On BBC Radio 6 this afternoon, Guy Garvey plated Curtis Mayfield’s song Move On Up. Anyone familiar with the song will agree that it as distinctive a piece of soul music as ever was recorded. The strong opening bars give it an unmistakable sound.
The sound is unmistakable, unless you are me.
Of course, I knew it was Move On Up, that’s in the lyric, but try as I might, for at least two minutes of the song, I couldn’t remember the artist’s name. Even when I remembered that it was Curtis Mayfield, I doubted my recall and looked at the display on the digital radio to check I hadn’t remembered the wrong name.
In teenage years, I listened to so many hundreds of hours of pop music on the radio that a couple of opening notes from almost any song would have been sufficient for me to be able to identify both the song and the artist.
In the late-1970s, there was a television programme called Name that Tune hosted by Tom O’Connor. Contestants competed with each other to name a song in as few notes as possible. Some of those who appeared must have had an extraordinary ear for music, because after a single note they would push their buzzer and say, “I’ll name that tune in one, Tom,” whereupon Tom O’Connor would say to them, “name that tune.”
Sometimes, on some songs, I would have been as quick off the mark as some of the contestants. My disadvantage was that my knowledge was chiefly that of music of the 1970s, with the odd 1960s tune. Anything before The Beatles was too early for me.
Turning on Radio 1 when a record was in mid-play, I rarely needed a back reference from the DJ, I knew the song and the artist and could often give the month and year when the song was in the charts.
My capacity for recall never extended much later than 1979, and now I have noticed it is beginning to fade. Golden Hours that were once opportunities for instant recall have become times when I say, “I think I remember that,” but can add little to my vague recollection.
Perhaps it is a lack of retrieval practice. Educationalists say that we need to revisit material regularly if it is to remain in our memories, so not hearing something for years is likely to mean it is forgotten. Perhaps it is just age, a beginning of a slippery slope to not knowing who The Beatles were.