From big band comeback to disco revival: 5 times nostalgia was all the rage

There has long been a vogue for the good old days — but when those days were has kept changing.

In the '70s, they loved the music of '40s. In the '90s, the cocktail culture of the '50s made a comeback

A record album for sale in the early '70s takes listeners back to the music of the '40s. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

When, exactly, were the good old days?

Depends who you ask, and when you ask them.

Since the 1970s, CBC's trend reporting has told us about the latest in nostalgia — from the vogue for the music of the 1940s decades later in the '70s to an embrace of the 1950s cocktail lounge in the '90s.

Here are five throwbacks from decades past that recalled decades even farther back in the past.

1974: Reviving the jive, the jitterbug and the Lindy

Nostalgia for the '40s in 1974

48 years ago
Young people are exploring the fashions, movies and especially the music of the 1940s. 2:19

In 1974, reporter Trina McQueen told viewers about how the fashion and music of the 1940s was enjoyed by the young and the not-so-young.

"When we talk about the old days, we always refer to them ... [as] the good old days," said Gene Kirby, an executive at radio station CKEY in Toronto. McQueen said the station had been "flabbergasted" by the positive response to two weekends of nostalgia programming. A psychologist had helped him figure out why. 

"When you go back, you can select the better parts of the good old days — like the music," continued Kirby. 

But McQueen said kids, who were hearing the music for the first time, were the "big nostalgia customers." Thanks to them, one-third of record sales were "revivals, re-releases and imitations." 

McQueen also visited a dance class where "young people" were learning moves like the jive, jitterbug and Lindy and reported that men's clothing like trenchcoats, bow ties, knitted vests and hats were popular. 

1989: Flashback to 'outlandish' disco fashion 

Disco comeback in 1989

33 years ago
Young people are discovering the joys of the dance music of the '70s. 1:57

Not even a full 10 years after the '70s ended, they were "the latest craze," according to reporter Stu Patterson in early 1989.

"Until recently, the feeling was the '70s were to be forgotten," said Patterson. He described the years 1970 to 1979 "an embarrassment" when it came to fashion, music and movies.

The camera took viewers to a scene that was becoming common in clubs "in and around Toronto" — people dancing to disco music.

And, Patterson said, they were wearing "outlandish" clothes like wide ties. He pointed out the wide lapels on his coat and the platform shoes worn by a model in a club.

"I think it happened on its own evolution," said a man who apparently ran a disco night at RPM, a local club. "I think there's a lot of kids out there that wanted to hear that disco music."

1992: 'A hike down memory lane' for baby boomers 

Big business cashes in nostalgia

30 years ago
In 1992, businesses have found a way to make money from baby boomers looking to revisit the past. 3:48

In 1992, the CBC business program Venture had a new trend to report on: companies that had found a way to make money from nostalgia for things like musician Chubby Checker, hula hoops and, as host Linda Sims put it, "feeling groovy." 

"If you get a hankering now and then for the good old days, [reporter] Rae Hull has found all sorts of businesses popping up to lend you a hand," said Sims.

Vancouver's Margo Jacobson had founded one such company, which organized high school reunions.

"The good old times: that's what we have when we put the package together," she said.

According to Hull, it was a savvy business idea: an estimated 400,000 Canadians every year would turn 40 for the next 10 years.

"According to trend watchers, the baby boomers' buying power is taking a hike down memory lane," said Hull.

In Burnaby, B.C., some of them were driving down that lane, flocking to a drive-in burger joint called Lost in the '50s.

"It's not that this is the first generation to hanker after its past," said Hull. "It's just that the baby boomers have the power, money and technology to hang onto it."

1997: Pac-man makes 'the comeback of the year' 

Fond memories of Pac-Man

25 years ago
A video-game fan revisits the arcade games of the past via desktop computer in 1997. 5:09

The video game Pac-Man was a phenomenon in the 1980s — so much so that some arcade regulars were getting tired of it.

But in 1997, Pac-Man (and games including Asteroids, Space Invaders and Donkey Kong) was back — not at the arcade, but on a new platform: the desktop computer. Brent Bambury, a host on the CBC program Midday, called the return of arcade favourites "the comeback of the year."

'It's a little old thing called nostalgia," said Tim Doyle, the show's technology columnist.

"What these games ... remind us of is what it was like in the past. Computers are so complicated, they run so fast," said Doyle. [These games] remind us of times when things were a little simpler, when it was just a quarter you needed to pay for something."

"And so they reminded us of the good old days."

1997: Lounge culture as 'a way of life'

The cocktail craze of the 1990s

25 years ago
Cigars, cocktails and jazzy music enjoy a renaissance in 1997 Toronto 3:55

That same year, 1997, reporter Steve Erwin took a closer look at a trend that took young people back not to their own youth, but to a time long before they were born.

"They're young, hip, and thoroughly modern," said Erwin as the camera showed a pair of young women getting ready to go out for the evening. "Born in the '70s but living in the '50s."

Erwin said they were part of a generation of "nighthawks" that were embracing an era "when the lounge was a way of life."

Their first stop: a cigar bar where both lit up.

"It's just a cool look," said one of the young women, neither of whom was identified by name. "It's a cool feeling, you feel very sophisticated."

Her companion said her generation's embrace of lounge culture was a reaction to the "chaotic" 1990s they were living in. 

"I think that this is a wholesome way to express yourself and have fun," she said.

Then Erwin moved on the the Top o' the Senator, where he spoke to musician Jaymz Bee, who he described as the "king of the lounge lizards."

"No one has a lot of time," said Bee. "So you want the best music, the best drink, the best ambiance, the best people to meet. Only cocktail music gives you everything. It's the real deal."

Bee said he thought the popularity of cocktail culture was related to the looming new millennium.

"We need to adopt manners again," he said."We need politeness. We need to be good to each other."

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