The beat goes on


A strange thing happened in Tim Blessing's methods class recently. "I often use music to illustrate an historical point, and I was talking about how you compare one era to another," recalls Blessing, a professor of history and political science. "I had a video of the Beach Boys singing 'Help Me Rhonda' from '65.

Then I had one of them doing it on their 50th anniversary tour. What I didn’t realize when I turned it up was that I would suddenly have a sing-along going on in my classroom. It just floored me. I said, ‘What are you guys doing? This song is 50 years old!’”

The music of the 1960s provided the soundtrack for the momentous events of that tumultuous time — the civil rights and anti-war movements; assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr.; the rise of the youth movement and drug culture, the pill and changes in attitudes toward sex, politics and religion, and so much more. Change was in the air, and the music both reflected and fueled it.

Half a century later, the music of the 1960s and early ’70s continues to have a profound influence on American culture and society, especially Generation Y (the 70-million-plus Americans born from 1977 to 2002). Much of the music is almost as familiar to children, teens and young adults today as it was when their parents or even grandparents were their age 50 years ago. Instead of transistor radios, record players and jukeboxes, today’s teens listen to the music through earbuds from an iTunes playlist, or trendy web platforms like Spotify or Pandora.

So what causes a classroom of college coeds born three decades after the music originally hit the charts to belt out Beach Boys lyrics like it’s 1965? Why do notes conjured a half century ago still ring true for a generation to whom the 1960s are often unfamiliar history?

And why is it that a song on the radio can instantly transport a baby boomer back five decades to a very specific time and place, surrounded once again by family and friends, some of whom are long gone?

Believe it or not, science can help tell us why that happens, and can even explain connections between music, memory and emotions. Of course, it also helps that the best of the music, most of what has endured, really was pretty special.

>> Read full story in Alvernia Magazine

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