The Golden Age Of Popular Music
Half of the modern world goes back as far as Pearl Jam. The real historians go back to U2. But they need to go back further. They have to go back to the ’50s and ’60s, where things started. That’s how you get to be your own personality, by studying the masters. Rock ’n’ roll was white kids trying to make black music and failing, gloriously!
–Steven Van Zandt
I’ve mentioned the Golden Age Of Popular Music a few times already – it’s not a commonly used term, but it’s one I’ll use in this manual to describe the period from the mid 1950s till the mid 1990s.
The greatest decades in popular music were the 1960s, 70s, and 80s – about 80% of all great music was created within those 30 years, there were about 1000 songs that became evergreens (songs that everyone knows, or at least should know), sales numbers were not a problem, and many people got insanely rich by making, producing, or distributing music.
90% of the greatest songs and the greatest albums of all time were released between 1955 and 1995.
It’s in the late 1950s that everything got started, when blues, jazz, rockabilly, honky tonk, and other genres and influences were merged to become rock ’n’ roll, a new kind of music which lead to the most successful period of popular music ever.
The 1960s have been the most important decade when it comes to great music.
You will be surprised about both the high number and the impact / importance of the artists from that decade.
In the 1970s a large number of new genres and ideas were born.
There were almost as many high quality acts as in the 1960s. But it’s also important to note that today’s problems already emerged in that decade, and great music already started to become a niche product as the industry started to flood the market with mass-compatible, low quality music.
It was in the 1980s when things started to go terribly wrong.
While the 80s were a very colorful and innovative decade, music also became highly commercialized, and terribly bad music started to dominate the charts in the second half of the decade, a situation that got worse ever since. While about 50% of the greatest songs of that Golden Age Of Popular Music had been written in the 1960s and quality only slightly diminished in the 1970s, some trends in the 70s and 80s already made it clear that the glory days were about to end.
The mistakes made back then are the causes of today’s trouble.
It should be noted that from the point of view of sales*, the peak came only after the Golden Age Of Popular Music, and the final peak was only reached in the late 1990s. This is due to mostly two reasons:
- People started to spend more and more money on music in the mid and late 1980s, mostly because of the success of the Compact Disc (CD). We should also note that a lot of people were replacing large parts of their vinyl and music cassette (MC) collections by the new disc format.
- While singles still made up an important part of all sales in the mid 1970s, people started to focus much more on albums in the late 1980s, a trend that only peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s. As you probably remember, selling albums is much more lucrative than selling singles for the industry.
*) Always make sure to use data adjusted for inflation when comparing sales figures.