Europe’s Oldest Map: Discover the Saint-Bélec Slab (Circa 2150–1600 BCE)

Image by Paul du Châtel­li­er, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

In 1900, the French pre­his­to­ri­an Paul du Châtel­li­er dug up from a bur­ial ground a fair­ly siz­able stone, bro­ken but cov­ered with engraved mark­ings. Even after he put it back togeth­er, nei­ther he nor any­one else could work out what the mark­ings rep­re­sent­ed. “Some see a human form, oth­ers an ani­mal one,” he wrote in a report. “Let’s not let our imag­i­na­tion get the bet­ter of us and let us wait for a Cham­pol­lion to tell us what it says.” Cham­pol­lion, as Big Think’s Frank Jacobs explains, was “the Egyp­tol­o­gist who in 1822 deci­phered the hiero­glyph­ics” — which he did with the aid of a more famous inscrip­tion-bear­ing piece of rock, the Roset­ta Stone.

Still, the Saint-Bélec slab, as Châtel­lier’s dis­cov­ery is now known, has attained a great deal of recog­ni­tion in the more than 120 years since he unearthed it. But it did so rel­a­tive­ly recent­ly, after a long peri­od of rel­a­tive obscu­ri­ty.

“In 1994, researchers revis­it­ing du Châtellier’s orig­i­nal draw­ing found that the intri­cate mark­ings on the stone looked a lot like a map,” writes Jacobs. “The stone itself, how­ev­er, had gone miss­ing.” Only in 2014 was it redis­cov­ered in a cel­lar below the moat of the chateau in Saint-Ger­main-en-Laye once owned by du Châtel­li­er, by which time it could be sub­ject­ed to the kind of high-tech analy­sis unimag­ined in his life­time.

Oper­at­ing on the the­o­ry that the arti­fact was indeed cre­at­ed as a map, France’s INRAP (the Nation­al Insti­tute for Pre­ven­tive Archae­o­log­i­cal Research) “found that the mark­ings on the slab cor­re­spond­ed to the land­scape of the Odet Val­ley” in mod­ern-day Brit­tany. Then, “using geolo­ca­tion tech­nol­o­gy, the researchers estab­lished that the ter­ri­to­ry rep­re­sent­ed on the slab bears an 80 per­cent accu­rate resem­blance to an area around a 29-km (18-mi) stretch of the Odet riv­er,” which seems to have been a small king­dom or prin­ci­pal­i­ty back in the ear­ly Bronze Age, between 2150 BC and 1600 BC. This makes the Saint-Bélec slab Europe’s old­est map, and quite pos­si­bly the ear­li­est map of any known ter­ri­to­ry — and cer­tain­ly the ear­li­est known map of a pop­u­lar kayak­ing des­ti­na­tion.

Draw­ing by Paul du Chatel­li­er, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

via Big Think

Relat­ed con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, “the Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever Under­tak­en,” Is Free Online

Explore the Here­ford Map­pa Mun­di, the Largest Medieval Map Still in Exis­tence (Cir­ca 1300)

Down­load 67,000 His­toric Maps (in High Res­o­lu­tion) from the Won­der­ful David Rum­sey Map Col­lec­tion

Ancient Maps that Changed the World: See World Maps from Ancient Greece, Baby­lon, Rome, and the Islam­ic World

Bronze Age Britons Turned Bones of Dead Rel­a­tives into Musi­cal Instru­ments & Orna­ments

What the Roset­ta Stone Actu­al­ly Says

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Behold John Coltrane’s Handwritten Outline for His Masterpiece A Love Supreme

Above, we present an impor­tant doc­u­ment from the Smith­so­ni­an’s Nation­al Muse­um of Amer­i­can His­to­ry: John Coltrane’s hand­writ­ten out­line of his ground­break­ing jazz com­po­si­tion, A Love Supreme.

Record­ed in Decem­ber of 1964 and released in 1965, A Love Supreme is Coltrane’s per­son­al dec­la­ra­tion of his faith in God and his aware­ness of being on a spir­i­tu­al path. “No road is an easy one,” writes Coltrane in a prayer at the bot­tom of his own lin­er notes for the album, “but they all go back to God.”

If you click here and exam­ine a larg­er copy of the man­u­script, you will notice that Coltrane has writ­ten the same sen­ti­ment at the bot­tom of the page. “All paths lead to God.” The piece is made up of a pro­gres­sion of four suites. The names for each sec­tion are not on the man­u­script, but Coltrane even­tu­al­ly called them “Acknowl­edge­ment,” “Res­o­lu­tion,” “Pur­suance” and “Psalm.”

In the man­u­script, Coltrane writes that the “A Love Supreme” motif should be “played in all keys togeth­er.” In the record­ing of “Acknowl­edge­ment,” Coltrane indeed repeats the basic theme near the end in all keys, as if he were con­scious­ly exhaust­ing every path. As jazz his­to­ri­an Lewis Porter, author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music, tells NPR in the piece below:

Coltrane more or less fin­ished his impro­vi­sa­tion, and he just starts play­ing the “Love Supreme” motif, but he changes the key anoth­er time, anoth­er time, anoth­er time. This is some­thing very unusu­al. It’s not the way he usu­al­ly impro­vis­es. It’s not real­ly impro­vised. It’s some­thing that he’s doing. And if you actu­al­ly fol­low it through, he ends up play­ing this lit­tle “Love Supreme” theme in all 12 pos­si­ble keys. To me, he’s giv­ing you a mes­sage here.

In sec­tion IV of the man­u­script, for the part lat­er named “Psalm,” Coltrane writes that the piece is a “musi­cal recita­tion of prayer by horn,” and is an “attempt to reach tran­scen­dent lev­el with orches­tra ris­ing har­monies to a lev­el of bliss­ful sta­bil­i­ty at the end.” Indeed, in the same NPR piece which you can lis­ten to below, Rev. Fran­zo Wayne King of the Saint John Coltrane African Ortho­dox Church in San Fran­cis­co describes how his con­gre­ga­tion one day dis­cov­ered that Coltrane’s play­ing cor­re­sponds direct­ly to his prayer at the bot­tom of the lin­er notes.

In addi­tion to Porter and King, NPR’s Eric West­er­velt inter­views pianist McCoy Tyn­er, who was the last sur­viv­ing mem­ber of Coltrane’s quar­tet. The 13-minute piece, “The Sto­ry of ‘A Love Supreme,’ ” is a fas­ci­nat­ing overview of one of the great mon­u­ments of jazz.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Saint John Coltrane: The San Fran­cis­co Church Built On A Love Supreme

Watch a Jaw-Drop­ping Visu­al­iza­tion of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” Solo

John Coltrane Draws a Pic­ture Illus­trat­ing the Math­e­mat­ics of Music


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Watch David Bowie’s Final Performance as Ziggy Stardust, Singing “I Got You Babe” with Marianne Faithfull, on The Midnight Special (1973)

If you had to choose a liv­ing cul­tur­al fig­ure to rep­re­sent nine­teen-sev­en­ties Amer­i­ca, you could do much worse than Burt Sug­ar­man. He made his name as a tele­vi­sion impre­sario with The Mid­night Spe­cial, which put on NBC’s air­waves per­for­mances by every­one from ABBA to AC/DC, REO Speed­wag­on to Roxy Music, and War to Weath­er Report. Break­ing with com­mon prac­tice at the time, the show allowed these acts to per­form live rather than lip-sync against pre-record­ed tracks. Thus, even view­ers who tuned in to The Mid­night Spe­cial to see their favorite bands were guar­an­teed to hear some­thing they’d nev­er heard before.

They stayed up quite late to do so: The Mid­night Spe­cial fol­lowed The Tonight Show Star­ring John­ny Car­son, which meant that it aired at mid­night in the Cen­tral and Moun­tain time zones, and 1:00 in East­ern and Pacif­ic. In 1972, the notion of putting on a music show at that hour was unfa­mil­iar enough that Sug­ar­man had trou­ble sell­ing it.

He ulti­mate­ly had to buy the air­time him­self in order to con­vince NBC to pick the show up, which it did soon there­after. (For the net­work, the prospect of extend­ing their pro­gram­ming sched­ule would have been sweet­ened by the pre­vi­ous year’s Pub­lic Health Cig­a­rette Smok­ing Act, which had banned the once-lucra­tive air­ing of tobac­co adver­tise­ments on tele­vi­sion.)

Now, more than half a cen­tu­ry after its debut, The Mid­night Spe­cial has reap­peared in the form of a Youtube chan­nel, which fea­tures high-qual­i­ty videos of the show’s orig­i­nal per­for­mances. Those uploaded so far have been orga­nized into artist playlists ded­i­cat­ed to acts like the Bee Gees, Fleet­wood Mac, Tina Turn­er, and David Bowie. That last includes Bowie’s ren­di­tion of  “I Got You Babe” with Mar­i­anne Faith­full, seen at the top of this post, as well as his ver­sion of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain” above, part of his final per­for­mance as his space-alien alter ego Zig­gy Star­dust — itself orig­i­nal­ly shot for The 1980 Floor Show in Lon­don, which despite its name took place in 1973. The Mid­night Spe­cial itself would run until 1981, which means that a great deal of music remains to be brought out of Sug­ar­man’s archives for us to enjoy here in the twen­ty-twen­ties. You can watch Bowie’s com­plete 1973 per­for­mance on The Mid­night Spe­cial below.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Bowie Became Zig­gy Star­dust 48 Years Ago This Week: Watch Orig­i­nal Footage

8 Hours of David Bowie’s His­toric 1980 Floor Show: Com­plete & Uncut Footage

David Bowie’s Final Gig as Zig­gy Star­dust Doc­u­ment­ed in 1973 Con­cert Film

David Bowie Talks and Sings on The Dick Cavett Show (1974)

Beat Club, the 1960s TV Show That Brought Rock Music to 70 Mil­lion Kids in Ger­many, Hun­gary, Thai­land, Tan­za­nia & Beyond

Watch an Episode of TV-CBGB, the First Rock ‘n’ Roll Sit­com Ever Aired on Cable TV (1981)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How to Develop Photographs with Coffee

James Hoff­mann knows some­thing about cof­fee. He’s authored The World Atlas of Cof­fee and runs a pro­lif­ic YouTube chan­nel, where he cov­ers every­thing from mak­ing cof­fee with the Aero­Press and MokaPot, to brew­ing the per­fect espres­so and also pro­vid­ing basic cof­fee mak­ing tips & tricks. Pret­ty bread and but­ter stuff, if you can use that expres­sion when talk­ing about cof­fee. But he also cov­ers some sub­jects at the mar­gins of the cof­fee world–like how to devel­op pho­tographs with cof­fee. Above, Hoff­mann intro­duces you to Caf­fenol, a process where­by pho­tographs can be devel­oped with cof­fee and some­times Vit­a­min C. To take a deep­er dive into the sub­ject, you’ll want to explore PetaPix­el’s primer, Caf­fenol: A Guide to Devel­op­ing B&W Film with Cof­fee.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Every­thing You Ever Want­ed to Know about the Bialet­ti Moka Express: A Deep Dive Into Italy’s Most Pop­u­lar Cof­fee Mak­er

The Birth of Espres­so: The Sto­ry Behind the Cof­fee Shots That Fuel Mod­ern Life

Deep Fried Cof­fee: A Very Dis­turb­ing Dis­cov­ery

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Watch a Transfixing Demonstration of Kumihimo, the Ancient Japanese Artform of Making Braids & Cords

It’s easy to see why kumi­hi­mo, the ancient Japan­ese art of silk braid­ing, is described as a med­i­ta­tive act.

The weaver achieves an intri­cate design by get­ting into a rhyth­mic groove, over­lap­ping hand-dyed silken threads on a cir­cu­lar or rec­tan­gle wood­en loom, from which up to 50 weight­ed-wood­en bob­bins dan­gle.

If the mind wan­ders too far from the task, the weaver risks screw­ing up the pat­tern or the uni­for­mi­ty of the threads’ ten­sion. The word kumi­hi­mo trans­lates to “gath­er­ing threads” — one mustn’t let them get snarled by a lack of atten­tion.

While sim­ple braids of tree bark or plant fiber have been found in Japan­ese bur­ial sites dat­ing back six thou­sand years, the Gold­en Age of kumi­hi­mo occurred dur­ing the Heian peri­od (794‑1185), when exquis­ite­ly detailed cords began to be incor­po­rat­ed into the nobility’s gar­ments, dec­o­ra­tive fur­nish­ings, musi­cal instru­ments, reli­gious imple­ments, and, most famous­ly, samu­rai arms and armor.

Ani­me fans may recall how kumi­hi­mo shows up and serves as a major metaphor in Mako­to Shinkai’s hit ani­mat­ed fea­ture, Your Name - the braid­ed cords rep­re­sent­ing the threads of time and the strength of the lovers’ bond.

Kumi­hi­mo is still in use today in jew­el­ry and dec­o­ra­tive sou­venirs, and fas­ten­ing obi to for­mal kimono, though 95% of obi­jime are now machine-made.

There are plen­ty of online tuto­ri­als for novices inter­est­ed in mak­ing sim­ple kumi­hi­mo friend­ship bracelets on a light­weight foam disk, but to appre­ci­ate the beau­ty inher­ent in every step of tra­di­tion­al kumi­hi­mo  cre­ation, watch Japan House’s above video, released in cel­e­bra­tion of their recent exhib­it, KUMIHIMO: The Art of Japan­ese Silk Braid­ing by DOMYO.

ASMR fans, pre­pare to be riv­et­ed by the sounds of the silken threads being swished through a dye bath, the gen­tle clack tama bob­bins, and the tap­ping of the bam­boo hera as it snugs the threads of the grow­ing braid sus­pend­ed from the rec­tan­gu­lar stand, or takadai.

The cir­cu­lar loom, or maru­dai, seen lat­er in the video pro­duces a round­ed cord via a cen­tral hole, an engi­neer­ing feat that takes us back to our child­hood pas­sion for fin­ger knit­ting.

Japan House reports that the indus­tri­al sec­tor has tak­en inspi­ra­tion from kumi­hi­mo for braid­ing car­bon fiber and fiber-rein­forced plas­tic:

The con­ti­nu­ity of the kumi­hi­mo braid struc­ture as well as the vari­abil­i­ty of the fiber ori­en­ta­tion angle and the rigid­i­ty of the braids help pro­duce extreme­ly strong cords that can be used in prod­ucts as diverse as air­craft, golf clubs, and arti­fi­cial limbs.

Mean­while sev­er­al schools in Japan are keep­ing kumi­hi­mo alive as a tra­di­tion­al art, as is the Amer­i­can Kumi­hi­mo Soci­ety, in the West.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Japan­ese Tra­di­tions of Sashiko & Boro: The Cen­turies-Old Craft That Mends Clothes in a Sus­tain­able, Artis­tic Way

Watch Japan­ese Wood­work­ing Mas­ters Cre­ate Ele­gant & Elab­o­rate Geo­met­ric Pat­terns with Wood

The Art of Tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese Wood Join­ery: A Kyoto Wood­work­er Shows How Japan­ese Car­pen­ters Cre­at­ed Wood Struc­tures With­out Nails or Glue

20 Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos of Japan­ese Arti­sans Cre­at­ing Tra­di­tion­al Hand­i­crafts

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

How Michelangelo’s David Still Draws Admiration and Controversy Today

Life imi­tates art, and by art, I mean, of course, The Simp­sons. More than thir­ty years ago, the show took on the issue of cen­sor­ship with a sto­ry in which Marge Simp­son launch­es an impas­sioned cam­paign against car­toon vio­lence, only to find her­self on the oth­er side of the fence when asked to sup­port a protest against the exhi­bi­tion of Michelan­gelo’s David. This episode returned to cul­tur­al rel­e­vance just last month, when a par­en­t’s com­plaint about an image of that most renowned nude sculp­tures — indeed, that most renowned sculp­ture of any kind — being shown in a sixth-grade art-his­to­ry class led to the fir­ing of a Flori­da school prin­ci­pal.

It seems that the prob­lem was­n’t just David: that same les­son includ­ed Bot­ti­cel­li’s paint­ing The Birth of Venus, anoth­er glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of the unclothed human body — and so much more besides, accord­ing to the Great Art Explained video about it pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

That same chan­nel’s cre­ator, gal­lerist James Payne, has also put out a video on David, which you can watch at the top of the post. Though com­mis­sioned as a depic­tion of the Goliath-slay­ing Bib­li­cal hero, Payne tells us, “in Michelan­gelo’s hands it becomes some­thing else entire­ly,” a simul­ta­ne­ous study and expres­sion of the poten­tial of mankind.

David’s ori­gin pre­fig­ured noth­ing of its lega­cy. Orig­i­nal­ly com­mis­sioned to dec­o­rate the Flo­rence Cathe­dral (which already fea­tured Brunelleschi’s inge­nious dome), the sculp­ture had to be carved out of a much-less-than-pris­tine block of mar­ble already owned by the insti­tu­tion, already miss­ing chunks removed by sculp­tors who’d pre­vi­ous­ly attempt­ed the job. But to Michelan­ge­lo, as to all true artists, such lim­i­ta­tions were the stuff of inspi­ra­tion: the pro­por­tions of David’s body, and even his icon­ic pose, were ulti­mate­ly dic­tat­ed less by Michelan­gelo’s imag­i­na­tion than by the nature of the stone itself.


Michelan­ge­lo was also pay­ing trib­ute to clas­si­cal Greek and Roman sculp­ture, hence the stat­ue’s nudi­ty. But as Payne says, it is a myth that “Renais­sance Euro­peans were com­fort­able with nude bod­ies in art, par­tic­u­lar­ly when dis­played in pub­lic.” Flo­rence’s city fathers “had a gar­land of 28 gild­ed cop­per leaves made, to pro­tect David’s mod­esty, and in lat­er years he wore a fig leaf.” 2023 may not be the first of David’s 500 years of exis­tence to sub­ject him to alter­ation in order to pro­tect the sup­posed sen­si­tiv­i­ties of his view­ers, but nev­er before, sure­ly, has such an inci­dent brought him on Sat­ur­day Night Live.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Michelangelo’s David: The Fas­ci­nat­ing Sto­ry Behind the Renais­sance Mar­ble Cre­ation

New Video Shows What May Be Michelangelo’s Lost & Now Found Bronze Sculp­tures

Michelan­ge­lo Entered a Com­pe­ti­tion to Put a Miss­ing Arm Back on Lao­coön and His Sons — and Lost

The Scan­dalous Paint­ing That Helped Cre­ate Mod­ern Art: An Intro­duc­tion to Édouard Manet’s Olympia

What Made Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Paint­ing

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Ryuichi Sakamoto, RIP: Watch Him Create Groundbreaking Electronic Music in 1984

Ryuichi Sakamo­to was born and raised in Japan. He rose to promi­nence as a mem­ber of Yel­low Mag­ic Orches­tra, the most influ­en­tial Japan­ese band in pop-music his­to­ry. Last week, he died in Japan. But he also claimed not to con­sid­er him­self Japan­ese. That reflects the ded­i­ca­tion of his life’s work as a com­pos­er and per­former to cross-cul­tur­al inspi­ra­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and syn­the­sis. How fit­ting that the announce­ment of his death this past week­end should elic­it an out­pour­ing of trib­utes from fans and col­leagues around the world, shar­ing his work from a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent styl­is­tic and tech­no­log­i­cal peri­ods in a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent lan­guages.

Fit­ting, as well, that the first doc­u­men­tary made about Sakamo­to as a solo artist should have been direct­ed by a French­woman, the pho­tog­ra­ph­er Eliz­a­beth Lennard. Shot in 1984, Tokyo melody: un film sur Ryuichi Sakamo­to cap­tures not only Sakamo­to him­self on the rise as an inter­na­tion­al cul­tur­al fig­ure, but also a Japan that had recent­ly become the red-hot cen­ter — at least in the glob­al imag­i­na­tion — of wealth, tech­nol­o­gy, and even for­ward-look­ing imag­i­na­tion. It was in the Japan­ese cap­i­tal that Sakamo­to record­ed Ongaku Zukan, or Illus­trat­ed Musi­cal Ency­clo­pe­dia, the album that showed the lis­ten­ing pub­lic, in Japan and else­where, what it real­ly sound­ed like to make music not just in but of the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry.

Or per­haps it was music for the End of His­to­ry. “Japan has become the lead­ing cap­i­tal­ist coun­try,” Sakamo­to says in Tokyo Melody. “I don’t know if it’s good or bad. The sea­son of pol­i­tics is over. Peo­ple don’t think of rebelling. On the oth­er hand they have a real hunger for cul­ture.” Then comes the footage of wax mod­el food and obses­sive­ly ersatz nine­teen-fifties-style greasers: clichéd rep­re­sen­ta­tions of urban Japan at the time, yes, but also gen­uine reflec­tions of the some­how refined mix-and-match retro-kitsch sen­si­bil­i­ty that had come to pre­vail there. “Main­stream cul­ture has lost its author­i­ty,” Sakamo­to adds. “There is a float­ing notion of val­ues. Tech­nol­o­gy is pro­gress­ing by itself. The gears move more and more effi­cient­ly. We feel pos­si­bil­i­ties appear­ing that exceed our imag­i­na­tion and our hori­zons.”

For near­ly forty years ther­after, Sakamo­to would con­tin­ue to explore this range of pos­si­bil­i­ties — sub­lime, bizarre, or even threat­en­ing — through his music, whether on his own releas­es, his projects with oth­er artists, or his many film sound­tracks for a range of auteurs includ­ing Nag­isa Ōshi­ma (for whom he also act­ed, along­side David Bowie, in Mer­ry Christ­mas, Mr. Lawrence), Bri­an De Pal­ma, Bernar­do Bertoluc­ci, and Ale­jan­dro Iñar­ritu. In Tokyo Melody he reveals one secret of his suc­cess: “When I work with Japan­ese, I become Japan­ese. When I work with West­ern­ers, I try to be like them.” Hence the way, no mat­ter the artis­tic or cul­tur­al con­text, Sakamo­to’s music was nev­er iden­ti­fi­able as either Japan­ese or West­ern, but always iden­ti­fi­able as his own.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Clas­sic Per­for­mances by Yel­low Mag­ic Orches­tra, the Japan­ese Band That Became One of the Most Inno­v­a­tive Elec­tron­ic Music Acts of All Time

Infi­nite Esch­er: A High-Tech Trib­ute to M.C. Esch­er, Fea­tur­ing Sean Lennon, Nam June Paik & Ryuichi Sakamo­to (1990)

Hear the Great­est Hits of Isao Tomi­ta (RIP), the Father of Japan­ese Elec­tron­ic Music

The Roland TR-808, the Drum Machine That Changed Music For­ev­er, Is Back! And It’s Now Afford­able & Com­pact

Bri­an Eno on Cre­at­ing Music and Art As Imag­i­nary Land­scapes (1989)

Dis­cov­er the Ambi­ent Music of Hiroshi Yoshimu­ra, the Pio­neer­ing Japan­ese Com­pos­er

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Most Popular Song from Each Month Since January 1980: 40+ Years of Changing Musical Tastes in 50 Minutes

As Helen Red­dy sang in the 70s:

You live your life in the songs you hear

On the rock n’ roll radio…

The 80s ush­ered in a new era, leav­ing the music indus­try for­ev­er changed, though the songs them­selves retained their pow­er to speak to us on a deeply per­son­al lev­el.

In 1979, the Eng­lish New Wave band The Bug­gles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” — which famous­ly became the very first song played on MTV the fol­low­ing year (1980) — was get­ting a lot of atten­tion.

40 years lat­er Puer­to Rican rap­per and reg­gae­ton artist Bad Bun­ny dom­i­nates, which speaks not only to the public’s evolv­ing musi­cal tastes but also to the expand­ed access and oppor­tu­ni­ties of the Inter­net age.

Lis­ten­ing to all 512 songs on Boogiehead’s mashup Most Pop­u­lar Song Each Month Since Jan­u­ary 1980 in their entire­ty would take over 24 hours, so Boo­giehead set­tles instead on a sin­gle rep­re­sen­ta­tive phrase, get­ting the job done in a whirl­wind 50 min­utes. Watch it above.

For many of us, that’s all it takes to unleash a flood of mem­o­ries.

Queen, Madon­na, David Bowie, and Michael Jack­son make strong show­ings, as do, more recent­ly, Rhi­an­na, Bey­on­cé, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, and Ari­ana Grande.

Else­where, there are reminders that fame is not just fleet­ing, but often teth­ered to a sin­gle hit.

That said, some­times those hits have remark­able stay­ing pow­er.

Wit­ness Dexys Mid­night Run­ners’ Come On Eileen from 1982, with its pre­scient lyric “I’ll hum this tune for­ev­er…”

And some songs turn out to be an unex­pect­ed slow burn. How else to explain one of the third-to-last ear­worms on Boogiehead’s list, “Run­ning Up That Hill” from Eng­lish singer-song­writer Kate Bush’s 1985 album Hounds of Love?

Its appear­ance on the hit series Stranger Things led it to go viral on Tik­Tok, net­ting the 64-year-old Bush a host of new fans in their teens and 20s as well as a cou­ple mil­lion dol­lars. Talk about old wine in new bot­tles!

ForbesPeter Suciu observes how songs’ shelf lives and in-roads are longer and wider than they were in the 80s and 90s:

Run­ning Up That Hill has cer­tain­ly become more pop­u­lar now than it was when it was released – and one fac­tor could be that social media has changed the way peo­ple lis­ten to music. In 1985, when Michael Jack­son was the undis­put­ed King of Pop, Kate Bush would have been rel­e­gat­ed to “alter­na­tive” music radio sta­tions, which were few and far between, or col­lege radio.

Read­ers, what song from Boo­giehead­’s Most Pop­u­lar Song Each Month Since Jan­u­ary 1980 do you most wish would make a come­back? Which of the new­er songs could you imag­ine lis­ten­ing to forty years from now? Let us know in the com­ments.

Lis­ten to the playlist of every song fea­tured on the Most Pop­u­lar Song Each Month Since Jan­u­ary 1980 here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

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

All the Music Played on MTV’s 120 Min­utes: A 2,500-Video Youtube Playlist

Hear a Neu­ro­sci­en­tist-Curat­ed 712-Track Playlist of Music that Caus­es Fris­son, or Musi­cal Chills

How Rick Astley’s “Nev­er Gonna Give You Up” Went from 80s Pop Smash to Bas­tion of Inter­net Cul­ture: A Short Doc­u­men­tary

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.