The Decade Debate

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Decade Debate
What has been the best decade for music in the past half-century? Our writers think that they know best and make the case for their favourite musical period.

The 1950s: Matt Hacke

I’m very interested in influence, yet I’ll try and rein this in when I talk about the 50s. After all, we’ve all seen that scene at the end of Back To The Future, and we’ve all been told how, without Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley etc., there would be no Beatles – or anything else for that matter.

Indeed, if you’re reading this, I reckon you’ll be interested in the ‘tunes’, and consequently I’ll try to cater to that. Popular 50s music is excellent due to its sheer versatility for the student. I’ve never met someone who sticks on Avicii whilst they study, no matter how much they enjoy hearing Wake Me Up at an Arena sweat-fest. Yet the rock ‘n’ roll, swing, rockabilly of the period differs. Sh Boom, an exquisite slice of early doo-wop, is a prime example for me; a track that functions equally effectively during house cleaning and late night post-drinks (my memory is hazy). It’s an incredibly catchy track that I find epitomises the capacity of 50s playlists to flourish in a variety of scenarios – a facet few genres or periods can claim.

Yet to reduce the 50s to a ‘work-hard, play-hard’ playlist binary does it little justice. As tracks such as Mack The Knife, Johnny B. Good, and the extensive back catalogues of Presley and Sinatra show, this was a veritable golden age of honey vocals and nuanced arrangements. Far from being a testing period for the bombast of the 60s, the decade should be viewed in this manner, standing on its own feet alongside its descendants. If my own experience is anything to go by, it’s pretty likely that the 50s is, to some extent, unknown territory for you also – at least compared to the periods that would succeed it.

Whilst you might not see yourself listening to swing before or after Dirty Sexy People, I still recommend scouring Spotify for some of the tracks I’ve mentioned. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

The 1960s: Charlotte Morrison

The 1960s was a decade of awakening. The 50s had been a decade of accepting the status quo, but by the early 60s people were burning for change. And change they got in a period of political protest, civil rights movements, and cultural revolution. However, the musical change of the 60s began with something a bit simpler: Rock & Roll

Sure, Rock & Roll hit its stride in the 50s with the likes of Elvis and Chuck Berry, but the 60s was when the genre really spread its wings and diversified.

Perhaps a good place to start is with a band that dominated the 60s: The Beatles. Early Beatles songs combined the raunchy thrill of black American 50s music with the British pop sensibilities that made it so appealing to the masses. This huge success was followed by what is known as the British Invasion. Bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, and The Kinks became enormously successful in America, bringing with them an entirely new sound and perspective from across the pond.

The 60s were also a decade for political activism, what with the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the hippies. This translated into sharp social commentary in music, spearheaded (arguably) by the great Bob Dylan. Also with the hippie movement came a new experimentation with psychedelic drugs, spawning trippy bands like Jefferson Airplane, Cream, and The Doors.

Of course it would be a crime to talk about 60s music without mentioning the rise of Motown. Artists like The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, among others, popularized on a global level the soulful music that developed into funk, R&B and eventually hip-hop.

We are indebted to the 1960s, more than any other decade, for the development of diverse forms of popular music. Maybe you prefer the genre of heavy metal, folk rock, hip-hop, or soul, but these and countless other sub-genres all have their origin in the fascinating era of the 1960s. And let us not forget the awesome music left to us by the decade itself. Why not go have a listen?

The 1970s: Will Cafferky

Perhaps no decade encapsulates the talent of the tortured artist to the extent that the 70s. From Jim Morrison to Ian Curtis, Nick Drake to Jackson C Frank, we were exposed to the dark side of an industry that had grown to idolise and even dehumanise artists.

The eccentricity and popularity of Jim Morrison punctuated the tragedy of his death to a degree not afforded to many of his contemporaries. Nick Drake bore many of the same tortuous marks of artistry, and yet his reclusive nature denied him the fanfare his music so clearly deserved. Drake released his two greatest albums, the latter of which represents one of the more beautiful albums ever recorded. Whilst the cliché of ‘a man and his guitar’ may have grown tiresome to a generation molested by the lyrical musings of Matt Cardle, Drake’s delivery of his struggle with depression is as poignant as it is short.

The 70s represented a golden-era for the post-punk movement in New York. Blondie, The Ramones, and The Talking Heads were moving from strength to strength, whilst Television released the genre-defining Marquee Moon.

1979 signaled the release of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Whilst stylistically unrecognisable from The Doors, Curtis’ lyricism contained the same emotional intensity that breathed life into Morrison’s work. The trawling yet rhythmic guitar, synonymous with the genre, is perhaps best encapsulated by the album’s opening track, Disorder.

Elsewhere in the country, others were reaching the peak of their game. Floyd’s ambitious concept, The Dark Side Of The Moon, represented the artistry in the crafting of an album as an entity rather than a collection of tracks, standing alone as a simultaneously mesmerising and thought-provoking work.

One only has to look at the raft of talent it contained to truly appreciate the impact the 70s had. Those halcyon days will forever be a blurry fantasy to my naïve mind and yet its musical supremacy transcends my youth and presents itself clear as day.

The 1980s: Lizzie Hatfield

I think it’s near impossible to convincingly dispute that any other decade of music is superior to the 1980s. While my fellow writers have done an admirable job, and some may even believe what they’re saying, the fact remains that music hit its peak 40 years ago. Sad but true.

Throughout the 1980s, the world was cowering. Plagued by the AIDs epidemic, convinced that Armageddon was going to strike, living in fear of the bomb – people felt the need to express themselves more than ever. The 80s were the first decade in which people could truly reflect their attitudes through their fashion, lifestyle, and most importantly, their music.

The most incredible thing about 80s music, in my opinion, is that classic tracks were produced and heard in every single genre. Be it soulful funk (Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean), RnB (Soul II Soul’s Back To Life), indie rock (The Smiths’ What Difference Does It Make?), cheesy pop (Madonna’s Like A Virgin), a stadium-rock anthem (Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Sweet Child Of Mine), or a crooning New Romantic tune (The Cure – Love Cats), it was fantastic. Not to mention guilty pleasures from the likes of Bette Midler and Salt-N-Pepa that still resonate at wedding discos throughout the UK.

The 80s pioneered the modern sound, and you can still hear the influences of each genre in our music today. Even now, if you hear a song and describe it as “falling straight out of the 80s”, it’s quite possibly one of the best musical compliments around.

Take a look at New Order’s Blue Monday, for example. Picked as the best song of the 1980s by NME, this song created new trends in dance music. It sums up everything that was fantastic about 80s music in just one song: creative expression, incredible over-use of synthesisers, a stupidly catchy tune, and a song that you still hear every weekend on the radio. No one can quite get over it. And they shouldn’t have to, because it’s bloody fantastic.

The 1990s: Laura Clarke

The 1990s was musically diverse and vibrant; an abundance of cleverly-produced songs reflecting the Western world’s economic boom. Hits ranged from soft and mellow tunes such as Linger by The Cranberries to heavier sonnets including Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence and U2’s Mysterious Ways. Not to mention Madonna’s reign as Queen of Pop continued by releasing a most iconic issue of Vogue.

This era, as for most readers, reminds me of my carefree youth. One of my favourite albums is the The Corrs’ Talk On Corners, born in 1998. Their performances on Top of the Pops were memorable, tambourines and a violin in tow, and the Irish-infused cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams is stunning to say the least.

A refreshing wealth of rock classics emerged in the 90s – Radiohead’s Creep and Weezer’s Say It Ain’t So name but a couple. The Cure confirmed that the good stuff would keep on coming with Friday I’m In Love in 1992. One year prior R.E.M released Out Of Time, including hits such as Shiny Happy People and Losing My Religion – two songs highly paradoxical in tone but equally brilliant in both lyrics and melody. Feasibly more prevalent was Automatic For the People, where Everybody Hurts became a down-in-the-dumps anthem for the ages. Rachel from ‘Friends’ certainly appreciated the melancholy mood it provided as she gazed outside the raindrop littered window, betrayed by Ross’ tactless ‘cons list’. A poignant music video undoubtedly furthered the song’s success; the strangers vacating their cars in the middle of a traffic jam, united by mutual struggles, was moving to say the least.

Conceivably a result of the Y2K acceptance that the world would implode, but music felt unrestricted in the 90s. When the mood strikes I revisit the songs I used to love and they comfort me.

The 2000s: Jack Reid

I’d like to throw my hat into the ring to fight for the oft neglected era between 2000 and 2010. So neglected is this particular decade, that people still gripe about what to even call it, ‘noughties’ just sounds wrong doesn’t it? So what went down in this underrated historical era? Global geopolitics was uprooted by an unprecedented attack on American soil, the iPod and iPhone were brought into the world, Tony Blair fluffed a promising term by invading Iraq.

But anyway, the 00s were an important time for music lovers. A woman who carried the baton of hugely popular RnB into the new millennium, Aaliyah, was killed in a plane crash in 2001. The 00s saw the rise of the music channel, a whole new era in the way that people consumed music. Who remembers The Box, and inexplicably watching Kerrang and Q TV? This is the era of Britney Spears’s rise to prominence, of Shakira’s small and humble breasts appearing on every music channel simultaneously.

Pop music in the 00s saw the intersection of the left over RnB influences from its heyday in the 90s (see Donell Jones – U Know What’s Up, Destiny’s Child, Shaggy…), and the female popstar. Despite a few cases of over sexualisation and exploitation, we should thank the 00s for giving rise to figures like Geri Halliwell, Gabrielle, Alicia Keys, Missy Elliott, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Dido, Brandy, Mis-Teeq, Pink, Avril Lavigne, and Christina Milian. It truly was a great era for women in music.

So don’t scorn the 00s because it’s too recent to be retro cool, too old to be relevant. Skim through the discography of the decade and realise that it was an incredible time for pop music, and you’ll know almost every song that was in the charts at the time because of the omnipresence of music channels at the time.

Listen to our extensive playlist documenting the evolution of music from the 1950s through to the 2000s on our Soundcloud.