Music – an Important Place in Our Life

Music occupies an important place in our life

Music occupies an important place in our life. We can’t live without it. Actually people have different musical tastes depending on their age, education and even mood. Some people like classical music, others prefer rock, pop or jazz, but nobody is indifferent to it. Popular Music refers to the kind of music that appeals to the general public, unlike Highbrow or Classical. It places a premium on accessibility, employs various means to boost both instant appeal and memorability – distinctive syncopation, novel instrumental flourishes, danceable rhythms, repeated riffs – but its signal feature is melodic emphasis. It has now since diversified to such an extent that it is now most easily defined in terms of its market.

Popular Music 1950 – 1998 At the end of World War II in the U.S., White middle class fears of communism and a new independent – minded Black society emerged simultaneously. Since they both threatened the status quo, any cross-cultural performance took on the appearance of being subversive.

The songs of the early fifties reflected this and generally had light melodies, sweet lyrics and wholesome singers. Innocent and inoffensive “feel-good” tunes, performed by artists like Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como dominated the pop charts. Major Record Companies (Capitol, Decca, Columbia, Mercury, and RCA Victor) decided to abandon the majority of black artists’ race records and their black audience, creating an opportunity for Independents such as Sam Phillips’ Sun Label or Chess Records to sign them up.

Artists like Bill Haley and the Comets adapted the work of the Black artists to come up with their own sound. The music’s solid rhythm and heavy back beat inspired new forms of dancing. Soon there were stars – Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Carl Perkins. Due to the prejudices of the times, Disc Jockey Alan Freed coined the name “rock and roll,” ironically using a term that was slang for sex in the Black community at that time. Its initial appeal was to middle class white teenagers who soon came to feel it was their own. In this era, so called ‘race music’ was largely censured by America’s white establishment as being too rebellious, sexual and anti-social to be acceptable.

If Rock and Roll was formed from a fusion between Black music and White entrepreneurship, then the foremost of the fair-skinned founding fathers must be Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Their writing genius, combined with the kinetic energy of Elvis made Rock and Roll history by recording Hound Dog, and Elvis Presley became a household name. (Leiber & Stoller also penned hits for Ben E King, The Searchers, the Drifters, and The Coasters).

There were also scandals (i.e. The Payola Scandal which would lead to the demise of the career of Alan Freed) in the early days’ which did nothing to foster either parental or governmental confidence in the new music. Near the end of the decade, a plane crash killed Buddy Holly and also took the lives of Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. Since all three were so prominent at the time, February 3, 1959, became known as ‘The Day The Music Died.’

Female vocal groups began to produce songs that mixed Doo-wop harmonies with Rhythm and Blues music. The groups were usually trios or quartets in which one vocalist sang a lead part while the others contributed a background vocal. Most notable were The Shirelles, The Marvelettes, and The Crystals who flourished during the early 1960’s.

By 1962 ‘The Brill Building’ in Broadway, New York had housed over 165 music businesses and more significantly hosted Don Kirshner and his star collection of songwriters, (Carole King / Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka / Howard Greenfield, and Barry Mann / Cynthia Weil) that were responsible for hundreds of charted hits. Record Producer Phil Spector (A prodigy of songwriters Leiber and Stoller) was churning out unique classics by artists like The Ronettes, The Righteous Brothers and finally Ike and Tina Turner with his legendary ‘Wall of Sound’.

In the 1950’s Britain had not recovered from the effects of World War Two; economic hardship and shortages of goods and services were common. In ‘provincial’ cities (fiercely independent of London) such as Liverpool and Manchester, the latest imports were less scarce, (i.e. American Rhythm & Blues and Rock and Roll records) and as a result, an independent musical culture developed.

Liverpool produced the Merseybeat sound led by The Beatles, taking the British charts by storm in 1963, while in London the Rolling Stones heralded a boom in the British Rhythm and Blues that included the Animals from Newcastle, Spencer Davis from Birmingham and scores more. The conquest of America followed. Between 1964 and 1966, dozens of British groups made fortunes in the States, doing much better there than at home.

Folk inspired artists, like The Byrds, and even America’s most influential contemporary performer Bob Dylan also turned to sound of the Beatles for new direction. The quintessential Californian group, The Beach Boys, helped fly the flag for Surf Music, although chief member Brian Wilson was pressured into illness in his efforts to progress, both commercially and artistically.

Black Soul Music (containing the beat of Rhythm and Blues combined with the exuberance of Gospel), may have been overshadowed in the media but it still made as indelible an impression as British Beat via Atlantic and Motown, the best known and most successful soul labels ever.

Between them, they had all the early soul stars of note, including The Drifters, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

‘The Godfather of Soul’, James Brown, through the rest of the ’60s dispensed with melodies in favour of chunky rhythms, horn interplay and scratching guitar giving a whole new sound which would become essential ingredients of what is known as Funk. With ‘The Summer of Love’ in 1967, focus shifted to San Francisco Bay. The Flower Power era embraced extravagant clothes, weird lyrics and music that seemed to have few rules and less form: names like The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and the The Doors became synonymous with meditation, levitation and drugs.

By then America began to worship the posturing and volume of what became known as Heavy Metal. Pioneered by Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and Jeff Beck and culminated by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, the term ‘Heavy Metal’, was coined by critic Lester Bangs from certain passages in author William Burroughs ‘Naked Lunch’. The music itself was characterised by heavy guitar riffs/ostinato, a high register male vocal and more punch particularly in the lower frequencies of the bass drum and bass guitar.

Britain started the 1970’s pointing towards a hybrid known as ‘Glam-rock’, which produced Marc Bolan, David Bowie, and groups such as Slade and The Sweet. Their theatrical style of dress (which consisted of heavy make-up and women’s clothes) further emphasised the sartorial overkill of Psychedelia.

The advance in technology would give birth to a genre of Progressive rock groups such as Genesis and Yes, followed by E.L.O., Supertramp, Queen, and 10cc – The recording process itself had become much more sophisticated and the expansion of multitracking enabled artists to isolate each instrument and use a myriad of multi-layered harmony vocals creating an orchestral sound which would give these bands their trademark.

Bob Marley and the Wailers introduced Reggae and Ska to the international community after being signed to London’s Island Records. (Reggae is a Jamaican form of Rhythm and Blues with accents on the half beats.)

Another popular style of reggae was known as ‘Dub’. In Jamaica whenever a song was put out on a 45 single, the’B’side was called the Dub. It was the same song (often times with a different mix) that did not include the lead vocal. Jamaican MC’s started talking, chatting and singing over the Dub version of a song for a particular sound. When this music reached their Jamaican counterparts, then residing within New York’s inner-city neighbourhoods in the Bronx and Brooklyn, it gave birth to what is now known as Rap, or Hip Hop.

Another scene to emerge from its underground existence in New York was the dance 70’s phenomenon known as Disco. Disco began as far back in the sixties with the Motown sound, but it came in a rapid in the early and mid-seventies when extended versions of the popular songs were played in the city’s gay clubs. When the 12″ single was commercially available in 1976 the public became more aware of Disco. The soundtrack album from the movie ‘Saturday Night Fever’ featuring The Bee Gees when it came out sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

During the last three years of the 1970’s, British youth, many of whom in the cities had become the unemployed victims, of an economic slump, could find little relevance in the sun kissed utopia in which country-rockers The Eagles seemed to live. They didn’t have much time for the biggest stars of the era – Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and all the rest-who spent much more time in America, where they were better appreciated and could earn infinitely more than in economically divided Britain. Neither were they greatly moved by the seamless efficiency and catchy songs of Abba, the Swedish quartet who sold more records than anyone internationally during the decade, and topped the UK charts nine times in all.

Rock music has always been the rallying call of rebellious youth, and in 1977 the Anarchic Punk generation produced disenchanted Britons like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. Ironically by the end of the decade, New York had spawned Punk’s godparents Lou Reed, The New York Dolls and Patti Smith, as well as producing stars like The Ramones and Blondie.

The Eighties in the UK began where the 70’s left off with the Ska hybrid ‘2 Tone’, performed by racially integrated groups like The Specials and Madness. It also witnessed the commercial finale of Punk with the Jam, and polished Post-Punk as purveyed by The Police and XTC.

In 1981 the music scene underwent a significant change. Technological developments in the form of Music Television, and the compact disc, changed the music world in a way that a different approach was necessary. In fact, major record labels would view music videos as essential as TV-commercials.

The Boom of Synth-Pop and New Romanticism spawned Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and Culture Club. They all came from Britain, and for several months during the second quarter of the decade, these acts and others like The Human League and Wham! helped Britain rule the waves of the Atlantic, although with less domination than 20 years earlier.

Michael Jackson dominated the music world with his 1982 release ‘Thriller’. It became the biggest selling album in history with over 40 million copies sold. During a time when MTV made headway, Jackson adapted to this and accompanied his single-releases with videos of high quality. Another artist to achieve Megastardom in a similar way was Madonna. Her popularity was also achieved by the way she challenged the mainstream on issues as race, gender, sexuality, and power.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five brought a new lyrical intensity to Rap with the song ‘The Message’. Def Jam label artists Run DMC and the Beastie Boys mixed heavy metal guitars rather than the usual funk and disco samples for an aggressive impact that helped the first Rap album to reach a number one chart position.

Bob Geldof will forever be admired for his charitable work in organising Band Aid, which consisted of dozens of British stars who recorded a charity single in an attempt to save lives in drought-stricken Africa. Later he organised Live Aid – a concert on both sides of the Atlantic, which also involved numerous stars such as Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and Queen.

In the UK Producers Stock, Aitken, & Waterman clocked up 31 number one hits and 35 million records sold around the world. (And that was just 1987.) For theirs was the sound that dominated the charts, dance floors and airwaves of Britain with its instantly recognisable bouncy, chattering dance rhythms and chirpy, catchy pop tunes, no matter who the chosen vocalist – Mel & Kim, Rick Astley, Kylie Minogue, Bananarama, etc…

Another dance phenomenon was to emerge, this time from the holiday resort of Ibiza. It would enter the UK as Acid House (The Culture associated with the drug Ecstasy.) and transmogrify into the 90’s genres, Trance and Rave. (Music that was dominated by what machines were good at – repeating monotonous rhythmic patterns that could go on and on.)

The 90’s followed the avaricious 80’s with a softer sound – Country Music. Garth Brooks and Shania Twain carried the sound of Nashville into the mainstream, effectively making it the music capital of the world. At the other end of the musical spectrum, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden took the raw sound of American Grunge music and slapped it screaming onto radios everywhere. By the mid 90s, a new crop of young British bands influenced by the Manchester Indie scene (The Stone Roses, and the Happy Mondays) rediscovered the Beatles, giving birth to Britpop. Blur and Oasis fought, fell out and made up. Take that paved the way for legions of Boy Bands such as Boyzone and Westlife. However the biggest-selling British export of the 90’s was the Spice Girls, who kick-started a resurgence in Teen Pop music.

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