On Saturday night we played this "identify the song/band by the 80's video" board game (which comes with its own DVD). We've had fun, and the combination of Jo (who knew most of the trash songs) and me (who knew most of the quality music) turned out to be quite powerful: together we knew most of the game's videos.
It made me think about the "why", because it seems that this familiarity with the songs that I thought everyone has is not so common. Obviously, tastes vary, but you can just as easily say that about me: I actually don't like the mainstream 80's, musically speaking; I like the more alternative stuff (The The, for example), but in general I'm more of a 70's person, a niche my brother pushed me to when we shared a room and I was forced to memorize the names of Led Zeppelin's band members.
I think the main reason for my familiarity is radio. Israeli radio stations provide something that is absent from Australian radios: Variety. Like it or not, most Israeli radio stations broadcast quite a wide range of music, so you not only end up listening to the cool stuff you actually like, but you also get to know pop trash and Israeli music, too.
Australian radio is different: For example, my favorite station (triple J) broadcasts new alternative music - and that's all. You would be hard pressed to hear anything made in the 20th century. Another station I listen to from time to time, triple M, broadcasts more mainstream music on the rockier side of things, and they do go back in time once in a while, but still - they have their niche and they wouldn't stray from it; listen for a few hours, and you'll notice that you hear the same music all the time. Yet another station, Gold 104 (my favorite when I have a shower) plays old music and that's it: 60's to 80's, ce tu. And although they have a huge potential for variety, they are still stuck with the same songs all the time; the hardest they go is Stairway to Heaven, and alternative music is noted for its absence.
The result is obvious: You are not exposed to music that you don't really know or like beforehand; the chances of your taste in music changing are rather slim, unless you get tired and move to another stream altogether; and you lose the opportunity to evolve in your music listening. Just like my complaints about lack of web access at work, you will probably say I'm complaining about nothing; but as someone to whom music is very important, I find this a major disadvantage of commercial radio. And the word "commercial" is the key here: The fact that it's all about money and ratings ruin the overall musical experience, whereas in Israel most stations are government operated in one form or another.
So radio was one source of music familiarity; the second is MTV. In Israel I was constantly exposed to MTV since early high school when my parents got cable; in Australia cable is very expensive and often hard to get, and to be frank it's totally worthless content wise (football excepted). As far as I can tell, it doesn't even have MTV to begin with (there's VH something and other shit, but not the genuine MTV).
Personal circumstances mean that I'm even worse off now. The move from car to train means that I'm no longer exposed to the radio the way I was before: whereas my old job meant I was to listen to the car radio for at least half an hour a day, now it's nothing. The PDA I use to listen to music on the train does not have a radio receiver, and with the discovery of audio books there's little reason for me to fork out a pile of money for an MP3 player that features FM because I'm still on chapter 9 out of 45 from my first audio book; player capacity is not an issue, and stupidly high prices mean I won't buy an MP3 player just for the sake of it. Cost aside, listening to music in the city's streets is not a nice experience: high noise levels mean you need a high volume, and I don't like listening to high volumed music with headphones; I'm limited to listening on the train.
I'm musically dead.