February 11, 2010

Music's Greatest Generation, 1964 -1980

Guest Post by Charlie at Bloggerythms

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 Temptations, Neil Diamond, The Allman Brothers Band, 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.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Charlie said...

This article was originally posted on Bloggerhythms on 9-8-06. Because I believed that many of you who have never seen it would be interested in reading it, and because a classic rock blog is the perfect place for it, Layla was willing to re-post it for all of you. Both she & I would be interested in your comments.

Dan said...

Charlie, I read your blog often and as far as this post is concerned, I would tend to agree with you on the end date, although I believe the Beatles and the rest who followed them were hugely influenced by those who came before them i.e. Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, etc. etc. I would probably change the early date back to the early to mid 50's as I believe the end of World War II and the Korean war brought about a new found freedom to the younger generation of Americans. There was an innocence that was corrupted, money was more disposable and a curiosity grew in them that blossomed in the 50's. In my opinion, I would say 1954 when Sam Phillips signed Elvis to Sun Records would be a more appropriate beginning to your dates.

Charlie said...

This is just MY opinion but here goes.

There is no doubt that The Beatles were heavily influenced by those who preceded them. I'm not saying that 64 - 80 is necessarily the BEST period for pop music but that it's the era when music meant more to the most people. Pop music was a bigger part of our culture than ever before or since. Elvis faded away and was in the army just three years after his debut. His career was never really the same after that. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and Eddie Cochran, all died and had extremely short careers, Jerry Lee Lewis was derailed by scandal, Carl Perkins career was severely hampered by a serious accident. That left Chuck Berry & Little Richard. Because most of those guys lost momentum or disappeared entirely the teen idols (Bobby Rydel, Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, Fabian) took over. Because they didn't have as much musical or cultural substance their influence and legacy was not as strong. It took several years until The Beatles saved us from Rydel and his peers.

Bond said...


excellent post and I would agree with your premise entirely. I see Dan's point, but tend to agree with you that the culture did begin with The Beatles.

This is not to discount the strides made in the mid-late 50's especially by Alan Fried, who integrated the airwaves more than anyone else

Bhaskar Khaund said...

Hi , great blog - and this post made a lot of sense to me. I was born a decade too late (early 70's) and several thousand miles too far (India) to be in the midst of the scene , but this is the music my life pretty much revolves around ! I believe the world in general is getting better , not worse ,with time and for sure there's plenty of great music around but somehow ,i've never been able to relate to the newer music as the stuff i've grown up on. maybe you do tend to get more closed with age ...or perhaps its just that you've got a whole lot of other things going on in your life ...dunno..but at 38 , most of the stuff i'm listening to now is what i'd gotten well into by the time i was 20 ...the beatles and bob dylan especially seem to resonate with me deeper each year ..in fact i just put up a post on Abbey Road on my music blog http://www.desolationwrote.blogspot.com/ - would love to have you check it out. an Indian perspective of it all :) Cheers ! - bhaskar

Perplexio said...

Charlie I remember reading this on your blog it was then and remains now a great post. I agree with Dan a little in that I think Elvis getting signed to Sun Records set the ball in motion that led to the musical atmosphere you speak of. I see the events and performers Dan speaks of to be building blocks that made that 1964-1980 time span so seminal not just from a musical standpoint but also from a pop-cultural standpoint.

Dan, I'm glad you mentioned Eddie Cochran. I remember reading stories about how George Harrison would lie about his age to get into clubs to see Eddie Cochran perform live, and hearing about how Paul's ability to play and sing Cochran's 20 Flight Rock helped get him the gig in the Quarrymen. Sadly Eddie would never make it home from that tour. He was killed en route to Heathrow airport when his limousine crashed.

Malcolm said...

This is an outstanding post. Although the post is over 3 years old, it still holds true.

In the mid 80s, I remember the album rock station where I lived would preview a major new album by playing it in its entirety starting at midnight. I wonder if stations today would even bother doing something like that.

I also recall the excitement leading up to the releases of Use Your Illusion Parts 1 & 2 by GNR and In Utero by Nirvana. With albums being leaked online and the ability to purchase single tracks, the buzz that used to surround new albums has greatly diminished and that's too bad.

JohnnyG's Blues said...

Charlie, I agreed with you as I read through the post. I thought you had some pretty good insights. And they are, as far as they go.

I think your perspective from 1964 forward pretty much nails it. But I don't think you have enough perspective on prior generations.

Pop music had a huge influence beginning with the birth or radio and was just as strong a force in the generation preceeding ours. They shared their time around the radio and record players in much the same way we did. We just kind of took it over.

All in all, great post!

Perplexio said...

Charlie, you may want to check out the book Charlatan by Pope Brock. It's about quack doctor, John Brinkley, who set up a "BorderBuster" radio station in Northern Mexico in the twenties and into the thirties to hawk his junk medicine to the masses. Where I think you'd find it interesting is that in addition to his junk medicine he was also responsible for broadcasting the music of the era and helped a lot of early 20th century musicians reach a much wider audience than they might otherwise have done. I read the book about 2 or 3 years ago so I don't remember the specific musicians who were heard due to Brinkley's radio station but I know the book does mention many of them by name.

Bond said...

I also gave a shout-out to all y'all today on The Couch

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