When Retro becomes Retro?

When Retro becomes Retro?

In 1983, Tracey Ullman released an album called “You broke my heart in 17 places”. It featured many songs from the 60s and 70s re-worked with a contemporary 80s feel. The album cover itself was a design throw back to the 60s. Songs such as “Bobby’s Girl” and “Move Over Darling” by  Doris Day were obvious retro material. But covers of Kirsty MacColl tracks, such as the title track and the best selling, “They Don’t know”, were more subtle retro references. In the video below, look out for  Sir Paul McCartney who guests as Tracey’s new boyfriend in the car and note that Kirsty MacColl herself is said to have sang the high pitch “baby” note.

Retro before it was Cool

In producing this album, Tracey was way ahead of her time with the whole retro revival that we see today. As someone said, “Tracey Ullman was retro before retro became cool”.  Tracey went on to find even more fame with her own TV Show in the U.S. and helped launch what can only be described as “The 90s Classic Cartoon Series”: The Simpsons.

Retro is Contemporary

Now more than 20 years later, the album is still a clear nod to the 60s and 70s, but is itself a significant item of 80s culture.  There are other examples of culture that have themselves become retro.  In fact, one could easily argue that all new and current fashion and indeed music is a re-worked idea from the past.  What is good music or good fashion will always be good.  But every generation wants to claim it for themselves. This is why I suppose the reason that retro is popular. Even with kids.  My children like The Beatles, Abba and Queen. As I write this, my eldest is listening to  the Bee Gees  “Saturday Night Fever”.  In the same way,  my kids like classic design items from the past. retro Alessi lemon squeezerLike the Alessi Juicy Salif Lemon Squeezer, designed in the 80s by Phillip Starck and even vintage style items like 1920s Flapper design dresses. And I expect that their kids will like the same.

There ought to be a word for retro-revival-again items:  Perhaps “Re-Retro-Cycled” or why not just, “Retro-Retro” ?  Of course, I could be mischievous and say that something that is “Retro-Retro”, is in fact, Contemporary!

By Paul Bates (thepaulbates)

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