Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Music Revolutions

I am fascinated by the news that long research and analysis by British musicologists looking at the American Billboard top 100 over the last fifty years has identified three major music revolutions since the birth of blues and jazz.

The three key years identified are 1964, 1983 and 1991. The thing that interests me is that I have lived through all of them and can clearly remember the years.

In 1964 they noted that the change we get from the rawness of blues and free forms of jazz to something tight yet epitomised by vocal harmony in the Beatles is revolution 1. At the time the Beatles climbed to the top I was seven. It happened in 1962 in this country but the research was done on the US charts, where they broke two years later. Suddenly, in a way I had not noticed before, everyone was talking about popular music. Older folk bemoaned the hairstyles and the screaming but the Beatles were setting the news, not just the music, agenda.

In 1983 the ubiquitous sound of the simple drum machine and the Yamaha DX7 synth taken on by new wave and the new romantics was definitely new, but felt more like a post-punk settling down than a revolution. Again the older folk moaned about the clothes but the sound was less controversial. It is interesting that the sample Radio 4 chose to use to illustrate this was the drum break from Phil Collins' 'In the Air Tonight'. A break done by a real drummer with real drums.

Musically speaking it is clear from the research that punk was of no significance. In fact a friend of mine just dismissed it as 'rock done a bit faster'. I don't buy the argument that punk had a greater impact in this country than the States. The Ramones, New York Dolls and MC5 all had a fine punk pedigree pre 1976 when we got the Pistols.

Next significant moment turns out to be the development of hip-hop from 1991. Musically it is clear that rap (in effect speaking rather than singing) was a step-change. Looking at the research in the States CNN concluded that this latter development was the biggest change in musical style in the last fifty years. It would be hard to disagree. From 1991 onwards the editing of record collections into new sounds becomes a possibility for anyone, musician or not. The logical conclusion of this bedroom creativity has been dubstep.

The fascinating question is, if there have been no major musical developments since 1991, aren't we due a new one?


Darren Hill said...

Interesting that they note 91 as the change with hip-hop. 1980 was Blondie's Rapture, which was the first rap song to top the US charts (Ok, rap doesn't equal hip-hop) but Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang were both early 80s and hovering at the top of the charts. Love the comment on using Phil Collins... I can't see R4 being ironic but it could be possible.

I suppose what it does tell us is that musical revolutions take longer than your average punk serenade :)

Trendlewood said...

1991 comes up in the musical analysis as the step-change. It means that the additions and accretions over the previous years were small steps which eventually had an impact. It is not the spoken word lyric which is the change but the production technique of mixing, scratching and sampling, I think.