Y’know, I often see my older friends complaining on Facebook about modern music. People love posting pictures that will compare lyrics to some “classic” song and to the lyrics in some current hit, and use that as proof that music is supposedly less creative now that it was “back in the day.” And “back in the day” is usually whenever the person posting the image was a child or teenager. Because of the age-range of my online friends, I often see people comparing modern hits to songs from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
But it’s never a fair comparison, because they always cherry-pick and take a song that is unarguably amazing and put it up against some average song, as if to suggest that the amazing classic track represents all music of it’s era. But classics become classics specifically because they stand out from the rest of the music at the time, and you can only really judge that after several years have passed. But the truth is there is always “bad” music that is extremely popular and sells well. And the “crap” often outsold many songs that are now regarded as classics.
A year that I always like to point out to illustrate this fact is 1969 (the year MY BROTHER was born). The end of the great 1960’s, leading into the 70’s. And this is the year that many legendary rock, pop, and R&B acts were at their creative peaks, or reaching it, and releasing great material. 1969 is the year Marvin Gaye released his version of I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE, Creedance Clearwater Rival released PROUD MARY, Stevie Wonder released MY CHERIE AMORE, The Beatles released COME TOGETHER and GET BACK, The Rolling Stones’ HONKY TONK WOMAN, The Temptations’ I CAN’T GET NEXT TO YOU, Neil Diamond’s SWEET CAROLINE, Sly & The Family Stone’s EVERYDAY PEOPLE and HOT FUN IN THE SUMMERTIME, Fifth Dimension’s AGE OF AQUARIUS, even Elvis Presley was back on the charts with IN THE GHETTO and SUSPICIOUS MINDS. The Doors, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Lou Rawls, and many other eventual Hall of Fame acts had big hits in 1969. A great year for music!
But you know what the biggest hit of 1969 was?
The #1 song of 1969, not even a real band!
How about rap music? I know a lot of older folks who claim that the 80’s were the golden age of rap music. Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-N-Pepa, Whodini, they all debuted in the 80’s. In 1989 Public Enemy released what became their signature song: FIGHT THE POWER, a powerful pro-Black anthem. It reached #1 on the rap charts that year.
You know what else reached #1 on the rap chart that year?
And you can go on an on picking from whatever decade that someone wants to nostalgically look back on. Whether it’s the 1990’s (a decade where The Spice Girls outsold Pearl Jam and Nirvana) or the early 2000’s (which was dominated by boy bands). So just think about that next time someone complains about how much better music used to be. It all depends on how you look at it.