Saved By The Oldies: Why I Hate Grunge

Retro Dee writes about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s on this site.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every week.

Hi there folks. Here’s a story from my first week in Plymouth.

My Mom, Aunt and I were looking for somewhere to stop for lunch before shopping on Main Street. I picked a bar and grill (which shall remain nameless). At first glance, it looked like a perfectly nice place to have lunch. But let’s just say I won’t go back there.

It took a good 40 minutes for us to get our lunch after we ordered, even though there were only four other people in the entire place (five, if you count the drunk guy who looked like Keith Richards and he wasn’t even eating, only drinking beer.) So I don’t know what took so long for our meals to come. But while we were waiting, we were forced to listen to all the Big Hits of the 1990’s on their shoddy sound system (which kept going up and down in volume)

Now before I just flat out say that I hate music from the 90’s era, I’ll be a little more honest and say that I used to like it. Reason being is that it’s the music I grew up with. I began High School while grunge was still popular and still very much alive. And, as anyone who remembers their youth knows, whatever’s popular is what you’d listen to. So back then, I thought that the dark, grinding sounds of grunge and the miserable, nagging sounds of 90’s folk were somehow actually “good”.

Twenty plus years ago, DJs relentlessly played grunge in a depressing dirge on a daily basis. One after the other they’d play songs just like the ones we heard at the bar and grill, such as: “Who Will Save Your Soul” (1995) by Jewel, “All Over You” (1994) by Live… And a tune called “If You Could Only See” (1996) by Tonic, (which out of all the grunge, has got to be the grungiest)

At the dawn of the grunge genre, young, impressionable preteens like myself would be brainwashed into buying this music, despite the morose lyrics and downer melodies. Seriously. I hate grunge because when I listen to music, I want to be happy, not get depressed. Just the sound of those songs is enough to make me want to jump in front of a bus. Hearing them now, it’s no wonder why I desperately, albeit perhaps unknowingly, migrated towards music from the 1950’s, early 60’s era.

There is quite simply, no bigger example of opposites than when you compare music from the 1950’s and music from the 1990’s. The difference in sound is so astounding, that switching between the two will make you feel like you’ve gone insane… But that’s actually a good thing: There’s freedom from the depths of the garages of grunge… and that freedom is found at the Malt Shop.

As I sat struggling to endure this miserable music from my youth, I found myself wanting to escape and on no uncertain terms. I sat there trapped, thinking myself, “Where can I go to hear some oldies?” I desperately began to hope there might be a 1950’s-themed diner someplace within a 100 mile radius. The problem seems to be, that the retro-themed diners are themselves out of vogue. When they were once abundant with their cute little table jukeboxes and black and white floors, they have all but disappeared across the USA.

These days, when you enter most bars or restaurants, you get an earful of grunge, lousy contemporary pop or maybe some Lionel Richie if you’re lucky. Some places hearken back to the Awesome 80’s, and in increasingly less common cases you’ll get Classic Rock, but you won’t find music from the Nifty 50’s, unless you’re really looking hard for it.

That, friends, is what makes the next part of this story so ironic…

After we finally finished lunch and left the bar, our very next stop was a big Antiques Mall on Main Street. The moment I walked in, I heard a familiar sound:

“I wonder, wonder, wonder who… Who wrote the book of love…”

I thought I was hearing things. I said: “I don’t believe it! Oldies!

The Monotones 1958 hit was followed by one of my favorites, “I Wonder Why” (also 1958) by Dion and The Belmonts. It was as if I had put Malt Shop Favorites on myself and was spending another typical afternoon back at the old house in Santa Rosa.


What are the odds that after saying that I needed to hear some oldies -and fast-, the very next place I walk into, they’re playing exactly that?

So the Antiques Mall has the right idea. Sell old stuff, play old stuff. And keep your customers in a good mood. Maybe the bar with the 90′ s music was trying to depress people into drinking. I don’t know. I’m sure the managers know what they’re doing. But either way, my bottom line is always the same- wherever I go, what ever I do: it’s all about the music.

“Top Hits” – vinyl album for sale at the Antiques Mall

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