17 songs your great-grandparents loved that are still relevant today.

Everything old is new again.

I never quite understood why anyone would long for the "good ol' days."

I suppose if you're a well-to-do white guy, going back in time would probably be pretty fun. The three-piece suits, carriage rides, frequent fires, duels — you know, the stuff dreams are made of. 

But for the rest of us, there's not much to write home about. 


Though I will readily admit penny-farthing bikes are kind of cool. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

That is, until I discovered a treasure trove of old music. 

"The Tattooed Man," 1897. Music by Victor Herbert. Lyrics by Harry B. Smith. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The good people at the New York Public Library recently digitized thousands of documents including more than 4,000 pieces of popular American sheet music from the 19th and 20th century. And if you're willing to sift through the frequent racism of the period, there are some real gems, many of which are very apropos today. 

In fact, here are 17 popular songs from the 1800s that are perfect for any contemporary situation. 

1. When your #TBT is really on point.

"One Year Ago To-Day," 1898. Music by Jos. P. Ramsdell. Lyrics by Nat Aschner. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

2. When you really want an electric car, then see how much they cost.

"If I Only Had a Job," 1898. Music by James B. Mullen. Lyrics by W.E. Browning. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Fear not! A recent analysis predicts electric cars will be cheaper to own than conventional models by 2022. So keep saving your pennies and get ready to fight for that clutch EV parking space at the grocery store. 

3. When anyone over 50 tells you how easy it was for them to graduate without student loan debt.

"I'm Not Old Enough to Know," 1890. Music by Frank David. Lyrics by William Jerome. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

They know the cost of a college degree has increased more than 1,000% since 1982, right?

4. When you make the mistake of teaching your mom how to use her emoji keyboard.

"Have Pity Judge, She's My Mother," 1898. Music and lyrics by Gussie L. Davis. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

How do you tell your mom this situation does not call for a smiley face with sunglasses? Hint: You don't. 

5. When you are fed up with explaining why intersectional feminism is important, but you do it anyway.

"I'm Tired," 1901. Music by by Jean Schwartz. Lyrics by William Jerome. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Because no one should get left behind when we're talking about equality, that's why. 

6. When you see someone throw a plastic bottle in the trash.

"The Day Will Come When You'll Be Sorry," 1894. Music and lyrics by Kurt P. Hirsekorn. Performed by James McGowan. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

The recycling bin is RIGHT THERE. Do I have to show you a picture of a turtle trapped in a set of plastic rings? Or all the plastic floating in the ocean? Because I will. 

7. When you need to tell someone they're not a special snowflake, but it's super hot outside.

"You're Not the Only Pebble on the Beach," 1896. Music by Stanley Carter. Lyrics by Harry Braisted. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

8. When you find out just how difficult it is to turn back the clock on climate change.

"Is Life Worth Living," 1896. Music and lyrics by Chas K. Harris. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

There's no going back, but we can do everything we can to protect the future. And some of the steps we're taking are actually working. Don't give up hope! 

9. When you like Kevin Bacon but you hate "Footloose."

"Summer Girl Song," 1894. Music and lyrics by Safford Waters. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

10. When you're still super pumped about marriage equality.

"I'll Marry the Man I Love," 1897. Music and lyrics by Monroe H. Rosenfeld. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

11. (Even if your family's not quite on board.)

"My Mamma Won't Let Me Come Out," 1895. Music by Alice Cady. Lyrics by George Cooper. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

12. When you realize kids born in 1998 can buy cigarettes.

"To Me You're A Baby, Dear," Music and lyrics by Edward Abeles. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

But not for long if they're in California, where the state assembly just broke a political logjam to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

13. When it's 3:30 on a Friday.

"I Trust the Happy Hour Will Come," 1893. Music by A. Templar. Lyrics by Julian Pauncefote.Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

14. When you find out someone close to you is voting for Trump.

"I Love You in Spite of All," 1893. Music by Chas K. Harris. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

And yes, it's OK to grieve the loss of common sense. 

15. When you decide to go #nofilter on your latest selfie.

"Take Me as I Am," 1899. Music by Andy Lewis. Lyrics by Joe Hurtig. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

16. When you can't find any Amur leopards or South China tigers.

"Has Anybody Seen Our Cat," 1899. Music by T.W. Conner. Lyrics by James T. Powers. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

But then you remember they're critically endangered and you feel bad, but instead of feeling bad, you decide to do something about it.

17. When you find out your special someone finished "House of Cards" without you.

"Those Wedding Bells Shall Not Ring Out," 1896. Music and lyrics by Monroe H. Rosenfeld. Image via New York Public Library Digital Collections.

So the next time you're looking for the right song for an ordinary (or extraordinary) occasion, ditch Spotify and try some music from days of yore.

While the haircuts, casual racism, and frequent fires should be relegated to the past, this music deserves to live on a little while longer. 

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Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

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