Dictaphones, Eight Tracks, Secretaries & An Evil Empire: Famous Songs With Dated Lyrics

Technology and history have made more than a few songs obsolete but they may still resonate with their original listeners because the sentiments expressed in them are still valid today. Here are six examples of such fare.

R.B. Greaves - Take A Letter Maria (1969)
Ronald Bertram Aloysius Greaves III was not a one hit wonder but he may as well have been because nobody remembers anything else he released except for this little gem that went all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The singer discovered his wife cheated on him so he dictates a letter to his secretary (remember them?) to tell her the couple is through. Notice the dictaphone in the video. Oddly, Greaves makes a play for Maria before the song is through so maybe he wasn't really that upset after all. Dating in the workplace? Not always a good idea, R. B., especially in 2019.

Jackson Browne - The Load Out (1977)
Part of the closing medley on Jackson Browne's Running On Empty, this song, along with "Stay," describes the ups and mostly downs of a rocker living a boring life on the road. Both the song and the album it came from were often criticized as being about a millionaire feeling sorry for himself but it's always been one of my favorites from the great California singer-songwriter. Life on the road is probably still much the same for touring musicians so that isn't what dates the song. One of the track's later verses offers us these lyrics, "Now we got country and western on the bus, R 'n B, we got disco and eight tracks and cassettes in stereo, We got rural scenes and magazines, We got truckers on the C.B. And we got Richard Pryor on the video." In just a few short lines Browne manages to list six things that may have some people scratching their heads. I never listened to disco, eight tracks (UGH!) or used a C. B. but I remember reading a magazine while enjoying cassettes and laughing at Richard Pryor. By the way, nobody calls the genre "country & western" anymore.

The Happenings - See You In September (1966)
What did you do in 1966 if your girl went away for the summer? Tell her, "I'll be alone each and every night, While you're away, don't forget to write" while worrying that she might find somebody else. Those feelings were expressed perfectly in this #3 hit by a North Jersey vocal group, The Happenings. Today, you still might lose the girl but you certainly don't have to worry about her writing to you because she can text you every thirty seconds while she is doing who knows what with another guy. This song is a remake of an original recording by The Tempos in 1959.

Jim Croce - Operator (1972)
Here is another breakup song that may make you feel sad despite the fact the whole scenario is dated. It centers around an unmade phone call. It was inspired by the late Jim Croce's military service. While there, he saw soldiers calling from pay phones on the base to see if the breakup letters they received from their girlfriends were true. The lyrics have Croce speaking with a telephone operator, trying to find the phone number of a former lover who moved to Los Angeles with his ex-best friend. After he receives the number his emotions won't allow him to make the call and he tells the operator to keep the dime he used to make it. Today: no phone booths, no coins needed, no operators, and no song.

Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant (1967)
Sometimes called "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," this talking folk tune featuring only Arlo Guthrie's voice and his solo acoustic guitar is over eighteen minutes long and takes up a whole side of his debut album. The restaurant, which actually has nothing to with the subject matter, is long gone but its existence is still marked by a sign where it was replaced by the Stockbridge Cafe. At least that is what it was called back in 2013 when I had my picture taken there. The story is mostly true. Guthrie was rejected for the draft, fortunately also gone since 1973, after being arrested for littering. Amazingly, his criminal record made him ineligible for military service. The track was eventually made into a movie in which the star plays himself. It's a serious subject that was handled hysterically by an expert storyteller.

The Beatles - Back In The USSR (1968)
Paul McCartney's clever lyrics that both spoof and salute The Beach Boys don't stop this song from being out of date. The Soviet Union has been gone a long time now and it's quite possible young people, many of whom seem to have no grasp of history, have no idea what Sir Paul is singing about. BOAC stands for British Overseas Airway Corporation, a forerunner to today's British Airways. This is one of my favorite songs by the world's greatest band.