Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Music's Greatest Generation, 1964 -1980


Almost one year ago I posted an essay on Bloggerhythms that appears to have attracted more interest than most of the other articles I've written. The subject fits right in with the theme of WXPN's 885 Most Memorable Musical Moments so I thought I would re-post it as this week's guest blogger entry. WXPN has listeners of all ages so it will be interesting to read what all of you music lovers from the classic rock era have to say as well as those of you with more modern tastes and influences. I am hoping readers will understand that the article is not meant to imply that the music of the classic rock era is superior to other eras. Instead the article is more about why the art of music itself was more important to that generation and why it was a larger part of our overall culture than at any other time.

You can see the original post here along with some comments from readers. The full article is below.

(Originally posted September 8, 2006)

Reflecting back on the history of popular music I have come to the conclusion that not only was much of the best pop music of the world produced during the period from 1964 to about 1980 but that is also the era in which pop music was most revered. I contend that never before in history has music meant so much to a single generation. It is a phenomenon that may never happen again. Even allowing for the fact that this is the era I grew up in, and came of age in, (and therefore I may look upon it with both prejudice and some fondness) I still believe my thoughts are accurate. This premise is strictly based on my observations. I have no hard data.

During that decade and a half poets and literary types embraced popular music. Folk music became mainstream. Could Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, and Peter Paul & Mary get played on rock radio today? Radio embraced them all in the 60s. Jazz made the pop charts. Could Miles Davis be played on rock music stations today? He was then. Progressive rock was heavily influenced by classical music. There were many social commentary and political songs. The British invasion was the first and only time music from another country would dominate the American airwaves and sales charts. I could go on and on. This eclecticism contributed to music’s popularity during this era. Motown, Stax-Volt, Southern California country-rock and folk-rock, British prog-rock, good ol’ boy southern rock, and more, were all played on popular music radio together and they could all be enjoyed by the same listener.

It all began when The Beatles stormed the world beginning with their Ed Sullivan appearance in February of 1964 and this love of music continued until most of the artists who came of age in the 60s began to peter out. The end of the 70s and the dawn of the 80s saw the break up of Led Zeppelin, The Band, and The Who. Jon Anderson left Yes. Elvis left the building for good. John Lennon was assasinated. Lowell George died. There are lots of other examples, too many to mention. Punk and disco were taking over.

Why will a love of music that went beyond the norm be unlikely to happen again in future generations? There are a multitude of reasons. Here are a few.

1 - Computers And Video Games. Do you remember going to a friends dorm room or house and sitting around listening to and discussing music? Today the kids born of my generation will go over to their friend's house and play video games instead. They may listen to music but they have other interests.

During the era I'm speaking about music often was the reason friends got together. The music was the event. Listening was often so intense that friends would gather around the stereo just as families gathered around the TV. While today's kids may be listening they are probably more focused on other activities such as computer games. During the era I am talking about there were no PCs, VCRs, or DVDs. No one had heard the name Atari.

I had friends who would invite me over just to hear a new album they purchased. That is how I was introduced to Terry Kath's extended solo on Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4." Before that day the single version of the song was all I knew. I'll never forget it. Today that kid extending me the invitation would probably be asking me to come preview his new X-Box video game.

2 – Radio. Radio is too fragmented today. There was a time a top 40 station could play The Rolling Stones, followed by Frank Sinatra, followed by The Supremes, Neil Diamond, The Allman Brothers Band, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Cash, The Four Seasons, and James Brown all in a row. We were exposed to a lot of different genres of music. That won’t happen today. Demographics now dictate that ratings aren't enough. Radio stations aim for a target audience. Therefore a station that plays Norah Jones most likely isn’t playing Radiohead too. If a station plays Michael Bolton they won't be playing Eminem.

3 – The Beatles. There is no icon like the Beatles today. Love them or hate them no single artist has ever taken over our culture like the four young men from Liverpool, England did. They not only influenced our music but all youth culture in general. The main reason men and boys of the mid-60s to about 1980 wore their hair longer is because of the Beatles. They also caused a lot of kids to take up music as a hobby.

4 – The Political Atmosphere. The Civil Rights Movement, Viet Nam, and Watergate combined to force a lot of people with something to say to find an acceptable outlet for expressing how they felt. A lot of this spilled over into the music of the day. It isn't a coincidence that this musical era started to decline after America settled down beginning with the age of Ronald Reagan.

5 - MTV. It's birth twenty-five years ago may have had more influence on the decline of this era than many realize. The popularity of music videos frequently made it impossible for the viewer/listener to separate the video images from the music. MTV helped spawn the Ashley and Jessica Simpson types who are everywhere today. Image and appearance seem to be more important than the music. Way too many musical acts of today are pre-packaged with both visuals and image in mind.

I am not stuck in my era. I'm not a music fan who dislikes everything that was recorded after I graduated from college. There is still an abundance of outstanding new music everywhere, there always will be, but to have a culture in which music permeates so much of our American society as it did in 1964, and have it last almost a generation, is not likely to happen again anytime soon.

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