Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Do you argue about music at work?

Do you fight to play your music loud in the office, regardless of what others might think and feel -- especially after discovering your taste?

Or are you one of those who prefers to shove AirPods in your ears in order to listen to your death metal and ignore your co-workers?

I only ask because I've been bathing in a new study performed by Pascal Wallisch at New York University.

It enjoys the glorious titleWho remembers the Beatles? The collective memory for popular music.

His research is of considerable import, and not just in influencing office harmony. 

It's always been clear to those who were alive in the 60s, 70s and 80s -- and a few misbegotten souls in the 90s -- that this was a truly golden age for music.

The songs created then were seminal, rather than semi-nauseating. They were eternal, rather than eternally sounding the same as each other.

Wallisch, however, is fascinated by our collective memory for things. 

When people remember presidents, for example, their memories tend to drift along temporal lines. 

We remember the recent ones. We might remember President Carter's association with peanuts. We may have an inkling that Richard Nixon wasn't perfect.

Before that, though, meh.

Wallisch wanted to know whether humans view music the same way. So he corralled 600 people, mostly millennials, to subject themselves to Billboard Number 1's from the last 70 years.

Would memorability work the same way as it did when it came to presidents? 

The millennials would remember the recent stuff and the rest of it would be just so much nothing, right?

I confess to absurd levels of disturbing joy to discover that, instead of a steep drop-off in memory for the more distant years, the golden years produced a highly stable level of memorabilty.

This was especially true of particular songs.

When A Man Loves A Woman by Percy Sledge, for example. Which hails from 1966. (Please don't mention the words Michael and Bolton in this context.)

Hello Goodbye by the Beatles, from 1967, is another that's stayed in the collective head.

Somehow, the 1974 Grand Funk Railroad version of The Loco-Motion is one of the most memorable of all.

I contend that Little Eva's 1962 original is far more influential. 

Oh, and also quite memorable -- dear Lord, please forgive us -- Footloose by Kenny Loggins.

It's true that Billboard Number 1's were sometimes -- even often -- insipid examples of pained bilge. And, having grown up in Europe in the 70s, I can't believe some of the awful songs that represented that blissful era in this research.

Me, I was listening to the Stranglers, the Sex Pistols, Billy Joel, Elton John and Elvis Costello. And, er, the Bay City Rollers.

In my irretrievable pond of bias, however, I want to believe that something happened in that era that cannot be replicated, mainly because technology has destroyed it.

Oh, of course there are many caveats with such research. I'd like to ignore those and just commune with my joy.

Wallisch doesn't have an answer as to why his research unearthed this effect. Could it be that the music was simply extraordinary or was it the sometimes malign influence of radio?

These are great questions. And I think they're probably best addressed by doing this in another 30 years when radio's been gone. And then we'll see what's stable and not stable about this.

Science is constantly interested in the ways that music influences feelings and behavior.

A while ago, I wrote about cognitive science research at the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands.

It tried to find the most uplifting songs in the world.

Yes, of course Abba's Dancing Queen (1976) was on the list. Indeed, the vast majority of the songs were from the last century.

Collective memory is, though, a very important issue when it comes to many interpersonal interactions.

If you find commonalities in taste and perspective, that's something upon which teamwork can be built.

If you appreciate one another's era, it can create intergenerational understanding and even harmony.

Goodness, wouldn't it be adorable to experience some of that?

Published on: Feb 17, 2019
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