Some time ago, a handwritten lyric sheet — a piece of paper — for “All You Need is Love” used by John Lennon in 1967, sold for $1.04 million.
This should not come as a surprise to anyone. Historically, there has always been big money in music — as witness this list of groups, albums and the revenue earned from their biggest hits in days gone by:
Aelfric and the Thanes: Damn Those Normans — 1.2 million denari
Paucar, Paullu and Maras: If I Had an Incan Hammer — 1500 llamas
The Sex Derringers: Queen Victoria Ain’t Amused — 3.4 million pounds
The amount of money at stake explains why the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other similar organizations went as far as to sue grandmothers and five-year-olds for downloading music. And if that warm and friendly approach failed to protect their interests, music media manufacturers put anti-copying protection on CDs. Given the number of MP3s and copy protection cracking tools already out there, this was kind of like closing the barn door after the horse left, got a job in the city, raised a family in the ‘burbs and retired to southern France.
Why is there so much money in tunes? Perhaps because music is such a fundamental part of our biology. Children learn to respond to music by clapping and dancing usually before they can walk and talk. I’m not sure I understand why we evolved this way, as it seems to me that the ability to run away from, not dance for, a sabre-toothed tiger would have been a more useful survival trait. Never mind.
Maybe music is important to us because the life cycle of a tune can be said to mimic the stages of human life:
Birth: Song is an underground cult favourite
Teen Years: Hits the Top 40 charts, played endlessly
Twenties/The College Years: Song disappears from active, productive life, is a drain on finances while publishers pay to keep it listed in the catalogues
Thirties: Song suddenly becomes cool again on retro radio stations
Forties: Song now only played on ‘adult contemporary’ stations, elevators.
Fifties: Regains some of it’s former coolness when golden oldies stations play it.
One hundred plus: Becomes a classic simply because it hasn’t dropped into complete obscurity after one hundred years.
If the comparison between songs and the human lifespan is valid, that means three things:
1. All the world’s a clock radio, and all the men and women merely sound bytes.
2. Given enough ink, time and decent wine, your average columnist can come up with comparisons which sound plausible but which really are complete nonsense. The difference between opinion page columnists and humour columnists is that we admit we’re talking through our hats.
3. There’s an outside chance that a song performed by Britney Spears may become a classic because of all the media attention her various relationships get. Please, prevent this from happening by allowing her to fade into dignified obscurity before the retro stage.
It’s also possible that music is highly valued because it’s intimately connected to our emotions, although I’m not sure why that’s the case either. To be overly sensitive to certain combinations of sounds makes us very vulnerable. Heavens, what if the sabre-toothed tigers had evolved the ability to sing the blues? They wouldn’t have had to hunt us so much as depress us, using music to manipulate us for their own evil purposes, much like advertising jingle writers do today.
Whatever the reason for music’s importance, I just wish I could cash in. Perhaps if I set this column to music? Would this piece someday be worth $1.04 million too?
Nah, I didn’t think so either.
Photo Credit: Geralt / Pixabay
Also published on Medium.