By Seth McIntyre & Grace Davis
Published January 24, 2021
It was Herbie Hancock that said, “Music happens to be an art form that transcends language”. This seems to have held true, seeing how throughout all of history, music has continually proved itself meritorious, relevant, and perpetually transcendent. The mid-20th century introduced a new wave of music, which began a path that has highly influenced where we are now in both the musical sphere, and our society as a whole. As music has evolved, one could say we have gone along with it. Music transcends, music enlightens, and music still has to prove how much father it will take us.
50s and 60s : A Change is Gonna Come
The age of rock and roll was one that certainly redefined music as a whole. Artists including Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, and endless others contributed to a genre that has yet to be matched. In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, music became an outlet for activism, thus establishing the 50s and 60s as one of the most influential and dynamic periods for the industry. It was songs like Sam Cook’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, and Odetta’s ‘Spiritual Trilogy’, that took strides in representing the movement for equality. Even older songs such as Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’, stood alongside them in representation of the movement.
Of course, rock was the sign of the times. While the origins of rock music are frequently debated upon, whether the true originator of the genre be Chuck Berry, or maybe the incomparable Elvis Presley, a consensus can be made using conclusive historical evidence. All of the names above drew their inspiration from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who is now accredited as the true originator of the genre. Pictured above, one can tell she truly was an effectual artist. However her erasure and lack of recognition is pertinent to be noted, whereas other male and white artists flew away with the genre she originated. Other genres of the time such as jazz, blues, folk, and R&B surged in the 50s and 60s. Now, listeners can deduce for themselves whether they prefer the groove of Tharpe’s rock, or other sweet sounds of the time.
Popular songs include: I Walk The Line (Johnny Cash), Twist and Shout (The Beatles), At Last (Etta James), Come Fly With Me (Frank Sinatra), Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry), Always (Ella Fitzgerald), Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley), Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond), My Girl (The Temptations), and I Got You Babe (Sonny & Cher)
70s and 80s : Night Fever
While rock began hitting new strides in the mid-late 20th century, what truly defined the 70s and 80s was the carefree and lighthearted sound of disco, funk, new age dance music, and a fresh take on pop, specifically tailored to the political climate of the time. While previous decades consisted of a tense musical scene, the 70s took a focus on making music an escape, as did many other cultural aspects of the time. While the music industry and the nation did remain prejudicial, we saw music take a different approach than it had in the 60s. That’s not to say music didn’t continue to play a part in cultural progression. Alongside the emergence of Punk, songs like Gil Scott-Hernon’s ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, and Public Enemy’s ‘Fight The Power’ became popular protest songs in the new era of rebellion and advocacy against officials in America. We also saw a slew of female artists entering the scene, further modifying the inclusivity of the music industry. Artists like Madonna, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Linda Ronatadt and Whitney Houston owned the charts with other male artists, like Michael Jackson, Elton John, David Bowie, and Marvin Gaye. Also increasing in popularity: rock bands. Queen, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, and countless more defined the era, giving the boy and swing bands of the past a force to be reckoned with.
As previously stated, rock began to take a new direction with its expression. The sound of rock in the 60s was reserved for the most electric of guitars, and hottest of pianos. The 70s and 80s introduced new types of rock. Punk rock was a 70s favorite, as was progressive rock and heavy metal. The 80s continued to highlight these subdivisions of rock, making even more of what had been created decades prior. Although, what truly made up the 70s and 80s was disco, and post-disco. Is it cliche to say people just wanted to dance? Hits like ‘I Will Survive’, ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Celebration’, ‘Hot Stuff’, and endless more are attributed to formating the boogie of this era. Also during this time, Broadway’s best was resonating with audiences in New York and beyond. Some of the greatest and most famous shows of all time, including Les Misérables, Phantom of The Opera, Into The Woods, Chicago, Dreamgirls, Grease, and many more were introduced to The Great White Way.
Popular songs include Dancing Queen (ABBA), Don’t Stop Believin’ (Journey), Thriller (Michael Jackson), YMCA (Village People), I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Whitney Houston), Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees), Piano Man (Billy Joel), Tiny Dancer (Elton John), The Time of My Life (Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes), It’s Raining Men (Weather Girls)
90s, 00s, and Now: This Is How We Do It
As the rock craze began to slow, rap, hip hop, modern pop, and new technologically integrated music took its place within the music we’ve pursued in the past 30 years. With the turn of the century, computer generated tracks and a brand new sound went mainstream. The ‘techno’ sound we heard then compared to now has changed considerably, however it’s all the computer generated music that has defined our time. Beginning in the 90s, especially with artists like Madonna and Kurt Cobain, fashion and a general change in societal expectations took a twist into what we now know as standard. The music industry and its icons greatly influenced the development of the culture we live in today. From the jeans we wear to the lives we lead, much of how our society has grown is thanks to what musicians of the 90s and 21st century said, represented, and fought for. It was songs like ‘Born This Way’ by Lady Gaga, ‘Killing in the Name’ by Rage Against The Machine, and ‘Glory’ by Common and John Legend that have further contributed to societal evolution in our time.
Hip hop was the name of the game. Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, Rihanna, Drake, and loads more contributed to this scene. Rock stuck around in the format of grunge and alternative rock, two genres that are still common today culturally, and in the music industry. Modern pop and R&B though, are what takes the cake. Pop has defined itself very differently throughout the decades, but it was 90s pop that stayed for the long run. Since then pop has changed greatly, but the sound of 90s pop is still reminiscent in what we hear now, 2000s pop standing out in particular. Artists and groups like The Backstreet Boys, SWV, Spice Girls, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, and Beyoncé are the ones that truly made their mark on the 90s and 00s, and we still hear them on the radio today. This was also the time of the Disney Renaissance, music which has stayed relevant since it’s time decades ago.
Nowadays, the music industry is dominated by rap and pop. These genres have inspired all listeners of our era’s music, and the indie side of both those genres are gaining more popularity by the day. Of course, just like all other generations, country, folk, reggae, classical, and infinite more genres have been appreciated and cherished by listeners everywhere.
Popular songs include: Poker Face (Lady Gaga), Electric Slide (Marcia Griffiths), No Diggity (Blackstreet, ft. Dr. Dre), From This Moment On (Shania Twain), Cupid Shuffle (Cupid), Single Ladies (Beyoncé), Love Story (Taylor Swift), Bless The Broken Road (Rascal Flatts), Call
Me Maybe (Carly Rae Jensen)
It’s obvious to say music has always had a profound impact on society, as well as each individual who enjoys it. The evolution of music has gone great distances, and still has a ways to go. Music goes back as early as history has been recorded, and it surely won’t be leaving anytime soon.