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Has Music Really Changed That Much?

Paul Wilson looks at how music has changed for him and in general.

If there are any benefits to growing older, and as the years pass the more convinced I am there aren’t many, one is being able to witness how things have changed. Times change, my son, and so do our life’s occurrences. As time marches inexorably forward, we become ever more familiar with the phrase “vintage.”

It occurred to me recently, while watching an interview with Robert Plant, at the time in his mid 70’s, not only how much he had personally changed, but also music in general. 

My parents, products of the 30’s and 40’s, loved Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby. My Dad absolutely despised my 15-year-old self’s-musical favorites. This made perfect sense as Black Sabbath was about as polar opposite of Bing Crosby as one could find. Pick a 15-year old’s favorite band back then – it doesn’t matter. My parents hated them all. They also despised how loudly I turned up the stereo. It made for some interesting times for sure. 

But times do change, my son, and now on the precipice of Social Security, I find myself looking back. Looking to those days of yore when what I played was the ONLY music worth playing, or so I thought. 

I am a product of the late 60’s and into the 70’s. Many of the bands today recognized as some of the greatest rock acts ever were just getting started. Bands formed in the 60’s, both in Europe and the US, some of whom have been together for 50 years or more, are now called “vintage.” Looking at Robert Plant in the interview and remembering him on stage in the early 70’s is a stark reminder that time slows for no one. 

In my very early years, I carried with me, almost all the time, an AM transistor radio. The local radio station played all my favorites, and I knew every song in the Top 40 and beyond. At 15, after lots of yardwork, I purchased my first stereo and began buying albums. What then was heavy metal were my favorites. My first absolute favorite, and the one album I’ve listened to more than any other music I’ve ever heard was Jethro Tull’s incomparable “Thick As A Brick.” There was Deep Purple – how many times did I play “Smoke On The Water(!), Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steppenwolf – well, there were many. 

My musical tastes also endorsed groups like Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. I always enjoyed, then and now, talented storytellers like Jim Croce and Harry Chapin – both of whom sadly and tragically passed away well before their time. These performers, and others like them, were the foundation of my musical tastes and have essentially formed my choices in music for decades. 

As the 60’s gave way to the 70’s, music took on more serious subjects. Vietnam, racial injustices, political issues of the day, these and more were on the minds of many of the more notable musicians back then. 

At some point, the “let’s party” crowd turned to what for many is a musical aberration – disco. We wanted to look and dress like John Travolta and dance like Deney Terrio. Discos were the place to see and be seen. From mega clubs in New York to roadside neighborhood joints, disco ruled the day. Until the end of the 70’s when it had pretty much fizzled out. Musically, we moved on. 

The 80’s saw a rise in popularity of stylistically new music in groups like Genesis, Heart, Motley Crue and many more that captured a nation and infused listeners with a new sound. 

As the 90’s took hold, bands like the Foo Fighters and Black Crowes became popular. And as the decades moved on, music continued to change. 

Of course, similar changes were taking place in genres besides rock and pop. Jazz and R&B were also undergoing changes. Traditional jazz, much of which composed in somewhat of an improv style, continues to captivate dedicated listeners. But jazz also morphed into other classifications, none more revered in my mind as the genre known as smooth jazz. 

Hand flip wooden cube with word “change” to “chance”, Personal development and career growth or change yourself concept

R&B saw the creation of absolute masterpieces such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” Some other favorites of mine, groups like Earth, Wind & Fire and Kool & The Gang got me “movin and groovin.” Several R&B bands have also spanned the decades and likewise changed their music as the times evolved. Most notably, groups like The Temptations and The Four Tops come first to mind. 

Even country took on a more modernistic rock tone with today’s artists and less like the twangy sound popularized in the 50’s. 

I enjoyed them all. Still do to many of them. But music for today’s youth, something I once was myself, has passed me by. Perhaps most scary of all, in some ways, I have become my father. 

When I hear some of the music played by today’s 15-year-old kids, I bristle at the thought of how anyone could listen to and enjoy such tripe. It’s just noise! That is my assessment of what many of these kids today are playing. Interestingly enough, such was the exact sentiment my father had about my music, now almost 50 years past. 

For me, I still listen to early Led Zeppelin because seriously, does “Black Dog” ever get old? While I have moved on from Black Sabbath, I still pull “Made In Japan” out of the closet every so often (I feel like I’m cheating if I play vintage music on something other than a turntable), mostly because my aim is reconnecting with my youth. 

Predominately, my time is spent with smooth jazz. What began in the 70’s with Chicago and their horn driven sound has grown today into the Rippingtons, Dave Koz, Euge Groove and more – these musicians grab the lions share of my musical experience. I’ve found performers from other countries, like Igor Gerzina from Croatia and Kayori Kobayashi from Japan, and others who light up smooth jazz in a high-octane fire I absolutely love. 

I often wonder if these 15-year-old kids of today will still be listening to the same music 50 years from now. Will their musical tastes today inform them of the style and genres to which they will cling into adulthood and beyond? Will their children deplore and despise that same basic music because it is so fundamentally different from what they enjoy? My guess is yes, that is precisely what will happen. 

My parents never gave up on Glenn Miller. I have never given up on the music I discovered in the 70’s. Kids of today will almost certainly be listening to, despite anything new they enjoy, the same music they so happily cherish today. 

Life moves ever onward, my son, and music will as well change with the times. Regardless of what we like today, it seems inevitable there will someday be a new style, one that is anathema to what one perceives as good music. I feel like I’ve come full circle. Maybe becoming my dad isn’t such a bad thing. 

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