This write up explores the dynamic and ever transitory nature of popular music. It traces the progress and different types of music from the 60s to Modern day.
Music is a heavily dynamic, ever changing field. Oftentimes, what may be considered music in the present day is seen as noise by the last generation. We might have all experienced this with our parents at some point. Even bands and artists, who were popular a few years ago, may not even be given a second look now thanks to this transient nature of music.
Over the last fifty years, music has evolved into many diverse forms. Every decade along with the rise of every new generation has seen the birth of new forms of music such as rock, metal, R&B, Soul and trance. Let us now see the form of music that dominated every decade from the 60s to the present day and the reasons for such dominance.
Music in the 60s:
After the WWII that ended in 1945, there was a huge population boom due to the return of American soldiers after war and increased safety and healthcare facilities. This “baby boom” was nothing like anything America had seen before, and as it turned out, these babies would be in the prime of their youth in the 60s. The sudden evolution of music in the 60s was a result of this young generation.
The jazz swing (Frank Sinatra) and rockabilly (Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison) music of the 50s gradually evolved into what is now called rock and roll. These two forms of music can be considered precursors to the rock and roll revolution of the 60s. Another reason for the advent of rock and roll was the work of famed guitarist, Les Paul. He introduced the technique of overdubbing, which allowed one person to play more than one part of a recording.
As the 60s began, some artists of the 50’s were still churning out a few hits but they were steadily dying out as they could not entertain the highly energetic youth of the 60s. Also most R&B and soul artists could not gain fame because of the race barrier, barring of course some artists such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. So the youth began to experiment with new forms of music. As a result, came the Blues. Instrumental surf was another form of music that rose in the early 60s in the USA.
However, with Kennedy’s assassination in ’63 and Martin Luther King’s protests against racism, the youth of America started to question its leaders and allow external influences to enter. It was then that the influence of the British music started to work. ‘The Beatles’ and ‘The Rolling Stones’ of Britain completely revolutionized the American music scene as well as gained great popularity in the rest of the world. Many bands such as the Beach Boys came up who tried to ‘mimic’ the music of the Beatles.
This revolution lasted until the late 60s. With the assassination of Martin Luther King and the war in Vietnam, music became a megaphone for voicing concerns about war and social evils. The drug fuelled experiments ended and instead came rock, a louder, angrier heavier form. The Woodstock rock fest of 1969 symbolized the end of the 60s music era in a way, as soon after, Famous artists of the 60s such as Hendrix, The Beatles, the Rolling stones either died or broke up. That was the end of the 60’s music revolution.
Music in the 70s:
The 70s was not a highly innovative decade in terms of music unlike the 60s. The music became a lot softer and relaxing. This was probably a result of the people being tired of the war and fighting of the last decade and seeking refuge in clubs for a good fun time. This was the main reason for the rise of the Disco movement. This movement although short lived, characterized the 70s. Tracks such as Stayin’ Alive and YMCA typified the disco movement and are heard at dance scenes till date. However, this trend died out almost as fast as it came into existence as Disco music became highly commercialized and common. Also, disco clubs had earned a reputation for being a place where people engaged in vile activities such as drug abuse and promiscuous sex.
However, disco music was not the only form of music at the time. There were yet people who used music to voice out their feelings and opinions as in the last decade. These people gave rise to various forms of rock. Punk rock (The Ramones, Blondie) became very famous. This was similar to rock, but louder with more upbeat guitar riffs and stronger lyrics.
Progressive rock too became a popular genre thanks to the work of bands such as Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. These bands were famous for making ‘concept albums’, which is to pick a concept or a topic for the album that all the constituent songs revolved around.
Hard Rock (Deep Purple, Alice Cooper), a high decibel, blood pumping version of rock, and its softer, more rhythmic, acoustic counterpart, soft rock (Billy Joel, Jackson 5) also began their rise to prominence.
Music in the 80s:
Two great developments fuelled the second music revolution, the music channel, MTV and the invention of the compact disc. With these two developments, music became more accessible and thus caused the 80s revolution. Music became more diverse, and this decade saw a variety of new forms such as synth, pop, rap, techno and of course the continuing trends of hard rock and soft rock.
The most dominant form of music during this period was undoubtedly pop, thanks to the brilliant work of Madonna and Michael Jackson. Both these artists came out with multitudes of hits, and helped popularize the ‘music video’.
Hard rock was infused with a wave of resurgence thanks to various acts such as BonJovi, Van Halen, Queen and Motley crue. Alternative rock too has roots in this period. Most record companies switched from punk rock to alternative rock, a comparatively underground form of music with low budget albums and constant touring, as large portions of the crowd took to such music. Hence alternative rock quickly gained popularity.
Electronic music evolved from the disco music of the 70s grew in prominence and replaced disco as the genre of choice in nightclubs and discotheques. This soul and funk infused disco music was made with only electronic instruments.
The Afro-American communities and the Hispanic communities embraced the natural rhythm capabilities of the body and introduced a form now known as hip hop. They mainly used techniques such as beat boxing and vocal percussion to create songs. This form of music is still popular to date, as are most of the genres of the 80s.
Music in the 90s:
During the 90s, alternative rock branched out into various sub genres due to the widening of opportunities in the music scene. Bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam branched out into grunge, a rough, unpolished form of rock, while other bands such as Bush and RHCP continued the Alternative rock trend by infusing it with spirits from a few other genres thus rejuvenating it. Grunge however declined due to the death of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and the problems faced by Pearl Jam.
From the ashes of Grunge however, rose post grunge, a trend with slightly more commercially sellable grunge music. This trend was started by former Nirvana member, Dave Grohl’s newly formed band, FooFighters.
Punk rock was also reborn in this decade. The main reason for this renaissance was the signing of Punk band, Blink 182. After their signing, a number of punk bands such as green day and Rancid, gained popularity, thus bringing it back to the fray after lying dormant in the 80s.
Teen Pop and R&B also saw the same kind of resurgence due to the work of Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, BackStreet Boys, etc. in the mid-90s. Rap and hip hop too became more and more popular especially after the division of the former into East Coast and West Coast rap. This competition between the two fuelled the genre to new heights with each trying to oust the other of the pedestal of mainstream popularity.
With the rise in technology and the study of sound production and music technology becoming more eminent, electronica music too became more diverse and popular, as new electronic instruments and sound modulating softwares became easily available to the artists. This gave them a larger ability to create and experiment with newer techniques in songs.
All in all, the 90s did not see the birth of a new genre as such, there was only a development of already existing genres. Most bands and artists that were able to introduce a slight twist to their form of music in order to keep their audience entertained stayed afloat.
So, as we can see, music is never constant. It is constantly changing in order to keep the audience entertained. Any musician had to be as open to change and transient in his work, for if they were not able to change their music along with the people of the time, they would lose out and be left behind, even more so in the present day where the competition in the music scene has hit the roof.
Music is more than just harmonious sound. It is a picture of the political and social scenario, a story of the time, a reflection of the moods of man and most importantly, a connect between generations. Every present day genre can be linearly traced back to the old. It brings people together in a way that no other media can.