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Pop goes the classic music I grew up with

By David Bogle | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-12 08:02

It comes round every few weeks - the time when I must write a Second Thoughts column. It's a pleasant enough task but sometimes ideas are thin on the ground, especially considering that most of my expat colleagues are also tasked with writing a column and might well pick the subject I was thinking of.

My thoughts as a newcomer to China, my daily life in Beijing - those are fairly popular subjects and some people have a lot more knowledge of this country than I do. What I like about China is another popular one ... but what about what I don't like about China? I haven't seen that one yet.

This got me thinking. What don't I like about this place? Those nests of perilous electrical wiring outside some buildings, the seeming lack of butchery skills - some of the meat I eat seems to have been attacked with a machete, leaving bone fragments everywhere. The almost total absence of obesity, tattoos and piercings ... oh no, wait, that's a good thing.

To be honest, it's hard to think of much I don't like - and it would be unfair to find fault with people, who have been so kind and helpful to me.

Pop goes the classic music I grew up with

But wait a minute. There is one thing about China that really annoys me - its pop music.

Chinese pop is dreadful. I hear it everywhere - in shops, on the subway, in restaurants, on people's ringtones. Without exception, it is derivative drivel cobbled together from ancient Western templates that have been used a million times over.

It's not really China's fault. Those templates might be new to listeners here. When this country was undergoing the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) the West was having its own cultural revolution. This was an explosion of youth culture, as the postwar baby boomers became teenagers and young adults - and imposed, among other things, their musical preferences on a previously gray and conformist world. Much of the pop and rock music from this era is sublime. Those who were around at that time thought it would last forever - classic music being churned out year after year.

Some will argue with this, but my feeling is that the quality did start to slowly fizzle out during the 1980s and '90s. Others seem to agree - I read an article recently arguing that Radiohead's OK Computer album was the last rock masterpiece - and that was released in 1997.

I could reel off lists of singles and albums I love from this era but musical taste is a very personal thing. Some can take it or leave it but for me it's part of my DNA and there are some songs I find deeply moving. I'm so grateful I lived through what many consider to be the heyday of rock and pop,

The mortal blow for abundant quality music came with the advent of the internet. As soon as people could have all the music they ever wanted for free - or at least for very little - the performers started to lose out in a big way and music stopped being such a promising career choice for gifted people.

But don't despair, Chinese people. You are so lucky. At your fingertips is an archive of precious sounds produced during that golden era. Get online, catch up and explore - and don't just look for the hits. The treasure trove is still there for all to enjoy.

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