Music has a way of dating itself. I’m not talking just the instrumentation and production of music although that is probably the easiest way to recognize songs from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, etc. Not very many artists in the modern era use disco hi-hats, saxophone solos, and sludgy guitars. But another way music shows its age is through outdated pop culture lyrics.
References to defunct brands, old technology, and even the year the song was released make it easy to carbon date lyrics. For instance, Escape Club told us in their 1989 hit “Wild Wild West” that they were: living in the ’80s and heading for the ’90s. 3rd Bass told us exactly what year their Gabriel-sampled hit “Pop Goes the Weasel” was released: It’s ’91 son, so something’s gotta change. Asia’s break through hit “Heat of the Moment” also gives carbon dating in the lyrics: And now you find yourself in ’82.
But what amuses me most while listening to decades-old music are songs that have outdated pop culture lyrics. They impact me in two different ways. One way is I find myself chuckling at the lyrics because I had not remembered them. The other way is I find myself singing those lyrics louder during the song because I miss what they are talking about or have a family member near me that has no idea what the song is referencing. Either way, carbon-dated lyrics give music character and better define the era they were released.
Here are 12 songs featuring some of my favorite examples of outdated pop culture lyrics:
Bel Biv Devoe “Do Me” (1990)
Lyric: The time was six o’clock on the Swatch watch
I know the Swatch company is still “ticking” but I was thinking their 15 “minutes” of fame was mainly in the ’80s. Apparently, Michael Bivins didn’t get the memo in 1990.
Lyric: I blew out my flip flop. Stepped on a pop top
Man, pop tops on soda cans were dangerous back in the day. They were sharp and people just chucked them anywhere. Jimmy should be thankful he was lamenting a flip flop instead of his big toe.
Lyric: Sucking on a chili dog outside the Tastee Freez
Mellencamp’s little ditty about heart land kids actually contains a couple outdated references. My favorite is the Tastee Freez restaurant chain because my little one stoplight town in PA had one that I ate at all the time. The other reference is to Diane’s “Bobby Brooks” that Jack wanted to dribble off. Bobby Brooks was a popular brand of women’s clothing at the time, with their most popular item being blue jeans. (John, you bad boy!)
Dire Straits “Money For Nothing” (1985)
Lyric: I want my MTV
The 2nd Best Music Video of the ’80s contains some carbon dating. The obvious reference is what we all were saying in the early ’80s: I Want My MTV! The other subtle reference is moving Color TVs. While most households had color televisions sets by this time, black and white sets were still among the living.
Lyric: We got it all on UHF
Speaking of television sets, “UHF” references many outdated TV references like Throw out your TV Guide, Don’t touch that dial, and Yank off the knob. Sadly, no one uses physical copies of TV Guide anymore or has dials and knobs on their 4K Smart TVs. But the main outdated lyric is the title itself referring the time when televisions received channels through UHF (Ultra High Frequency) and VHF (Very High Frequency) radio waves.
Lyric: So put another dime in the jukebox, baby
Jukeboxes are mostly a thing of the past now, especially “the record machine” that Jett references in the song. I’m not sure I remember them costing a dime (I remember it being a quarter,) but that lyric could date back to the original song release by the Arrows in 1975.
The Notorious B.I.G. “Juicy” (1994)
Lyric: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
I could probably make an entire list of outdated pop culture lyrics using just ’90s hip hop tracks. There are several references in Biggy’s first single including the warring video game consoles Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. He also mentions Word Up! magazine which rose to popularity in the ’80s and being up close and personal with Robin Leach, the host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous which ran from 1984-95.
Lyric: You don’t have to watch Dynasty to have an attitude
The primetime drama Dynasty did have some attitude but unless you witnessed some of the cat fights first hand back in the day, the reference is easily lost in the modern era.
Lyric: Watching X-Files with no lights on
This song may be at the top of the list when it comes to referencing the most the most outdated things. X-Files (and its antagonist Smoking Man) is just one of many references in the song. Here’s a few more: LeAnn Rimes, Bert Kaempfert, Harrison Ford, Sting, Snickers, (Akira) Kurosawa, Sailor Moon, and Birchmont Stadium.
The Police “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around” (1980)
Lyric: Turn on my VCR
There are several songs that mention VCRs including The Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star” from 1980. Sting also mentions James Brown on the T.a.m.i. show which was a 1964 documentary concert film. Plug in my M.C.I. to exercise my brain was not a reference to the famous telephone company but “Music Center Incorporated” which was a popular multi-track recorder.
Lyric: I know you called, I know you hung up my line, Star 69
Does *69 still work? I remember when it became a widely-known thing and prank phone calls seemed to be less of an option. Even if it was just a friendly game, parents knew *69 and would dial back to your friend’s house and let them have it for making a prank call.
Lyric: Shake it like a Polaroid picture
I don’t remember many people still using Polaroid instant cameras in 2004. The company actually declared bankruptcy in 2001 so maybe this lyric was a ploy to get people to buy up the remaining stock?
Your turn! Tell me some of your favorite songs with outdated pop culture lyrics in the comments!