This country was for many years almost completely cut off from the outside world. Even when contact with foreign cultures did become more common, the effects of this were slow to disseminate, and were still closely monitored and restricted by the central government. Only the most unobjectionable, middle-of-the-road musical performers could get any significant airplay here in the '70s, and even today the level of exposure to Western popular music is minuscule. Most people haven't even heard of the classic performers of yesteryear like Sinatra or Presley.
Really. It beggars belief, but there it is.
No, The 3 Greatest Songs In The History Of Popular Music (if you are a citizen of The Unnameable Country) are:
Yesterday Once More - by Karen Carpenter
Country Roads - by John Denver
Hotel California - by The Eagles (undoubtedly the most daring and surprising of the three; basically, people here recognise the word 'California' and they like the twiddly guitar bits; they have no inkling that it's about drug-induced fever dreams and hallucinations)
I have tried to explain to students in my University classes that I like Yesterday Once More, I really do, it's a pretty song, I really enjoy it when I hear it on the radio back home - because I only hear it 2 or 3 times a year, at most; but, you know, anything can get a bit boring, a bit irritating, a bit SANITY-CHALLENGING when you hear it every f***ing day for 4 years. It's a bit of an ordeal for the foreign teacher here, honestly: students always expect to do a 'skit show' for the last class of the semester, and most of them want to do some karaoke as their 'skit', and at least a third of them will want to do Yesterday Once More. I explain to them that this is a lovely choice, and I am sure their classmates will very much enjoy their performance, but I hope they won't mind if I miss it because I really have to step outside just now and bang my head against a wall for a few minutes.
It used to be really difficult to avoid The Carpenters in this town. You'd have to avoid CD shops that would always be blaring muzak at enormous volume out into the street, you'd have to avoid restaurants that you knew always played that ONE incredibly popular foreign 'rock music' compilation tape that included Karen as the highlight near the end (and Celine f***ing Dion, My Heart Will Go On, and on and on and on....), you'd have to ask taxi drivers to turn their radios off, you'd have to always take the stairs instead of using elevators.... and you'd still be lucky to get through 72 hours without hearing the bitch once somewhere.
Then, a funny thing happened. She got bumped off the playlists by an infinitely more annoying song. There was a dreadfully cheesy European soft-rock outfit (Danish, I think) called Michael Learns To Rock (the name should be enough of a warning: most of us expats who had to suffer their 6 months of ubiquity here came to know them as Michael Kinda Sucks) who came out with an insipid, plodding love ballad called Take Me To Your Heart. It was just atrocious: syrupy, repetitive, grating; one of those songs where, just when you think it can't get any worse, they have another key change. Aaaaarrgghh, aaaaarrgghh, aaaaarrgghh! I'm sure nobody's ever heard of them outside of this country - not even in Denmark; they are so obviously a third-rate band who have cynically decided to target the Asian market by sinking a few notches even lower in quality. Anyway, for several months this was a huge hit, and was played everywhere in music shops, restaurants, elevators. Then, mercifully, it disappeared (although equally dire local cover versions have started to come out). The strange thing was that Karen Carpenter never really came back. You still hear her once in a while, but there's nothing like the overkill we suffered a few years back. A very curious cultural phenomenon, that.
Ah, and The Eagles. Every kid in this town who wants to play guitar learns Hotel California. Often, it seems, that is the only song they learn, and they don't learn it all that well. You don't hear The Eagles' recording of it being played all that often here, but you're quite likely to hear some local picker murdering it in any number of bars and music shops.
One of my more difficult moments in the recording studio came when I was asked to read a ridiculously fulsome account of The Eagles' career that went something like this:
"The Eagles were the greatest rock band in recording history. [Oh, not the Beatles, then? Or Queen? Or Pink Floyd? Or Led Zeppelin? Or The Rolling Stones? Even amongst American bands, you'd think The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skyrnyrd, even bleedin' Aerosmith would have a rival claim...] Their classic song Hotel California was followed by dozens of other hits. [Dozens? They've got quite an impressive catalogue, but dozens??] Many of their fans wept openly in the streets at the news that they had broken up [They broke up? News to me! Somehow passed me by; I must have been too busy having a life.], but great was the rejoicing when they re-formed 8 years later. [No - must have missed the memo on that as well.]" And there was more in the same vein. I felt dirtied by having to read that garbage. Luckily it hasn't come up again (most of the scripts we do are endlessly recycled - another strain on my fragile sanity!).
Even today, those three artists, those three songs are pretty much it as far as most people's knowledge of Western music goes. The only more recent performer to force his way into the canon is....... Michael Jackson! Yup, this country is still in a time-warp in many ways. Nearly every high school or University student you ask will insist that Wacko Jacko is still the undisputed King of Pop. If pressed for evidence, they will cite Thriller.... and maybe Bad. They seem blithely unaware of the fact that he hasn't really released much music in the past decade or so and that his career is, how shall we say, under a cloud.
Contemporary artists? Hmmm, let's see. Norah Jones is safe enough (although I suspect a lot of people are playing her music without having the slightest idea who she is). Eminem seems to have only a very small and somewhat 'avant garde' following. Marilyn Manson? No, this country isn't ready for Marilyn Manson yet.
It is a very strange place, to be sure. Don't even get me started on the local pop music......