What happened to popular music?


Ask any senior citizen what they think of popular music today compared to the pop music of their youth – when they “were younger, so much younger than they are today.” hui “- and she will almost inevitably tell you that older pop music is better than it is today. thing.

Well, maybe. I am not sure. (I mean, you have to admit that “Abby Road” is a dynamite album and “White Christmas” is one hell of a song.) Almost as valuable or important as before.

Pop music originated in the mid-1800s when Steven Foster started producing parlor / minstrel music. Then, during the 1880s and 90s, a few other rather lame composers wrote little songs like “The Bowery” and “The Band Played On”. However, such music did not really become popular until the arrival of radio in the 1920s, allowing selected singers, bands and songs to be promoted nationally. Suddenly millions of people could listen to the same singers and bands at exactly the same time. Who ever heard of such a thing?

Soon the individuals and corporations who controlled the radio networks and the recording industry exerted enormous influence on the musical tastes of the public. They compiled a list of the best songs – the one and only list of the best songs – and aired it every week on the radio show “Your Hit Parade” and later on a TV show, to the delight. teenagers from all over the country.

The invention of the phonograph meant that people could buy 78 rpm vinyl records and play them whenever they wanted – as long as a turntable was available and you had the records with you. These 78s were handled with great care – as if inspired by holy intervention – because you didn’t want to scratch them. In many middle-class families, vinyl records were a luxury.

Throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s there were relatively few superstar singers. Bing Crosby, Elvis, the Andrew Sisters and, of course, Frank Sinatra immediately spring to mind. Especially Crosby. He absolutely dominated the airwaves for 30 years – from the late 1920s to the early 1950s – he had a hit song every month or so. No one else has been so popular for so long. (The longevity of some country stars today may be a little longer than that of rock musicians, but that still doesn’t amount to much compared to Crosby.) My main point is this: the billions of dollars in the music industry were t shared with many, many people or groups.

Today, this is no longer the case. Instead, all the money is scattered among tens of thousands of singers and bands, so today’s superstars aren’t as rich as they used to be and none of them have the fame or longevity. of Elvis and Sinatra. (In fact, punk rock frowns on fame and financial success itself.) Rock bands are famous for a few months or years, enjoy a few hit recordings, then pull out and disappear into the background noise, maybe to come back for a reunion tour 20 years later.

There is no longer a universally recognized list of the best songs, like “Your Hit Parade”. Instead, we have one list for heavy metal, another for punk, another for contemporary, for hip-hop, rap, country, country rock, alternative rock, etc. I mean, every band that goes down the pike can get a # 1 song somewhere.

Today, few people buy vinyl albums and CDs. Dragging around a collection of records is a pain in the ass. Sadly, pop music is available cheaply and easily on iPhones and Alexa, and it’s just another throwaway product in a throwaway society. In the past, pop music has greatly influenced our behavior and our values. Today, not so much.

Moreover, I suspect that the same loss of prestige, value and influence is also true for films. But this is my next column.

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