You don't always know the classics when you first hear them.
I think of this every time (and there are many times) that someone starts playing "Don't Stop Believin'" - the apparently classic song by Journey.
It did not seem like a particularly big deal at the time. The song was released late in 1981, and did not make the Billboard Year-End Hot 100 list for either 1981 or 1982.
But when you look at the songs that topped the list at the time, you're not exactly bowled over by the timeless awesomeness.
1982's top songs were "Physical" (another carryover from 1981), "Eye of the Tiger," and "I Love Rock 'N Roll."
In 1981 it was "Bette Davis Eyes," "Endless Love," and "Lady" (the Kenny Rogers one). I'm not sure I need to hear any of these ever again.
What seems great at the time is not always the music that holds up over the years. Until I started doing research for this column, I had forgotten the disastrous "Stars on 45," a ridiculous medley of brief samples set to the sound of a relentless hand-clap track (all because the producers didn't want to use enough bars of anything to have to pay royalties). It was a No. 1 hit for a week.
In 1982, "Don't Stop Believin'" was up against such No. 1 hits as "Mickey" and "Abracadabra" (sample lyric: "Abracadabra, I wanna reach out and grab ya.") My apologies to those of you who now have "Mickey" stuck in your head.
Nor is there any accounting for local taste.
Back in the '70s, I knew when it was time to head to the bus stop because Dave Dempsey on WFRA played "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree" every single morning at the same time. The song was truly, deeply terrible in every way a pop song can be terrible, and yet in 1973 it was a No. 1 hit for four straight weeks. I consider it a great mercy that the song has faded into quiet obscurity (young people can go look it up online, but don't say I didn't warn you).
But "Don't Stop Believin''' never made it any higher than ninth place on U.S. top-10 charts; in the U.K. it didn't even crack the top 40. But then, it simply never went away.
Up until 2014, Journey's hit had sold the most digital copies of any rock song, and was in seventh place for digital sales if you factored in rock-flavored pop songs (OK, for people who love their trivia, the other songs were "Radioactive," "Somebody That I Used To Know," "We Are Young," "I'm Yours," "Hey, Soul Sister," and "Viva La Vida"). And every one of those songs was from the last decade or so. "Don't Stop Believin'" remains No. 1 in digital sales for all 20th-century music.
What appeals to current tastes does not always stand the test of time. That's why it's hard to pick classics before time has passed. Elinor Glin was a tremendously popular writer 100 years ago; now her work is not in print, and most people have never heard of her.
Young people listen to "Don't Stop Believin'" on purpose because there's something about it that is still enjoyable, but nobody is digging out their old vinyl copy of "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree."
"In The Mood," is now recognizable as the sound of the swing era. At the time, it was not a particularly notable hit. The fields of art and literature are filled with creators who were not recognized until they were too dead to enjoy their fame.
In 1981, nobody was saying that "Don't Stop Believin'" was a song for the ages; they were more likely to make fun of the fact that "born and raised in South Detroit" was nonsense. There is no South Detroit - in fact, going south from the center of Detroit lands you in Canada.
Classics often take time to reveal themselves, and trying to pick them before they've been tested by time is usually a fool's game. It gives us a sense of comfort and control to imagine that we can read the face of the future in the details of the present, but sometimes we just don't know.
We make choices and some may seem huge at the time, but then disappear quickly in the rearview mirror, while other choices that didn't seem like such a big deal stay with us for decades - like wailing guitars that never quite fade away.
Peter Greene resides in Franklin and is a retired Franklin High School English teacher. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.