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. 😉