Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Another six-year pop music cycle starts today*...

For some reason, a lot of people classify pop music into 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and so on, but there's no underlying logic or pattern or reason why pop music would go in ten-year cycles, or indeed any evidence it does so.

By trial and error, I have established that pop music actually goes in six-year cycles, starting in (say) 1953. Yes of course we had 'popular' music before then, but not in the sense of a separate and primarily youth-oriented sub-culture.

To illustrate my point (everybody can make up his own examples)...

1953 - 58. Rock'n'roll was still new and original. Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley (does he count?)

1959 - 64. Rock'n'roll in the narrow sense became completely tedious. Eddie Cochrane was the only one left taking it in new directions but unfortunately he died. Bob Dylan started. The discerning English musician (like DBC Reed) started listening to proper American black rhythm'n'blues (a musical form which had been around since the dawn of time, or since slavery was abolished at the very latest) and The Beatles and the Rolling Stones started.

1965 - 70. Pop music became an art form or performance art (or whatever pretentious phrase you want to use). To wit, "My Generation" by The Who, the middle of which is two minutes of noise and feedback, which The Velvet Underground then took to gloriously silly levels. Even The Beatles and The Rolling Stones did fairly abstract stuff during the period (i.e. stuff which it would be nigh impossible to play live). Dawn of heavy metal (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin). The Beatles did us all a favour by splitting up (they really are my least favourite 1960s novelty band, The Monkees were far better).

1971 - 76. The second best era ever! Glam rock! Prog rock! Disco! More heavy metal! Bubblegum! Reggae became fashionable. Fleetwood Mac started making imaginative albums. The Rolling Stones were at their most agreeable. Electronic music! Rather bizarrely, this was when Bruce Springsteen, JJ Cale and Tom Waits started making records, deciding to stick to actual old-fashioned music (but being rather good at it).

1977 - 82. The best era ever! Of course, I would say that because I was in prime record-buying age at the time. Punk/new wave and all its off shoots (goths, industrial and so on), ska revival, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, mod revival, New Romantics, early rap records (when it was still something new and original). There was some new and exciting trend every year or so. The Clash merrily changed direction between each album (and sometimes several times on the same album).

1983 - 88. Rap took over. At the start, there were plenty of really cool records like "Paid In Full" by Eric B & Rakim or "Fake" by Alexander O'Neal etc, but the joke wore off very fast and this period soon became a complete wash out. Big artists were U2, Madonna, Prince and REM (before they were good). We had Live Aid. The only decent other new genre was the one invented by Sigue Sigue Sputnik, and that never really caught on (thankfully, they were the only ones who could do it properly). I rest my case. To some extent, pop music largely died in 1983, more than half the pop charts is rap music in all its offshoots, they are still repeating the same old crap thirty years later and getting less original every time.

1989 - 94. Things perked up a bit. Jesus and Mary Chain, raves, Happy Mondays, Blur, Stone Roses, Oasis, Charlatans, 808 State and so on got going. Before they were referred to as "Brit Pop". Not really my thing, but hey, everybody else seemed to like it. REM signed to Warner Brothers and started making good albums.

1995 - 00. Fag end of the above. When they were referred to as "Brit Pop". REM continued to be good. After a shit start (in 1993, with "Creep") Radiohead made several good albums on the trot. The Eurovision Song Contest briefly meant something. I was a bit miffed when Gina G didn't win it with her most excellent "Ohh Aah Just A Little Bit" in 1996 and then again when all those other countries voted New Labour in 1997 and Katrina & The Waves won it with some schmaltzy crap. The Spice Girls were always number one at Xmas.

2001 - 06. Apart from the White Stripes, no new bands of any note came to the fore (and that joke wore pretty thin after a few albums). U2 finally started making the occasional good single ("Elevation"). There were loads of great pop songs, one hit wonders and so on ("Everybody" by Hear'say, "Don't stop movin'" by S Club 7, for example). In 2003, The Bangles reformed after about fifteen years and made a really good album. 2005 was a vintage year for a lot of my favourite old people. The Rolling Stones made their first album for eight years (it was shit), Billy Idol made his first album for twelve years (his best yet). And Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, David Bowie and Robert Plant all released an album in 2005 or thereabouts (funny how all those people have got a "B" in their names apart from the Rolling Stones). Ex-Spice Girls made a couple of half-way decent records. Shows like the X-Factor started f-ing things up right royally.

2007 - 12. Too early to say what this era was about. Beyoncé and Rihanna? Katy Perry and Lady Gaga? All nice enough in their way, but was that it? AC/DC made their first album for eight years (a shame they didn't release it in 2005 or 2006, but then again, there is no "b" in AC/DC). REM and Van Halen rounded the era off by splitting up after thirty years and reforming after/ making their first album for twenty eight years respectively. Shows like The X-Factor continued to f- things up right royally.

2013 - 18. Still too early to say.

* Whether these cycles actually start on the 1st of January is open to debate.


Rich Tee said...

Pretty good really.

I would largely agree with you until 1983. 1983 to 1989 is the "Trevor Horn/Stock Aitken Waterman producer era" where the raw experimentation of punk/synth/rap gave away to smooth, complex production like Frankie goes to Hollywood and Rick Astley. However, I think this was Madonna, Prince, REM and U2's best era. I don't rate anything they did after 1991.

1989 to 1994 was rave, techno and indie dance. Every record had an exotic new sound. But the effect has been dampened for me by the ubiquity of technology like the personal computer and mobile phone so the technological sound does not have its awe inspiring power anymore.

I stopped counting after that.

Lola said...

You cannot possibly ignore popular music from before ww2, surely? What about all that marvellous big band stuff.

Truthfully I need disquallify myself immediately. I am stone tone deaf.

The Stigler said...

Co-incidentally, I'm reading a book about the KLF at the moment and yesterday, I was reading about how around 1994, music seemed to stop going through noticeable evolutionary shifts. You had all those genres we talk about like rock, glam, punk, disco, new wave, synth pop, rap, rave, grunge.

But everything after that is actually a re-heating of previous music genres. Britpop was Indie music (like The Wedding Present or The Smiths) with some 1960s nostalgia attached to it. Gangster rap is just rap after acts couldn't get cheap access to samples (there's a whole article in itself). The music of Adele and Amy Winehouse is firmly from the Dusty Springfield/Petula Clark sound.

Second biggest selling album artist of the 2000s? The Beatles.

Mark Wadsworth said...

RT, good point about S.A.W., I've done my best to forget about them. Apart from Mel & Kim, I've even got their album. On white vinyl.

L, I've got to start somewhere, perhaps these cycles go back further than that. Being tone deaf is no disqualification to enjoying music, is it? If you like it you like it, that's the beauty of it.

TS, maybe it stopped in 1994, maybe it was 1983. Clearly, things are more likely to be repeats of something now than they were earlier.

Richard Allan said...

What genre did Sigue Sigue Sputnik invent? Grebo? PWEI are pretty alright in that area. Try "Def Con One".

And the current era is all about Marina.

Electro-Kevin said...

The 'New' Milennium has grown pubes and dropped its balls.

13 already !

Happy New Year

Mark Wadsworth said...

RA, Def Con One is not a patch. SSS were more or less unique, and it was a lot of hard work what they did, fiddling about with computers all day long. Hence and why Blak Elvis is so awful, not enough special effects.

EK, depends on when you start counting.

DBC Reed said...

@MW Too flattering to be called a discerning musician but the date you give for the transfer of interest to R&B is spot-on accurate .Not that anybody had much choice in the matter because the evolution of the music suffered a mass extinction event between 1957 and 1962:Little Richard forswore rock and roll and got religion in late 1957;Jerry Lee Lewis was drummed out in 1958;same year Elvis was drafted;Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens were killed in 1959;Eddie Cochran was killed in 1960;the Everly Bros were drafted in 1961 ;Chuck Berry was jailed in 1962. A pretty astonishing casualty rate and that was just the big names.
Agree with Lola that 1940's deserve a mention (but not for big swing bands):there was some terrific boogie woogie piano pre-war(some with vocals by Joe Turner over the top;in 50's he charted with Shake Rattle and Roll).There were some interesting V-discs (isued to the troops).

Mark Wadsworth said...

DBC, thanks for fleshing that first transition out a bit, that's the sort of thing I meant.

Graeme said...

I dimly recall that somewhere in the 2001-6 era, under-age lesbian pop became popular...think Tatu

Woodsy42 said...

Mid 60's Hippy era, lots of USA west coast bands - Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Crosby stills Nash and Young etc. That coincided with resurgence/transformation of folk music in UK - At one time mid 60s Al Stewart, Pentangle, Paul Simon, Dylan, Renbourne, Sandy Denny etc all together in London.
Amalgamation of influences lead to UK Folk rock - Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span etc and indirectly to current bands like the Levellers.
US influence also on Beatles, Stones who went 'psychedelic' - Sgt Pepper obvious example.
But you are right it has nothing to do with decades.

Mark Wadsworth said...

G, they weren't lesbians at all.

W42, I think that covers the 1965 - 70 era quite nicely. The epitome of this era was probably Hendrix (Hey Joe was 1966, he died in September 1970).

Woodsy42 said...

Thank you - but of course being older than you I was there - shame I can't actually remember much of it!

Mark Wadsworth said...

W42, all our memories are filtered and sifted after the event, with music you can "remember" a lot of stuff which you never experienced personally at the time.

What is also relevant is that each commenter so far has enthused a lot about one particular era, and the chances are, that is the era in which they were in prime record buying/concert going/music discovering age (15 to 20).