FORGET all the sophisticated theories about when the economy is going to spiral into a recession. The only sure-fire predictor is the Song and Laughter (not Laffer) curve: The more upbeat the songs of an era, the more the economy blossoms; conversely, the sadder the tunes, the greater likelihood of a downturn. One of the most prosperous decades was the 1950s, when the tunes had lively and positive titles. Remember ``Sh-Boom'' (not ``Sh-Bust'')? Even criminals were upbeat, as reflected by the ``Jailhouse Rock.'' And who can forget -- to paraphrase them here -- the glamour songs of the mid-1920s: ``My Blue Heaven,'' ``The Red Red Robin,'' ``I Found a Million Dollar Baby,'' and ``Reaching for the Moon''?
By the ditty yardstick, the nation is in for a real bust. From disco music to contemporary singles to country tunes, the leading records are bearish: ``There'll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry),'' ``All I Need Is a Miracle,'' and ``If Your Heart Isn't In It'' suggest the rising skepticism of investors. Thus, don't be surprised if the stock market falls ``Like a Rock,'' and broker advice is to ``Take Me Home.''
To be sure, before the economic tumble reaches full steam, they'll be ``Vicious Rumors'' and ``Suspicious Minds'' and a lot of speculative rhythms that will be hard to interpret, just as was the case in the 1920s before the crash with ``Doo Wacka Doo,'' ``Doodle Doo Doo,'' and ``Dig Diga Doo.'' Perplexing today are the lyrics that ``Say La-La'' or talk about the ``Land of La-La'' or contend that there ``Ain't Nothin' Goin' On But the Rent.''
No doubt, the current merger and takeover wave will continue during the hard times, as illustrated by ``You Should Be Mine,'' or ``Mine All Mine.'' Some pessimists believe that American capitalism will reach the ``Point of No Return,'' and that the 21st century will harbor ``Nobody's Business.'' But most investors recognize that ``The Rain'' will be followed by ``Blue Skies.'' All that the economy will need is a good tuneup.
Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.