Play it again Sam: Classic old songs deserve their second outing

The revival of ‘Running Up That Hill’  by Kate Bush has been a pleasant surprise to those of us who remember the song first time round, says Stevie G in his Downtown column
Play it again Sam: Classic old songs deserve their second outing

Kate Bush’s 1985 song ‘Running Up That Hill’ has found a new audience via the ‘Stranger Things’ television show soundtrack.

The recent revival and success of ‘Running Up That Hill’, by Kate Bush, has been a pleasant surprise to those of us who remember the song first time round. (It was released in 1985, but has gained a new audience via the television show Stranger Things.) There are multiple precedents of well-placed tracks on television or ads coming back strong a few generations later. Hearing Kate Bush everywhere is extra special, I guess, as she’s been pretty reclusive and private over the last 30 years, and rarely plays live or gives interviews. We should not be amazed that young people now like her music, though, and good music stands the test of time.

‘Dreams’, by Fleetwood Mac, was fairly ubiquitous anyway, being a radio and covers staple, but it, too, got a massive injection of exposure during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a clip of Nathan Apodaca longboarding to it while swigging cranberry juice went viral! The resulting Tik-Tok spin-offs propelled the track into even bigger territory, and it made a similar impact to what ‘Running Up That Hill’ has been doing these past few weeks.

Renewed interest in old songs is nothing new. When I was growing up in the 1980s it was commonplace for music that had originally been popular a few decades previously to be revived. The Levi’s ads of the day cleverly placed suggestive retro clips of good-looking models, like Nick Kamen, against a backdrop of soul classics, such as ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye; and a cover of ‘Wonderful World’, by Sam Cooke. Movies, such as Good Morning Vietnam, Dirty Dancing, and Platoon also drew heavily on those bygone decades in their soundtracks, and I remember it being a contributing factor to why many youngsters originally got into the music of The Doors.

It’s always been the way. Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and other great movie directors have had a huge influence on popular culture, and their music placements have been resurrecting older music for decades, and not just originally popular music, either. The same has happened since television has gone for more long-form series in the modern era, and on Netflix the likes of Ozark and, obviously, Stranger Things, use music really well. Previously obscure artists, such as Darondo, who featured on Breaking Bad, among other places, suddenly attracted more interest in their music, and television and movies and ads always have that potential power of influence.

Visuals have long been important elements of pop music, and while music videos started appearing in the 1970s, they hit a new orbit in the 1980s. The advent of music television, through MTV and other channels, helped make stars of many. Artists such as Madonna, Duran Duran, and Prince really took advantage of this, while previously popular stars, such as Tina Turner and Michael Jackson, hit the peak of their careers. MJ became the ‘king of pop’ and as good as the music was, his videos and visual aesthetic were at the heart of his huge success.

Music artists did world tours in stadiums rather than arenas, and pop videos and elaborate stage set-ups helped this greatly. Again, it was nothing new, and the previous decade, the 1970s, was when it really went from stripped-back stage shows to huge entertainment spectacles. But the 1980s elevated things further. Black music originally struggled to get on MTV, so it was ironic that Prince and siblings Janet and Michael Jackson became some of the biggest acts of that era.

Rap took a little longer, and Run DMC, like Prince and even MJ, found success by bringing a more rock element to their audio and visuals, as middle America finally caught up.

By the mid-1990s, rap and r&b had taken over commercially and pop videos had become even bigger in budget, as the glamour and glitz brought us the jiggy era. Artists such as Eminem were perfectly placed to capitalise on this, though, in fairness, he simultaneously benefitted from the success of his own raw street visuals on the back of the massively influential film, 8 Mile, too. These days, Eminem and Tupac and Biggie remain popular, and you will still see Nirvana, Ramones, The Doors, and Fleetwood Mac T-shirts being worn by the masses of youngsters in the streets. The thin line between old and new is forever diminishing, and in the streaming era many young people rightly don’t care when the music was released. This is a good thing!

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