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October 22, 2008

Was music better back in the day?

roger daltryLately, Pops and I have been having some deep conversations about music Then vs. Now.

By Then I mean the music of the '60s and '70s. By Now, I mean the music of the 90s and 00s. 

I'm going to weigh in on this tomorrow. But I'd like to know what you think first.

Was music better then? Why?

Is it even fair to compare?

(Vintage stock photo of Roger Daltry, lead singer of The Who) 

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:44 PM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Random stuff


Music was definitely better then! You actually had to have some talent. It wasn't all about looks then either. Not to mention that music now is WAY OVER PRODUCED!

there is obviously no comparison. you had bands, people with talent united as one. now its mostly one guy on production. its all manufactured and impure. i think we topped out in the seventies (and i am 33).

Many people will say that music was better Then.

But that's an easy claim to make because much of the music simply was first. And since firstness tends to equal originality, we like whatever was first. It's very hard (unless you're, say, Cornershop) to put a sitar in something and not have people name-check Rubber Soul, because it came first.

This is always a problem in art. Samuel Johnson (one of the main reasons we have dictionaries (and, incidentally, love Shakespeare)) rated Milton's Paradise Lost the world's second-greatest epic poem, only because it was not the first. Homer wins because he got his licks in early.

Also the music of Then was the music of the Baby Boomers, who have the advantage of having had 1) the media trained on their every move since birth while 2) growing up in a relative monoculture.

Meanwhile, the music of Now has had two big disadvantages—1) its having become Balkanized and segmented into separate spheres (particularly rock, pop, and rap, but also country and other styles), even as 2) local DJs lost control to MTV and the Telecommunication Act of 1996 (which let ClearChannel become mammoth).

In other words, we have little common language for what our great works are—how do you compare the Breeders' Cannonball" to Warren G's "Regulators"?—but within our subfields we're dictated exactly what to listen to by a few music directors.

So our dads get to listen to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and feel smug that they own the drum solo and ignore our arguments that our generation owns the sampler.

I'd say that during Now there's been a flattening. There are fewer really great songs and really great artists. But what is really great is really, really great.

Because it has to be, just to break through.


~You can say grunge was a logical extension of punk and blah blah blah, but when it took over the airwaves from 1992-1995 it erased '80s rock from the map in a matter of months. (Look at the careers of Metallica and Extreme when they hit the grunge wall.)

~You may hate the bands that came after them, but Sublime was like nothing we'd ever heard before.

~Pavement gave us the roadmap for indie rock.

~Beck's first two albums really mattered, and electronica changed the soundtrack of our lives (particularly commercials and movies) forever.

~And while the 70s had disco, we got rap.

So there was some great stuff Now. But for every record we point to, Dad gets to pull out Hendrix.

You can't really fairly compare Then and Now. The playing field isn't level. Then was amazing, and it has shaped the canon. Now has to struggle to be included, like a Toni Morrison novel trying to squeeze Catcher in the Rye off the syllabus...whether either deserves to be included or not.

With all due respect to Suzie, Wall of Sound, anyone? Not to mention a certain pair of boots...

The music of the sixties and seventyies was actually performed without the computer trickery of today and fewer synthetics
What you hear now from those times is what has held up and what is fairly timeless and usually hits. The more fad driven music is now largely forgotten and is played only occassionaly. i.e. The Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Cowsills, The DeFranco Family
Unfortunately there is music that is quite worthy to seek out that didn't find favor with program directors and often were studio creations that couldn't be performed live or they just didn't tour. I.e The Millenium, Sagittarius, Banco Del Mutuo Seccorso and Julian's Treatment.

One benefit the sixties and seventies musicians enjoyed is that there was much less competition and much more record company support that helped break bands with the public. It was the era radio still held sway before MTV, MySpace, Napster etc. which had a broad audience, not like now with niche marketing or narrowcasting like XM & Sirius.

In time the worthy and successful of today will persist and rest languish the probably deserved obscurity.

Timberlake, the Spice Girls, Britney, Shaggy, Jesus Jones, the Dixie Chicks, Uncle Kracker that William Hung guy... Music is WAY better now!

Of course your pops might have been comparing The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Van Halen, Aerosmith and AC/DC to er, well... The Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Van Halen Aerosmith and AC/DC... All of which were actually better then, but are still putting music out now.

You left out a decade! LOL

I don't think you can make such a direct and simplified comparison to ask if "music" was better then.

It seems like there is so much more varied music now and much of it is more accessible with the internet. There is always great stuff out there if you look!

Now if you are talking mainstream radio and major labels, as I assume Suzie Q is refering too, I think the argument could be made that much of it is over-produced and based on style over substance or talent.

Why you gotta hate on the '80s? They don't even get placed? If the '60s and '70s are 'then' and the '90s and '00s are 'now,' does that make the '80s the 'vs.'?

Now that I've put in my 2cents about the '80s, I must say, while I love me some '90s music, the '60s and '70s (aka 'then') definitely get my vote.

On another note (or perhaps the same one?), check out All Songs Considered's look at the '80s:

And their listener poll searching for the Best Year in Music:

Hey what about the 80s?

Hey, remember the 80s?

Now I have that stupid SNL skit in my head.

i don't really feel a lot of bands from today are non-talented. i'll agree that looks are a big part of what sells lately, but it deff. didn't hurt the Beatles.

also, consider the amount of choices you had to listen to back in the day. there wasn't MTV, Satellite Radio, or the Internet. All of those things as well as an increasing amount of sub-genres, make it a lot harder for bands to catch hold of their niche, and become household names. that's not meant to be a sweeping generalization, but it's true enough for some performers.

Also, money talks (best ACDC song ever), always has. These days it seems to talk a lot louder as well. Billy Joel had it right,
"Today I am your champion, I may have won your hearts,
But I know the game, you'll forget my name,
And I won't be here in another year
If I don't stay on the charts ".

I have this conversation with my kids from time to time and considering the tech advances nowadays, it was harder to produce a quality product then. I also think there was a far better mix of music all incorporated into the mainstream. Rock, Soul, Blues, Country, etc. were all part of the pop culture. Lead Vocals and harmony were much more prevalent and except for the bubble gum stuff, music had more lyrical and musical content. On the other hand today's musicians face the challenge of making things sound new and fresh which is tough considering most of it's been done in the past. Today's musicians though have a huge advantage with getting their message out there via mediums, like Myspace, I-tunes, Indie labels, etc. The cost to produce and promote was far greater then.

These arguments are always skewed by nostalgia.The late 50s and early 60s produced more lame, crappy slicked haired crooner groups than you can shake a stick at (many of which stole African-American groups' songs and popularized them). Pat Boone anybody? The 70s may have brought us Zeppelin, but it also produced Disco Duck.

People remember the good stuff exactly because it was good stuff. I will admit, the 60s and early 70s were also a time of national and international revolution, so the events and culture of that time tend to resonate, but then I could say the same thing for the early 90s, when the side affects of Reagan trickle-down economics started to show their ugly teeth. Grunge and gangsta rap, two genres that also continue to resonate, were birthed in that period of time.

To say one era is 'better' than the other is dumb. Each generation has good music and crappy music. As time goes by, you tend to forget the crap and remember the good.

Music was way better back then! Just last night I went to an awesome funk party and it was all about the music and dancing! Been trying bring back disco... threw disco dance parties, constantly playing disco and funk on the bar jukebox.... its not catching on!


Much of popular music was derived from black music.
Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag (1892) has the distinction of not only being the first "Pop" song to have it's sheet music sales out perform those of "Classical" music but introduced Ragtime as a popular form of music.
A large amount of popular music since then originated in the black communities. Pual Whiteman, Big Crosby, The Andrew Sisters, Pat Boone, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Eric Clapto, Yardbirds/Led Zepplien, The Who, Buddy Holly etc. all started by imitating, then emulating the black music that just proceeded them or was happen when they started before developing their own sound and writing their own songs.

"The late 50s and early 60s produced more lame, crappy slicked haired crooner groups than you can shake a stick at (many of which stole African-American groups' songs and popularized them). Pat Boone anybody?"

These guys, and there those before them, provided that half step that made mainstream success possible for Black Artist by performing the current up and coming Black Music, for a long time called "Race" and banned from most radio and juke box playlists, to a white audience who then went and investigated the recordings of the original artist.

There is a problem with today's music is that the easy availablity of music from everywhere has homogenized most peoples influences.

Yeah Jacki! We will bring disco back!
But honestly I did not read all of the above posts so maybe my comments are premature....however... I just have a few points: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones. Or James Brown. Curtis Mayfield. Aretha. Talking Heads. Bob Dylan, Bob Marley. Robert Palmer, Little Feat!
Eric Burdon/War, Santana, Traffic, Marshall Tucker Band, Eric Clapton, The Who...CCR (just to name a few!)
And lastly I was born in the '60's yet I am not a fan of one of the most influential bands EVER...The Grateful Dead.
How is this even a discussion???


The 90s had Jeff Buckley. That's more than enough talent to make the decade worthwhile musically.

NO one artist can carry a decade of music. They be the major bright spot but that's it.

Had more interest in Tim than Jeff by the way.

That really depends on what you listen too. I'm really really REALLY big into Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor) so I am going to say now.

It was once speculated that the music you started listening to at 12 to 15 usually determined your long term preference.

At one time the record companies in the Seventies complained that breaking new music was complicated by the fact that a large number of people grew up with their old sibling's preference and some degree their parent's preference in music by having ready access to their record collections. They complained that they preferred the "moldy oldies".

So I guess that would color many people's opinion favorably on the music of the Sixties and Seventies.

If pressed, I probably chose a lot of stuff from 1963 to 1990 first with accent on bands like The Beatles, The Monkees The Byrds, The Kinks, The Moody Blues, Badfinger, The Beach Boys, Sweet, The Mellow* Bands (The Move, The Electric Light Orchestra, Roy Wood, The Idle Race & Wizzard) The Dwight Twilley Band, The Motors, The Cars, The Records, Rockpile, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, Bebop Deluxe, Nick Lowe, Brian Eno, King Crimson

This probably one of the most subjective topics that one can argue after religion and politics.

* There was a fan club for called Mellow, which came from Move, The Electric Light Orchestra, Wizzard. All these bands had members that originally were in The Move.

One thing to consider is that we remember and listen to GOOD music from the 60's and 70's.

I love Iggy Pop, but the Brady Kids sold more albums than he did in the 70's. It may seem the ratio of good music to bad music was higher then, but we forget all the awful music.


Referring to Phil Spector.
Tom Wolfe in his book, "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965) in his article on Spector, "The First Tycoon of Teen", recounts him being on "The David Susskind Show"*. One of the NYC disc jockeys commented that his station only played "good music", meaning Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Nancy Wilson etc. Spector counter with statement along the lines of "So you only play Beethoven, Handel, Teleman, and Wagner".

The point: what you define as good music isn't shared by others and the music you look down your nose at isn't any less valid and remember what you define as good music was once looked down upon as inferior to past music. or briefly touché!

* believe it was a local New York discussion show.

I can't believe no one has mentioned Chris Sligh. He's probably the greatest musician ever.

Have you heard his cover of "The End" by the Doors?



wait, who is Chris Sligh?

I couldn't possibly imagine.


GDA—By no means was I looking down on Phil Spector (although, to be fair, my obnoxious dig at Nancy Sinatra easily gives rise to that impression). Hell, we're still trying to capture his sound. I was simply countering Susie Q's post—a) looks played as much of a part in '60s music as it does today, and b) the Wall of Sound acts were anything but underproduced...their over-the-top production was an important part of their sound. Production (even overproduction) does not always equal bad, Then or Now.

SNL's been good, though I do think the Daily Show/Colbert has been more poignant and intelligent in their recent productions. This week alone, they caught Obama and Palin both cheering on the Rays AND the Phillys, something that all the news shows used the next day, plus a pretty well balanced sketch on gaffes, pulling out bad lines from Biden, Kerry, Palin and John McCain from the week. Plus their trip to Palin's home town had me on the floor. Just find it a lil more nuanced and interesting. Z, tell us what you think of those shows performance recently!

haha this is my favorite topic. Of course it was better back in the day. Its when you were just experiencing it for the first time and weren't completely jaded.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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