Ask Billboard: Uncovering Potentially Uncoverable Songs

Ask Billboard is updated every week. As always, submit your questions about Billboard charts, sales and airplay, as well as general music musings, to askbb@billboard.com. Please include your first and last name, as well as your city, state and country, if outside the U.S.

UNCOVERING POTENTIALLY UNCOVERABLE SONGS

Hi Gary,

I'm going to throw something out there and see if it's interesting to you or other readers.

The other day I was listening to the album " Glee, the Music Presents: the Warblers" on my iPhone. The last song is a cover of Rod Stewart's iconic disco/rock classic, "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?," and the lyrics include the line, "Give me a dime, so I can call my mother." It struck me as odd.

These are teenagers (their characters, anyway) singing a line of which almost no teen in 2011 would even know the meaning. I realize the song's integrity was kept intact, but the line would've worked much better if sung, "Give me a cell phone, so I can text my mother." Almost everyone now owns a cell phone and keeps it on 24/7. And, phone booths are almost non-existent, so this line is fairly obsolete.

It got me thinking: what other songs, in the rock era or further back, include titles or lyrics that seem outdated by today's standards? I hate to use the word "obsolete" to describe classics, as no one will ever use it to describe Da Vinci's paintings, so if someone can come up with a better word, I'd appreciate it.

And, my apologies to Rod Stewart for "outdating" his pop-culture benchmark.

Thank you,

George G. Kitchens III
Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

Hi George,

Other than not being sure of how many teens in 2011 would actually request to text their mothers for any reason, I completely agree with the premise of your e-mail.

I've similarly noticed the quaintness of the current No. 1 on Billboard's Pop Songs chart, Gym Class Heroes' "Stereo Hearts," featuring Maroon 5's Adam Levine. I'm just happy that the words "stereo" and "radio" are apparently cool enough for today's top 40 audiences. (Although the strength of the hook likely makes the song's lyrics almost a non-factor in its success).

"Put Your Records On" likewise became a hit for Corinne Bailey Rae in 2006 despite its retro title. Or, perhaps, partly because of it.

A song that aptly poked fun at 21st century living? Tim McGraw's "Back When." "Back when a 'ho' ' was a hoe, 'coke' was a Coke / And, crack's what you were doing when you were cracking jokes," sings McGraw in the chorus. "Back when a screw was a screw, the wind was all that blew / And, when you said, 'I'm down with that,' well, it meant you had the flu.

"I miss back when." A good amount of listeners apparently shared the sentiment. The single topped Billboard's Country Songs chart in December 2004.

This sounds like a fun topic for knowledgeable Chart Beat readers. What songs, due to their lyrical content, might now sound passe if covered by current artists? Please send your suggestions to askbb@billboard.com and we'll continue the discussion in the next "Ask Billboard."

In the meantime, I'll get us started with a few rock era classics.

"(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock," Bill Haley & His Comets (No. 1 on multiple pre-Billboard Hot 100 song charts, 1955)

Could even the song that launched the rock era need a lyrical adjustment if covered today? Only because, when was the last time you looked at a clock to tell time, as opposed to your cell phone? Or, the bottom right-hand corner of the computer screen on which you're reading this.

"At the Hop," Danny & the Juniors (No. 1, multiple pre-Hot 100 charts, 1957)
If written in 2011, would the title be, "At the club"? "At Starbucks"? "On Skype"?

"The Letter," the Box Tops (No. 1, Hot 100, 1967)
In the digital age, perhaps any songs about paper, pens or pencils might also elicit blank stares.

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye (No. 1, Hot 100, 1968)
"I Heard It ... Through Facebook"? "... on Twitter"? "... on (your one of countless snarky gossip websites of choice)"?

"Rockin' Robin," Michael Jackson (No. 2, Hot 100, 1972, after Bobby Day had introduced the song in 1958)
With its lyric, "Rockin' robin', tweet-tweetly-tweet," see above joke (attempt) re: Twitter.

"Kodachrome," Paul Simon (No. 2, Hot 100, 1972)
Hopefully photo albums don't become digital-only. (We've already lost those cozy, drive-up Fotomat booths from supermarket parking lots). Pitbull keeps the hope alive, at least, in his recent Hot 100 No. 1 "Give Me Everything," singing in the opening, "Take a picture of me with a Kodak."

"9 to 5," Dolly Parton (No. 1, Hot 100, 1981)

The song's portrait of dire economic circumstances is surely, sadly, still fitting, but, if remade, its typewriter sound effects would need to be updated to the slightly gentler clicking of a computer keyboard.

"Juke Box Hero," Foreigner (No. 26, Hot 100, 1982)
Younger listeners might better understand the song if it were re-titled, "Spotify Playlist Hero."

Ahead of your responses, Alan Jackson's 2009 No. 32-peaking Country Songs hit "I Still Like Bologna" echoes Tim McGraw's way of thinking. If the title doesn't say it all, the closing lyrics do.

"I guess what I've been trying to say, this digital world is okay. It makes life better in a lot of ways.

"But, it can't make the smell of spring, or sunshine or lots of little things we take for granted every day."

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