What WILL Be Played from Taylor Swift Forty Years from Now? 


By  “Tampa” Earl Burton, Rock At Night

Pet Shop Boys

Recently there was a bit of turmoil regarding comments made by Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, otherwise known as Pet Shop Boys, regarding the phenomenon that is known as Taylor Swift. While both Tennant and Lowe were complimentary of her popularity and Swift’s voice and production, Tennant especially was a bit dismissive of her musical output. In an interview with The Guardian Live, Tennant remarked, “When I listen to the thing (in this case, The Tortured Poets Department, Swift’s latest album)…where are the famous songs? What is Taylor Swift’s “Billie Jean?” 

Expectedly, the “Swifties” were outraged that their Little Princess had been savagely attacked in this manner. The question that Tennant and Lowe pose, however, is an accurate one. Looking back at the history of rock, some bands have not been together for decades but have provided music that is still remembered today.  

Legacies of Greatness 

Robert Plant. Photo by Jose Oliveira

No other band epitomizes this more than the legendary Led Zeppelin. Even though the band broke up in 1979 after the untimely and tragic death of their drummer, John “Bonzo” Bonham, the music of the Zep is still a staple of radio airplay over forty years after their prime. Songs like “Rock and Roll,” “The Immigrant Song,” and, of course, “Stairway to Heaven,” all still are prominently featured in both film and on radio.  

Tennant’s proposed artist, Michael Jackson, has had to fight through some of his peccadilloes, but the music is still considered some of the greatest of all time. Not only Jackson’s “Billie Jean” is notable, but also his solo work before (Off the Wall) and his Jacksons work (“ABC,” “I’ll Be There”) are songs still enjoyed by the masses…and this is nearly fifteen years after his passing.  

You can go even further back than the Sixties to see this example. Tunes from Frank Sinatra (“New York, New York”), Bing Crosby (“White Christmas”), Patsy Cline (“Crazy,” “I Fall to Pieces”), and plenty of other crooners have permeated the fabric of the musical landscape. One-hit wonders (Toni Basil with “Mickey” or The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”) have songs that are played and enjoyed on the radio forty years after they were originally recorded.  

So, what will Taylor Swift’s “Forty Year Playback” be? 

Always Tough to Judge 

Taylor Swift

When someone is in the middle of a career, it is always tough to judge what will be the masterpiece of their catalog and what will be the “thing” they are most noted for. That is why it is called a career – it is a body of work that can be reviewed and judged for its quality…or lack thereof. With Swift, who is now eleven albums into her career (that’s right…ELEVEN), there is a lengthy resume to peruse, but a serious lack of “memorable” songs that spring from it.  

Some might say it was the first pop song that broke Swift to the world. “Shake It Off” (from 2014’s 1989) was a worldwide sensation that signified her breakaway from country music and as a force in the pop world. It is the definitive tune that displayed Swift’s ability to take her surroundings (the song was about the media scrutiny over her life) and create an artistic song about it and, along with the poppy beats, broke her on the world.  

Is it “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together?” That tune, Swift’s kiss-off to a beau about his mistreatment of her and his desire to rekindle their romance, is a borderline country/pop song that might be memorable. Maybe it is “Look What You Made Me Do,” but that tune is so God-awfully simple (the entirety of the chorus is one note, just repeatedly played) that it would be an embarrassment. “Blank Space” likewise is unsophisticated, but it has been covered by many up-and-coming artists and bands (the hard rock act I Prevail’s first hit was their cover of the tune), so it could place a claim to being on the “Forty Year Playback” list. 

Perhaps it is a song that is yet to be created by the Little Princess? Swift admits that she is always in a creative mode and, especially as an artist gets older (Swift will be 35 in December, which may come as a surprise to many), their subject matter begins to change and mature. It is entirely possible that we have yet to hear the apex of Swift’s creativity, despite what many critics say.  

Bottom Line – Don’t Chastise Honest and Truthful Criticism 

The bottom line to the story is that Tennant and Lowe should not have been chastised for their honest and truthful criticism of Swift’s catalog. To now, Swift has NOT done something that could be considered alongside Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable,” Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” or Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” In the current state of the music industry, Swift may never be able to equal those timeless classics. The “Swifties” would be wont to remember this instead of on constant defense in protecting their Little Princess.

Tampa Earl

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