"California Dreaming" - Mamas & the Papas.
Released in 1965 during a time when anti-war protests were gaining ground, a sexual revolution for the ages was exploding all over the country, and civil rights disputes divided the economy.
"Stairway to Heaven" - Led Zeppelin.
Released in 1971 during a time when traditional moral structures were being re-defined, personal experimentation was glorified, and society as a whole was struggling to find meaning and purpose in the wake of a decade ridden with war and social unrest.
"Don't You Forget About Me" - Simple Minds.
Released in 1985 during a time when a younger generation began attempting to dictate social mores, adolescent and teenage angst strove to fight the system and find a voice in the crowd, and the search for love, relationship, and purpose burst forth like a battle-cry for meaning in a confused, disoriented culture.
"Out Of My Head" - Fastball.
Released in 1999 during a time when an apathetic outlook on life characterized the hearts of many, love had been reduced to something merely erotic and self-pleasing, and whimsical desires guided the wanderlust.
Fast-forward to today. Fill in the blank. You can insert whatever you'd like, but I think the pattern is clear now. Though the choices themselves are debatable, the theme remains the same: These are songs that defined generations. Though times have changed, and musical genres have been both broadened and expanded, American society has not lost its grip on the power of self-expression through the medium of music.
But look deeper. Pause for a moment, and reflect once more. Notice the discontent. The outrage. The desperate cry for belonging. The last-man-standing refusal to back down. The demand for answers. The shouts for acceptance. The passion for purpose. The never-ending search for more. Yes, times have changed indeed. Social institutions can no longer remain the same. Morality has been reduced from something that is true at all times, to a list of principles that can only be true in certain times. Truth is viewed as relative. You can decide for yourself what you think is true, and what isn't. Individual interest is the new standard for what is constitutionial and what is unjust. If it seems right to you, it needs to be recognized as law, otherwise it's unfair. Love is seen as self-seeking. If it's not about furthering your own agenda, it's probably not worth "falling into". Marriage is condoned for personal happiness, not unconditional, self-sacrificial love. If it's not making you happy, it's okay to back out of the relationship, and discard the person. I don't know about you, but when I look at the songs that have defined their generations, I don't see peace. I don't see order. I cannot find a spirit of unity. I don't see people who feel complete. I cannot sense a feeling of satisfaction. I cannot find people who are at rest.
Far and away, music has always been one of the best ways to communicate the deepest parts of our hearts. The things we don't know how to say. The thoughts we wish we knew how to vocalize. The groans too painful for words. But look closer. It also reveals something else: the tragedy that people are hurting inside. The reality that people are lost in a world where they engorge themselves with things they're convinced will fill the void they recognize is there. My friends, music hasn't just defined generations. It has uncovered something beneath the surface we've always known was there: There's something else we're missing. My only question is: Are we really convinced that this "something else" can be found in us?
It's worth pondering.