Pop songs 'derogatory about growing old'

The Beatles Image copyright PA

Pop records set a bad example by portraying ageing and old people in a negative light, focusing on dying and physical decline, according to a study in a nursing journal.

UK researchers trawled the musical archives from the 1930s to the present day for any tracks mentioning old age.

The majority - 55 out of 76 songs - focused on "bad" aspects of ageing.

The Beatles and Elton John feature on the "negative list", along with Pulp and The Who.

Meanwhile, Bob Dylan and John Lennon were commended by the researchers for penning positive lyrics in their respective songs Forever Young and Borrowed Time, with Dusty Springfield mentioned for her version of the Carole King and Gerry Goffin song Goin' Back.

Lead researcher Jacinta Kelly, senior lecturer in nursing at Anglia Ruskin University whose work is published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, says popular music is a powerful tool that can influence behaviour and attitudes, and it should be used responsibly.

"For example, The Beatles' When I'm Sixty Four, is generally thought of as an upbeat tune that is quite light-hearted.

"But the lyrics 'when I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greeting, bottle of wine' are actually questioning whether someone who is old is still loveable, and that's concerning."

Likewise, The Who's My Generation song has lyrics saying "I hope I die before I get old", while Pulp's Help The Aged track asks the listener to give the aged hope and comfort "cos they're running out of time".

But Dusty Springfield sings that "growing old is no sin" and John Lennon's song declares "now I am older, ah hah, the future is brighter".

The researchers scanned the Music Lyric Database, Songfacts, The Macronium and Absolute lyrics for English language music texts relating to age and ageing.

Then they categorised the songs they found as either "contented and celebrated aged", "pitiful and petulant pensioners" or "frail and flagging old folks".

Ms Kelly said: "The message coming out of the negative songs is that the elderly are frail and a burden. It's confidence-lowering.

"Music is very pervasive and the message could penetrate.

"While it may prove an impossible task, as well as an infringement on the freedom of expression, to censor negative portrayals of old age, it is important that awareness is raised and some efforts are made to reduce these negative stereotypes."

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