The last big thing
I’m 44 years old now (as of mid 2018), which means that I grew up in the late 1970s and in the 1980s. Born in 1974, I was still too young to notice what was popular or whatever dominated the charts in the disco era.
I was an 80s kid, and back then we all thought we were growing up in the coolest and greatest decade ever, just like every generation before us. It was the age of video consoles, home computers, Rubik’s cube, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, and the original Star Wars trilogy.
There was also a lot of crap and bad taste of course. Things we didn’t notice back then as we were kids, but from today’s perspective it’s all quite obvious. Like clothing and hair styles for example.
The 1980s were colorful and awful at the same time.
But there was still tons of great music. We grew up with Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Queen, U2, Depeche Mode, The Police, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd, and many others.
EACH MONTH THERE WAS AT LEAST ONE GREAT NEW ALBUM EVERYONE WANTED TO OWN, AND THUS EVERYONE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY MADE HUGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY.
Those were awesome times for everyone – for the fans, for the artists, and for the record companies.
Unfortunately quality already started to decline during the second half of the decade, but it was still and incredibly creative and influential time. There was plenty of really horrible music in the charts already, especially in the late 1980s with the rise of boy bands and highly commercial electronic dance music. But at least you had a choice – there was good and there was bad, and if you decided to listen to good music, then you still had plenty of options.
When I was about 18 years old, I was lucky to experience the last big thing in the history of popular music. In 1991 it was time for handmade music to strike back, after years of plastic pop and cheap dance music.
Metallica released their Black Album in August 1991. Ranked #255 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, it sold over 16 million copies in the US alone. But it did much more than this, it brought heavier music to an entire new generation, and even brought heavy metal to a wider audience – although still not to “the masses”. The hit single Enter Sandman and the power ballad Nothing Else Matters became two of the most recognizable songs of the 1990s.
Only one month later Nirvana released Nevermind, which became the most acclaimed and influential album of the 1990s. It ranks #17 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and sold over 30 million copies. This was like crazy, Nirvana was everywhere, they both represented and influenced an entire generation of teenagers and young adults. Smells Like Teen Spirit is #9 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and no other song had such an impact ever since.
The same month Guns N’ Roses released their Use Your Illusion 1 & 2 albums, which also revived interest in their insanely great Appetite For Destruction (1987).
On November 18, U2 re-invented themselves with Achtung Baby, their 7th studio album that sold 18 million copies and has since been acclaimed as being one of the greatest albums of all time (#63 on the Rolling Stone Magazine’s list).
1991 WAS AN INCREDIBLE YEAR FOR MUSIC LOVERS, AND A HUGE AMOUNT OF GREAT STUFF FOLLOWED.
In 1993 Radiohead released Creep, followed by Beck’s Loser in 1994, marking the beginning of two outstanding careers, and leading to the release of four albums that are now considered to be among the best records of all time:
Radiohead’s OK Computer (1997) and Kid A (2000), as well as Beck’s Odelay (1996) and Sea Change (2002).
Indie music, alternative rock, and brit pop became popular, and at least one or two great new acts broke through every single month. Rage Against The Machine, The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Alice in Chains, Green Day, R.E.M., Oasis, Alanis Morissette, The Prodigy, and many more innovative acts were just everywhere.
And don’t forget that the 90s were also an incredibly interesting decade for those listening to all kinds of heavy metal, with unique acts such as Megadeth, Slayer, Sepultura, Pantera, and many, many more.
Furthermore the early 90s are also considered to have been part of the Golden Age of Hip Hop, featuring artists such as Wu-Tang Clan, Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, Nas, and A Tribe Called Quest for example.
Those were incredible times, music had a massive impact on the feelings and thoughts of millions of people, and some of those trends even infected the masses to a certain degree – just think of indie rock, or britpop in the UK for example.
It was music that changed the world – not only the world of music, but it also had a huge impact on the entire society. Music sparked culture and subcultures. It was meaningful, and it changed everything.
A larger fraction of the population started buying albums on a regular basis instead of going for singles, as people got used to the fact that many albums that came out in the 90s were just insanely great.
IF YOU WERE REALLY INTERESTED IN MUSIC, THEN YOU HAD TO BUY AT LEAST ONE OR TWO ALBUMS A MONTH.
And those were records that are still considered to have been classic masterpieces today. Both record companies and artists earned a lot of money, and everyone seemed to be happy.
Unfortunately this incredible era didn’t last long – by the end of the decade, the entire spirit and dynamic had vanished. This was it. This was the end of the Golden Age Of Popular Music that had started with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lweis and Bill Haley in the mid 1950s.
Could you imagine something like all of this happening today? Will today’s albums be considered to have been masterpieces in 20 years? What do we have now? Major Lazer? Britney Spears? Ed Sheeran? You must be kidding me…
But even newer artists who are considered to make good music, like Adele, Coldplay and others, aren’t even outstanding or revolutionary anymore. They’re something like an acceptable sequel to a once great movie. They’re not really new, they just reuse trends that already existed 20, 30, or even 40 years ago.
WHERE’S THE REVOLUTION, WHERE’S THE INNOVATION, WHERE ARE THE NEW IDEAS?
Critics seem to agree that Kanye West is the greatest artist of the 21st century. Now I don’t say that West is a bad artist, but if this is really the best we had in 20 years, then I think this clearly shows that music is in deep trouble indeed.
You also shouldn’t forget that his music doesn’t have the same kind of impact than the music created by the Masters Of The Past, and it’s quite surprising to see that many young people (ages 18-24) can’t even name a single song by some of today’s “top stars” anymore.
And all of this has nothing to do with race, genre, or “old” versus “new” or “modern” music. Today’s white artists suck just as much as today’s black artists, and today’s rock and pop is just as bad as today’s hip hop and R&B.
Today’s music has become completely irrelevant, and some incremental enhancements won’t save this industry, we really need a revolution. Read on, and you’ll soon understand why this is the case and how this could ever happen.