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Everything old is new again - or so it seems

January 18, 2001

Everything old is new again - or so it seems

By KATE "All You Need Is Love" COLEMAN / staff writer


Related stories:

- Retro is a good way for generations to connect

- Dr. Feelgood, or how I learned to stop worring and embrace the past

Here it is 2001 - the new millennium, for goodness sake. What album is at the top of the charts? Hint: It's by one of those boy groups.

Noooooo, not the Backstreet Boys. Noooooo, not 'N Sync.

It's the Beatles' "1," the top-selling collection of the Fab Four's 27 No. 1 hits.

The music of ABBA, the Swedish disco-pop quartet that hit its heydey in the mid-'70s, is back in "Mamma Mia!," the hottest musical theater ticket in London. The show is scheduled to open on Broadway in October.

Oldies is a radio format. "I've been doing oldies for a while," says Mark Denny, program director at Hagerstown radio station Oldies 106.9 FM/WARX. He previously worked at oldies stations in Texas and California.

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Oldies 106.9 plays music from the mid- to late '60s, some from the 1950s and some early '70s. Denny is amazed to have so much of the music from so many years ago so "strong and solid today."

For many listeners, the oldies format is a "comfort zone," Denny believes. People have a fond remembrance of the music. "You know the song on the first three notes," he says.

The station targets listeners ages 30 and older, but younger people listen, Denny says. He's tickled that many young people are discovering music that laid the groundwork for today's music.

The retro phenomenon is more than music.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Volkswagen has a New Beetle, and it's not just aging flower children who are buying it. Polk, an automotive research company, recently reported more 18- to 34-year-olds are buying the updated bug than in 1998 when it was launched.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Quisp, the saucer-shaped "Quazy Energy Cereal" represented by the pink alien in a green spacesuit was introduced in 1965. By the late '70s, it was available only in a few "bricks-and-mortar" grocery stores, but people were looking for it. Quisp brought as much as $25 a box at online auction sites, according to Jamie Schwartz, spokeswoman for Quaker Oats. The cereal maker decided to try selling it on the Internet. Since its launch on www.netgrocer.com in November 1999, more than 19,000 boxes of Quisp have been sold for $2.99.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Black lights, glow-in-the-dark posters and lava lamps are back and available at Spencer Gifts at Valley Mall and on the novelty gift company's Web site at www.spencergifts.com. John Ridgway, Spencer Gifts' divisional vice president for marketing, says he's absolutely intrigued that such "icon items" are selling "very, very well."

"We're all a bit nostalgic about our youth," he says. A return to the past that really wasn't so long ago makes us feel good, Ridgway believes.

That retro sells well is part of its reason for being.

"Retro almost always works because it's already been tested," says Tim Shary, visiting assistant professor of screen studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass.

The entertainment industry is all about money, Shary observes.

Remakes work, says Ted Carlin, chairman of the department of communication/journalism at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa.

There's safety in familiar formulas. Television shows don't reinvent - they just have more sex and violence, Carlin says.

Archie Bunker was the working-class hero of "All in the Family."

"Roseanne" took up that mantle from 1988 to 1997. Now "Everybody Loves Raymond," which first aired in 1996, carries that torch.

Programmers don't reinvent the wheel - they just put a new tread on it, Carlin says.

What attracts young audiences to the music and trappings of the '60s and '70s?

Young people are desperate to move away from the immediate past, Shary believes. The stuff of the last decade might be OK, not too out-of-fashion. Where '70s clothes - bell-bottoms, for example, are acceptable, '80s fashions would be too risky, says Shary, whose book, "Generation Multiplex: The Image of Youth in Contemporary American Cinema" will be published in 2002.

In the 1950s, there were a lot of films about the future, Shary says. "I think the '90s were a decade that really looked back a lot," Shary says.

What will be remembered from the '90s - the Clinton scandal, school shootings? - he asks. He calls the decade relatively bland or desperate and wonders if there was enough experimentation.

It's hard to judge quality without the perspective of time. Historical critique can provide a sense of validation, Shary says.

But maybe it's not just escaping from the present or very recent past that makes a retro phenomenon happen. A "canonization of quality" may be another reason for the popularity of things of the past, according to Shary. We recognize The Beatles as creative. Their music is good, Shary says. "We long for that in our current music."

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