Friday, 28 September 2012

It's only rock and roll - but we like it

My ITC and I were driving along listening to a CD of some surprisingly enjoyable choral arrangements of Ray Davies’s (of Kinks fame) music. The earliest came from 1963 or thereabouts and this started me thinking about the longevity of pop music generally. I grew up during the 50's, 60's and 70's and, I suppose, really became aware of "current" music in the early-to-late 60's. This put me on a direct collision course with some of the very biggest bands in rock history and this has clearly had an influence on my tastes in this type of music.
The differences between the music my parents listened to and the music my contemporaries and I were listening to were pretty obvious. But as we all aged some similarities hit me and I began to formulate a vague theory for how music impacts on the vast majority of listeners (excepting those on both extremes who just don't like music and those who are fanatics about it). The theory went something like this: from the time you really start to connect to music a decade-long timer starts ticking. For most people this starts somewhere around the age of 15. From age 15 to age 25 (again, for the average person), you're forming your connections to music and that decade will stay with you as your epitome of the medium. Your favorite bands will tend to come from that period. If you get into music later then just slide everything 10 years later.
I held this theory for quite some time and then, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, I noticed that it started to fail. What struck me most wasn't that people weren't interested in music or weren't all becoming fanatics but that the decade window had been smashed and the breadth of connectivity seemed nearly boundless. Youngsters would often mention bands of my day as being their favourites. The Beatles, The Who etc were frequently mentioned and their music lauded.
I started some low-level pondering on how this came about and a number of thoughts came to mind. The first was, not surprisingly, the impact of technology. In my youth the main access to music for most of us was via the radio (isn’t that right, pop pickers?). You listened to what was offered up and if a band fell out of the limelight you didn't hear anything from them anymore. If they seemed like yesterday's news, that was what they became. There really wasn't much you could do about it other than invest in some vinyl or a cassette (and then much later a CD) and that was that. As technology moved into the digital realm suddenly listeners could listen to any era they desired on impulse. The idea of the radio being the driving force dramatically fell off: although it hasn’t disappeared entirely - yet.
However, I also then started leaning towards another factor that may be the main impetus behind this change and, to be honest, it's the one that I want to be the answer. I started wondering if it just so happened that my era--and the periods around it--produced the best of rock music and that this might be the reason the music endures so vibrantly today.
One thing is clear: things have changed dramatically. It's now late 2012 and The Beatles are still being played over radio and streaming services everywhere along with many other bastions of rock of the 60's and 70’s. That's a 52-year window at work. In the 1960's I know there was absolutely nothing on the radio from the 1910's. The same could be said all the way up to the 1950's. Rock really came on the scene then with Elvis and countless other acts but their style of rock was quite distinct from what came just a decade later and you don't hear much of anything of that earlier era anywhere now. When's the last time you heard Elvis, Brenda Lee or Little Richard on the radio? The fact is that a major change in styles and acceptance came in the 1960's.
Listen to the top radio and streaming stations now and you'll find rock from the 60's and 70’s everywhere. There's no shortage of The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, ELO, The Doors and many more. So is it just that I grew up in the best era of rock music ever or is it just the technology and the changing rules of access? For now I prefer to believe that the music of my formative years is really that good.

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