So, love has gone the way of all things? When it comes to songs we are out of love with love and have consigned it to the remainder bin of popular culture along with slinkies, TDK C90s and Kevin 07 badges?
A survey of the common words and themes in lyrics on the charts, by the American Journal of Advertising Research, discovers that today the word love appears far less, proportionally, in songs which made it to number one than it did in the 1960s. The result purports to tell us that modern songs, and therefore modern song buyers, have less time for love and much more time for angst - personal, political, environmental, societal ... you name it, we've got it and it hurts.
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Ergo, we live in a harder, colder, more cynical, more despairing world, bleak enough maybe for some of us to whisper, like those mid '60s romantics Peter and Gordon, "I don't care what they say, I won't stay in a world without love” while knowing we are positively antediluvian for thinking it.
It sounds superficially appealing as a theory. After all, back at the dawn of pop music, love was the currency of pretty much all the songs played on your transistor or at the hop. Songs were written by faceless men (and a few women) and presented to us by face-full men (and a few women) who touched us with innocence and hope and fluffy animals in cuddly blankets laid in flower beds.
And it's true in many of those songs love certainly meant love: heartfelt, deeply moving, we're in this for the long haul ... or until high school finishes. Love also meant like you rather a lot and it might mean more if we got to know each other - but that doesn't fit as smoothly into a song and anyway who is going to swoon over a song promising a pal, a buddy, a companionable companion?
But while we're wistfully recalling such sweetness, let's not forget that crucially, vitally, right down to its roots-ly, love in songs sometimes also meant sex at a time when no one could say let alone sing sex. Sure, you could borrow terminology from the blues such as the name rock'n'roll itself, but even then eagle-eyed monitors of this base musical form weren't always that stupidly naive.
So ambiguity was put in a box and there was love as a promise and the perfect metaphor for getting past censors, parents and teachers. Of course I'll respect you in the morning if we go all the way tonight; there is no greater love than what we're about to do; love is a many splendored* thing and this is one of the splendid ways of showing it.
Soon some people didn't bother with too much disguise – “I just want to make love to you” had already removed the metaphorical clothing by inserting that practical word make. But even that lecherous Frenchman Serge Gainsbourg saw how much better, how much more incongruous and shocking, it was to say “j'taime” in his orgasms-on-vinyl with Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin rather than say something as direct and unambiguous as “baise moi”.
While the '70s did offer complex adult emotions - all those singer/songwriters falling in and out of bed with each other did feel rather a lot – they were still falling in and out of love. But they were also writing about war, about existential despair, about seeing fire and rain and sunny days they'd thought would never end, about coming off heroin, coke, Quaaludes and an addiction to man-made fabrics.
A decade later they were singing about the bomb again while also singing about the power of love, singing about the comedown from the '70s while asking to be given a higher love. Love was all around, it just wasn't alone. Did it matter less or did it just have to share space? Was it, as Monty Python would have it, in the box or was there no room because the ambiguity had put on weight?
But it is here we are told, when the slow but inexorable slide away from love set in. In the '90s it was loss and inspiration which figured prominently as themes and by the first decade of the 21st century we had inspiration, pain and desperation.
Does this reflect a more despairing, and aspirational, world or just a more complicated and sophisticated one where directness rules over metaphor? Could it be that the charts reflect so little of what is really happening in music at all given there are so many of them for the straightforward reason that there are so many styles, genres and sub-genres now?
Have we – and here the “we” can mean the radio programmers around the world who selected pretty much the same songs to accompany any discussion of this survey today - being asking ourselves the wrong questions? Not what's love got to do with it? And is love all we need? But would we really live in a world without love?