I was discussing a time travel premise, where someone from our time finds themselves say in 1980, and how they would manage. Some people seem to think it obvious that such a traveler could, if they had good musical memory, become rich/famous by selling very popular tunes that haven't been invented yet. Specifically, "take "Oops! I did it again", repackage with more appropriate lyrics, and you're set". Similarly, if you travel from 1970s to say 1930s, just "write" the Beatles' songs.

To me, on the other hand, it seems reasonable that very popular songs would sound weird, off-putting, maybe even cacophonic 30 or 40 years before. Somehow the collective musical consciousness is not ready for them, the collective ear has not been prepared for such harmonies/melodies, etc. That's what I'm telling myself.

But, as a musical layman, I realize that I don't really know. The above sounds convincing to me, but what if it's just a plausible story I'm telling myself? Is there a more convincing argument for or against the claim that songs by the Beatles would be very popular, had they suddenly appeared in the 1930s, or Britney Spears' songs would be a sensation in 1980?

(I'm sorry if this question is too speculative)

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    It's too speculative. It's also been very well covered in the TV show Goodnight Sweetheart & more recently the movie Yesterday – Tetsujin Jan 3 at 12:36
  • The reports I've read about early 20th-century jazz is that it was both weird, off-putting, and polarizing and well-received and highly popular. It all depends on which circle was reviewing it. – Dekkadeci Jan 3 at 13:52
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    I think that the movie Back To The Future has beaten you to the idea. – badjohn Jan 3 at 14:19
  • I think it would be better to scoop “Like A Virgin” if you went back to 1980. – Todd Wilcox Jan 3 at 15:05
  • @badjohn - Back to the Future messes with history a bit much for me in that scene. Rock & Roll was firmly established by 55, even though J.B. Goode wasn't written til 58 & Berry's first hit would itself be in 55, hence the Marvin phone call. The movie makes out it was the first time anyone had heard anything like it. – Tetsujin Jan 3 at 16:37

such a traveler could, if they had good musical memory, become rich/famous by selling very popular tunes that haven't been invented yet

You don't have to have tunes that are a hundred years ahead. Just steal songs from a well-known composer of the time. Get printouts in music notation. Go back in time and prevent the composer's parents from meeting. That way the audience will be ready for the "new" music because it's in a style they understand. You become the great composer with very little effort. The problem is, they will expect you to know how to play your own pieces!


Since you give examples from the past century, I'd like to point out that the development of music in the last 100 years was very closely connected with development of technology (this must apply to older music as well, but perhaps on a less rapid pace).

For instance, the Beatles had access to the most recent recording equipment of their times. A couple of years before producing their records would be simply impossible.

Invention of electric guitar and amplifying musical instruments had a huge impact on music.

In the more recent years we witnessed very fast development of digital audio processing, which again stimulated development of new music, in particular the in the pop/commercial/hit song genres.

Other than that, popularity of music is often closely related to certain social trends. Music of the Beatles came in the times of rebellion of young people against the old culture. You use an expression "repackage with more appropriate lyrics", but the lyrics have huge weight on how the music is perceived. In order to write a hit song, you need to capture what's on people's mind at the specific time.

Probably there are many more aspects to this I miss. Also each of the paragraphs I wrote could be expanded to the size of a short book...

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