Getoffmylawn: A Study In Musical Temporal Perspective

I was recently dragged to a karaoke bar where one of my companions chose to play “Video Killed The Radio Star” by the Buggles. This got me thinking about musical temporal perspective. It also gave me a nightmare about Trevor Horn which went something along the lines of: “Sunset Boulevard” meets “Phantom of the Paradise” meets “Raiders of the Lost Ark” meets “Scrapheap Challenge” …but that’s another story.

When I say “musical temporal perspective” what I’m trying to get at is how old “old” music sounds depending on your age. The song “Video Killed The Radio Star” was released in 1979 which, from my perspective, doesn’t seem that long ago. But then I actually bothered to do the math and realized it was 32 years ago. When I was sixteen, a thirty-two-year-old song would’ve been something like “Choo Choo Ch’ Boogie” by Louis Jordan. My sixteen-year-old self would’ve considered this dated and quaint – not nearly as sophisticated as the music I was listening to at the time, like “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by A Taste of Honey. (shu’up)

It then occurred to me that you could gain a perspective on how the music of your teenage years might be viewed by today’s teenagers by looking up a comparably-dated song from your teenage perspective. There’s a formula for this: It works by taking the current year, minus the year you were sixteen and subtracting that from the year you were sixteen. We’ll call this retrospective temporal shift your “getoffmylawn” year.

Here are two graphs. The first simply gives you the year you were sixteen based on your current age. The second gives you your getoffmylawn year based on your current age. This is the release year of a song that would sound as quaint to your sixteen-year-old ears as the songs of your youth would to a current sixteen-year-old.

Year You Were 16

Your Getoffmylawn Year

It works like this: Look up a song from when you were sixteen (preferably one you would’ve listened to) and then a song from your getoffmylawn year. This should give you an idea of how old your music sounds to today’s ears. Note that the second graph has a slope of 2. This stems from taking the age gap between your present self and your sixteen-year-old self and reapplying it to retro-date music relative to your sixteen-year-old self. It also means that, the older you are, the more bizarre these comparisons become.

Let’s try a few…


“Mambo No. 5” / “I Want Your Sex”

“Gangsta’s Paradise” / “Too Much Heaven”

“Never Gonna Give You Up” / “It’s Not Unusual”

“Relax” / “All Shook Up”

“My Sharona” / “When You Were Sweet Sixteen”

If all of this is making you feel very old and culturally irrelevant, take comfort in the thought that, in thirty years, Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” will sound like Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes”.

Steve DeGroof

Steve consists of approximately 60% water and 40% organic molecules, arranged in a configuration that is, among over things, capable of describing itself in this manner.

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  1. Yes! This is fabulous. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been horrified by rational people (yes, even skeptics!) making wide, generalizing judgements about music of today without a drop of skepticism. The truth is that EVERY generation has their Getoffmylawn year, and it’s amazing how easy it is for people to be blind to this distinction.

    Though your examples make me feel a little bit like the kid sister who wants to play with all the big kids. My Gettoffmylawn year is in the 90’s, which is a decade that still sounds awesome to me. Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit? REM’s Losing My Religion? IF ONLY Christina Aguilera’s Lady Marmalade sounded as good as these gems.

  2. Hey, the only reason I didn’t include more recent years in my examples is that I had no clue who any of the artists were. 😀

  3. So let’s see… I was 16 in 1994. Bull in the Heather by Sonic Youth was slowly being worn to death in my cassette player. That would put my Getoffmylawn year at 1977. Now I could look at this as the year Jimmy Buffet released Margaritaville. However, I choose to look at it as the year The Ramones released Suzy is a Headbanger, instead.

  4. Oh sure, those songs were released in ’77 but what was popular were songs like “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees, “Car Wash” by Rose Royce and a disco mix of the Star Wars theme.

  5. Just realized you can do this with movies too. Mine work out to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and “Life With Father”.

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