A little background: As I wrote some time ago, the question “which decade was the best” in pop music of the Rock and Roll era is a misleading one. Popular music in the rock and roll era has really been divided into ten distinct eras (see the linked article above for explanations).
- Pre-Rock and Roll (1948-1953)
- Early Rock and Roll (1954-1958)
- The Brill Building Era (1958-1962)
- The Golden Age of the 45 (1962-1968)
- The Album Age (1968-1972)
- The Malaise Era (1973-1979)
- The Alternative Era (1980-1986)
- The Style-Over-Substance Era (1987-1992)
- The Return Of The Seventies (1993-2000)
- The IPod Era (2000-Present)
Each of these eras – 4-10 years long – had its own unique personality; music moved in a direction. Not always a good one, but a direction.
And it was thirty years ago tomorrow that my favorite among these eras really got its start. Not just an album (tune in tomorrow), but the beginning of a year-and-change period in time when pop music changed more, faster, than had ever happened before. It was a dizzying time to be listening to, and taking part in, music. It wasn’t just that there was plenty of experimentation going on; it was that for about five years or so, the underground became the mainstream.
Think about it. Check out the Top 100 songs of 1978; mostly depressing bilge. The last remnants of the Disco boom (and, in the case of Chic, Yvonne Elliman and the Bee Gees, some of the best of the genre) were about the only memorable thing about the entire year. Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow were still big hitmakers. In the meantime, groups like the Cars, the Police, the Talking Heads and Dire Straits were a mildly-threatening insurgency; Tom Petty and AC/DC were snotty rockers riding in on the ragged edges of punk and new wave; The Clash was an obscure bunch of pub punks; Prince was a teenager in Minneapolis; Bruce Springsteen’s only Top 100 hit, said Billboard, was Manfred Man’s vandalism of “Blinded By The Light” the previous year.
Now, jump ahead a mere six years, to 1984. Nary a Ronstadt or an Air Supply to be found; even Elton John, one of the few throwbacks on the charts, had had to radically update his approach to get his second big burst of success. The stuff that dominated the charts was the stuff that was on the fringe of the fringe in ’78, like Prince, The Police, Springsteen, Dire Straits – or groups that didn’t exist in any publicly-visible form in ’78, like Duran Duran, the Pretenders, Big Country, U2…really, pretty much the whole list.
Over the next year and a half or so, I’ll be celebrating the thirtieth anniversaries of a couple of dozen albums that changed pop music forever, more drastically than anything since the Beatles and Elvis.
See you tomorrow.