Liner Notes: Campus Cash In

It is during this week that so many young people will hear a song they will remember for the rest of their lives.

Frosh Week — Queen’s University — Kingston, Ontario, Canada

What was the song of your “freshman year?” For me, it was “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers. I was nineteen-years-old had just moved 970 miles from my hometown. Before I could count “one-two-three Marlenas,” I was living in small-town Nova Scotia where I knew but one person. It makes sense now to think that the album being played all over that specific east coast Canadian campus was full of a folkie, chilled-out, dreamy-eyed Jakob Dylan voice with soft drum taps and simple bass line—typical Canadian flavor. I am also now certain that this was not the freshman blow-up album all over North America in September 1996; but it makes sense in the land of Acadian driftwood. For the rest of my life, as long as my mind doesn’t fail me, whenever I hear the Wallflowers album Bringing Down the Horse I will think of that first fall spent away from home and in the independence of college campus life.

There is no arguing that music is associative to memory. Some musicologists argue that the entire human attraction to music is alone based upon the principle that it evokes memory. This article is not set out to argue either way on the subject. I will say, however, that it is without doubt that memory and music are a tightly braided pair. Often, a song makes us feel joy or sorrow depending on the circumstances in which we first heard it. That being said, this is a crucially important week in the pop music industry.

I don’t think there will be any arguing about what the song from last year’s class was. Perhaps as a cheeky stunt to gain approval on class evaluations, an American history professor of mine began his final lecture, titled “Since we began: American History & What Has Changed During the Time Span of this Course,” by playing “Empire State of Mind”—the song of school-year 2009-10. His point was obvious and well made. Exactly what has transpired in this country since we first got together eight months ago? Students all around the lecture room began to smile, nod their heads, some slight female shrieking ensued, some of the more flamboyant students danced and sang along, and the football boys punched each other in the arms and chests in approval. I wonder how many of them, at that exact moment, realized that for the rest of their lives they will always associate Jay-Z and Alicia Keys with their freshman year of college?

“Empire State of Mind” was released in October 2009. Coincidence? That is the precise question this article aims to ponder. How many artist managers, publicists, and major label executives intentionally release singles during the early months of the school year? Landing a spot on the short list of the “that song reminds me so much of freshman year” chart can result in massive revenue. Humans, especially adolescents who are discovering their independence for the first time, subconsciously search for motifs of familiarity to help them better recognize and assimilate to their new surroundings. A common appreciation for a newly discovered song will build friendships and create a flocking bond among independent fledglings. Don’t for a second think music producers don’t already know this and aren’t out to cash in on this subliminal psychological desire.

I don’t know what song this year’s massive hit will be. I am pretty sure it won’t be the same tune all across the country. The freshman sensation from University of Oregon will probably be different from the one that is going to take off at Texas Tech and they will most likely both be different from NYU’s. But the opportunity is there. This week and for the next three or four weeks especially, campus bars all across the nation (even the world for that matter) will be trying out new tracks that record labels are just hoping is going to be the one—that song which will forever be considered “the song of my freshman year.” And that stands to make some people a lot of money, and plant a memory in others of a time they can nor will ever forget.

Welcome back students. Go find the song that will define your year here.

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– Kory French

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