The invention of the wireless (radio), and the gramophone (record player), created a market for music. Folks were listenin’ to these new-fangled gadgets, and they wanted to be entertained. This all created a new profession – song-writer. All that new music had to come from somewhere.
In the early part of the 20th century, most of it, at least in North America, came from a small area in New York City known as Tin Pan Alley – from a group of a couple of dozen professional song writers. They might be approached to compose a song about a specific theme, and/or for a particular performer. They produced songs for stage musical comedies – and later for movies, when they gained sound.
They wrote songs about whatever came to mind – everything, and nothing. The songs had no soul. (Not Negro Soul – that came later.) During the feel-good, bath-tub gin, Flapper Girl, Roaring 20s, many of the songs were light, happy little lilts. In the Dirty-30s Depression era, people had to be convinced that things would get better, with even more happy little lilts, songs like Happy Days Are Here Again.
During WW II there were patriotic songs for the troops, and upbeat Musical Comedy songs for those left at home. Tin Pan Alley had almost disappeared. More songs were being written by more people, but they were all formulaic – all just X number of bars long, all just X number of minutes play-time.
In the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Big Band Sound regained popularity. There was more pure music, with fewer lyrics. The popular music scene all began to change in the mid-50s, when the Baby-Boomers began to come of age.
It all started with the likes of Canadian, Paul Anka, who wrote and sang a song about an older babysitter that he’d had the hots for. Then, because he did it his way, he wrote ‘I Did It My Way,’ for Frank Sinatra to make a hit of. They were about “something.”
Many of the new, young music makers were disillusioned, cynical, and angry, tired of a status quo which had brought a Great Depression, two World Wars, the Korean War, and threatening to involve America in the Viet Nam War.
A new word and category had been created – singer/songwriter. Soon, hundreds of teenagers were recording their own songs – and millions more were buying them. At first, the powers-that-be dismissed them –They’re just rebellious. They’re just Anti-(insert random cause here.) Soon though, attempts were made to outlaw this seditious music.
These new performers weren’t just anti…. Government corruption and brainwashing, corporate greed and toxic waste, Christian manipulation and control! They wrote songs about what they were for…. Negro civil rights, feminism, LGBT respect, a living wage.
They also wrote about things that affected their lives, and the lives of millions of other young Boomers who listened to them. They sang about THINGS – surfing, car racing, personal relations, travel, what touring with a band was like, the pros and cons of drug use, sexual abuse, alcohol, ecology, sex, love, and finally, what DJ Alan Freed had dubbed this new aggressive music genre, Rock And Roll.
Rock and roll has held on for over half a century. It defeated the upstart, Disco, but it is losing its edginess, its social concern, its cynical dissatisfaction. Elvis made a fortune, singing Black music to white folks. Nowadays, Snowflakes would have a meltdown about cultural appropriation.
Justin Bieber’s stuff is bright and tuneful, but about as exciting as a how-to manual for frying eggs. Alanis Morisette can’t read a dictionary, and if Taylor Swift weren’t so high-maintenance, she wouldn’t have 18 songs about ex-boyfriends.
None of it has the syncopated beat, the drive, the barely repressed anger, the social concern, anymore. Ed Sheeran’s work has a little bit more body to it, but it’s all become nice, and I don’t want “nice.” I miss the good old days when I could get a little Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ram Jam, Ozzy Ozbourne, Queen, or Fleetwood Mac.
‘They’ say that a population gets the government that they deserve. I guess the same is true about music. I’m all for civilized behavior, but if this keeps up, we won’t have to worry about China or North Korea. We’ve become so limp and whiny that we could be taken over by a Girl Scout troop from Iceland.
Stop back again in a couple of days, and I’ll sing you another tune. 😉
Music evolves… like the societies who spawn it. Today’s music? A reflection of who we are now…. for better or worse.
I didn’t dig Big Band, and I don’t understand rap or emo, but I guess that my Father couldn’t understand the urgent noise of Rock. I said in a blogpost a couple of years ago, that I’d become my Dad, and just turned the radio off for quiet, but I’ve found a local station that plays “Hits Of The 70s, 80s, and 90s.” I’d like some late 50s and 60s thrown in, but I’ll take what I can get. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Excellent observation. But despite what impassions or subdues a generation, the beat goes on.
I think that much of the
iciclesnowflake generation marches to the beat of a different flautist. 😉 😳 But then, I like Jethro Tull.
I had to listen to the whole Jackson Browne tune because I knew it was that one…
I’m with you on the music scene.
Excellent essay, my friend!
Thank you. I had to choose between that one, and The Grateful Dead, doing ‘Truckin’.’ I find Browne’s paean sweeter. The whistles in the background are not random. They’re from roadies communicating with each other on a massive stage, much like Scottish shepherds communicate to their dogs at great distances. 😀
LikeLiked by 1 person
You chose well. I love that one!
I have a few quibbles here. It seems most of what you say about anemic modern music applies to white musicians singing white music. What about rap, hip-hop? I don’t really like either, but they emerged from black musicians, they do have messages, and they can certainly pack a lot of anger.
I agree with you on the rock and roll of the 50s and 60s and 70s; I loved that music and love it still. But when you talk of rock and roll in those years, you seem again to imply that white kids made this music happen. Not so, my friend! Paul Anka did not invent rock and roll in 1957 with “Diana.” Rock and roll came from the rhythm and blues music of black musicians of the 1940s. Paul and a lot of other white boys were inspired by it.
The very name rock and roll is a euphemism coming from the “race” r&b music of black musicians. Elvis started singing it, white kids loved it, white radio stations started playing it, and more and more black artists found white audiences. (Think Chuck Berry and Little Richard, just to name two.) Then more white musicians started covering black musicians, and from there rock and roll evolved through the (mostly white) car-culture, surfer-culture songs into the anti-Vietnam, pro-drugs, pro-rebellion, highly creative music of the 60s and 70s.
I was on the cusp of baby-boomerhood (born in 1944), and I hoped that kind of rock and roll would live forever. Of course, it didn’t. But I even liked the 80s disco (loved the Village People). What came after it–not so much.
So overall, I do agree with you about the pap that passes for rock and roll music these days. Unfortunately, with music, as with most other things, we can’t stop time from changing it. All we can do is cherish what we still have.
Enough of my long rant
. I do like your blog very, very much.
I am also a Pre-Boomer, born Sept 21/44.
Quibble all you want. The more comments/discussion the better. I didn’t have the space to dig into the Negro side of Rock’s birth. I concentrated more on the mostly-white side, for my mostly-white readership. In the movie, Back To The Future, I enjoyed the irony of a white kid, teaching blacks Thrash Rock. Chuck, this is yo’ cousin, Melvin Berry. You gotta listen to this! Feel free to stop back again, any time, many times. 😉 😯
I think that great song by Mike and the Mechanics says it all when it declares, “Every generation blames the one before…” I prefer 1960s and 1970s music, but I think everyone feels fondness and nostalgia for the music they listened to as teenagers and in college. It was tough for me to say goodbye to Neil Peart, and I hear Eddie Van Halen is not doing well either. I am an amateur songwriter, and some of my songs are on Youtube, but I get very few views.
[…] my Rise And Fall Of Rock And Roll post, I ignored an important chunk of modern music, because it didn’t fit the Singer/Songwriter […]