For ages I’ve been wanting to expand my musings into the area of music, and although I’m working feverishly on my book, “The Sum of the Parts” at the moment, I’ve finally buckled down and put fingers to keyboard.
One of the things that’s been at the forefront of my mind is one particular song, which I think must be the most outdated song in existence. I’m talking here about Del Amitri’s “Nothing Ever Happens”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking this song, it’s a great song, one of my personal favourites of the 80s – a decade where there was an awful lot of over-rated, over-commercialised dross. But the sad fact is that in the 25 years and eight months since this song was released, in December 1989, it’s aged terribly, with the majority of lines showing its age in one way or another. And although I love the song, I cringe when I hear some of these lines, and I hear this song a lot – since moving to Scotland, it seems that there’s a bye-law that states that every pub band or singer is must include at least one Del Amitri song in their repertoire.
So let’s take a closer look at these lyrics, and as we do we’ll also see just how just how many ways the world has changed in what is a relatively short period.
Post office clerks put up signs saying position closed
Two problems here in the very first line. I’m not sure Post Office Clerks exist any more – a quick check of the Post office website shows that they employ “Customer Service Consultants” to work on their counters, and I’m not sure that many have signs you put up now. Most large post offices have electronic queuing systems, but maybe a few rural post offices still have physical signs so I’ll go easy on this line.
And secretaries turn off typewriters and put on their coats
Again, very few “secretaries” are around these days as they’ve morphed into PAs or a variety of other job titles, but quite apart from that, when did you last see a typewriter outside a museum?
Janitors padlock the gates for security guards to patrol
No problems with this line, although the security guards have probably been outsourced to a private company
And bachelors phone up their friends for a drink
They may well do, but they’re much more likely to text their mates for a drink, or put a message out on Facebook, Twitter or go looking for company on Tinder
While the married ones turn on a chat show
Are there any chat shows showing these days? “Wogan” ended in 1992, and even if you could call “The One Show” a “chat show”, surely no-one ever chooses to watch it? But I suspect they’re much more likely to sit down in front of a console game, or log on to the internet, or watch something recorded on Sky+.
And they’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow
No arguments here – the central premise of the song is still correct despite all the changes in the world
Gentlemen time please, you know we can’t serve anymore
You probably can, actually, since the Licensing Act 2003 allowed 24 hour drinking. Even if the pub you’re in needs to close, that’s down to the licensee, not the law.
Now the traffic lights change to stop, when there’s nothing to go
Only very old-fashioned traffic management systems, most will be computer and sensor-linked to respond to the requirements of traffic.
And by five o’clock everything’s dead
With the hours most people have to work to keep their jobs these days, and the so-called “24 hour society”?
And every third car is a cab
For the moment it may be, but Uber will see to this before too long.
And ignorant people sleep in their beds
At least there are still some certainties in life!
Like the doped white mice in the college lab
Fair enough, I can’t argue with this one – in 2012 83.1% of the total animals used for animal experimentation in the UK were rodents, 3,045,690 of them mice. Not sure how many were doped and how many were white, though.
Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
Still true after all these years.
The needle returns to the start of the song
Yes, vinyl may be making a comeback, but any connoisseur is unlikely to use a system with an auto-changer. This line is probably meaningless to the majority of people under 25!
And we all sing along like before
Again, can’t complain about this line – in fact, it could even be said to predict the karaoke boom of the 1990s.
And we’ll all be lonely tonight and lonely tomorrow
As before, always true!
Telephone exchanges click while there’s nobody there
I don’t think they do – since going digital the characteristic click of electro-mechanical relays is a distant memory.
The Martians could land in the carpark and no one would care
If they did, the smartphone footage would be on Twitter within a minute or two, and 24-hour news networks within the hour.
Close-circuit cameras in department stores shoot the same video every day
I think they’re a bit more clever these days, as most are motion activated and only record when they see movement
And the stars of these films neither die nor get killed, Just survive constant action replay
Ok, happy with this one, even though most of the action replays are probably viewed on YouTube.
Bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs
Agreed, but not for long – facial recognition means that very soon advertising will be smart. It’ll recognise you and show you an advert for something you do – or the advertiser thinks you do – need.
While angry from Manchester writes to complain about all the repeats on TV
Angry from Manchester is much more likely to tweet or to email or to fill out a webform, or maybe post on the TV company’s Facebook page, but I’m not sure they’d make the effort over repeats on TV when they can have personal video recorders, Smart TVs and the likes of iplayer to let them choose what they want to watch when.
And computer terminals report some gains on the values of copper and tin
They might report them, but it’d be for information only as automated dealing systems will have long since made the trades according their specific trading algorithm.
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs for the price of a hospital wing
Americans? Have you seen the state of the American Economy? Chinese, maybe, or Russian Oligarchs, but very unlikely to be Americans.
So there we are. Out of 24 lines, 16 of them are out of date in one way or another, and that’s being generous.
It’s amazing just how much the world has changed in so many ways, and just how many changes advances in technology have made to all our lives, even in humdrum ways. But maybe there’s also a lesson here for songwriters – be less specific in how you describe the minutiae of life for inclusion in your lyrics and they’ll age a lot better.
But that’s my suggestion for the most outdated song of all time. Any other contenders?