyond; easy and impossible – and they all sound great – or they change ‘em by next rehearsal.

I am glad to see this topic discussed, but disappointed to find that it’s still talk. It’s fine to say that there are other places to sing non-contestable a cappella, but in fact there are no such places in most towns.
It’s high time that we could find singable barbershop arrangements of songs from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s on the BHS website. Someone must be arranging this stuff – how do we find it?

Special Feature did a whole CD of “barberwop” arrangements (by Raymond Davis) called Street Sounds. Great stuff, and exactly the kind of thing you’re looking for. I’d recommend contacting Raymond for more info.

I think the question of adding more 80′s and 90′s is very important. Barbershop arrangements have certain types of chording and every decade seems to have something that can fit within it. I think as long as the audience recognizes the melody and rhythm it’s appealing. I find it interesting that everytime one of our 30-something members asked for “newer” music the response is “well, we sing a Beatles tune” or “we sing Grease”. Except that Grease was a movie from the 80′s I don’t think we are getting it. What if we take a look at the stuff that is sung from other Acapella Groups, like take a look at the movie Pitch Perfect. Some good ideas there. ONe of the main objectives of the Sweet Adelines is to maintain the craft and keep it going… we should listen actively to our younger members and try some of their ideas. My 2 cents..

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