Maybe I am out of my element, but it seems that the pop culture of rock music has made a gradual shift downhill since the 1970’s and 1980’s. Various genres of popular rock music reached a cusp in past decades before becoming known as “classic rock“. People under the age of forty may wish to correct me, but hear me out first.
Personally, the heavy metal spectrum never appealed to me, but I was not a fan of the soft and easy listening zone either. My ear was probably most comfortable taking in the mainstream sounds of bands like Fleetwood Mac, REM, and Duran Duran. These bands and others of their era have not vanished. But many have disbanded, then regrouped (puns not intended), several times over the years. However, their new songs aren’t making the charts, and the charts aren’t what they used to be either. Other past groups have long fallen by the wayside, even though the advent of MTV likely prolonged their fame. Their music lingers on though, and we still hear it everywhere we go – Heart, The Eagles, The Who, and so on.
Most millennials today cannot tell you if their favorite musician is playing something new or playing a cover of a 70’s band. There are more remixes and covers of old top hits being recorded now than ever before. Is it a lack of talent? I don’t believe so. But I do think that the market is flooded with people who either are unable to write their own songs or play an instrument, and many cannot read even music. They use arrangers and rely on the talent of their voices alone to succeed.
In contrast, there were dozens of musicians a few decades ago, such as Paul Simon, who could read music, write it, play it and sing. It’s why at the age of 76, he is still on the road performing today. Staying away from drugs and alcohol also plays a major role in his long successful career. How many young musicians today will still be touring in their 70’s? Time will tell.
In the past peak years of rock music, there were a few highly trained musicians who instead went the way of rock and roll. Pat Benetar, for example, was a trained opera singer. Neil Diamond, however, had no professional training in music. He wrote hundreds of songs, learned how to read music, and taught himself how to play both guitar and piano. His unique baritone voice earned him a role where he sang and acted in the movie, “The Jazz Singer“. Several of his songs were also used in movie soundtracks.
With the advent of voice modifying sound equipment, and the ability to edit multiple tracks when recording, even an untrained voice can be modified to sound like a pro – as long as the person doesn’t sing off key! It’s rather like a professional Photoshop but only for sound. These computer generated systems can also add sound tracks after the fact, entering harmonies and different instrument sounds via computer. They can remove or buffer sounds that don’t blend well. Synthesizers were the precursors to these systems. A current hit sounds nothing like the garage bands of the 60’s, and 70’s, but somehow, the polish takes away the reality, at least for me.
Many of the best selling albums of days gone by were live albums. Listening to a concert recorded live was second only to being there, and one could relive the experience over and over, simply by letting the album or cassette tape (or CD) replay. Today’s concerts performed by up and coming bands are often mixes of live performers with computer tracks of instrument sounds and even voices of people who aren’t there. Something gets lost in the experience. Something raw and ethereal. I never needed to add drugs or alcohol to feel moved by the music of a talented group of musicians who meshed together so well that they could perform without thinking. They wrote their songs, they practiced for hours together, and they knew how to play the instruments in such a way that they were just as magical as the words. The concerts that were the most memorable, like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Crowded House, used no special effects. It was just the performers and the audience.
As the decades roll by and young people become middle aged, I believe the music that will still ring true from rock and roll history will be the music that made the genre so great. It is the music that was copied variety show singers, like Andy Williams, and even converted to horrifying elevator muzak and background grocery store instrumentals. It’s the music that every rock band today tries to learn even though it made the top of the charts twenty or thirty years before its members were born.
It’s the music that when a teen hears it and says, “Wow, that’s tope!”, his dad will respond to him, “That’s a cover of Paul McCartney’s, “Maybe I’m Amazed.” And his son will reply, “Who?”