Readers recommend playlist: songs about obsolete things

From Paul Simon’s Kodachrome to Nick Lowe’s Switch Board Susan, a journey back in time

Here is this week’s playlist – songs picked by a reader from hundreds of your suggestions last week. Thanks for taking part. Read more about how our weekly series works at the end of the piece.

Once a new product hits the shelf, computer geeks say it’s obsolete and you’d better start thinking what’s next. Happily, that’s never stopped musicians from salting their lyrics with contemporary references that later sound as dated as headbands and glitter. This week’s playlist of obsolete things might be called “music to clean out your garage by”.

Listen to the playlist on YouTube.

First up is Want Ads by Honey Cone, a soulful female trio from Los Angeles fronted by Edna Wright. Honey Cone was among the first groups signed by the hit gurus Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland when they left Motown to form the Hot Wax label. Want Ads topped the US pop and R&B charts in 1971, but of course most of today’s job seekers check online ads instead of printed classifieds.

The Shoeshine Boy was mostly rendered extinct by the growing popularity of athletic shoes. Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly celebrated those happy days of underpaid child labour as the Humblebums, an underappreciated folk-rock duo. The pair split in the early 1970s to pursue greater success, Rafferty as the frontman of Stealers Wheel, and Connolly as a standup comedian and actor.

Nick Lowe’s Switch Board Susan is a paean to telephone operators of the past. “When I’m with you, girl, I get an extension / And I don’t mean Alexander Graham Bell’s invention.” Disgraceful! Everyone knows Antonio Meucci invented the telephone.

In the 1970s, lead-footed truckers relied on Citizens’ Band radio to notify each other of nearby highway patrol cops. Burt Reynolds’ 1977 film Smokey and the Bandit made CB radios an essential accessory for gabby drivers everywhere. The Legendary Shack Shakers’ CB Song is a rockabilly tune packed with CB slang: “What’s your 20?” (location); “Guitar Town” (Nashville, Tennessee) and “lot lizard” (sex worker in a car park).

Introduced by Eastman Kodak in 1935, Kodachrome was a 35mm slide film beloved by photographers for its vivid hues. Paul Simon loved it too. In 1973 his Kodachrome was a top 10 hit in the US, but it was banned by the BBC because its title is a trademark. Kodachrome, doomed by the popularity and ease of digital photography, was discontinued in 2009.

Few fans in the US realise Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ 1982 hit I Love Rock ’n’ Roll is a cover of the Arrows’ 1975 original. Joan first heard the song during a UK tour with the Runaways. When Joan sings “Put another dime in the jukebox, baby” she means the huge Wurlitzers, Seeburgs and Rockolas that were stocked with vinyl records. Those icons have been replaced by today’s lame digital jukeboxes, which can be mistaken for soda machines.

In 1949, General Motors’ Pontiac division introduced all-new models that featured sleek fastback styling. They were an instant hit and may have inspired Sonny Boy Williamson II in 1951 to sing about driving with his baby, who’s “crazy ’bout his Pontiac”. Had Sonny Boy lived to see GM announce the brand’s demise in 2008, he surely would have had the Pontiac Blues.

In 1967’s summer of love, hippies gathered at love-ins in parks across the US to protest against the Vietnam War, listen to psychedelic rock and smoke a prodigious amount of pot. Enter Bob Brady & the Con Chords, a blue-eyed soul outfit who recorded Everybody’s Goin’ to the Love-In in 1968. The Con Chords were Smokey Robinson soundalikes who enjoyed more success in the UK than at home in the US. Love-ins became irrelevant after the war ended in 1975, but the gatherings outlasted the Con Chords, who played their last show in 1970.

In the 1970s, high heels and platform shoes for men were an unfortunate fashion trend of the disco and glam-rock eras. David Bowie, Elton John, Keith Moon, Marvin Gaye and greedy podiatrists everywhere loved them. The inspiration for Traffic’s homage to teen rebellion, The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, was the actor Michael J Pollard, who played C W Moss in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. Pollard gave the line to the drummer Jim Capaldi, who teamed up with Steve Winwood to write the 11-minute-plus title song of Traffic’s 1971 album.

Finally … remember slide rules? Connie Francis does in He’s Just a Scientist, a novelty tune that sounds straight out of a Frankie Avalon beach party film of the 1960s. Written by John D Loudermilk of Tobacco Road fame, the ditty namechecks Avalon, fellow teen idol Fabian Forte and scientists Wernher von Braun and Jonas Salk.

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