For a song proclaiming its desire for eternal youth, Alphaville’s 1984 signature single “Forever Young” has a way of making you feel pretty old. Certainly, the essential, inescapable ’80s-ness of the song—the sunrise-summoning synths, the slick gated-reverb drum sound, the lighter-waving chorus line, the Cold War context—has a way of making those of us who came of age in that era feel all the more attuned to the passage of time. And the song’s very lyrical conceit presents a cruel paradox: With its yearning plea to return to the innocence and ecstasy of adolescence, “Forever Young” also underscores the fact it must come to an end.
At the time “Forever Young” was released, rock ‘n’ roll was reckoning with its own lost youth. Twenty years after The Who’s Roger Daltrey famously declared “I hope I die before I get old,” the original classic rockers were starting to become aware of, if not their mortality, then their fading relevance. Rod Stewart seemed particularly preoccupied with the subject: While he tried to align himself with the New Wave kids on 1981’s synth-powered new-generation anthem “Young Turks,” by decade’s end, he had fully accepted his dad-rock fate with the parentally themed serenade “Forever Young” (which shares only its title with the Alphaville song; in fact, Rod’s “Forever Young” is an interpretation of Bob Dylan’s namesake 1974 deep cut). Other veteran artists, however, defiantly embraced their inner child, like Tom Waits on “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” his ramshackle folk-punk repudiation of the adult world and all the responsibilities and disappointments that go with it.
So while Alphaville’s “Forever Young” may strike many as an ‘80s synth-pop artifact, permanently frozen in the Reagan era, it really belongs to a broader tradition of pop and rock songs that celebrate the state of being young and/or recognize how fleeting that moment really is. This playlist repositions “Forever Young” in its true natural habitat, amid a set of songs that embody all aspects of being young: the feelings of invincibility (Oasis’ “Live Forever,” Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild,” fun.’s “We Are Young”), the celebrations of immaturity (Supergrass’ “Alright,” Wilco’s “Just a Kid”), the compulsion to live for the moment and seize the day (Japandroids’ “Younger Us,” Constantines’ “Young Lions”), and emergent anxieties over getting older (Lana Del Rey’s “Young And Beautiful”). “Life is a short trip,” Alphaville’s Marian Gold warns us on “Forever Young”—but this playlist represents a bottomless fountain of youth where you can relive and savor the best days of your life just a little longer.