50 Songs from a Single Year, Mixed Together Into One 3‑Minute Song (1979–89)

The con­cept of gen­er­a­tions, as we cur­rent­ly use the term, would have made no sense to peo­ple liv­ing through­out most of human his­to­ry. “Before the 19th cen­tu­ry,” writes Sarah Leskow at The Atlantic, “gen­er­a­tions were thought of as (gen­er­al­ly male) bio­log­i­cal rela­tion­ships with­in families—grandfathers, sons, grand­chil­dren and so forth.” The word did not describe com­mon traits shared by, “as one lex­i­cog­ra­ph­er put it in 1863, ‘all men liv­ing more or less at the same time.’”

The the­o­ry was thor­ough­ly ingest­ed into mass cul­ture, as any­one can tell from social media wars and the fix­a­tions of news­pa­per colum­nists. One such cor­re­spon­dent weighed in a few years ago with a con­trar­i­an take: “Your gen­er­a­tional iden­ti­ty is a lie,” wrote Philip Bump at The Wash­ing­ton Post in 2015. (He makes an excep­tion for Baby Boomers, for rea­sons you’ll have to read in his col­umn.)

All this debunk­ing is to the good. While schol­ars rou­tine­ly inves­ti­gate the ori­gins of con­tem­po­rary ideas, too often the rest of us take for grant­ed that our present ways of see­ing the world are time­less and eter­nal.

Yet, whether gen­er­a­tions are a real phe­nom­e­non or a cul­tur­al con­struc­tion, glob­al­ized mass media of the past sev­er­al decades ensures that no mat­ter where we come from, most peo­ple born around the same time will share some set of near-iden­ti­cal experiences—of lis­ten­ing to the same music, watch­ing the same films, TV shows, etc. Giv­en the way our think­ing can be shaped by for­ma­tive moments in pop cul­ture, we’re bound to have a few things in com­mon if we had access to Hol­ly­wood film and MTV. Maybe what most defines gen­er­a­tions as we know them now is cul­ture as com­mod­i­ty.

Take the video series fea­tured here. Each one cuts togeth­er 50 songs released in a sin­gle year, begin­ning in 1979, along with video mon­tages of some of the year’s most pop­u­lar artists. Cre­at­ed by The Hood Inter­net, “a DJ and pro­duc­tion duo from Chica­go, known for their exper­tise in mashups and remix­es,” the series could serve as a lab exper­i­ment to test the emo­tion­al reac­tions of peo­ple born at dif­fer­ent times. We may have all heard these songs by now. But only those who heard them in their youth will have the nos­tal­gic reac­tions we asso­ciate with gen­er­a­tional mem­o­ry, since music, as David Toop  writes at The Qui­etus, is “a mem­o­ry machine.”

Every­one else could stand to learn some­thing about what the 80s looked and sound­ed like. As a his­tor­i­cal peri­od, it tends to get cast in a fair­ly nar­row mold, with syn­th­pop and hair met­al defin­ing the extent of 80s music. The pop music of the decade was fab­u­lous­ly diverse, with gen­res cross-pol­li­nat­ing in what turn out to be sur­pris­ing­ly har­mo­nious ways in these mashup videos. The cre­ators of the series worked their way up to 1987, and we get to see some dra­mat­ic shifts along the way that fur­ther com­pli­cate the idea of 80s music, even for those who heard these songs when they came out, and who have nine years of for­ma­tive moments to go with them. See all of the videos on The Hood Inter­net’s YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1980s Met­al­head Kids Are Alright: Sci­en­tif­ic Study Shows That They Became Well-Adjust­ed Adults

A Soul Train-Style Detroit Dance Show Gets Down to Kraftwerk’s “Num­bers” in the Late 80s

How a Record­ing Stu­dio Mishap Cre­at­ed the Famous Drum Sound That Defined 80s Music & Beyond

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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