More proof that the music of our youth is the music of our life

There’s a musical sweet spot in our life, usually from the time we enter high school to sometime in our early 20s. As our identities solidify, we not only use music as a way to figure out who we are but as a way of projecting ourselves to the world.

This connection is so strong that the music of this period imprints itself on our psyche forever. Our emotional attachment to those songs remains with us for the rest of our lives. Nothing will ever sound as good.

There’s a second part to all this. Later in life, we inevitably wonder why music isn’t as good as it was when we were young. “What’s wrong with kids today?” we say.

This phenomenon is statistically explored in a New York Times story called “The Songs That Bind.” It turns out that Spotify data says the age of peak influence for music for females is age 13. For males, it’s 14.

My younger brother, Noah, and I were recently arguing, again, about music. The subject of our current impasse was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” — the song, not the album. (I love it. He hates it.)

I was beginning to get frustrated by how much of our lives are spent arguing about music. So I decided to do something about it the only way I know how: I analyzed data.

I couldn’t think of a way to use data to prove how great “Born to Run” is. But I thought data might give me clarity on why my brother and I never seem to agree on music.

In particular, I wanted to see to what extent the year we were born influences the music we listen to, the extent to which different generations are bound to disagree on music.

For this project, the music streaming service Spotify gave me data on how frequently every song is listened to by men and women of each particular age.

The patterns were clear. Even though there is a recognized canon of rock music, there are big differences by birth year in how popular a song is.

This is fascinating stuff. Keep reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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